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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.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Kathleen Moro

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.

Shane Beckett – Principal at Donald Young School/Sturgeon Creek Alternative Program

Shane Beckett - Principal at Donald Young School/Sturgeon Creek Alternative Program
About Shane Beckett

Shane Beckett (@MrShaneBeckett), is the Principal at Donald Young School in Emo, ON. He started his career as a teacher at Onigaming School at Onigaming FN and then moved to Fort Frances High School where he was a Physical Education teacher and a Guidance Counsellor. Six years ago he became a Vice Principal at Robert Moore School before moving to Donald Young School where he has been the Principal for the past four years.

He enjoys working with students of all ages and has really learned to enjoy leading an elementary school. Shane still coaches high school athletics (football and soccer).

Connect with Shane: Email | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Donald Young School

Onigaming School

Fort Frances High School

Robert Moore School

Natural Helpers Program

The Transcript

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

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


Sam Demma (00:59):
This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest is Shane Beckett. Shane is the Principal at Donald Young school in Emo, Ontario. He started his career as a teacher at, Onagaming school, in Onagaming FN, and then moved to Fort Francis high school where he was a physical education teacher and a guidance counselor. Six years ago, he became a Vice Principal at Robert Moore school before moving to Donald Young school where he has been the principal for the past four years. Shane enjoys working with students of all ages and has really learned to enjoy leading an elementary school. Shane still coaches high school athletics, along with his teaching career, coaching football and soccer. I hope you enjoyed this conversation with Shane, and I will see you on the other side, Shane, welcome to the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show. Please start by introducing yourself.


Shane Beckett (01:54):
Yeah, sure. You bet. Thanks for having me on. My name’s Shane Beckett. I’m a Principal at Donald Young school in the small town of Emo Ontario, which is about halfway between Winnipeg and Thunder Bay. We’re a little rural school, K to 8 and I’m excited to be on the show.


Sam Demma (02:11):
When did you realize throughout your own journey as a student looking for careers, that education was the field for you?


Shane Beckett (02:19):
Well, I mean, for me, I guess it started, I had some you know, traumatic stuff happen as, as a kid and school was a safe place for me and teachers were kind of that inspiration. And so always growing up, those were the, those were the people I looked up to. Those were the people that made me feel safe. And so I guess it would, you know, in, in a, in a way when I was little thought about that, I wanted to aspire to be those people. And now it’s more me thinking about wanting to give that back to to kids and help motivate kids to move forward to


Sam Demma (02:48):
When you say it was your safe space, what do you think made it a safe space and those educators that contributed to you feeling that way? What did they do that helped you feel that way?


Shane Beckett (02:57):
Well, you know, what was interesting as a kid, I didn’t really know any better that things weren’t going well for me as a kid. Cause I just thought that all kids were going through the same thing as me, but now when I, when I look back at it, you know, these these teachers accepted me for who I was and for some of the behaviors I might have had at that time, didn’t single me out. Didn’t make me feel like I was any different than any of the other kids. And, you know, sometimes when I was getting into situations as a, as a young kid rebelling a bit, they you know, they’d sit and they’d listen to me. They’d they’d I guess, relate to where I was coming from. And sometimes, you know, maybe gimme the benefit of the doubt or gimme that motivational talk you know, some of that nice sports chatter. And I think some of those things really helped me to feel safe in that Mo in that moment. And then being able to have some of those teachers be involved in sports for me too, really was a, was a, was a key thing for me. I got to be around the right group of people and got to get some of that aggression and behavior out on the sports field rather than having it own in the playground.


Sam Demma (04:04):
I love it. We definitely need educators who accept human beings for who they are and hear them out and listen. And it sounds like the ones you had in your life did an amazing job at what point. So growing up, you know, you aspired to be like, like, like the educators you had, at what point did you formalize it and start making the decision to pursue the path. And from that moment forward, what did the journey look like?


Shane Beckett (04:29):
Well, so high school being an athlete and, and probably doing fairly well in, in athletics, the goal was to be a PHED teacher. That’s what I was gonna do to grow up nice. And a BU my buddy, and I mean, my best friend and I were both, that’s what we were gonna do. We were gonna grow up to be, you know, the, the high school PhysEd teachers in a way we go what was great was that we had an opportunity to do co-op placements when we were in grade 12 and I got to do the first semester and he hit the second semester doing the co-op placement in, at an elementary school with seven. And eights really helped me to realize, yeah, this is exactly what I want to do. And then my buddy, when he went into it, he’s like, man, I, I don’t like kids, like, and it was an opportunity for him to realize that rather than going through, you know, four or five years of university, and then realizing that he doesn’t like kids.


Shane Beckett (05:16):
So I’ve always kind of thought that I wanted to get into education in particular into the Fette into things and be able to coach and give back in that regards too. And co-op gave me that opportunity to really solidify. Yeah, that’s what I want to do. And then the process was really a roundabout way. I was a football player and had some looks in the states and blew up my knee and, and then bounced around a couple of schools in, in Canada and ended up at the university of Manitoba. And from there got some pretty cool exposure got to volunteer with a Paralympic sport called gold ball and took my coaching career kind of in that regards became the national coach of the, of the Paralympic team and got to travel the world. So I got some cool experiences there that helped me as a PHED teacher to learn how to adapt programs and specialized programs in that regards.


Shane Beckett (06:07):
And then PHED naturally leads it to guidance, I guess, is kind of a natural thing when you’re doing all of that coaching and you get those connections with kids and got into, got into guidance and really felt that I was making a difference in that regards, not just so much on the sports field, but now making those connections that educators had with me as a as a student. And so I never thought I’d get into being a principal. It was never something E ever, ever wanted to do. My wife gave me a little nudge and cause it was something she was aspiring to do and I thought, well, I’ll go for it and, and, and see what happens. And just as the wheels kind of kept moving it it seemed to work one of the real cool, cool moments.


Shane Beckett (06:52):
And as I said, we’re going through the show notes. I was kind of saving the story for later, but I’ll jump into it now. Yeah, please. Yeah. So I’m a, I’m a guidance counselor and I went into went to a workshop about some local resources and not resources. I’m looking you know different programs and you know, government programs, those types of things that can help kids. And I saw they did a presentation on a program called natural helpers and it’s a big program in the states and there’s some school in CA schools in Canada that run it. And this there, the mom was from thunder bay and she mentioned that there was a double suicide at the high school and this natural helpers program really helped to support the kids and get, and kind of keep school normal and, and, and rolling.


Shane Beckett (07:42):
And so I went back to my administration and said, so like, what would happen at our school if we had a double suicide? And, you know, we talked me through some of these processes. And so I started to think, you know, what would we do at the school? Then I got to go to a, an anti-bullying workshop. And it was really based on the attachment theory. And I started to see myself in a lot of the discussion that they were having, cuz as a young kid, I was I was a bully and I could see that, that connection between having a caring adult and you know, and, and that student that needs it. So I went to my vice principal at the time and I said, Hey, do I got a deal for you? You give me one section per semester and I’ll be a caring adult for for kids that are coming into the schools in particular, we were thinking grade nines at the time they’re transitioned from elementary and you know what, you go to your administrator, that’s never really gonna happen.


Shane Beckett (08:39):
And he came back to me a couple weeks later and he goes, you got it. And I said, what do you mean? I got it goes, you got it. I says, what do I do now? He goes, I don’t know, you’re the one who wanted the time . So from there we, so from there we developed, we developed this it was kind of like a, a coach for kids and then moved into natural helpers program. But as I got to talk to this vice principal a little bit more, who’s now a superintendent in our board. It, he said he never wanted to get into administration either and it, but he realized that the higher he went, the more impact he could have on kids, not necessarily that direct impact, but through programming through these types of opportunities. And I thought, you know what? I’d like to be that guy that provides that spark for a teacher who comes in and has a crazy idea and then try to fight to get that, that idea rolling. And the program, when I ran, I mean, we, we saved lives through, through those years 110%, and we can get into those stories too, if you want. But it was that, that idea of being able to give people that opportunity, like he gave to me that really did spark my move into administration.


Sam Demma (09:48):
I had a pass guest and I mentioned this a few times now who told me the best candidate for principals are teachers who don’t wanna leave the classroom. And the best candidate for superintendents are principals who don’t wanna leave administration. You know, when you love the work you’re doing so much it, it means you’re in a good position, but it, you know, if you love it and you truly enjoy it, you could probably make a bigger impact. Like you’re saying in a, in a, in a much larger way at a higher level where you’re seeing, you know, this Eagle view or bird’s eye view, as opposed to on the ground, which is still very important. They’re both extremely important jobs. You mentioned saving lives and I would love to hear maybe one of the stories that comes to mind. I think something that really inspires educators who are considering this vocation and people who are in it, who need a little reminder is a story about how a program changed the student’s life. And if it’s a serious one, absolutely changed their name just for the privacy.


Shane Beckett (10:46):
Oh yeah. I’ll leave I’ll I’ll yeah, I’ll definitely do that. So this natural helpers, program’s pretty, it is a pretty cool program because it, it basically takes kids who are naturally helping their, their peer group and it teaches them to be better helpers. So we would, we made a little tagline in our group, you helping helpers be better helpers. And so what we did is we used our school climate survey. And again, this administrator that I worked with, he moved into being the principal of the school and I said, Hey, can I get on the school climate survey? Like, I just want, I need names of kids. I, I need to know you know, it, you know, Johnny goes to Sally for all, for all of her his problems, right? Like that’s the go-to person in this group. And I need to find those 20 kids from all walks of life around the school so that we can pull them and help them be better at helping their friends, being able to see the red flags, know the resources and people to go to, and also having a contact point, like someone like myself, that they can come to and say, Hey, you know what, like this is what’s going on.


Shane Beckett (11:46):
And I need a hand on trying to fix it. So we, we got on the school climate survey and for we, we started this program where you do a, at the beginning of the school year, you do a retreat with these kids, no cell phones, no whatever. And we, we learn how to be better helpers. And some of the best moments in that retreat is around the campfire at night when these kids don’t really know each other, cuz they’re coming from all the different corners of the school, they start to share and start to become this cohesive group, which is a really cool thing. Like, you know, after two nights kids are crying cause they don’t wanna go back to school because it feels so safe to be in that group. And then we do monthly check-ins and, and training. And so one of the, one of the training pieces that we did was around teen suicide and we did kind of a modified version of safe talk and talked about the process that this is, you know, too much of a load for kids to carry.


Shane Beckett (12:44):
They need to be able to, you know be okay with their friend being upset with them, for going to an adult and saying, this is, this is too much for me. And then we worked on that process. And so where you see where it really worked was one night I got a I got a phone call from one of my students and he’s like Mr. Beckett, can I can I come see you in the morning? I said, sure. What’s going on? Oh, not, no, no big deal. We got this figured out. I, I just want to come and touch base with you. I said, sure. So the way the story went was we had two grade 12 students, overachieving kids. They weren’t necessarily friends, but they would Skype together and, and do homework together in like, you know, for you physics.


Shane Beckett (13:26):
And one of the big things we talked about with these kids is lots of times when you’re talking to your friend and they say, you know, something’s going hard. We like to come back to them with, oh yeah, we understand. Cause it’s hard for me too. And we don’t ask that, that why question. So this kid they were studying away and, and you know, one of the kids says, oh man, I’m so tired. And so rather than, you know, the student is part of my program saying, oh, I know me too. I was up late last night. He said, oh really? Why? And just like that, this kid said, well, last night I tried to end my own life. And so, wow. So now my students freaking out that he doesn’t know what to do for me. So he caught, he texts his buddy and says, Hey, what are we gonna do?


Shane Beckett (14:11):
He goes, we’re gonna go talk to Beckett in the morning. That’s what we’re gonna do. And we’ll get this all figured out. So they came in, they spoke to me, I spoke to the guidance department and the the school counselor. And without me ever talking to that student who said that they were talking about ending their own life. We got help for that student. And and got him the counseling that he needed and everything worked out a few weeks later, I ran into that student. I know he knew, I knew. And I knew that he knew that I knew and right. And so we were at I think it was an elementary Christmas concert or something. And I ran into him and I just said, Hey, you have a really good friend in Johnny. And he just smiled. And he said, yeah, I know.


Shane Beckett (14:53):
I said, are you doing okay? He goes, I’m doing great. And that’s it. I never had to talk to the student. I didn’t, but the process was in place. And we established that as part of this program. And we saved that kid’s life without me ever having to be directly involved in it. And so it just spoke so, so loudly about the importance of the program and what it was doing for kids and the awareness that these high school kids were having around those situations. So that’s the story. One, one particular story of saving a kid’s life without me directly doing it.


Sam Demma (15:22):
Tell me a little bit more about the program itself. It sounds really impactful. What does it look like? Is it something you still do in schools today? Like tell me more about


Shane Beckett (15:30):
It. Okay. Well, Matt, it’s, it’s a can program. Like I Googled it and it’s these two binders you buy for a thousand dollars, right? And then you kind of morph it into your own. It’s pretty big in the states. If you Google natural helpers, you’ll see that there’s a lot of school districts in the states that have these natural pro helpers, you know, websites and programs and whatever else, but we hadn’t seen it in our school district. Now the unfortunate part is I guess, twofold. About four years into the program, we had to work rural situation where we weren’t allowed to do extracurriculars. And so this was deemed an extracurricular. And so, because we went on retreats and we did those things. And so I wasn’t able to continue the program that one year. And the following year I switched positions and moved to as a technology coach out of the board office, cuz now I’m in the principal’s pool and all of these things and no one picked up the slack behind me.


Shane Beckett (16:26):
And so after that story, basically the program kind of died, but one of the cool things too, that it did for our high school getting on that school climate survey and let that administrator allowing me to get onto that survey. One of the questions was named two teachers that you go to. And at that point in time, I mean, sure, I had lots of hits. Okay. But that was my role. Our principal had more hits than our entire guidance department at that time. Wow. Cause our guidance department was really geared towards the academia, the post-secondary, the paperwork side of things, but not the, you know, heartfelt touchy, feely part of it. And that was an issue. But because we got that data, it, it started to morph how our guidance department looked. And so they brought in new counselors that did the academia part of it, but also then provided more of a counseling part of it on that end. And so now I feel even though at our local high school, we don’t have that program in place. We have changed the way that that pro the, the actual department runs. And so it is still a safe place and it’s a, and, and a secure place for kids to go a supportive place for kids to go. And maybe there’s not as much of a need for that natural helpers program anymore because we help change the face of that department in general. So if


Sam Demma (17:49):
That that’s awesome it makes total sense. What keeps you personally inspired and motivated with a full cup to show up and try and make a positive difference on so many young people’s lives?


Shane Beckett (18:01):
Well I have on my whiteboard at work there’s two, two quotes that, that I have on there. So that’s the first thing I see every time that I, that I walk in. And so the, the the first one is the good is the enemy of great and the sports kind of quotes that I’ve used when coaching, but it works for school as well. And it’s that idea of if things are going well and things are good, we’re afraid to make changes because we don’t wanna wreck good. Right. But we’ll never get to great unless we make those changes. So being able to just kind of see that and remember that when staff is coming in and saying, Hey, I’ve got this idea or when students are coming in and, and having ideas for clubs or those types of things, like being willing to be flexible enough to make some changes, because things are going well at our school, but we’ll never get to great unless we make some changes.


Shane Beckett (18:52):
And then the other quote that I have up there that we developed as part of my coaching is the ABCs of win. And so ABC is anything but chance and win is what’s important now. So what’s important now is anything but chance. So there was one thing that I used a lot in my counseling with kids too, is like, let’s not leave it to a coin flip and say like, am I gonna have a good day heads or tails? Let’s let’s do all we can right now, so that we’re not leaving it to chance that, you know, so it’s that kind of proactive approach and that, that empowering approach too, that I, it, it’s not just chance that life doesn’t happen to me. I happen to life. And so those are two things that every day I see up on my boards, that help to inspire me when working with kids or working with teachers.


Sam Demma (19:34):
I love that being a sport, having a sport background, my myself also blowing out my knees and my senior year of high school and having three surgeries losing out on a full ride scholarship to Memphis, Tennessee, like, oh, awesome. We have some similarities. That proactive mindset I think is so important. What resources have you found helpful in terms of your own professional development and learning? That’s helped you in education that you kind of proactively Seeked out and maybe it’s well, you shared one, which is a natural helpers course, which is amazing. Yeah. And people can definitely check that out, but I’m wondering if there’s any other philosophies, people, you follow books, courses, things that you’ve been exposed to throughout your career that you really resonated with or found helpful.


Shane Beckett (20:22):
Well, you know, it’s that’s a tough question as far as resources. Yeah. But not much of a reader. Like that’s just not my jam. And I think that if I was to write the literacy test right now that I’d have a difficult time passing a literacy test, just cuz it’s not, not my thing, but it, I mean, I’d use that as an inspiration too, because I have other skills that allow me to get to where I am. Like I don’t have to have that skill. I can use, you know, Grammarly to help me do my writing and, and that type of thing. So not much of a reader, but it’s I mean, learning from the kids really has been a big resource for me and actually sitting and, and listening to them. And then what’s been really empowering for me too, is when you’re in the high school and you’re teaching and now we’re in a small town and I see those kids that I didn’t know, I made an impact with that now, you know they’re running the local gym and my kid’s now going to that gym.


Shane Beckett (21:14):
I know you can sit back and say, Hey, you know, Mr. Beckett, like it was a really big deal when, when this happened and, and learning, learning in some of those decision points that, that I made, whether I went the right way or the wrong way, it’s been a real valuable, valuable lesson for me. So it’s that, that reflection part. And then my brother-in-law, who’s younger than me and wise, beyond his years has really got me thinking into those, you know, Shiism and some of those types of things and, and the, the power of being in the now, you know, and being the master of your own destiny. And those are some really big things for me. And then, geez, now you’re gonna put me on the spot. I don’t know the name of this newsletter. I, I, I subscribed to one newsletter, man. No worries, but it’s, but it’s a leadership, it’s a leadership newsletter that has a sports reflection on it. Nice. So it talks about, you know, bill Belichick and, and how he does this with his players to motivate them. And it’s a quick little snippet, you know, once a week kind of a hit. And so that resonates with me because it’s sports leaders and then being able to learn from their leader leadership abilities and bring that back into the school.


Sam Demma (22:21):
Love it. I love it. And it sounds like you’ve had some great experiences learning from the students themselves. I’m sure you’ve probably also had great experiences learning from colleagues, whether it’s other principals you’ve worked with even teachers you’ve worked with. I think if you approach every situation with an open mind, knowing that you can learn something from every person you meet, you grab a lesson from anything you experience, which is really empowering.


Shane Beckett (22:50):
Yeah, absolutely. Like, like talk about this superintendent that we have now. Like I’ve just learned so much from him in where he inspired me by giving me that opportunity to then talking to me about being able to be a, a bigger impact, the higher you go, the less direct and the less of those like interactions, but then at the same time, being able to provide those opportunities. It’s, it’s people like that. And it’s nice to be able to, again, in a small town, be able to have that opportunity to go back to him and say, Hey, I want you to know the impact that you had on me. And the reason I am where I am today is because of some of the things you did for me, whether you knew you were doing it for me or not.


Sam Demma (23:29):
I love it. What if you could go back to your first year in education, what advice or feedback would you have given to your younger self that you think would’ve been helpful to hear when you were just starting and not that you would tell yourself anything to change your path, but advice you think that would be helpful for someone who’s just considering getting into education or that you would’ve liked to have heard more of when you were just starting?


Shane Beckett (23:56):
Well, I mean, I think some of the, some of the mistakes I made in my first year was trying to be friends with the students rather than friendly with the students. Mm. And it, and it’s tricky when you’re, when you’re coaching and you’re teaching PHED it’s that different environment. Right. But I think sometimes being young and being new and teaching 18 year olds, it’s it, it’s hard to differentiate, differentiate that. And I made the mistake, I think a few times of thinking that you know, being friends and then we’d do the right thing and then it wouldn’t come back to bite me did come back to bite me. Like I had some early times in my career where I got written up by administration because of the decisions that I made that I, you know, and maybe being a little bit too open and honest with, with my students where, because I’m thinking more of the friend line than I am, you know, that, that separation between teacher and whatever.


Shane Beckett (24:52):
So learning some of those things. And the, the other thing too, was really that the face to face communication, some, you know, earlier in my career as a athletic director, you know, sending the email rather than talking to the person, you know, and the way that you text on a page can be misread or misunderstood or tone can be misunderstood. And not having that face to face or even the phone call where the tone of voice can, can come in. And one thing I learned from teaching career studies as part of my high school career was that seven per 7% of your message comes from the words that are said, and the other 93% comes from your tone of voice in your body language. And so the words on the page just don’t do enough. So that was one thing I really learned too, is sometimes you need to have that face to face, even if it’s not the diff the, you know, the challenging conversation, it may end up being a challenging conversation because of the way that people read, read the words on the screen.


Sam Demma (25:52):
Something one of my mentors always tells me is people will interpret your written words, whether email or text based on the emotional state that they’re currently in. Yeah. If someone is really upset and it has nothing to do with you, they’ll open your email and read it from a more upset lens or a frustrated lens. And yeah, you’re absolutely right. I even think about a recent situation where I had to break bad news to somebody in my life. And I was thinking about writing an email and then I thought to myself, no way, cuz this could be interpreted in so many different ways. And you know, you take that time and that at first, what feels like an uncomfortable situation to have the phone call and have the real time conversation. How did you get over those situations where you knew making the phone call was the right decision? Although it was uncomfortable, you know, you do it anyway.


Shane Beckett (26:43):
Well, I, one, there was something that I read somewhere. I think my quote unquote online boyfriend is Tim Ferris back in the day. And some of the things that he would talk about in his podcast or some of the readings that I would do was challenge himself to be an INCOM uncomfortable situations every day. You know, if it’s walking in the mall and making eye contacts with someone and playing chicken with eye contact, who’s the first person to look away. It’s not gonna be any sort of conflict with that person, but it’s challenging you to feel uncomfortable and be okay with that. And so having some of those moments where you it’s okay to feel uncomfortable, it helps you then to make that move. And then ultimately it’s experience like you, you just gotta bite the bullet and do the first one, then the second one’s easier.


Shane Beckett (27:29):
Right. And then the third one’s easier. And then I guess finally being prepared sometimes for those difficult and challenging conversations. The little piece of advice we, we did a, when I first got into the leadership pool, we did a a workshop on challenging conversations. And I can’t remember who the author was. I’ve got the book at the school, but I’ve opened it one time and it was for a challenging conversation and it was to look at it. But in there it really did lay out how to set up yourself for that challenging conversation. And then the piece of advice that she gave. And I’m a softie, I’m an emotional guy and very quick to like even move the tears when I’m feeling challenged. Her suggestion was to spin her up when you’re in that situation. And so what, and so we asked what that meant and she said like, if you literally, and like spanked her up, like puck her up the bottom end there it’ll actually make it biologically almost impossible to cry. And so by like squeezing your cheeks, like that’ll take that opportunity that, that, you know, it removes that from you. And so I’ve actually tried that a couple times and it works. So hopefully I don’t make a face when I do it so that the other person on the other end knows that I’m doing that. But some of the, you know, you need some little, little tips and tricks to be ready to have those things. And so being prepared for the challenging conversation is, is definitely a big one too.


Sam Demma (28:54):
I love that. That’s a cool, it sounds like an awesome book. I definitely want you to email it over when you go back to school. I’d love to include it in the show notes. This has been a, a great conversation. I appreciate you taking the time this evening to hop on here and chat. If someone wants to have a conversation with you, reach out, ask a question, bounce some ideas around, what would be the best way for them to get in touch.


Shane Beckett (29:14):
Well, I’m, I am on Twitter. So it’s @MrShaneBeckett, just as it is with two ts at the end. Sometimes people make that mistake and I mean, I’ll fire up my email. That’s fine too. So it’s basically my name, shane.beckett.rrdsb.com. Yeah. And I’m, I’m always available to chat, to try to figure things out to bounce ideas off one another. It only makes us better in the long run.


Sam Demma (29:42):
Awesome. Shane, thank you again for doing this. I appreciate you. Keep up the great work you’re doing in education and we’ll talk soon.


Shane Beckett (29:49):
Yeah, absolutely. Thanks so much, Sam. It’s been a, it’s been a lot of fun. Thanks.


Sam Demma (29:52):
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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Julie Mathé – Principal at St. Mother Teresa High School

Julie Mathé - Principal at St. Mother Teresa High School
About Julie Mathé

Julie Mathé (@JulieMathe66) has been an educator with the Ottawa Catholic School Board for over 25 years. She began her career teaching multiple subjects in the intermediate panel and honed her craft in the secondary panel teaching French Immersion and Religion Immersion. She moved into administration where she began her role of vice-principal at Immaculata High School.

Julie was then assigned to St. Patrick Catholic Intermediate School, followed by St. Francis Xavier High School and finally St. Joseph Catholic High School. With 11 years as vice-principal, Julie was appointed Principal of Frank Ryan Catholic Intermediate School and then St. Mother Teresa High School, where she currently works.

Julie loves what she does and has a passion for uplifting staff and students. She is currently also teaching PQP II for CPCO. Julie is wife to James Paterson and proud mother of two daughters, Anjelia (22 yrs) and Sabrina (20 yrs). She also has two cats and a dog. She loves spending time with her family.

She is grateful that her daughters still like to plan activities with her on a daily basis knowing that this could change at the drop of a hat. Julie also loves music and playing pool. Once retired, Julie hopes to travel with her family.

Connect with Julie: Email | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

St. Mother Teresa High School

The Ottawa Catholic School Board

Principal’s Qualification Program PQP

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):
Julie, welcome to the high-performing educator. Huge pleasure to have you on the show this morning; please start by introducing yourself.


Julie Mathé (00:08):
Oh, my name is Julie, Mathé and I am the proud principal of St. Mother Theresa high school in Neapan, Ontario. And we work under the Ottawa Catholic school board.


Sam Demma (00:17):
Beautiful. first of all, I apologize. I love the way you pronounce your name way more than the way I did.


Julie Mathé (00:24):
It’s all good.


Sam Demma (00:25):
When did you realize growing up that education was the calling for you or the career you would get into?


Julie Mathé (00:34):
Well, like many other educators, I was inspired by teacher at a very young age. I grew up in a French Canadian home and attended a French Catholic school. I only spoke French and when an English Catholic school was built much closer to home, my parents enrolled me in that new school. So entering grade five with all new students, the new French to make, not speaking a word of English was pretty scary to say the least. I was really an English language learner when programming for students like that didn’t exist. Mm. My teacher at the time took the time to get to know me, my interests, my strengths and weaknesses. He made appropriate accommodations for me to reach my personal goals and then got me involved in school activities. He did everything he could to help me succeed. And that’s when I knew I wanted to do the same thing and I wanted to have that positive impact on youth. And as I ruined my career as a classroom teacher in the auto Catholic school board had leadership opportunities and experience working with great administrators. I discovered my passion and vocation for leading.


Sam Demma (01:45):
I love that you mentioned you were really young and that teacher made an impact. Bring me back into that situation for a sec second, and kind of shed some light on the things that that teacher did for you that you think looking back made a really big difference.


Julie Mathé (02:00):
Just really getting the time taking the time to get to know me more on a personal level. And he found out very quickly that I was quite athletic mm-hmm. And so he was one of those teachers that coached a lot of things at the school and just got me out on those teams and participated and helped me make friends. And he, his wife at the time was also French speaking. And so there are times even during the weekends that with my parents’ permission, I would go over with some other students and spend time at their pool. And just, just taking, just really spending quality time with me. And even those accommodations in the classroom were as simple as you know spelling didn’t count as much when I wrote things out. As long as the content was clear he gave me extra practice to do at he worked with my parents to help me get some extra supports and, and some extra learning as an English language learner. Like he was like phenomenal. And, and just to add, he actually, we became very close and he followed me throughout my schooling career as well. Oh, wow. And he actually named his daughter he gave her my name as a middle name, so, oh,


Sam Demma (03:24):
Wow.


Julie Mathé (03:24):
Wow. yeah. Very special relationship.


Sam Demma (03:27):
It sounds like he just really cared about you as a person and went above and beyond to help you.


Julie Mathé (03:35):
Oh, completely, completely.


Sam Demma (03:38):
So tell me more about the moment you got into education. What the journey looked like that brought you to where you are today, like the different schools you worked in and yeah, the different roles.


Julie Mathé (03:50):
So I, I was very fortunate that I worked in a number of schools and one of my goals when I became a teacher was not to stay at the same school for a very long period of time. So I could experience working with different people, different demographics of population working with different administrators. And so I’ve been in above five or six different schools. And I first started as a teacher of many different subjects between grade seven and grade 10. And I actually traveled from classroom to classroom and between school and portable my first couple of years and finally settled down in teaching at the grade seven, eight level for about four years. And I taught all French courses. Nice. So whether it was religion and French, the language itself history, geography and so did that for a few years and then moved into teaching high school and basically taught in grades nine to 12, almost every subject you could teach in French. And then really honed in, in my last few years in the classroom as a grade 11 and 12 French and religion teacher. And I was a department head at the time and I worked with great administrators who maybe saw some potential there and got some practice work in the office as an acting vice principal and decided to do the journey, taking the courses required to become an administrator. And then the rest was history. I became an administrator and I’ve been an administrator for about 16 years. Now.


Sam Demma (05:34):
You mentioned getting into administration helped you realize how much you love leading. What about leadership and leading do you love, what are the things that you think make it such a meaningful role and opportunity?


Julie Mathé (05:51):
I think the great thing about leading is once you’ve gained a lot of experience and had experience in many different schools you’re able to bring things to the table that we call best practices. And so I was able to bring best practices to schools that I’ve that I’ve worked at. And also in being in different schools, every time I joined a school, I learned their best practices as well, and just marrying those together and being able to move a staff along in their journey of lifelong learning in their journey of what it means to teach now in the way we’re teaching. It’s very different from even when I started teaching leading has become more of bringing people along and not shutting people out. And there’s nothing I love more than to see people come together and collaborate and work for the same goal.


Sam Demma (06:51):
I love it. What are some of the challenges that come along with leadership, but also some of the pros or opportunities?


Julie Mathé (07:01):
I guess some of the challenges are when there’s resistance to it and you know, that what you’re trying to do is needed work and good work. And I always say you know, doing God’s work is, has never been easy. And being a leader is very similar. You do come across those challenges and those you know could be difficult parents. It could be difficult students, it could be difficult staff but it’s too hone your skills on having those courageous conversations and still move the, that middle crowd along and hopefully get those that are questioning to start seeing the good that’s being done. So that’s I guess, kind of a, a pro and con in one. Yeah. I have to say that the most recent challenges really have been around this pandemic and how to support students and staff with their morale.


Sam Demma (08:00):
Hmm. With challenges come opportunities, or at least I believe that to be true. yes. What do you think some of the opportunities that are presenting themselves in education are right now?


Julie Mathé (08:14):
Well I think the greatest opportunity we have right now is is this, I call it an awakening that our world is finally having around equity. And I have to say that, you know, aside from youth and, and faith, my faith, this awakening has given me hope, and this is an opportunity for us to work even harder than ever to end racism and promote equity. With the most recent wrongful deaths and accompanying discoveries we’ve been awakened, shaken and forced to take action, and we’re doing just that in our school and, and in all our schools in this board.


Sam Demma (09:00):
I couldn’t agree more, I think being stuck at home and also being confronted with all of these challenges has given us all, hopefully the time to reflect as well on our own actions and our collective actions that have an impact on the people around us. And yeah, diversity and inclusion has always been important, but I’m so glad that a spotlight has been placed on it and actions are being taken to change things and actively work towards improving situations for many different groups of students and learners and human beings.


Julie Mathé (09:33):
Abso absolutely. And, and we have to be intentional about the work that we’re doing. We have to say it out loud. We have to show it in our buildings, in our classrooms. We have to walk the talk. These kids have been marginalized for their entire lives. Yeah. And unfortunately it’s taken, you know, these horrible acts in the world to bring it to light and for us to really take a good look at it and look at, take a good look at ourselves. And yeah. And there there’s, there’s no more excuses for us.


Sam Demma (10:11):
What are some of the things that have gone on in the school or in the classrooms that you’ve witnessed or other teachers in your school have witnessed that give you the hope that things are moving forward?


Julie Mathé (10:24):
Well as I mentioned, we are all doing work in our schools and, and St Mary therea high school is no different. We’ve done a lot of work around equity. And so we’ve taken the time and continue to take the time to educate and inform both staff and students. Nice. We wanna create a better understanding of our student population, which in turn further promotes, respect and kindness. We’ve made our support very visible whether it’s pride posters or symbols in every room, we have a gay straight Alliance. And we, they have a very strong student voice that we support. We have a black student association and they have a very strong voice. We’ve just finished a full month celebration of black history month. We have a, a wall in our atrium called the unlearn wall. Ah, and it’s pictures of different skin tones to show that we are more alike than we are different regardless of our skin color. We have a lot of indigenous art in the atrium. We have a new Muslim student committee nice that just wanna share their culture with everyone and educate everyone. We’re making sure now that our curriculum reflects every student, including their culture and we just, at the end of the day, Sam, we want this to be a safe place for students and families. So everyone needs to see themselves in our school and feel safe.


Sam Demma (11:51):
I love it. I absolutely love it. I it’s funny when you talk about the atrium, I was thinking about like the, the a, I think there’s like a piece in your heart called the atrium. That’s like a valve and it’s like the heart of your school has all this important stuff in it. And that’s what kind of came to mind visually, like you’re working on the heart of the school with these topics and, and projects, which is amazing. What do you.


Julie Mathé (12:15):
Absolutely.


Sam Demma (12:18):
What, what are some of the things you’re excited about in education over the next couple of years that you think will continue to change or grow or evolve?


Julie Mathé (12:28):
I, I think one thing I’m obviously passionate about equity and I think that’s gonna continue to evolve. Yeah. And I’m so excited to see where it takes us. I, I’m excited as an administrator, but I’m excited as a mom. Yeah. You know, just to see where where we go with this. And and I hope we go all the way yeah. The other thing I’m excited about is just the idea of having now our school board has two schools that are virtual schools, one for elementary, and one for seven to 12. And that was formalized last year during the pandemic. And I’m excited to see where that goes because it has certainly helped a lot of our students, especially those that had a very difficult time being in a bricks and mortar type of school.


Julie Mathé (13:18):
Think of kids that have, you know, anxieties or depression or students that have needs at home that is really hard to leave the home. I think this is doing a lot of good for them and giving them every opportunity to succeed. Like every other student in a bricks and mortar type is school. So I’m really excited about that. I’m also excited about where we’re going with the grade nine program being a D streamed coming September, see what that looks like and see what assessment around those courses look like. If that changes at all, just to help improve a student confidence and self worth.


Sam Demma (13:59):
You mentioned earlier, morale has been a challenge. How have you noticed that and its effect on the school community?


Julie Mathé (14:10):
Well it, during the time that we were I’m gonna call it basically in lockdown, even though we had students in the building, but we didn’t have all students in the building at the same time. You could tell students, even walking through the building, we’re happy to be in the building, but just didn’t have that extra hop in their step. You know, their, their movement in the school was so limited because of C and we didn’t have opportu opportunities like sports or committees. And so it, it was challenging for them. And even though they, they did really wanna be here at the school, most of them anyhow. And so we had to do some work around how do we uplift their morale and, and same with staff, you know, a lot of what was missing for staff was that social aspect, because they were in the classroom for long hours with the students as well, without much movement. So we had some work to do around that.


Sam Demma (15:08):
Got you. Awesome. when you think about, you mentioned the one educator who had a big impact on you as a student point, you think about your journey into administration, your journey into education. Do you have any other mentors or resources? Sometimes people are a resource, but also maybe some courses or books or things that you found helpful that you learned from along the way?


Julie Mathé (15:32):
Well, I I’ll say two things for sure. I definitely had like I said, I mentioned before I worked with some great administrators and nice, and you take the best from the best and, and things that you don’t like or things that don’t suit who you are, you don’t take with you. So I got to take a lot of things of how, how they, how they look at the process of, of running through scenarios, how they work with staff little things that they do to uplift staff things like that. Definitely took a lot of that with me. A sec, the second thing is the courses that we take to become an administrator are phenomenal professional development. Even if you’re not going into administration, you learn so much from those courses that you get a better understanding why administrators made certain decisions in a school, and it’s kind of an aha moment that I had in taking those courses and kind of come full circle where I’m now one of the co-instructors for the principal’s qualification course.


Sam Demma (16:40):
Nice. That’s amazing. It’s PQP right?


Julie Mathé (16:45):
It is PQP

Sam Demma (16:49):
I’ve had other guests tell me about it. I did a little bit of research on it just to familiarize myself with it. What does the process look like for an educator who loves their work in the classroom, but would like to maybe one day get into administration?


Julie Mathé (17:04):
Well aside from taking the necessary courses, it’s is taking every opportunity to get some leadership experience and that could be in a variety of ways. It doesn’t actually have to be as an acting vice principal the way I did, but I could certainly look as if you’re leading a large committee on the school. You’re part of a committee at the school board level. You’re, you’re coming in and, and asking questions. You could spend half a day with an administrator to see what it looks like. There’s just different ways of, of learning about the role rather than assuming what it looks like because of what you think you see, cuz there’s so much more that goes on behind closed doors. And, and what I often say to teachers going into administration is first of all, they will love it.


Julie Mathé (17:58):
Mm. Secondly your relationship with students does change. You’re not the quick go- person that you are in the classroom, especially, especially if you were a successful teacher where you were popular and you knew kids wanted to take your courses that relationship changes, but it changes in the way that you’re helping the student as a whole now, and you’re also helping their family. And that’s a different relationship relationship that you start building. And the rewards for that are tremendous. You just feel so good when, you know, you’re making right or better decisions for students and their families. And you’re able to support them in ways that you wouldn’t do as a classroom teacher, you know, whereas you’re connecting them with resources in the community or you’re connecting them with a social worker or you’re providing support financially. It’s it’s, it’s different and it’s really good.


Sam Demma (18:58):
I’m curious to know if you could bundle up all your experiences in education teaching and learning from others and go back in time, tap your younger self on the shoulder and say, this is what this is something that I would’ve liked for you to have heard when you just got into this work, like knowing what you know now, what advice would you share with your younger self? Not, not because you wanna change something about your path, but for another educator who’s listening to this. Who’s just starting in this vocation. What would some words of advice be?


Julie Mathé (19:35):
The vocation of administration?


Sam Demma (19:37):
Mean just education as a whole, like teaching and getting involved.


Julie Mathé (19:42):
As a classroom teacher, it would be to observe other teachers learn about the school culture come in with ideas, but be open to what you’re hearing and try things before you suggest new ideas.


Sam Demma (19:59):
I love that. And it sounds like you may have even had some other pieces of advice for administration if someone was just getting into an admin role, would the feedback be similar or


Julie Mathé (20:12):
It, it would well, they, the listening piece and, and the watching for the first year. Absolutely. Yeah. But the most important piece is to learn to live in the gray. There’s no black and white in administration. And although we do have rules and policies and guidelines, there is a gray area for for extenuating circumstances. So you do treat every student and every family different because they are different, but that’s your work around equity. That’s how it becomes an equity piece. And so you have to be able to work in the gray and you have to be able to listen with empathy at all times,


Sam Demma (20:53):
You exude enthusiasm and positive energy and hope. What, what, what inspires you and motivates you to show up every single day and continue doing this amazing work?


Julie Mathé (21:06):
I absolutely, as you can tell, I love what I do. Mm. I, I say probably weekly to someone who asks me or someone who doesn’t even ask me. I love what I do. I have hope because I have my faith. I have hope because I have a family that supports me. I have hope because I see change in our world for the better. And and I get to work with young people and may keep me vibrant and hopeful.


Sam Demma (21:38):
I love it. if someone would like to reach out and borrow some of your positive energy by ranging a phone call or asking you a question, what would be the best way for a fellow educator to get in touch with you?


Julie Mathé (21:51):
They can certainly access our school website, our St. Mother Theresa high school website. And my email address is right there.


Sam Demma (21:59):
Awesome. All right, Julie, thank you so much for coming on the podcast. It is a pleasure to have you keep up with the great work and we’ll talk soon.


Julie Mathé (22:07):
Thanks so much, Sam. I, it was my pleasure and it was nice meeting you.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Julie Mathé

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

Peter Bowman – Principal of Orillia Secondary School

Peter Bowman - Principal of Orillia Secondary School
About Peter Bowman

Peter Bowman is the Principal of Orillia Secondary School in Orillia, Ontario. He began his career working with young people as a soccer coach at the age of 12. It wasn’t until 1991 that he began getting paid to work with teens as a computer science and mathematics teacher at Hodan Nalayeh Secondary School in Vaughan, Ontario.

He then moved north to Barrie where he taught science and math at Barrie Central Collegiate and Barrie North Collegiate. In 2007, he had the co-privilege of launching the North Barrie Alternative School program. From there he moved into administration as a Vice Principal of both Bear Creek S.S. and Barrie North Collegiate before being placed as Principal in Orillia. Over the course of his thirty-plus years, he has remained active in the sports community. He has served as Honorary President of the GBSSA, member association of OFSAA.

He has championed the development of Ultimate as a sanctioned school sport since he started playing and coaching it in 1995. He is thrilled that he is still able to help coach the school team today. Additionally he has been active backcountry camping, cycling, coaching soccer and playing drums whenever and wherever.

He is driven to see others reach their potential by providing leadership opportunities as much as possible. He is energized by others but also likes quiet times away – and there’s nothing wrong with that!

Connect with Peter: Email

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Orillia Secondary School

Simcoe County District School Board

Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations

Georgian Bay Secondary Association (GBSSA)

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 (00:02):
Peter, welcome to the high performing educator. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here today. Please start by introducing yourself.


Peter Bowman (00:09):
Well, thanks for having me. My name’s Peter Bowman, principal at Orillia Secondary School currently and in my 30 year career as an educator, I’ve been in a couple of different school boards. Started in York region and then moved to Simcoe county and have been a classroom teacher, a variety of things. I’ve done some computer science, some math, chemistry. At one point I was in alternative education. So for five years, I was tasked with opening the Barrie North Alternative school program. Nice. And that was an awesome adventure. And then shortly after that got into administration and I’ve been vice principal at Bear Creek secondary school in Barrie and Barrie north collegiate and presently find myself principal in Orillia.


Sam Demma (00:55):
When did you realize growing up that education was the career you wanted to pursue?


Peter Bowman (01:00):
Well, I’m not actually convinced that it is yet. I’ll wait and see how things go. fascinatingly, when I graduated high school and I had a great high school career but I walked outta that high school and I said, I’m done with high school forever. And I have been there ever since it seems.


Peter Bowman (01:21):
So, so I, I was graduating from university almost on a whim or a dare from my roommate at the time I applied to teacher’s college. I’m thoroughly convinced that I was part of what was communicated as a glitch in the acceptance software and got in to teachers college at Lakehead. I was intrigued at the prospect of going to thunder bay for a year. I loved the outdoors. And so that was an interesting prospect. So I took off did teachers college wasn’t convinced I knew what I was gonna do, whether I would teach or not. But then landed a job at one secondary school sort of north end Toronto, and initially said, I’d stay for as long as I thought it was good. And I’m still, still going.


Sam Demma (02:08):
Did, did you have any educators in your life think and encourage you to think you were gonna get into this work and encourage you to do so or more so founded?


Peter Bowman (02:20):
I mean, my high school days were great. I was in a, a relatively new high school and a lot of the teachers were young-ish and a lot of opportunities, a lot of clubs and teams and activities and stuff. It’s interesting. I was talking with a colleague the other day and, and a name popped in Mar Ross was my grade nine fied teacher. Hmm. A very unique individual and he just had this way of lighting a fire under everybody. And for whatever reason, he, he maybe noticed something in me, but he kind of took me under his wing a bit, I guess got me doing some time keeping for the football team and involved in some other things. And, and, and in time gave me those opportunities for leadership, but also facilitated sending me to bark lake leadership camp. Mm. And so as a youngster, I think I would’ve been 14 or 15, went to bark lake and they taught you explicit leadership concepts mm.


Peter Bowman (03:21):
And gave you opportunities to demonstrate leading. And from that, I then got a job working in summer camps. I spent a number of years working at the Ontario camp for the death. Nice. And learned all kinds of things there and, and had opportunities to to lead, but also to, to struggle through challenges and, and work with teams of young people, as well as campers and, and other other staff. So I, I think it was not explicitly Mar Ross kind of lighting that fire under my butt to do more than just B. But I certainly identify him as one of the players. That was pretty key. And, and what I really like is in our school district, there’s, there’s a Mar Mar Ross Memorial award. Oh, wow. Given to excellent coaches. Mm. And through every year we have, you know, three really, really cool honors that are given out in athletics. And, and it’s really important for me to be in attendance at that annual meeting to, to just see who’s receiving the award and hear the awesome things that they’re doing. And, and I draw that connection to Mar and the impact that he had.


Sam Demma (04:35):
You mentioned Mar had this way of lighting a fire under people. What did that, obviously, not literally, but what did


Peter Bowman (04:46):
That, but I bet you, he would, he’s the kind of guy that I bet you, he would. So the, the one story I tell he, he was a, a unique character. So like literally if there were three guys walking down the hall and you looked up, your eyes would naturally go to him. Hmm. For no really solid reason. I mean, yes. He had really bushy eyebrows and that might have been it, but so one day back in that day, they had what was called level six. It was like an enriched fied class. And so this was all of the top athletes from all the feeder schools. All the elementary schools came in and they chose this level six fied in grade nine. So he had us, and I don’t know what we were doing. We were probably supposed to be lined up in our squads, ready to start the day.


Peter Bowman (05:32):
Obviously we were not performing to standards that he said, and he came in for whatever reason. He had a set of Kodiak boots on what PHED teacher has, Kodiak boots. He was probably outlining, lining the field. And, and so we had these boots on and he was not pleased. And he launched the, the boot across the, the gym. like, I can still tell you from what entrance to what corner that boot the blue. And he immediately had her attention for the rest of the day. Cuz you just, you, you loved what he wanted you to do because you loved him as a, as a leader. He was comfortable with who he was and and was open to, to banter with kids and stuff. So it was just, it was really an authentic, good vibe in that classroom, but he, again, just unique. Right? So he, that character draws you in


Sam Demma (06:26):
A hundred percent. How do you think that those experiences, as well as the other teachers and educators and coaches you’ve had, has informed the way that, you know, you lead today or you try to leave that same impact on other students?


Peter Bowman (06:42):
I don’t think it’s explicitly Mar that did, did this kind of teaching. There’s a lot of influence that I’ve had. But certainly servant leadership is one of the things that I, I cling to. So it’s not a lording over somebody else, an authority position. That’s, that’s gonna backfire way more than it’s gonna work in your favor. And I don’t care if you’re talking, working with adults or kids. Yep. So that servant leadership. So if I’m the classroom teacher trying to teach you how to, you know, expand, binomials I’m there to help you. I’m not there to dictate what your life is gonna look like. So that’s, that’s a big part. And then the other part is authenticity. Mm-Hmm . If I run into a kid at the grocery store, I’m the same guy that was in the math class.


Peter Bowman (07:30):
I’m not, I’m not different in, in one position or place than another, I don’t think. And I’d like to, you know, assume that that’s the way others will perceive me as well. Cuz I think if you try to be somebody you’re not most people see through that very quickly. And, and I mean, it’s not easy to say, but if, if you have insecurities and you try to cover that that’s a formula for disaster. So I think it’s, it’s valid to have your insecurities and, and to be open about where that may play out in your relationship with kids in a classroom or wherever. And so it’s, I dunno, that authenticity is, is so critical because that, that gives people the opportunity to see you wart and all.


Sam Demma (08:19):
I couldn’t agree more. Take me back to for a minute bark lake. Why, why do you think it’s so important? Students have opportunities like that to be exposed to different ideas, perspectives and leadership. I leadership concepts.


Peter Bowman (08:36):
So it’s not even just that bark lake had that program. That was so critical. Mm-Hmm it was also the age. They, they were very uniform that you were, and I can’t remember if it was 14 or 15, you had to be that age. I think it was 15. Yeah. So there was nobody that was 14. There was nobody that was 16. You had to be 15. And that that’s, I think more impactful than people realized, cuz was timing is critical. Mm-Hmm I don’t have my driver’s license yet. I, I may not have had much in the way of part-time job experience. So you’re at a critical agent stage. And so I look at grade nine and 10 in my school and I’m like, you kids have got to jump into something. I don’t care if you end up being a regular attendee at our Dungeons and dragons club or, or if you’re the, you know, the point guard for our basketball team, I want you to be doing something.


Peter Bowman (09:31):
I walked into a drama class the other day and we’re putting on a musical this year. And so it was amazing. I walk in the teachers, the it’s a team teach scenario are kind of at opposite corners in the, in the theater. There’s a student front front row center, you know, elbows on the stage in charge of choreography. Obviously there’s a student that’s sort of center of the audience location. Flipping through pages. That’s kids are reading their lines. Obviously the student director, I, I couldn’t be happier. Like I don’t wanna walk into a class and see that the teacher has to do everything. So in that moment, those kids are being given those leadership opportunities. It, it ties into personal confidence. I, I don’t care if that choreographer student ends up being a choreographer. Mm you’re. You’re comfortable with who you are.


Peter Bowman (10:27):
You’re confident to speak out when, when someone’s not where they need to be. You learn to collaborate cuz you’re not yelling it out. You are, you are trying to coax them into being in the right spot at the right times so that it ends up being a great product. So those, those things I, I value so much. I, I remember when I got the outdoors club going at Vaughn secondary and I was a young pimple faced teacher with a ponytail . And I would wear a dress shirt just so that kids knew that I was a staff member right. Like it was one of those early days. And, and I thought at first I needed to get the canoe trip information and get all the material ready and do all the teaching and instructing and very quickly realized that’s so not what I should be doing.


Peter Bowman (11:14):
Mm. So I, I identified kids that had a little bit of experience or had a little bit of time and, and passion. And we would meet for hours before our, our canoe trip club meeting so that they were prepared to lead them through the sessions on how to pack, how to prep a menu. And what I loved is I, I hear from those kids now, you know, decades later telling me about the canoe trips that they’ve been on. And I want that for my own children. Right. I want them to have done enough on our family to do trips that, you know, they’re now at a age and stage where they’re going off on their own. And I’m not quite at a point where I trust my son to read a map on Georgia bay, but on smaller inland lakes, he’s good to go.


Sam Demma (11:58):
That’s awesome. That’s amazing. It sounds like community is a through line theme through all of this. Like you, you know, students helping each other, everyone getting involved in playing a role. It sounds like the, the school you were at and probably the one you’re at right now, like one of the emphasis is building strong community. What are some of the things you focus on in the school culture?


Peter Bowman (12:23):
So right now I’m trying to push we’re we’re appropriate project based learning and, and again, where possible. Multidisciplines so nice. I met with, with a colleague the other day. We’ve got this beautiful blank brick wall on our third floor that has sunshine almost all day. So I’m talking with, with Philly and I’m saying, is there a way that we can maybe get a living while going?


Sam Demma (12:51):
Mm.


Peter Bowman (12:52):
And so she’s jumped right on board, and that’s the thing like, she, like, we’ve got great people. So she jumps right on board, and she’s already talked to the environ person at the board office. But I love that she and I are on the same page and that we’re thinking, well, we’ve got a Makerspace club and a guy who loves computer programs. So maybe we can get in our Arduino or a raspberry pie to, to program the, the cycling of water for, for hydration. And, and we’ve got a fantastic machine shop here, right? So guys can, can weld up frames and brackets and and build the structure. So that’s where I want to go with that. I’ve got a I’ll call it an art installation in the main entrance way of our school. Hmm. That’s got six old random computer monitors.


Peter Bowman (13:40):
Again, the, the tech guys built the frame to, to Mount all these monitors. And then the computer guys programmed these little raspberry pies to take a kid’s image from our digital media art class and break it up into six quadrants of, of the, of the screen. Yeah. Cool. So that you now have these funky little, so your, your image that you created is then exploded into these six pieces. And that’s three different disciplines that have a project, right. When you walk in the front door. Cool. so that kind of thinking it doesn’t always pan out. Like I have more failures than I have successes, but I like that because then that’s a student that says I did that.


Sam Demma (14:25):
Mm.


Peter Bowman (14:26):
What is, or new kids coming in that can say, I can do that.


Sam Demma (14:31):
Hmm. What is your perspective on failure? Like, I I’ve listened to some people that I respect and they say things like failures or stepping stones to future learnings, you know, and as much as that’s a positive thing, obviously in the moment, it kind of sucks. but how do you perceive failure and, and approach the those actions?


Peter Bowman (14:54):
I’m certainly not, I’m not gonna drop a t-shirt phrase, but yeah, it’s critical. Yeah. I, my alternative school days as you can imagine, these are kids that struggled and maybe didn’t have a lot of encouragement. Maybe didn’t have a lot of success in their time, in and around school. We often referred to ourselves as the land and misfit toys, which I thought was kind of appropriate. But in that we banded together and, and had a lot of fun. But again, it’s the math teacher. You’re almost the, the worst guy in the planet, right? Yeah. Cause I’m taking kids that have very likely had horrific math experiences. And the big thing I always said is if, if you know, we, we look at homework or 15 minutes after class work time if I went around and I saw that the page was blank. And if a student said, well, I tried, I said, no, if you tried, there’d be all over that page.


Sam Demma (15:51):
Mm.


Peter Bowman (15:53):
And so we got into this sort of mindset that you know, and this was before the modern version of the vertical classroom, which is all the rage, but it was every kid at a marker. And every kid who’s up with a whiteboard and you throw something out there and I don’t care if it’s right or wrong, you are going to write something. And, and eventually, cuz it certainly doesn’t happen right away. Eventually every kid is, is willing to take a shot. Hmm. And I think that’s that to me is victory. Again, most of those kids that I, that I taught how to graph a linear relationship are probably not doing that for a living right now. Yeah. but the boldness to make that first step to try and come up with a table of values that I think is something that they’re probably tapping into as a as a skill set or as a, as a willingness to trust themselves to try.


Sam Demma (16:54):
Mm yeah. It’s like a character trait you build through different activities, which is why, when you mentioned earlier saying leadership camp, wasn’t only about learning a leadership concept. It was about being a part of something. It was about getting involved, building confidence in an activity. I think school as a whole does that in so many different subjects. And if we find something that we love doing as well, while we’re there, it’s like added bonus. But the, yeah, I think the skills last a lifetime well,


Peter Bowman (17:26):
And, and the shared experiences. Yeah. Right. Like it is, it’s one of the things I absolutely love is when I, when I chat with former students. And, and sometimes like I’ll still run into kids in Barry cause that’s where I live. And I’ve taught in a couple of schools in Barry. And so you’ll run into kids periodically. And they vividly remember scenarios and situations as, as do educators. But the problem is, yeah, you, you end up with so many kids and so many experiences you, yeah. That those moments may not make your top 10 for, but for that particular student, it, it was and like with the old school man, we did some stuff that was crazy. Awesome. And again, it wasn’t that they’re gonna learn how to parse out the subject and predicate in a sentence. It’s it’s that they know that if you relax and try and enjoy life or we bit sometimes good things can happen.


Peter Bowman (18:24):
We, I think it was at it wasn’t all school. It was at a regular school. We had a field trip. This math class had done way beyond what I’d ever imagined. Hmm. They were just so willing to go on the journey of trying stuff. So I, I asked if we could go on a field trip and the vice principal at the time said help me understand, do you wanna take a math class on a field trip? Where are you gonna go? That is math . So I was able to document it, letting us go to Toronto. So from Barry to Toronto, and this is back in the day when you were allowed to rent passenger van. So we rented the passenger van cause it was a very small class. We drove to Toronto and we were gonna go down to the lake shore and we were gonna figure out how far away center island was from lake Ontario using trigonometry.


Peter Bowman (19:10):
And we were gonna measure certain Heights of buildings using trigonometry trigonometry. So we did a bit of that. Oh. And by the way, it was around Christmas and we were gonna stop at Yorkdale and, you know, wander around a little bit. And that was okay too. So for whatever crazy reason, wherever we parked in Yorkdale, again, we’re all traveling together like who in the right mind wants to hang out with a math teacher, but we all walk in, whatever door happened to be open from where we parked and we follow this long corridor and then we go up these stairs and not this, we ended up on the roof of Yorkdale, you know.

Peter Bowman (19:44):
Well, I’m standing on the roof with, and, and as we, as we come out and we’re realizing we’re on the roof, you know, the, the immediate don’t let that door close. So, you know, we laughed about it and, and then left. I don’t remember what else we did on the trip, but I’m sure those guys remember that experience. Right.


Sam Demma (20:01):
Yeah.


Peter Bowman (20:02):
So I don’t know. I really think those opportunities are so vital. And that’s why when I walk around the school as principal and I see coaches here to the wee hours working on stuff and, you know, teachers lining up trips to Europe and stuff like that. That’s, that’s awesome. I absolutely love that extra effort that goes into things.


Sam Demma (20:23):
Hmm. Shared experiences is a big one. I was, I was listening to a podcast recently and they were talking about building relationships with other people and shared experiences is one of the top ways to do that because you have this memory and moment in time, that’s linked with that other individual. And they were talking about it in a, you know, a relationship like an intimate relationship way and you know, like going on dates and why it’s important to spend with your significant other. But yeah, just as much applies, I think, to just building friendships and lifelong friends. Speaking of like lifelong friends and friendships the educators that had a big impact on you, do you still stay in touch with some of those, those individuals and also do you have any mentors that helped you along the journey that you wanna give a quick shout out to besides Mar?


Peter Bowman (21:15):
That’s a good question. I don’t off the top of my head. I don’t think I have any that I, I seek out. It’s kind of funny because right now as principal there are some supply teachers that are retired, teachers that come in that used to work in the school I was in. So it is kind of funny to run into some of those folks. Mentorship’s an interesting thing, cuz we, we love to formalize everything. Yeah, right. We love to turn everything into a numbered memo and a, and a program and a structured something or other. And I, I don’t see, I don’t see that happening very well as a formalized process in education. Mm. My, my mentorship is, is all over the map. You know, getting into administration is a really significant shift from, from classroom teaching. And so to find people, I, I mean, we always use the phrase, phone, a friend to find people who you resonate with as a, as an approach, cuz not everyone’s the same.


Peter Bowman (22:23):
There are certainly colleagues that I have great deal of respect for, but if the two of us had to run a school together, I think it would be a disaster. Because our, our approach is just so different. There’d be conflict and style and, and, and in some case decision making, mm. So the mentors are, are those phone of friends. That I guess if I checked my phone to see, you know, frequency of text messaging there’s lots. And I think it’s important also to recognize that the formalized mentorship, they always talk about find somebody that is in the position you want to be in and, and aspire to. And then, and then work there. I actually have some mentors that, that are not in that sort of next step mm-hmm they’re, they’re either at the same step or they’re maybe a step behind or two steps behind. And it’s really just somebody that, that similar passion and in a lot of cases that similar lens. And so if your, if your lens is, how can I best help kids? You got a good shot at being on my mentor list.


Sam Demma (23:33):
I love it. I think you, you just got me thinking about a thought I’ve had for a while and couldn’t, couldn’t bring to words and it’s this idea that yeah, mentors don’t always have to be someone in the exact position you wanna be in in the future. It could also be somebody who I think it could also be someone who’s in a totally different field who can bring a unique perspective into the thing you’re hoping to do.


Peter Bowman (24:01):
And I’ve, I’ve read various books on, on mentoring, like iron sharp iron and all these other, there’s a lot of writing that goes into it. And they, they do say sometimes it’s not within your industry. But I, like, I also say in some respects, the kids that I’ve worked with yeah. Have mentored me as well. Like I think of my early days as a vice principal, that’s a, that’s a really tricky role to play at school. Yep. And, and there are some kids that I would say you might call high flyers regular yeah. Interactions and those kids as a new vice principal certainly helped me figure out what would and wouldn’t work. Mm. And so in that case, the iron sharpening iron yeah. That happened.


Sam Demma (24:48):
Mm. Yeah. I love that.


Peter Bowman (24:49):
But only because you’re authentic. Yeah. Right. If I, if I tried to have that, that, you know, rock solid authority position, I don’t think you would ever get to that mentoring sort of relationship with somebody. Or, and again, it, I don’t know if I’m doing proper justice to that concept. I’m sure there are folks out there that have studied mentoring that are freaking out when I say this, but mentoring is really about learning. Yeah. And, and where do you find that learning opportunity? And I, I don’t think we should ever limit where that learning can come from.


Sam Demma (25:19):
Great perspective. Speaking of learning, you mentioned iron sharpens, iron, any other resources that you have read or courses you’ve been through or yeah, just resources in general, they’ve been helpful for you throughout your, your career. I’m just curious. And yeah. If another educators listening, maybe they could look into it.


Peter Bowman (25:39):
So like honestly, the, the biggest resource I have are my ears.


Sam Demma (25:45):
Mm.


Peter Bowman (25:46):
They’re not particularly large. They’re getting a little hairier, but it’s, it’s listening and, and allowing yourself to listen more. The recently the one book I read was white fragility challenging read as a, as a white male and coming from that place of privilege again, I didn’t necessarily follow everything that was being described in the book, but it really forced me to, to not pay lip service, to trying to understand white privilege. Yeah. And, and that, that hit me last year. And I shared with my staff actually, I, I shot a little video and I know you’re not supposed to operate your cell phone when driving a car, but I did shoot a little video while driving. I was, I was going to pick up my, my one kid and I was a little bit late. So I might have been going a little beyond what the speed limit was telling me I was supposed to do. And I actually had this, this thought in my head, ah, what’s the worst that could happen. I’ll get a ticket. And then it hit me that’s cuz I’m, I’m white. Mm. That is not the worst that can happen for a lot of people.


Peter Bowman (27:05):
And, and I was, I was messed up. Like, I was even late because I had to pull over. And even now actually saying this Sam, like it, it Wells me up a little bit because that’s, that’s a horrible thing to have thought. But thankfully as I’m trying to read and trying to understand and try and do better, I’m, I’m getting caught in some of that stuff. Right. And I recognize that other other experiences are, are very complex and, and I need to try and do a little better. So weight privilege was a tough read. It it, it got through to me in, in ways that a lot of other PD and workshops and stuff hadn’t, and again, it, it may not be the, the magic ticket for others, but I, I certainly found it a very challenging read as a white male.


Sam Demma (27:53):
I appreciate you sharing that and I’m sure other people will be encouraged to check it out after hearing this. If someone, you know, listens to this conversation wants to ask you a question, connect or reach out what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you?


Peter Bowman (28:08):
I’m happy to chat. Like I, I very much wear my heart on my sleeve and and I’m certainly open to things. Welcome to send an email to me or call the school Orillia Secondary School and askto speak to the principal. We’re crazy busy with all that is school, but I’m, I’m certainly open to, to phone calls and whatever. I do social media, but increasingly I find there’s so much negativity and so much challenge with that, that I’m, I’m trying to back off. I never did get into Facebook. I created an account one year and, and friended my wife. That was what I gave her for her birthday or something. Because she knew how anti-Facebook I was and, and Twitter and, and Instagram I do. But it just, I find that people are just looking for opportunity to make that a, a negative space and that frustrates me because I can’t control it as well. And I, I also feel I do a bad enough job with the friends. I actually see, I don’t need to feel like I’m doing a bad job with the people I don’t necessarily run into.


Sam Demma (29:17):
Yeah, no, I agree. I, I took a year off social media about a year and a half ago now and it changed my perspective a lot.


Peter Bowman (29:27):
Is tricky because there’s, but there’s so much good that can come up. And, and if, if you could be part of a social media platform that forbid darkness and evil and then I’m in cuz there are a lot of great kitten photos and there’s a lot of great sayings and there’s a lot of deep insights that can occur. And these are wonderful platforms to, to challenge your brain and challenge your heart. But man, there’s so much poison it’s it’s really just worth it at times.


Sam Demma (30:02):
I appreciate Peter you taking the time to come on here and chat share some of your own insights and journeys and funny stories. and I, I hope to stay in touch in the future and continue to watch the great things that happen once the living wall comes to life. You’re gonna have to send me a picture of it.


Peter Bowman (30:20):
Knowing, knowing school board protocols and procedures, this could be years.


Sam Demma (30:24):
Yeah. but anyway, keep up the great work.


Peter Bowman (30:29):
I appreciate you doing this and highlighting some of the good things that are going on, because they’re certainly way more good than bad.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Peter Bowman

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.

Lisa Nichols – Vice Principal on Special Assignment GOAL 2 Office/ School Leadership

Lisa Nichols – Vice Principal on Special Assignment GOAL 2 Office/ School Leadership
About Lisa Nichols

Lisa Nichols was born in Daly City, CA and moved to Fresno at the age of three. She graduated from Hoover High School in 1991. Lisa is the first in her family to receive a college degree. She received her Bachelor of Arts and Master’s Degree in Social Work from California State University of Fresno (CSUF). She continued pursing her education and received a second Master’s Degree in Education and an Administrative Credential.


Lisa is a Vice Principal on Special Assignment with Fresno Unified School District’s GOAL 2 Office/School Leadership. She was a part of the team that opened Gaston Middle School in 2014. She plays an important role in creating a culture in which the needs of students, teachers, families, and the community are met through building positive connections. In her first role at FUSD, Lisa implemented and ran two critical afterschool programs at an elementary school site, Girl Power and Boys 2 Men. The Girl Power program taught young girls to be confident, to stand up for themselves, and to be healthy.

The Boys 2 Men mentoring program for at-risk students, taught learning skills applicable for the real world. In addition, students learned to be leaders, self-sufficient learners, resolve conflicts, and resist peer influences. With 10 years working in child welfare, and 8 years working as a social worker in a hospital setting, Lisa has impacted the lives of many adults. She provided resources and emotional support that aided in their ability to get their lives back on track and improved the quality of life for them.


One of Lisa’s passions lies in community work. She served as Commissioner for First 5 Fresno County for six years, served seven years on the Advisory Council for Fresno Institute for Urban Leadership (FIFUL), board member for Tree Fresno for four years, served on the Children’s Movement Leadership team and the Advisor for the Bullard High African-American Parent Advisory Group for four years. She currently serves as a Commissioner for  the Fresno Economic Opportunities Commission (EOC), Board Member for the Marjorie Mason Center, Board of Directors, Member for the Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) Board of Directors, Board Member for the Black Students of California United (BSCU) Co-Advisor for the Black Student Union Club (BSU) at Gaston Middle School and is a chapter member of San Joaquin Valley Alumnae (SJVA) Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Incorporated. In addition, she has served as the co-chair for the Educational Development Committee for 7 years, which has been instrumental in hosting the African American High School Recognition Ceremony for the past 26 years.


In June of 2008, Lisa was recognized as a trailblazer by the San Joaquin Valley Alumnae Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc. In March of 2014, Lisa was recognized by the Fresno Black Chamber of Commerce for outstanding contributions to the Fresno area. She received the “Passing the Torch” trailblazer award in February of 2015 from the African American Historical & Cultural Museum and recognized as ACSA Administer of the Year in 2016.


Lisa has overcome many obstacles in her life; however, she believes her struggles have made her a stronger person. She has risen above childhood domestic violence, poverty, both speech and learning disabilities. Lisa contributes her education accomplishments and her passion for community involvement to her grandmother, Ethel Luke, who raised her, and has made her to be the women she is today. Lisa has 2 daughters, Candice, age 28 Bria, 26 and two grandsons, Ellis, age 6 and Adrian, age 1.

Connect with Lisa: Email | Linkedin

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

School of Social Work – California State University

Fresno Unified School District

Gaston Middle School

First 5 Fresno County

Fresno Institute for Urban Leadership (FIFUL)

Tree Fresno

Children’s Movement

Fresno Economic Opportunities Commission (EOC)

Marjorie Mason Center

Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA)

Black Students of California United (BSCU)

African American High School Recognition Ceremony

Fresno Black Chamber of Commerce

Association of California School Administrators

FUSD – School Based Mentorship

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 on the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s guest is Lisa Nichols, who was born in California and moved to Fresno at the age of three, and she’s the first of her family to receive a college degree and also a master’s degree in education and an administrative credential. Lisa is the Vice Principal on Special Assignment GOAL 2 Office/ School Leadership.


Sam Demma (01:08):
What you need to know about Lisa is that she is on a mission to help young people, whether it was starting her own program called girl power or boys to men, or whether it’s today using the obstacles that she overcame in her own life. You know, struggles like childhood, domestic violence, poverty, both speech and learning impediments and disabilities. It’s using the experiences and challenges that she went through growing up as a kid that she believes have made her a stronger person. And those are the things that are allowing her to pour back into kids and students, and would inform her educational accomplishments and her passion for community involvement . She’s also very family orientated. She has two daughters, Candace aged 28 and Bria aged 26, and two grandsons; Ellis age 6 and Adrian age 1. Lisa is a beam of positivity and hope, and I hope you feel inspired after listening to a little bit of her story on today’s interview. I’ll see you on the other side, talk soon. Lisa, welcome to the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show all the way from another country.


Lisa Nichols (02:20):
Thank you. Thanks Sam.


Sam Demma (02:23):
Yeah, it’s a pleasure. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit about who you are and what brought you to, to where you are in education today?


Lisa Nichols (02:31):
Wow, that’s a lot. So I’ll try to keep it brief. I’m Lisa Nichols and I’m a vice principal and special assignment with Fresno Unified School District in Fresno, California. We get a lot of heat here, so if you ever come into our neighborhood, you need to make sure you’re bringing a beach towel and a hat to stay cold. But I, gosh, my, you know, it was kind of a fluke because I didn’t come into education by choice. My background is social work, and I knew I wanted to be a social worker at a very young age. So I wanted to help people in need and give back. So it took a situation that happened at my daughter’s school to get involved as a parent advocate, and as a result of being involved as a parent, I was tapped on the shoulder by school officials.


Lisa Nichols (03:20):
They’re like, you would be really great at this as an advocate, as an employee. And I was like, you know what? I have a credential a counselor credential. And so that’s how I came into education. And I actually said, I would never come into education because I had such a bad experience as a parent. I just thought there’s no way I would work in a system like that, but it actually has been the most rewarding job I’ve ever had. And I, and I, I say that with all sincerity, I have really enjoyed working in the district and being able to mentor and empower young young leaders as well as teachers and staff to help support our young leaders.


Sam Demma (03:56):
That’s amazing. And I’m sorry to hear about the bad experience. If you don’t mind me asking like what, what did that entail and how did that experience motivate you to be the change you wanted to see in the school that you’re working in? Now?


Lisa Nichols (04:11):
My daughter was the whistleblower in a situation where there was students that had it was a racial incident and she spoke, got against it. And as a parent you know, you’re advocating to make sure your child is safe, but that the schools are really taking consideration of how that impacts those that have been harmed by the situation. Yeah. As but that, that situation, I always think there’s, you always, there’s good that you can find out any situation, you know, that can come outta any situation. And so as a result of that started looking at the data for African American students and realize as parents, we need to be a better partners at the table. And I know for me, I was going about my business schedule and they making sure my kids were advocat for, but I realized that it takes a village and that I needed to do my part in supporting not only my students, but my, by my black students, my children, but other black students.


Lisa Nichols (05:08):
And so as a result of that, I started an African American parent advisory group to get other parent partners at the table because we needed to understand that the schools can’t do it alone. It really is a partnership. And even when things we may not agree with certain systems or policies that the schools have. We can, if we understand them better, we can work better to look at some systematic changes. And so that’s where I came from that lens. And so that was kind of my journey. And so not necessarily, it was a bad experience as far as at the time when it happened, it wasn’t a good feeling to be a part of that. However, it did teach my daughter how to be an advocate when things aren’t right, how to step up and have a voice and not be scared. And it taught me as a parent on how I could help educate other parents about the importance of how do we, what do we need to do more to advocate for our students and our children and and do our part and that we can’t always point the finger. Again, it, it is accountability from all corners.


Sam Demma (06:09):
Ah, I love that. That’s amazing. Thank you so much for sharing and that’s really cool. Is the advisory group still, is this still a thing that exists and you guys, you know, meet on like a monthly basis or something?


Lisa Nichols (06:19):
Well, and actually, so my, both my girls graduated 10 years ago when this, when this


Sam Demma (06:23):
Project started.


Lisa Nichols (06:24):
So this happened 10 years ago. And so I’ve been in my, I’ve been in my district almost close to nine years. So the advisory council had for a minute it was, it had disappeared, but it, it came back and it’s funny because how it comes back in circle it they’ve now leaned on me as the employee to help support the current advisor, the parent advisor that’s over that, that group at that particular school. And so now I’m working to mentor the parent advisor behind the scenes on some just lessons learned what, what I wish I would’ve had at the time when I was starting this group on my own. So it’s, it’s neat to see that it’s, it’s now in effect and that they’re looking at ways to help support the school.


Sam Demma (07:05):
Ah, that’s awesome. And you know, you mentioned a few minutes ago that you never really saw yourself in education. In fact, you decided you’d never get into it. Growing up, did you have awesome educators yourself? Like, did you have teachers that you can think of or principals or coaches back in, in school that you think motivated you and maybe inspired you to realize that you might want to get into education or was your experience the total opposite as well as a young person?


Lisa Nichols (07:36):
Yeah, my experience was I didn’t, I can’t recall a teacher, which is that. And this is one of the reasons why I decided my main decision to come into education. I had a speech therapist that I can tell you who was very supported and my grandmother who was a strong advocate to make sure that I wasn’t gonna be this child left behind. Yeah. So those two individuals I can, I can recall very supported in my corner, which makes me think about why it’s important that our students have key connections and people they can identify as a person on campus that I can go to that person if I’m having a bad day, or if I feel like I have been harmed or not treated fairly, I have this person I can lean on. And so that was one of my main decisions why I said, okay, I, I got involved cuz of my daughters, but now I need to even get more involved because students don’t always have that relationship with a, a staff on, on campus.


Lisa Nichols (08:31):
Now it has changed, you know, that was 20 some years ago. when I was coming up. Yeah. And so our districts and our community is looking at how do we nurture our, how do we mentor our staff to be those relationship builders for their students. And, and I definitely have seen changes in our systems and we’ve definitely come a long ways. So yeah. So I give a high five to my grandmother who was, who was resting in heaven. Mm-Hmm and the speech therapist who, I can’t remember her name, but who always had that that ability to make me feel like I was going to be somebody, you know, that I, she didn’t give up on me and encourage me. And so I, I wish I knew her name. I can’t remember, but I do remember her, her words and her kind touch and, and those type of things.


Sam Demma (09:18):
Yeah. That’s amazing. I like, I, I think back to my own high school experience, and there’s only one teacher for me that really stood out, everyone was okay. In my experience. But that there was one educator who went above and beyond to make me feel like I could do great things like you’re mentioning who like, and I was going through a really tough experience in grade 12. I played soccer my entire life and was on route to get a full ride scholarship. And in my senior year underwent three major knee injuries and two surgeries and had to stop playing sports. And it was like this like life shattering experience. And he was the one person in my life. No, my parents supported me, but he was one other person in my life who would pull me aside and say, Sam, you’re destined for great things.


Sam Demma (09:57):
You might not see it right now, but I promise you, like, I promise you’re gonna do amazing work. And, and his words stuck in my mind, you know, and it just goes to show how powerful one caring person is in the life of a, of a young person or, or a young student. And that makes me curious, like in your school can you recall any examples on how the positive words of educators or even over yourself has impacted a young person and maybe you didn’t even know about it for like two years. And then they came back and were like, Ms. Nichols, Lisa, like, oh my goodness, you said two years ago made a big impact or maybe some of your teachers that have said those things. Can you think of any stories? And if it’s a serious transformation, you can like, kinda keep it private. I am,


Lisa Nichols (10:41):
I can think of one because I happen to be so my first position in the district was a school counselor and the school that I served at, one of the programs that I implemented was called girl power because I felt there, and it was for students that were behaviorally having issues. And they were academically not doing well. So I started this after school program called girl girls power. And I started a boys, boys to men club as well. So this is at school. Well, I happened to run. I was in a, a, in a line at in and out getting my love in and out by the way. And I pulled up to get my order. And there was a young girl that was like, Ms. Nichols. I’m like, I don’t know who this young girl is, but she goes my name.


Lisa Nichols (11:23):
Right. She’s like, do you remember me? You know, I was in your girl power group. And then, and I was like, and when she said her name, then I knew, I remember right away who she was, but she talked about how, how that group was really it just, she goes, I, I had so much fun in that group and the things that we learned, cuz they learned about being young women and we would bring in speakers to help just kind of uplift them and just give them motivation and inspire them. And she talked about how that was something she took remembered. And so it just touched my heart because you never know the impact you have on kids. Sometimes you see it in the moment and most of the times you don’t right. And you always wonder, you know, did I make an impact on that, those group of students?


Lisa Nichols (11:59):
And, and so she was there, she’s like, I’m working. I, I graduated and which is funny because it tells my age that I was running into an 18 year old at the time and she was in sixth grade at the time. And so yeah, so that was inspiring to hear her say, you know, that that group made a difference at the time in my life. And thank you for that. And so, and I, it’s exciting a couple of years ago I had ran into the program that now oversees it, the department that oversees it and now girl powers in several elementary schools. Oh wow. So yeah, and some, they always keep me adverse to what’s going on, like, Hey, you know, we started a girl power in this school. They’ve changed the dynamics and the curriculum, but the foundation they’ve been able to say, you know, we always go back to the foundation you later. So yeah, that is a, that’s a great story that I always keep because I always wonder if the group was effective. I know it’s in other schools, but just to hear a student that was once in the program is really neat, neat to see and hear how their journey, where they’ve, you know, where they’re going.


Sam Demma (13:00):
And what’s so awesome is like, even if you didn’t drive that in and out and didn’t hear that student success story, it’s still there. Like it’s still exists. It’s just like sometimes as educators, you don’t hear it or maybe you hear it 20 years later. It’s like if a tree falls in a forest and no, one’s there to hear it, the tree still falls, right? It’s like same with student impact sometimes with educators. And you could tell how excited you are about that group, cuz you’re smiling from cheek to cheek when you’re talking about it, which


Lisa Nichols (13:24):
Is, it was such a fun group because we they learned a skill every group, so a perfect things that they need in the real life world, right. How to be respectful and how to deal with confrontation and conflict. And they learned leadership skills and then we would always have a girl power tea at the very end of every session where the girls learn how to be, you know, how to eat and appropriately. And it was cute. So I, I smiled because I remember of all the community partners that came together to make the tea really look like a tea. And there was board members that stepped up to do center pieces and we had people pitching in money to do, you know, cause there wasn’t budgets were really low back back then it’s like, oh I couldn’t get money for stuff. But I, the community stepped up to make sure they had, you know, these little cucumber sandwiches, just really things that really and that it it’s the little things right.


Lisa Nichols (14:17):
And the girls, they got to dress up and they got to, to share what they learned the three months in that, in that group. So yeah, it does put a smile on my face because I think now those students are, the first group are gotta be, at least they’re they gotta be 20, 20 or 19 or 20 at this age now. So I’m wondering where they’re all at. But but just seeing her that wasn’t, that was enough to, to say, okay, that, that, that group did make an impact at least on one student.


Sam Demma (14:45):
Yeah. That’s amazing. That’s so cool. Sounds like you gotta reconnect with them again. Now you have a reason to check in.


Lisa Nichols (14:51):
I gotta go back and see if she’s at the, in out. Yeah.


Sam Demma (14:54):
That’s amazing. That’s amazing. And I wanna go back one more time again to your grandmother. Grandmother. Yeah. It sounds like she had a really big impact on you. And my grandfather actually had a huge impact on me. And I’m curious to know what your grandmother did. I was listening just recently to a podcast called on purpose. This guy named Jay, she host it and he’s like a really cool guy. And he was interviewing someone named scooter bran who happens to be like Justin Bieber’s music manager. And scooter bran was saying that when he was a kid, his grandmother pulled him and his siblings aside one by one individually without the others knowing and would say, Hey, I have to tell you something it’s a very important secret. And you can’t tell any of your other siblings, you’re the special one and they’re gonna do amazing things. And I believe in you and, and she told all the kids and at scoot scooter only realized at his grandmother’s funeral after telling his brother, Hey, you know, she pulled me aside when we were kids. And she told me that I was a special one. And, and then his brother was like, well, she told me that too. , you know, they all realized, and I was just like, wow, what a wise thing to tell a young mind, you know how


Lisa Nichols (16:05):
Powerful that is.


Sam Demma (16:06):
Yeah. And I’m curious to know what your, you know, grandmother did for you that made a, a big difference in impact.


Lisa Nichols (16:11):
Oh, that’s such an easy question. She was very big in, in giving back to your community. And so my sister and I were raised to give back at an early age and we volunteered for advance. It was nothing. And so I am super involved in the community because of the the foundation she instilled in me about, you have to take care of your, your, your village, your community, it’s important that you give back. And so and then she always talked about the importance of connections. She’s like always meet a new person every day, cause you never know how that person, how you’ll need them in the future or how so I have a wealth of networks of people that I can call on if I need something. And so I I’m always talking about the importance of community partners at the table, in our district and how there’s resources that they have.


Lisa Nichols (16:59):
And we may not have as a system and we need to partner with them as well, even when it comes to our parents. And so, and so the community partnerships are key and that’s something that she taught me. And so we always do a community service project with our young kids. I oversee what is called the black student union advisory student council. And these are young young students, black students that were teaching leadership and the importance of giving back. And so that’s what my grandmother has instilled in me and I have connections, anytime I need anything I can go to someone’s community. And I won’t get a, a note for an answer because of the connections I’ve made. And I, I have to give my grandmother all the praise for that for teaching me about the importance of a community and a village.


Sam Demma (17:45):
Ah, I love that. That’s amazing. And when you were growing up I think volunteer is so important. I feel like it’s one of the only examples in life where it’s a win, win, win experience. You know, you win because you feel good about the work you’re doing, the people you’re helping or who you’re volunteer, win, cuz you’re helping them. And then the world as a whole kind of just becomes a little bit of a better place, emit so much negative news and turmoil. Mm-Hmm do you remember some of the experiences or like where you guys volunteered? Like what would you usually do growing up with your grandma?


Lisa Nichols (18:17):
So don’t laugh, but my grandmother was very involved with the senior citizen center. And so that’s where we would hang out with her in the kitchen. She was a cook and so we would help serve the, the elder population. And you know, at our age you would think, gosh, who wants to hang out with older people? Right. But it was a, I love the elder community. And I think because my grandmother started at a young age of us appreciating our elders. Right. And so you wouldn’t think the young individual wanna hang out with older people, but we looked forward to our, our Saturdays and feeding the elders or lunch and reading books to them. And so that’s was where, that’s where we hung out as, as children. And then of course, you know, we grew up in the church and so we would always, you know be involved in our church activities, but the senior citizens center is where we hung out growing up. And so you can never say anything mean to be about an elderly. I just, I just have the highest, most highest respect for them. And that’s kind of where we were raised. Like you just, you respected your elders, you listened to them and no matter what they said, you, you let it go to one ear out the other, even if you disagreed with them, you just, it was just that mutual respect you had.


Sam Demma (19:24):
Yeah. Oh, I love that. So true. It’s similar in like European families, like I’m half Italian, half Greek and it’s like, yeah, we, we were very much taught to respect our elders as well. And hopefully everyone’s taught that, you know? Yeah. But yeah, that’s such a cool, that’s such a cool little story. When you think about education today, what do you think are some of the challenges and how have you tried to overcome some of those and maybe also on a positive note, what do you think are some of the opportunities that exist as well?


Lisa Nichols (19:55):
So at challenges, I think the thing about challenges there’s is the cultural aspect of our students, making sure that that culturally, our students are learning about who they are. And so I think the challenges are that our teachers don’t always have those tools or the resources to be able to have those conversations all the time in their classrooms. Yeah. You know, we, we do a really good job in celebrating black history or celebrating single denial or, you know, those one time events that support cultural, multicultural and identity, but it needs to be something that’s ongoing and all year long because there’s identity issues with some of our students when it comes to their culture and they don’t understand who they know or they don’t know their histories. And so that’s kind of the challenge is just making sure that we are providing those, that space and opportunity for students to learn about who they are so they can be proud and be inspired.


Lisa Nichols (20:56):
I think there’s opportunities for for us to our, our district is doing a really good job in in student of and and student voice. And, and in past years we’ve made sure we provide space and opportunity for, for students to be at the table. And so I think there’s room for opportunities for, for any education system to make sure that they have their young people up up in front, that when they’re making a decision on behalf of students, that they have students at the table helping to map out those plans and those, whatever the plan is gonna be, that there’s a young person at the table in those conversations. And so I think we have many room, many opportunities for room to do that.


Sam Demma (21:42):
I love that. And I think we’re getting to an age where students are, students are so resilient. Like it always, it just excites me so much when I see a young person like battle an obstacle and beat it. And if someone tells them, there’s no space at the table, they pull up their own chair. You know, that’s what it seems like these days. And I think that’s so exciting and awesome, and it it’s, you know, kudos to the teachers and people that are raising them cuz you know, you all are doing a great job. In terms of the difference between, you know, two years ago, education and this year what is like, what are some of those challenges? I know C’s obviously placed some barriers and how has your school tried to overcome those things and still get students the support they need and still just continue giving them an education.


Lisa Nichols (22:31):
Right. so I, I think parent engagement, it would be and I, I think that’s a challenge, especially it comes to our African American parents, I think. It’s like, how do we look at ways to engaging and making sure that that we’re listening to their concerns and we’re again having them as partners at the table. And I think that’s a, a challenge for many school districts, not just ours. Yeah. And so I am actually in the doctoral program and that’s what I’m planning to do. My dissertation on is how do we engage our African American parents? And, and to not necessarily be thinking, well, it’s the blame on, on our, on the African American community. It’s like, what if we, the district need to look at on our end, what are some things that we may need to change or do differently when we’re working with our parents?


Lisa Nichols (23:24):
And so so I think that’s a challenge. That would kind of be the biggest one that I’m thinking, especially now with COVID and you know, now, I mean, for me, I I do a lot of my things virtually still because just because of the, the feedback that I’ve gotten back from parents is like, Hey, can cuz my programs are after school. And so it’s easier for me to do virtual. But I, I think we I think the challenge is how do you keep kids engaged virtually act with after school activities and how do you make sure parents are showing up too as well? How do you engage them that way? So I think that’s gonna be a challenge because I know people don’t like the virtual space, but and so if we ever had to go back to that, you know, how do we make it more engaging?


Sam Demma (24:11):
Mm, got it. Cool.


Lisa Nichols (24:12):
Yeah. And I know nobody wants to talk about like, no, we don’t ever wanna go back to hybrid learning, but


Sam Demma (24:18):
Yeah, no, it’s true. It’s true. That’s


Lisa Nichols (24:20):
How COVID talks taught us something, right? Yeah. I mean, I just learned zoom when COVID shut down, I’m like, what is a zoom? I don’t even know what a zoom is. it took me only a month to learn how to figure it out. But I’m now more tech savvy with that. Right. It, so I don’t, it was COVID was bad. It’s it’s horrible, but we had to go through, but some skills came out of it too. Like I, we learned a lot of new things. That’s gonna make our, our new, just new generation. They’re gonna be popping when they get out there. I mean, can you imagine the skills that they have now?


Sam Demma (24:52):
Yeah. And I mean, sometimes it’s, it’s difficult to facilitate things online. That’s why like whenever I tell bad jokes and no one laughs I just push his button


Lisa Nichols (25:06):
And then I laughed


Sam Demma (25:08):
Yeah. And that’s what happens. That’s what happens with all the kids, you know, like adding in some simple tools can just make it more, more interesting and engaging for, for the kids and students as well.


Lisa Nichols (25:19):
And we learn and we learn some engaging things. You can bring, you bring music and you bring affirmations and games and you there’s ways to make virtual learning, engaging. And so I will be perfecting at because I wanna make sure in the event we ever had to do that again, that I’m prepared. So


Sam Demma (25:41):
Yeah, it’s awesome. And if you, if you could, if you could zoom back no plan intended to like nine years ago and know, give advice to younger. Lisa, when you just, is it nine years you’ve been in education? How long you it’s


Lisa Nichols (25:58):
Nine years. Yeah. I’ve been nine years. Cause I did, most of my life was social work. I 15 years in social work. And so that was hard to switch over. Yes.


Sam Demma (26:05):
So if you could, you know, go back nine years, when you, you made the, made the transfer or the, the, the transfer to education, like what advice would you give your younger self, knowing what you know now, and based on the experiences you’ve had working in education,


Lisa Nichols (26:21):
I had to tap, you know, what my grandmother used to tell me like when a door opens, walk through it, because there’s a reason why, so when someone tapped me to come into education, I question it, you know, and I, and then even I, when I got into education, I was tapped to go to apply for an administrator for, cause I’m a vice principal now. So I went from a C to a vice principal. Yeah. And to go back to school and I questioned it, but there’s a reason why people are tapping you because they see something in you that you may not see yourself. So now when I’m getting tapped I, I tend to like not question it too, too much and be like, you know, there’s a reason why I’m getting asked to do this or why I’m being asked to, Hey, put in for this position, we see that you could make a larger impact. And, you know, coming from the school site, I was tapped to do that too, to come downtown. And I was like, Ugh, I don’t know. But I knew eventually that I was gonna make a larger impact. So that’s what I would tell my younger Lisas, like stop questioning it. There’s a reason for the tap. And others are seeing things that you may not always see in yourself.


Sam Demma (27:23):
Hmm. I love that. That’s a good piece of advice. and if someone’s listening to this right now and thinking to themselves, we need more Lisa in our lives or just wanna connect and have a conversation with you about something you talked about, like what would be the best way for another educator listening to get in touch with you?


Lisa Nichols (27:43):
Oh, they can hit me up at Lisa.Nichols@fresnounified.org, and also on Facebook under Lisa Nichols. And so my name will be changing, so they might see nice Lisa Mitchell cause I’m switching over to a new name, but yeah. So yeah, I would, I welcome anyone reaching out if they wanna just you know, just kind of be a thanking partner because I, again, I go back to the takes of village. I’m always learning from others too, that reach out. And I think we are better in numbers. That’s another thing I would tell the Lisas, like lean on your village. Like when you need support and help, don’t do it alone. You definitely can’t do this work alone. You definitely need a village that are in this work with you.


Sam Demma (28:24):
Awesome. All right well, you’ll you’ll know when this goes live, cuz all those educators, this thing will knock down your front door, asking some questions but this is awesome. Lisa, thank you so much for taking some time to come on the show and share some of, you know, your grandmother’s philosophies, your own experiences in education, what you would tell your younger self, some of the challenges you’re faced with. It’s been a real pleasure chatting with you.


Lisa Nichols (28:46):
Thank you, Sam. I appreciate you having me on your show and good luck with what you’re doing. I think this is great that you’re you’re interviewing educators so we all can learn from each other. Appreciate it.


Sam Demma (28:55):
And there you have it. Another amazing guest, an amazing interview on the High Performing Educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review so other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show; if you want meet the guest on today’s episode, if you wanna meet any of the guests that we have interviewed, consider going to www.highperformingeducator.com and signing up to join the exclusive network, you’ll have access to networking events throughout 2021 and other special opportunities. And I promise I will not fill your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Lisa Nichols

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.

Dave Wilson – Principal at Cameron Heights Collegiate Institute

Dave Wilson - Principal at Cameron Heights Collegiate Institute
About Dave Wilson

Dave Wilson is the Principal of Cameron Heights Collegiate Institute in Kitchener, Ontario. He has been Principal at CHCI since January 2020. Before that he was Principal at Glenview Park Secondary School in Cambridge. Both CHCI and GPSS are IB World schools and offer Ontario and International Baccalaureate curriculum.

Dave began teaching in the Waterloo District School Board in 1997, at Southwood Secondary School. He also served as Vice Principal at Galt Collegiate, Forest Heights Collegiate, and Glenview Park. Dave believes in the importance of extra-curricular activities at school to help students engage with school life beyond academics.

Dave enjoys travelling with his family and works towards finding work/life balance by participating in various athletic pursuits.

Connect with Dave: Email

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Cameron Heights Collegiate Institute

Waterloo Region District School Board

Principal’s Qualification Program PQP

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 (00:02):
Dave welcome to the high performing educator podcast. Pleasure to have you on the show here today. Start by introducing yourself.


Dave Wilson (00:09):
Thanks Sam. It’s a pleasure to be here. I’m Dave Wilson. I’m a principal with the Waterloo region district school board. My school is Cameron Heights collegiate. We’re located in downtown Kitchener and I guess this is my 25th year in education. And I look forward to a few more!


Sam Demma (00:27):
thank you for, thank you for your service, sir. well, when did you realize growing up that education was the field for you and how did that journey unfold?


Dave Wilson (00:43):
Well, I guess I enjoyed school and I enjoyed the experiences that I was able to have at school. And so in high school I enjoyed playing sports and being in bands and other activities. And so I think I always knew I had an affinity for the educational environment. But I was from a family of educators you know, grandparents, parents aunts. So, and so I think, I thought I wanted to try to do something different. And so I, I went into journalism, went to journalism school and was working at a small, weekly newspaper I would in Canmore, Alberta. And I found, I was spending an awful lot of time in the local schools covering sports or education issues. And then I ended up coaching a basketball team and, you know, I kind of looked at what my career was gonna be like. And I thought, you know, maybe I shouldn’t fight it. Maybe teaching is really what I wanna do. So went back to teachers college and I ended up getting a job at my old high school, which was it was great great timing. It was a little odd though. I’m now working with people who taught me.


Sam Demma (01:45):
Oh, wow.


Dave Wilson (01:46):
Sort of 12 years later, I guess it was. But that’s, that’s sort of how I got started


Sam Demma (01:51):
Kenmore, Alberta, such a beautiful place. My cousins live out there. Did you en enjoy your time out there?


Dave Wilson (01:58):
Oh, I loved it out there. Yeah. Yeah, I really did. And one of our daughters is in working in ban right now. It’s sort of, we, we got them hooked and nice. Yeah, no, that’s a great place. Fantastic.


Sam Demma (02:11):
That’s awesome. What piqued your interest about journalism? Tell me more about that aspect of your journey.


Dave Wilson (02:19):
Well, I mean, I’m always interested in what people do and why they do it and, you know, journalism’s a way to be exposed to a lot of different things and you talk to different people learn about what they do. You know, there’s a, a variety to it. You, you get to I mean, one of the good and not good things about journalism, at least from my point of view was you’re you see a lot of things, but you’re unnecessarily part of a lot of things. And so the sort of difference between journalism and education is now I’m, I’m part of the, the sort of action as opposed to the observer of it. But it, it is, you know, that was the part that drew me to it in the first place.


Sam Demma (03:00):
Awesome. Take me back to finishing your credentials and degree for teaching and give us a peek into the journey that brought you to where you are today.


Dave Wilson (03:12):
Well so my wife had gone back to teachers college a year before me. She had also started in journalism and we were living in Ottawa and she has dual Canadian American citizenship. Mm. And there were no jobs you know, it was very difficult to find a job in Ontario at that time. So we considered going somewhere else. You know, somewhere in the states. And I got a call from a former roommate of mine who had always knew we wanted to be a teacher. And so by this time he’s already been teaching for five years and he said, you might not believe this, but there’s gonna be a job coming up. And I, I think you’re qualified. Why don’t you apply? Hmm. And so it was, you know, we got, so we got our applications together and we submitted them.


Dave Wilson (03:58):
It was one of the last times in our board that they used to essentially have like a hiring fair and all the candidates would meet at the ed center. And there were interviews happening all over the place. And so my wife and I came out of that the next day, both with jobs. And so we kind of looked at each other and said, well, we can’t really give these up. Like, you know, this is gonna be great. And we were at the same school and we were at the same school for nine years and, and we’re still married. So that was good.


Sam Demma (04:26):
I was, I was gonna say education during the day education at home education everywhere.


Dave Wilson (04:33):
We’d make rules about talking about school. Yeah. I had to, you had to stop at a certain point.


Sam Demma (04:37):
That’s awesome. So after those initial nine years, what did the remainder of the journey look like to fill the 25?


Dave Wilson (04:46):
Well, I I took some courses so that I could pursue administration. Nice. And so I in our board you apply for a pool. So a vice principal pool. I got into the pool in the next year I was placed. And that was kind of fun. I got placed at the school where my, my father had been the principal and my mother had taught there. So it was it was interesting, you know, there were still a couple people left there that my dad had worked with. And my mom had worked with, so it was, it, it was a fun experience. It things went fairly well. I learned a lot and it was, yeah, I, I enjoyed it.


Sam Demma (05:26):
Was that a inground pool or aboveground pool? Yeah. That’s good thought was just joking. That’s


Dave Wilson (05:35):
Good. That’s awesome. I didn’t, the student here just asked me if we could get hot tubs, but


Sam Demma (05:38):
Really? Yeah. Yeah. Well, how do you respond to that?


Dave Wilson (05:42):
I, well, there is a swimming pool in this building owned by the city of kitchen. And I said, maybe we can just turn the heat off in that for


Sam Demma (05:48):
You. Nice.


Dave Wilson (05:48):
she didn’t like that.


Sam Demma (05:50):
That’s funny. So what are the different roles that you played in schools and of those roles, which have been from your perspective, very fulfilling and meaningful, and maybe the I’ll have, and you can touch upon why?


Dave Wilson (06:04):
Well, it, I mean, there’s certain different aspects to it. When I was a teacher, I coached a lot. I’ve coached a little bit as an administrator and the relationships you develop during any kind of extracurricular activity with kids, they can be the, the most fulfilling, right? Those are the kids that you know, you meet up with 10, 15 years later kind of thing, and see how they’re doing or you see them around town. So those experiences were really rewarding in administration. It’s more there’ll be specific student situations where maybe you’ve been able to help. And when you’re a vice principal, sometimes maybe the student doesn’t realize you’re helping ’em in the moment mm-hmm right. But, but, you know we look at it like, you know, a student might make a mistake, but we want them, we wanna help them learn from it so they can be successful in the long term. Right. So you know, you have to, you have to find your successes and your satisfactions in sometimes small interactions with families, things you can do to help them, that kind of thing.


Sam Demma (07:11):
Gotcha. That’s awesome. Along your journey, through education, working in different roles, did you have other educators that mentored you? And if so, who are some of those individuals and what do you think some of the things you took away from their instruction or example?


Dave Wilson (07:29):
Well, there’ve been too many to sort of count and name them all. You know, I think I had teachers that I would say I used as role models, you know, like I can think of a couple of my history teachers in high school, and I can think of some coaches. I remember when I was filling in as a vice principal before I was a vice principal, kinda learning how to do it. You know guy named Bruce deacon was the principal at the time. And I remember we had a, we had a challenging situation and he, he kind of sat me down and he said, Dave, you have to remember that after all this is done, everybody involved is coming back to the school, right? Like, is there was some conflict involved? I think it was a, a bullying situation.


Dave Wilson (08:13):
And he is like, so you’ve got a plan for what to do to react to it. What are you gonna do? You know, to make sure it doesn’t happen again, or to make sure these kids can get along, that kind of thing. And it was little moments like that he, you know, would take the time to you know, gave me some guidance that helps kind of helps you frame what you’re gonna do. Like you have to do these jobs, kind of you do it on your own, but you do it in consultation with other people, you know, it makes it more fun and you’re better at it. If you do it that way too,


Sam Demma (08:42):
A hundred percent human resources is one resource, right. You can learn from other people. You also can learn from courses, books, other things. Are there any videos you’ve watched or books or courses or things you’ve been a part of that you think had a positive impact on the way you approach education or how you show up every day?


Dave Wilson (09:04):
Well, it’s, this is a fairly recent example, but I’m an instructor for the Ontario principals council teaching the principal’s qualification program. Oh, nice. And, and so, you know, if you’ve ever had to teach anything, you realize that’s one of the best ways to become, you know, more of an expert in that field. Right. So I’ve been watching all those videos and reading things and it’s hard to pick out one in particular, but it’s just that experience of going through the course with my students. It, it helped me as well. Right. You know, it just you know, the number of good questions they ask, some of which I have an answer for right away and others I’m like, yeah, that’s a really good question. I’m not sure what I do in that situation. I’ll get back to it. Yeah. Yeah.


Sam Demma (09:48):
That’s awesome. Not knowing the answer and being okay with it. And honest, I think is a really important aspect of education. Not only education, but any career you get into, because we’ll always find ourselves in situations where we, where we don’t know the answer. How do you deal with those situations?


Dave Wilson (10:07):
Well, I mean, one of the things I tell the principal candidates, and I try to remind myself is that very few decisions that we make have to be made in the moment. Mm. Right. Like usually things you can take your time and, and try to have a more thoughtful approach. There are other other times when you’re sort of put on the spot and if you, if you don’t know, you’re better off just saying, you don’t know. Right. Like it, you if you, if you guess, and paint yourself into a corner that you can’t get out of, then that’s not doing any good. So you know, just, and at the same time acknowledge sometimes, and people might be impatient, right? They, people want answers to things. They want to know what to do. And it’s, you know, you can imagine the last two years of during the pandemic, the number of questions about what we can do and can’t do. And so on,


Sam Demma (10:58):
Got you. That makes total sense. One aspect of education that excites me, and it sounds like it’s something that excites you and everyone else that I’ve talked to is the potential of positive impact on young people, right? Like the, at the heart of education is, you know, helping a student realize their own potential. And in the hope that what you teach them and share with them will set them up for success for whatever path they choose to pursue in the future. I’m curious. If you can remember of a program that transformed a student or a situation where you kind of saw a student trans transform in a school, maybe it was, you know, one of your classes or someone else’s class that you heard of. And if so, share a little bit a, share a little bit of that story. And if it’s serious, you know, maybe change their name and whatnot.


Dave Wilson (11:48):
Well, there was a student at at a school who it has autism and a couple other behavioral challenges connected to autism. And when I got to the school, I was her vice principal and she would have outburst, regular outbursts, maybe, I don’t know, two or three times a week.


Sam Demma (12:12):
Mm-Hmm.


Dave Wilson (12:13):
And, and I’m not taking any credit for this cuz I was really just kind of, sort of managing some of her some of the services she was getting and our staff kind of worked with her intentionally over and over and her, she had great support from home. And by the time she was in grade 12, she was achieving at a high level and was very successful. And it, it, it was rewarding because it wasn’t just one person that had helped that, that kid, it was a number of people. And so there, there are a few stories like that and it when you have someone say, come in in grade nine and they’re having real challenges, it helps drill look back on those kids, you know, came in, in grade nine, had challenges and then worked it out by grade 12. You know, so, so it, those kind of stories, their, their heartwarming, and it’s one of the perks of being the principles I get to sign all their diplomas and, you know, sometimes the opponent you’re like, yeah, I guess we did. We got this kid there, he’s graduating, you know? Yeah. And it’s, there would’ve been moments in the previous four or five years where you would’ve said, that’s probably not gonna happen. So


Sam Demma (13:21):
Something, you mentioned the word perks and it, it sparked my memory, something, my economics teacher, Mr. Belmonte taught me in grade 12 was opportunity cost. When you decide to pursue one opportunity, you’re you cancel out the opportunity to pursue anything else in that time or moment. With that in mind, what is the opportunity cost of being a principal? So share some of the perks and also what you think are some of the more challenging aspects of it. Because I would imagine as a teacher passionate about, you know, teaching kids, it might be hard to leave the classroom at times. But there’s obviously some perks and also some challenges to all rules.


Dave Wilson (14:02):
Yeah. I mean that day to day contact with kids in that, you know, I mean, I have day to day contact with kids. I see them in the school, but it’s not the same as when you’re their classroom teacher or you’re their volleyball coach or whatever. Right. And so I have to kind of go outta my way to, to get to know some of those kids. So for example, you know, I’ll be asking our student council leaders to come to our school council meetings. So I get to know those kids. But that, that is an opportunity cost of being a principal is you, you lose a little bit of that day to day contact or that opportunity to build those relationships. On the other hand, I’ve got a bit of flexibility and that I get to be sort of part of a little part of everything, right? Like I go to all the different games and I see the different performances, especially when it’s not COVID and right. And so, you know I get to have influence on the hiring and staffing of the school, which it seems like a really dry topic, but it helps make all those other things happen for kids.


Sam Demma (15:07):
Love it. And it, for somebody who’s thinking about getting into education right now, there could be an, a potential educator listening. Who’s just finishing their credentials, super excited about teaching, but equally nervous. If you could take all the experiences you’ve had bundle them up almost like travel back in time, tap yourself on the shoulder and say, Hey, Dave, this is what you needed to hear when you were just starting knowing what you know now, what would you have kind of told you younger yourself or for other future aspiring people who wanna work in education?


Dave Wilson (15:42):
I think I tell them that when kids come to school for the vast majority of them and majority of time, they’re not, they’re not coming to school for the math and they’re not coming to school for the French. And they’re, they’re, they’re coming to school for the relationships and the way that environment makes them feel right. And so they wanna see their friends, but they also want caring adults to connect with them and they want to learn. And so maybe you get back that maybe you get to the math and the French and the science, but you you’re teaching the individual right. Each and every one we say in Waterloo, you’re trying to reach them. And you want them to have a positive experience and a positive relationship with you so that you can help them. I think if you, if you get into teaching and you think it’s all about your subject matter I think you’re gonna miss the mark. It’s, it’s about more than that. And it, if nothing else, the pandemic has certainly shown us that, that, you know, it’s the kids for the most part are craving that kind of social connection that they can get at school. And you, you’re an important part of that as a teacher.


Sam Demma (16:54):
How do you think as a teacher, or even as administrator, you build relationships with students, like what does that look like in a classroom or in your role?


Dave Wilson (17:05):
That’s a good question. Because when we’re interviewing people, we ask them basically that same question, like, what exactly do you do? You know? Yeah. Just told me, I just, that same mistake you, you told me you build relationships. What do you do? Well, I mean, there’s some simple things, like you take some interest in, in their lives and what they like to do, you know, if you’re if you’re an English teacher and you’re trying to find texts that kids want to read, you take the time to ask them what they like, and you respond like just basic human things. You, you ask, ’em how they are. And if they, if they don’t seem right, you, you do something, you, you talk to talk to the kids. It’s you know, they, what’s the that’s saying you’ll, you’ll what somebody said to you, but you’ll remember how they made you feel. It’s those kind of moments over and over and over again, that that’s how you build relationships.


Sam Demma (17:57):
I love that. Well, if someone wants to build a relationship with you reach out, ask you a question based on this conversation. Maybe they’re an educator who’s just getting into this and would love to have a conversation. What would be the best way for them to reach out?


Dave Wilson (18:13):
I think the best way probably to use my board email and contact me that way.


Sam Demma (18:35):
Sounds good. I will include your email and the show notes of the episode. So anyone who’s interested can access you there. But Hey, thank you so much, Dave, for taking the time to do this. I really appreciate it. This was a lot of fun. I, I hope you enjoyed the experience and keep up the great work we’ll we’ll talk soon.


Dave Wilson (18:55):
All right. Thanks Sam. It was my pleasure. Take care.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Dave Wilson

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.

Ryan McDonnell – Principal at Superior CVI in Thunder Bay

Ryan McDonnell - Principal at Superior CVI in Thunder Bay
About Ryan McDonnell

Ryan McDonnell is very proud to be the principal at Superior CVI in Thunder Bay. Superior CVI is an incredibly diverse and inclusive community rooted in a dynamic culture that promotes excellence in academics, the arts, athletics and technology.

He considers it a great privilege to lead a school of innovative teachers and thoughtful and compassionate students. Ryan believes that relationships are the key to success in education, and he strives to build a community based on high expectations where all students feel valued, connected and empowered.

Connect with Ryan: Email

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Sunderland Soccer Club

Newcastle Soccer Club

Superior Collegiate & Vocational Institute

Lakehead District School Board

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):
Ryan welcome to the high performing educator podcast. Pleasure to have you on the show here today. Please start by introducing yourself.

Ryan McDonnell (00:08):
Yeah, thanks Sam. It’s great to, to have a conversation with you. So I’m Ryan McDonnell and I’m the principal at Superior CVI in Thunder Bay.

Sam Demma (00:16):
How did you get into the field of education? Is this something you knew you always wanted to do growing up?

Ryan McDonnell (00:23):
No. And it’s funny when, when, when I started to think about this, that it, it wasn’t always something that I wanted to do. So I have a, an uncle who is the guy who like everybody wants to be, who was a high school principal. And I thought that that was, was pretty cool, but didn’t really when I was in school or when I was in university, it wasn’t necessarily what I had my mind set on doing. Which is interesting, cuz education is, is really big in my family that it doesn’t matter what you do. But learning, learning is lifelong and learning is really, really important. So kind of a, a, a cool story that I like to tell is that my grandfather, who was an amazing man was from Greece and his family had had eight kids and they saved up and sent him to Canada for, for a new life.

Ryan McDonnell (01:06):
And so he always told this story about how his dad was really big into education and into books. And when they, he would leave the village, he would always come back with, with a book for, for the family. And during during the war, when their village was invaded by, by the Nazis they had a book of German art in their house and that sort of one favor, and, and my grandfather said that that saved our family. That was something. And it shows you that, that education can really, can really make an impact in someone’s life and save someone’s life. And so, as I kind of worked through school, I think I avoided going this route. And then I got to a point where, where I kind of had to dig deep and, and think about why I was really fighting it so much. And so I did a placement when I was in faculty of ed and, and I kind of figured out that, that this was for me and this is where I need to be. And, and I really haven’t looked back or regretted it since.

Sam Demma (01:59):
Tell me about that placement at the faculty of ed. What about that experience really confirmed that this was the path you wanted to take?

Ryan McDonnell (02:05):
I think that it’s, it’s kind of that just that excitement of, of being in a classroom and, and having those really cool conversations with kids that make an impact and, and having those moments where you could see a kid gets it and, and things they’re figuring things out. I think that’s really hard to, to replicate replicate anywhere else. And so I worked with a, a couple of really great teachers who I ended up when I started my teaching career. I, I worked with them and now I continue to work with them. And they’re, they’re great guys who, who really cared about kids and really were always trying to be at the top of their game and, and be really creative and, and meet the needs of kids and, and not just kids who are easy to teach, but the kids who are sometimes the most difficult to connect with that was, that was their focus and their passion. And I think for me, that really inspired me actually.

Sam Demma (02:55):
That’s awesome. So you did your placement realize, yes. This is a path I want to take. What did the rest of the journey look like to, to today?

Ryan McDonnell (03:04):
Well, at the time there were no jobs. Nice. So I actually I went I went with some friends after we finished university to, to the UK and taught in, in the Northeast of England. So I lived in a, a place called Newcastle and taught in a, a place called Sunland which is, is a lot like thunder bay. Right. that in terms of, of the demographic, in terms of like a real blue collar working class town so I, I lived there for a year and, and it was incredibly challenging. Like it was there’s some real flaws from my perspective in the system and the way that kids are, are grouped, according to their scores on, on a test. And, and some days were, were really, really tough, but I, I also learned a lot. So I learned a lot from, from the people in the school.

Ryan McDonnell (03:50):
The teachers that I worked with the kids in, in, in the classes that I was in I really, yeah, I really learned a ton about about what good teaching is. But also in some cases what bad teaching is. So I remember vividly the, the day I decided that I needed to come home. We all had this like it’s called a home form. So you have a group of kids that you’re with for a chunk of the day, for the whole year. And there was a kid in there who had a really, like, he had a life that I couldn’t live like a really, really challenging life. And I remember a teacher coming in and telling him that he was a waste of space and was gonna be just like his dad. And I was like, I’m out. I can’t, I can’t be a part of this anymore. Wow. And that, there was a lot of really good stuff that was happening and a lot of really good teaching. But for me, that was just it was, it was just different that, that there’s that at the time they were kind of stuck in the very I’m the teacher, this is the way this is the way it is. Which isn’t really an approach that works with me.

Sam Demma (04:47):
Yeah. Totally hear you. It’s funny, you mentioned Sunland new castle. Those are both two soccer teams. I sometimes watch on TV. Absolutely.

Ryan McDonnell (04:54):
Yeah.

Sam Demma (04:54):
Did you end up following any of the football when you were out there?

Ryan McDonnell (04:57):
Yeah. Yeah. And so I went to a couple of matches in, in, in Sunland. It’s, it’s absolute loot madness, right? Like when you’re, when you’re on the subway or where you’re at the stadium, it’s, it’s, it’s incredible. Like it’s yeah. People invest their whole lives in it. It’s absolutely. It’s absolutely something else. Like no professional sports in north America compares to it. It is it is absolutely out of this world.

Sam Demma (05:21):
A hundred percent. you mentioned an example of teaching that was not, is not very effective. That actually totally turns you off and probably had a very negative impact on that young person’s life. Give, give an example of some of the teaching you saw and even see today that you think this is what teaching is all about. This is a perfect example of, you know, how we’re supposed to show up for our kids and, and try to make a difference.

Ryan McDonnell (05:47):
And I think we we’ve come a long way in education and we were actually doing interviews the other day for, for a few teaching jobs. Sorry, I don’t know how to mute my phone here. No worries.

Ryan McDonnell (06:03):
Yeah. Maybe I,

Sam Demma (06:05):
It makes it more real is the job of principal, man. Yeah,

Ryan McDonnell (06:10):
There we go. No, so we are interviewing for, for new teachers, which doesn’t happen very often. Yeah. And almost everybody coming into the interview talked about forming relationships with kids and that’s, that’s always been, I think my style and, and, and been important to me. And I think been what, what, what I’m actually have have some skill at. And so I think the, the good teachers that I’ve always always admired and respected are the teachers that are able to form relationships with kids and also have really high expectations and high standards for them. So looking back to where I was when it, when I was in England there was a woman who I worked with who was was, was absolutely incredible. And we, we are actually in the same home form and she would take the kids skating at Christmas time, and she knew who, which kids were hungry and would bring them in food and discreetly make sure that they got it to, to take home and just really, really was able to connect with kids and, and form that, that really meaningful relationship that they may not have had anywhere else in their lives.

Ryan McDonnell (07:17):
But also hold them to account and say, you know what, you’re, you’re, you’re better than this, this isn’t, this isn’t who you are. Let’s figure out how we can make different decisions, which I think the guy who said, you know, you’re a waste of space was trying to say the same thing, but just said in a way that was, was really knocking a kid down. And then when I think of the, the teachers that I’ve, I’ve worked with throughout my career when I was when I was a teacher at, at the school, before I came to this one, I worked in guidance with a, a team of, of all women who are absolutely amazing at what they do and have all these really unique personalities. But I’ve never seen a team work the way that they do and at their focus was always what is, what is best for kids.

Ryan McDonnell (07:59):
And so taking time and some of them were there till five, six o’clock at night, just, just talking to kids and figuring out just listening oftentimes. And I think that that translates into a classroom taking time to get to know the kids before you to know your learners, to let them know that, that you, you care about them, that they’re part of your story. You’re part of their story that you’re really invested in them. That’s to me what good teaching is, and, and good teaching is stopping to talk to a kid in the hallway outside of your classroom. Good teaching is being involved in extracurriculars that’s to me, what good teaching is. And then you bring that into your classroom and, and that’s delivering curriculum, right? Like you, you, you use your relationship and, and you you’re able to, to leverage that, to get kids, to learn that the content of your curriculum. But you’ve already taught them the really valuable stuff about how to, how to be at life and how to be good people and how to make an impact through your interactions with them outside of the classroom.

Sam Demma (09:02):
I’ve heard relationships being a very foundational trait of effective education and effective educators. That idea of relationships has been echoed through so many different episodes. It sounds like you’re alluding to it there as well. What do you think enables an educator to build a strong relationship with a student? How do you build a, a relationship with the, with the student?

Ryan McDonnell (09:26):
I, I think the first thing you need to do is you, you need to talk to kids. So I think oftentimes we’re so pressed that we need to deliver the curriculum. We need to get into the content that taking two or three minutes at the beginning of the class, to, to greet kids at the door, to ask them what they did on their weekend to do a sharing circle where you just ask a topic every, every day that kids get, get 10 or 15 seconds to talk about that’s what, what builds relationships? I think, I think the key to building relationships is, is by having a really solid school community. So by really building a community where, where people know, know what’s expected of them where people know what to expect when they come here, that makes building the relationship easy.

Ryan McDonnell (10:10):
And I think building the relationship is only one aspect of the job. We also need to have, have high expectations for kids as well that often often we sometimes think, oh, you know, that kid has had a really tough life and we lower the standard for them, which I think we’re, we’re doing them a disservice. I think you, you use the relationship as a, as a medium, to, to help that kid learn and to inspire that kid. And sometimes some kids are, it’s a lot more tough to connect with them. Other times, kids are a little bit more open. One of the things that when I was a teacher was I think, I believe there’s power in, in feeding people. So I’d often bring, bring food into my classroom. And that kind of builds that, that culture of community, it lowers people’s guard. It lets them know that you care, care about them. And so since I’ve become an administrator, that’s something that I’ve continued doing the school breakfast program. I think it’s, it’s been one of the, the best part of my days to, to make some pancakes and then have a 32nd interaction with, with a kid that I think is what builds the relationship.

Sam Demma (11:13):
Awesome. relationships, education as a whole has changed, you know, the way we build them has changed, especially over the past two years when things went virtual and school was shut down. I’m not sure if you guys, you know, shut down where you were, but what are some of the challenges that your school community has faced over the past, you know, year, year and a half, and how have you strived to overcome those things?

Ryan McDonnell (11:37):
So our, our board was actually working from home for the, the longest out of anybody in the province, just cause we had a, a local situation and then the provincial guidelines changed. So we were essentially at home from from February last year, right until September of this year. And then the year before there was, was all kinds of stuff going on. And so I think that the challenge that came with that is, is to kind of echo what I was saying earlier, that it’s really hard to, to maintain connections and to, to have a community when, when people aren’t together. And so the past two years have really have really eroded the community in, in our schools. I would say that there’s, there’s definitely a different, a different atmosphere coming in. And so people who, who worked in our schools, but weren’t teachers were, would come in and would say it, it feels different in here that it was very, very flat.

Ryan McDonnell (12:28):
Kids went to class, then they went home. There was no, there was no laughter there was no connection. There was no, no real human interaction. There’s a story of a, a teacher on our board who actually said, you know what I, I miss when the kids were a little bit bad because at least then I knew that they were, that they were engaged and they were doing something. And I think that was something we really struggled with with was that, that loss of community. And then when we came back this year, there was, was all kinds of issues that we we’ve never really seen before in our schools, in terms of behavior and kids buying into really ridiculous TikTok challenges and, and significant mental health issues that, that have really surfaced in our kids over the past little bit. And I think that that’s a direct result of the, the change in relationship and not having that connection with, with teachers and not, I mean, that connection with, with other kids or having a connection in a, in a different way.

Ryan McDonnell (13:25):
I think that’s been a real, a real challenge over the last the last couple years and, and some of the stuff we tried to do like we went to a ton of kids’ houses that we would go there. The kids who we knew struggled with with poverty and food security, we would go to their houses and bring them food. We really focused on, on recognizing student achievement and student achievement beyond academic success. So we did a lot of things where probably over the, the last two years, eight or 10 times, we’ve just bought cookies or hot chocolate bombs or small things with a little certificate to a kid that said, and went to their house to give them when we were working from home to say, you know what, you’re doing a good job, keep it up where, you know, what, we know things have been tough for, you know, that, that we’re on your side and things are gonna get better. And it’s, it’s, it’s amazing how much that small thing makes it makes a big impact and, and was able to draw kids back in and let them know, okay, I, I need to get back to school. And when I get back to school, that teacher, that teacher cares about me and is waiting for me to get back.

Sam Demma (14:30):
Awesome. I think that’s sounds like you guys have done a good job at trying to tackle some of the things that are going on. And yeah, I think every school board is facing similar challenges right now with their return back to school. And some kids not being in a physical building for two years. Yeah. You know, even starting your high school experience late, you miss out on a lot of character, just general character development as a human and social interaction and all those pieces as well.

Ryan McDonnell (14:56):
For sure. And for, for some of our kids, the, the only structure that they had was when they came to school. And so for, for some of our kids, for, for the better part of two years, they, they kind of did what they wanted because they didn’t have someone in their life to, to set a boundary or, or to hold ’em accountable. And, and I think that, that we all in some way, or another kind of crave that and need that. And so coming back in September was, was tough for a lot of kids that we had, the vast majority of our kids desperately wanted to be here and were so excited to be back in the building and in classes and learning face to face and connecting with peers and playing sports and just the whole energy was, was amazing. But then we had a small group of kids that it was a, but a significant number, who it was a real struggle to come back to that, that, that it’s been their life has been very different over the past two years, and now we’re telling them, okay, you gotta come back here and you’re gonna have to sit here for, for 72 minutes, and then you’re gonna go over there for another 72 minutes.

Ryan McDonnell (15:53):
And it was just, it was just too much for them.

Sam Demma (15:56):
Yeah. I follow. And on the heels of op challenges or sometimes opportunities what are some things that you guys have learned through this period of time or spaces that you think have opened up as opportunities because of the situation we’ve all went through?

Ryan McDonnell (16:11):
I, I think we’ve learned a ton about again, to, to come back to relationships and how crucial relationships are, I think it’s reinforced for, for many educators the importance of our job and, and what we do does have an impact. And what we do is a crucial part of people’s lives. And so some of the stuff that we’ve learned throughout the pandemic is, is stuff that will really carry with us and embed into our, into our school communities. And so a couple of the things that, that we focused on coming back, especially, especially that we’d like to carry forward are that it’s we don’t need to test a kid in the first week, two weeks, month, month of school, that, that we know where they’re at, having them sit in a row and slide a piece of paper to, to, to find out what they know there, there’s lots of different ways to do that.

Ryan McDonnell (17:02):
And, and giving them a piece of paper is, is not, is not the most effective way. So we really focused coming back about engagement and taking your best activities and the activities as a teacher, you are most proud of and front loading those to the beginning of the course and, and using them to, to get kids excited about learning and, and really feel that magic of being in a place where they’re excited to find out something new. And they’re curious. And so that’s been a, a shift that I think we’re making as a school community is to really focus on engagement and focus on kids, being connected to each other, and connected to learning, and then learn to assess and evaluate in a different way. And so our board has made some pretty bold decisions, like many other boards in the province to to put exams, to shed those for, for a while.

Ryan McDonnell (17:49):
And so our students have not, not written exams in, in, in two years. So we just came back from a, a couple of days of where we had student success days where kids came in, they worked with a teacher, they got to, to fill in the gaps on some of their learning and the staff staff and kids are saying that was huge. That was, I was able to finally sit down with a kid one on one and explain to them what they were missing. And that’s, those are things that I think we, we need to, to continue to carry with us. That assessment and evaluation looks lots of different ways. Learning should be exciting. It shouldn’t be you standing at the front of the room what we’ve learned, I think from the pandemic. And I think kids kids will become consumers of education.

Ryan McDonnell (18:35):
So if they’re showing up to be right in front of you, don’t give them something that they can do by logging into, to zoom or teams that, that you need to have them there. You need to get them up, you get the need to have them doing stuff. They need to be connecting with others, because if they, if it’s just reading and answering questions, they can do that from home. Yeah. And so I think those are, are shifts that, that, that have happened in our school community. And also the other things, like just the, the importance of relationships and taking time to step back and, and, and have those really important conversations to connect with kids. The, the pandemic has driven mental health and wellbeing to the, the forefront of everything that we do that I think we, we can’t teach without recognizing the, the importance of, of wellbeing and mental health and, and all of us have a responsibility in that to, to really to use what we do to build positive mental health to promote wellness and to do all those things. But also that curriculum is only one aspect of our job.

Sam Demma (19:37):
Awesome. That’s amazing. When you think about all your experience in education, if you could kind of wrap it all together, go back, tap younger. Not that you’re old, but tap younger Ryan on the shoulder and say, Hey, you know, this is what I wish you heard when you were just getting started. What would you have told your younger self.

Ryan McDonnell (19:56):
And it’s and it’s funny, cuz I think it applies in my life outside of, of education. I think that it’s I’ve always been, been pretty driven. And I think what I’ve learned is that it’s, it’s not fair to judge other people by the standards that I set for myself. So I think that that, that people really are in most cases doing the best they can and our job is, is to support them to, to do the best they can and then to do better. I think that the judgment is, is not what, what I needed. It’s not what I needed to do to the kids I taught or, or the, the families that I worked with. It’s just to, to provide support and basically ask, Hey, what, what do you need? What can I do?

Sam Demma (20:38):
I love it. That’s a great piece of advice. And I think other educators will benefit from hearing it. It’s already been 30 minutes flew by really fast. crazy. Yeah. Thank you so much for Ryan take for taking this time, sharing a little bit about your philosophies in education, your journey the little stories about England and you know, where this has taken you, if someone’s listening and wants to reach out and ask a question, what would be the best email for them to get in touch with you?

Ryan McDonnell (21:03):
You’re absolutely welcome to reach out to me at my work email. So it’s ryan_mcdonnell@lakeheadschools.ca.

Sam Demma (21:14):
Awesome. All right, Ryan, thank you so much for coming on the show. Keep up the great work and I look forward to talking to you again soon.

Ryan McDonnell (21:20):
Perfect. Take care.

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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.