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principal

Brian McKenzie – Principal at Patrick Fogarty Catholic Secondary School

Brian McKenzie - Principal at Patrick Fogarty Catholic Secondary School
About Brian McKenzie

Brian McKenzie (@pforilla)has more than 30 years of experience in elementary, secondary and post-secondary education. Armed with a B.Ed. From Western in 1992, he joined the staff of Patrick Fogarty Catholic Secondary School in Orillia as an English teacher and enjoyed more than ten years of teaching everything from English to Philosophy to Data Processing.

He moved from the classroom to the school office in 2004 and since then, he has served as vice-principal and principal in 6 schools and at the board office in privacy and information management.

With his wife Christine, a teacher, he has three adult children, two standard-issue cats, and a beautiful backyard where he spends summers watching the Blue Jays. He is currently the Principal of Patrick Fogarty Catholic Secondary School in Orillia, where his teaching career began.

Connect with Brian McKenzie: Email | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Patrick Fogarty Catholic Secondary School in Orillia

Simcoe Muskoka Catholic 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):
Brian welcome to the high performing educator. Huge pleasure to have you on the show. Please start by introducing yourself.


Brian McKenzie (00:08):
Sure. My name is Brian McKenzie and I’m principal of Patrick Fogerty Catholic Secondary School in Orilla Ontario.


Sam Demma (00:13):
When did you realize when you were a student pursuing careers, that education was gonna be the vocation for you?


Brian McKenzie (00:22):
Well, I think I’d began in high school. I had been kind of a student who liked to help other students with with tutoring and with helping out with courses. I I was I was never really one initially for public speaking or presentations, but I was as a result of taking one of my, one of my high school courses where I was forced to presentation. And I found that I actually had some skill and some talent that you know, leading a class and, and, and doing that kind of that kind of thing. When I got into when I got into university, I took a number of courses where having, again, having to do presentations and seminars, where a component of the course, and I found that I had to talent for it.


Brian McKenzie (01:07):
I became a, a TA in my in my fourth year and a graduate assistant. And I was working on my master’s degree. And then after I finished, I, I became a a session instructor at the university as well for a while. I found that you know, being in a classroom was a, was a natural fit for me. And I enjoyed it and I found that other people recognized my students and my colleagues and the other professors wanted to reinforce and and, and compliment my my, my classroom ability. I just found it was a good fit for me, a very natural fit. And I, and I have always enjoyed it.


Sam Demma (01:45):
Did you have educators tap you on the shoulder and tell you, you, you should consider getting into teaching? Was that something that ever came in your journey?


Brian McKenzie (01:55):
Yeah, I wouldn’t say explicitly. I think that became a little bit later you know, when I was in university where I was encouraged to, to apply, to be, you know, a session instructor and, and as a graduate assistant, I think that came a little bit later. I don’t think it was so much that somebody explicitly said to me in high school or, or university, you should be a school teacher or, you know, get into high school so much as just that I was good at what I was doing.


Sam Demma (02:23):
Got it. Yeah, that makes, that makes sense. For someone who’s listening to this who thinks might be the thing for them, but is on the edge in a nutshell, why do you think education is one of the best jobs in the world?


Brian McKenzie (02:42):
oh, simple question. Yeah. Well, I, I think people often get caught up in in believing that teaching is is, is kind of a day to day activity. And I think we’ve gotta look more holistically at what education is. Mm. I’d heard it described when I, when I was much younger as it’s the process of transferring civilization from one generation to the next we’re engaged in a huge, huge responsibility. And it’s not just about, you know, the, the individual subjects or the individual kinds, the things that we do on a daily basis, but it, it’s more holistically about the importance of ensuring that we’re creating a future that we all wanna live in and, and excuse me. And I, and I think education is, is is a tremendously important part of separating us from are, you know, from, from the distant past of, of of superstition and of primitivism and of a lot of a lot of a lot of attitudes and beliefs that we are best leading behind.


Brian McKenzie (04:00):
I, I, you know, I remember as a, as a younger teacher teaching north prize, the educated imagination, and, and he goes at in great detail into what is the importance of education. And it’s literally, it is about creating the world that we want to live in. And, and again, you know, I, I, I’ve often heard this one too. I, I, I gotta retire into the world that the younger generation’s gonna run. So I’ve got him make sure that I’m setting the conditions for a, for a, a comfortable life for my generation and ensuring that the world is better than we’ve been than I found it.


Sam Demma (04:36):
Hmm. I love that that’s a worthy pursuit. from the moment you decided you wanted to get into education what did the journey look like? So take me back and take me through the steps that brought you from where you started to where you are today.


Brian McKenzie (04:55):
Okay. So, as I mentioned I was working as a as a, as a professional instructor at the, I was at the university of Windsor where I graduated. Yep. And my initial intent was to be a lawyer. I had known a couple of a couple of classmates who had pursued the law. And it, it seemed like an interesting thing to me when I was in high school and when I was in my first couple of years at university. But as I, you know, as I progressed through, I realized that that wasn’t really a good fit for me. So it was it was in it was in my time that I was working as an instructor, that I started exploring what it, you know, what it was required to be, to get into the faculty of education.


Brian McKenzie (05:40):
I don’t come from a family with with extensive education background my, on my mother and my father’s side most of the family were blue collar and and or semiprofessional workers that weren’t necessarily highly educated in terms of multiple, you know, secondary degrees had one uncle who’s who’s a university professor, but that was about, about it. So, so the notion of higher education and extensive multiple, you know, multiple degrees and going on to education, wasn’t really stressed, very highly in my band. This was kind of a, a, a process of self exploration and, and I found, you know, what’s involved in, in, in becoming a teachers, another, you know, going to school for another degree and spend more time. And, and that was very attractive to me, just when I, when I love that what was involved in, in the year of of, of the faculty of education.


Brian McKenzie (06:43):
And I saw what the courses were, they saw what it involved that was really attractive to me. And, and I applied to, I can’t remember what schools anymore. I ended up at the university of Western Ontario for the faculty of ed. And I, you know, I, I immersed myself in that. I had a great time there. And and you know, maybe I was very fortunate that you know, it was in the early nineties when teaching jobs were pretty scarce as they, as they have been for the last few years. But I was fortunate to end up getting a job right out of laid out of my graduate.


Sam Demma (07:23):
That’s awesome. And throughout the experience and the different roles and positions you played in education which of them have been from your perspective? Some of the most meaningful, and I, I’m sure it’s hard to compare the roles , but maybe the, the different pros and cons in different positions you’ve played throughout education.


Brian McKenzie (07:47):
Yeah, well, yeah, I started as a classroom teacher. I became in fact, I started as a classroom teacher at the school I’m currently at where I’m now principal 30 years ago. And, and I very much loved that being in a classroom and working with, especially in a smaller community is is very rewarding because you know, unlike unlike working in a larger city or a municipal school board where the schools are very large, this is a very, a relatively small school at the time. They only about 500 students when they started teaching the class were very small. The, it was very possible to get to know all the kids. It was a fairly close knit community because we are a Catholic high school. We’re the only Catholic high school in town. So we also had some tight integration with our church and with our parish and with our elementary school feeders schools.


Brian McKenzie (08:41):
And so you get to know each other very well and very closely. In fact, some of the students that I taught back in the nineties are parents of the school now. And so I, you know, I’ve known them for many, many years and that, that is a, that’s really exciting. And that’s really rewarding work because getting to know kids you know, not just in, in the classroom, but also seeing them out in the community, seeing them, the church, seeing ’em at the, you know, the Saturday morning market and all those kinds of things. It does foster a much greater sense of community. I left here and in 2002 and went on a, like a 17 year odysey of working in a number of different schools, as well as at our school board. And all of them brought different things in different rewards and, and had to create great advantages.


Brian McKenzie (09:33):
I worked in as an elementary principal, I’ve worked as a secondary principal. I’ve worked as a, as assistant to the superintendents at the board office. I’ve worked in information management and they’ve all brought the different perspectives on education. I you know, I, I, I feel that I’m much better running a school after having at some time working in the board off, being the bigger picture of how our system works from seeing things from the, from the, from the administrative side of the board, as well as from the, from the school side. And it’s given me the ability to, I think to provide a much I don’t wanna say more rational, but at at least a much more balanced approach to, to running a school and, and what kinds of programs and services I can offer to do.


Brian McKenzie (10:30):
I’ve never regretted, not, you know, leaving the classroom and beginning into administration. I miss being in a classroom sometimes. Mm. And I you know, I was a, I was a very dedicat English teacher when I was a teacher. And I know that I could walk into an English class right now today if I needed to and, and, and, and and lead the class and have a lot of fun with it. So I never really felt that I, I lost that that ability, but but I, I, I don’t see it as having lost in any of as much as having gained a lot more and having the, the responsibility for shaping the instruction across the entire school is very exciting. And, and it’s very rewarding work in and of itself because you can see over the course of a, of a school year, you can see the growth and you can see the the progress that the students make.


Sam Demma (11:22):
You’re probably a lot closer to viewing the future of education or how, you know, education is changing and shifting. What are some of the things that you think have changed over the past two years due to the, the global pandemic and moving forward that you think are positively changing in education.


Brian McKenzie (11:43):
But, well, definitely the pandemic has accelerated our, our efforts for what we’ve been calling 21st century learning. And what 21st century learning is about is using much more than just the traditional, you know, teacher in front of the classroom tools and and approaches to, to teaching and learning, and have many more influences on their ability to learn than just a classroom teacher. When I started teaching, if kids wanted to know something about Shakespeare, they had to go to their whole, their high school English teacher, or they had to go to the public library. And there wasn’t a whole lot of other ways, or, you know, or, you know, if their parents had invested in second Britanica, but there weren’t a whole lot of ways to obtain knowledge outside of traditional classroom structures. Now over the last you know, 20, 20, so years as, as with the rise of of the internet, and even more specifically with the rise of specific social media channels, there’s a much wider opportunity and, and much greater opportunity for students to, to, to learn things on their own or to be exposed to different perspectives.


Brian McKenzie (13:00):
So the job of schools now, and we’ve seen this very explicitly occurring over the last couple of years with the pandemic, the jobs of schools now is to harness that and to kind of filter it and to organize it in a way that makes it you know, I don’t wanna say constructivist, but you know, in a way that is provides some logical progression in learning, you know, I have kids of my own and, and, you know, long before they ever got to high school, my, my son’s in particular had in depth understanding and knowledge of physics from playing some some computer games and, and video games, and could rattle off all kinds of things about trajectory and speed and velocity, and, and a lot of, a lot of fairly advanced physics classes. They had no clue of the science behind it, or the math behind, but they kind of understood it.


Brian McKenzie (13:56):
So taking the time now to back up and explain how it all works, the math thing it is, is an important role for a classroom teacher. But we, we, we do have to do it in a, in a, in a very careful and structured way to ensure that the kids aren’t just coming away with, with the head of facts, without any understanding behind it, but going forward. What I, what I really see is, is the potential that’s going to be very positive is the opportunity for teachers to very much be instead of gatekeepers, very much facilitators and very much coaches who help the students to understand and, and and focus on how they acquire learning, as opposed to just simply learning things.


Sam Demma (14:47):
We talked a little bit about alternative pathways on our first planning call also. And it’s understanding that, you know, every pathway is a valid option and every learner might be a little bit different. How do you kind of foresee school supporting those students with the D streaming of, of courses and everything that’s changed now in education as well?


Brian McKenzie (15:14):
Well, pathways have been really important to us over the last 20 years. We’ve really focused a lot on shaping an, an education program for the individual student. Yeah. 30 credit sent out is is, is not any anymore, really the model for a lot of students. We have students who take some credits through the day program here at school. Some they take through e-learning outside of school. Some they take in summer school. We have the opportunity for students to get into apprenticeships, to get into reach ahead credits in their, in their postsecondary, through colleges. The idea of students, again, just sitting passively in the classroom and listening to teachers talk is, is, is long. You know, it’s pretty much long gone. I think even you may have experienced this in your own high school experience, but there there’s much more opportunity for kids to get out of the classroom and learn through experience.


Brian McKenzie (16:13):
So I, I think you know, some changes are coming from the ministry of education, include a greater emphasis on experiential learning, a greater emphasis on e-learning and a greater emphasis on, you know, exploring what not even state exploring of, of, of ensuring that there are stronger opportunities for the, the, or the skill trades. And and technology based programs is, is going to be, is going to be really important too many, too many years in Ontario. You know, and probably by extension, the rest of Canada, the perception has been that the only marker of secondary or post-secondary success is a university degree , and, and it’s an unfortunate belief. You know and, and then even, even in, in terms of a postsecondary degree, we tend to identify a very narrow slice of, of postsecondary education as being valid or valuable.


Brian McKenzie (17:15):
You know, I, I often when we have arts nights here at the school, we have a school called cert, or we have a drama presentation or something. I always remind the parents who are the people that we most admire in society. There are actors, there are musicians, there are artists of all different stripes, but when kids say to their parents, they’re interested in a career in the arts, the parents laugh at ’em and tell ’em, that’s a hobby. You, you get a real job being accountant. I, I think we need to make sure that we’re offering a much wider range of experiences for students and, and a, and a wider range of, of postsecondary pathways to help them arrive at what they see as personal success, as opposed to what somebody else measures as success based on something as narrow as a paycheck or, or a specific post secondary diploma.


Sam Demma (18:06):
Ah, I love it. I couldn’t agree more. I mean, pursuing this podcast is an artistic expression, and some people would say, you’re crazy. This is what you spend your days doing


Brian McKenzie (18:18):
But yeah, well, a hundred percent. Right. And, and, and the thing is, is that maybe you’re not using the specific education you receive, but yeah, I can guarantee that’s not a whole lot of what you’re doing that you, and doesn’t rely on education that you’re receiving


Sam Demma (18:32):
A hundred percent.


Brian McKenzie (18:32):
Do it without having been educated, but you don’t necessarily, you know, and that’s the same thing in my job. I, I don’t really, I was an English teacher, as I said, and a history teacher, I don’t really get to use a whole lot of my knowledge of you know, 17th century poetry in my daily job, but there’s no a way I could be doing my job right now. If I hadn’t been as a as well educated as I was. And education doesn’t necessarily mean, like I said, it doesn’t just necessarily mean a university degree in a very narrow slice of what are considered to be valid. Occupations. Education comes from a lot of different different sources. It includes, you know, like I said, includes hands on learning through the trades and or through technology programs, it includes travel. You know, you can see you know, your listeners won’t see, but you can see I’m wearing a a sweatshirt that says Kenya on it.


Brian McKenzie (19:23):
Our school board has been actively engaged for the last 15 years and what we call service learning, where we’ve taken students to a number overseas destinations to work on school projects. And and we integrated with a multi credit program here at the school, so that they’re understanding the global context with what they’re doing. We’ve had trips from everywhere from China to south America, to Africa, to India where students have explored you know, the opportunity to work in in, in community development project. And, and, and it’s, those, those experiences have changed their, their lives. They have into been the countries that they never could have imagined visiting and seeing things that they never could have imagined seen. And it’s changed. In many cases, it changed the trajectory of their own careers, and they became more involved in social justice and, and development work or, or law or other areas that that have provided them with a much more rewarding and much more rewarding career than they might have initial that they were going to have.


Sam Demma (20:34):
It’s amazing. I know your school does a great job with the social justice programming and programs. I’m curious though, for yourself over the course of your career, what resources, even maybe people resources, but what resources have you found helpful in building your own philosophy and also tangible actions that you’ve taken in education? What resources have helped shape those things?


Brian McKenzie (21:01):
Well, I, I think the the greatest resource that we have in education is our colleagues. Mm. There’s an old joke that that, you know, well, it’s too likely to get into here. It’s okay. But just spice it to say that, you know, that, that, you know, there’s the old joke that you know, those who can’t teach or those who can’t do teach. Right. And, and, and, and that’s not at all, and that’s not at all true. What I do know is that some of the smartest and some of the most capable people I’ve met in my life have been my colleagues in education and whatever, I think I know whatever I think I’m good at. I spend sometimes 15 minutes, 20 minutes chatting with somebody at a meeting or in a conference call or something like that. And, and I learn something new.


Brian McKenzie (21:51):
I come away having learned something new every time because everybody has their own everybody has their own kind of way of learning for themselves as well. So if we take, you know, me sitting home alone or sitting at night on, you know, browsing on my computer and I, and I, and two or three new facts multiply that times to thousands of teachers in, in the system and the thousands of kids. And we’re all bringing that information back to the back to school together you know, education, isn’t just a one way isn’t just a one way thing. Schools are a place for where everybody learn. And, you know, when I, when I, I talk to my colleagues, when I hear ideas, we’ll, we bounce ideas off. Each other people ask for advice and people give advice. There there’s a lot of a lot of really powerful learning that can take place just in a, in a, in a, you know, on a casual conversation more, you know, more formally as I said, I spent a couple of beers in, in information management and several years working, you know, at the board off level doing that kind of stuff.


Brian McKenzie (23:02):
And what I’ve learned from what happens around the world in other places. You know, again, we often have the perception that we’re, you know, here in Ontario, we’re doing everything right. We’re, we’re the, we’re the pinnacle of, of educational achievement, but there are other places around the world that are far ahead of Ontario in, in a lot of areas and and do a far better job than, than we do in, in, in a lot of things. You know, I think of some jurisdictions where kids don’t even start school until they’re seven, whereas the, in Ontario get them into school as early as possible, starting as you as three. And yet schools that start kids later, you know, at age seven, in many ways, our, our have better outcomes for, for students than, than what we have here. When we’re starting in that three.


Brian McKenzie (23:54):
You I’ve learned a lot from studying how, you know, those other jurisdictions do things, how they make up for the lost time that, well, the perception of lost time by having kids start four year later, well, what are they doing for that? You know, from the time between H three agent, what are they doing? What are they doing? yeah, I mean, we are, we all have to recognize that whatever it is that we think we do well, there are other people who do things, do things well and sometimes even better, we can’t be so high bound in our own way of doing things that we can’t we can’t learn from them.


Sam Demma (24:32):
I love that perspective. And even if you approach every situation, thinking, you can learn something from the other party, you’ll probably one enjoy the experience talking to someone else or being around someone else, or being exposed to something new. And the chances are, you probably will take something away from that interaction. So I think it’s a good perspective.


Brian McKenzie (24:56):
Yeah. You know, and I, and I, and I do try to approach things that way when I was, when I was younger, it was, I’m gonna tell you something , and, and now it’s gonna be, can you please tell me something? I, I, you know, I’ve, I’ve learned that as well is that I have to be, you know, much more in a receptive mode than in a transmi mode. And and, and, and that’s where I’ve I think that’s, like I said, by, by just by talking to people, that’s where I’ve gained the most. I used to, I used to go to a lot more, again, when in my information management, I used to go to a lot of conferences. That’s where, that’s where I had to learn to sit down and be quiet. Cause most of the people in the room were a lot smarter and more knowledgeable than I was. And if I was going to be of any value in the role I had to learn to listen more than than talk and then be able to bear my, you know, my, my, my new learnings with with my colleagues.


Sam Demma (25:53):
I love it. Th this probably dovetails really nicely with my next question, which is, if you were able to take all your experiences and in education bundle, ’em up, go back in time to the first class you taught, tap yourself on the shoulder and say, Hey, Brian, this is what you needed to hear when you were just starting, knowing what you know now and the experience you have, what would you have told your younger self?


Brian McKenzie (26:19):
Oh man. Well the same thing that I’m telling my, my teachers here in my school now is that you can’t push students to learn more than they’re ready you to learn at any given time. Mm-Hmm what does, you know? And, and I, and I, I guess what I’m referring to specifically is the experience that we’ve just gone through over the last two years. We have gotten into the, the, into the, you know, into a mindset where we think we’ve lost time. We’re losing time, we’re losing time. And, and that the solution to the lost time is to accelerate base accelerate the, you know, the rate of learning, but it doesn’t work that way. You can’t say to a student who’s behind, I’m gonna, you know, jam you with more work to get you caught up. It just, it just won’t work.


Brian McKenzie (27:20):
You know, back in the, in the early nineties, there was, again, the baby bit of a, a bit of a story. There’s old episode of the Simpsons where the, the family moves to Colorado and they, Homer takes a new job working in a new power plant. And Bart ends up in a, in a special ed cloth because he’s behind the other kids in, in the new school that he’s in and the teacher is doing, you know, it’s a, it’s a silly team. The teacher is doing a joke, or it’s a bunch of kids sitting around the table and she’s gonna teach them to letter a and Bart says, let me get this straight. We’re behind the other kids. And we’re going to catch up to them by going slower than they are. And I’ve always that that line has always stuck with me as a teacher and as an administrator.


Brian McKenzie (28:06):
I, you know, again, it’s a funny throw away kind of line, but there’s some wisdom in it too, because oftentimes this is what the situation we, we, we put our, our students into is that we think that you’re behind so that the, the, the better way, the best way thing we need to do is to jam you with more work, which means slowing you down when students are behind. Sometimes the best thing you can do is stop the bus and figure out where are we, why are people being left behind? If, you know, if one or two kids are, are, are behind, okay. Yeah, we can, we can check into their, their work habits, or we can look into their, into their skills, but if an entire class or an entire school is behind, then maybe we gotta stop and figure out what it is we’re doing and are, you know, what is the, what is the source?


Brian McKenzie (28:57):
What is the cause? And what can we do to help get everybody back on track? Often use the, the metaphor of the, you know, if there’s an old story, I don’t know how true it is, but there’s an old story that you know, the British rail system at one point decided that in order to make sure the buses ran on time, it would stop picking up passengers. Right? So if the bus, if the bus had to, you know, left the Depot at 8:00 AM, and it was due at its first stop at 8 0 5 and then at eight, 10, and then eight 15, or something like that, if it saw too many passengers waiting to get on it, would, it wouldn’t stop and pick them up because it had to be at the next stop for, you know, five minutes later. And the joke is, of course, the, a bus driver would get to the end of the run and there’d be nobody on the bus, but he was on, at least he was on time.


Brian McKenzie (29:41):
And, and, and again, sometimes I think that’s what we do in the classroom. We get so intent on, you know, delivering curriculum and making sure we get all of our lessons in, and we make sure we hammer the kids with work on assignments and tests and, and on and on and on. And then, you know, you get to the end of the semester and you’ve lost the kids. They’re, you know, and, and there’s a lot of different ways that you know, again, you know, from your own experience, there’s a lot of different ways that kids show that they’re lost, right. They stop attending class or they’re, or they’re not doing their homework anymore. They, they shut down or they’re, you know, they’re acting out or there’s a lot of different kinds of indicators that the teacher has lost has lost the class. So we wanna make sure. And, and for me, , I wanna make sure that as we go forward, we’re not, you know, we’re not running the buses on time, we’re picking up passengers.


Sam Demma (30:31):
Mm. I love that. That’s such a cool analogy. And the Bart Simpson story, being someone who wants that every once in a while. that’s awesome. Well, if someone wants to reach out to you based on this interview, ask a question, talk about anything you discuss today, what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you?


Brian McKenzie (30:52):
You can, well, we have a social media channel for our school. It’s Instagram and on Twitter, it’s at @pforilla. Our school’s website is https://pfo.schools.smcdsb.on.ca/ and you know, there’s contact information for the school on there. And I’m, I’m, I’m I’m available through those channels primarily, cuz you know, I, I get too many emails to try to try to follow, but you know, there’s, there’s a couple of us that track the DMS on the, on the Instagram and on the Twitter channel. So we’ll be able to probably follow what best there.


Sam Demma (31:37):
Awesome. Brian, thank you so much for making the time to come on the show. I hope you enjoy the experience and keep up the great work and education.


Brian McKenzie (31:45):
Thanks a lot. And, and, and good luck to you with.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Brian McKenzie

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.

Mark Cossarin – Principal at Lindsay Collegiate & VocationaI Institute

Mark Cossarin - Principal at Lindsay Collegiate & VocationaI Institute
About Mark Cossarin

Mark did his undergraduate degree with a major in physical education and a minor in sociology at York University. He grew up ten minutes away, so it was nice to save money and live at home. He was a starting power hitter on the men’s varsity volleyball team for four years, and he was also an assistant coach with the women’s program for one year. He moved on to Western University for grad school to complete a Master’s Degree in Kinesiology. He taught undergraduate practicum courses in volleyball, badminton and physiology. He was also the teaching assistant for his thesis advisor’s Canadian Sport History course, which all first year kinesiology students took. During my second year there, he became the head coach of the women’s varsity volleyball team. The Centre for Olympic Studies at Western was just opening as well, and he had an opportunity to work very closely with the founder who was a member of his thesis committee. After graduating, he moved back home and attended UofT to earn his B.Ed. 

Mark Cossarin was very fortunate during his post-secondary education to be involved in many programs that allowed him to interact with a variety of leaders. Whether a professor, coach, teaching assistant or administrator, he always valued his experiences under their tutelage. It made him understand that working hard and sharing your passion for your subject area with others, has a tremendous impact on the development of meaningful programs. In the area of volleyball, we held numerous skills camps for younger athletes as well as the National Coaching Certification Program (NCCP), where coaches, many of whom were teachers, attained their volleyball certification. During this time he became a certified NCCP instructor for indoor and beach volleyball, the Spikes Program, which introduced volleyball to younger kids and the provincial officials’ certification program.

Mark’s teaching career began with an LTO at LCVI two weeks before he completed my B.Ed. in April of 1994  They needed a phys. ed. qualified individual to replace a teacher on medical leave. After 2 LTOs and supply work, he was the second permanent hire at the Adult Ed. Centre in Lindsay when it opened in March of 1995. As the low person on the seniority list, he was bumped to FFSS and then back to LCVI.  From 1998 until 2000, during Mike Harris’ common sense revolution, his wife Mary (teacher at LCVI) and himself taught at the George Washington School in Cartagena, Colombia. Students earned an American and Colombian diploma and many continued their post-secondary education in the United States. Since Italian was his first language, learning Spanish was quite enjoyable. Mary and Mark took Spanish lessons two nights a week during our first year there. He was the head of physical education and the athletic director. He taught every single student from grade 1-12 (approximately 500 students). 

Similar to his post-secondary experiences, Mark had worked with a variety of people in different educational institutions.  He saw firsthand how administrators work and he was able to determine which characteristics are most effective.  

He visited LCVI when they returned to Lindsay after their first year of teaching in Cartagena. Mark chatted with Mike Trusz who was one of the VPs. He was describing our experiences and future plans. At that point, he said Mark should consider getting his PQP qualifications. He had already worked with him and he seemed to think that Mark would be a good fit as an administrator. It is amazing how a short conversation like that can have such a big impact. Mark was flattered because he was a very effective administrator and he had a lot of respect for how he did his job.  

Mark signed up for his junior qualification, which was the first time the Queen’s Faculty of Education offered an on-line course. He was fortunate because he had to do it from Colombia since their second year had just begun in mid-August. When Mark and his wife completed their two-year contract, they came back to Ontario and he did his PQP Part 1 that summer through Brock University and his PQP Part 2 during the evenings through the Durham Board once the school year began.

Mark became a VP at IEW in the fall of 2002. After 4 years there, he moved to FFSS as principal. At the end of 2 years, he went back to IEW, and was principal for 11 years. He am now in my third year as principal at LCVI. Mark would never want to leave the secondary school environment. He loves welcoming kids in grade 9 and seeing them develop over their four years in our school. Mark has worked with wonderful people – fellow administrators, teaching staff, EAs, secretaries, custodians and the great folks who work out of the board offices. Not to mention, he has enjoyed connecting with students and families in all three school communities.

Mark’s immigrant parents always told him, “Mark, we are lucky to be in Canada. Please make sure you listen to your teacher/advisor/boss and respect them. You can learn from everyone no matter how old you are.” He has never forgotten that. 

Connect with Mark Cossarin: Email

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Lindsay Collegiate & VocationaI Institute

Trillium Lakelands District School Board – Better Together

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People® – FranklinCovey

Four Must-Do’s for Empowered Principals

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):
Mark, welcome to the high performing educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show this afternoon. Start by introducing yourself.

Mark Cossarin (03:05):
My name is mark Cossarin. I’m a principal with the Trillium Lakelands District School Board. And I’ve been here with the board since gosh, 1995. And I’ve been a principal since two and gosh, when was it? 2000 and two, I became a vice principal and I’ve been a principal since 2006. I’ve had a chance to be a principal at FFSS. I spent a tremendous amount of time over at LE Weldon in Lindsey. And now I’m the principal at Lindsay collegiate vocational Institute, Lindsay Ontario.

Sam Demma (03:41):
At what point in your own journey as a, as a young student, did you realize I want to get into education?

Mark Cossarin (03:51):
Gosh, I would say probably during my undergraduate time at York I, I was fortunate enough to be a member of the men’s varsity volleyball team and I was a starting power hitter for four years. And it was during that time, I had a chance to work with a lot of good leaders in their areas. So whether it was a professor or a coach or a teaching assistant, an administrator, I always valued those experiences on their, their tutelage, I think. And I think it made me understand that working hard and sharing your passion for your subject area with others has a pretty big impact on individuals and by extension programs. So the volleyball program at York, we did a lot of things in the community as well. So we ran a lot of kids programs.

Mark Cossarin (04:36):
We did a lot of national coaching certification program work where even during the summer, we’d run a lot of camps where the ever coaches or people who wanted to become coaches and get certified would come in. And the vast majority of those folks were actually teachers. So it was pretty neat at such a young age to be able to start doing those things. And I realized, you know what, this is something I’m pretty passionate about. I, I like it. I’m pretty good at it. And that really sort of planted the seed for me. I think,

Sam Demma (05:05):
How did volleyball and being in athletics at a high level shape, the way you approach education or your desire to teach and be a part of a team in a school?

Mark Cossarin (05:17):
Right. Well, I would say, I mean, obviously I had a, I was pretty passionate about athletics and sports and things like that. And I thought, you know what? That is an area where I think there is room for everybody regardless of what your area of interest might be. Mm. And, and that’s what I keep telling kids. I said, you know, even though I haven’t played volleyball in a long time, you know, what, you can get involved in so many ways if you’ve become educated in the sport. So you can become a coach, a referee, a, an administrator, and you can still stay involved and get to a pretty high level. If you do sort of, you know, have a passion for it and, and share that with others.

Sam Demma (05:56):
So you went to school to get the educational degree and the, the learning what did the journey look like from that moment to where you are today?

Mark Cossarin (06:08):
Sure. So I, I did my undergraduate degree at York went to grad school at Western. And then I had an opportunity to teach there as well as a TA. So I had a chance to, to get a sense of what that would be like. And then I went to teacher’s college at the university of Toronto, and my wife actually got a job here in Lindsay the year before I finished and I followed her up here. And we’ve never left ever since.

Sam Demma (06:35):
Oh, that’s awesome. A along the journey, did you have other educators, people who had an impact or made a difference in your life mentor you? And if so, like who were those people and what did they do that had a significant impact?

Mark Cossarin (06:52):
Right. again, I, I, I was fortunate enough that when I first got up here, I, I, I did an LTO for contract for someone. And actually even before I finished teachers college, I came up here. And again, I’ve had a chance to work with a lot of different administrators, whether they’re principals of vice principals, department heads fellow teachers within certain departments. And I think everybody, I think everybody has an impact on you. I think my parents always said, you know what regardless of where you are, you you’ll always be able to learn from everybody. You may not necessarily love what you see, but that’s part of the learning where you go, oh, that’s good. That doesn’t work so well. And I just think having had an opportunity to be, you know, here at L C B I, and then at, at, at the adult ed center, and then at, at the other high schools in the area, I always had a chance to interact with a lot of individuals. So there were so many, I think I, I can’t even mention all of them because I think it it’s been a good experience. And, and it’s been very lovely working up in this part of Ontario.

Sam Demma (07:52):
You worked as well in adult education. What was that experience like for you and paint us a picture of the difference between the school you were in now and that experience?

Mark Cossarin (08:01):
Sure. So it was, I was actually fortunate because I think I was the second one hired there. It was opened in 1995 and it was actually underneath LC B’s umbrella. So the board had never had an adult ed center. And these were truly adults, every single person who started with us there was over 20 years and some of them were in their sixties and seventies. Wow. And it was amazing cuz there, I was looking for transcripts from people who went to high school in a, really in 19, in the 1950s sixties. It, it was great because these folks had been away for so long and they were given an opportunity to earn a secondary school diploma. It was just such a meaningful experience to have that opportunity to work with, with folks who had had a tremendous amount of experience in a variety of areas come back and actually finish that chapter, which is something a lot of them never had an opportunity to do.

Sam Demma (08:58):
I have to imagine that’s a pretty inspiring environment. You know, it, it sounds like every single one of those learners is coming back to reach for something. Instead of just not complete that aspect of their life. What would, what was your experience did, did you find it that the learners were, or the people that were in that situation really wanted to improve, grow and continue on? Or was it an inspiring situation?

Mark Cossarin (09:25):
I think it varied depending on who the individual was, but I would say the vast majority, they already had jobs. Right. And they had worked for a long period of time, but they really just symbolically if not thing else, the opportunity to truly finish something, they never had had chance to finish when they were in their teens. Now some of them were younger and needed an Ontario secondary school diploma yeah. To apply for some jobs. So there was quite a range, but literally there was a woman who was 77 years old who was in that, you know, and she ended up going, I’ll never forget. She ended up applying for position. I think it was at a library in COBA Concor just north of us here. And she ended up working there before she passed away. Wow. So it, yeah, it was pretty cool.

Sam Demma (10:05):
That’s awesome. And what is, tell us a little bit about your school, the school you’re working in right now. What is the culture like here?

Mark Cossarin (10:13):
Right. So I’m, I’m at Lindsay collegiate vocational Institute. It’s actually a fairly old school. It, it was found in 1889 here. So it’s been here for a very long time. The school, it it’s, it’s a composite high school in rural Ontario. We’ve got about 500 students now. The numbers aren’t nearly as large as they used to be. And I mean, there’s a variety of things that we offer. So I, this is something we always tell parents at our grade eight info night that regardless of who your child is, regardless of their background, regardless of what their future goals might be, we have something for everyone here. There is a pathway for every single individual in our school, but we try and impress upon in the importance of please show up, please show up every single day, show up, please listen to your instructor, the EA in your class, whoever’s around and try. If you can do those things, we promise you will get your diploma. You will develop skills and you’ll be able to move on and do something else in an area of interest.

Sam Demma (11:18):
Hmm. It’s a really awesome personal philosophy. Is there any mindset shifts, beliefs that you’ve carried throughout your professional career and even also as an athlete that informed the way that you showed up every day? And if so, what are some of those beliefs?

Mark Cossarin (11:35):
Yeah, I, I, I know it sounds simple, but, and I’ll go back to it. Sure. Show up you really, you have to show up and you have to try, you know, you can’t be perfect at everything you do and you can’t necessarily be great at everything you do, but if you want to improve, you have to do repetition. there has to be repetition. You have to do things over and over to get better at it. So even if it’s something as simple as a skill in a sport, I can’t get better at something if I don’t do it over and over. And I would say the same thing in any subject area that you, you just gotta show up and you gotta try and just be, be positive. I mean, I think at the end of the day, you know, know what, when kids come into this building, I mean, this is a bricks and mortar school and it’s a traditional school, but we say, look, you know what?

Mark Cossarin (12:17):
We have a roof over your head. We will feed you and we will make sure you will be safe and we will listen to you, but we need you to be here. Please just come every single day if you can. Cuz I think that’s how kids connect. Right. And I just think, unfortunately, during the last two years, it’s had an impact on a lot of, well, all students, irrespective of age, right where we’re learning at home now we’re here now. We’re not, so it’s been challenging and I’d say moving forward, that’s probably one of the biggest challenges we will have now moving back to some kind of normalcy with students where guess what? We have a four period day again, you know, and we hope that you’re gonna show now it’s a little bit different. It’s not an OK master. It’s not a quad, you know, it’s not a hybrid.

Mark Cossarin (12:59):
Yeah. You’re, you’re back here now. So I think from a curricular perspective, that’s probably the most challenging thing moving forward, but it’s also great because now guess what, hopefully with normalcy, we have extracurriculars again and kids get to be part of clubs and they get to connect with others in areas of interest, you know, and we get to have dances and a prom and field trips and all of those things that, you know, over the last two years for the kids in grade, you know, in grade 10 or even the kids in grade 11, you know, they’ve never really had a chance to experience that very long or at all.

Sam Demma (13:32):
Yeah. So true. I’m sure you’re also itching to get back on the volleyball court with some of the kids.

Mark Cossarin (13:37):
Yeah, for sure. I mean, it’s just a great way to connect right. With kids who have an opportunity to do something they like. And, but again, they put in the time and it’s after school and yeah. So I, I mean, whether it’s a sport, whether it’s a club, just anything where people get a chance to connect with other stakeholders and, and, and just connect with their schools and, you know, and buy swag and wear school colors and, and, and all of those kinds of things that I think have, has been challenging over the last couple of years. But I think with everything that’s happened, I think our, our board has done a really, really good job supporting our staff and our students to get to where we could get. I mean, we never knew what it was gonna look like and on a weekly basis it would change. And even though we’re not necessarily at the end yet I think our board really has done a very good job chatting with all stakeholders to get a sense of what they wanted. And by and large, you know, what all things consider knock on wood. It’s been pretty good, all things considered.

Sam Demma (14:36):
I love it. And I mean, it sounds like you focus on the positives as well. I think it’s very easy to also focus on the things that are extremely negative and your whole life becomes those things. right. So it’s cool. Even amongst the storm, you can find some sliver of sunshine yeah. And, you know, focus on that until it passes. What resources have you found helpful in the, over your career in education? It could even be people resources, but if you found any courses or books or podcasts you listen to, or anything of that nature helpful feel, feel free to share.

Mark Cossarin (15:13):
Sure. I, I would say I’ve worked with wonderful people. So whether it’s fellow administrators or teaching staff, EA secretaries, custodians, people who work outta the board office, if you ever have a question, there is somebody who can help you and can answer that question for you for sure. No question in my mind. And anytime we have a question, somebody will help you. It’s just important that you ask and you know who to ask. I’d say you gotta keep learning your respective of how long you’ve been at something. I mean, I think it’s important that, you know, if you are an administrator, you should be a member of a S C, D or PD PDK international, where, you know, there are excellent resources for administrators that keep you on top of things moving forward, because things change. I mean, even from a technological perspective, things have changed so quickly. And now that we’re teaching generation Z, for those of us who have been at it for a very long period of time, it gets even more challengingSam Demma (16:08):
I, I had a, a past guest on and I, his name is slipping, slipping my mind right now, but he was basically telling me he would tell his students, I will never get mad at you for asking a question. No matter how silly you think the question is, I promise you I’ll never get mad at you for asking a question. So please ask as many questions as you’d like. And he said that that outcome, once kids got comfortable with it would lead him to walk around his classroom for like an hour and a half after saying it because kids had so many questions and he said, you know, I’ll get mad at you if you do something foolish, but not for asking questions. And I think you know, you’re right, asking questions is so important and you don’t always have to have the answer, but someone else who you work with might definitely have the answer. And that’s why I think it goes back to what you said earlier about, well, you have to show up, you have to try. And the third is you have to listen. That’s what you said. And yeah, I think listening is so important. Yeah. Why do you think listening is so important?

Mark Cossarin (17:09):
Why, oh gosh. But I think we’re all so different. And I think sometimes we, we make assumptions until we find out who the person is. Mm. And it’s funny, just you mentioning that teacher answering questions and you, you basically just shared probably the most important thing a teacher can do is use proximity. Mm. You know, don’t just stand at the front, don’t sit at your desk, walk around, communicate with the kids, get, get an idea of what’s going on. Cuz the moment you can get closer to a kid, you get an idea of what they’re writing down, what’s on their tablet. You know what they’re looking at, what they’re wearing, you know, all of those things give you greater insight and allows you to connect with the individual. Right. And I think that’s the important thing because at the end of it, every single class is gonna be different.

Mark Cossarin (17:49):
Right. We’re back to you know, a four, a four period day. So every one of our full-time teachers now has three, three classes. Okay. So you’re gonna have different numbers. You’re gonna have a different course. And even though, you know, the curriculum in theory should be the same, it’s gonna be different because you’re gonna have different kids sitting in front of you. And I think it’s our collective responsive bit, those first three or four days to get an idea of who’s who’s sitting in front of me, who are these folks? Where are they from? How do they feel? You know, what, what are they interested in? You know, what, what are the things that they hope to do? What don’t they like? You know? So I think good teachers do a great job those first couple of days to get a sense of, you know, know what who are they?

Mark Cossarin (18:30):
You know, what, what do they want? And even reaching out to parents, you know, literally just something as simple as hi I’m so, and so just wanna introduce myself if there’s any questions or concerns. And it’s funny, cuz I just did an evaluation for one of our teachers and she shared with me some of the emails that she got from back from parents and they were just so beautiful. Thank you so much for reaching out to me. I really appreciate it. And then even ones that came after the fact, because I knew that, you know what I’m allowed to communicate with this teacher directly.

Sam Demma (18:57):
So cool. Yeah. That’s so it’s just a simple way of opening the line of communication. Like, Hey, I’m for sure. I’m here for you if you need me, you know, and exactly. Yeah, once you open it, it stays open. It sounds like. So yeah.

Sam Demma (19:09):
That’s awesome. And I, I totally agree. I think listening enables us to wipe free of the assumptions we make, because as much as we say, you know, you don’t judge your book by its cover. We still make assumptions about people and about situations before you know anything about it and it’s just normal. It’s a human tendency. I’m curious to know though on the topic of like a ideas to improve as an educator improve your practice. If you could take the experience you’ve had in education, almost travel back in time and speak to your younger self when you were just starting in the classroom, knowing what you know now, like what advice would you have given your younger self? Not that you’re old now, but you know what I mean? right.

Mark Cossarin (19:51):
Yeah. Yeah. I probably, would’ve tried a little bit harder academically in all of my classes. Mm. You know, if I really had an opportunity, I probably would’ve tried in all the courses I was taking all the way, even throughout my undergraduate degree, cuz really, I really didn’t start working incredibly as hard as I should have until probably my third or fourth year. And I think looking back when I think about some of the teachers I would’ve had in some of the subject areas, or even some of the pros I had, I thought, man, I should have showed up and focused a little bit better. But again, as a young person, that’s part of learning. Right. When you realize, I mean, there are a lot of kids that crash and burn a post secondary because they don’t show up cuz they don’t have an interest. Right. And that’s just part of growing up and, and I think statistically, that happens to a lot of kids that we don’t realize that that’s just part of it. But I think, yeah, looking back now, I think I probably should have tried a little bit harder you know, grade, grade 11, 12 and grade 13 back in the day and then yeah. You know, first or second year university.

Sam Demma (20:53):
And I, I would say the same about my student experience. I also took the OAC the, the fifth year grade 13. Right. What about from the perspective of educator, mark? Like when you, when you first got into the, into the classroom, like if you could speak to your younger self and say, Hey mark you don’t know this yet, but this is what you need to hear. when you were just starting and teaching.

Mark Cossarin (21:15):
Right. let’s see, what would I say?

Sam Demma (21:21):
And keep in mind that there might be an educator listening. Who’s just about to get into this profession. right. Who is excited, but at the same time, very nervous

Mark Cossarin (21:31):
Right, right. I would say prepare as best you can and it’s not gonna work out exactly the way you think it’s going to Hmm so you know what, you you’re gonna have a toolbox and that toolbox will get bigger and bigger as you go along and if it doesn’t work per it’s okay. As long as you try and you get the feedback from the individuals you are around, whether it’s the students, whether it’s your department head, whether it’s you know fellow instructors who are teaching the same classes. I think that’s the key where it doesn’t make you a lesser person. If you end up having to change things or improve things or, you know, get greater insights from others who have done that before.

Sam Demma (22:12):
That’s a great piece of advice. Not only for educators, flies to all fields. Mark, thank you so much for taking this time to come on the podcast, share some of your journey, experiences, insights. If someone is listening, wants to reach out, ask a question or bounce of my ideas around what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you.

Mark Cossarin (22:32):
Sure. email again, I get it all the time and I would answer pretty quickly. So it’s mark.cossarin@tldsb.on.ca

Sam Demma (22:48):
Awesome. Mark. Keep up the great work. Thanks again for coming on the show and we’ll talk soon.

Mark Cossarin (22:53):
Thanks for having me Sam. Appreciate it.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Mark Cossarin

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.

Michael Straile – Assistant Principal Bonnyville Centralized High School

Michael Straile – Assistant Principal Bonnyville Centralized High School
About Michael Straile

Michael Straile has been the Assistant Principal of Bonnyville Centralized High School since 2018.  Previously, Michael taught grades 7 & 8 at H.E. Bourgoin Middle School in Bonnyville.  His passions outside of teaching include acting and film.  

Connect with Michael: Email

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Bonnyville Centralized High School

H.E. Bourgoin Middle School

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):
Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s guest is someone that I actually met speaking at a teacher’s convention last May. And his name is Michael Stralie. He has been the assistant principal of Bonnyville Centralized High school since 2018. Previous to that role, Michael taught grade 7 and 8 at another high school in his city.


Sam Demma (00:58):
and aside from teaching, he’s really passionate about movies, acting, and all things film. In fact, he has his own role in a full length feature film , which is absolutely amazing. so stay tuned for that, but in the meantime, enjoy the conversation that we had about his journey into education and what it was like for him growing up as a high school student. I hope you enjoy this and I’ll see you on the other side. Michael, thank you so much for coming on the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show, literally after meeting you less than a week ago. why don’t you start by sharing a little bit about yourself and how you got into the work you’re doing in education today?


Michael Stralie (01:37):
Oh, that’s a long story actually. My name is Michael Stralie. Teaching, so my 12th year teaching and my 3rd year as a, as a assistant principal, actually. I’ve taught from middle school, so I’ve taught grade seven and eight social studies in English. And then when I moved to the high school, I’ve taught social 10/1, 20/1, and K&E, which is knowledge and employability, math, science, English, and social. So I’m kind of go wherever they tell me really.


Sam Demma (02:06):
that’s nice. Nice.


Michael Stralie (02:08):
Yeah.


Sam Demma (02:09):
And, and why education Mike? Like wh when you were younger, did you just know this is what you were gonna do? Did you have someone nudge you in this direction? Did you think that I being the class clown was the calling


Michael Stralie (02:23):
I had, I, this gonna sound bad. I had no thought of being a teacher growing up. Yeah. I wasn’t your strongest student. I was like sixties to seventies. If I really worked hard hit high school and then graduated high school. And it’s kind of, I did what everyone does when you graduate high school, but you don’t know what you’re supposed to do. So I took business school and I went, I did a two year program at gram Cuban imagine studies and nice. But my journey in education kind of begins in my summers in that one where I worked at this place in town called the do center. It’s our bottle Depot. There’s a wood shop. And the do center is people with special needs. And I was working as an educational facilitator for them. Family friend had offered me the job for the summer and you know, school’s not cheap.


Michael Stralie (03:13):
So I took the first job I can get nice. And working with my clients, I was the, I was doing just little educational things on computers and reading and math and all kinda stuff, and just found myself loving my summers more than my studies when I was in university. The weekends are fun. Don’t get me wrong. But so finished my first year and then finished my second year, went back to the do, and I did the same thing and, and tried to enter the workforce. And I ended, the only job I could find was I was a door-to-door salesman. That was wonderful experience. Not really. It was very embarrassing. I felt guilty every time I knocked on the door. So I didn’t last long there. And I ended up coming home to Ville where I live now and I was help running one of the electronics store and I had an amazing boss there, but it just, it wasn’t for me running a business, managing, just not my, not my style.


Michael Stralie (04:12):
Yeah. And I remember having a conversation with my brother who is a teacher and this isn’t a generational thing by the way, teachers just hit in this like generation. So anyways, we were talking in like, I think I was in a drug store when we were picking some stuff up getting ready for Christmas. And I was just talking I’m miserable. Like I, this isn’t what I wanna do. And he was questioned me on like, what were things I enjoyed? And I when I hit high school, I really started to love social studies. And up until grade 12, I actually, it was, I thought it was boring. It was just history. I didn’t really understand it. Grade 12, I had a teacher who made it mean something to me. And so I was like, well, I like social studies and I like movies, TVs, all kinda stuff.


Michael Stralie (04:53):
So I could do a drama minor. So I applied back to grandma. Cuan decided to give up, I was the, I was gonna go to live in Scotland for a year, but decided I’d go back to school instead. And applied, got accepted and started learning all the fantastic things that come with education. And when I got my first practicum, it was awesome. Second one was amazing. My mentor teachers were fantastic. People who taught me so much, and I, I ended up getting hired the day I graduated with the division I’m at now. So was, I had just finished student teaching there that school themselves had already hired me on to come as an educational assistant to finish off my year. But then the principal ATG Bergy had interviewed Meg Bergmans in middle school where I spent the first nine years of my career, interviewed me and offered me a job at their too. And it just, everything lined up. And here I am nine years later, I’m the assistant principal at the high school here. This is my third year doing that. And it’s,


Sam Demma (05:52):
I guess,


Michael Stralie (05:53):
Guess history in the making.


Sam Demma (05:54):
That’s a phenomenal story, right. I wanna go back though. I wanna go back to when you were in grade 12 and you had this social studies teacher who made social studies mean something to you, as you said it, who was that teacher and how did they, how did they grab your attention and deliver such an impactful? What sounds like a life changing so semester for you?


Michael Stralie (06:19):
Yeah. So his name was, he was actually also my football coach. I only played weird 12 year of that, but his name is mark bullion and he was not your conventional teacher. He wasn’t super strict sit in row, be quiet lecture, like, and not, not old teachers like that, but that’s kind of the old school style kind of things. He, he was the first t-shirt I had, that was so sarcastic. And it was just funny. I, I can be sarcastic sometimes I’m told I don’t know if that’s true but just the way he’d bring humor into his lessons, just capture my attention and, and just kind of explaining how social studies isn’t just about history. Like, I don’t know how many times you ask, why do we learn social studies and responses? Oh, so we don’t repeat our past history and I and I’m sorry if I upset social studies teaches on it, but that’s not it at all.


Michael Stralie (07:10):
We’re trying to teach students to understand how the world is the way it is now. Yeah. We’re not gonna repeat those mistakes, but understand who we are and what our role is as a citizen in this world. And we have to understand how we got here. I know the world still has so so much growth. But I think looking at Canada’s history 150 years ago to where we are now, we’ve pro like progressed so much in acceptance. And I’m not saying we have acceptance, there’s still a long way to go, but it’s, it’s the more our students learn to be a proper citizen and what it means to be an active, engaged citizen in the world, the better chance we have seeing that acceptance that should already be in existence.


Sam Demma (07:54):
No,


Michael Stralie (07:54):
That’s awesome. And, and that’s kind of where he started with that is just getting me an understanding why social studies is so important and ended up being my major because of it. Hmm. And yeah, the world wars are cool to talk about. Don’t get me wrong, all that, like the history. Aspect’s awesome, but it’s, it’s so much more, I mean, there’s a reason why this math and science teachers get upset. There’s a reason why social studies is a great 12 or to graduate.


Sam Demma (08:23):
I love it. I love it. Hit him where it hurts. Right?


Michael Stralie (08:26):
Well, no math and science super important. Don’t


Sam Demma (08:29):
Get me wrong. No, I’m just joking.


Michael Stralie (08:30):
Yeah. I don’t wanna get those emails sort of like people who know me, like, wait, what are you saying? My math and science. I think it’s wonderful. I think everything should be great. 12 requirement,


Sam Demma (08:38):
But that’s awesome. I love that. And do you still stay in touch with mark now?


Michael Stralie (08:44):
No. I did see him. We did before COVID hit, we were doing like an alumni football game kind of thing. Nice. And I did have a chance to touch base with him. And I kind of explained like, Hey, you know, like you’re one of the reasons I became a teacher and to which he responded. Yeah. Sorry about that. like I said, he’s, and he’s not the only one it’s like for social studies, that’s, that’s kind of him, but there’s also another teacher. His name is Glen Flyn and he was, he was my computer and teacher . But it was just how he made me feel as a human being, like playing the one year of football. I, my pictures in the paper and he had to hang up in his classroom. So it’s that relationship, that caring thing where you see like, teacher actually cares. Cause I remember autographing it for him and I, I came back a year later after I graduated, just say hi, and it was still up. So it’s like, and people have teachers like that. Have you just take a minute to like, look, you’ll see just how much your teachers like teachers actually care. And unfortunately it, it took me till grade 12 to realize this.


Sam Demma (09:46):
Yeah, yeah. Sometimes it, it takes a student 30 years before they turn around, go find that teacher and say, Hey, I just wanted to let you know how much you change my life. You know, I’ve interviewed so many teachers who tell me that 10 years after a kid graduated or a student graduated, they heard from them. And sometimes the impact you have is never actually known as a teacher. They may, you may never hear from that kid again, but you know, you could have changed their life. And, and now they’re doing some great thing because of one thing you said in class or a lecture of totally changed their perspective. Right now, I would assume things are a little different and maybe different as an understatement but how are you striving to still build, you know, a great school culture and to make sure that students are feeling heard, seen, valued and appreciated, despite the challenges that the world is bringing us today.


Michael Stralie (10:40):
see, that’s a tough one because now you want me to like, talk about good things. I do. No,


Michael Stralie (10:47):
Not just me, but like, yeah. I’ll, I’ll talk about my school in general. Like so we, we do still have in class, like in-person learning going on. Cool. and I think like what most people are doing is just making sure you’re engaging with their students. Like I know personally, like you’ll see me often in like the eating area or the, the hub as we call in the morning and just saying hi to students. And last year, right before the school shut down, I had a group of kids who were like, Hey, do you wanna play Dungeons and dragons you? I was like, no, but okay, let’s try it. and ended up being a lot of fun. I was, I was actually, when COVID got like shut everything down, I was like, oh man, I was just getting into this.


Michael Stralie (11:27):
It was really cool. And I just noticed that like at our school in particular, teachers are starting to share like things that they’re interested in finding like students who, who, who are out for that. And there’s teachers who open up the classroom and me, it’s more just being goofy, walking around, chatting like it. I’m starting, like I said, a stress club, cuz I know it’s a lot of stress going on in the world right now. So students who are feeling stressed, I’m gonna have like new techniques every week that can build on different like remote meditation, yoga music and rhythm stuff. Just nice. Anything to help students find their center, I guess.


Sam Demma (12:04):
Yeah. No, that’s a phenomenal idea. And I know you got it from the convention. I did. Yeah. Yeah. That’s just, which is awesome. I think it’s so cool that there’s a space where teachers from around the province all come together and share unique and cool ideas. What is like one or two of the takeaways you had from the conference? Like any and all I know there are so many different sessions, but what, like I know the stress club was an awesome one, but what, what are some of the things you took away?


Michael Stralie (12:31):
Well I focused a lot on the stress ones. Nice. I, I did a couple of those and that was more just like learning how to, I think I said find your center and, and like in this world I think what people, people think teachers are stress, but I think most of our stress comes from the stress that students are feeling and, and us like, oh, like we gotta make sure that they know we’re here to make them sit, are helping them be successful. And so I think teachers, my nature or humans in general are greater showing empathy and you’re kind of taking on that stress and finding that balance of like, oh, I need to push you because you know, you’re, you’re heading off to university. I need to prepare you, but you’re also feeling all that stress and trying to find ways to help them out. So that’s why I focus so much on the stress. And I also saw this amazing one of social studies where she had basically talked about a whole year of a project. So every time you went through a new concept, you got to add to this big project that they’ll present at the end, at the end of the semester. And I thought that was the coolest thing, cuz I that’s something I wanna see in social studies is more engagement in more real life applications to it.


Sam Demma (13:38):
No, that’s awesome. I love that. Yeah.


Michael Stralie (13:40):
It’s well and of course your speech


Sam Demma (13:43):
Thanks.


Michael Stralie (13:43):
Clearly, clearly here I am. I I was actually thinking, cause I’m gonna talk about you for a second. Look, I’m hijacking your podcast that do that. Cause you talked about about your teacher, who’s also named Mike, so that’s obviously a super name full of cool people named Mike. Yep. And, and he, he would talk to you about like was it small, consistent actions yeah. To change the world. Yeah. And, and I was kind of thinking about this and I, I realized his small, consistent action was probably telling students to make small, consistent actions change the world and it, it worked right. Yeah. Like your story tells all that. So I, that, that really stucked with me is like reflecting on your career, you go back and like, am I being consistent and, and trying to deliver that message and no, I it’s really good. The only thing that sucked what teacher comp this year was not being able to like see people, people


Sam Demma (14:34):
See people. Yeah. You know? Yeah. I I’m totally with you. You and I do agree that the second best name in the world is Mike next to Sam. So , I’m just joking


Sam Demma (14:46):
But and mark would say the third best because it goes mark Sam, and then Mike.


Michael Stralie (14:51):
Whoa. What’s that?


Sam Demma (14:54):
Nah, just totally joking.


Michael Stralie (14:55):
I’ve never been bumped down to third plane. So it’s like when I’m running a race and there’s only three of us right now, I don’t know what


Sam Demma (15:00):
Happened, but no, I appreciate that. It, it was cool. Getting a chance to kind of share the story about how Mike loud fed my teacher kind of shaped my career and my life. And I was not someone who thought I’d ever be working in a school. I mean, I’m not formally a teacher, but a lot of my work is speaking to educators or speaking to students. And I thought I would’ve been a professional soccer player, hopefully, you know, playing in the MLS right now with four, my other teammates who are now playing pro. But things took a change. All thanks to a caring educator or someone like yourself who really cares about the things they’re teaching and, and tries their best to connect with students and build relationships. If you could go back in time though, to your first year teaching and kind of like give your younger self advice what would you say? What would have told your younger self as like a pep talk


Michael Stralie (15:56):
Oh, controversial. Here we go. So when you’re a teacher you’re kind of guided by curriculum. Yep. My advice to my younger self is I understand curriculum’s important. I don’t want teachers upset with me, but the most important thing is an educator’s relationship is getting to know your students and get, letting them know who you are. Not being a stranger, not just being an authority figure though. Yes. You should still be an authority figure, but getting to know them, building those relationships. And then once you have that, the curriculum can follow. Once you get to know your students, lets ’em get to know you. They’re more likely to want to hear what you have to say. You’re not just another adult coming, saying, sit down, shut up and listen to me. I got a story you’re gonna listen to. You’re gonna enjoy. You’re gonna learn from you gotta write test no, that works sometimes, but it’s, it’s about getting to know students even a little bit.


Michael Stralie (16:44):
Like you don’t need to know the whole life story, but like genuine caring is what they need. Mm. And I started middle school too, right? Like grade eight that’s hormones are all over the place. Yeah. so that’s, that’d be my, that’d be my advice is cuz that first year I’ll be the first five years for teachers is tough. Cuz you’re trying to figure out who you are as a teacher. I I, the strict one or I’m like the funny one, I’m like the cool one I’m at the laid back one and about, yeah, with within five years, you’re gonna, if you’re gonna make it or not, and you kind of fall into your own stride and, and then hopefully you get good results. And then also teaching myself that not everyone’s gonna like you


Sam Demma (17:25):
Yep.


Michael Stralie (17:26):
unless you’re me, cuz then you know,


Sam Demma (17:30):
No,


Michael Stralie (17:31):
You can’t win every student, but you can still find a way to relate to every. And so that they’ll at least want to hear what you have to say.


Sam Demma (17:37):
Yeah. I think it’s so, so true. And for teachers who are having the thoughts right now of, oh my goodness. This year has been insane in certain provinces. They haven’t even been in the classroom maybe at like at all and they’re, they’re struggling and they’re considering believing this vocation calling profession or they’re struggling to decide whether they wanna stay doing this. Did you ever have a moment in your career where you might have thought, I don’t know if I’m gonna do this again. And what did you tell yourself in those moments of maybe hardship or challenge?


Michael Stralie (18:13):
Cool. Since I’ve been teaching, I’ve never had that. I don’t want to teach anymore, but I have had days where like I just need a day off. Yeah. And normally I take the day off yeah, I like


Sam Demma (18:24):
It.


Michael Stralie (18:26):
That’s, that’s something that I think is right important is if, if you’re feeling that pressure as a teacher in Alberta anyways, we have personal days use a personal day. Don’t put your health at risk because really if you’re going in and you’re already defeated and you’re tired and you’re burnt out, you’re not helping yourself. You’re not helping your students. Take some time, find a way to calm yourself. Do whatever’s best for you and your students because you gotta find that that balance like a symbiotic relationship. Right. So if you’re not taking care of yourself, it’s going to eventually impact your students and possibly your school culture. So it’s taking that time and that’s my, the division I work for has before Christmas, it was almost directive where like, you guys have administrative, you need to take one before Christmas and I was like, yep. Booked


Sam Demma (19:18):
. So that’s awesome. That’s so cool. And for teachers who might be struggling right now and forgetting the reason why they got into teaching, you know, maybe the reason was they wanted to change a young person’s life or give back in the same way that a teacher, they had kind of mentored and, and, and taught them when they were in high school. Do you have any stories of transformation of students within schools that you’ve taught at or within the high school you’re at now where a student was going through a really tough time and maybe the style of a teacher or a relationship building thing kind of changed the students feelings, emotions, and, and led them down a, a, a brighter path. And the reason I ask is because one of those stories of transformation might remind an educator listening. That’s why I got into teaching and those moments still exist. So yeah, any, and I mean, if it’s a very personal story of a student that was really struggling, you can change their name, call them or whatever . But any of those stories come to mind.


Michael Stralie (20:18):
I, I’m gonna start with, if you are a struggling teacher you should know you’ve already, you already have a story. You just don’t know it yet. Yeah. It’s, it’s almost a thankless job and that’s okay. Cuz you’re doing a wonderful and sometimes like Sam said earlier, it could take 30 years for a kid to realize like just the impact that you’ve had. I, I haven’t gotten many, many letters, but I, I do remember the student when I was in grade eight and we’re just gonna call him Jimmy rough, rough life rough to teach. But liked my sense of humor. And we joked around and kind of gone through grade eight and he ended up moving away. Hadn’t heard from him, thought of him often wondering like, how’s this kid doing? Because I like, I get worried about students sometimes.


Michael Stralie (21:07):
Yeah. Run into him at seven 11. About a year ago, a kid had dropped like 150 pounds. He was in shape. And I’m kind of staring at him and didn’t recognize him. And he goes, STR, is that you like, yeah, yeah. Jimmy , he’s like, yeah. I’m like, well, how have you, how you been? He’s like, wow, really great. He’s like after grade eight, I, I moved to Emington and plea changed my life around started to focus more on school. And right now I’m upgrading and I plan on going to college and, or a trade school and, and try to find a proper career. And I thought that was great. And I thought that was the end of it. And then he had found my wife on, on Facebook. I don’t have social media. My wife does. And just like with the master, like, oh I hope you, Mr.


Michael Stralie (21:46):
Charley’s wife, like just, just wanted to say it was awesome catching up with him. It meant a lot for me to see him again. Hmm. And it’s just something so simple as just taking that rough kid and that getting a chance to know him. This is, this is where I would love to impart some wisdom that one of my best friends in the whole world, I have two of best friends, two best men at my wedding, by the way, one of ’em is famous for saying that the kids that are hardest of the love are the ones who need the love the most. Mm. So that kid that you think you hate, he’s just a pain in the butt and you’re like, oh, I gotta go deal with Jimmy today. Realize that Jimmy probably needs you more than anyone that day. Cuz people don’t with intention to harm anyone. Normally it’s a byproduct of what they’re going through themselves. So that’s the best thing I can say is just always remember a kid having a hard day and you know what you’re allowed a hard day too. It’s straining because those kids are also, like I said, the hardest love, and it’s going to take a lot of effort on your part and Don expect change in a day, but a good morning Jimmy can mean a lot.


Sam Demma (22:56):
Yeah.


Michael Stralie (22:56):
Just finding those things.


Sam Demma (22:58):
That’s awesome. And who’s the second best man.


Michael Stralie (23:01):
Another teacher actually. since Alise just when I moved here kind of met both them one of ’em I was working with he’s a ed teacher. Wonderful man, Dustin Blake. And then the other one my other best man. His name is Justin Barlow. Yeah. I’m using names. They they’re not, they better be listening to this when it comes out. I met him because we were coaching track and field one day and this random guy came out to me and said, Hey, can I live with you? And I was like, sure, I, their bedroom awesome. Justin, Justin Barlow and Dustin Blake had already known each other from all the Fette stuff. So Dustin had told him to go see me. And then yeah.


Sam Demma (23:39):
Long story short, he lives in your house.


Michael Stralie (23:42):
Used to, yeah. Now we’re both married. We have kids. But he’s literally half a block away from me. nice. So, and the other one lives in iron river. He’s been there always, ever since I’ve done him. But that’s another thing as a teacher, surround yourself with positive people who are like you, who can always get you through these tough things because I’ll give credit to those two guys, but, and many others, so many other people profession, but I’m just gonna sing. Cause they’re my best friends that having them like minded and be there definitely helped me progress. Because I’m also a little competitive. So it’s like, oh, you did that. Well, I’m gonna do this. so


Sam Demma (24:17):
That’s


Michael Stralie (24:18):
Awesome. Yeah. I would absolutely say that you need to follow it and then find other teachers another shout out to my friends. So who’s amazing. Social studies find his strategies to just surround yourself with those people you can learn from this guy. So is one of the greatest social studies teacher you’ll ever meet. I’d like to say second to me, but it’s not true. one day I hope that he’s almost as good as I am, but right now I’ve, I’ve, I’ve stole so much from his repertoire. So surrounding yourself as a, with people who are better than you and then try to be better than that.


Sam Demma (24:49):
Cool


Michael Stralie (24:49):
Love. And then list goes on. I, I probably have a hundred people who I can mention my mentor teachers when I came to the school division, taught me everything. I know. I don’t know if they wanna take credit for that or not. but they, they got me my start in this career. So like this just all over the place.


Sam Demma (25:05):
Cool. No, that that’s awesome. And when I think about mentorship, it’s, it’s so true. I, I have a whole list of people who helped me transition from school to work and selflessly just gave their time and energy to teach things and help with, you know, challenges. And I think it’s so true to wrap this up. Do you have any final parting words that you’d let like to share with a colleague maybe as a teacher who’s listening, you don’t even know who this person is and you just want to impart one last piece of sarcastic wisdom to this person.


Michael Stralie (25:38):
Yeah, so you guys will never be as good as me, but you might as well try no, that’s no, for real though, COVID sucks. And think that everything that you’re doing, that you’re struggling realize your students are, are doing it as well. And the best advice I could give, especially in an online classroom is don’t let them shut their cameras off. Mm it’s easy. It’s easy to shut off the camera and just disengage and, and be upset about the world and around it. I make my students turn it on because I wanna make it as, as possible. My camera’s always on, unless we’re doing just independent work. So it doesn’t matter if you’re in person online, just be there for them show ’em that you care, even if it’s something as simple as I don’t care. If you haven’t done your hair, turn on your camera. I wanna see you. I don’t wanna look at a black screen. I miss you guys to be genuine.


Sam Demma (26:24):
And also don’t forget to wear your mask. Right?


Michael Stralie (26:28):
that I was quick that filter. Do you? No. That’s you and your magic tricks, man. This is, this is all that started with your witchcraft.


Sam Demma (26:38):
Anyways, Mike, thank you so much for taking the time to to record this podcast. I so appreciate it and keep up the awesome work. If an educator wants to reach out, you know, crack a joke with you, have a conversation, hear about some of the different things that you’re doing in the school and maybe just learn from each other. What would be the best way for them to reach out to you?


Michael Stralie (26:57):
Well, I don’t have social media, but my personal email is fine. Throw it out there. That’s michael.straile@nlsd.ab.ca.


Sam Demma (27:09):
Perfect. Awesome, Mike, thank you so much for


Michael Stralie (27:11):
Thanks so much, this was awesome.


Sam Demma (27:13):
And we’ll keep in touch.


Michael Stralie (27:16):
For sure, man.


Sam Demma (27:17):
All right. 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 Michael Straile

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.

Barrie Walsh – Retired math teacher in the Halifax Regional Centre for Education

Barrie Walsh - Retired math teacher in the Halifax Regional Centre for Education
About Barrie Walsh

Barrie Walsh (@bwalsh125) has been teaching math for more than forty-four years in the Halifax Regional Centre for Education. Barrie has won awards, including Teacher of the Year, three times at Sir John A. Macdonald High School, now Bay View High School. Although officially retired for several years, Barrie continues to assist students with math every day. Barrie spends all of his time at Five Bridges Jr. High. He works as a substitute but volunteers about one hundred days each year when needed.

During his early COVID days, Barrie set up a video studio in his home so that he could give extra help to students wherever they live through an online setup using Google Classroom. In the early days of his career, he would make home visits to get students caught up. Barrie has a core of beliefs that he believes make him a highly effective teacher. His beliefs emphasize continual patience, kindness, apology, vulnerability, and reflective thinking.

Connect with Barrie Walsh: Email | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Halifax Regional Centre for Education

Five Bridges Junior High School

Website from the University of California greater good website

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Barrie Walsh

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.

Carl Cini – Principal at Iona Catholic Secondary School (DPCDSB)

Carl Cini - Principal at Iona Catholic Secondary School (DPCDSB)
About Carl Cini

Carl Cini (@cjrpc55) is the Principal at Iona Catholic Secondary School in Mississauga. He began his career at Loyola CSS in 1995. Since then, Carl has been a Law, History and Economics teacher at St. Joseph CSS and St. Edmund Campion CSS. Upon moving to administration, he was a vice principal at Our Lady of Mount Carmel CSS, John Cabot CSS and St. Joan of Arc CSS before becoming a Principal.

During the past 27 years, it has been a pleasure to mentor students to see them grow in so many ways. Carl is focused on provided a variety of opportunities for students to grow into well rounded adults. He can be seen in the gym, on the field, in the audience, driving the bus and visiting classrooms to see students in action. He celebrates the success of every student. Carl firmly believes that we only as successful as our students and teachers, and with that in mind, reaches each individual in the way that student and teacher will best learn.

Connect with Carl Cini: Email | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board

Iona Catholic Secondary School in Mississauga

St. Edmund Campion Catholic Secondary School

St. Joseph Catholic Secondary School

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


Carl Cini (00:10):
My name is Carl Cini and I am the principal of Iona Catholic Secondary School in Missassauga.


Sam Demma (00:17):
At what point in your educational journey did you realize you wanted to be in?


Carl Cini (00:26):
Well, when I was in university, when I first went to university, I thought, you know, I’m gonna go into business and go make money and all of those things and the more and more I took courses, well, I took my first business course. I didn’t like it, so that didn’t help. And and then the, the more and more I started, you know, doing things around campus and, and the courses that I was taking, I did some volunteer were and some coaching. At that point I realized that that working with young people was gonna be my calling.


Sam Demma (00:52):
That’s amazing. When you say the things, when you say doing things around campus, what did that look like? Or what were the things you got involved with that made you realize this work was meaningful and something you really wanted to do?


Carl Cini (01:06):
Well, I had more to do with sort of hang on one second.


Sam Demma (01:11):
No worries.


Carl Cini (01:19):
When I was at university I was a tour guide. I was a mentor to like new people that came to my campus and did a little bit of peer tutoring. I was involved with with student council and and just, and then as I said, coaching, I was coaching basketball for young people and coaching a team in our, it was an as a competitive intermural league. And so I was there as well. And like I said, the more and more I got involved and the more and more I was talking to people in you know, in other years it just kind of made me think a little bit about some of the mentorship I didn’t get when I was in school and and thought that this would be a great opportunity for me to you know, to share my talents and to share my experience with other young people and to help them grow and develop.

Sam Demma (02:13):
Paint the picture. So you, you finish your degree or your teaching degree and what did the journey look like from there?

Carl Cini (02:22):
Okay. So, I mean, I will give even the journey, getting to teachers college was not an easy one. Yeah, please. It took a couple years for me to get into teach interest college and and even at the time it was very much based on marks and not so much on experience and other things. So I didn’t, I didn’t get in, I applied a couple times. I didn’t get in. I remember being at U of T and sitting in a meeting with all the other people that got rejected and being asked you know, being told, you know, if you have experience and, and you have decent marks, and this is your second time around, you know, you might wanna book a meeting with the registrar and see what’s happening. So I booked a meeting, I went into the meeting and the guy basically told me at the time, he said, you’re got good marks.

Carl Cini (03:08):
You got good experience. But your application just lacked, possess. Well, unfortunately at that point I kind of was like, okay, I came all the way down here and you tell me my application. And I kinda said to him, so if I put in old folders, I mean, it’s gonna be any better than it was. And I went on a bit of a tie rate to say that, you know, what your system is flawed. You can’t pick people so solely based on marks. And that, there’s lots of other things that, that encapsulate being a good teacher, but by the time it was all over, he’s like, oh, I guess we made a mistake. And then he let me in on they on appeal. Wow. And so I made it through teachers college, which was a phenomenal year. I, I was with some really, really great people. Interestingly in that year, all of us that were on student union were all students that got in on appeal.

Carl Cini (03:56):
I thought it was a bit of an interesting process back when that happened. And then, you know, and I graduated, I took a, a job at school by the water at Harbor front leading field trips in may and June. And then I got my, you know, I got on a Duffin peel, got called for a supply job the first day of school. And as they say, the rest is history. So they it was it was a bit of a journey.

Sam Demma (04:19):
You’re not the only one who’s had a journey going to education. Every educator has a different story. How did you pick yourself up and keep going when you were kind of facing those barriers or the nos and the rejections?

Carl Cini (04:37):
And I knew, I, I just knew that that’s what I wanted to do. Like they, they talk about education being a vocation or being a calling. And that’s exactly what it was like for me, it was like nobody was going to stop me from going to do it. Like, in fact, I mean, I would have, at that time when I was going through this you know, if we didn’t get an Ontario teacher’s college, there was always the option to go to the us to the Buffalo schools. And I have a number of who are excellent teachers who did their EDU, their education education in in Buffalo. So I was all set and ready to go to Buffalo and you know, had all my paperwork in and, and I did everything I needed to do to get in. And then I just happened to get in, in Ontario instead. So I chose you know, I always, to me anyways, it was, would’ve been better to to be in Ontario then to have to go to another jurisdiction. I had friends that went to Australia for teachers college. I mean, I was prepared to do and go wherever in order to, to go into, go into education.

Sam Demma (05:34):
Understood the willingness to do whatever it takes is something that I think is super important, not only in be coming an educator, but any path you choose to pursue in life. So I appreciate you sharing that little insight and story. What, what, so once you got accepted tell me more about the journey from the moment you got into education to where you are now.

Carl Cini (05:59):
So I originally at the, and again, this was like 94. At that time, I, I mean, I always wanted to be a high school, a high school teacher. However, I also knew that the jobs are few and far between for my qualifications. So my qualifications are in my degrees in economics and politics. So I didn’t really have great teachables to go into secondary plus at the time I know that there was a push to have more men hired into elementary schools. So I did my teacher’s education and junior intermediate. And because of my economics degree, I had quite a bit of math. So I was able to, to start to go through that, that angle. And so I went through and, you know, took my, my courses for English and history and intermediate. And then I continued through teacher’s college.

Carl Cini (06:47):
And then, like I said, when it was over, I I took it the, the best education job I could find, which was leading field trips. And then when I, I applied to almost every school board that I could think of I will say the only thing is I only applied to Catholic school boards. I did not apply to the public school boards. I mean, my education has been in Catholic schools. And, and even when I went to university, I went to Kings college at Western and I specifically chose a Catholic university to go to, because it, to me faith is, is a very important part of, of everything that we do. And so I did want to work in a Catholic school board. So I applied to all of them, ended up getting a position at Duffin peel. And, and again, at that time, you used to have to check a box as to what you wanted to supply teach for, whether it be for areas in elementary, secondary, or for French. So I just checked on up all the boxes. And then on the first day of school, I got a call from a high school that they needed me to come into supply teach. And again, I was there supplying for about the first three weeks before I got my first LTO job at Loyola. And it’s been fantastic.

Sam Demma (07:56):
You mentioned you took the best job you could get in education and they, it was leading field trips, which I think is amazing. When you just were starting out, what, what, what about leading field trips do you think was so special?

Carl Cini (08:11):
Oh, I, I thought it was great. I mean, first of all would be the outdoor part of it. We were outside all the time and the program was different depending on what grade we had and and what exactly the, the field trip was about. So there was certain themes with regards to the field trips, if I recall. And you know, a lot of it had to do with the history of Toronto and how Toronto developed. And, you know, we were, I remember showing pictures, standing on a parking garage and showing students pictures of what the Toronto skyline looked like in 1880, what it looked like in 1912, what it looked like in 1950. So students can see the growth and development of Toronto and just being able to work with different students from a whole variety of different grades. It also had me even have a better idea as to what I wanted to do when I, you know, sort of a grade that I might wanna teach when I get to when I get to schools. And then the other part, just the flexibility of the whole thing. You know, learning very clearly that you have to be flexible and you have to tailor your, your pedagogy and tailor what you do to the students who are before you at that specific time.

Sam Demma (09:15):
Understood, understood, and the different roles you’ve held in education which one has been the most meaningful for you. And I know it’s a difficult question to ask because they all provide such awesome experiences and can give you, you know, the opportunity and ability to make a very positive impact. But what’s your role, have you found the most, me meaningful or enjoyable as well personally?

Carl Cini (09:41):
Well, I think I might have to separate those two people and enjoyable. I mean, I really did enjoy being a classroom teacher and and I really loved it. And then I became a department head for canner world studies and, you know, being able to be in the classroom every day, I, I missed C tremendously. But I will, but then I will turn around and say that the most meaningful job I’ve had is the one that I’m in right now. Hmm. I think being a principal of the school it, it was interesting before I became an, like I told I did not wanna do this job. I remember scoffing at people who wanted to be principals at one time, cuz I’m like, why would you wanna be away from the kids that our job is to work directly with our students.

Carl Cini (10:20):
Yeah. And that, you know, to put yourself in those positions put, takes you away from that. And I reached the point in my career. I had an administrator who who kept pushing me to do, to become, you know, to go into administration. And and he made a comment to me where he said to me that, you know, when you’re in your classroom, you influence the students that are around you. And then you coach and you participate. And, you know, your 90 students are a hundred, maybe whatever, 120 students every day that you get to influence. And when you move into a leadership position, you influence more and more and more students. Cause I mean, as a, as a classroom teacher, not every student’s gonna have you, not every student is gonna be in your class. And I mean, I know that I sat at graduations and, you know, when we had some really big graduating classes at 400, 450 students and they’d be walking across stage and I’m like, I don’t know who that kid is.

Carl Cini (11:10):
I’ve never seen that kid before. Mm. Because they did, you know, they didn’t take the classes that I taught. They didn’t, you know, or maybe they did. And then I wasn’t their teacher or, or they didn’t participate in the co-curricular activities that I supervised. So I, I couldn’t know them all. But, but then as you continue to grow and you continue to move into leadership, not only do you influence more students, but you also get to influence the teachers and you influence the systems and the runnings of the school so that everybody is impacted by. So you get to increase your impact on the, you know, on the number of, of individuals as you move into leadership positions. And, and that I think is incredibly, incredibly meaningful as a principal. And even talking to my other principal colleagues where, you know, we will call each other when we’re having the dilemma and how we’re gonna deal with this, or how we’re gonna deal with that. And you know, and then again, you’re also being able to have an impact on even other schools that you’re not even really a part of, because you can be part of those conversations on a, on a, on a more broader scale,

Sam Demma (12:14):
Such a good point. You bring up, you also get to witness probably from a bird’s eye view, how different programs and bigger initiatives are impacting the whole school, like school culture. And you probably get to from a, another large perspective bird’s eye view, see how students are being impacted by these programs as, as well. Have you over the past, you know, dozen years you you’ve been working or more than a dozen years over your whole you know, career, have you witnessed programs that you’ve brought into schools or that your teachers brought into schools have an impact on the students? And can you remember any of those stories of student who is very transformed by something in the school? That kind of is a hopeful story. I think these types of stories during a difficult time remind educators, why the work they do is so important. And I’m wondering if you have any that come to mind.

Carl Cini (13:08):
I mean, there’s a number of, of programs that that I’ve been able to be a part of. And, and I have to say, say, I can’t take credit for any of these programs because I never did them by myself. It always requires a team approach in which to do that. And I know that as a, you know, this is my 15th year as an administrator that my role is, is in supporting what teachers do, because my other thing with any program is any program has to have legs programs, have to outlive you the person and have to outlive the people who do it because they’re gonna change. So whether they move schools or not, every student deserves that, that kind of quality programming, regardless of the person who is in front of them to deliver it, or whoever happens to lead their school or not.

Carl Cini (13:50):
So I’ve always been very cognizant of trying to make sure that whatever it is that we run is something that’s gonna have a long, you know, a longer standing tradition or legacy if you wish you know, moving forward. So, I mean, an example, one of the schools I was in, they had a program for the students that were in that were taking locally developed classes. So these are some reluctant learners or students that had some learning disabilities. And, and the program was set up. It was, I thought it was a phenomenal program and I was happy to be a part of it to help, to support that where students would take so courses would be paired up. So students would do religion and the learning strategies class and they would do it all year long. So it’d be the same teacher teaches both those courses, but it was all year long.

Carl Cini (14:37):
And then the other was science and math. So in period one and two, those students were together. They, we were able to take courses instead of teaching them in a semester, we were able to teach them over the course of the full year. And then as the day progressed you know, they ended up being able to take their elective classes. And a lot, a lot of leadership was put into those classes because it was the same the same four teachers over the course of the whole year that were working with those students with academic resource you know, we were able to spread the curriculum out and by doing that, we could fit in more leadership opportunities. And there were many of those students who may not have been college bound who ended up being college bound because of the program.

Carl Cini (15:20):
You know, I always find it interesting. I mean, we really don’t know the impact of the programs that we ha that we develop or that we put in place for students until almost years later. So I mean, I remember meeting a student from that program. I was at the grocery store and the student was there and the student came up to me and said, Hey, sir, do you remember me? And, you know, again, I, I get good, I’m good with faces, but sometimes after a certain amount of time, you can only keep so many names in your head. So, you know, I said, you know, yeah, I REM I do remember you, but I’m sorry. I don’t remember your name student told me their name. And they had said like, what a transformative, what a great support they felt in that program at that school. And that they, that I think they’re is now they’re an electrician and that they never would’ve been able to do that, or even have the confidence to continue to go forward and run their own business if they weren’t in that program to start off with,

Sam Demma (16:11):
Wow, it’s, it’s such a cool thing to reflect on because there’s so many people listening to this who are probably considering education as a vocation, or who might feel like it’s the right thing for them to pursue. Or there could be some educators tuning in who have been burnt out by the challenges over the past couple of years. And I think at the heart of this work is the students and, you know, seeing them transform or seeing them resonate with an idea shared in class or seeing something that’s done in school support. Hello them. Oh, can you hear me? Hello? Hello? Hello. Oh, oh, there we go. Sorry. I must have cut out there for a second. Right? I’ll edit that part. No worries. I was just saying, thank you so much for sharing that story. I think at the heart of education is the students and for an educator listening, who is just considering getting into this vocation or who thinks it’s right for them, you know, what a great reminder that the work that you’re go going to be able to do can transform kids and change lives. And then what a great reminder to an educator who might be burnt out right now as to why this work is so important. What are, what are some of the challenges that your school community has faced over the past, you know, two years? And what are some of the opportunities that you think have come out of the times as well?

Carl Cini (17:33):
There’s been tons of challenges. COVID has forced us. And I think it’s, again, you’re right. It’s a challenge and an opportunity at the same time, because all of this, you know, the, the in and out, and sometimes we’re virtual, sometimes we’re not, you know, hybrid and all of those things what it has done is it’s forced us to re-look at what we do, how we do. So I’ll give you an example. When we first in that March of 2020, when we first went on lockdown and we had to, you know, start to move things to a to a virtual virtual platform. And I remember talking to specifically our math and science teachers and saying, you, we really need to have a look at that curriculum and you need to separate your curriculum into two categories, the must haves and the nice to haves.

Carl Cini (18:24):
And, you know, that was the beginning of, of starting to re-look at what we teach and how we teach it. And really how important is the stuff that we have done on a regular basis so that we can change it, not just to fit a different platform and a different delivery system because that’s also been the hard part. There are many teachers who have wonderful presence with kids and have relied on that presence you know, to forward and, and to move their program forward and be able to take a advantage of those teachable moments and, you know, and those connections that come from being in the same room as the te you know, teachers and students being in the same room. However, when we went to a virtual virtual mode of learning where students didn’t necessarily have their cameras on, there was a distance that took place.

Carl Cini (19:10):
You couldn’t see each other. I mean, and I mean, everybody knows this, that when you’re with someone in a room, the personal connection, and I guess, you know, again, not to the person with the vibes and the mojo that takes place between the connection between those two individuals is so different than when you’re trying to speak to somebody through a screen especially when that individual’s not necessarily responding. So again, it forced teachers to rethink, you know, how they do what they do. And, and that’s been a huge challenge because there’s, I mean, teachers love consistency. And and normally we work on predictability as there’s so many variables in EDU in teaching that they’re and things that we don’t know that can change the way we do what we do. You know, a big challenge, as well as the mental health of our students.

Carl Cini (19:55):
You know, the way that COVID hit the best I thing I saw was a was a cartoon. And it was circulating around quite a bit during COVID that we may all be in the same storm, but we’re all not in the same boat. And, you know, you’re in a yacht, or if you’re in a cruise ship, you’re gonna feel that a lot differently than if you’re bombing around on a piece of it. So, you know, depending on the situation that some of these students were in and, you know, some of them were taken out of their safe space for a lot of ’em school was the place where they were safe and where they grow. And it’s, it’s sad to say, but for some students, home is not a safe place, and yet they were forced to stay in that home and not go anywhere for an extended period of time.

Carl Cini (20:32):
So trying to teach whether it’s math or science or history to a student who has very, who is mentally not doing very well they’re not gonna learn a whole heck of a lot. So there was a lot of learning that had to take place amongst the, the teachers so that they could do things differently. And there was a lot more that we had to learn about our students. I mean, it was pretty personal when you, you think about the fact that you were in a student’s bedroom or in a student’s kitchen or in a student’s home that we would never have seen before.

Sam Demma (21:04):
Yeah.

Carl Cini (21:06):
A student at school.

Sam Demma (21:07):
Such a good point. It, the challenges are similar. I I’ve interviewed a lot of educators and, and the challenges are similar. And I was intrigued by the opportunity. You mentioned about the list of the must haves and the, maybe not as important things, but are things that we could change. Do you have any examples of things that actually changed or like things that were adjusted or, or analyzed or looked more closely at that you think are starting to shift?

Carl Cini (21:38):
Yeah. I mean, I look at our math curriculum is a big part of that, right? So again, the, the idea of going through this, this process of having, you know, the, the must haves and the nice to haves means that you have to know your curriculum top to bottom. So it kind of forced our math department to be able to see all the courses. So what’s the continuum. So, you know, if a kid happens to be taking grade nine or grade 10 academic math, you know, they can possibly go and take either 11 U math or they can take 11 M math. So then what are the really, really important skills that they need to the master in order for them to be successful at the next course? Hmm. So it, it did force a more global view of what it is that we were doing.

Carl Cini (22:17):
It also forced teachers, I think, to have a look at the curriculum documents and look at our overall expectations. So, I mean, again, math was a perfect example. They, I know in the grade 10 academic math, there were a number of of certain expectations around around, I think it was geometry that were, that were dropped because it’s like, well, they’re not gonna see this unless they happen to be taking a specific course in grade 12. Mm. So, you know, let’s, you know, do the things that they need to know the more number sense and, and factoring and, and things like that. I know science was the same. I and then, I mean, my, my subject area was history. And so I was speaking to our history teachers and trying to implore them to, you know, not spend all this time doing world war I and world war II.

Carl Cini (23:03):
And let’s get, you know, let’s start moving, maybe move that stuff a little bit farther down the line and or a little bit faster doing it a little bit faster so that we can get kids to see themselves in history curriculum. Which I think which more and more important considering they’re living a historical event. I mean, you know, even what we’re seeing right now. Yeah. How we taught that great tennis course forever. What we’ve just seen is really reliving the, the Winnipeg general strike and the lead up to the Winnipeg general strike in 1919. So, you know, all of that becomes more and more important in making sure that it’s connected to things that we’re doing now, instead of spending, you know, all kinds of time talking about, you know, maybe world war II battles or or spending, you know, additional time on the rise of the nineties and things like that that are still important. I mean, everything’s important, there, there’s, there’s no doubt that, that these pieces of content are important, but contextualizing it so that the student can see themselves in the curriculum becomes really important, especially when you don’t have all the tools that you would normally have in, in which the teacher program.

Sam Demma (24:02):
Yeah, totally agree. Not to mention the real time events like what’s occurring right now in Ukraine. Like things like that can be brought into the classroom and have such an impact or conversation, you know?

Carl Cini (24:15):
Yeah, definitely.

Sam Demma (24:16):
That makes total sense. That’s awesome. It’s cool to hear that things are shifting and changing and the opportunities are being looked at. If, if you could, if you could take all the experience you’ve had in education, kind of bundle it up, travel back in time, tap, you know, tap your younger self on the shoulder. And when you were just starting in education, knowing what you know now, what advice or feedback would you, would you give to yourself?

Carl Cini (24:45):
There’s a few things I think I would say to myself, I, I, I think the first one is the patient. There’s no rush. So I mean, even to go back what we talked about before, I mean our job, most of the time we are not going to see, we’re not always going to see the progress our students make. And particularly in our most difficult students, I mean, our job is to plant seeds and seeds, you know, germinate and they grow at a great, and so do the students that are in front of us, and yes, we’re gonna see students grow and develop, but we can’t focus all our energy on those because it makes us feel good to see that progress when it’s really the students who maybe we don’t see the progress at the same rate, who we’re probably doing the best work with and the ones that we really need to focus on.

Carl Cini (25:25):
So I would say, be patient, be patient with the students who, and their, their growth and development. Not everything has to be done right away be patient with yourself. You gonna make a lot of mistakes. And you know, there’s gonna be lots of things that you don’t know and you need to be kind to yourself and you need to be patient that you’re gonna be able to handle those things that, that come your way. I mean, there, one of the things that I’m hopefully other sure others have said the same to you before is, I mean, E education brings a lot of sleepless nights. Mm. And, and a lot of o’clock wake ups going, man, I probably could have handled that situation better. Or, you know, I could have, you know, maybe I should have said this to this student instead of that.

Carl Cini (26:04):
Or, you know what, I should have said this at this point, which would’ve maybe created a, a better aha moment for the student. And I did it. And, and all of that takes so much time in order in, in order to figure that out and to go through that. So I think the biggest advice I would give to myself or to any new educator is, is be patient. And then the other one I would say is ask for help. You’re not going is by yourself. You’re not going through it alone. I, I mean, when you’re coming in, in your first year teaching, and you’ve never taught a class before, you can’t know what, you know, when you’re 10 years in, or when you’re 15 years in, because all those experiences teach you how to navigate those situations. And, and there are people in your school and people who, you know, your whatever network that you’ve created, who have been through it before. So don’t be afraid to ask for help as well. You don’t have to know everything.

Sam Demma (26:57):
This isn’t again, only advice for education, but I like it’s such universal stuff. And I’ve appreciate you sharing that and like, reflecting back on your own experiences. This has been a phenomenal conversation. It’s already been 30 minutes. We’re getting close to the end here. If, if somebody listening wants to reach out, ask you a question, send you a note or a message. What would be the best way for them to get in contact with you?

Carl Cini (27:24):
The best way would be via email. My my board email account. carl.cini@dpcdsb.ca

Sam Demma (27:37):
Awesome. Carl, thank you so much for taking the time to come on the show. I really appreciate it. Keep up the great work and we’ll talk soon.

Carl Cini (27:45):
Thanks.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Carl Cini

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.

Andrew Boon – Principal at Notre Dame College School

Andrew Boon - Principal at Notre Dame College School (NCDSB)
About Andrew Boon

Andrew Boon is the Principal at Notre Dame College School in Welland, Ontario. He is the recipient of the 2021 Inspiration Award from the Niagara Catholic District School Board and currently is in his 25th year in Education. Andrew started his career working in behaviour programs and Special Education.

He moved into the role of Vice-Principal, working in various schools. This is his fourth year as a secondary school Principal at Niagara Catholic. Aside from being a fanatic of the Beatles, Andrew enjoys coaching the girl’s hockey program at Notre Dame and enhancing the extracurricular opportunities for all of his students. He strongly believes that kindness, care and humour will help each student find their unique potential.

Connect with Andrew Boon: Email

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Welland teen awarded time with the Super Locker | The Star

‘Be Someone’s Taco’: Toronto youth speaker inspires students to pay it forward with kindness

Notre Dame College School in Welland, Ontario

Niagara Catholic District School Board: Home

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


Andrew Boon (00:09):
Thanks very much, Sam. Yeah, my name’s Andrew Boon. I’m a principal at Notre Dame college school in Welland Ontario. And yeah, proud, proud principal of this place. I was, I know we were doing a little bit of chatting before, but just letting everyone know, I guess the special place it has in my heart. I went here as a student. I spent my first 10 years teaching here before getting into administration and now moved here. This is my first year back as the principal and so super excited to be here.


Sam Demma (00:40):
When did you realize throughout your own journey that you wanted to get into education as your career?


Andrew Boon (00:48):
Well, for me, my, I grew up in a family of teachers. Actually, my father was a retired teacher now. And for me you know, it’s that, I, I guess the light bulb moment is for me happened with some of the teachers I had actually in this building. And for me that’s another of why it’s pretty amazing to, to be back here. And for me, that impact that they had on me and, and feeling like I might be able to, to try to do that for students. So for me, I went to a, a concurrent program at McGill and they, the nice thing about that program is they, they throw you in right away, year one, you’re, you’re at, you’re in a school for a short placement. And, and that was the moment I kind of knew like, yes, this is absolutely what I want to do and, and and spend the rest of my life professionally doing.


Sam Demma (01:37):
Tell me a little more about what the educators did for you in this building when you were a student that really stuck out in your mind, if you can think of some of those experience is, or even some of the people, if you wanna mention them.


Andrew Boon (01:49):
I have no problem mentioning them. The one that comes to mind right off the bat is her name’s Kathy McPherson. She was a instrumental teacher for me. I was lucky to have her for a few different subject areas, but predominantly in English. And and she was some, she was also, I, I was on student council. I was involved in that, but she was also one of the moderators and someone that kind of just innate kindness and care and caring for students. And you felt it, and it’s, what’s great about her is that, you know, you could interview literally a thousand people that would tell you the same thing. And so you know, I think as students, we often learn sometimes when we make mistakes and for me, some of those mistakes that I made as a student where she helped guide me and, and showed that compassion and, and and care that helped I think send me in the right direction and not just, and, and motivate right. And so for me she was a big piece of that. I think everybody will have that teacher that they can talk about. And who’s still very present in, in what shapes them and for her, for me. Anyway, Kathy was certainly that person.


Sam Demma (03:06):
You went to the concurrent program. What was your first role in education and what did the journey look like to bring you to principal at this school today?


Andrew Boon (03:17):
The first placement I had was actually teaching a vied class at a, a school in Montreal and in Montreal, the high schools under that the C E system. So their grades were seven to 11. There wasn’t a massive difference between a first year university student and, you know, potentially a 16 year old in grade 11. Right. and it was funny cuz the very first thing that happened to me was I had I had some money stolen from me if you can believe it. And it was literally like, oh, okay, so this is happening. And it was a tough school, but there was some great kids, even in that 10 days that just kind of gave me that again, that feeling of that this is what I wanted to do and what I loved about the program, it’d be quite fair too, is that for, you know, if you’re, if you’re in this business, if you’re teaching, you gotta love what you do in terms, you gotta love kids.


Andrew Boon (04:15):
You gotta love trying to support them. What I liked about that program is that there are a few people that did placement in their first year and it quickly dawned on them that they do not like this. And so you know, to their credit, they were able to say, well, hang on a second, this isn’t for me. But for the rest of us, that, that were in that you did a placement every year, whether it was in that you did a special ed placement it wasn’t just like you, you did your education and then you went out, they, they tried to give you that practical experience each and every year, which I felt was so important because it actually reinforced what you, what you felt about what’s happening in the school. There’s a big difference, obviously, between your theory and, and your in classes content, but then when you get into those placements or you really see, and I think for the other part to that was, I, I had a, a placement in, in Montreal. They, they tried to put you in a a public school and a private school to give you two different placement experiences. And they were most certainly different. But each of which brought a number of fantastic people and experiences that I I’m so grateful for.


Sam Demma (05:24):
How did Montreal bring you back here? Like,


Andrew Boon (05:27):
Yeah, well, it’s funny cuz there was that in that particular time you know, teaching jobs were definitely a little bit harder to come by and I remember putting out my my resume right across the country and I was quite prepared to, to go anywhere. I, at one point I was very close to actually going to Japan. I, I applied to this jet program. It was called and basically was, went through this, you know, ridiculous interview process and then and then was offered the job and but I was playing football at McGill. I had an opportunity to try to take a shot at the CFO. And so for me that was was one of the other, I couldn’t do both. And so I, I decided to do that no regrets, but when all was said and done I got an interview request with our what is now the Niagara Catholic school board. So it was very it was a definitely a bit of a homecoming, very surreal, but, but obviously a blessing when you, you think of everything else that has happened,


Sam Demma (06:40):
Education looks very different now than it did probably when you first started hopefully slightly and then even more so in the past couple of years with the pandemic, definitely You’ve been in a fortunate school that hasn’t been affected as much. What has the school culture been like over the past two years?


Andrew Boon (06:58):
Well, the interesting thing for me as a principal here, even coming in new, I was very much a part of this Notre Dame community. My daughter graduated from here. My son is is currently a student here. Nice. I dunno how happy he is about that. You know, that being the principal, but I think he’s managed it very well. So I’ve kind of been still within that Notre Dame culture and there’s, you know, I know probably everybody says this but there’s something special about this building and this place and you know, that we’re I feel, again, I keep saying it about how lucky I feel to be back here. And I do know that the, the teaching staff and the extended community the level of care that they exhibit to us, to students right across this entire city and, and region is something that is incredibly special. I, and again, so I you’ll hear that probably from everybody when they talk about their schools, but of course I feel that, you know, it’s something unique here


Sam Demma (08:02):
Is football a big aspect of Notre Dame?


Andrew Boon (08:05):
Yeah. Football’s a big deal here. Matter of fact, we just had an amazing year, our junior team won, like what is the salsa championship around here? And that, so they won the, their, the ultimate championship that you could win as a junior. And then our senior program for the first time in our history won offset which is the provincial championship. And so it was one of those fantastic years for me, you know, I love football, but it was also the fact that kids could be back doing something after COVID and actually participating and going to practice and being around each other. So for me, that was a wonderful to watch as a principal. And obviously I’m very proud of of all those kids and the effort they put in.


Sam Demma (08:51):
You grew up playing sports football as well. Do you think there’s a link between coaching and teaching? I’ve had other educators on in the past and they, they talk about coaching and teaching, and I’m curious to know from the perspective of the coach, do you think there’s similarities and then also from the perspective of an athlete do you think it helped with your grades or for your athletic growing up for your academics?


Andrew Boon (09:17):
Yeah, I absolutely think there’s that correlation. And as much as I’ve talked about, for example, Cathy, as an inspiring educator, you know, I, I had a a coach, his name’s Joe Perry who to me had a ma massive impact on, on me as a coach. And then ultimately as a, an educator you know, it was someone actually, I ended up when I returned to teaching that I ended up coaching with. So it was one of those, again, beautiful moments that happened. And and, and I, I always make, you know, like to, to think that he had a major part of my my career as a football player at McGill and beyond. So but yeah, like that, that the, the lessons learned, I guess, as an athlete for me anyways, certainly were about time management. And, you know, when I went to McGill, I, I have no problem.


Andrew Boon (10:09):
I tell the students all the time. I struggled that first year trying to figure out how to manage that. You’re jumping into a, a program that’s definitely intense, and obviously I’m very proud of, of being a Manil grad, it’s an amazing school. But you know, then you add 30 hours minimum per week for football and full course load and being on your own in a province for the first time and learning how to manage all that. So that my first year definitely struggled with it and needed to make sure that I, I reached out and took, took some help and, and figured out what’s the best way of managing my time. And that includes actually 20, like reaching back out to old coaches and, and, and having those conversations when you would, you know, end up back at home visiting or something like that. So yeah, the correlation between those two and, and time management, I, that, you know, are so important. They’re great skills that that you’re, that, you know, you’re gonna learn that you hopefully will hang onto for your, the rest of your life.


Sam Demma (11:17):
You’ve definitely witnessed some student transformations over your years in education. Maybe it was a student in your school, someone else’s school in someone else’s classroom, but, you know, a student transforming or realizing something or pursuing their passions. Isn’t the result of one individual it’s the whole community, but I’m curious to know over your career, have you seen any student transformations or seen the impact that a program has had on a young person? And if so, like what, what, what was that story? And if, if it’s a serious one, you could change their name if, if you have


Andrew Boon (11:52):
To. Yeah. I mean, I have, so when I started my teaching career I was offered a job basically teaching what was a a behavior class. And it was an alternative classroom. And the unique part about this was that a I had students that were bused from different high schools to my location here at Notre Dame. And so our, you know, our first, my first foray into teaching was a class of about 36 very challenging students and each of whom are unique, different. And so the, the, the, for me that, I mean, I feel so again, so lucky that, of all the things that you could have started to teach it was that, and I was teaching you know, English to, to, to some of these to these students and to, to be able to have an impact on them and see their transformation not just in, in a, in a, a semester, but then potentially moving forward, there are some of those students and I know I feel like an old man when I say it, but like that, that I still am in touch with and still have a great connection with, and I it’s, it’s one of those blessings where someone will tell you, well, you had an impact on me a as a teacher.


Andrew Boon (13:22):
And so that, that kind of behavior classroom was like the, you know, a great platform for really trying different things that, that, that would be applicable to, to an individual, not just a whole class. And I’m, I’m super proud of that, I guess, as an administrator, when you jump into that you can do the same thing. It’s finding those students that need that help. And, you know, there’s a few that they will say the loveliest things that, you know, somehow I had an impact on their ability to grow graduate or, or move forward. And I hold that dear to my heart, but I, I know that you know, it, it does, it takes, it takes a, a group effort as at a school when you’re surrounded by other incredible people that are helping with these kids. So yeah, I mean, I, I don’t know if I like individual stories.


Andrew Boon (14:13):
I I’ve been lucky cuz there’s, there’s a few of them. Right. And and some that are doing incredible work right now. I think the, the most satisfying thing is I see their their kindness and their, they become incredible citizens in their community. And that to me is what this is. What’s really interesting about what we do is you know, I tell this to people all the time and I betcha, even if I were to ask you this question, if I said, tell me about your high school, like a, a positive memory of high school and chances are, you’re gonna tell me about friends that you met the activities that you did that maybe trips that you went on and no offense to any of the math folks out there, but like I’ve yet to hear anyone say, oh, I remember that one math class on equations or something like that. Right? Yeah. It’s more about how did someone make you feel? Yeah. And so me, when I see some of my former students now and see what they’re doing in the community and, and as citizens, that’s the most satisfying element of, of, of what we do


Sam Demma (15:22):
For everyone tuning in today. Andrew and I am recording this on pink shirt day. So the topic of kindness is very, very relevant. , that’s awesome. I, I call those moments being someone’s taco. You can see this little


Andrew Boon (15:36):
Nice


Sam Demma (15:36):
Big taco on my shirt here. And the start of the pandemic, one of my good friends was just calling him to check in and see how he was doing. And very quickly I realized he wasn’t feeling too great. And just asked myself, you know, what can I do to make him feel a little better figure? He didn’t wanna make dinner that night. So I went on his Facebook to figure out what foods he liked, eating and found out that he was a big taco fan and Uber Ubered, him and his wife, Emily, this taco dinner for two and left a note saying, this is from Sam. He helps you feel a little better. And I just thought, you know, this took me five minutes less than $20, he’s going to, you know, ex he’s gonna be happy about it, whatever they FaceTime me at dinnertime crying box of tacos, open behind them telling me I’m never, ever gonna forget this moment.


Sam Demma (16:25):
That’s and then they went ahead and like created this little logo to be someone’s taco. And they were like, you need to encourage other people to be someone’s taco every day. And education is one of those fields where you have the opportunity to do that every day, because you have a classroom sitting in front of you and not only do the teachers have the opportunity to do it to their students, they could also do it for their other staff. And it’s not about buying them food or giving them tacos, but it’s looking for those intentional moments where you can create an experience for somebody else that they may remember for the rest of their life. I, you know, I’m sure if I asked you the same question, you know, what was your favorite memories in school, or do you remember the last time someone made you feel special? You can probably recall some of those memories of kind things people have done for you and require is no special skills, talents or abilities, just a decision, right?


Andrew Boon (17:18):
Yeah. And, and for here, like, so we, we have a, you know, I know social media is is a big part of how we communicate with kids now. And so we have this hashtag that we use here for everything kindness lives here. Mm. And when I get here, that was one thing I brought up to our staff, our students, and same, like, it’s kindness. I hope we live here and kindness does live here. And I say it to kids. And I mean, this, that, you know, it’s only a cliche if you don’t mean it. Yeah. And if you, so for here, it, it’s something I take very seriously. Yeah. And you know, for those little gestures that you talk about, those little moments of how you make people feel that’s, what’s gonna shape them to be better citizens and, and leave here you know, moving in the right direction.


Andrew Boon (18:12):
You know, one of the things we do here, which I I’ve done it at a couple schools I’ve been at now and I think it’s it’s kind of fun. So we have here, what’s called super locker. And so we had our construction class participate and we built a locker there’s about four or five times the size of an actual lock. And then we we put the, we wrapped it up to make it look really good. And then we put a fridge in it. We put a charging station. And so once a month we give that to a student for no other reason than just that they’re kind, and that they’ve exhibited kindness. It’s not about academics, it’s not about athletics. It’s strictly just, they’ve done something kind that another person has noticed. And it’s wonderful to get these submissions from staff and students saying, you know, oh, this kid did this for me.


Andrew Boon (19:08):
This kid did this for me. Right. And so and then what what’s lovely about it for me is we get to surprise that kid and they get to move in. We give him the key. We, we hook him up with a bunch of, you know, of, of, of swag, I guess. And we’ve got, I’ve got some people that have donated some things for this student. And then the, you know, again, we have some fun with it at the end of the month, I get it to a victim and basically saying, you’re out. Right. And we, we, and we have another student move in. Right. And so this is taken off in our even in our board, I’d like to think cool. There’s myself and another principal Glen Gifford. And we started this back at when we were working together at at lake shore, like in port Coburn, and then we’ve each kind of now gone our separate schools, but super locker has, has continued.


Andrew Boon (19:57):
And it’s just a fun thing to kind of talk about the most recent one that we did here in September when we or October when we first kind of did it here. When I got here. It’s just funny how a little story like that. Again, I, I look at it as more as like its just a little community thing and next thing you know, for us, it’s picked up by the Toronto star and it’s, we’re hearing about it kind of running across the country. And I had a, you know, you talk about former students and I’m gonna mention her because I’m so proud of her, her name’s Laura cope. And she was a student of mine here at Notre Dame and she’s now a teacher now doing great things in Toronto. And so she had actually messaged me to say that she saw that and approached her principal and you know, can we do a super locker at our school? Oh wow. And so it seems like that would be an idea that maybe every school could have something fun like that secondary anyway. Right. I guess. Right. Yeah. But it, all it, I mean it all relates to those little acts of kindness, those moments that are are memorable that, you know, that, that actually impact a, a person and that you don’t ever forget. Right.


Sam Demma (21:05):
Yeah. So a true what a fantastic idea with the super locker. That’s so cool. Do, do they actually, is it big enough for a person to sit in this thing?


Andrew Boon (21:15):
Yeah. Like they they’re, it’s when you open it there’s a place for like a hanger. There’s a place for their shoes. There’s like a, a little stool that can come out where they can sit. And what I love about it, obviously our construction class, when they’re when they’re doing it, they’re they’re, they’re involved. Right. I, I think the funny thing about it is that my son is aware of it and you know, he’s in grade 11 here. And the first thing he said to me is like, dad, I, I understand I will never win super locker. And I was like, that’s correct. You will never, ever win this super locker. So I said, but that’s not gonna stop you from being kind which, which he is. Right. Yeah.


Sam Demma (21:54):
That’s so awesome. That’s amazing. If you could take all your experiences in education, bundle them up, go back in time, tap end you on the shoulder when he just started teaching, what advice would you give a younger self? I,


Andrew Boon (22:09):
That’s a great question. I mean, I think I’ve definitely learned it’s, it’s okay to, to be wrong, to completely, to make mistakes and and not to be afraid to try things. I know as a principal I love trying stuff and if it doesn’t work, then it doesn’t work. And no big deal. And I think that, of those things where you try things as an educator, whether it’s different programs or, or or different guest speakers or whatever it may be. And sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t. And I think then the other thing is don’t ever be afraid to admit when you’re wrong. And I think sometimes as maybe as teachers that, you know and, and as administrators, that, that we can kind of worry about that. And I think it’s actually refreshing when like I’ve had parents, that’ll call me and they’ve have a concern about something or they’ve had something that they wanna maybe complain about and I have no problem going you’re right.


Andrew Boon (23:06):
Yeah. We, we, we gotta do better. And on behalf of the school, I’m sorry. And you could just see everyone just come down and realize, oh yeah. Okay. Well, I can work with this. And, and then you try, then you actually have to try to do better. Like you can’t just say that. Right. but I think sometimes that being willing to act like really listen, and I, and you must, you know, do this all the time because I’m sure you’ve had conversations with people. And when you know, someone’s not actually listening, they’re just waiting for the other person to finish so that they can talk. Right. And that’s something I try hard to do when I have people come in my office saying that they get my full attention. I’m, I’m listening to actually what they’re doing. I think when people come to you as an educator, it takes a lot of courage to come and say, Hey, I need to do this, this or this. And if you’re not giving them your time or actually listening, they’ll people will submit all that a mile away.


Sam Demma (24:08):
How do you remind yourself to be present during conversation and listen to what someone’s saying rather than wait for your turn to respond? I feel like it sometimes is a challenge when you have so many things going on, but it’s, so, yeah,


Andrew Boon (24:22):
That’s a great, it’s a great question. You’re right. I, I, so you have, I have a couple rules, at least for me, you know, like I don’t answer my phone. Cuz you know, that’ll happen. I’m surprised you haven’t heard it yet to go off sometimes because it’ll happen. Right. But you just, I said, well, I don’t answer it. And staff and teachers are so caring, they’ll say, oh, it’s okay if you need to get that. And I’m like, no, you’re here that’s I don’t need to get that. Right. you know, obviously sometimes it’s like the phone goes five times in a row and like, something’s up, I better take that. Right. But but little rules like that, you know, put your phone down. Right. there’s nothing, you know, again, I, I always think about, who’s taking the time to walk down here and, and I remember being a teacher and walking into my principal’s office and, you know, to ask for some advice or ask for something and that’s the kind of, for a younger teacher that was a big deal. And so I always try to remember, like, someone’s taken the effort to come walk down here to ask a question that, you know, be present for that.


Sam Demma (25:30):
I love it. That’s awesome. Great piece of advice for not only education, but any conversation or relationship. Yeah. If someone is listening to this wants to pick your brain about super lockers, your experiences teaching in CG schools or almost going to Japan what would be the best email for them or contact information for them to use, to reach out?


Andrew Boon (25:52):
Yeah, I, I, and I use my, my board email there’s two, a couple ways. It’s just Andrew.Boon@ncdsb.com. What I is very important to me when I send out messages to our school community and they know that you know, they can respond directly to that and they’re gonna get an answer from me very quickly cuz that again, you’re letting people know that their time’s valuable. You want to hear from them. And, and is it a lot of extra emails sometimes. Yep. But it’s worth it. If people know that you’re gonna pay attention to that you probably are way better at the, as than me, but like you, the presence of social media now in schools is, is critical to sharing information to parents. And so and, and students, by the way I know for, you know, I joke with the kids that like follow our Instagram account because you’ll, you’ll hear all that you need to know for the old folks like us follow your Facebook account and our website, that’s another, you know, Notre Dame college.ca is a great way of, of kind of seeing and getting in touch with us and seeing what we offer try to do a lot of fun stuff cuz school, like it should be fun.


Andrew Boon (27:07):
It really should be right. And so yes, we’re an education institution. Yes. You know, you’ll hear all the, you’ll see all the great things that are happening in class, but schools should be fun. And and I think we try to do that when we’re sharing me in for, with our students and you know, I think, I think it’s working again. I hope it’s working, I guess we’ll see. Right.


Sam Demma (27:32):
good stuff. Good stuff. Well, Angie, thank you so much for taking the time to come on here. Talk about some of your ideas, journey, philosophies, and education, the projects going on in the school community. It means the world to me, and also a lot of other people tuning in wanting to learn more about education or pick up some creative ideas. So again, thank you so much for taking the time to come on the show and keep up the great work.


Andrew Boon (27:55):
I appreciate it. No, thanks so much for for, for reaching out and yeah, very much appreciate it.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Andrew Boon

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

Dr. Kirk Linton – K-9 Principal, EdD in Learning Sciences & Music teacher/trumpet player

Dr. Kirk Linton - K-9 Principal, EdD in Learning Sciences & Music teacher/trumpet player
About Dr. Kirk Linton

Dr. Kirk Linton (@krlinton) is a school principal in Calgary. He graduated with his Ed.D. from the University of Calgary in the Learning Sciences in 2019 and received recognition at the national level for his research on teacher professional learning and research-practice partnerships.

He is the recipient of the 2015 Distinguished Vice Principal of the Year award from the Canadian Association of Principals as well as the 2015 Alberta Distinguished Leadership Award from the Council for School Leadership. He has presented at conferences nationally and internationally.

Dr. Linton is passionate about creating engaging and authentic learning for students and teachers and he has worked tirelessly to create cultures of innovation in the schools he has served. He is a husband, father of 3 sons, and a trumpet player in his spare time.

Connect with Kirl: Email | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

EdD in Learning Sciences – University of Calgary

Canadian Association of Principals (CAP)

Council for School Leadership – Alberta Teachers’ Association (ATA)

Dr. Linton’s Personal Website – The Principal’s Viewpoint

Canadian Association of Professional Speakers (CAPS)

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):
Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s guest was actually connected by one of my colleagues at CAPS; CAPS stands for the Canadian Association of Professional Speakers. At 21 years old, I’m actually the youngest member and youngest ever board member . I bring in all the programming for our membership and all the different speakers to our chapter.


Sam Demma (01:00):
And one of my fellow members name Joyce connected me with Dr. Kirk Linton, and I’m so excited she did because he is a phenomenal human being. Dr. Kirk Linton is a school Principal in Calgary. He graduated with his educational degree from the University of Calgary in the learning sciences in 2019 and received recognition at the national level for his research on teacher professional learning and research practice partnerships. He is the recipient of the 2015 distinguished vice principal of the year award from the Canadian Association of Principals, as well as the 2015 Alberta distinguished leadership award from the Council for School Leadership. He has presented at conferences nationally and internationally. Dr. Linton is passionate about creating, engaging, and authentic learning for students and teachers, and he has worked tirelessly to create cultures of innovation in the schools. He has served. He is a husband, father of three sons, and a trumpet player in his spare time. He used to play in a band. You’ll hear about it in today’s interview. Anyways, I hope you enjoy this interview as much as I enjoyed it, and I will see you on the other side. Kirk, welcome to the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here today. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself, and sharing a little bit behind the reason why you’re so passionate about the work you do in education today?


Dr. Kirk Linton (02:26):
All right, we’re going right into the deep end. Here we go. So my name’s Kirk Linton, and I am a principal of a K-9 school in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. I think I’ve been a Principal for, this is my fifth year, in education; about 18 years I do believe now if I’m counting and definitely been one of the more, were interesting dynamic, wild, challenging years of my career. Right, so before we get into all that kind of business though, I have three kids of my own. Right, so I have a 14 year old, a 10 year old, and a 7 year old, and they’re just a wonderful bunch of kids. And like, I like to say, I have get to live the k-9 life at school and the k-9 life at home.


Dr. Kirk Linton (03:09):
So I get the full experience of what that it looks like for, for better or worse both as a parent and as a teacher and as a principal to right. So, okay. So, so yeah, basically education. So yeah, I’m passionate about education, right? The reason I’m part of the passionate, because I do have kids, right. So I see what it looks like. And I see what what happens when the, the best occurs in schools. I see the connection that forms with teachers, the influence, the impact that people have on the lives of young people. That’s probably the reason that I’m here today, Sam, right. Is I, you know, I, I got to experience some really powerful teaching, got to have some really amazing connections with some of my teachers. And I think every single one of us, you know, strives at the end of the day with all the other stuff that’s going on in the background, we’re trying just to really form those connections with those kids, have those opportunities to speak with just have those deep connections with kids, support families and do our best for them.


Dr. Kirk Linton (04:06):
Right. it doesn’t always happen all the time, but we certainly do the best we can.


Sam Demma (04:10):
Yeah. Ah, I hear that. And I totally agree. Thank you for sharing. What led you down the path of education though, because if I’m correct from reading your blog and having convers with you prior, you know, you were quite the musician and I’m curious to know, you know, how it all led you down to teaching and education.


Dr. Kirk Linton (04:29):
Absolutely. So, yeah, my I originally wasn’t going to be a teacher that was, my wife now was the one who was always gonna be the teacher. She, she knew that she was early on. She had a sense that the direction she was going I was really passionate about music. I’m a trumpet player. And so that was something that I started piano when I was in grade six, started picking up the trumpet when I was in grade seven and really got into it. And I picked the, the best instrument out there, which is the trumpet of course. Right. So so my dad really tried to push me into going, going into flute, cuz he said, the flute is thing that’s really small. It fits inside your backpack. You need to go something small. And I said, well, I don’t want to go with something small.


Dr. Kirk Linton (05:08):
I want to go with something big, nice, big sound. And I said, I want to be a part of something that, you know, you can be rock and roll jazz, you can be classical, that kind of stuff. So, so I kind had a sense that was what I wanted to do. And then, you know, what, what happened is that this is it. Like I ran into some teachers who were, are incredible, right. And it was through the musical world that I became. And I started to realize that music and education and music and teaching kind of go hand in hand, right? There’s this kind of apprenticeship model that happens where you learn a skill, you develop as you go. And I think it’s similar for athletes, right? Who are kind of learning and, and being coached. And they either going down that road too, as you, you move forward, you connect with people and these people are so passionate about what they do, but they’re also passionate about you and helping you succeed.


Dr. Kirk Linton (05:50):
And so that definitely played into my career as an educator. So I went down that road, got into high school you know, started getting lots of opportunities to play in some really great places in, in university. And then went into university and you know, just continued on down that path until I hit a point where I had my, my wisdom teeth removed in my mouth. Right. And so I was, I was dead set. I was gonna be a professional Trump player. And then of course I had some nerve issues that came out of that and some other kind of injury stuff. And at that point, you know, I kind of realized that I may need to start looking in a different direction that maybe that, you know, physically, I wasn’t gonna be able to keep pursuing that my heart certainly was still there. And I think at the end of the day, I still feel very much like a musician deep down. Right. and still you get to live that life vicarious through my family and through my own kids. Right. Yeah. But yes, I mean music passionate about music. And like I said, I think the experience of being in music was something that really informed me as an educator and continues to feed me.


Sam Demma (06:50):
Hmm. And it’s interesting looking at music, you know, when you play music, the audience listening, enjoys hearing it. And I think you can, you can create a, a similar response in the lives of students by sharing wisdom and information in other ways that will be like music to their ears. that could I, that like that yeah. Help them help them in other ways. That’s such an awesome story. And you know, you mentioned that you had some mentors and teachers who really inspired you along the way. Yeah. And one of the things you, you highlighted was their passion. Passion is a huge thing. And I believe it’s contagious because it’s the same reason that my teacher, Mike loud foot grade 12 social studies teacher totally changed my life. He came to class and when he spoke it, it was so clearly evident that he cared about what he was sharing. And that’s what made me buy into his lessons. And I’m curious to know passion aside. What else do you think your teachers did for you and whether it’s the music teacher or the classroom teachers that you’ve had that made a significant impact on you as a student and that, that encouraged you to buy in to the lessons they were sharing in teaching?


Dr. Kirk Linton (07:51):
Well, I mean, I like to go back to that the saying or the truism, right? That the three most important things in education are the relationships, relationships, and relationships. Those are the most three important things. Right. I, I think it’s that deep sense that people believe in you and that they, they care for you and that they have dreams for you. I, you know, I, I think back I had it was just a short session. I did a summer program with a conductor from a university from the states. And he used that language with his kids or with the students. I mean, we were adults at that time, right. We were 1822 in that kind of range. And for each of us, he’d only known us probably for hours. And he connected so deeply with us that right out of the gate, he would say, Kirk, my dream for you is the, this right.


Dr. Kirk Linton (08:41):
My dream for you is this. And all of a sudden what happens to you is you go, this guy barely knows me. He already cares enough about me, that he has a dream for me. He expects big things from me. Mm. Maybe I should have a dream for myself. And maybe that is something that I can, you know, is possible. It’s funny cuz now the school that I’m in too one of our school models is dream believe and achieve. So I have a dream. Right. but now, you know, I started using that even with my own students and I started using that same language and you know, it’s a way of sort of giving it to them and saying, have a dream, but also saying, I care enough about your dream to support you, to get to that dream. So that was, that was pretty inspiring stuff.


Sam Demma (09:20):
Ah, I love, that’s such an amazing story. And even when I think about my own teacher, Mike loud foot, he would take his, he would take his classroom content like you’re saying, and then apply it to every student’s life. So he’d finish a lesson and say, Hey Sam, for you, this means at Y and Z and Julia for you, based on what I know about you, what this means is X, Y, and Z. And he would take his classroom content. And I, I guess I could, I would call it the shotgun technique and he would try and make it applicable to as many people in the classroom as possible which is a unique way of, of going about it. And I think that that’s what most teachers, you know, strive to do in the classroom.


Dr. Kirk Linton (09:56):
It’s such a special quality, you know, to be able to see that in each of your kids and communicate that to each of your students and then to develop them individually. But that’s, that’s the key having that dream for each kid.


Sam Demma (10:08):
Mm. And how do you think we, you know, back to relationships, relationships, relationships, how do you think we build those with students? You know, even when we might be going through a challenging time, like COVID 19, is it about checking in? Is it about, you know, how do you build those relationships?


Dr. Kirk Linton (10:28):
It’s been a tough year. It’s been a really difficult year to build those relationships this year. At the same time that I have felt like we have collectively gone through something together. So at the same time you have challenges, you have opportunities, right? Mm-Hmm so the challenge of this year has been that disconnect or the, the feeling of lack, lack of control over what’s been happening around us. You know, even this week, weekend I was contact tracing, right? Telling people they have to go into isolation, telling my families that they have to isolate even within their households, those sorts of things, those are difficult, difficult conversations, but they also provide opportunities for that connection to grow as well. So, you know, I’ve been saying that, you know, leadership is a, a rainy day job. Well, 20, 20, 21, we’re living through a Monsu right.


Dr. Kirk Linton (11:23):
This has been a, a crazy long downpour all year long. It has challenged each of us it’s it’s, it’s made us all sort of reevaluate how we do what we do. So we’ve had to reach out out lots of different ways. So, and I think about the evolution of this for me and as a school community, since this began. So back in last March, right? So we you know, heading into March, no one had a clue what was gonna happen. Yeah. Where things were gonna head. I can still remember because in Alberta we found out, I think it was four o’clock in the afternoon, on a Sunday afternoon that we were no longer gonna go into classes into school. We’d still have classes, but we had to basically pivot turn around, shift our practice within a day to, to the next day and walk in the next morning and figure out what the heck we were doing.


Dr. Kirk Linton (12:16):
Right. and nobody really knew. And so, you know, we had all different people with different comfort levels with technology different confidence levels around how they could manage that whole situation. And so as leaders in that situation, they’re trying to sort of as se, where is everybody? Mm. So, you know, I, I came in like with my little bit of a little bit cocky and kind of said to everybody, you know what, you’re gonna need to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Right. And I was like, this is, we’re gonna be uncomfortable for a while. We’re gonna have to get used to that and get comfortable. But, but Sam, it was the wrong thing to say. It was the wrong thing, because I didn’t need to say that people were already so far out of their regular element. That that was just one more reminder to them that, whoa, I am so uncomfortable at this point in time that I don’t even know what to do.


Dr. Kirk Linton (13:05):
Right. we also had people, of course, who were bringing their own health issues and concerns into the building at that point in time, right? The are uncertain about their own health, about their friends, about their family. And so of course it became really real, really fast when I had staff members come to me and say, listen, like I have an underlying health condition that if I get sick, this is gonna be a big issue. Or I have a son or a daughter or a mother or a father who, if this hits that this is gonna be, become a big issue. So what we’ve asked our teachers to do this year is a tremendous act of courage and bravery. And I cannot be more proud of what we’ve done as teachers and as a profession that we’ve been able to walk into this monsoon of a year and continue need to do the best we can for our kids, for our students and for our communities.


Dr. Kirk Linton (14:00):
You know, when I first looked at what do we do here? Because my, my fear in all of this is we were going to lose that sense of community and we were going to lose our kids. Do you know what I mean? Yeah. I think every educators may fear was that these kids were going to walk out of our building and that, where would they go? What was gonna happen to them when they were home? Did they have the support systems they needed? Were mental health concerns gonna be dealt with? Would we even know the mental health concerns were going on so that we could help and support? So there’s this huge sense of sort of health, right? So for me, the way that we just, we just kept reaching out and the number one thing was just making sure we were making contacts.


Dr. Kirk Linton (14:45):
So I just kept pushing people, you know, make those phone calls, talk to people then you know, how do we connect on social media? How do we use the social media? We’ve got to sort of keep those kids engaged with us. So we were posting things like our daily announcements and prayers and jokes and things like that online. So the kids still felt like they were part of the school. Nice. you know, I used my trumpet in that context, Sam, like I, you know, I, we, me and my, my kids got out on our front weight. And so my, my, my oldest plays violin and my middle plays violin, and my youngest son plays cello. And so we were putting on driveway concerts. nice in the neighborhood. Nice. and so we’d get out there every Sunday afternoon, and then we would play a couple tunes. We’d always end with some kind of star wars lick at the end of the day. And nice. And after a while we developed some some following, you know, we were pretty big stuff, Sam, we probably had like 10, maybe 12 people who would come and bring their lawn chairs.


Sam Demma (15:38):
That’s amazing.


Dr. Kirk Linton (15:39):
but we’d also, we’d also film it too. Right. So I would you know, we’d play old Canada, we’d film that and I’d post it up online, that sort of thing. So that for the community, so it was just ways of reaching out. And I think we all were, I mean, that was sort of the, the honeymoon phase of the pandemic, if you will, at that point. Right. there was still lots of energy and hope and we’re all like, oh yeah, we’re gonna change. You know, there was maybe a little bit of sense of, you know, yeah, this is exciting in a, in a way it’s, it’s, it’s new, it’s different. We’re gonna figure this out huge challenges. We knew what was we thought we knew it was coming. But we, you know, we move forward in that kinda way. As I’ve watched the year progress, and I’ve seen some of the, the constant sort of stress that’s gone with that the adjustments that are, are constantly having to be made between moving online, moving back into person you know, we have kept our kids as well as we could and dealt with the situation the best we could. But holy Dina, this has been quite the year, Sam.


Sam Demma (16:39):
Yeah. It’s, it’s something that I’ve heard echoed between all the interviews I’ve done. I’ve interviewed over 90 educators now for the past six months. So I’m averaging dozens of conversations per month. And the, the common thread is, is, is what you’re sharing. So you’re definitely not alone and neither is your school. And before I continue, I wanna make sure I give you the applause you deserve for your, your driveway shows.


Sam Demma (17:09):
Just in case those 12 people in lawn chairs, didn’t, didn’t show appreciation enough.


Dr. Kirk Linton (17:14):
They weren’t that loud, Sam, for sure.


Sam Demma (17:17):
That’s okay. But you mentioned earlier that with every obstacle, BEC there, there comes along an opportunity with it, you know? Yeah. With every, you know, plot of dirt, you can plant the seed. What do you think the opportunities are like, you, you have obviously a growth mindset when you’re even talking about focusing on of the opportunities in a difficult situation, what are some of those opportunities?


Dr. Kirk Linton (17:44):
Yeah. And I think that’s something that you know, we have to focus on the opportunities, right. I, I think that’s something that we have to take this and acknowledge that this is a new perspective. Mm-Hmm, we’re never going back to that world. That was February 20, 20, right. This is where we’ve moved on and we’re somewhere different now. And I think that there will be a, a kind of reckoning that occurs over the years to come right, where we sort look back and say, where were we before this? And where are we now? And sort of what happened in that, in between period that got us to here. Mm-Hmm I, you know, early on, I said, I think that the end result of this is going to be a renewal of the education system. I think that, you know, we, weren’t very at agile as a system, we were very, you know, sort of like, you know, just lots of people, lots of stuff.


Dr. Kirk Linton (18:34):
And I think what we’ve learned how to do is really to adjust quickly and to change our practice. So, you know, in that period of time, this, in those first, early months of the pandemic, and even into this year, I’ve probably seen more professional learning and occur amongst teachers and staff of all types as we’ve had to sort of navigate this time and, you know, the use of educational technology, which may have been a, a tougher sell you know, about five years ago. And it’s funny because when I look there was a lot of excitement in the turn of the millennium, right? So early two thousands were people really excited about what technology could do. Mm. And there was a period of time where we all got a little bit afraid of our own technology, because we went, whoa, this is all of a sudden taking over my life.


Dr. Kirk Linton (19:21):
And I don’t know where to go with it. And then whoa, what’s going on with our kids, what’s happening with the students, right? What are they doing with the technology and how’s that impacting their lab? And so then all of a sudden there was a pushback. And so probably the, the last five years there was kind of a swing in the other direction of, we’re just gonna totally shut this down or pretend it’s not happening. Mm. What we’re seeing now is teachers are, are kind of reassessing and going back and say, so how do I use technology to deliver learning, but not only that, but to kids create, right. You know, we talk about kids have the ability to take in content. There’s a lot of, you know, they’re really good at using YouTube. They’re good at scrolling through Instagram, but when it comes to creation and making things with technology and doing things with technology, we sometimes make assumptions.


Dr. Kirk Linton (20:08):
They have skills that maybe they don’t and need to be the developed. And I’d say the same was, is with the teachers, is, is just knowing what the tools are, how they can be applied pedagogically and how they can be used to actually create that student learning out there. And so what I’ve seen is, you know, in this flipping back and forth between online and in person we’ve had to become really flexible in what we do and use the tools and new and be really innovative, just do everything differently. We’ve had to rethink everything, right. You know, we’ve rethought everything from how we, you know, teach to how we structure our school day,


Dr. Kirk Linton (20:45):
How we come into school, how we have lunch times, how we do recess, all those sorts of things. Right. So things have really significantly changed in a lot of ways. And as with a lot of things, there’s things that, you know, we would toss out and say this, if we can never get back to not doing this, that’d be awesome. But like wearing masks, for example, I don’t think anyone wants to keep wearing masks for too long. On the other side, though, there are things that we would absolutely keep where we’re going, why wouldn’t we do lunch this way? Why wouldn’t we organize ourselves a little bit differently? And so there have definitely been some positives that will come out of this, but, you know, I think there is a period that’s coming where we’re gonna all have to sort of sit back and have a chance to reflect. Hopefully the end is in sight here, Sam. Yeah. Right. Where we all can kind of sit back and go, okay, what was that all about? And then we make the meaning of that. I think, as we move forward,


Sam Demma (21:35):
I love it. And it’s funny, you mentioned the, hopefully the end is in sight. My dad was driving home the other day and Rogers globally went down or at least nationally, and , my dad gets home and I’m like, dad, you hear about the phone? He’s like, yeah, my radio, wasn’t working either. And I’m like, oh my goodness is the end in sight. Like . But no, I follow, I follow. I’m hoping the end of, of COVID is in sight as well. And you know, we’re able to do some of the things that we’d like to get back to doing. I’m curious though, you’ve peaked my interest now. How, how have you changed the structure of your school day and maybe even the lunch are some of the things that you think are really cool that have been changed and you wanna keep the same?


Dr. Kirk Linton (22:17):
Well, I mean, you know, some of them were really basic, right? The way we came in the school, you would always have the traditional, everyone would stand up in big clumps on the tarmac and you’d hold the kids outside, right. Until that bell went because you can’t let them in early. So what’s changed on that front is that we are now having kids come and staggered entry and they come right into the school first thing the morning. And so it’s funny, we had a really rigid structure before that had some benefits to it from the standpoint of the quiet, the school’s nice and quiet before the school day, that sort of thing. But what I have found is that allowing kids to have sort of a soft beginning to their day, where they have 10 or 15 minutes where they’re in ahead of time and they have the chance to just sort of come in and settle and the teacher’s not jumping straight into instruction.


Dr. Kirk Linton (23:01):
And everyone just has a chance to sort of chill out for 10 minutes has actually been a really friendly, good thing for our, our students. Right. start of the year, we did a, a staggered entry as well, where we brought in only a third of the class into each, for each day. So for three days, we just brought in 10 kids instead of bringing in 30 for the first day. And that gave our teachers that chance to have that relationship building time mm-hmm and spend more quality time and really get to know each student. So you’re not doing that for first day with 30 phases, you don’t know doing the roll call and never really getting to know them. And I gotta say that was a huge positive something that we, we heard as well. Right. we used to have our lunches in the gym altogether.


Dr. Kirk Linton (23:43):
It was loud, it was noisy. The kids were all over the place. And so now they’re having lunch within classrooms. And so it’s just a little bit calmer and, and more settled and, and I’m finding the kids are enjoying that piece as well. So yeah, I think, you know, from those standpoints, oh, staggered stagger lunch times two recesses. We, we’re not doing them all at one time, so you’d have one big us we’d have, or in our case it was two, we’d have 350 kids out at the same time. And, you know, it was just a lot going on all at the same time. And now we’ve gotta set up so that each of the groups goes out separately. And so there’s more room, there’s more space and the kids just there’s less conflict on the playground. Right. So, so small things that you wouldn’t have changed because it was the way it had it always been done. And now you have the reason to go back and try it a different way, and you realize, Hey, it’s actually possible to do this in a different way. So it’s not a bad thing.


Sam Demma (24:35):
Yeah. It’s small things. I wear this wrist brand that says small, consistent actions. And it’s the, yes, the phrase that my teacher taught to me when I was 17, that like totally changed the way I look at my life. And in fact, so much so that I keep this little turtle on my desk as well, to remind me that it’s okay, if you’re moving slow, as long as you’re thinking about, you know, what, what it is that you’re doing or making progress, you know, putting one foot in front of the other small actions, small, consistent actions. Yeah.


Dr. Kirk Linton (25:02):
I was listening to another podcast I think. And they were talking one degree turns. Yep. That that’s how you, how you turn in a big ship or you turn it all. That’s how you make change. It’s one degree turns everyone. You don’t need to do a 180. Yeah. And I think when I think about my own leadership journey too, I always used to be like, oh, it’s gotta be transformative. Like this is, you gotta know that something significant has changed. The whole system’s turned upside down and now it’s turned to see that. Yeah. Can. So working in that sort of way, slowly one degree turns is gonna get you where you want to be.


Sam Demma (25:33):
I was so fascinated by the philosophy when I was 17, that we started picking up garbage as the small action. And you know, we, we ended up filling close to 3000 bags of trash over the past four years from just one hour weekly cleanups with it’s. And so like, that’s our practical case study of that example as well. Yeah. And it’s so apparent that it’s happening in schools right now, all across Canada, all across north America, you know, small, you’re making small shifts, but it sounds like it’s making a huge difference, you know, in the schools. And also probably with the student safety, I would, I would assume


Dr. Kirk Linton (26:07):
A hundred percent, right. Small but powerful things. And I think the little things add up and I think we’ve really seen that, especially in a pandemic environment, right. Where we we’re seeing that those little choices that people are making along the way really have a real impact on others. And so I think as educators, that is always what we’re trying to show kids, because we are trying to give the next generation that sense of stewardship that they carry forward and make better the things that we’ve got. Right. And so that’s, that’s always the goal. So yeah, I like that. I think the 1% turns the small movements with intention, the small decisions, that’s, that’s something that’s a real life lesson. It’s tough to be patient for that though Sam. Right.


Sam Demma (26:45):
It is. But, but Hey, the, the turtle beats, the, the turtle beats, the hair and the race, right.


Dr. Kirk Linton (26:52):
Yeah. Well, yeah, you’re more patient than me, I think.


Sam Demma (26:54):
So if you could go back Kirk and, and speak to your younger self, you know, 18 years ago before your first year in education, knowing what you know, now, what advice would you give your younger self?


Dr. Kirk Linton (27:08):
I would probably say, you know what cuz I think that I, I had these high goals of being the professional musician. I had a taste of that and we had really, you know, I, I think what I would say to myself is it’s okay, this is not an either or right. Mm, this is a, this, and you can be that and that you can continue to be these different things. It’s the ever expanding sense of yourself, right? That we, we grow, we don’t necessarily lose the things that we’ve done before that we continue to build on them and that I can be a musician and be a principal and I can be a musician and be a teacher and be a dad and have all these different roles sort of coinciding and that they don’t I don’t lose them as I move forward that they continue to, to grow and shape and change into who I am. And that’s not a static thing at all.


Sam Demma (27:58):
I needed that advice when I was 17 and having injuries as a soccer player. So don’t only pass that forward to younger educators, but pass it forward to your students as well. I think it’s so important. I, I think of it like a book. Like imagine your life was a book and it only had one chapter; that would be the most boring book ever and I think when we, when we mold ourselves into different positions and to solve different problems and to experience different things, what we’re essentially doing is starting new chapters, you know? And I think it makes it more interesting, more relatable so that’s great advice. Kirk, thank you so much for coming on the show. I really appreciate it and this has been a great conversation. If an educator has enjoyed this and wants to reach out to you, what would be the best way for them to do so?


Dr. Kirk Linton (28:45):
They can find me on Twitter if they like @krlinton. That’s definitely one spot they can reach out to be there. I think that’s probably the easiest thing to do.


Sam Demma (28:53):
Okay, perfect. Kirk, thank you so much again and keep up the great work and I’ll talk to you soon.


Dr. Kirk Linton (28:58):
Awesome. Thanks Sam. It’s been a pleasure


Sam Demma (29:00):
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 Kirk Linton

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.

Sean Ruddy – Principal of Student Success and Specialized Programs at Near North District School Board

Sean Ruddy - Principal of Student Success and Specialized Programs at Near North District School Board
About Sean Ruddy

Sean Ruddy (@SeanRuddy14), is the Principal of Student Success and Specialized Programs at the Near North District School Board. He started his career teaching in the Rainbow District School Board and for the last 17 years has been a Vice Principal, Principal, and System Principal with the Near North District School Board.   

Sean has his Masters of Education from Nipissing University where his focus was on Safe Schools and using Restorative Practices to build relationships in schools. Sean has presented his work at the International Institute of Restorative Practices World Conference and the International Confederation of Principals Convention.

He has a strong belief that all students can learn.  Sean believes that finding creative ways to engage and support students will lead to an increase in student achievement and well-being.

Connect with Sean: Email | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Near North District School Board

Rainbow District School Board

Masters of Education – Nipissing University

International Institute of Restorative Practices

International Confederation of Principals Convention

Specialist High Skills Major Program (SHSM)

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 podcast.


Sam Demma (01:02):
This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest is Sean Ruddy. Sean is the Principal of student success and specialized programs at the Near North District School Board. He started his career teaching in the Rainbow District School Board and for the past 17 years has been a Vice-Principal, Principal and System-Principal with the Near North District School Board. Sean has his masters of education from Nippissing University where his focus was on safe schools and using restorative practices to build relationships in schools. Sean has presented his work at the International Institute of Restorative Practices world conference and the International Confederation of Principals convention. He has a strong belief that all students can learn. Sean believes that finding creative ways to engage and support students will lead to an increase in student achievement and overall wellbeing. I hope you enjoy this enlightening conversation with Sean. I will see you on the other side, all the best. Sean, welcome to the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show, please start by introducing yourself.


Sean Ruddy (02:07):
Yeah, thanks Sam. My name’s Sean Ruddy and I work for the Near North District School Board. Currently, my role is the Principal of student success and specialized programs. And the board office is located in North Bay, and we cover roughly about 17,000 square feet. So geographically we’re a fairly large board, and it stretches kind of from Perry Sound in the west, to Sturgeon Falls and in North Bay; in that that basic geographic area there.


Sam Demma (02:42):
At what point during your own career exploration phase of life, did you realize that as you is where you want it to work?


Sean Ruddy (02:50):
Yeah, it’s funny. Everybody seems to have a different story about how they end up in, in this in this spot. Graduating from from secondary school, I went on to post-secondary school. I, I was going into business, so I had no intention of, of getting into education at all. I was really fortunate enough to volunteer coach at a, as my, my high school that I graduated up and and, and got to work with some, some students and, and coaching them hockey. And for me, I really used the word coaching and, and teaching kind of interchangeably because they’re essentially, in my view, they’re, they’re the same thing. Really got to, to see that I was making a difference and, and that you know, you know, you knew it was as a your experience with soccer. You know, when you, you have, you have some success as a team and, and you, you know, as a leader of that particular team it certainly gives you that that thrive to, to want to do more. So I quickly figured out that that, you know, impacting students was something that I wanted to do for a living and then applied for teachers college and, and kind of the rest is, is history.


Sam Demma (04:05):
You mentioned coaching, how has athletics played a big role in your involvement at school and also outside of school?


Sean Ruddy (04:12):
Yeah. Athletics is huge. And you know, speaking of athletics, I know you’re a soccer guy. Yeah. Is there, is it a better timing camp, Canada to be a soccer fan right now? You know, like it’s,


Sam Demma (04:23):
Especially for me, because two of the guys who play on the Canadian men’s national team used to be teammates. So not only are they winning, but I’m able to personally cheer them on.


Sean Ruddy (04:33):
Yeah. That that’s incredible. Yeah. No sports sports has had a huge impact on, on my life as I believe it has on, on, on yours. The, you know, all of those lifelong skills that you learn in terms of you know, collaboration and you know, and teamwork and you know, putting the the common goals of the groups ahead of your individual interests, all of those are, are foundational leadership philosophy that, that I’ve taken from my years of playing sports and and try and implement it to you know, everything that I do here at the, at the schoolwork.


Sam Demma (05:11):
Awesome. you mentioned that the, the word coach and, and the word teacher could be kinda used interchangeably, what do you mean by that? And where do you see the striking similarities?


Sean Ruddy (05:21):
Well, I see, you know, you, you know, if we go back to using the, the coaching analogy, right, if you, you, you replace the team with your class and those are all interchangeable. And the, the really neat thing, and as you would know, is that every, every person is different. So every player that you have on your soccer team is different. Every kid in your class that you have is different. They all come from varying backgrounds and, and are motivated in, in different ways. And you know, you, the way I see it, the role as you’re as the leader or the coach, or the teacher, you have to figure out how each individual student learns and how to get the best out of that individual kit. And you know, it’s, and it’s no different on the, on the quarter on the field. And you know, the best best coaches are able to maximize the potential in each of their individual players, you know, and all going towards the you know, a common goal. So that’s where I see it. They’re, they’re, they’re really interchangeable from, from my point of view.


Sam Demma (06:22):
So you started teaching tell me a little bit about your first role and then bring us through the progression to what brought you to where you are right now.


Sean Ruddy (06:31):
Yeah, so I, I was fortunate enough out of teachers college to get hired in a, in a little small, a small town notes side, February called lava. And it was with the rainbow district school board, and I’m from north bay. So it was, it was outta town. So I spent one year there really immersed in teaching pretty much everything you can think of because when you’re in these small communities, there’s no such thing as specialized teachers. So you, you have to everything. So it was, it was great to, to live and learn there. I was able to eventually get back to the north district school board and taught for a number of years and then became a, a vice principal. And now I think I’m about 17 years into administration, a a on, through a few different secondary schools. And and this is my second year in the central position at, at the board office. So I I’ve really kind of been in, in every area of the board.


Sam Demma (07:31):
That’s amazing. You’ve played every position on the field.


Sean Ruddy (07:34):
Yes. Yeah.


Sam Demma (07:37):
Central role. Tell me a little bit more about what it entails and what your roles and responsibilities are, and some of the projects maybe that you’re focused on bringing in or running.


Sean Ruddy (07:48):
Yeah. So, so for me, you know, my focus is on student success and, and any of those specialized programs that we can put in place to, to help impact student achievement and our wellbeing within our board. Some of the, some of the ones that we’re really proud of is all of our secondary schools have specialist high skills, major programs. I and those were a variety of different programs from hospitality to construction, to business and arts. Students are, are very fortunate now where they have a number of options that they can focus based on their interests. So, so that’s one that certainly falls within my portfolio. Another one that we’re re we’re really excited about is we have a dual credit program with Canada or college here in north bay. So they’re a partner with us, and we offer a variety of, of dual credits where a student can actually go to college and get a, from the college and a credit from high school. So it’s you know, if you think of some of those the shortages that we have in the skills trades this is a great program to encourage our youth to get in there and and, and really get involved in a, you know, a career that would be very beneficial to them. And then we’re also lucky we’re, we’re launching a couple of new things for September we’re, we’re launching a, a dual credit and video game design.


Sam Demma (09:10):
Oh, nice.


Sean Ruddy (09:10):
So you know, some, some unique things like that, so that’s going on. And then, and then one other one that will likely be announced probably when the podcast airs is that our school board is partnering with Everest academy hockey academy. Wow. And we’re gonna have a, we’re gonna offer a high performance hockey academy combined with an academic program with the near us district school board, which will be unique in, in one of its kind. And again, trying to you know, find the interest of students to engage them in their academic career.


Sam Demma (09:47):
That’s amazing. I think the high performance program sounds like something I would’ve loved to be involved in for soccer when I was growing up in the school. So sounds like a final opportunity for students. What, what keeps you hopeful personally about this work on the days when you show up and there’s global pandemics or on the days you show up and things are a little bit difficult.


Sean Ruddy (10:10):
Yeah. You know, you know, Sam as, as an education and a, a leader I think your only option is to Mo model hope for your your, your teachers and students. Like, yeah. These last two years have been challenging for everybody, not just in, in education as we you know, continually pivot between timetable structures and in school and outta school. And you know, the people that are looking up to you, your, your teacher or your, or your students, they’re looking for that calm, steady beacon of hope. And you have to be the model for them especially during times of crisis and chaos. So I mean, the, there are going to be some lasting things out of this this pandemic, one of them we’re doing right now, we’re, we’re able to connect from, you know, hundreds of kilometers away in real time in, in video. So there’s all kinds of opportunities where we can get students in front of experts from literally around the world you know, through zoom or teams or, or those types of things. But yeah, no, there’s we’re gonna get through the other side that we, we always do. And again, as a leader, I think all you can do is, is to be that model of hope and, and optimism, and and continue to find ways to make things work even in, in times where it it’s very difficult.


Sam Demma (11:35):
I couldn’t agree more. I think you’re absolutely right. Being hopeful. Yourself definitely rubs off on those, around you, especially in the leadership position. So that’s awesome. When you think about programs that have happened in the past can you remember the transformation of a student who went through a program or was ever a part of a, of a class or a team that you’ve coached, who, when they started were very different than when they, you know, completed it or came out the other end? And if it’s a serious story, you know, you can change their name just to keep it a private


Sean Ruddy (12:11):
Yeah, no, there’s, there’s so many Sam having been around you know, I think this is here 22 for me in education. There’s so many stories. You know, if you just think of your own experience going through high school, when you, when you entered grade nine and you know, the maturity level of, of grade nines that were in your class, and then you, the, that same group walking across the stage four or five years later there’s, there’s just a massive change just in maturity. And, and, you know, as educators, we’re, you know, we’re proud of the accomplishments and seeing that transformation for sure. And certainly I know your your educators would be certainly proud with the, that you’re doing not only with, with this podcast, but also the work that you’ve done in your community.


Sean Ruddy (12:58):
So, so thank you for doing that. Just, you know, there’s so many individual stories. It’s hard to, to pick out one, but I can give you like, just a general just a, just a general basis on, in terms of kind of my involvement in, in terms of impacting students. It’s so difficult in the education businesses, because you don’t have that instant feedback. And it’s so hard to you know, I like, I think of one of my colleagues who’s a principal out in sturgeon falls. He also runs a, a wood business. And if you think of something simpler like that, and you, you compare it to education. So not to say that the wood business is simple, but a pile of logs get dropped off. And he goes out there and he works all day on a Saturday, the logs get cut up and they get stacked nicely in court.


Sean Ruddy (13:46):
So he can look back at the end of the day and all that hard painstaking work he’s done. You can see that it’s made a difference in education. We’re, we’re doing that pain making work day in and day out. And, and it’s really hard to see that until there are times like graduation. There’s one, one example. I met a, a former student in the grocery store and he came up to me and he said, you know, he’s told me about how successful he’s been, told me about an interaction that I had with him in the hall one day now, to be honest them, I had no it’s one of a hundred interactions we’d have with students in the day. So I had no recollection of this interaction. He said, he said, you know what? You really made a difference with what you said to me that day.


Sean Ruddy (14:27):
And I stayed at school and I, I continued to go on. So if I have any advice around that for our educational colleague out there is to not underestimate any interaction that you have with a student, no matter how small you think it is, because you know, depending on that particular student, it, it makes a huge difference. And I also equate you know, the work we do in education to my golf game, going back to the sports analogy again, right? So, you know, I’ll go out. I don’t play as often as I’d like to, but I’d go out and shoot 85 or 190 shots, 85, 90, 95 shots. And many of those are frustrating shots and they don’t go where you want them to go, but without fail, there’s one or two that you hit, whether that’s that nice long drive, or you drained a long pot that goes in and you get that satisfaction of doing something that makes you wanna play again. So when we get that feedback from students, oftentimes it’s not until they’re long graduated and you meet them at somewhere in the community you really realize the difference that you make and it makes you want to keep keep going back.


Sam Demma (15:34):
That’s a beautiful analogy. I’ve played golf for one summer, and I don’t have many of those moments yet, but they’re coming.


Sean Ruddy (15:43):
You got it. They’ll come.


Sam Demma (15:45):
Yep. I go, I do a lot of swimming, actually. It’s a dual sport athlete when I golf. Yeah. Yeah, that’s amazing. And if you could, and you may be echoing some of the things you just shared now, but if you could take all the experience you’ve had in education this far bundle it all up, go back in time and tap yourself on the shoulder. And your first, second, third year of education, knowing what you know now, what advice would you have given to your younger self?


Sean Ruddy (16:13):
Well, I think we all all, all of us that are in education are, are fairly driven to be successful. And, and to get to that point, you have been successful. You’re going to fail. You’re, you’re gonna try things and you’re gonna fail. And as frustrating as that is, you know, looking back now, that’s exactly how we learn. Yeah. Like we try things and we fail and, and we reflect on it and do it again. The most powerful lesson that I learned really early on is that I, I ended up working at a school that was about 45 minute drive away from, from my house. So at the end of the day, I had 45 minutes of, of kind of quiet reflection to think of about what happened during the day and reflect on how I can, you know, do it better.


Sean Ruddy (16:58):
So you know, make those mistakes, think outside the box, make connections with kids. You know, kids are the variable, right? Like they, they change, they, you, you, what you did five years ago, won’t necessarily work this year. You’re gonna have change. The kids are the, are the variable. So you know, continue to adapt and and reflect and, and make mistakes. And that, and that’s how we learn. And you know, what, El Sam, I think it’s also fair to show that vulnerability, even as a, as a leader right now, show that vulnerability. Yeah. We continue to make mistakes and that’s okay. And that’s how we learn, but you reflect on them and, and you keep moving on. And you know, as a leader, I think it’s important to, to show that you know, that, that vulnerability.


Sam Demma (17:46):
Finally, before we wrap up here today have you found any specific resources helpful for your own development and education and coaching? Maybe the resource is actually even a person. So, you know, you can mention a mentor or even something you’ve read, watched or been a part of that’s had an impact on you.


Sean Ruddy (18:05):
Yeah. There’s, you know, nobody gets a this far in their career without help from, from people along the way. And there’s many, many people that had a, a big impact on, on my career in particular, the, the first principal that hired me in the rainbow board, Fred law took me right under his wing and, and gave me that permission to make mistakes and, and, and learn. So that was great, but you know what, to be honest, the, and I’m not a, a huge social media presence or, or person. Yeah. But the the best PD that I’m I’m getting right now is you know, following a variety of people on Twitter. Like there’s so much positive PD that that’s out there again, right. So, and it connects people from all areas and all boards and you know, where you can collaborate on, on pretty much any topic you want. So it, it really kind of shrinks the the world. And and basically any topic that you, you want, you can find somebody all else that’s either tried that, or would like to try that with you. Cool. And you can go from there.


Sam Demma (19:16):
If someone wants to reach out to you, ask a question, bounce some ideas around or collaborate after listening to this podcast, what would be the best way for them to get in touch?


Sean Ruddy (19:24):
Yeah, probably the best place is they email Sam. So it’s sean.ruddy@Nearnorthschools.ca. And I do have Twitter, although I’m not, I use it more for PD than being active and it’s @SeanRuddy14.


Sam Demma (19:39):
Awesome. Sean, thank you so much for coming on the show. Keep up with the great work, and I look forward to talking to you again soon.


Sean Ruddy (19:45):
Awesome. Thanks Sam, I really appreciate the opportunity.


Sam Demma (19:49):
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 Sean Ruddy

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.

Staci Whittle – Principal at Niagara Children’s Centre School Authority

Staci Whittle - Principal at Niagara Children’s Centre School Authority
About Staci Whittle

Staci Whittle is currently the Principal at the Niagara Children’s Centre School Authority, located in St. Catharines, Ontario. She has been in education for the past twenty-three years. Staci has worked as a Secondary teacher, Vice-Principal and Principal in Elementary and Secondary schools within rural and urban settings.

Her enthusiasm and advocacy for students with disabilities is truly her passion. Staci has been the recipient of the Ontario Teacher Federation Award, the University of Windsor’s Odyssey Award, the Board of Governor’s medal from the University of Windsor and has now been recognized as a High Performing Educator.

Connect with Staci: Email | Linkedin

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Niagara Children’s Centre School Authority

Ontario Teacher Federation Award

University of Windsor’s Odyssey Award

Books by Stuart Shanker

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 podcast.


Sam Demma (01:01):
This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest is Stacy Whittle. Stacy is currently the Principal at the Niagara Children’s Center School authority located in St. Catherine’s Ontario. She has been in education for the past 23 years. Stacy has worked as a secondary teacher, Vice-Principal, and Principal in elementary and secondary schools within rural and urban settings. Her enthusiasm and advocacy for students with disabilities is truly her passion. Stacey has been the recipient of the Ontario teacher Federation award, the University of Windsor’s Odysey award, the board of governor’s medal from the University of Windsor, and has now been recognized as a High Performing Educator. I hope you enjoy this conversation with Stacy. I so look forward to you absorbing her genius and I will see you on the other side. Stacy, welcome to the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show, please start by introducing yourself.


Staci Whittle (02:02):
Hi, my name’s Stacy Whittle. I’m very grateful that I have the opportunity to be on the podcast today, and I’m a Principal at the Niagara Children’s Center School Authority in St. Catherine’s, Ontario.


Sam Demma (02:17):
Did you know, growing up that education is what you wanted to do? Tell me a little bit about how you got into education.


Staci Whittle (02:25):
I feel that I always did, like when, when I was younger, I always did like the let’s do let’s play school. Right. And do the teaching role and that sort of thing. And I really found it. I, I really found it worthwhile, I guess, or our heartfelt when I was doing that. So I think it was kind of in my bloodline to be begin in with, cause there’s many individuals on my dad’s side of the family that are educators. But that being said, the reason I really got into education was because an incident had occurred that affected our family in 1998. I believe it was where I had a little cousin. He was bullied and he was hung on a coat hook and he passed away in Chatham, Ontario. So, you know, after our family went through the two F of, of miles, and then we had the funeral for miles, there was a police investigation and a coroner’s inquest.


Staci Whittle (03:26):
I didn’t want other people to experience what had happened to our family, which by the way, I’m gonna do a shout out to my cousins. Mike and Brendan Nutz, who’ve created a foundation called making children better now in, in lieu of what had transpired with their son. So very cool foundation. They do great things for kids. But after all this had happened and I reflected on it, of course, I didn’t want another child to experience what we had to experience as a family and, and their families. And also, so I feel that I could get into education and I could change the trajectory of children’s life, who really needed the help in changing to be perhaps a better person or to be inspired by someone or something.


Sam Demma (04:15):
Wow. What a story. And I’m so sorry. I, I know it’s been a while, but I’m sure it gets no easier to talk about, I, I appreciate you, you sharing that and yeah, it’s just such an impactful reason to get involved in this work. And I think it it’s really your, it sounds like you lead it with your heart and you can kind of tell when you talk that it’s something that’s really important to you. What, what was your first position? And tell me a little bit about the, the different roles you’ve worked in and how you’ve got to where you are today.


Staci Whittle (04:47):
Okay. So my very first position was I was a halftime teacher in high school and I taught geography and science at the end of the year. I was fortunate enough to get a, a full-time permanent contract, but really what my forte was in the high school setting was working with at-risk children. So in that, in my experience there, I’ve had the, the classrooms that, you know, other teachers or other people would say, geez, that’s a tough classroom, but I just found it very easy to work with children who were at risk. And also I think it was my second or third year. I’m not a hundred percent sure where the principal of the school created a classroom for kids who were at risk. So in the morning we established, I taught the class, I’d work on English in other skills with them and then like math and, and those sorts of things. And then in the afternoon, they’d go off too and integrate in with the rest of the school community. It was a, a really, really good experience. It was, it was awesome. Like, I, I, I loved that experience. The respect that the kids and I had for one another was amazing. And to the point that a lot of the children, or I should shouldn’t say children, but high school students had to get their community service hours. So I took on coaching a hockey team because they’re all about hockey, so they could get their community service hours and yet do something they love as well.


Sam Demma (06:27):
Oh, wow. Were they helping you run the team? Is that what their task was?


Staci Whittle (06:31):
Their task was that, so they would help me coach we’d rotate. So they’d come to practices and, and work with the kids. And then a few in particular would come to every game and be on the bench. So we did that for the full year, which was amazing experience for everyone. I always look reflect back on that, and these are the, the students who were supposed to be at risk, but honestly they were amazing with the younger children, right. Cuz you gave them that opportunity so they could show their leadership and they could model what they felt was being a good hockey player or, you know, appropriate protocols or language or whatever on the bench. Right. So it all just kind of fit together and it was a totally amazing. And then another opportunity came about when I was at the high school and in conjunction with a gentleman who created and, and I supported and taught a school, it was called average school, which is night school for low German, high German Mennonite students who work during the day, but they still could get their education at night.


Staci Whittle (07:42):
Another amazing experience I learned so much. Right. And that’s, that’s part of me. It’s like in order to respect everyone, you need to know about everyone and, and respect that diversity. So at which 0.4 years into my teaching career I became a vice principal. I was a vice principal for the next six years. Then I moved to Saskatchewan. Then I was a principal in a large percentage or population of indigenous students. And that was at the elementary level. My dad took ill. And then I moved back here to Ontario and I’m ending up working with multi exceptional students, which is amazing work.


Sam Demma (08:27):
Mm. What do you think is required to build a relationship, a trusting relationship with a student


Staci Whittle (08:36):
In order to build trust, you have to open yourself up and accept every student for what they are, who they are, where they come from, whatever, but just building that that respect or, or, you know, showing kids you care. Right. And you care specifically about them has really is really what a, a building a relationship is all about. Right. And, and just not, I like for instance, Sam’s in my classroom, but when Sam’s outta my classroom, Sam’s gone he’s to a different person or, or whatever. It’s about building the rapport, no matter what whomever you teach whenever, but keeping that rapport going even when they’re not in your classroom and, and just showing kids, you’re, you’re dedicated to them and that you very, you care very much about them.


Sam Demma (09:30):
Hmm. I love that. Through your different positions, which have you found personally, the most rewarding now I know, you know, at the center of this work is the students, but from your perspective, what was the most rewarding position and why, why do you think it was the most rewarding?


Staci Whittle (09:48):
I don’t really think that I could choose any one position that was most rewarding. Yeah. Because I think that all the experiences I have have made me who I am, but that’s where the reward comes from is, is that growth that you get when you work with other people and exposing yourself and experiencing and opening up? I think to that extent, every one of my teaching, my vice principal are principal’s experience have kind of led me here. Which is an amazing place to work with. We get to do a lot of magical things with our children who have no voices who have multiple complex disabilities or abilities, if you will. I just love it, like what we can do, and I have the ability to be creative and innovative. So we’ve come, we’ve done a lot of great things for the children here, but at the end of the day, it’s everything that you live through is your lived experience. And I think there’s a reward in each one of those experiences that we, that we do.


Sam Demma (10:59):
Hmm. I love that. That’s a great perspective to have too, that everything offers a learning and everything offers an opportunity to reflect and grow. Can you tell me about a experience or a story where you saw the firsthand impact of a program on a learner or on a student that really touched your heart?


Staci Whittle (11:20):
Yeah, I, I have one experience when I was running the, the classroom for at-risk children. I had one student who had a heart issue. And so he wasn’t able to go to school all the time because of his heart. And they’re trying to figure out the medical professionals were trying to figure out what was wrong with him. So at the end of the day, each day, I’d gather up his homework and I’d drive it to his house. And then I’d sit down with him to ensure that he could do his homework. Right. And I think the magical thing is there are the best experiences that I think he would’ve been a kiddo that would’ve dropped out of school if he hadn’t had that little extra care from someone outside of the family. And it’s, it’s quite amazing because he will still contact me to this day. Right. Yeah. You know, and we, we kind of have that back and forth and it it’s really nice because even when I go back, like I don’t live where I started in education, but even when I go back the kids that are their adults now, but I see them around they’ll come and give me a hug. They’ll stop. And talk to me, they’ll shout out my name. I think that was an awesome experience, right. In that particular location.


Sam Demma (12:42):
Awesome. Throughout your journey who has been resourceful for you, are there some educators that have mentored you along the way? And, and maybe if, you know, you can probably think of some people and maybe there’s also resources or things that you’ve been a part of or read that have been helpful, what resources come to mind in terms of people and also hard coffee resources?


Staci Whittle (13:04):
Well, I think that I did have some very good mentors I had when I was a teacher. I had a, a vice principal a principal at my first location, they were amazing. And they, they kind of took you under their wing and they had you grow as a professional and as a, a teacher. Right. And then my first vice principal job, the principal I had who ended up being a superintendent, he knew everything. Like, it was such an amazing experience to grow, cuz he was so knowledgeable and he was very bright. And you know, those are the kind of people where you sit back and say, oh geez, I would like to be like that person. You know what I mean? Yeah. So that was kind of the driving force, which by the way, I forgot your question already.


Sam Demma (13:52):
Yeah. Resources that’s okay.


Staci Whittle (13:53):
So resources, I read a lot, lot about leadership. I found the best possible thing that I could do for myself is I explored emotional intelligence, right. For myself to grow as a professional, but also as a person. So I mean Roman’s work is, is being basically what I used for that particular aspect. And then I guess other things like self-regulation has really been helpful if you couple emotional intelligence with self-regulation, I’m just a calm personnel, right. I don’t get worked up, you just kind of flow and go with, go with whatever’s happening. But I think in combin we all need to learn how to regulate, but we also have to be mindful of what our strengths and weaknesses are as people. So we can make the world a better place, make the classroom a better place for the school because you’re learning about yourself. And I know we’ve all made mistakes as leaders or whatever, but you learn and grow from that.


Sam Demma (15:04):
Awesome. Well, when you mentioned self-regulation tell me more about self-regulation. What is self-regulation?


Staci Whittle (15:13):
So our, a threat in our school, as well as in our staff is self-regulation and so basically it’s allowing your body, whether it needs to be revved up or calm, so you’re alert and ready to learn. So I’ve used I’ve done courses and read books from SHA. So that’s really what we practice in our school. For instance, I, I can give a be better illustration cuz every adult’s different. Like I love to watch clouds. It calms me down. You know, I like nature. You know, I like playing with my grandchildren in those sorts of things that make you calm down and, and kind of reflect on who you are as a person. So if you have a child in the classroom who comes and one of the major things for all of our kids here is to learn to self-regulate so they can participate in a classroom with all their peers.


Staci Whittle (16:09):
Right. So we would discover perhaps you like deep pressure, so you need a vest or you need a blanket or you like sensory things and lights and you need to have the lights, whatever that looks like for the child to calm them down. Or you need a quiet corner where it’s just Sam’s and you can go in there and it has all your stuff that makes you feel again. So we, we have a, a, a bag of tricks here, a big bag of tricks that we, we help. And like for instance, we had a child on the spectrum. She would independently because the goal of self-regulation is to calm yourself. So you can go back to learning or focus. Right. And she would independent go in the classroom, use a mini trampoline. Right. And then when she calmed herself, cuz she needed the up regulation or whatever calmer she would use the trampoline, then she’d come back and do her work. So it’s kind of amazing to see children do that because I think if we all practice that I think our world would be a better place.


Sam Demma (17:16):
That’s such a good point. Instead of acting out of emotion, give ourselves a chance to come back to a stable, emotional state. Yes. Before action, which I think is so important and that ties into emotional intelligence, like emotional intelligence is really just understanding our emotions and how they affect us or how would you explain emotional intelligence? Well,


Staci Whittle (17:38):
It is about how it would affect you because you’ll have strengths and weaknesses, right? Yeah. Depending on what they were. But I think from a leadership perspective, it makes you mindful of what your weaknesses are. So you need to work on whatever techniques you’re using to work on that, to better create a collaborative learning environment for all students, staff and, and families. Right. So it’s really given me that perspective. I know now for myself, because at one time I would get, you get worked up. Right. But now I’m just calm. I I’ve learned how to reflect. I’ve learned how to pick up patterns of what I need to change for myself. And I think that makes you a better leader in a school environment and even in a school board, it would make you a better leader.


Sam Demma (18:27):
I love it. Makes a lot of sense. I really appreciate you sharing Stacy. If you could take your experiences, all of them in education, bundle them up, which is really difficult, not possible and travel back in time, tap yourself on the shoulder. And some of your beginning years of teaching and working in education to give yourself advice what would you have said or told your younger self?


Staci Whittle (18:54):
I think I think the advice would be that I wish I would’ve discovered self Reagan, emotional intelligence back there. I was very driven. I’ve always been very driven. Maybe just slow down a bit because I’ve been told on more than one occasion. Sometimes I take more on than what a, a a typical individual would. But that’s just me. Right. Cause I have that motivation and drive to help students learn and, and help them be successful. Right. Right. Not only in school, but in life in general. So I think that I would talk to my, my old self about that. And maybe I would’ve had a better trajectory or game plan for how it was gonna go about all my like going about different things and all the experiences that I’ve had in education. I guess, like I would say too, that be careful because you know that you’re a doer and sometimes you just need to step back. You can’t do everything for everyone and you need to prioritize. What’s really important and then work in that realm if you will


Sam Demma (20:12):
Got it. Ah, I love it. Thank you for sharing. If someone wants to reach out, ask you a question based on anything we talked about today, or just have a conversation, what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you?


Staci Whittle (20:25):
Well, they could get in touch with me through my email address, which is stacy.whittle@niagrachildrencentre.com or just pick up the phone and give me a call. My number’s (905)-688-1890 (Extension 230). I was going to try to do; well, I might still do this Sam, but I’m not sure. Do a hashtag and, and kind of learn that new technology ’cause I know nothing about Instagram and Twitter and whatever. But because it was a snow day here today, my staff are not here and the person who was gonna help me is at home so I can’t do that haha. So anyway, that’s me.


Sam Demma (21:09):
Awesome, well it’s okay. Stacy, thanks so much again for calling on the show. Really appreciate it, Keep up with the great work and we’ll talk soon.


Staci Whittle (21:16):
All right. Thank you so much, Sam.


Sam Demma (21:19):
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 Staci Whittle

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.

Michelina Battaglini – Principal at Cardinal Ambrozic Catholic Secondary School

Michelina Battaglini - Principal at Cardinal Ambrozic Catholic Secondary School
About Michelina Battaglini

Michelina Battaglini (@BATTAGLINI_dpc), is the Principal at Cardinal Ambrozic C.S.S. in Brampton. She is a recipient of Principal of the Year Award 2015 presented by the Catholic Principal’s Council of Ontario. Michelina started her educational career in 1997 at St. Francis Xavier C.S.S. and then moved to Loyola C.S.S. as Department Head of Science before she moved into her role as vice-principal at Cardinal Leger S.S. in 2008. 

Michelina then moved back to Loyola as vice-principal before becoming principal at St. Michael C.S.S. in Bolton in 2015 and has now been at Cardinal Ambrozic for 2.5 years. She cares for and works with ALL students in the school. She enjoys all aspects of the secondary school experience, including student leadership, extra-curricular clubs, school-based productions and athletics. 

She participates in many extra-curricular events and always joins the instrumental concert band when they are performing for their school community. Michelina believes that many hands make for light work, so if we all come together in our schools to provide a multitude of opportunities for our students. The sky is the limit!! We are here to ensure our students graduate from high school as well-rounded individuals who are:

  • discerning believers
  • effective communicators
  • self-directed, responsible, life-long learners
  • collaborative contributors
  • effective, creative and holistic thinkers
  • caring family members
  • responsible citizens

Student and staff wellness is a passion as she continues to work to find balance and fulfillment in her own life.

Connect with Michelina: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Cardinal Ambrozic C.S.S

Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board

Catholic Principal’s Council of Ontario

Being A Good Listener – The School of Life

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 (01:02):
Welcome back to another episode of the high performing educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today we are joined by a very special guest. Her name is Michelina Battaglini. Michelina is the Principal at Cardinal Ambrozic Catholic Secondary School in Brampton. She’s a recipient of the Principal of the year award in 2015 presented by the Catholic principal’s council of Ontario. Michelina started her educational career in 1997 St. Francis Xavier, and then moved to Loyola as department head of science before she moved into her role as Vice Principal at Cardinal Ledger Secondary School in 2008. Michelina then moved back to Loyola as Vice Principal before she became Principal at St. Michael and Bolton in 2015, and has since been at Cardinal Ambrozic for two and a half years. She cares and works with all students in the school. She enjoys all aspects of the secondary school experience; including student leadership, extracurricular clubs, school-based productions, and athletics.


Sam Demma (01:57):
She participates in many extracurricular events and always joins the instrumental concert band when they are performing for their school community. Michelina believes that many hands make for light work so if we all come together in our schools to provide a multitude of opportunities for our students, the sky is the limit. She’s here with her staff to ensure that students graduate from high school as well-rounded individuals who are discerning believers, effective communicators, collaborative contributors, reflective, creative, and holistic thinkers, caring family members, and responsible citizens. Student and staff wellness is a passion of hers as she continues to work to find balance and fulfillment in her own life. I hope you enjoy this conversation with Michelina, I will see you on the other side. Michelina, welcome to the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on this show. Please start by introducing yourself.


Michelina Battaglini (02:49):
So my name’s Michelina Battaglini and I’m a Principal at Cardinal Ambrozic Catholic Secondary School, which is part of the Duffern-Peel Catholic District School Board.


Sam Demma (03:00):
When did you realize that education was gonna be your career? And when did you make the decision that you were gonna pursue this path?


Michelina Battaglini (03:10):
So I guess I realized more so when I was doing my master’s degree in biochemistry at 12, and I was teaching me undergrad science students in the lab. Many of them started saying, well, why don’t you go into teaching? Cause you’re a great teacher. And I said, well, no, my, my goal was to try to get my PhD in biochemistry and then pursue probably like research. But then if you ask my family or friends of when I was younger, supposedly I don’t seem to recall this as well, but maybe, maybe I do. And I’m just trying to lie right now. In the summertime we would actually, I would actually make all the kids in the neighborhood go to school in my garage. And so I would make them homework and all of that kinda stuff. But so I think I put that aside and then I had other aspirations, but then, you know, being with the young students in university and just hearing how, you know, they wanted someone who could explain things the way I was doing it. So then that is what triggered me to get into education.


Sam Demma (04:11):
Awesome. And along the journey, did you have educators in your life who tapped you on the shoulder, gave you advice, helped you along the way? Did you have educators who guided you or said you should consider teaching


Michelina Battaglini (04:30):
Teaching directly? No, that I don’t recall. I mean, I have a few educators that really had an impact on me and I think that’s, those are the ones that then allowed me to pursue that I did like going into sciences wanting to like pursue a higher education. But education, like going into teaching teaching, that was those young kids that I was their teacher, like their lab supervisor that they, they were the ones that really pushed me. So it’s kids and that’s what my life is great students. So


Sam Demma (05:06):
Tell me more about the teachers who had a big impact on you when you were a student. And tell me a little bit about what they did for you.


Michelina Battaglini (05:14):
Okay. So I guess the first one was my music teacher in grade eight, who grade seven, eight, who really said that I had an CLU for music. And so I started then to pursue music and played a few instruments and especially in high school and then high school, my biology teacher was quite influential for me so that science and, but also my music teacher, so that music science thing was there. And then university, my undergraduate professor in biochemistry is what a passion I had for biochem. And then that led me to do my computer.


Sam Demma (05:54):
Awesome. When you finished your, your education that you were required to start teaching, what did your path look like from that point forward?


Michelina Battaglini (06:07):
So when I finished teacher’s college and of course I went to teachers college and I was a little older than most of the people there. Right. Cause I had been my master’s degree. So my goal was to get into the science field biology, chemistry. And then that summer I took one course for computer science qualification and that’s what landed me a job. Cause there were no computer science teachers out there. And so I had a lot of learning to do over the summer cause I had to learn how to program and teach that. So yeah, that’s what I ended up doing. That’s what got me, my job as a science teacher, then I became, then I moved into the sciences. And then I ended up in administration.


Sam Demma (06:46):
Tell me a little bit about what it’s like being a principal. It sounds like you’ve done various roles for someone listening who doesn’t really know what the life of a principal is. Like, how would you explain it or give the behind the scenes?


Michelina Battaglini (07:04):
Well it’s really like, everything stops with me. Right? So you know, you’re in charge of, you wanted to put it like a business, like you have all of these different employees, let’s say different levels. So you have your students, you have staff and your staff that’s up into seven different groups, right? Like, so you have secretaries, historians, teachers, educational workers, et cetera. So as a principal, you’re always willing to try to ensure that, you know, children are being educated the best possible way you’re providing all of those opportunities for them order to ensure success so that they can continue in those secondary. So as a principal, there’s a lot on our shoulders I guess. But it’s, it’s rewarding and it’s energizing cause of the, of the people that we serve, which are the young students and being in high school which is very different, right. There’s people that prefer elementary over, but I just love the energy that then. So yeah. I don’t know. I guess that I would say that’s what sums up being a principal, everything just stops with me and I have to make all those decisions. And when I go home at night, I don’t wanna make one decision at all. And it’s like, everybody else can make the decisions I’m done for the day.


Sam Demma (08:21):
Go home. And people are like, what’s for dinner. Yeah.


Michelina Battaglini (08:23):
And it’s like, no,


Sam Demma (08:24):
I don’t know. I somebody else. Yeah.


Michelina Battaglini (08:26):
You tell me and I’ll make it, but


Sam Demma (08:28):
That’s awesome. You got into administration how far into your career and what would you say? You mentioned that the students were rewarding. What would you say are some of the rewarding aspects of, of being a teacher and working in administration?


Michelina Battaglini (08:46):
So I guess so being in the classroom and when you have students in there who are eager to learn or always trying to do their best, I think that is so rewarding. Right. I to see how kids want to please another person, but in the same time learn is just, I dunno, it’s, it’s magical for me, I guess if you wanna use that word. And just their eagerness. So like what, and being a high school teacher, when you transition from that grade 10 to 11 years and being a chemistry teacher, which I love doing the grade 11 chemistry course was one that a lot of kids have a hard time wrapping their heads. Right. And because of the concept that you’re teaching, but it was just, it was so wonderful to see when it child finally understood what we were talking about.


Michelina Battaglini (09:38):
It was almost like this sense of clarity came upon them when you’re in the classroom. You’re like, wow, you’re like miss now I get it. Mm. And so just knowing that they get it, and then they have this sense of comfort, whatever that, that definitely working. So I started teaching, loved the teaching part, but then there were people in, in the school who obviously saw something more in me. So they started encouraging me to move forward, becoming an administrator. So, but in the interim I was taking on like schoolwide initiative where I was in charge of student council like the new teacher. And then, you know, my team of teacher between six of us, we had a, I mean, they came up with amazing things that year, you know, they were also part of rewriting the constitution for the school, which was then from other schools. And then from there I took my courses. I administrator, I was a vice principal and I was happy to be a vice principal, but people were like, you know, you should be a principal. So I’ve always had a lot positive encouragement. And then even from like teachers and other adults, and I think that’s, what’s yeah. Gotten to where I am right now, their, their belief in me. Cause sometimes I think on, do I, can I do it? So is, is


Sam Demma (10:58):
Mentioned making lots of decisions. I’m certain, there are some days where you have to make decisions that are extremely difficult on those days. What keeps you hopeful and motivated?


Michelina Battaglini (11:15):
Ultimately it’s my, when I make any decision is what’s best with this. So what I think is the best thing for kids. Sometimes some people don’t think it is because for them it looks like it’s more work. Right. and so if I always keep that at the center of my decision, I don’t, I don’t waiver from that. And as long as I have points to defend why I’m, I’m making that decision. Even though people try to challenge me on some of my decisions, they do see where I’m coming from. And, and I mean, you know, I don’t always just make a decision and not consult with people. I do speak to my vice principal or I’ll speak to other teachers right up to an area that I’m not fully familiar with. But those hard decision days where, you know, you’re gonna have people that aren’t gonna be happy. Ultimately it’s, what’s best for kids and that’s for me then not just, that’s the reason why I make that decision and I go ahead with them, no matter how hard it’s gonna be, I will


Sam Demma (12:14):
Keep calm and carry on.


Michelina Battaglini (12:16):
Yes, exactly. Gee, I wonder where you saw that.


Sam Demma (12:22):
That’s amazing. I think that’s a really solid piece of advice. Keeping the students wellbeing at the center of your decisions, you kind of can’t go wrong. No. What do you, you, what do you think reflecting on your experience in administration have been some of the programs you brought in the school, things that you have done that have had a positive impact on school, community students that you are really proud of and that you and your team are proud of?


Michelina Battaglini (12:52):
So I know so in my previous school where I was a principal I think some of the most important students in a school and the way our school is from different feelers, we have our special needs classes that are part of the school and some school boards, we have segregated schools, but integrated and, and also those students are integrated into classes, but I feel it’s important to have integrated into the entire of the school. And I think there’s a lot of learning that goes on working with those students, not just for adults, but even for other kids. So at my last school and I had a great staff as well, I, I pushed forward that I integrated those students and everything. So if there was a presentation, they were part of it and were, was beautiful to see from there was that they then took on schoolwide initiatives, right.


Michelina Battaglini (13:41):
Where they ran things that all the other students participated in. But then students during their day, like regular students couldn’t leave the school during, couldn’t leave the school that day, if they didn’t go up to seeing their students in that session. And for me, that’s like just that, that empathy towards those individuals. And then when events would come up, we would see our, you know, students in mainstream actually coming out to invite these students to participate. So when we were at semi formal at one one year they, you know, the student, the students in the special needs programs attended. And so they would get up and dance, but at one point then all the other kids and to dance. And so it was, it’s just that whole students brings or and I think that that was very forceful because it just sort of became part of the norm. Right. We would never exclude them. They’re always part of everything we do. And they actually lead a lot of things. So that for me, was an important for kids to realize that we all have something to contribute in, in society. We just have different ways of doing it, but we have to acknowledge and appreciate all that. That was one for sure that


Sam Demma (15:07):
I love that. Thank you so much for sharing that story. It’s feel good one for sure. That’s amazing. If you could take the experiences you’ve had in education, bundle them all up, travel back in time to when you were just starting top yourself on the shoulder and say, Hey, Lina, this is what you needed to hear when you were just beginning knowing what you know now, like what advice would you have gave or given to your younger self?


Michelina Battaglini (15:38):
Slow down, listen and be flexible. Because when I think back when I was a teacher, when I first came in in science, of course, I’m very sort of geared towards one way. You know, for me a mark was a mark, it was a mark. And I, I wasn’t as flexible in my, you know, working with a student or, I mean, I was always compassionate that I offered extra help. But for me was, if this is what you showed me, then that’s what the final mark is. But then once you get into administration where I even worked in the special education department became, so everyone learns differently. And I think as educators, that’s one of our biggest faults is that we go into it cause we love it. But we neglect to remember that not everybody learns like this. And so even though we try to teach the way we love, not everybody loves to learn that way. And so going back to my younger self would be more open, listen to the kids you know, asking what they want and, and, and education is really changing in that group right now. But yeah, I think that’s it. Yeah. Slow down, listen, and, and just, and be flexible because every kid starts at a different level and any level of progress is progress. Right. So, yeah. That’s it.


Sam Demma (17:00):
Describe a little more why you mentioned listening, how has listening played a huge impact on bringing you to where you are today?


Michelina Battaglini (17:11):
Let’s see. Well, I think sometimes we, especially, even in the business of our jobs, we, we think one way and then we just keep on going, right. That’s the right way to do it. But when you actually stop and listen to others, people have good ideas that you need to take into account when you’re making decisions. And, and as an administrator, I mean, you know, I say, yes, the buck starts with me, but I have to listen to a of people before I make that decision. And I think you hear a lot, not just from the words of saying, but just on their actions. And I think that helps form the decisions you make or the direction you take from certain things. So yeah, that listening piece is, is definitely important. And it helps you in every day, not just in school, but like dealing with other people as well. I don’t think we listen that I think we make judgment and, and come up with answers. We want them to say, or we convince them to say, but really listen to someone. Cause everything that everything people say has a message and it might not be the words they’re using. It’s something else.


Sam Demma (18:19):
Once somebody told me, you have two years in one mouth, so you should, you should listen twice as much as you speak.


Michelina Battaglini (18:24):
Exactly. And, and it’s so true. You should have used that line too. I forgot about that, but it’s true. I


Sam Demma (18:30):
Well, being Italian, I laughed because I thought this is not true in my culture.


Michelina Battaglini (18:35):
No, that’s my culture too. No, no one actually listens. Everyone just talks. And we know that, right. When you’re in a room, you can’t hear anything except one voice over another or


Sam Demma (18:45):
Yeah, but I couldn’t agree more. It’s so true, listening is so important; not only for administrators and teachers, but for communication with anybody you have to understand where someone’s coming from to have any form of a relationship. If, if someone listens to this, wants to reach out, ask you a question, bounce some ideas around, what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you?


Michelina Battaglini (19:10):
So, because I’m still working right now, that seems to be the email that I, I check the most. ‘Cause the other ones, you know, they pile up and it’s like, delete, delete, delete. So yeah, it’s my work email, which is


Sam Demma (19:26):
Awesome. Michelina, thank you so much for taking some time this afternoon to come on the show. I really appreciate it. You up the great work and we’ll talk soon.


Michelina Battaglini (19:34):
Perfect. Thank you.


Sam Demma (19:37):
I believe that educators deserve way more recognition, which is why I’ve created the High Performing Educator awards. In 2022, 20 educator recipients will be shortlisted. Each of whom will be featured in local press, invited to record an episode on the podcast, and spotlighted on our platform. In addition, the one handpicked winner will be presented with an engraved plaque by myself. I will fly to the winner’s city to present this to them and ask that they participate in a quick photo shoot and interview on location. The coolest part; nominations are open right now and they close October 1st, 2022. So please take a moment to apply or nominate someone you know or work with that deserves this recognition. You can do so by going to www.highperformingeducator.com/award; we can never recognize educators enough.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Michelina Battaglini

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.