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Paul DeVuono – Vice Principal at St. Anthony’s Catholic School (BGCDSB)

Paul DeVuono - Vice Principal at St. Anthony's Catholic School (BGCDSB)
About Paul Devuono

Paul DeVuono (paul_devuono@bgcdsb.org) is the Vice-Principal at St. Anthony’s Separate School in Kincardine, ON. Paul continues to be a strong advocate and supporter of publicly funded Catholic education in Ontario.

In addition, Paul is involved and connected to the Catholic Principals Council of Ontario (CPCO), ensuring our provincial government continues to make necessary investments in publicly funded Catholic education for students, families and staff. Paul has been a Vice-Principal for three years now, serving the Bruce-Grey Catholic District School Board (BGCDSB).

Paul represents a deep passion for Catholic education while ensuring all students are provided with the fundamental opportunities to develop their God-given talents, gifts and skills.Paul holds the premise that when students feel safe, secure, included and connected in their learning, they will continue to progress and excel as learners and collaborative contributors in our society.

Paul believes moving forward, and we need to ensure our schools are seen and utilized as community hubs where our stakeholders and partners have access to board, municipal, provincial and federal programs that benefit all.

In closing, Paul believes that our youth is our most prized asset and that, as a society, we must make significant and purposeful investments in our youth and education. Paul is married to his spouse Erica, a Vice-Principal, and has two children, Leonardo, who is 8, and Isoline, 5.

Connect with Paul Devuono: Email

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Catholic Principals Council of Ontario (CPCO)

St. Anthony’s Separate School

Bruce-Grey Catholic District School Board (BGCDSB)

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


Paul Devuono (00:08):
Good afternoon. My name is Paul Devuono. I’m vice principal at St. Anthony’s elementary school inOntario working with the Bruce Grey Catholic district school board.


Sam Demma (00:19):
Why education? And when did you figure out that you wanted to work in education?


Paul Devuono (00:25):
So I think for myself kind of why education, why kind of starting a vocation in teaching was certainly from many past educators that I’ve had the privilege to cross paths with certainly from a young age, right from elementary. I always thought it’d be really cool to be a teacher. Great, great pathway, great vocation. And certainly when I first started off in school encountering you know, some learning difficulties and struggling, and I think had it not been for some of my early primary teachers, especially and certainly those educa theaters that really helped me propel through high school. I would not be standing here before you today. And I think I owe many of them a great deal of gratitude and thanks. And I, I always think that I probably wasn’t as grateful and thankful in some of those moments, certainly in my teen years definitely think of them often and really draw on the wealth of expertise that many of them had.


Sam Demma (01:30):
What do you think those educators did for you growing up as a student that made a significant impact? If you can remember?


Paul Devuono (01:37):
I think for many of them it was, it was their patience but also their, their sense of care and, and really trying to be good role models. But also certainly very much being very patient and not giving up and just kinda allowing students to be the people that they, that they are and kind of respect them you know, for who they are and, and do their best to work with them, not trying to force them to be something that they’re not, but certainly a great deal of empathy and trying to kind of best support is certainly what I felt made them extremely successful.


Sam Demma (02:17):
When you started your path towards education and decided this is what I’m gonna do. Tell me a little bit about what that path looked like. Where did you go to school and where did you start and what brought you to where you are now?


Paul Devuono (02:30):
So I, it was interesting. And it’s funny when we engage in this conversation you know, many of my friends were going off into business other types of professions and, and not many of my circle of friends were really looking at education. And at that time too, the trades were just something that was being started about. So there was things with the Ontario youth apprenticeship program. And I so wished I could have done a trade. And many of my family are, are extremely gifted in the skilled trades, but it just wasn’t my forte. And it certainly was one of my guidance counselors that said, you know, have you thought of teaching? And I said, yeah, you know, it is something that I continue to think about but was a little worried about some of the application process to it.


Paul Devuono (03:21):
And he probably gave me some of the best advice in grade 11 and 12, cuz he said, you know, it’s gonna get really competitive to get into teachers college. He’s like, if you’re really passionate about education, you can sit, you should consider going into concurrent education. And it was the best advice. Cuz certainly at that time it was becoming competitive to get into teaching. And I was fortunate to go to Lakehead university in thunder bay and did concurrent education there. I did a four year undergraduate there a double major in political science and history and did teachers college in my fifth year. And it was a, it was a great experience.


Sam Demma (04:04):
That’s amazing. And when you finished the postsecondary requirements in education, where did you first start working? And what did the progression look like to bring you to where you are now?


Paul Devuono (04:17):
So we had had a job fair kind of late winter of our graduating year. Nice. In 2004 and the GTA, the greater Toronto was kind of the last place that I wanted to go and work. I kind of wanted to be closer to home being from Northern Ontario, but many of those boards were not hiring. And so at the job fair, it was really clear place like York, York, district York, Catholic der peel P public, and certainly Toronto Catholic in Toronto district were boards that were really actively recruiting. They had full year LTOs, they had permanent positions for some teachers. And so I had made a, I was fortunate to make a contact with der peel Catholic was someone from their HR recruiting crew and managed to, to get a seven, eight position in Mississauga on the border of ACO. And it was a great, great experience.


Sam Demma (05:13):
That’s awesome. And now you’re back in the Bruce Gray county. What, what brought you, what brought you up here?


Paul Devuono (05:22):
So being from Northern Ontario was always kind of a goal to kind of move out of the city and kind of move into a more rural area. And certainly with with job markets and then getting married and starting a family, it became a lot more trickier and we kind of thought maybe it would just be a lofty retirement goal. But my wife’s family is from the Bruce Gray area and we managed we were grateful enough and blessed to be able to find work up here at both as as vice principals. And so it it all happened kind of through the pandemic. It was a little, a little tricky, but it certainly worked out.


Sam Demma (06:04):
That’s amazing. And what do you enjoy about the work you do today and for someone listening who might be a teacher and not, and doesn’t really know the experience of a vice principal what does that look like?


Paul Devuono (06:19):
So I would say you know, our youth are our most like prize commodity and I think especially going through this pandemic now into two and a half, getting closer to three years you know, it’s a little bit concerning to that I, I, I feel more and more often our youth are kind of being forgotten about. And I think if you look at any great society throughout history and even those today there’s societies that have really put their youth and education at the forefront of everything that they do. And I think you know, in terms of education, yes. It’s challenging. It’s trying any institution that works with the public and that works with youth definitely has as ups and downs, but I think again, you know, just, you know, listening to our stories and, and sharing to be a part of having an influence on someone’s life and having them have that opportunity to look back and knowing that you perhaps made a small difference not only maybe the career that they chose, but certainly the path and the people that they are today is huge.


Sam Demma (07:35):
Yeah. I couldn’t agree more. And what gives you hope to show up every single day and continue doing this work, even when things like a global pandemic start getting in the way.


Paul Devuono (07:46):
You know, what it’s, it’s certainly our, our kids and their families you know, to know when we opened up our doors to welcome students and families back and, and air support is huge. And I think RA I’m in an elementary school, so we’re K to eight. And if you ever need your bucket filled on those difficult days, I just take a stroll and a walkthrough into our full day learning kindergarten classrooms. And when you see three and a half and four year olds tugging at you and hugging you and kind of telling you the words that they’ve learned in their numbers, it’s so inspiring to see them soak up like sponges that learning. And then again with our seven and eights, they’re excited about the next phase of their academic careers. It’s just so amazing to be a part of, of those opportunities.


Sam Demma (08:38):
That’s awesome. I love on your journey. What do you think some of the resources that you’ve found that have been helpful whether it’s people you’ve met or potentially even some things you’ve been through that you thought were beneficial to yourself?


Paul Devuono (08:56):
I think when we’re talking about resources, definitely like human resources I think by far are like people you know, conversing with you know, that’s one of the unique things with education is that like, we have such a rich dichotomy of people that we and interact with, whether it’s social workers, childhood, youth workers our custodial teams, our educational assistants, our, our educational early childhood educators, administrators, like there’s so many people that I feel so fortunate that I can connect with and dialogue with and share experiences is huge when you’re coming to people. And certainly for us as a Catholic system, you know, drawing on some of the work of our, of our chaplaincy of our priests and their support as well is extremely influential into the work that we do. And certainly you know, really helps, especially when you’re kind of going through some of these challenges that we are now yeah. Society to help ground things is huge.


Sam Demma (09:59):
Yeah, I agree. And I know there’s been a lot of changes and challenges over the past two years, but what do you think some of the opportunities might be or, you know, areas for growth and improvement because of all these changes?


Paul Devuono (10:14):
I would say that certainly technology, we, we, we continue to talk about technology and I think like the whole virtual learning piece was something that especially at the elementary and secondary level was still kind of not quite at the forefront and I think for better or not, the pandemic really helped kind of thrust the up forward cuz maybe had no other choice. And I think those virtual connections for our students is definitely something that’s gonna carry them forward through their academic careers and, and through employment. I also think too, at the same time though, we, we recognize the importance of a experiential education in the outdoors. Knowing that our students were in front of screens and maybe perhaps not going outside, cuz they were kind of in a room or in a basement or in an office. Certainly kind of bringing that back to the forefront, how important it is for students to interact with their peers, but also with friends, but also outside. And those opportunities, whether they’re playing ice hockey, going to boing, going for a walk all those great things. I think sometimes we forget how, how important and how critical those are for kids.


Sam Demma (11:32):
I agreed. Agreed. can you think of a time where a program or an initiative has made an impact on a student and as a vice principal or as a teacher you got to see and witness the change or the impact that it had?


Paul Devuono (11:47):
I, I think for certainly one that comes to mind is certainly our, our transitional work with our, with our grade eights as they move to grade nine and working with our seven eights, getting them prepared and ready for high school. And, and just knowing that that is such a, a big step in a, in a huge leap for many of our students and families. And sometimes I don’t think we understand the gravity of that and just our board has done a lot of work building connections with our seven and eights before they step foot into high school. So if they have an opportunity to connect with teachers, student services, guidance counselors and other supports through the high school so that when they’re walking into those much larger buildings and seeing all those students, they can and already have a connection in rapport with people and that there’s already a go-to person for them.


Paul Devuono (12:38):
And again, you know, you know, for some students, it might not be, it’s a, it’s an easy shift that, that are very outgoing, that are very social, but certainly for those that may have some anxiety may have some stress or a little bit more introverted, it’s a huge, huge help and support for them. Once they have that opportunity to kind of have a connection at the high school. So I I’ve had an opportunity to see that first and foremost and have our students come back and say how, how great and amazing that was.


Sam Demma (13:07):
Amazing. And if you could take if you could take all the experiences you’ve had in education, kind of bundle them all together, travel back in time and speak to your younger self when you were just getting into teaching. What advice would you have wanted to hear? What advice would you have given yourself when you were just starting that you think might also be beneficial to someone else just getting into this work?


Paul Devuono (13:35):
I think that it’s and, and we hear this all the time that, that you have to take risks. Mm. And I think we, we hear that all the time, but it, it’s hard to put into practice. Yeah. And I think we need to take risks and we need to feel that we’re gonna make mistakes and then that’s gonna be okay. And I think to it’s being able to admit when you’ve made a mistake, but also when perhaps you’re feeling overwhelmed or maxed out or stress that you’re able to vocalize that to whoever you have faith in or that you trust or that there’s a circle of security for, because the work within education is very dynamic. It’s challenging. It certainly can be stressful. And I think also just kind of knowing that we’re never gonna have all the answers and that that’s okay. And that kind of humbleness again, when I think about pat ask teachers is so critical and that it’s okay to reach out to people around you.


Sam Demma (14:42):
Perfect. If someone has listened in on this conversation, found something intriguing or interesting and wants to ask you a question or reach out to connect and just have a conversation, what would be the best way for them to reach out and get in touch with you?


Paul Devuono (14:58):
I, I would say the best way to reach out and certainly get in touch with me is to connect with the Bruce Gray Catholic district school board. And certainly if you type in BGCDSB St Anthony’s my contact information will come up as vice principal here. Or even if you call the mean switch line at our board office, they’ll certainly put you in touch with me here. If you have any questions or I can do anything to help support perhaps a pathway into education.


Sam Demma (15:24):
Awesome. Paul, thank you so much for taking the time to come on the show. Really appreciate it. Keep up the great work and I will talk soon.


Paul Devuono (15:32):
All right. Thanks a lot. Really appreciate it. Thank you for having me.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Paul Devuono

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.

Rebecca Newcombe – Principal at Aldershot School (HDSB)

Rebecca Newcombe - Principal at Aldershot School (HDSB)
About Rebecca Newcombe

Rebecca Newcombe (@Ms__Newcombe) is the Principal of Aldershot School in Burlington, Ontario.  She has been part of the Halton District School Board for 20 years.  Rebecca is a firm believer in student voice and innovation.  

Rebecca is a Collaborative Problem Solving Trainer for Think:Kids. CPS is an evidence-based approach that flips the traditional way we look at students with behavioural challenges and supports the student’s skill development to reduce challenging behaviour while building relationships with the adults in their lives.

Connect with Rebecca Newcombe: Twitter | Email

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Halton District School Board (HDSB)

Think:Kids

Collaborative Problem Solving (CPS)

Aldershot 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):
Rebecca welcome to the high performing educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show this morning, please start by introducing yourself.

Rebecca Newcombe (01:50):
Hello, Sam I’m Rebecca Newcomb. I’m the principal at Aldershot school with the Halton district school board here in Burlington, Ontario.

Sam Demma (01:58):
It’s an awesome, it’s awesome to speak to you because I would always take the go train. Last stop would always say elder shot and was always wondering what was over there. Cause I never actually got off at that stop.

Rebecca Newcombe (02:10):
Worth the visit!

Sam Demma (02:12):
At what stage in your own educational career and journey did you realize? I really want to get into education.

Rebecca Newcombe (02:21):
Honestly, since the, the very beginning I’ve always wanted to be a teacher. All always wanted to be a principal and I just was, was lucky and fortunate. And here, here I am.

Sam Demma (02:33):
So you grew up kind of just telling everyone around you when I grow up, I wanna work in a school.

Rebecca Newcombe (02:39):
Yeah, weird. Right. that’s awesome. I was, I always loved school. Always loved teaching, always loved learning. It’s just was, it was just natural fit for me.

Sam Demma (02:49):
Tell me a little bit about the actual journey. So you finished high school and then what, what was the path that you took that led you to where you are today?

Rebecca Newcombe (02:56):
So I it was right outta high school, got into the concurrent ed program at Lakehead university in thunder bay. So I was living in Ottawa at the time with my parents, so 17 hours straight north and was there for five years.

Sam Demma (03:13):
That’s awesome. And then right after the five years at Lakehead did you start with the Halton district school board and been here ever?

Rebecca Newcombe (03:21):
Since? I just started out with the Durham district school board, I taught at Fort Perry high school for two years. Nice. Yeah. And then got hired on with Halton and made the move.

Sam Demma (03:30):
That’s awesome. And I would, I’m assuming you started it in the classroom and then

Rebecca Newcombe (03:35):
I did. Yeah, well, yeah, but what my first jobs was with special education. So I kind of fell into special education. It, it became an UN, like, I didn’t realize that it was gonna be my passion, but it’s, it’s turned into that just sort of by accident. I started teaching English and history and then, and special ed. So in terms of GLE, so learning resources classes within the resource room, so supporting students who may have learning disabilities right, right out of right from my, from day one up in, up in Durham. And then when I moved to, to Halton, I ended up being the the head of special education at EC ju in Milton for, I don’t know, maybe a decade and with kids with intellectual disabilities, autism, you name it. And it was amazing.

Sam Demma (04:26):
That’s awesome. Those first couple of years probably informed the rest of your teaching career which is awesome. When you think about those experiences working in special ed, are there any memories that stick out to you or, you know, experiences that you had that were really impactful on the way that you approach teaching today or education?

Rebecca Newcombe (04:53):
That is a great question because I really think it does. And when you think about it working with kids who have special needs it, you know, you have to have a different, different approach. And also found kids who, you know, who may be labeled with behavioral challenges really really were, were those that struggled, struggled the most. And I, when I moved to Halton was introduced to the model of collaborative problem solving with Dr. Alon through Massachusetts general hospital. Nice. And there it’s a, it’s a program or department within their department of psychiatry and the whole model and framework really focuses in on a mindset shift. So when we look at kids or, or people or anyone really with challenging behavior or, or, you know, even, even, you know, a problem of a opposing view, looking at it from a diff a different lens.

Rebecca Newcombe (05:52):
So looking at it as a skillful versus willful. So what I mean by that is that kids, conventional wisdom tells us that kids do well if they want to. So that they’re as if they’re choosing to, to behave poorly when really it’s a skill deficit. So if kids had better skills to manage what were asked, the expectation we placed on them, they would manage it better because that’s what people wanna do people inherently wanna do well. Right. So that changed everything for me. So and I think that really helped me in my role as the head of spec ed as a vice principal and definitely as a principal as well.

Sam Demma (06:33):
That’s such an awesome perspective. I love that, that mindset, that shift, and I think it’s so important. This year kids were forced, not only kids, but teachers and anyone in everyone in education was forced to learn a ton of new skills due to COVID 19. What are some of the challenges that have been facing the school community that you’re in right now and how you all been striving to overcome those things?

Rebecca Newcombe (07:02):
So, so part of my learning with CPS that CPS really is a trauma informed and culturally responsive approach, nice to, to working with humans in general. And I think through COVID 19 and through the murder of George Floyd and through the way we look at at racism and looking at how to become an anti-racist it’s really supported my growth that way. And I think that that’s one of the biggest challenges. I think we face not only in school, but as a society looking at how, how are we anti-racist and what are we doing and how are we breaking down those barriers of oppression and, and racism that, that do exist in all levels of society and how, how we approach that. So that’s definitely one of the biggest challenges that I’m facing right now. I also think too with the pandemic, the pandemic has taught us a lot.

Rebecca Newcombe (08:03):
We don’t, and I never wanna hear folks say like, oh, we need to go back to the way it was. It was so much better. The back at the way, it was, there’s a lot of good things about pre pandemic times, for sure. However, there are some things that we can, you know, we can take from it and looking at, like, for example right now it’s exam time, you know, traditional exam time at high schools. Well, now we’re looking at it from a completely different way, looking at it from what, what are some engaging ways that we, that students can demonstrate their learning without having to sit down and like memorize, you know, binders and textbooks and anything you can Google? Why, why, why would we ask kids to do that? Why can’t they create something that demonstrates their learning that also demonstrates 21st century skills, creativity, collaboration critical thinking, all those amazing things that we want kids to be able to do while adults be able, able to do humans in general.

Rebecca Newcombe (09:00):
So just looking at it from, from that lens, when we think about a classroom in the 1880s, you know, rows and desks and that kind of thing, and we compare it to now, I would say we don’t always see a whole lot of difference, especially when we compare to like a car, think about a car in 1880s to a car to now, or a phone, like a cell phone. Right. So, you know, one of those old school phones back then and a cell phone now, I mean, so many, so, so much different, so much change, so much innovation. And really in the school, in the classroom, we wanna harness that and really change it and bust it open and make it better for kids

Sam Demma (09:44):
As a principal. How do you, how do you manage, like bringing these big ideas into like actionable steps? So like for a teacher listening, who’s never been in a principal role before what is it like day to day and how do we try and get everyone on board with a, with an idea?

Rebecca Newcombe (10:05):
Yeah. It’s, it’s, that’s like, if you can solve that Sam, then you’re solving, like, it’s a million dollar question. It’s multimillion dollar question. I think as a principal, really, you have to trust your staff and you’ve got amazing educators in the building and they have amazing ideas. And if they feel supported in trying something new and taking a risk, you know, it is a thing pedagogically sound for kids. Yes. Okay. Does, is someone passionate to do it? Yes. That as a principal, it’s my job to say, heck yes. Get outta their way and, and let them, let them try it. Like the magic happens when, when teachers, when anyone educators step outta their comfort zone. So as long as people feel supported that way then that’s how you make stuff happen. Because if folks don’t feel supported, then it’s, you know, then they’re, they’re like, oh, what if it goes badly? What if it fails? There’s learning in that. Right. So if it doesn’t go badly, if it goes badly or if it doesn’t work the way you thought it’s, it was gonna work that’s okay. Learn from the experience, tweak it and try it differently. The next time,

Sam Demma (11:11):
One of my favorite rap artists, his name is Russ, and he talks about failures being stepping stones. And he, he even talks about bridges that got burned in the past, lighting the way for the future. And that could be used as like a failure analogy as well. And I think it’s so true that our failures are not really failures. They’re just lessons if we choose to learn from them. You mentioned when you were working in special ed that you were introduced to this new model, which is awesome. What other resources or mindset shifts have you read watched been through or philosophies that you have about education that have really helped you throughout your, your career and journey?

Rebecca Newcombe (11:58):
I would say so like the cloud of problem solving model through think kids that’s really, that’s really, that’s, that’s really guided me guided, guided me through, throughout my journey. I’m also re I’ve read a few different books and always interested in podcasts. Nice white parents listening to that podcast. Nice. the reading a book by Dr. Betina love and really looking at like, anti-racism like, so how, how do we be become anti-racist educators? And how can we make sure that all of our kids feel like they matter? And what does that look like? And how does that, how does that look in the classroom and what, what do we see in the classroom that we know we’re, we’re intentionally breaking down those systemic barriers. What does that look like in a school? You know, so really looking at that.

Rebecca Newcombe (12:54):
So as a staff we, we did an equity audit, so what are we, what are we look, what are we looking at? What are we looking for? And then we also had our equity team, our student equity team, they went and did an equity audit. Hmm. And so then sort of meshing those two, two things together and sort of, okay, what did they, what did the kids see that maybe the adults didn’t and vice versa. And so just kind of identifying the barrier, not the barriers, but identifying those things that need to be improved like life and learning and schools, it’s constant change and it’s constant improvement, and it’s not about, that was bad. It’s just, oh, we, we, we know something different now. So it’s like, when you, when you know, better, you do better. So that’s that’s sort of we’re at as, as a, as a school community.

Sam Demma (13:39):
Teachers principles, the educational field as a whole has staff and people that this year at certain points have felt really burnt out. Maybe you’ve experienced it personally. Maybe some of your staff has as well. When you are, are not feeling at your a game or when you’re a little burnt out, how do you kinda pick yourself back up or fill up your own cup?

Rebecca Newcombe (14:05):
The kids really like the, the kids are brilliant. The kids have so many great ideas. And when you look at some of the experiences that our, our students are having, in terms of the pandemic, make, it gives you sort of a, a blast of reality as an adult. So many, you know, kids 14 years old dealing with ma major life issues and major life changes. So for me that I, it it’s, you know, the, the support in that or the, the hope that they, they have is inspiring. So it just keeps you moving forward. And and the staff, you know, they continue, they continue to work so hard, despite all the challenges and despite things that are said in the media, they keep going, and that is inspiring. So I guess it’s really like you know, the others around me that, that make it, make it worth at all.

Sam Demma (14:59):
Hmm. I love that. It there’s so much inspiration to gain from everybody if you’re, if you’re looking for it. So that’s so cool to hear, you know, the past two years have been challenging. Like we, we all know it’s, it’s been different slightly in education, but it’s opened up lots of opportunities. Like you’re mentioning in areas of equity and innovating education and trying to do new things. If you could take all the learnings you’ve gained over the path entire span of your career, and walk back into your first teaching job and tap yourself on the shoulder and say, Hey, Rebecca, I know you’re just getting started. Here’s what I wish you heard. Or here’s what I think you need to know when you’re just getting into this profession, because, you know, there could be someone starting in education right now and their new experience is gonna be awesome, but you might, you know, you might have some things to share. That could be some good reminders.

Rebecca Newcombe (16:00):
I would say don’t take it personally. Mm. Do do your best. And every day’s a new day.

Sam Demma (16:09):
I love it. I love it. And you know, one other thing that fascinates me is the program schools run. There are some uniformity in all that, like certain boards bring in the same programs to all their schools. And it’s awesome. And then there’s also some individual cases where a school is looking for a specific program or thing that run with the students. I’m wondering if there’s any programs outer has run at any point in the, in your career at this school that we’re very successful. And I’m wondering if you could share the impact it made and also what the program was.

Rebecca Newcombe (16:44):
Sure. I like the servicing that it’s the students, it’s, it’s a, it’s the teacher student relationship. That really it is what is, is the, is the thing that makes a student successful. It’s not so much the, the the program we’ve, we’ve got many different programs but really, it really boils down to that student teacher relationship. And we’ve got a, a school full of amazing educators. So for me, it’s not about specialized programs. It’s about how, how a teacher makes a difference in the life of a student. Yeah. And and that can be in any classroom, not just specialized programs. And you don’t always hear about those. Right. As, as an educator, you’re lucky if a, if a, you know, a student sends you a Facebook message, you know, 10 years after they graduated to say, Hey, like, thanks you, like you made, you made a difference for cuz you as an educator, you don’t, you don’t see the fruits of your labor, right?

Rebecca Newcombe (17:39):
You, you you work hard with the students in front of you and they, it’s kind of not, not a thankless job, but you don’t always get, you don’t always get the, the depth of your impact. So for me, it’s about it’s about it’s about that. We, we have great teachers, we have a pretty unique school. We’re seven to 12. So we’ve got traditionally grade seven, eight elementary students. And then also, you know, the traditional nine to 12 high school. So that’s that, that’s a kind of a cool unique profile that enables us to have, you know, our grade seven and eights into our various tech shops and and have experiences with, with iSTEM. So we do have an iSTEM program here. So that’s amazing. It is you have to apply to be part of that program, just a, we also have a SHSM, so which also it’s actually doubled in size for, for next year, which is amazing and a can fit pro. So we’ve got lots of cool, unique opportunities for students to hopefully help them find their passion. And, but really the difference is made by the individuals, the student but the individual teacher in the classroom. And in my personal opinion, you know, it takes a village you know, to raise a child or educate a child. And that village must be equally valued. So it’s not just the specialized programs that, that make the magic happen for kids. It’s it’s the collect is

Sam Demma (19:12):
That reminded me. It’s funny, this popped into my mind, there’s a, a book by Malcolm Gladwell called outliers. And in the book he references this study of this little village filled with European people that were all from the same place in Italy. And they found that this very tight knit, close knit community lived longer than everyone else in that state in America. And they also had very low rates of heart disease or heart attack. And it was a spectacle for doctors and they ended up doing a lot of studies on the people living within this small C community. And what they found was you couldn’t determine the health of an individual solely based on that one person’s actions, but you had to look at the community as a whole and how they interacted with each other. And I think that really relates to what you’re saying about, it’s not just about the students individual actions. It’s not just about a program am coming in and that person’s individual actions, but it’s the community as a whole that, you know, lifts the, the student experience and educator experience up which is, which is really awesome. Thanks for sharing that. You mentioned, I stem, I’ve never heard of, I stem, what is the, I stand for?

Rebecca Newcombe (20:29):
It stands for innovation.

Sam Demma (20:32):
Oh, cool. That’s awesome. And then the SHSM. I know what SHSM is cause I live in Pickering, but can you explain a little bit about SHSM for educators who might be outside of Ontario?

Rebecca Newcombe (20:42):
Sure. So it stands for specialist high skills major. And so it’s a number of different courses that students will, will take to then sort of specialize in a particular area. So our equalism is you know, so the teachers who teach it are, are the experts. So if you wanna find out more about that and get all those details, you should talk to them because they they’ve lived that experience for over a decade. So they it’s a bundle of courses and the kids get actual experience being leaders in our community at the RBG through a program called Eagle Rangers. And then also through going out and doing camping and Portage and doing all those wonderful things in Northern well Algonquin. So opportunities that way. So it’s just really about experiential learning, right? Like, so digging in and not just learning about cool things in our world, but actually experiencing them. So again, it’s all about that teacher, student relationship and students following their passion to be able to, to dig in and do what do what they’re interested in.

Sam Demma (21:47):
Love it. I did not get involved in SHSM enough when I was in high school being a high performing athlete. I rarely got involved in any extracurriculars. And I think it’s one of the things I not regret, but wish I did more of. So it’s cool to hear that your school has those opportunities existing for kids. If someone wants to reach out to ask you a question based on anything we shared during this conversation or interview, what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you?

Rebecca Newcombe (22:14):
They can follow me on Twitter. They can send me an email, give me a shout at the school.

Sam Demma (22:20):
Awesome. Perfect. I will make sure I link the links. What is your Twitter handle?

Rebecca Newcombe (22:26):
It’s @Ms__Newcombe

Sam Demma (22:30):
Okay, perfect. I will make sure to add that in the show notes, Rebecca, thank you so much for coming on the show. This was a lot of fun. Keep up the great work.

Rebecca Newcombe (22:37):
Yes. Thanks. So nice to meet you.

Sam Demma (22:39):
You as well. You as well. Bye.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Rebecca Newcombe

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 Brown – Assistant Principal and Author

Mark Brown – Assistant Principal and Author
About Mark Brown

As a high school administrator, Mark Brown (@heymarkbrown) is passionate about helping educators and students live life as their best selves and challenges everyone to embrace the call of Choose To Be You

Using his experience as a learner, an educator, and as someone who has spent the majority of his life chasing an image of someone and something other than his true, authentic self,  Mark delivers a message of hope and inspiration that is guaranteed to impact your life and your school!

Connect with Mark: Email | Instagram | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Choose To Be You

Mark’s Personal Website

Oklahoma Christian University

Virtual Pep Rally Ideas to Boost School Spirit

Hardball

Google Forms

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. Welcome to season number 2. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. We’re continuing to have this year, amazing conversations with educators all around the world and I’m super excited to introduce you to today’s guest. Today we had the pleasure of interviewing Mark Brown. Mark is a high school administrator and he’s passionate about helping educators and students to live their best lives.


Sam Demma (01:03):
And he challenges everyone to embrace the call of choose to be you, which is actually the title of his own book. It’s a mental health book and it’s, it’s a phenomenal read as I’ve heard from a lot of other educators. Using his experience as a learner and educator, and as someone who has spent the majority of his life chasing an image of someone and something other than his true authentic self, mark delivers a message of hope and inspiration that is guaranteed to impact your life and your school. I hope you enjoy this interview as much as I enjoyed chatting with Mark. Welcome to season 2. I will see you on the other side of today’s conversation. Mark, thank you so much for coming on the High Performing Educator podcast, huge pleasure to have you on the show. Can you start by introducing yourself, and maybe explaining how you got into the work you’re doing with young people today?


Mark Brown (01:47):
Yeah. Hey, thanks for having me. Excited to be here and excited to get to share a little bit with you today and your listeners. So my name’s Mark Brown. I am a high school assistant principal down in Newberg, Oregon. So out in the, on the west coast, in the beautiful Northwest down here. I also coach basketball; have a huge passion around coaching and that’s actually a lot of what got me into education was coaching. But I think the main reason why I do the work that I do is because I believe that being an educator truly is the most important job in the world. And even though I am not actively, you know, every day engaging in life saving research like cancer research or you know, doing crazy big jobs that people, you know, often get a lot of recognition for,


Mark Brown (02:36):
I have the opportunity to mentor and impact young people, and I get to work with students when they are truly in the most important, most formal years of their life, where they’re searching for their identity, where they’re trying to figure out what their truth is, where they’re trying to identify, like what is gonna be my future. And I get, have a part in that. And so I really truly believe that’s the most important job in the world. And it gives me energy and excitement every single day. Like there’s a lot of to-dos with education and there’s a lot of, you know, stuff that we get kind of wrapped up in. But when I stay centered on that fact that I get to work with kids who are truly, you know, preparing to make a difference in this world, like the fact that I gotta be a part of that just, I, I get super excited about that.


Sam Demma (03:21):
Ah, I love that. And tell me more about coaching. How did that all start for you and has it been a big, huge part of education? It sounds like it has been,


Mark Brown (03:31):
Oh yeah. I, I, I think a lot of what I do as an educational leader now as an administrator is rooted in what I’ve learned through coaching and, and I’m in a really special situation, blessed that my my principal, my lead principal has still allowed me to coach a lot of times, you know, when you move from teaching into administration, it’s kinda like, all right, you gotta stop any of that extracurricular co-curricular stuff, but I’ve been blessed to have a supportive principal who lets me still coach. And so, yeah, it started back when in college I I’ve always loved sports. I’ve never been that good at competing in sports. I’m not very athletic, you know, I’m, you can’t tell cuz we’re doing audio here, but I’m a pretty small guy about five, five. But my sported choice is basketball. And you know, I, I think a lot of it for me, it kind of started, I’m a real stubborn person.


Mark Brown (04:18):
My mom has always said I’m were stubborn. And so a lot of people were like, you can’t play basketball. You’re only five, five, but I was like, yeah, right, bring it on. I can do whatever I want to do. And so I think that’s kind of what started me down the path of having basketball as my sport of choice. But I got into it. I started as a student assistant coach at Oklahoma Christian university from there was a able to get on here in, at Newberg high school, right outta college about 10 years ago, 11 years ago, and then worked my way up to being a JV coach. And then now the varsity head coach and you know, they’re just, again what we do on the court. That’s fun, that’s exciting. The strategy, getting to game plan, you know, and compete strategically for basketball.


Mark Brown (05:02):
But every day there’s opportunities to learn life lessons through basketball and through competing and through practice and through the preparation. And so I just love the opportunity to get to not only coach basketball, a game that I love and be involved with that strategically from a sports side of things. But more importantly, like again, I get to work kids, young men who are excited about basketball and I get to help them be excited about life. And one of the missions that I have as a coach is, you know, I want to put a quality product on the court, but more than that, actually in my book, I talk about chasing titles. Yeah. And for me, it used to be about chasing those titles. You know, of the banners that we would hang on the wall of the gym or, you know, chasing those wins that would on the scoreboard.


Mark Brown (05:46):
And I quickly learned that my job is to chase the titles of, for, for my players in the future titles that they are gonna hold. And you know, not many of my players go on to play college basketball. Not many of them are gonna have a future in competing professionally, but they’re all gonna be dads. They’re all gonna be husbands. They’re all gonna be employees. They’re all gonna be leaders within the communities that they establish their selves in. And I gotta be a part of helping to shape and mold and mentor them in, in being prepared for that. So again, I, I love coaching. It’s a great opportunity and I, I just love basketball more than anything.


Sam Demma (06:20):
And at what point in your own career journey, did you know I’m gonna work in education? I know coaching and athletics was a big part of your life, but making the decision to work in a school is a big one. And you have to be a very specific type of person to always want to work with students and young people. And it’s clear that you have that passion, but I’m curious to know when you personally knew that that was your calling or your future career.


Mark Brown (06:45):
So I knew I always wanted to coach. I always, you know, I always had that desire to be a coach. Yep. But I didn’t go into college initially thinking I was gonna be, become an educator. I wanted to initially actually I thought I was gonna do sports medicine. Nice. But I quickly learned if you’re the athletic trainer, if you’re on the sports medicine side of things, your schedule doesn’t really align with being able to coach because you have to be there to support all the sports. And so you really don’t have the freedom to then coach most of the time. And so I quickly realized that and I, I knew I wanted to coach. That was something I, I knew I needed to do. And I had some good mentors in college. My first couple of years who really helped me understand like the best path to being able to coach is through teaching and being an educator.


Mark Brown (07:29):
But more than that, they helped me understand that in order to be a successful coach, I needed to understand teaching. I needed to understand how to educate and how to teach, because I think, you know, one of the things I’ve come to learn is guys who can strategize, who can drop the X and OS of basketball. They’re a dime dozen. Like there, there are a lot of people who are very successful, but the real successful coaches are the ones who understand how to teach and how to connect with kids. And you learn that through becoming an educator. And a lot of us, you know, a lot of educators, we kind to have that innately ingrained into us. It’s kind of part of our DNA. And then we learn some of the strategies, the tips and tricks but really understand teaching and pedagogy and how to connect with kids has really allowed me, I believe to be a much more successful coach.


Sam Demma (08:14):
And you briefly alluded to the fact that there’s so many life lessons that we learned through the sport, and I’m sure you’ve seen so much transformation happen in your own life and your students life due to the game of basketball. I’m curious to know, I’m tempted to call you coach Carter, but we’ll call you coach Bown. I’m curious to know what are some of those life lessons that you drill into your athletes that other educators listening should consider also teaching to their own students, whether they’re on a basketball court or not.


Mark Brown (08:44):
Yeah. So, you know, I think anytime you are competing in sports, you wanna win. Yeah. And I think, you know, I, I, I think that’s a good thing having that competitive drive, that competitive fire and, and wanting to win. I think that’s why we play sports. If that, if, if I didn’t have that drive, I would just go shoot hoops in my, in my backyard by myself, but I want to compete. And so I want to win, but I think if we put all of our value in just the fact that winning is the only way to be successful in sports, I think we limit the opportunity that we have to learn and grow through sports. Mm. And so for me, one of the things I’ve really learned early on in my coaching career, it was all about the wins. And if I lost a game, I, I went home and I didn’t sleep that night.


Mark Brown (09:26):
And I watched film. I watched the game two, three times before my next practice, you know, stayed up all night and drove my wife crazy. You know, but I, I was, so I had to figure out what was wrong and why we weren’t witty and what I’ve come to learn. And I now try to really coach my players on is the fact that it’s okay to wanna win. And we should all have that desire. We should all have that drive, but that’s not the measure of our success. If we, we step on that court and we give our best effort. And if we do everything with the right attitude and doing things the right way, doing things, you know, in a way that people can respect. And if we make sure that we have good sportsmanship, I believe there’s three things in life that we can control, having a great attitude, even our absolute best effort and making, treat other people the right way. If we do those three things, we cannot fail. The scoreboard might not always be in our favor and we might lose some games, but we can step off that court being confident in knowing that we did things the right way, we gave our absolute best effort and people can respect that out of us, regardless of whether, what the score. And so I think that’s a big life lesson that I’ve really learned over the years in coaching and that I really try to pass on to my, my other coaches and my players.


Sam Demma (10:45):
And even if it’s not on the basketball field, every person is technically playing their own game, which is life. You can look at life like its own field or choose your field. Maybe one field is academics, the field as athletics. And I think what you just explained is such a beautiful analogy because you can define success in each of those areas and make sure you’re showing up and the score takes care of itself. There’s a great book about that. And I think it’s, I think it’s really true in your experience, teaching and coaching, have you in some transformations of students and is there any that you think are worth sharing? And the reason I’m asking is because there might be another educator listening right now, who’s extremely burnt out. Who’s maybe on the edge of even quitting their, this job and this calling. Cause I don’t even wanna call it a job. And a story of transformation might be the thing that, that reminds them, how important the work they’re doing is, and gets them over that hump to, to keep going. And if it’s a yeah, serious one also feel free to change their name for privacy reasons.


Mark Brown (11:46):
Yeah. No, I’ll definitely use other names. So I have, yeah. Oh man. That’s a, that’s a good question. That’s a tough one. Cuz there’s lots of good stories and that’s one thing I think all educators can, can love about this job is every day there’s something new and you know, we could all by the end of our career, write a big long book of all the, the different stories and transformations. But I think the, the, the one that really sticks out to me is I, I had a, it was actually my first year as a head coach and it’s a story of transformation, not just around one student individually, but actually around my team. Hmm. And this, this group of young men, every year of high school, they had had a different coach. Well actually there was one coach. The coach prior to me was there for two years.


Mark Brown (12:36):
But they growing up through the youth programs and everything. I was the, the fifth head coach in six years. So there was no continuity in the program. But this group of young men, even through all the turmoil, E even through all of the changes and the unknowns and the frustrations that came with that for they stuck together. And what happened during their senior year, one of the most, the, the biggest tragedies that I’ve ever experienced in my educational career we, we lost one of our, our students. We lost one of our young men to suicide. Wow. And he was actually a cousin of a couple of the players on my team and best friends with most, all the players on my team. And he was in, in kind of the inner circle, even being on the team himself. And I, it, it AB it, it hits that team incredibly hard, right in the middle of our season.


Mark Brown (13:28):
In fact, we found out about it. We had just had our, our first league game. It was against one of our rivals. It was our first game in a new league. And we had won on the road. We came back and we celebrated, we all went out to pizza. And then later that night we get the call about this student and his, that he had died. And I didn’t know what to do. I was a young coach. I was like 24 years old. I wasn’t sure what my role in all of this was. And what I, I saw in that experience was because this group had already been so close, been so United, stuck together through all of the, the turmoil and all of the, the stuff that they had already been through over the past several years, they were prepared for this.


Mark Brown (14:13):
And I didn’t have to have the right thing to say. And that’s what a lot of educators feel. A lot of pressure we feel is we don’t have the answers. And especially right now with COVID right, we don’t necessarily have the answers. We don’t have to have the answers. We just have to be there. We just have to be there to listen. We just have to be there to hug. ’em When they need a hug, we just have to be there to provide what they need. And they will tell us, even without directly telling us, these are the things I need. They will tell us through their behaviors. They will tell us through their emotions. They will tell us they will show us what they need. And as long as we are there, as long as we show up, and again, we give our best effort and we, we love on them and we support them.


Mark Brown (14:51):
Like there there’s been absolutely nothing better for me in my career than that experience. Although it was absolute tragedy and still to this day impacts me. It was a great reminder to me on the fact that our kids are resilient and I have an opportunity to help support them through whatever they’re going through. And just that transformation of this, you know, maybe that wasn’t the transformation story you were thinking of, but that transformation of this group of kids who had so many things go against them in life, the fact they stuck together, they supported one another, like what a great example to me and what a great lesson for me to learn and has helped me then, and focus that much more on helping my students, helping my players find ways to stay connected and grow together as, as, as a community, because that community is so important.


Sam Demma (15:41):
Wow. What a story that is such a great story. There’s there’s a movie about a baseball team and the coaches piano Reeves, and it’s a very similar story. That’s team comes together and they’re not doing well. And midway through as they start improving, one of the players actually passes away and it’s, it’s funny. Something very similar happens in the movie and all the kids come together and they end up winning. Not that it’s about winning or losing, but you’re the real life story of the movie. So that’s a really, that’s a really touching story. And I hope everyone listening is thinking about how they can help their students also feel more connected to each other, you know, right now is a challenging time, like you mentioned, and I’m curious to know how do you ensure your students and teams and anyone in the school is, is feeling appreciated, valued, heard, and connected despite the, the challenges of the pandemic.


Mark Brown (16:29):
Yeah, I think that’s definitely one of the challenges we’re facing as educators in a school rules right now is how do we connect with kids? How do we reach them? How do we make sure they have what they need? Because it’s kinda, it, it’s easy when, well, it’s, it’s not easy, but it’s easier when we’re in the building and they’re walking the halls and we can, you can tell when they’re having an off day, you can tell when they’re having a bad day and a lot of times when we’ve built those relationships, kids will stop by your room. And just, you know, you can, you just kind of know when they need a little bit of extra time, a little bit of extra love, a little bit of extra attention, but right now we don’t have that opportunity. And so what we’re doing, we’re watching obviously the big things of grades and attendance in the virtual classrooms.


Mark Brown (17:06):
And those are a lot of times our identifiers to us that maybe something’s going on, if grades start dropping or attendance start dropping, but we’re reaching out. We at our school this year, I’m super excited. We several years ago, got rid of, kind of that homeroom advisory where there’s kind of that one, you know, that core group of students that is with an educator all year long, we got rid of that. We brought it back this year because we knew that we needed everyone to kind of have a home, a home base, a spot to check in. And we, we started the year, went through the first couple of months. And then what we started doing a couple weeks ago is during that time, instead of like the group of 15 students meeting with that educator, we actually scheduled one-on-one individual meetings. So all 1400 kids in our high school got a one on one individual meeting with an educator that they already have a relationship built with just to check in. And we had kind of a we used a Google form, a standard set of questions that we asked everyone, cuz we wanted to get some data kind of like how, you know, distance learning going, what can we as a school do to improve of what’s your experience like, but then educated, you know, and I did it with my students. I have a group of students that I gotta meet with. It led into like a long conversation of just checking in with each other. And it was so cool that even in this virtual


Mark Brown (18:22):
Setting, we were still able to find that connection point and still able to build those relationships. And so, you know, one of the things I encourage is whatever you can do you to again, look for ways to build that community. We did that in our homeroom. We call it tiger time cuz we’re the Newberg tigers. So we call it our tiger time and everyone knows that there’s nothing academic there. There’s no great associated with that class. It’s just a time to check in. We do a lot of, you know, character development, social, emotional learning. We do some fun things. We do some like virtual pep rallies. We have ’em coming up on Monday that we do nice. But then we also created those opportunities for that more intimate one-on-one checkin. And so that’s something we’re trying to do is still find ways to have that, that, that more informal check in that we often get in the classroom setting, just kind of by happenstance. We’re looking for ways to create those opportunities.


Sam Demma (19:07):
I love that the Google form is such a simple tool to use. And if any educators listening, if you’re listening, give it a try, maybe try scheduling those one-on-one meetings. I’m curious to know in your own personal experience, you said they led to much longer conversations and lots of dialogue, but overall, how did the students, how do students feel about those one-on-ones with you?


Mark Brown (19:27):
Oh, I think they love it. You know, I, I think they, they, they feel like we care. Yeah. That I think as, especially a lot of the time when we’re in the virtual classroom, it’s easy to get lost. And even though our class numbers are actually smaller, we were able to set it up. So in all of our, you know, classes, we have no more than about 15, 16 students per class, which is a great class size. But it’s really easy to not say anything and to turn your camera off and just kind of get lost in the crowd. Yeah. But when you’re one on one, like you can’t be silent, you gotta talk. Right. And so I think it’s, it’s forcing some of them to come outta their share a little shell a little bit, but more than that, you know, I, I know students, they showed up on time for that meeting.


Mark Brown (20:09):
Like they were eager to get, to have a conversation and know that someone was there to listen. One of my good friends and mentors, Philip Campbell, PC, his big thing is, you know, all students want to, they want to feel seen. They want to be heard and they want to feel loved. Yeah. And you know, I think by us setting up those one-on-one meetings, like students felt seen, they felt like we were listening to them. They felt heard and they felt loved because we just sat there and listened and got to, got to connect. And so I think they loved it.


Sam Demma (20:38):
I love that. And you’ve written a book, you’ve been a coach. You’ve been an assistant. You’ve been a teacher. If you have, you have so much to share with other educators, but I’m curious to know if you could go back to when you first started teaching, what advice knowing what, you know now would you give your younger self?


Mark Brown (20:57):
Be you? And you know, the title of my book is choose to be you. My, I, I have a, I have a battle that I fight against anorexia I’m anorexic and you know, that’s something that even I’ve written a book about it, I share publicly about it. I speak about it. It, it’s still hard to say that. And honestly, you know, as I I’m, I’m getting to see you cuz we’re doing a video here through the screen, that’s still hard to say. Yeah. because the, anytime I make myself vulnerable, it, it sometimes feels embarrassing and it, and it challenging to get to that level. But as a young educator, I ne I didn’t embrace vulnerability and I didn’t embrace my true identity and who I really am. I tried to create this, this, this picture of who I wanted people to see Mark Brown is.


Mark Brown (21:42):
Mm. And I, I became very successful in education. I’m, I’m a very young educator. I was a very young head coach. I climbed the ladder very quickly and I was really proud of that. And really like, I, I put a lot of value in, in those accomplishments. Yeah. And I, I put my value really in the wrong places for a long time. And I put my value in creating this fake identity to kind of try the, try to hide the real me. And what I’ve really learned is it doesn’t matter what Sam, what you see of Mark Brown, what matters is what I see in my reflection in the mirror. And, you know, I can, I can create all these lies. I can create all these, you know, win all these awards that I hang in my office. I can get all these titles added to my resume of things that, that I’ve done.


Mark Brown (22:29):
But at the end of the day, I’ve gotta be able to look in the mirror and be honest and truthful, cuz it’s really, if you’ve ever tried to lie to your reflection of the mirror, it’s hard. Yeah. And you know, there’s a lot of people who I’ve learned through counseling and going through therapy. There’s a lot of people who actually don’t look in the mirror. They don’t, they very unintentionally, they avoid mirrors that in the cost, because if we are not being honest and true to who we are at our core, it’s hard to face that reflection. And so I wish as an early admin, as an early educator, younger educator, I wish I would’ve been able to embrace my reflection. And you know, I still struggle with that even though, you know, I’m a champion for it now, and I’m an advocate for it. And mental health awareness is a big part of my message and who I am. It’s still hard. It’s not like it becomes easy. I’ve just learned tools and strategies with how


Mark Brown (23:23):
And how to make it a part of my, my daily life, my daily routine. But getting to that point where I can look myself in the mirror and say, you know what, mark, you’ve got some challenges. You’ve got some struggles you’re not perfect. And there’s some things you’ve made some mistakes. I’m a failure. Guess what I have failed time and time again. But what’s important is if I can look in that mirror and I can look at my reflection and I can choose that my next action is going to be done with the right intent. And my next action is gonna be done, giving my best effort and doing it with the right attitude and making sure that while I do it, I treat those around me the right way. And I bring people into my life who are gonna be able to support me as long as I can do that. I know I’m gonna be successful. And so that, that’s something I wish I would’ve done. A better job of earlier on in my career is embracing my true reflection rather than trying to create this image of who I really am not, or just who I wanted people to see.


Sam Demma (24:16):
You’re speaking to my soul man. I was, I was trying to be a professional soccer player, my entire life. And at the age of 17, I had three major knee injury, Reese, two surgeries, and a torn labrum in my right hip. And my identity was based on the fact that Sam was the soccer player. My whole family saw me as the soccer player. Sam’s gonna be the prodigy soccer player. I lost a full ride scholarship to a division one school in the states. I had to stop playing sports and it became hard for me to look in the mirror and I’m sure you’re, if you’re listening, you know, you have your own battles and struggles and challenges as well. And it’s so true. You always have to, at the end of the day, look at yourself in the mirror and decide who you are.


Sam Demma (24:56):
And even if you lie to yourself you know, that conversation is gonna come up personally at some point in your future and you’re gonna have to face it. David Goggin’s, who is actually an ultra marathon runner and ex Navy seal talks about this all the time and by the smirk on your face, it sounds like you know who he is. And he says the most, you know, the most important conversation you have is the one you have with yourself. And he has it every night for 15 minutes while he shaves his head so all I wanna say is thank you for being vulnerable and sharing because it’s gonna give everyone else listening the opportunity to do as well, and I really appreciated this. If someone wants to reach out, hear more about yourself, your book, your coaching tactics, or just wants to connect and have a conversation, what would be the best way for someone to do so?


Mark Brown (25:40):
Yeah, reach out. I do have a, a website www.heymarkbrown.com where there’s ways you can contact me there. You can learn a little bit more about me. There’s also links on there to my book, it’s available on Amazon; both amazon.com and Amazon Canada. Actually fun fact, my publisher is Canadian; Codebreaker, they’re a Canadian group. And so I love my Canadian friends. But yeah, if you wanna check that out, it’s on Amazon; Choose to be You. And then I’m on social media, and I’ve really learned that social media is a great way to connect. I’ve, I’ve met some of my best friends actually through social media, some educator friends. And so I’m on Twitter @heymarkbrown. I’m on Instagram @heymarkbrown, or you can look me up on Facebook, Mark Brown.


Sam Demma (26:25):
Awesome. Mark, thank you so much, Coach Brown. I really appreciate it and I, I look forward to staying in touch and seeing all the great work you’re doing.


Mark Brown (26:33):
I appreciate what you’re doing and yeah. Thanks. Thanks for the opportunity.


Sam Demma (26:37):
And there you have it. Another amazing guest, an amazing interview on the High Performing Educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review so other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show; f you want meet the guest on today’s episode, if you wanna meet any of the guests that we have interviewed, consider going to www.highperformingeducator.com and signing up to join the exclusive network, you’ll have access to networking events throughout 2021 and other special opportunities. And I promise I will not fill your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Mark Brown

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.

Camille Loken – High School Principal & Executive Coach

Camille Loken – High School Principal & Executive Coach
About Camille Loken

Camille is a Principal at a high school concurrently pursuing her Doctorate of Education. She brings enthusiasm, creativity, and a passion for reciprocal learning and teaching to all endeavours. Camille is also a certified executive coach and has worked with many leaders to help them find clarity and a path forward with their leadership dilemmas. 

She is a forward-looking leader who enjoys complex challenges.  Camille is committed to seeing herself as a perpetual amateur where learning is about taking risks and is a grand adventure. Fundamentally, she believes that life, with all its lovely challenges and complexities, is meant to be enjoyed. It is all about evolving and looking at experiences as opportunities for growth.  And, it’s always okay to have too much fun!

Connect with Camille: Email

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

The Skill of Self Confidence by Dr. Ivan Joseph

The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle

Catch Them Being Good: Everything You Need to Know to Successfully Coach Girls

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 Camille; Camille Loken. Camille is a Principal at a high school concurrently pursuing her doctorate of education. She brings enthusiasm, creativity, and passion for reciprocal learning and teaching to all endeavors. Camille’s also a certified executive coach and has worked with many leaders to help them find clarity and a path forward with their leadership dilemmas.


Sam Demma (01:04):
She’s a forward looking leader who enjoys complex challenges. Camille is committed to seeing herself as a perpetual amateur where learning is about taking risks and is about grand adventure. Fundamentally, she believes that life with all of its lovely challenges and complexities is meant to be enjoyed. It is all about evolving and looking at experiences as opportunities for growth, and it’s always okay to have too much fun. I had an amazing time with this interview with Camille, and I hope you enjoy it. Get a sheet of paper, get a pen or pencil, take notes, and I will see you on the other side. Camille, welcome to the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show. We just had a great conversation off the air about adversity and my story, now it’s time to flip it over to you. Can you introduce yourself and share a little bit behind the journey that got you to where you are today, doing the work in education that you’re doing?


Camille Loken (02:00):
Sure, I’m a high school Principal. I’m at a really large high school in Edmonton, Alberta. I think probably the largest one in the city. I mean, that might change in terms of student enrollment, but it’s a big one so there’s lots of levels of complexity in a, in a high school. And I’m new here this year. So I transitioned from a k-9 school as a Principal last year to a high school this year, which so many people say, well, isn’t that interesting taking on a big school in the middle of a pandemic and yes, actually the word is more, more like fascinating than interesting. Yes, because there’s, that’s just another level of complexity. So in terms of my journey, this is my third principalship. I never set out to be a principal. That’s not, that’s not how and really setting out in this journey.


Camille Loken (02:55):
Actually, I started when I was about five. So you know, how people ask you, what would you like to be when you grow up? Yeah, I was very clear in my intention, even when I was very young; I’m going to be a teacher, and I didn’t ever go off that path. That was what I had decided I was gonna do. And so you know, a little bit of a calling and even as a kid, I remember kids coming to our door knocking on the door, can Camille come out and play? Yeah, and then there’d be a crowd waiting, because I’d come out and I’d organize everything. I’d be like, we’re playing this and this is how it’s gonna go. And they would, you know, that’s how it would be. And so like those skills were, were in me to just quite naturally to wanna be with people and wanna help them to, you know, be together and, and be a collective. And all of that was just in, in me as a young, as a young person. So yeah, so I started that path, went to University, became a teacher, worked on my master’s of education at some point and currently I’m working on my doctorate.


Sam Demma (04:00):
That’s awesome. That’s so cool. And sometimes we embark on a path from a young age and we veer off. Did you veer off it at all and do something different at first? Or was it like, no, this is, this is the direction we’re going in. And every step just took you closer to this destination.


Camille Loken (04:16):
Yeah. It wa it was, I didn’t really veer off, off. I remember a time in high school when everybody’s talking about, oh, this or that or the other thing I thought, well, is that for me? Or, you know, when you do those assessments, oh, you could be an architect or a lawyer or whatever. Typical thing came out. So in those moments, sometimes I may go, well, maybe I can be an architect or a lawyer, but then none of that ever lasted very long. Yeah, it was, it was kind of, I’m going to be a teacher. That’s, that’s what I wanna do.


Sam Demma (04:46):
And when you think back to your own teachers that have taught you in your life which ones stick out and had a huge impact on you because I’m sure you were inspired by other teachers along the journey to pursue this path as well. Sometimes it’s the reverse also having bad teachers inspires it as well, but let’s focus on the positives. Can you share any of those names and then also expand and tell me why they had such an impact on you?


Camille Loken (05:13):
Well, one, I think teachers are everywhere. I think sometimes when we talk about teachers, we, we limit teachers too, our schooling experience. But I I’ve met some fabulous teachers along my journey that are, have not ever been in school. So yeah, teacher large is a much bigger thing. And so there’s lots of people that in my life that I would consider significant teachers. And, and yet to your point of teachers teaching you how you don’t wanna be, that there’s a couple that come to mind as well. And on that note, I, I think the like school system worked for me. I got the, and, and when I say school system worked to, for me, I got, I understood the system. I knew what you needed to do to do well. I knew what you needed to do to have effective relationships like me deciding on that for myself, like working the system a little bit.


Camille Loken (06:07):
I mean, it sounds a little bit CRAs, but I got the system. And then because I got the system, the system worked for me, so I got recognition teacher, you know, well, we enjoy having Camilla in class. She’s just such a really good student. One of the things that really informed me along my path is I have a sister who has some, some significant learning disabilities. So at some point she, her and I are two years apart. So at some point in school, I was accelerated a grade and at some point she was held back a grade. And so we were in the same grade. Even though we were two years apart and not in the same class, but in the same grade. And oftentimes we were in small schools. My father was in the armed forces. We moved over two years.


Camille Loken (06:54):
So that’s, that comes into the story as well, every two years, I’m somewhere new. And so I didn’t ever stay in a school for any length of time. So naming teachers for me is like the only teacher actually that comes to mind is Mr. Peters. And I’ll get back to him when I, because I was side by side with my teacher and the school system did not work for her. Well, lot of that informed me about how I would want to be in a system and what a system needs to look, cuz it needs to be equitable. A system that works for me also needs to work for my sister and it didn’t. And that’s a problem. And you know, that’s always in me to make sure that we’re creating systems to ensure that every that is going to have an excellent and equitable experience.


Camille Loken (07:43):
So Mr. Peters was my grade nine teacher at sir, Samuel will steel doesn’t exist anymore in Calgary, Alberta, which was a school on the base. And he was, I think it was his personality and he really just went outta his way to connect with kids and see us for who we were. Hmm. So I think I probably had established a little bit of a reputation of being the good student maybe, but he, but he saw this other side of me too, right? Like the, the quirky little, you know, kind of creative, those kind of things. And he nourished those, those things in me as well. Yeah. He saw me.


Sam Demma (08:26):
No, that’s awesome. Back to the, the equity piece for a second as well. Can you share what some of those challenges specifically were, and I’m curious to know, do they still exist now? I’m sure a lot of them still do. And can you talk to some of the ways that you envision the future systems changing to fix those issues?


Camille Loken (08:48):
I think our systems are better now. I still think we have long way to grow. I think we need to, I think we really do need to pay attention to that and, and ask ourselves and check into our systems to, to see if how we’re doing. Like we need to measure it as we go along. So now we talk, we talk a lot about, oh, and I think about this just Steven as because as a kid, I didn’t have an under of how you would even do that. I just saw that it wasn’t, it wasn’t right. Yeah. But I, I wouldn’t have had an understanding of how anybody would go around about, about that as a, as a teacher. And I’ve been teaching for, I, I first started teaching in 1986. I haven’t taught all those years cuz I took off time to have lots of sons.


Camille Loken (09:35):
So was a stay at home mom for a while. But when I started in 1986, we didn’t really talk about differentiation. We didn’t talk about, you know, meeting the student where they’re at and filling or recognizing their gifts or what the strengths are they bringing into the classroom and going from there, we, we didn’t talk about that. It wasn’t something we discussed and over time that has been it, it is part of what we do now as educators who really think about how do we meet everybody’s need as a unique individual. And it’s struggle. I think we, we haven’t arrived around really understanding that because you can, as complex as human beings are like each individual is, is incredibly complex and then put 30 human beings in a classroom and you know, then you have really lots of complexities to think about


Sam Demma (10:30):
That’s so true. In, in this idea of creating more equitable schools, like what are some of the steps that, that should be taken or considered? Like, for example, imagine you, you were removed from your current reality in place, back in that school you were at with your sister, like 20 years ago or 30 years ago, I might be bettering the numbers. Totally. but you look very young, so it’s oh.


Sam Demma (10:57):
And if you’re placed back in that situation with the knowledge you have now, what are the first things you, you change or what are the first things you tell all the staff like, you know, if you have the opportunity to bring them all into the cafeteria and say, this is how we need to change right now, because I would imagine that some of the schools are like, you know, a lot of them are changing and we’re getting better as a system. Some of them might still be stuck in those old ways. And what are those initial first things we have to consider?


Camille Loken (11:22):
Yeah. That’s such an awesome question. It’s a time travel question, Sam. I love time travel. Cool. want me to travel back in time, knowing what I know now and if I were talking. So if I were talking to the staff of the school that we were both in a, at the same time and, and she was having a different experience and I, I would say, think about my sister and what are the unique gifts she brings to the classroom. Please identify with her from that. Not, not from a deficit lens. Because I think many people saw her from a, a deficit lens, what, you know, what she didn’t have or what she couldn’t do. So think about her unique strengths and what she brings to this classroom. Because I think even, even that is step one. Yeah. She would be, she would feel valued.


Camille Loken (12:12):
Yeah. And appreciated from a, from a, from a gift point of view from yeah. From being valued. And then I would say, okay, so here’s someone that maybe learns differently. Maybe retains things differently, connects to things differently, you know, what is she interested in? What are the passions that you could tap into to make this relevant? How might you make learning relevant to her? How would you provide her voice about how she could demonstrate her learning? Cuz maybe you want her to demonstrate your, her learning this way and that’s not in her wheelhouse or that’s not a strength thing or she wouldn’t even be interested in that. So how might she demonstrate her learning in unique ways to her that you, that still would meet the outcomes that you still could assess and have an understanding? I mean that, and that gets to that student voice and choice.


Sam Demma (13:08):
Hmm.


Camille Loken (13:10):
I think if we had teachers who could really understand that we would have yeah. A lot more successful students who struggle. Yeah. And not even the ones who struggle. I mean, we also think of the ones we have our gifted students that are just so incredibly bright and they’re in a classroom with teachers who are kind of teaching to the middle and yeah. They’re like this isn’t meeting my needs at all. Right. Yeah. And those students are as at risk, as, as kids at the other end, like my sister, because they they’re like, this is boring and meaningless and I, I’m not in, I’m not engaged.


Sam Demma (13:50):
Yeah. It it’s an interesting conversation because like you said, there is so many complex within the confined walls of a school building and it’s a exciting challenge to figure out how to meet all their needs. Because I think that when that day comes it will come sometime in the future. It’ll be an exciting celebration and day because I think schools will have an even a huge impact on the lives, future leaders or young people. Absolutely. You, you mentioned time travel and loving time travel questions from a teaching perspective. Personally, if you could go back to the first year that you taught what would you tell yourself as a teacher? Imagine there’s a teacher whose first year in education is right now, it’s like a full blown pandemic and maybe they’re in their PJs teaching from home with the zoom mullet. Like what, what, what advice would you have for a teacher?


Camille Loken (14:54):
Yeah, that’s right. Showing up in front of the screen with your pajama bottoms on and it’s


Sam Demma (14:59):
Knows.


Camille Loken (15:00):
Yeah, yeah, exactly. You know, if, if I were to travel back in time to talk to, you know, Cannell first year I, you know, I’d say things like you, you, you haven’t figured out, you got it. Don’t don’t question yourself so much. Like, you know, am I on the right track? Do I understand this? Am I doing the right thing? Like trust your instincts. And if you are, you know, if you love this work, like if you’re showing up for the right reasons, because not everybody necessarily goes into this career for the, for the right reasons. Yeah. I think most of us do because it, it isn’t easy to work. So I think most of us show up because we are in service and we, we want to be with children and we want to make a difference in the world. I mean, I think that’s what pulls us into that.


Camille Loken (15:54):
So I think if, if you stay in that place, right. And always be a perpetual learner, like if you don’t, I, I don’t know how to teach this or I don’t, I don’t get this kid or, or, oh my goodness. This kid is pushing my buttons. So stay in the place of being a learner. What do you need to understand about yourself? I’ve said to, I say this to teachers all the time, and I would say this to first year Camil if you have taught it and they haven’t learned it, then you haven’t taught it. So you need to think about that and, and get to it. Right. Which is gonna challenge you it for sure it will. And there’ll be time that you’re like, I, I, I don’t know. I, but there is a support system and there’s lots of, there’s lots of places you can go and there’s people you can talk about and you can work as a collective and we’re better off together. And we’re you know, creating those conditions for yourself, even if they’re not in your school so that you can have that support to, to, to support our students.


Sam Demma (16:55):
I wanna go back to the last question. You mentioned something, and that was a great answer. Thank you for sharing that. If, if younger Camil was still around, she would’ve loved that advice. Yeah. You mentioned that sometimes students get looked at at what they don’t have at the lack at the deficit from a deficit perspective. And there’s this amazing book called “Catch Them While They’re Good”. Good. And it talks about the importance of coaching and giving feedback from the lens of, you know, reinforcing what they’ve done, right. As opposed to reinforcing what they lack or they’ve done wrong. And the example that I heard in a TEDx talk by this guy Dr. Ivan, Joseph, he took a self confidence expert. He was saying, I used to coach soccer teams. And, and if a player, you know, didn’t kick the ball, right. It would go over the net.


Sam Demma (17:42):
And usually the reasons are that their knee isn’t over the ball and they’re not looking down. And he said, you know, I, I could have stopped a player and said, Hey, you know, next time, make sure your knee’s over the ball. You know, you did it wrong, make sure your head’s looking down. Or he said, I can let that player have a mistake. And you know, not, not really focus on it or hype on the mistake. And then someone else goes up and they do a great job. And I reinforce the good behavior and that in the next athlete who kicks the ball, and then the first athlete doesn’t feel demoralized cuz you didn’t single them out. But they’re like, oh, that’s what I have to do next time. I’ll try again. And I think praise and catching people while they’re good is such a, a low hanging fruit and an easy way to make them feel valued, seen, heard, and appreciated in today’s environment how do we make students feel valued, seen, and you know, teaching virtually or teaching in a classroom? Like what do you think are the ways we can make students feel like they’re a part of the community.


Camille Loken (18:39):
I love that title, catch them being good. I, you have to read that book. I have stacks of books that just wait for me to


Sam Demma (18:46):
Me too.


Camille Loken (18:47):
I know it is kinda ridiculous. And what one time, you know, at some point you’re building get books all the way kinda doubted that catch would be good. Yeah. You know, as you were, as you were saying that, talking about that story, catch them being good. I, all of a sudden in my, in my head popped a student that I had when I was so relatively new teacher, I think I was maybe seven years into my career. Nice. And she was so this is in St. Albert, very affluent community. And she was new to this school and she was living in foster care, which was relatively unusual in our school. And she came to our, to my classroom, more to our school with just so much stuff, like so much baggage, she was angry, angry, angry, angry, and she would, she would come into a class and try to get that going like to, I, I think she understood anger.


Camille Loken (19:44):
She understood people being mad at her. So she would do something to, to have that happen. And I, and I thought, well, I’m not, I’m not doing that. I’m going to go outta my way to love you. Like just to, to have the loving energy. And I had to work on it because she, she could be incredibly provocative as she stopped into stomped into the classroom and whatever she was doing. And, and I would kind of just be grounded about it and I would greet her and a big, big smile. And it’s so nice to have you and just, just blaster with this, this energy that I just I’m so happy you’re here. Right. Even if I didn’t say those words. And then in my actions throughout the classroom, just attending to that making sure that she understood that I really wanted her to be in the classroom, despite all the things that she was doing, which didn’t mean that we didn’t have conversations about this or, you know, or had a redirect or anything, but it really is, you know, love them despite what they might have or what they’re bringing, because they are a human being and they’re unique and they’re beautiful with all of that.


Camille Loken (20:51):
And you have, you sometimes have to work really hard to get to that place because some kids come with so much, they just wanna push you away, push you away, push you away. Yeah.


Sam Demma (21:02):
Wow. That’s so powerful. You you’re telling this story. I immediately thought of this guy named Josh ship who was a foster kid himself. And he he would see it as a challenge, as he mentioned it in one of his talks where he, every house he got placed into, he would try and get kicked out as fast as he could. Yeah. And it was one caring adult who showed him. No, I don’t see you as a problem. I see you as an opportunity that totally changed his life. Yeah. And I think when we approach our students as if they’re opportunities, not that we’re the grand master and are gonna shape them, but we have the opportunity to plant a little seed that might be growing and watered 20 years in their future. You, you know, you mentioned about actions and how actions kind of speak louder than words. Sometimes a student doesn’t tell us that they’re feeling down or that something’s going on, but you can tell by their actions, by the way, they walk into the classroom, how do you approach a student and address a student who you think might be having something going on or something’s a little bit off


Camille Loken (22:01):
For, for that to even be able to happen. You need to have relationships established mm. Right. From the beginning, because you can’t just approach someone that you haven’t spent time with trying to get to know or have relationships or understand, you know, and it’s in the casual conversation. So, you know, so what happened this weekend? Or what did you work on? Or whatever. Like what do you, what are you watching TV, whatever, whatever they’re interested in is just kind of these, these conversations. And they, you have an understanding, you start to get, get to know them. You share a little bit about yourself as well, like the relationships and you tell ’em little stories and does anybody have a little story? Whatever that, that foundational piece of everything that we do, everything that we do is relationships. Mm. And if in, when you’ve established the relationships, then of course you can move into those conversations.


Camille Loken (22:47):
If you have established as a relationships and you try to move into that conversation, well, somebody’s gonna look at you and go I’m not talking to you. I don’t even trust you. Right. That’s not gonna happen. So that, that has to happen before you even approach. And then it is paying attention, right. Just paying attention. It it’s, there’s this, there’s this simple thing that teachers can do greeting students at the door. And it’s, you know, there’s research on this, about what difference that makes in students lives. So you’re just outside of your classroom drawer as they come in, you’re, you’re greeting them by name, or you have some kind of handshake, or whatever’s not now in the pandemic, but anyway, before some kind of whatever, whatever, as they go in, but wait, you’re doing is you’re paying attention to how, how, how they’re showing up that day.


Camille Loken (23:33):
What’s the energy they’re bringing in that day. And it gives you an opportunity to say, oh, Hey Sam, before I go in the classroom, let’s just have a little quick talk. And then the other kids go in, I go, Sam, you just, you just seem kind of, you know, not so great today is something I need to know. And then we have a relationship. Yeah. You know, this happened this morning and okay. Okay. Thanks for telling me about that. We’re gonna, we’re gonna try to cheer you up today or whatever. Right. It’s just, it’s just moving into those kind of conversations and setting a place that you can do that


Sam Demma (24:04):
Love that that’s great


Camille Loken (24:05):
Intentionality. It takes so much intentionality around those things.


Sam Demma (24:10):
And teaching is, is, is rewarding and challenging at the same time. You also have to make sure that you have fun doing it and it’s okay to have too much fun. Yeah, exactly. How do you ensure, how do you ensure that you enjoy the work and the vocation and the calling, even in those, in, even in those tough moments?


Camille Loken (24:34):
You know, I, I think it’s this, and this is probably a, a statement that may be overused, but it, its come to mind anyways, choose your attitude. Mm. So, so right from the beginning of my teaching career, well pretty close to the beginning of my teaching career, I thought, oh wow. How I show up on any given day actually influences that entire climate of the classroom. Yeah. And when I, when I first had that realization, it was, it scared me a little bit. And I thought, wow, that’s a lot of power. Like really? I mean, if I’m having a crappy day and I go in there and, and then everybody seems to be having a crappy day or so. Okay. Knowing that deeply understanding that, that I need to show up every day and be, and have the energy for the of work.


Camille Loken (25:27):
And it makes me think so I’ve I in university, I was a drama major. I was a drama teacher when you are doing a performance and you know, this you’ve done Ted talks, right. Or so, or you go and do a speech in front. So you are, you’re moving into this performance piece. And I don’t mean that in a, they you’re moving into this in an inauthentic way. So I wanna be really clear about this. Yeah. But you’re moving in front of an audience. And they’re there to listen to you. So let’s say on your way to, to there, I don’t know you got a flat tower and you had to change it or somebody cut you off or, or you and your partner had an argument with them or whatever. Cuz you’re a human being. This is gonna happen. However, you’re showing up in front of them. They don’t wanna know all about that. That’s not important to them. And so it is on teachers to really have an understanding of that and saying, I am going to choose my attitude every day. So the climate of the classroom is such right. That I have the energy for you. And I, I love this work and I love you and I have a passion for it. And here we go.


Sam Demma (26:32):
I love that. It’s a, it’s a reminder to stay present. It might something might have happened 20 minutes ago, but the moment we have is right now and what matters is the task at hand? Yeah. It’s funny, right? When you were talking about, you know, flat tire, I once had a speech two and a half hours from my house in London, Ontario. And we drove and we went to an on route, me and my buddy Dylan. And we had about an extra 30 minutes, maybe 45 minutes. We were gonna show up pretty early and we pulled up to the on route and we went inside and got coffee and I came back outside my pockets. Oh, snap, where the heck are my keys? Look through the window, locked in my car. It’s like nine in the morning in the middle of like a random highway.


Sam Demma (27:14):
You know, I don’t have CAA, I call CAA, get them on the phone, like order the, the subscription for the next two years, they show up, we make it five minutes late. I remember running into the cloud assume going, Hey, my name’s Sam demo. Like just jumping into the presentation and yeah. Anyways, I just thought, you know what you sparked that thought. I thought it’d be a funny thing to mention, but I think you’re, you’re so right. And what’s interesting is our attitude is always in our control. Like it’s not sure it’s influenced by exterior events, but it’s, it’s up to us to choose how we, I, how we walk into the classroom. Right.


Camille Loken (27:45):
And we owe that to the children, the students that we serve to do that. Yeah. And I, I really like how you characterize that. Just staying in the present moment cuz that’s it let go of everything else. Cuz the present moment is always good. Really. I mean, you’re just right here. Just enjoy this present moment and the other things that you need to think about or worry about or whatever they will come. But right now this is where I’m at. Right. I’m


Sam Demma (28:09):
Gonna


Camille Loken (28:10):
Here.


Sam Demma (28:10):
Yeah. You wanna add another book to your list? The power of now it’s all about, oh


Camille Loken (28:14):
I love that book. I have read that book. Love


Sam Demma (28:16):
It. Okay. Yeah. Kar, Kar. Totally. I might be mispronouncing his last name, but no,


Camille Loken (28:21):
I think that’s right. Totally.


Sam Demma (28:23):
Okay. Yeah. So I found his book just awesome. And it’s a great reminder that there’s no other moment that exists. Like this is all we have.


Camille Loken (28:31):
Yeah, absolutely. So,


Sam Demma (28:32):
And, and if anyone’s been inspired so far, this has been an amazing conversation. We definitely have to do a part 2. But if anyone’s been inspired so far and wants to reach out to you, have a conversation, talk about equity or how to make the school more equitable or just to bounce ideas around what would be the best way for someone listening to reach out to you and get in touch.


Camille Loken (28:51):
Oh wow. Like, you know, I listen to podcasts and podcasters always ask that question. I love podcasts, and then people say things like, well I’m on Instagram and I’m on Facebook and I’m on LinkedIn and I’m not on any of those things.


Sam Demma (29:05):
That’s okay. Me either. I don’t use it much.


Camille Loken (29:07):
That’s great. I was gonna go, you can’t get a hold of me. My email address would be the best one. Yeah.


Sam Demma (29:14):
Do you wanna just spell it out for and like, and other educators are listening, so like you just might hear from some colleagues around the country hopefully.


Camille Loken (29:23):
Absolutely. So Camille.Loken@epsb.ca


Sam Demma (29:40):
Yeah. Awesome. Camille, thank you so much for doing this. It was a pleasure bringing you on and keep doing awesome work and good luck on the doctorate.


Camille Loken (29:48):
Well, thanks Sam. This has been awesome talking to you as well. This is fun, this conversation.


Sam Demma (29:56):
Oh, thank you. I appreciate it.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Camille Loken

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

Jason Pratt – Principal at St. Martin Catholic Secondary School

Jason Pratt - Principal at St. Martin Catholic Secondary School
About Jason Pratt

Jason Pratt (@jasonpratt) is the Principal at St. Martin Catholic Secondary School in Mississauga. He is in his 22nd year in education, and working in his fifth school in the Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board.

An English and Special Education Teacher for 10 years, he spent 8 amazing and exciting years at two different schools as a vice-principal before being promoted to Principal at St. Martin, where he oversees a highly successful and exciting Regional Sports Program, which is run in conjunction with the mainstream neighbourhood school. He is passionate about all students and is involved in the community as a coach and volunteer. His experiences growing up and being involved in various community sports make him a great fit for the school.

Growing up the oldest of five boys and being a father to four active and energetic sons allows him the perspective of a parent and caregiver in his decisions running a school, and is something that informs his practice daily. Jason believes it takes a diverse and balanced set of opportunities, staff and experiences to support student success, and with a loving approach, students can grow and develop to their full potential.

Connect with Jason: Email | Twitter | Instagram

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

St. Martin Catholic Secondary School

Regional Sports Program DPCDSB

Naval Ravikant – The podcast and book

Dufferin-Peel 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):
Jason welcome to the high performing educator. A pleasure to have you on the show here, please start by introducing yourself.


Jason Pratt (00:08):
Thanks, Sam. It’s a great honor to be part of this really interesting podcast. My name’s Jason Pratt. I am the principal at St. Martin Catholic secondary school in Mississauga Ontario. And this is my fourth year as a school principal. This is my first school that I’ve been a principal at. I was a vice-principal for eight years previous at two really fantastic schools as well. And before that I was a teacher for just about 10 years with a background, mostly I, I taught in English and special education before I got into administration. So it’s my 22nd year now in education.


Sam Demma (00:49):
Did you know since you were a child that you wanted to work in a school or what was the yeah. Journey to where you are now?


Jason Pratt (00:56):
Yeah, so like I was telling you before I, I had actually listened to a few of your podcasts and I had to stop because I didn’t wanna get too modeled. And you know what I reflected on that because I’d listened to some of your previous podcasts and it’s not something you’ll hear sometimes where people who wanna get education when they were really young. I knew all along for me, it was, it was a little bit more of a, a lengthy journey. I’m the oldest of five boys. And I ironically I have four sons, so I grew up with four younger brothers and now I have four younger sons. And we moved into a, a neighborhood in Mississauga, both neighborhoods I lived in, I was one of the older kids in the area because, you know it was the suburbs and we were moving in there and my parents were, were pretty early and moving into miss to, so, and I remember, you know playing right around where square one is now, and it wasn’t there.


Jason Pratt (01:49):
Then when I, when I was a kid and, you know, it was a lot of really cool experiences, but everywhere around me was all younger kids. And so I just naturally took on this leadership role of kind of organizing activities and games and, and we we would spend a lot of time in the outdoors and, and whether, you know, going to the park or going to like undeveloped areas, there was a lot of force in that area, if you can believe it back then. And we had tree houses and, and really cool things like that. And then when we moved our second time and I was, you know, in my, you know, early teens on, you know, I had these four younger brothers and we moved once again to a new development area, but we backed onto a park.


Jason Pratt (02:32):
We had tennis courts and, and, you know, baseball diamonds. And so I grew up with you know, a really good you know, an accessible space in which I could kind of organize and, and, and run these games. And my mom would often say to me, she was a teacher. She would say to me in the summer break, get these, you know, get your brothers out of the house, keep them outta the house for six hours. And I was the oldest one. So I’d organize, you know, tag or we’d play, you know, capture the flag or just different games. And a lot of kids in the area kind of you know jumped on, on board, right? So I would, I’d be kind of that organizing, you know, the organizer and I would get involved with a lot of these these activities with the kids.


Jason Pratt (03:57):
So I wasn’t a qualified teacher, but I got to, to spend some of time in a school. These were elementary schools at the time and got to be around kids. And I, and I said, you know what? This is actually pretty cool. So I, I finished my undergrad went to teachers college, and then I was lucky enough at the time the, the climate in the late nineties was such that you know, they were, they were offering permanent jobs right away. So it’s very different than it is now, where there’s a much more lengthy process of getting in, you know, on the supply teacher pool. And then you become an LTO. So I was actually fortunate enough to get hired permanently, right at a teacher’s college at a great school St. Francis, Xavier and Mississauga, that one of the bigger schools on the board with, you know, two housing plus kids at the time, and worked there for seven years and, and really enjoyed it.


Jason Pratt (03:13):
And then I think as I grew up, I, I didn’t necessarily, wasn’t drawn to toward teaching as much as I was coaching. So even at a young age, maybe 18, 19 years old, I started coaching my younger brothers, hockey teams and, and, and getting involved with being in that role. And I think it lent itself naturally to the position of teacher. And as I had mentioned, my mom was a teacher and my godmother, she was a teacher and the two of them were, were influential as going through my undergrad saying, you know, do some supply teaching. My godmother was actually a principal and she got me in as, as one of those emergency supply teachers. So actually before I finished university, I went in and it was like in a, you know, an emergency volunteer. And then I became an emergency instructor.


Jason Pratt (04:47):
And then while I was there, I got in with I wouldn’t say the wrong crowd, but the right crowd, a bunch of guys who were in and girls who were interested in getting into administration. And, and it kind of took me that way. So it was never something that I, I was, you know, you, people will say, I want to become a, a principal. I want to be everything just kind of happened with, with a certain natural flow. So I’ve really enjoyed the ride. It’s been great. And that’s kind of how I’ve ended up here.


Sam Demma (05:17):
Because this podcast is solely audio. No one can see the off, some metals hanging over your right shoulder there. How has sports impacted your journey in education and also your background?


Jason Pratt (05:32):
Well, as I had mentioned, I, I, before I wanted to become a teacher, I was a coach. And and I think the, one of the first things I did when I was a teacher is I signed up to coach hockey and we never had a strong team at St. Francis sea, but we were competitive, but we were never the elite hockey and Mississauga and hockey in particular, in the defer, in the, in the, in the robs league is, is, is pretty much just a handful of teams. It was back then, but I I, I truly enjoyed coaching. And, and, and one of the things I, I really enjoyed was organizing a lot of intramurals in the school. I thought that was almost as reward as, as coaching the school teams, because when you’re coaching the school team, I know if it was the same when you were playing same, but there was a lot of competing interests with the kids playing with club teams.


Jason Pratt (06:28):
So it was almost as if you were begging these kids to play on the school teams. Yeah. It’s very much different than the us model where the, at the, the high school teams, especially with hockey in Minnesota, they don’t even have club teams. It’s just, it’s, everything is high school, but I felt you know, with, with sports, it was a natural, it was a natural for me. I, I loved coaching. And so I coached all the way up until I became a vice principal. And even my first year as vice principal, I tried to help coach, but it was offer because, you know, the practices were right after school and you were busy dealing with stuff. So it was it was, it was, it was tough to, to have those competing interests. So, you know, I’ve gravitated more towards my role right now, as, as a school principal here at, St.


Jason Pratt (07:14):
Martin is, is really providing opportunities for these kids to to train in a, in a good safe environment. One that is financially available to a greater section of students. And that, that also comes from my experience as being a parent of my, of my kids. Two of them played at the triple a level, and I coached them both as a head coach, one with the Masaga rebels and one with the Masaga senators, both AAA organizations. And, and I took on that role as a head coach and loved it as well. But I also saw some of the, the, the pitfalls that parents can get into getting into that, that culture with with the sports and the training. So one of the thing, things we do here at this school is provide a really good opportunity for students to train and to earn credit phys ed credits, and some leadership pH ed credits, and some other elective credits while still training for their primary sport.


Jason Pratt (08:16):
Cool. And, and, and, and balancing them, playing on club teams versus is versus training. So it’s, it’s, it’s allowed us to win a lot of medals here, but that the championship medals and, and, and the, and the, the high school leagues per se, are almost a, a, a secondary now compared to these kids in their club teams. A lot of these kids go on to, to, to get a lot of success in sport because they they’re playing on club teams, whether it’s hockey, soccer, as you mentioned, like, you know, like the FC academies now, there’s, there’s a lot of different soccer academies, a lot of our basketball kids that are here our they play club basketball as well. In addition, high school is probably one of those last high school. Basketball is one of those last environments where it still is pretty competitive.


Jason Pratt (09:05):
And then now we have kids who are baseball, but we have kids that from our school have scholarships for tennis, golf swimming gymnastics, lots things. So we, we, we tend to bring a lot of kids in here. And, and so the relationship between sport and and schooling is, is so important to me. I, I did one of my master’s thesis proposals was on the relationship of sports and, and performance in school. And, and I, I it’s always been a passion of mine. So, like I had said, I’m, it’s a dream, you being at this school being surrounded by so many student athletes and, and their families and, and, and it’s, it’s, it’s, it’s been quite a ride so far. Well, but COVID is yeah. Yeah. That’s the other real part of it. I know. That’s, yeah. It’s kind of put everything on pause for a couple years.


Sam Demma (09:54):
Yeah. Athletes are being forced to get very creative, unfortunately, high school sports isn’t happening as much as it would have in the past, but, you know, I think as an athlete, you live, eat, and breathe or sport, you gotta figure out a way to continue training and stay sharp. And even if you gotta do it in your home basement for the time being, but you mentioned your school is one of the only re regional athletic schools. Can, can you explain a little bit about that?


Jason Pratt (10:21):
Yeah. So we are the only school in din peel that has a regional sports program. There is one offered in our determinist board, which is the PO district school board. So din peel. We are the only one and we’re located pretty far south we’re in the year on park valley, which is Mavis and, and Dunas which is really far south in considering our board goes all the way up to Dran county, which is right on the, you know, it’s, it’s, it’s pretty, pretty far up there. Like when you’re, when you’re looking at the board, it’s, it’s a very large geographical board. And so the way it, cuz the students apply out of grade eight, they apply to our program it’s regional. So we accept students from all around the region. They don’t have to live in our neighborhood area. Transportation is not provided so the students have to come here.


Jason Pratt (11:10):
So it’s a big commitment on, on the students and the parents to come to the school. They, they get references from their teachers of coaches and they, they themselves go through a discernment process. They apply just before the the winter break. And then when we get back, we, we have a selection committee that goes through all the applications and we take roughly 110 to 120 students each year. And those student in are in the regional sport program for two years. And in the regional sports program, the difference is, is that they do full year training in their sport of choice or if they don’t have a sport of choice, we do have a non-sport specific class. And they do that for the entire year from September to June and they get a PHY-ed credit and a leadership PHY-ed credit.


Jason Pratt (12:02):
So they get those two credits. And then in grade 10, we continue the, the program for the entire year, but those teachers are infusing the religion credit in with their PHY-ed credit. So the students will come to the school. They’ll, let’s say they select soccer, they’ll be in the soccer a focus course, which is large group activity course, but it focuses on soccer training. They’ll be with other kids of that same mindset. So the other kids who are in soccer and they’ll train for the entire year from September to June, but it’s not every day because they’ll intersperse the training with leadership activities and in class. And then in grade 10, they train once again for the whole year, but it’s interspersed with religion. So they may be the first two, three weeks. They be doing a lot of the religion work, then they’ll go on the ice or, and on the field.


Jason Pratt (12:50):
And then they’ll kind of do so it’s a real mix match. And like I had said before it back balances out all the training these kids do at night. So a lot of these kids are training 4, 5, 6 days a week with their clubs. Yeah. But we supplement a lot of that training. So I, I, you know, a lot of times when, when you’re playing, let’s say soccer or hockey at a high level, a lot of these clubs and teams that do a lot of systems and tactics they’re, they’re working on, let’s say, you know, their free kicks or their corn kicks. There’s a lot of stop. You know, let’s, let’s work this out a lot of Xs and O’s work, right. Especially at the high school level, these kids now are not doing dribbling activities or kicking. They’re expected to know that. So what we do is we supplement a lot of what these kids will be doing in their on their hockey teams and their soccer teams on their basketball teams with skills.


Jason Pratt (13:37):
So we don’t, we don’t, we don’t do the X’s and O’s here. We do a lot of skills development, but you can’t do that every day. The kids get, you know, burnt out. So we, we try to do it maybe two to three days a week, what then they’re doing their in class work. A lot of times we do yoga with them. We do nutrition with them. So they’re getting a lot of that training. They would get at a, you know, a secondary facility. And we do it for a fraction of the cost because the teachers that are teaching these programs are, are teachers and they’re getting excited. So the students don’t have to pay for it. The only thing they do have to pay for is a facility whether we’re renting ice or we’re going to an indoor bubble for soccer. This year we started a baseball pathways.


Jason Pratt (14:15):
So we have students now who are elite baseball players. So we, now we have the soccer, the hockey, the baseball, the basketball, and the non-sport specific pathways. Mm. So it, like I said, it’s a great program. We have kids from all around the region, as far up as Brampton. We have kids who come from the east and the west and they make it work. The parents make it work because a parent, myself, of, of high performing children, you’re willing to do what it takes to give your kid a good environment and a good opportunity for him to train or her to train and be successful. And then once again, when you have the culture is built around that the, the teachers here at the building are very supportive of these students. Yeah. A student may be gone for a week because they went to Florida to go to tennis tournament.


Jason Pratt (15:01):
And our, our teachers will work with that student and, and give ’em the work that, that he or she needs and, and welcome them when they’re back and not say, well, you missed the whole week of school. Now here’s a, a load of work for you to catch up on. So the culture here it’s, it’s wrapped around that, that mindset. Now, while we are a regional program, we all are still a neighborhood school. Yeah. But we do have kids that, that live in our area that come to our school. And that’s been, obviously not a challenge, but something we look forward, like, you know, something that we are looking for, of managing is managing our neighborhood school identity with our regional sport identity, because it’s, we’re not just a regional sports school. We’re about 50, 50 half of our kids are regional sports.


Jason Pratt (15:43):
And half of our kids are neighborhood kids. Yeah. A lot of them are new immigrants, new Canadians. And you know, they’re not interested in hyper a form sports. They’re just interested in, in learning what they need to do to be successful Canadians. And so it’s really managing all those intangibles and, and, and, and making it all work. And it, and it does. It’s a really good environment. The kids here are fantastic. We have very, very few behavioral issues because the kids are busy and they’re doing stuff they love to do. And then even if those kids are not in regional sports, they’re around those kids and those kids for the most part, as you know, of being a high performing athlete, when you’re in high school, they’re focused, they’re focused on their sport and being successful and not getting into trouble. Yeah. And eating relatively healthy and you know, and, and just, and they have parents or for family who backed them up and pushed them. So it’s great. It really is. It’s been good, but COVID has been like a real drawback on all this, but


Sam Demma (16:41):
You’re making me wish. I went to a regional sports program growing up, man.


Jason Pratt (16:46):
I’m the biggest ambassador for this school. I mean you know, it’s having son, like my oldest line is now in grade 11 and he’s actually in the us playing hockey with with, with a team around Pittsburgh. And he’s kind of in the same type of program, but the school and the, and the training are not related like we are. Yeah. and he would’ve loved to have come here. He really did. But at the time it was one of those things about having your son come to the school. But my other son now is, is a 2008 he’s he’s in grade eight and he’s very interested. And a lot of his friends are because they hear good things about the school. And like I said, it’s, it’s a fun place to be. It’s, it’s pretty exciting. It’s, it’s it’s, it’s, it’s, it’s been quite a ride, but like I said of it has really put a damper on things, but we’ve managed to still make it work, because like I said, it’s about training. And even though we haven’t had any teams to be able to compete, because this is part of their curriculum, the kids are still coming here and training and that’s, that’s important.


Sam Demma (17:49):
That’s super important. I was gonna ask how it’s continued, but you just answered it. Yeah,


Jason Pratt (17:54):
Yeah, yeah. So we, we don’t have a league, like our teams don’t compete, but like I said, these kids are all part of club teams anyway. So the parents aren’t coming here because they wanna win an off the championship or win robs is soccer. That’s a secondary thing. And that’s great if they do, but they’re coming here because of the training and because of the environment. And because, like I said, the culture here supports a student athlete, and I think that’s a huge part of its success.


Sam Demma (18:18):
You mentioned doing your masters in the connection between high performing athletics and education. What inspired you to do your masters in that and what was the learning, or what did you take away from that experience?


Jason Pratt (18:32):
Well, when I, I did my masters thesis in 2006 and at the time it was just an educational masters, but what I looked at was the connection at the time between student participation in sports and their academic performance, and essentially what all the, the studies had shown was that there was no difference. So a student who performed who was competing or participating in sports, their marks were not affected. So they did this cross-sectional study. And what that tells me is that, well, then that’s a good thing, because if these kids are, are able to keep their marks up and participate in, in sports then they that, I mean, the benefits are, are, are there, like we all know about the benefits of physical fitness in terms of, of mental fitness in terms of just being part of a social dynamic, being part of a team, you know, the, you can’t speak enough about how that’s so important for kids as they go through their high school years to be part of a team to be physically fit the connection between, you know, facing adversity, how to deal with loss, all that stuff.


Jason Pratt (19:41):
It’s, you know, team sports, individual sports, whatever it may be, the benefits way outweigh the the drawbacks of them competing. Since I’ve come to this school, I’ve actually started a second master’s degree in physical education. Nice. Because I thought it would be important for me to learn as much as I can about the phys ed side of it. So it’s, it’s, it’s a second master’s degree I’m working towards, but it’s a lot, it’s a lot harder this time around. It’s just, I can only tell, take one course at a time and it, it, it’s a lot of work and it’s gonna take me a couple more years and, and I think it’s gonna make me a better principle just having that background, but I think it’s important to kind of continue to learn. And it’s interesting being a student. I haven’t been a student, I started about two years ago, this second master’s degree. And, and it’s, it’s interesting how it’s tough being a student when you haven’t been a student in a while, but, but it’s fun and it’s good. And it’s good for me to, to, to stay grounded and, and to, you know, be that lifelong learner that a lot of us talk about being.


Sam Demma (20:44):
It’s rewarding. I was listening to a podcast with a tech investor, an entrepreneur named Naval, and he gave this analogy of climbing mountains and explained that every undertaking we embark upon, you know, think of it like climbing up a mountain. And when we reach the top, it’s, we’ve accomplished what the goal or that the desired outcome was. And he said, a lot of people climb a mountain, reach some form of success and get curious that, and wanna learn something else, but in order to do so, you have to climb down this mountain and start at the base of a new one yeah. And climb up it. And it’s so true that it could be overwhelming, but I think it’s such a rewarding experience. And it awesome that you’re also through your actions, not even by telling students or others, but just through your actions, proving that, you know, education happens at all ages and being a lifelong learner is extremely important. Yeah. So that’s, that’s awesome. What do you think some of the opportunities that exist today in education, there’s a lot of challenges and discussion about the cha like the, the negatives and things that are difficult right now. I’m curious to know what you think some of the opportunities are.


Jason Pratt (21:55):
Yeah. I mean, we all know about COVID and all those challenges, but you know, I, I think, I think the way that, that our, our planet is moving in, in be, you know, you can talk about globalization and, and, and that being obviously a huge factor in, in, in where students want to go. I, I think the fact that students have access to so much information and, and so much at their fingertips, it’s beneficial for them because they can look into whatever they want to, and they can research whatever they want to and, and have that, that kind of learning. But I I’m thinking the opportunities for students. I mean, we gotta think of where the world’s headed over the next couple years, next few years, and where these students are gonna, you know, where are they gonna graduate to?


Jason Pratt (22:49):
And I think a lot of it just comes down to the social piece, like how well do they work in, in team environments? How well do they work? You know, with, with their colleagues how can they manage to create a skillset that’s gonna be marketable when they, when they, when they graduate from wherever they do. And, and, and I think it’s, it’s so important right now, I’m, I’m seeing a lot of our students truly engaged. And I did mention the sports thing, but if I can put on the, the non regional sports hat principal for a second, and just talk about our specialist, high schools majors program, which is another big we pushed, which is the hospitality. A lot of our Stu you know, it’s, it’s at the last school I was at St. Marc Salinas. They had a highly successful baking program.


Jason Pratt (23:43):
And you would’ve never thought in a million years, like when I was going to school, like home EC was something you had to do and, and no one wanted to do it. I couldn’t believe it at the school, they had six full sections of baking. This is in hospitality. Hospitality is the cooking class where they learn a lot of those basics. This was a baking class. So when I got to this school, I said, let’s start a baking program. And now we had this year, we had two sections of baking. Now we’re a much smaller school than Marlins. But we had two full sections of baking. And I remember coming home one day and my kids were watching what was it, nailed it, the one where they have to bake cakes all the time. Yeah. It was reality show. And it’s just, it’s funny how kids will change.


Jason Pratt (24:24):
And, and so these are taking baking, and a lot of them will have this in their back pocket, you know, this skill. So it’s, you know, education, I, I think is, is about providing all these kind of student, you know, different kinds of students with opportunities to learn so many different skills in your traditional pen and paper textbook information. You know, there’s lots of great tech programs. We have a lot of kids who are successful in our, we have an electrical program, a lot of kids go into apprenticeship programs for electrical. We have an amazing construction class wood shop where the students are building, you know, excellent cabinetry. And, and they’re, they’re learning about you know, using the, the AutoCAD machine to kind of personalize wood. And they’re learning a lot of these principles and, and some of these kids are going on to university, but they’re keeping all these, these, these, these skills on the side.


Jason Pratt (25:16):
And I remember when I went to school, I didn’t do any of this, this hands on techy. I, I was more of a PhysEd guy and more of a pen and paper type kid, but I think we’re, we’re doing a good job at, in education by being, by diversifying the programs that are out there and giving students the opportunities to learn where, you know, what does success mean for you as you graduate? And, and it doesn’t necessarily mean you have to go to university and get a degree, but it, it’s just doing things you’re interested in being happy doing. And I think those opportunities and, and allow, want students to see those opportunities in a safe environment where they can experiment with it. Another big, real, another big program we have here. One of the more successful programs on our board is our co-op program.


Jason Pratt (25:57):
And I think one of the reasons is our, our co-op teachers are amazing at going out and getting really interesting co-op placements, whether it’s working at a veterinarian clinic, or one of our students is working at a co cosmetic surgery clinic. And, and just learning about that industry. We have a lot of students who work in other schools as elementary teachers, a lot of them work at you know, your traditional like mechanics things like that. And they get to experiment these jobs and kind of get a little snippet of what it’s like to work in that in industry. And then come back to school and say, you know what? I hated it, or I loved it. And I think that’s what high school is becoming for. A lot of these kids is, is experimentation finding out what works for you.


Jason Pratt (26:40):
And, and it’s about us working with these students. We’ve de-streamed the math for grade nine. And, and I it’s coming that we’re gonna DStream a lot more. A lot more of high school subjects will be D streamed. And I think that’s a good thing because it gives students more of an opportunity to experi, you know, experience challenges and learn and mature in an environment where they can kind of go back, make mistakes, change their pathway. But it’s, it’s, it’s definitely changing a lot from when I went to school. It was, you know, you go to school and you either, you’re gonna go to university and get a degree, or you’re gonna go and start working. And there’s really like, we’re seeing it now with colleges and, and providing students with so many more opportunities. I think it’s, it’s, it’s a huge, huge thing. So I think it’s just about providing a whole range of opportunities, allowing students to feel comfortable, choosing what they think is, is what’s best for them and, and engaging those families in that discussion. It’s all, it’s a very organic process now where I think it wasn’t so much when I went to school, it was very much, you picked the lane and stayed in that lane and that’s where you went. And that was it.


Sam Demma (27:44):
Yeah. Now students got the signals and they’re changing their lanes like crazy. Oh yeah.


Jason Pratt (27:50):
One eighties going back. Yeah. Know, I know it’s great. And it’s great to see that. And when you’ve empowered students and give them some say in what they’re doing, I think it changes them as, as learners. They don’t feel like they’re being forced one way or the other. They don’t have that pressure. They, I think they feel that they’re they’re in charge and that’s a, that’s an important thing for kids to feel like they have some say and some voice that’s.


Sam Demma (28:13):
A big, I, as a student who took a fifth year, a gap year, went to school, took a different path after school. I, I can’t stress the importance of all that enough. Yeah.


Jason Pratt (28:25):
Well, I’ll tell you something when I, so, I mean, my first year of university was not good. I was playing junior hockey and that was, you know, late games till 11, 12 o’clock at night. Yeah. And I was a languages major in my first year, so I had Spanish, French. And then, and then I took English as a, like secondary. And you had labs at 8:00 AM, and you know what, after a, a junior hockey game and, you know, you’re 19 years old, you’re going out. Sometimes you go out afterwards after the game, you weren’t getting home. And, and by the time I, I was not serious about it. So that first year was a disaster. I took a year off worked two full-time job, but well, one full-time job and a part-time job that was full time hours. And went back after that, you know, that third year, and then did well after that had kind of my focus on what I wanted to do.


Jason Pratt (29:16):
But interestingly enough, one of the side things I did as I was a student was I was worked in the service industry. And I did that for many years after I became a teacher. And what, what I saw in the service industry was a lot of my ex students who had graduated and these were the students. So I traditionally taught a lot of the college level Englishes and, and, you know, not necessarily the kids who were the best, most successful students, but what I got to see was I got to see them almost like a longitudinal study. I got to see them five, 10 years after they graduated. And what became of them. Cause, you know, you’re always like, oh my God, good luck to this kid. When he, when he, when he gets in school, what’s he gonna do? And they were all successful.


Jason Pratt (30:00):
They were happy. They were successful. They had families, they had businesses. They, they were really nice people. And these were the kids that traditionally didn’t do well in school. They were the guys who were in trouble, or they were the guys who were skipping or the girls that were, you know, you know, you know, whatever that may be like, they weren’t serious students. You would’ve thought, but no one sees them after they go. We don’t follow up on these kids after they graduate. But because I worked in the service industry and I worked for good 10 years after I saw some of the, the early kids that I had taught go on to become amazing adults. Like they were great kids and they just had to get through school to, to, but now I think we’ve, we’ve come to realize that there’s, it’s not like that anymore.


Jason Pratt (30:46):
It it’s changed. And so I’ve, I’ve, I, I was fortunate enough to have that experience and I think it opened my eyes a lot to what a school could become. And that’s part of the reason why I became a, an administrator is I loved the culture in my classrooms. I thought the only way for me to influence the culture in a school is to become a principal. And then when you become a principal, you can influence that culture. You really can. And you actually could as a vice principal, because I remember one of my first schools I started at the, there was, there was a lot of not conflict between the student and the teachers. They didn’t know how to handle. The kids were sent down a lot to the office. And as a vice principal, I role played a lot with the kids.


Jason Pratt (31:31):
I’d be like, okay, let’s, let’s go through how this happened. So I’m, I’m the teacher, you’re the student. So tell me what happened. And we would workshop almost how to, how to, you know, manage this, this conflict. And then I would go back to the teacher and say, Hey, listen, I worked with them, give ’em a chance. And, and it worked. And I think when the teacher saw that you had the kid’s best interest at heart and you were advocating for them, and the kids believed that it worked well. And I mean, I loved, I loved being a vice principal. That was an amazing role in a school when you’re a, a vice principal and you’re suspending dozens and dozens and dozens of kids, but never, they’re never angry at you. You’re doing a good job because those kids know that you like, you care for them and you’re being supportive.


Jason Pratt (32:20):
But at the same time, they made a mistake. And that was a, that was a fantastic job. I loved being a vice principal. Principal was more of an adjustment because you weren’t working so closely with kids anymore. And I felt as a vice principal, you have these really tight relationships with families and kids, and you’re working for them and you’re working with them. You’re like, come on, you can do it. I just don’t want you getting in trouble anymore. And you can get through this and, and you kind of work through them. Whereas with a principal, you’re more, it’s, it’s more of a broad picture of a school and you’re dealing with budget and staffing and scheduling and, and you’re dealing more with the adults in the building than you are dealing with the kids in the building. And that’s a change, right? So it’s like climbing another, I, I’ve not got to the peak yet of that mountain.


Jason Pratt (33:02):
I think I was at the peak as a vice principal, and now I’ve gone down and had to climb this next mountain, which I don’t know, maybe I’m getting older and it’s, it’s whatever it may be, but both roles are great. But that, that was really good. And then being a parent, being a parent gives you perspective too, on how your kids and I have, like I said, four boys who are good, good kids in that, but you get to see the parent side of it and the frustrations with my wife. And, and, and the teachers that they may have just in terms of, you know, how do we get these guys to be motivated with school and why the teachers, you know, sending this work, they don’t understand. So it’s really interest giving you all these perspectives. And I think it really influences you as a leader in a school.


Jason Pratt (33:45):
So, you know, I’m very much with, with my staff here, I’m always keep the parents informed, be very transparent, be very forgiving and understanding and, and, you know, just work with, if, if parents know you care about their son or daughter are in the classroom, that makes all the difference. When, when the parents have the impression that you don’t, that their kid is just a number or, you know, it’s, it’s not it, it, it’s just, well, the, you know, the mark is the mark and that’s what they got. You’re, you’re, you’re gonna have issues. And I said, you know, I say to them all the time, just work with parents, talk to parents, give them a call that makes all the difference in the world. And, and it has in this school, like I said, it’s, it’s a great school. We don’t really have any issues. And if we do, we resolve them quick and the parents are happy and the teachers are happy and the kids are happy, which is the most important.


Sam Demma (34:35):
Yeah, that’s awesome. It really sounds like the culture is something you focused on you, your staff, the teachers. Yeah. Even the students cuz they participated it as well. If someone wanted to reach out, ask you a question about the programs, the sports program, the way you try and embed school culture into the school, or just, you know, tell you about something they heard on this podcast, they enjoyed what would be the best way for them to reach out and get in touch with you?


Jason Pratt (35:01):
Well, if they wanna know more about the programs we do have a pretty good website with, with has some videos because we’ve had to be online the last couple years with our open houses, we actually saved a lot of our videos. Nice. So if people wanna find out more about the program, that’s where they would go and there’s excellent speakers and they talk about our program. But my email address is (email). They’re welcome to send me an email and that’s the best way for me to get ahold of anyone who needs to reach out. And if they have questions about the program specifically, or what not, I can direct them to whoever that may be. I’m always, I’m always advocating for this program because I believe in it, I would never, if your son, daughter is an excellent athlete and they live and you know, you can make it work logistically. We do have kids who come here all the way from Toronto, north York. Like it’s, it’s, it’s pretty amazing what people will do to be part of a good program. And you do it for your kids because you know, that’s so important to them, but no, it’s I’m always willing to talk more and and, and, and, and this was really great.


Sam Demma (36:12):
Thank you, Jason, for taking the time to come on here, share a little bit about your school. You, it is obvious that you’re passionate about your work and we need lots of passionate educators, so keep it up. And I look forward to seeing what your school and yourself and your staff bring to life post COVID. Yeah. With the sport programs, keep it up.


Jason Pratt (36:33):
Thanks a lot, Sam.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Jason Pratt

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.

Eleanor McIntosh – Founding member of the Ontario Alliance of Black School Educators (ONABSE) and the Principal of Ajax High School

Eleanor McIntosh - Founding member of the Ontario Alliance of Black School Educators (ONABSE) and the Principal of Ajax High School
About Eleanor McIntosh

Eleanor (@Eleanor27332035) is a secondary Principal within the Durham District School Board. She holds a Master’s degree in Educational Leadership and Administration and undergraduate degrees in Biochemistry and Kinesiology. She is an advocate for youth and the community.

Eleanor is one of the founding members of the Durham Black Educators’ Network (DBEN) since its inception in 2005. She has held executive positions of Treasurer, Vice-Chair and two terms as Chair. Eleanor is a founding member of the Ontario Alliance of Black School Educators (ONABSE), where she lends her skills and experience to inform policy and programming for educators across the province.

Eleanor has been a panellist and presenter at 30 different speaking engagements and conferences since 2012. She has appeared on CTV, Rogers TV, and a variety of Metroland Media local newspapers. An avid global traveller, Eleanor has visited over 25 different countries around the world and is happy to call the Durham region home.

Connect with Eleanor: Email | Twitter | Linkedin

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Durham Black Educators’ Network (DBEN)

Ontario Alliance of Black School Educators (ONABSE)

Durham educators call for more inclusivity in wake of George Floyd’s death (Global News)

Ajax High School – Durham 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):
Eleanor welcome to the high performing educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here today. Please start by introducing yourself.


Eleanor McIntosh (00:08):
Yeah, for sure. So good day, everyone. Eleanor McIntosh here, my pronouns are she her and hers. I am excited motivated, inspired to be here today for this podcast. I’m a principal in the Durham district school board at Ajax high school where I’ve been for the last five, almost five years doing, doing the good work, getting into some good trouble.


Sam Demma (00:37):
Why education? What drew you to teaching and education as a whole?


Eleanor McIntosh (00:42):
So interesting story. My pathway to education was not direct by any means. I, I always tell people that I kind of fell into it because I never really saw myself as an educator education found me. So after my post my undergraduate post-secondary adventures, which are more, mostly geared in the sciences, actually, that’s my undergraduate degree. I decided to put a pause in my life to try and sort things out, I guess you could say. And I traveled, I took I took a job teaching English, a overseas through the a program called the jet program, the Japan exchange and teaching program. So I applied got shortlisted and then got accepted to the program. And off, I went on my adventure to Asia. So I spent two years in Japan where I had never been that far away before, but, you know went along with many other educators from Canada and around the world and found myself in a small little town kind of like Pickering or Ajax in the Durham region.


Eleanor McIntosh (01:59):
And I taught English in a large academic high school cuz they do, they, they stream there in Japan. And in that experience I found my calling. I loved teaching. I loved connecting with kids. I loved being in a classroom and English is not my background, but I had to figure it out. And it wasn’t about the English, right? The English was just a part of it. It wasn’t about the English, it was about the connection and, and being in community and all, lots of other different things. And so it’s because of that experience that I applied to teachers college here in Ontario, came back and became an educator.


Sam Demma (02:42):
That is so awesome. Would you other educators who are teaching now or thinking about teaching to travel international and if so, why?


Eleanor McIntosh (02:53):
So again, a really good question because it was because of this experience that I really often encourage students and educators to travel and to use international travel or education as a gateway to learning and building, building our personal selves and verse building character because I really, we found that that experience, it, it was for me life changing. I will say that I say that all it was life changing for me. I grew as an individual. I grew as a professional at the time I didn’t really see myself at the professional, but I really grew into my professional self. And, and, and so, you know, I often talk about my international education experience as a stepping stone to to whatever you want to learning to growing. And I talk a lot about that, especially with students who are unsure, you know, take a year go and see, because you can gain so much from traveling around the world and connecting with people, which is what I found.


Sam Demma (04:06):
That’s so amazing. I found similar experiences traveling not to teach, but to play soccer. Yep. At the age of 13. So I think travel opens your mind and eyes to many things you might not hear or see, and it changes your perspectives. It gives you more tools to see the world through.


Eleanor McIntosh (04:27):
It does. It does. And it’s, it’s amazing. I think probably there was lots of aha moments in that, in that traveling. I was there for two years. Like I was overseas for two years. Didn’t come back to the Western world for two years. Because why I could come back, I’m gonna be back here eventually. Yeah. But you know, I really, I really saw the value of perspective because the world views the west their differently than the west views, the rest of the world. So that was eyeopening for me.


Sam Demma (05:09):
Tell me more about that. How does the rest of the world view the west versus us?


Eleanor McIntosh (05:15):
So we are very, as a Western society, we’re very, we’re new compared to the west of rest of the world, right. Because our, our civilization started much later than, than other countries. And I think we’re a little bit arrogant in the way that we believe the rest of the world operates or a ESP for the rest of the world to operate. And so it’s very Western centric. So, you know, it’s like the west is the center of the world and everybody else operates based on what the west does, but oh no. You know, you know, the west has its own ways of functioning and, and operating. And, and I found in particular I often got confused for being American. And so I was interrupting notions of discrimination and, and viewpoints of Americans or black Americans, even when I was traveling overseas.


Eleanor McIntosh (06:13):
But the minute I said that I was Canadian boy, the, at the viewpoint change. So the world welcomes and sees Canada as a very big partner for it around for its, for its citizens and a global participant positive global participant. Whereas it doesn’t view the Americans in the same way. Exactly. And so there was a lot of hate coming, you know, I, I heard a lot of hate for the west and we, you had to kind of separate Canada and America a little bit because really that hate was about America a lot. Right. Wow. So it was, it was really I opening yeah. Really eye opening.


Sam Demma (06:59):
Speaking of perspectives and the importance of gaining more, I’m grateful that lots of perspectives that have been very underrepresented are starting to, you know, hopefully bubble to the service and have over the past two years especially in the communities of a diversity equity. And you’ve been a champion of pushing that message forward as much as you can. What do you think are some of the challenges that have existed and to this day still exist, that you’re really passionate about speaking up and, and trying to make a change in that you think are underrepresented perspectives.


Eleanor McIntosh (07:38):
Really great question. So a couple of things come to mind I think for a long time education, public education was allowed to be ignorant yeah. To the realities of what was happening in its communities, where it was centered. You know, it was always seen as the powerhouse and there was a very clear, defined way of operating and still it’s still there. It’s absolutely still there. And so you know, George Floyd, the, the incidents and George Floyd a couple of years ago, I think served as a real catalyst for the world to wake up and for education to now participate in interrupting biased practices, discriminatory practices that have been going on forever and still continue. So it really allowed us to will no longer be silent. So those who were on the margins who were working in education, it gave them voice mm, gave them a space it gave and not them cuz I’m included in that.


Eleanor McIntosh (08:52):
It allowed us to advocate for the change that we knew we wanted to see for so long, but really we were silenced for for years. And I will say that specifically about my work in education. I never really saw a, an avenue where I could participate in challenge notions of, of racism, discrimination, oppression in the system. I felt that I really had to maintain the status quo because if I chose to speak up, then there, I would be for lack of a better word blacklisted, I would be I would limit my career possibilities, right. There would be, there would be impact to me personal impact and professional impact to me. But as the doors have widened more and more examples come to the forefront that have allowed the conversations of equity and diversity and more specifically anti-oppression to find its way into learning spaces.


Eleanor McIntosh (10:09):
And that was nothing that we ever wanted to participate in before you might have seen pockets, but they were quiet pockets. Yeah. They were people that would close their doors and do their thing quietly. But now people have opened their doors and let that freedom out into the entire school community. And that is bringing students joy because we’re not, we’re no longer harming, we’re not harming kids anymore. That harm. You’re giving students voice. You’re giving them the opportunity to say, no, I don’t want my education to be like this. I wanna make sure that it’s going to resonate with me fully and, and allow me to be my full self.


Sam Demma (10:54):
And represent the whole truth.


Eleanor McIntosh (10:58):
100%. Cause we were speaking partial truths for a long time.


Sam Demma (11:01):
There’s a book by Martin Luther king Jr. With the title. Why we can’t wait, it’s something, I might be butchering it a little bit, but it’s something along those lines. And the whole book is amazing and it talks about a lot of the movements he engaged in and why now was the time for change and why? Like we can’t be patient anymore. And I’m curious to know why you believe the reform that’s happening currently in education and, and hopefully continues to happen throughout north America and all over the west. Why is now the time and why can’t we be patient with this stuff anymore?


Eleanor McIntosh (11:36):
We can’t be patient because all kids are not succeeding. Mm.


Eleanor McIntosh (11:43):
All, all students, that’s what publication is grounded in. Yeah. Right. The success of all students, Nelson Mandela talks about that education is the powerful equalizer. Right. But it hasn’t been yeah. For so long. And so we can’t wait for more and more students to be harmed for black students, particularly black males to be pushed out of the system to end up into this pipeline into activity because they don’t feel a sense of belonging that no one is there advocating for them. So you’re right. We can’t wait. And sadly for those who hold privilege and those who have, have garnered that privilege through just by who they are, we can no longer allow those loud voices to control the outcomes of students cannot. Right. It’s time now for those who have been silenced underrepresented or marginalized to bring those perspectives back to the forefront so that we are there to, to advocate, that’s what public educators are for. They’re there to advocate for all students, not just some and the ones on the margins need us the most. And so we need to stand up for them. Now, the data’s clear, kids are not succeeding and we can’t do it anymore.


Sam Demma (13:11):
It seems like the motivation and motivation is very fleeting because it might last for a minute. It might last for a month. It might last for two months, six months. Yep. But the motivation and excitement of something happening in the world and our initial reaction seems to fade very fast. Yes. How do we sustain this change? How do we move away from motivation and decide to commit and discipline ourselves to follow through with these things? Even when it’s hard, even when the doors are open and the conversations are extremely uncomfortable, I’m not asking you for the key of this whole solution here, I’m putting on the spot, but how do we bring this back to the forefront of the conversation and continue it?


Eleanor McIntosh (13:59):
Yeah. I mean, I think there’s a, there’s a number of different ways that that can happen. From a, from a professional standpoint, I think it’s, it’s twofold, right? So from a professional standpoint we have a responsibility in schools, right. And so for this question leans more towards what is our responsibility and, and not just, not just in the way that we believe that this should be, but what is the legal responsibility? Because there is a legality, right? What is the legal responsibility that we have to make sure that this that we’re not closing these doors, that we’re keeping that at the forefront, right. So that’s the first thing. And there’s been a couple of really strong moves made by the government in order to make sure that, that that, that responsibility is clear for educators. And I’ll give you an example.


Eleanor McIntosh (14:55):
So one example is, is that the Ontario college of teachers has now advised it has now become as part of the education act that discriminatory practices are now an act misconduct for educators. That’s a bold move. That was a necessary move to legitimize the work and keep that responsibility very ever present for educators. Right. they’ve also put out an advisory relating to anti-black racism, right? Again, another bold step that allows for that high level of accountability for educators. Right. So no longer. So now as a system, we have some, some very clear lines to lean on, right? Should people decide that they no do not want to participate, that they want to give up their responsibilities to the students that we serve. Right. but I also think it goes deeper than that because we have to also lean on ed administrators, like leaders in the right leaders, leaders have to participate in, in making the space for this change to happen.


Eleanor McIntosh (16:07):
Right. We are part of that responsibility because we are also we’re educator at heart. And so from, from middle to upper management and the executive level, how are we making sure that the policies, procedures and frontline work of leaders make sure that we are advocating, educating, building awareness, right. With our staff so that it doesn’t fall to the wayside so that our, our educators feel not just empowered, but confident to entertain and engage in conversation of injustice in the classroom. Right. Because it’s not just about teaching you know, literacy and numeracy, that’s important, but we want to make sure that we are creating a world that we, that is not reflective of the current day. We wanna create a world that is reflective of what we want to see in the future. We do that through opening up these conversations in the classroom.


Eleanor McIntosh (17:21):
Right. And so that, I think it’s so it’s, it’s multiple things. And then on a personal level for people, people have to also feel as though that they are not comp that they’re not complicit in racist practice or discriminatory practices. Right. So, you know, you know, they have to choose to educate themselves, right. So how do they, how do they, why, why would I, as an educator, as a human being choose to participate in, in learning more, right. People don’t want to feel as though that they are creating barriers for people or upholding white supremacy. They don’t wanna feel that way. And so it’s also playing into people’s compassion and right. We wanna make sure that people understand that justice is for everyone, from every location, from every identity. And so by putting that and making that as a priority, right. Going, leaning on the moral compass, if you will, the compassion that everybody holds, I think it’s how you also get to educators or people to buy in right into these circum, into these conversations, even when it’s hard. Right? Yeah. Even it’s hard.


Sam Demma (18:40):
It sounds like we really can’t afford spectation or spectators anymore.


Eleanor McIntosh (18:46):
You can’t, you can’t afford to be a bystander anymore. Yeah. If you’re a by, in, or someone’s gonna call you out, like this is the thing now, right. People aren’t gonna stay silent, somebody’s going to call you out. And I have had to on many occasions, you know, engage in conversations, sometimes difficult conversations with staff about something they may have said or whatever. And again, not ill intention. I would never think that anybody is doing something maliciously. We are gonna make these mistakes, but it’s up to me and, and everybody else in the building to make sure that we are all moving this forward together, nobody left behind.


Sam Demma (19:26):
Hmm.


Eleanor McIntosh (19:26):
Nobody left behind.


Sam Demma (19:28):
What have you found helpful in terms of educational resources? So there’s an educator listening right now who is mentally deciding, not because they’re just motivated due to your passion for this topic. Yep. But they’re mentally deciding right now. Okay. I don’t wanna bystand I don’t wanna spectate. I wanna join this conversation and participate. Where should they start with their own self education or what have you heard, or even read yourself or heard other educators reading, going through, watching to learn more about the situation to inform themselves?


Eleanor McIntosh (20:07):
So reading is a lot of what I’ve been doing over the past little while, and also, you know, encouraging my staff to read as well. Right. Yeah. And presenting them with choices and options to help build their awareness cuz you’re right. We can’t do it all right. As I so a couple of, so in terms of titles, you know me and white supremacy by Lelas Asad white fragility, lot of, so I read white fragility by Delo. So a lot of DeAngelo’s work. A lot of Kent’s work you know, anti-racist education. Anything by Kent DLO Leila, sod is all very important readings to participate in because it allows us to connect with that personal side of us and push a little in terms of our thinking around what it means to be just a human being, not even just for educators, just a human being. So those are some of the things that we’ve engaged in here. And then of course there’s any number of videos and media pieces that are all put together by again, people who are doing this work that allows us to build more awareness about the issues that are at the, the forefront of this. Right.


Sam Demma (21:25):
Yeah. Awesome. Thanks for sure. What personally on all fronts of life and education, not only with this topic, but what keeps you personally motivated and hopeful to show up every day with your energy and continue doing this work?


Eleanor McIntosh (21:40):
Yeah, so a few things, when I, I decided to become an educator, I came back to Durham where I part when I, where I went to school and, and was raised, I came back to Durham because I wanted to make sure that other students who were in our system didn’t have to experience some of the injustices that I experienced as a, as a young woman. Mm. The young black woman growing up in, in the Durham region. So it was really important for me to be active as an active advocate, right. To interrupt those, those injustices, that was really important. You know, I wanna make sure that I’m actively participating in state in change and not being complicit. And that, that, that, those aha moments, those, that feedback I get from teachers, from students that what we are doing is working definitely keeps, keeps the fire lit for me.


Eleanor McIntosh (22:41):
Mm. You know, when I hear that positivity, when I hear, you know, student voice coming to the forefront, definitely that that warms my heart. It really does to know that I’m, that I’m making those connections really strongly for, for our students. When I, when I see a student turn the corner that’s huge, huge for me because I I do this work for students. I do this for that next generation who is going to do amazing things very much like yourself, Sam, right, who are doing these amazing things that you know, 10, 15 years ago, we couldn’t even imagine, right. It is students that are going to create change for the future, right. We, it is, it is, it is this generation, your generat that, that are going to make that change. And so it’s really important that we empower them to do so. And the last piece in particular is at some point in my career, I became a parent and I have a young daughter a young queen. And you know, I definitely, I’m a young queen. And you know, I wanna make sure that the path is very clear for her coming in, into a system where I know there is injustice. So she is my light every day. And the one who helps to make sure that I am staying focused on the work that needs to be done, because I don’t wanna ever ha have my daughter to come home and tell me that she wants to have blonde hair and blue eyes again.


Sam Demma (24:24):
Amen. That’s awesome. Thank you for sharing that.


Eleanor McIntosh (24:28):
Yeah, no problem.


Sam Demma (24:30):
If you could if you could take all the experience you’ve had in education, bundle it up, walk back to when you first started teaching, tap yourself on the shoulder and say, Hey, this is what you need to hear right now. What, what advice would you have given your younger self?


Eleanor McIntosh (24:54):
Yeah, that’s another good question. I always, I always ask myself, I have learned, I, you know, when you, when you know better, you do better. And I, and I definitely have done better. So I was gonna go back to myself. I would definitely say, make room for, to connect with students, build community it’s community that signals belonging and value for kids. When you have that belonging and value, you get engagement. When you have engagement in the classroom, learning happens when learning happens, success happens. So I would make sure that I would tell my younger self to put aside. There are times when you need to put aside your plan and you need to make sure that you are bringing conversations that matter into the classroom.


Sam Demma (25:48):
Mm.

Eleanor McIntosh (25:49):
I really wanna encourage, I would really spend that time. I was a math and science teacher. So sometimes it can be very linear right in the way that we think. But I think, you know, sometimes we have to take risks, right? I I’ve, I’ve become a risk taker as I’ve, as I’ve matured in the profession. And I would, I would try to take more risks a little bit. I would try to make sure that I’m also using my voice, cuz I didn’t use my voice in those early years. I was too worried. I would use my voice as a vehicle and a platform to advocate even when it was difficult. Even when I fell, felt scared, even when I was fearful.


Sam Demma (26:32):
That’s awesome. Right.


Eleanor McIntosh (26:34):
I would do that.


Sam Demma (26:35):
Thank you so much for taking the time to come on the show. Talk about your experiences, talk about your beliefs and philosophies and share some important follow up on all the things that have happened over the past year or two years. If someone’s listening, wants to reach out, collaborate with you, ask a question, brainstorm some things. What would be the best way for them to get in touch with you.


Eleanor McIntosh (26:59):
Best way is to reach out to I’m not see super huge on social media to be truthful. So I’m on LinkedIn. That’s the one platform that I’m on. So you can look me up on LinkedIn for sure. And then look me up at Ajax high school for now or through the DDSB email’s always great. I’m always open to doing the good work and getting into good trouble with anybody who wants to do that.


Sam Demma (27:22):
Cool. Oh no. It’s thank you so much. Keep up the great work and we’ll talk soon.


Eleanor McIntosh (27:26):
Sam, it’s been a pleasure. Thank you so much for having me on the show.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Eleanor McIntosh

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.

Nicholas Varricchio – Principal at M.M. Robinson High School (HDSB)

Nicholas Varricchio - Principal at M.M. Robinson High School (HDSB)
About Nicholas Varricchio

Nicholas Varricchio (@MMrPrincipal)  is the current Principal of M.M. Robinson High School of the Halton District School Board located in Burlington Ontario. Nick’s career in education has spanned 24 years – 12 of which as a Principal. Nick has taught in 3 different school boards across Ontario both in the Catholic and Public systems, with experience in both the elementary and secondary panels.

Nick has earned a Master’s of Education from York University, a BEd. from the University of Windsor and his Honors BA. from the University of Waterloo.

Connect with Nicholas: Email | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

M.M. Robinson High School

Dr. Frank J Hayden High School

Solution Tree – K12 Professional Development

Halton 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 (00:02):
Nick welcome to the high performing educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here, please start by introducing yourself.


Nicholas Varricchio (00:11):
Well, my name isNicholas Varricchio. I am a secondary school principal with the Halton district school board, and my current work location or school is M.M. Robinson high school. And thank you Sam, for allowing me to participate in my very, very first podcast. So if I stumble and hum and hall a little bit, please excuse that, but I’m excited about this opportunity and thank you for hearing my story.


Sam Demma (00:38):
Thank you for saying yes to this opportunity. I appreciate you may the time to come on the show. Why don’t you start by sharing a little bit about what brought you into education and maybe even explain how you came to realize that education was the career that you wanted to get into?


Nicholas Varricchio (00:58):
Well to be quite honest, I stumbled into education. It wasn’t something that I had planned as a, as a, as a kid or as a teenager, I, I stumbled into it. And you know, the reason why I, I like doing what I do is not because I’m crazy because a lot of people do think being a teacher or a principal today is to, especially during the pandemic, we ought to be crazy. Yeah, but I’m not, I can assure you. I feel that there’s no better place to stay young, energetic, and in tune with the world and the direction of the world, other than being in a school, you learn a lot from kids. They are, are the future. And if you enjoy working in a very fast paced environment with complex situations and you enjoy inspiring others to help evolve the world to be a better place, then absolutely.


Nicholas Varricchio (02:02):
There’s no better place to work than being in a school. What, whether it’s a teacher or a principal secretary, or even custodian, the kids of today will definitely keep you hoping and young and who doesn’t wanna stay young nowadays. Right. But I stumbled into this particular job, you know, as a, as a kid, I, wanted to be a rock star. I’m a musician and a drummer and still have music as part of my life. And although on the surface people might think that, you know, being a principal and a drummer and a, and a rock band are totally different you know, practices or careers, but, you know, I’ve thought about this for many years. You and I come to realize that, you know, I, came into schooling or education because of music, really, even though I’m not a mu I wasn’t a music teacher you know, musicians have a story to tell they like making connections through their music, which is a language and, and teachers and educators have a story to tell both musicians, both educators feel that their stories can inspire and make the world a better place.


Nicholas Varricchio (03:18):
So I think it, it, for me, it’s a, a very good metaphor to help explain how I stumbled into education.


Sam Demma (03:26):
I appreciate you sharing and think it’s so awesome that you still pursue your passion of music. Do you actively continue to play in bands today?


Nicholas Varricchio (03:38):
I do not as my much as I used to when, you know I, I was a young teacher or even a vice principal, but as a principal, I still do. Of course, the, the music industry is somewhat shut down today and has been for the last 18 months or so. So obviously no currently, but it’s definitely a something I continue to to do in my own house on my downtime gives me a definite a definite outlet. My wife is also a singer professionally, although she, she works for a, a big bank as well. She tends to be more active in music today, despite the pandemic challenges than, than myself. But you, yes, to answer your question, I, I still have music on, on, on the radar and hoping to sort of get back into that a little bit more formally once we’re behind once the pandemic is behind us,


Sam Demma (04:32):
You mentioned stumbling into education. You know, your first dream was to get into music, but you stumbled into education. Can you explain a little bit behind that stumbling journey or at what point you realized education is something I would like to do? And then what did the path look like from that moment?


Nicholas Varricchio (04:51):
So you know, I, believe that kids fall into two camps when they’re you know, pursuing their education or the school system one camp is that kids know exactly what they wanna do, or, or at least they think they know what they want to do post secondary, you know and they pursue it. And then there’s the other camp where, you know, kids have no idea what they wanna do post Canary and both camps are okay. I was in the latter camp. I did not know that I wanted to be a teacher. I did like music and wanted to dabble into that a little bit knowing full well that, you know, to make a real good go as a, as a career to let live off that most certainly would be a challenge for many people. And so I decided to, you know, continue with schooling after high school while I still played music.


Nicholas Varricchio (05:58):
And while, you know, I had my part-time job in the retail sector. And you know, when I entered university, I dabbled into all subject areas because I didn’t really know you know, what I wanted to do. And I wanted to see if I could keep as many doors open as possible, should the music not play out the way I thought and hoped it would. So that was in around the time where it was very difficult to get a teaching job. There was a surplus of teachers. And so I decided to take some time off after my four year degree, just to kind of play music, supplement my income with the retail sector and go from there and see what happens. And then after about a year and a half doing that, I kind of got tired of being around a bunch of Grammy guys, playing music in some bars.


Nicholas Varricchio (06:53):
And so I thought, okay, I’m, I’m gonna, I’m gonna, you know, apply to teachers college. And just the, to see where that goes. And it was very competitive to get into teachers college, but I made a commitment to myself that should I get, go get into a, a, a program, I’ll give it a shot. I got nothing to lose. And so I did you know after I completed my four year degree at the university of Waterloo you know, I, I eventually got into the university of Windsor for teachers college and during my first practice teaching assignment at WD low in Windsor, Ontario, I loved it. It was, it was the kids. The kids kept me hopping. I shared with them, you know, some of my, my, some of my journey with music and made a connection through them. And, and and that helped me, you know you know, get through the curriculum with the kids and keep them engaged, you know, developing those personal relationships.


Nicholas Varricchio (07:44):
So being able to, you know, share some personal stories with kids to, to engage them and using those stories to you know, work through the curriculum, I think was is key and was key for me. And so that’s how I kind of stumbled into it. Once, once I finished teachers college, again, there was still that shortage of of teaching opportunities. So again, went back into music into retail and did that for a few months. And then I thought, okay, I, I think I’m ready to at least apply. I think I have the maturity now to apply and let’s see where it goes. And so I applied to, you know, pretty much all the GTA boards and the Halton Catholic board was the first board to give me a chance. And you know, I supply taught and then quickly got out, got, got an LTO that evolved into, and to an, a, a, a position in an elementary school.


Nicholas Varricchio (08:45):
And I, I took it, you know, even though my passion was more of secondary and my experience in teachers college was secondary. I took the opportunity and, and it was a great opportunity that is for sure, but strange enough you know, a few months later I got a call from the principal at St. Francis Xavier, which is in Mississauga for a full-time geography position at their high school. And I never applied to that school. I applied to the Catholic board for a supply teaching gig, you know, several months before, but you know, the principal called me and I thought, man, that was pretty strange. And it was an odd time of year. It was like, you know, the third week of February and, you know, the teachers across the province were just coming off the major strike during the Harris days.


Nicholas Varricchio (09:37):
And so I went for the interview and, you know got the job. And I was in din field for quite a few years. And it was strange because that opportunity presented itself because the the permanent teacher, I guess, decided to marry some guy overseas and didn’t return to the teaching job. So, you know, the, the, I got that opportunity and I, because of somebody else’s best luck in a marriage. And it was a strange time. And I was with din peel for six, seven years. And you know, I was I taught at C I was just gonna zag another big, big high school in Mississauga. And then from there, I came to the Halton ditches school board, which which is actually home for me, I’m a product of the Halton district school board. My K through 12 experience was through the Halton ditches school board. And ironically very ironically the high school at, I graduated from 25 years later. I became the principal of that school at a time when many of my teachers were still there. And I, I wasn’t the best student. And most certainly, if you had asked those teachers if they thought that I would become a teacher or a principal at the school where they worked at, they would look at you like you’re crazy, but the world is a crazy place and a funny place. And that’s my stumbling into education journey.


Sam Demma (11:10):
You mentioned your belief about this idea that students fall into two categories, those that are so certain and, and know what they wanna do with their future and those that are not so certain and like yourself, I feel like I fell into the latter category of not a hundred percent being sure. How do you think we help those students that are unsure, you know, as a principal and as a teacher, how do we also support those students who are unsure, think about maybe what you would’ve needed when you were a student.


Nicholas Varricchio (11:45):
So, you know, and I know there’s gonna be some people who hear this podcast, who, who will adamantly disagree with me, but I, believe that it’s perfectly fine not to know exactly what you want to do as a young person. Mm. And I also believe that to help those young people who are not certain, what they wanna do is to highlight for them that it’s perfectly okay, because that will help take the edge off in some of the anxiety that they might be experience experiencing on not knowing exactly what they want to do. I always say to the kids, Hey, look at it this way. If you’re not sure what you want to do, and you spend an extra year at school, that means one less year that you’re, you’re having to work for a living. So, you know, I, say to kids, don’t worry about it.


Nicholas Varricchio (12:38):
Just, you know, if you’re not sure, just try a little bit of everything, something will, something will spark your interest and, you know, and once that spark happens, continue to spend more time and energy in that area. And it, it, something will emerge for you most certainly. So I, I think, you know, to help kids understand that it’s perfectly fine, you know, say that to them, be transparent with them. And again, you know, some people will disagree with that. Because you know, there’s so much pressure on kids nowadays in selecting the right courses is early on in their career to leave the doors open, which, you know, you wanna leave doors open for sure. But I think it’s perfectly fine and normal not to have a concrete plan for your next step in university, but I think if you, if you prepare kids and, you know, take that layer of pressure off of them I think they will appreciate that and understand that that’s just a normal process of growing and learning and moving on in life.


Sam Demma (13:45):
I personally agree with you and relate, because again, I was the student who wasn’t sure who maybe got three years of no work because I, I took a great third a gap year and a year off before deciding what I wanted to pursue professionally. So it’s really refreshing to hear that perspective coming from a principal as well. What do you find most rewarding about your work in education?


Nicholas Varricchio (14:18):
I, think, and often the reward is not an immediate reward. It could come days, weeks, months, and maybe even years after it’s, it’s seeing hearing or understanding that some of the work that you’ve done, whether it was directly with a student or a specific class or some of the work that you’ve done with the staff in your building or some of the work that you’ve done collaborating with central board staff, the reward for me is that I see that some of the energy input and voice has been acted upon and, and influenced others, processes, products or paths for kids or for staff that evolves schools systems and helps kids grow to be better people. Hmm. So I, that is, to me, the most rewarding bit is seeing that, yes, my work, my voice had a positive change for the better in education for kids.


Sam Demma (15:41):
And along your journey as an educator, I’m sure there’s been teachers, mentors, people that have poured into you and, and helped you, who are some of those people that come to mind and what did they teach you or share with you that you think was impactful in your journey of, you know, becoming the best educator and role model or, or principal that you possibly can be.


Nicholas Varricchio (16:07):
So, you know, I two things I’ve always had connections with teachers who am evolve themselves outside the classroom like through extracurricular, for sure. But also those teachers who had incredible stories and a gift to tell a story, to engage kids, to keep them captivated and listening and learning and class. I also, I also think that you know, my parents and I think this is probably, this will probably echo for a lot of people too. My parents were probably my best teachers throughout my life, and my mom Conti continues to be my best teacher in my life and together between, you know, my parents and my parents and my teachers throughout my school journey have always encouraged and, and foster this sense of, to ask some real crew critical questions. And don’t be shy from asking real critical questions.


Nicholas Varricchio (17:24):
That’s what I’ve learned. And, you know the power of partnerships are very important. And I I’ll give you two, two examples of, of partnerships with team parents and teachers that as, as a, as a kid, you know, if something happened in the school and I was directly involved in this incident, I tell ya I would go home. And of course, I’m not gonna say anything to, to my parents. And my mom would say, well, anything happened at school today? And I’d be like, Nope, Nope, no. And then she would throw it in my face. Right. And I would always wonder, how did she know? You know? And you know, she all always used to say, and I remember never lie to your mother. Your mother will know everything. The fact is my mother used to work for Loblaws and she was a cashier and the teachers would deliberately go through her line to share some of the things that were occurring in the class.


Nicholas Varricchio (18:25):
Now, whether they op, whether they deliberately shared to throw me under the, a bus or my mom would ask them, you know, keep the pulse of of of what was happening in schools, either way the partnership was there. And you know, funny enough, you know, again, when I came back to be a principal at the school we had a good chuckle with some, some, some of that, you know, cuz you know, here’s me being the principal and of the school and knowing that office space quite well from 25 years earlier. So very interesting. That is for sure. So the power of partnerships is definitely important. And in fact, my mom also volunteered in, when I was a, a high school kid, volunteered with the auto shop teacher. Now she claims she just volunteered because my dad was useless and didn’t know how to change a tire. But I have a feeling that I have a, I have a feeling, she did that to kind of keep an eye on what was happening in the school. So, you know you know, those teachers who had good connection or I felt I had a good connection with were those who actively got involved with my life, both inside and outside the classroom and through building partnerships with my parents.


Sam Demma (19:37):
That’s awesome. I totally relate to having parents as mentors, I’m even inspired deeply by my grandparents as well. Both who I think like yourself, are, are you a Italian? Is that your background?


Nicholas Varricchio (19:53):
Yes, I am. Yeah. Yeah. My mom and dad were both born in Italy. My, my grand, my grandparents of course were born in Italy. My, my grandfather was a world war II vet. Oh. They immigrated in the, in the fifties and you know, my grandpa other worked in the mines in Northern Ontario and the subways in in in Toronto and then actually later on in life, he, he worked for the the Toronto school board and he was a, he was a custodian for the for the for the Toronto school board. And for any Toronto district board central staff, one of his grievances was, you know, staff members leaving half coffee cups in the garbage cans. And at the time they weren’t using garbage bags and all that used to bother him. So if there’s any central staff listening, they won’t leave your half, your cup, half full in the garbage can for the custodians.


Sam Demma (20:49):
I love it. Leave it there. That’s a, that’s a very good point, but yeah. You know,


Nicholas Varricchio (20:53):
Yeah, don’t do that. Don’t do that. So, but anyway, that little, little funny story, but a true story.


Sam Demma (20:59):
Yeah. And my grandparents are both from Italy as well. My parents are born a year, but my grandparents are born there and grandfather’s name Salvato. And he, yeah, he passed when I was 12, but yeah, he was a big, you know, mentor, not even through his words because I was so young and you know, didn’t really, you know, understand a lot of the meaning of mentorship back then, but through his actions and his hard work really taught me a lot. So I think partnership is really important. And having people in your life who you can bounce ideas off of, or who you can share, the honest, authentic truth, no matter how bad it sounds and, and know that the person you’re sharing it with is gonna be giving you advice from their heart with your best interest in mind. So, yeah, I think what you’re mentioning with your mom and just with, with partnership in general is so important throughout your career in education have you come across any resources, any programs anything you’ve attended or things you’ve brought into your school that you think were really valuable for the community that another educator listening could also benefit from?


Nicholas Varricchio (22:10):
So, you know, some, some of the, some of the PD that I’ve participated in both through my board, the Hal and ditch school board, and, you know, other PD that I participated in outside our board through solution tree, I, I have the opportunity to, to hear a fellow, his, his name is Anthony Mohamed and he’s, he’s well known in education circles and a lot of his work centers on the importance of culture and really understanding culture of a school to, to, to navigate the culture and how to evolve culture in a way that best serves every single kid. And, you know, some of the messages and the, and the thoughts through his research and, and and work really resonates with me because, you know, understanding culture is understanding people and you know, and, and trying to inspire them to get them side and doing that takes time doing that, you know requires you to build trust lead with empathy. But also, and as my dad would say is, you know, approach relationships by being fair firm and friendly. Mm. So, you know, very simple. But I think it, it, you know, if you keep that in mind being fair firm and friendly you know, I think it, you’re in the right, you’re taking the right steps to, to, to build trust to get people to buy in, to feel supported and see the bigger picture on, on what you’re trying to do.


Sam Demma (23:56):
Got it. That’s awesome. Do you know, what’s a solution tree, like a organization that has some speakers or what, what is solution tree?


Nicholas Varricchio (24:07):
Yeah, so it, it, it’s a network of professional speakers that that, you know, they have, they put on conferences throughout the world really. And and I’ve attended a few conferences in the United States that one here too, as well in the past. And, you know, school will, boards will often tap into solution three to bring speakers to the, to their boards of education. And, and, and quite a few colleagues. I’m not the only one who will, you know you know, participate in these conferences with solution three. And of course, you know, they, they promote the, the the speakers and their books. You know, so it’s, it’s, it’s, it’s well known in the education world for sure. And the speakers that are engaged in solution tree are, are well known as well and experienced in school systems. They’re not just, you know they have experiences in schools. Let’s put it that way before they, before they became on the speaking circuit. So, yep.


Sam Demma (25:13):
Yeah, absolutely. That sounds awesome. Thank you for sharing that. I’ll definitely make sure to include a link to their stuff in the show notes of the episode. If you could take your knowledge and experience, and maybe this will be reiterating something you’ve already shared, but if you could take your knowledge and experience, wrap it all up and travel back in time, walk into the first couple of years of teaching that you did as a young educator. Not that you’re old now, but when you were fresh into your career if you had all the advice and wisdom now could give it to your younger self, what would you have told young Nick?


Nicholas Varricchio (26:00):
I would say that do recognize that everyone has a different starting point. Mm don’t don’t don’t assume that, so I don’t that as a, as a teacher that just because a student had graduated or moved on to the next level, they will, they, they do most, certainly have the same skill, knowledge experience, even though they formally have moved on, on to the next grade or the next course. So rec recognizing that, despite what it says on a transcript, know that when you are in the classroom with the kids, that despite what is said on their previous report card, for the course, they are coming with a diff or they both are starting your class with a different starting point. And I think also as well is you know, when they, when a student starts, starts a course with you as a teacher you know, you you’ll hear, you’ll hear things.


Nicholas Varricchio (27:16):
And if you review the OSR, which, you know, teachers are teachers, do, you know, just have that as a background, but, you know understand that it is a, it is a, a blank canvas and you have an opportunity to to work with that student from the beginning. Mm. So, you know, and we are approaching a new beginning, you know, February 4th is the start of semester two. And so every student and every teacher has a fresh start here in the next week or so. So I think, I think as a young Nick remembering and highlighting that, that every student that’s sitting in your class, despite what it said on a report card is starting from a different point in, in, in their, in their learning.


Sam Demma (28:11):
Hmm. That is a very good piece of advice. Thank you so much for, for sharing that if someone is listening to this, wants to reach out, ask you a question about anything we talked about during the podcast, maybe even inquire about hearing some of your music so they could find it online. What would be the best way for somebody to reach out and get in contact with you?


Nicholas Varricchio (28:34):
So I am on Twitter, (@MMrPrincipal). So that’s a good way to kind of remember, MMR principal. I am on Twitter and actually some of the, some you’ll see some music video clips on, on Twitter too where you’ll see me playing with some of the kids at my previous school and some good classic hard rock, a little bit of Metallica, Black Sabbath Motley Crew, which is not usual picks for your principles nowadays, but nonetheless, you’ll see it on my Twitter and those videos. Actually they, they came about in a very interesting way at my previous school before, before before, mm Robinson, I was a school, I was at a school called Dr. Frank J. Hayden. And it had a a common lunch and often kids would go into the music room at Hayden and just jam.


Nicholas Varricchio (29:27):
And so, you know, when I first got there, I, I kind of made a point just to kind of go in there, listen to what the kids were jamming with. And of course they’re jamming some hard rock songs and, you know, I just tap the drummer on the shoulder and say, Hey, do you mind if I kind of try a little bit? And they’re like, sure. And I’m like, what’s on, you know and, you know, just, you know, they started playing some stuff and I just played along. And all of a sudden, you know, kids started coming in and taking some videos and, you know, thought, Hey, look at this. This is really neat. And so I had them share the videos with me and, you know, just at the time I thought, you know, a good little memory of my experience at this school when I eventually move on.


Nicholas Varricchio (30:03):
But then when the pandemic hit you know, one, the first lockdown, you know, there was a lot of concern around about kids and staff becoming disconnected with the school. And so, you know, as an admin team, we would think about ways of somehow keeping the staff and students engaged with us or engaged together. And so, you know, at the time I thought, you know what, I, I, I’m gonna try, you know, some learning, some editing software that were free on the Google play store, downloaded them video editing software. And I decided to, you know, upload those videos that some of the kids took and shared with me. And, and and I started editing them a little bit and I thought, you know, how can I use this to engage the community? And so, and then I started tweeting them out and created a music trivia challenge and saying, okay, if anyone can guess what song I’m playing here with these students, you know, hit me back first, first, correct.


Nicholas Varricchio (31:00):
Answer. You pick up your hard prize when the school reopens, and I would do this on a weekly basis and sure enough, you know, kids were keeping engaged. And the whole point of that was ensuring that our school community remained connected. So another kind of innovative way to weave in music, to, you know, to share a story and, and work in partnership with kids. So, yeah, I share all that because some of my music’s on my Twitter handle and you can see how music can be weaved in as an educator and not just a music teacher.


Sam Demma (31:31):
Absolutely. that sounds awesome. I’ll, I’ll be following you after this as well, and digging for some of those videos. So I appreciate you sharing. Yeah.


Nicholas Varricchio (31:39):
Yeah, no problem. They’re buried in the Twitter. Yeah. Yeah.


Sam Demma (31:42):
Awesome. Well, Nick, thank you so much for taking the time to come on the show here. I look forward to staying in touch with all the amazing things you do. Keep up with the great work and, and we’ll talk soon.


Nicholas Varricchio (31:53):
Sam, nice meeting you. Nice talking with you and best of luck and stay safe. My friend.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Nicholas Varricchio

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

Peter LeBlanc – Author and Retired Ontario and International principal

Peter LeBlanc - Author and Retired Ontario and International principal
About Peter LeBlanc

Peter LeBlanc (@LeBlancPeter) is a retired Ontario and International principal. His most recent work was as principal of the Canadian Section of the SHAPE International School for the Canadian Armed Forces in Casteau, Belgium. This was his fourth and final school as principal and was certainly his most unique. Peter has also served as a system-level principal and spent 11 years teaching at the elementary level. Peter currently works as a Provincial Trainer for Behaviour Management Systems / Systèmes de Gestion du comportement.

Peter is currently writing his first book on visible educational leadership to be published sometime in 2022 via CodeBreakerEdu! He is involved in the leadership branch of The Mentoree. He is an occasional podcast guest both in Canada and internationally. He delivered a TEDx Talk in 2016 about a teacher’s role as the master of relationship, relevancy and pedagogy and was a recipient of The Learning Partnership’s Outstanding Principal Award in 2015.

He is now an ‘extreme snowbird’, spending the winter months in Australia and the rest of his time in southern Ontario. He is the proud father of two adult children and is also an avid amateur musician, currently vying for the title of either Synthesizer Master or Acoustic Rock King and has more musical toys than he knows what to do with! 

You can learn more about Peter and follow along as he reflects on his most recent work overseas at www.peterjleblanc.com

Connect with Peter: Email | Twitter | Website

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Education: moving at the speed of…? | Peter LeBlanc | TEDxKitchenerED

SHAPE International School

CodeBreakerEdu

Principal Learning Blog

Rita Pearson TED Talk – Every kid needs a champion

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):
Peter welcome to the high performing educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show all the way from Australia. Please introduce yourself.


Peter LeBlanc (00:11):
Okay. Thanks Sam. So my name is Peter LeBlanc, and I’m a retired principal, although I I’m trying to figure out almost a better title cause I mean, it, it’s what I was and not necessarily what I am, but I’m struggling with that. So I’ll stick with the retired principal for now. I spent 28 years in education, you know, like a lot of people I started out as a classroom teacher, I, I taught extended French, French immersion, special education, core French mostly in the elementary area. So grades three to, to eight seven and eight was my absolute passion while teaching. And then I moved into a I moved boards and then moved into a vice principal role and, and spent the last 17 years doing that. And again, you know, varied positions, small schools, large schools system level principal for two years.


Peter LeBlanc (01:02):
And then my last, but I always think was, you know, my my most unique, I was on loan with the Canadian military and was the principal of their overseas school in Belgium. So that’s a school that actually sits on NATO’s headquarter base and services, the children of Canadian military, who are either working directly for NATO or serving in some kind of capacity as well as other international students who kind of applied to come to the Canadian section. So it, it was a really unique experience. It’s, it’s actually all, almost all Ontario educators that are on loan from their school boards, from Catholic boards, public awards, French boards. And, and yeah, that’s, I finished my last two years off there and then moved back to Ontario in July. And I know, you know, you said from Australia I’m, I do live in Ontario, but my wife is Australian. So I do the, what I call extreme snowbirding. And we’re now committed for me in retirement while you know, work is, is looking a little bit differently spending two or three months of the Australian summer here. So anyways, that’s, that’s kind of that’s me in a nutshell. So thank you for asking


Sam Demma (02:16):
Before our interview started. Just so you know, Peter showed me the view outside his window, freaking beautiful place, no snow, no bus cancellations because of the snow. It’s, it’s really awesome. And I’m glad that technology can make this possible. What do you think is the most rewarding aspect of your career in education or some of the most rewarding aspects of your career in education?


Peter LeBlanc (02:44):
Wow. So, so, so for me, and, and, you know, having, you know, just retired eight months ago, I, I reflected a lot on, well, you know, what, what is it that, you know, brought me joy and, and I’d have to say it, it is probably the individual connections with students and, and with teachers and, and even sometimes those, those experiences where you find out that a small action of yours, you know, made, made a difference. So, you know, I always think if it’s a, if it’s a staff member, you know, it might be, you know, mentoring them into, you know, something different, whether it’s a practice inside their classroom, whether it’s an actual position change and then hearing afterwards and saying, you know, Peter, I just wanted to let you know that, you know, the permission you gave me to do X, Y, and Z really had an impact on the direction of my career or a student.


Peter LeBlanc (03:34):
And, and, and if I can, you know, just a, a kind of a brief story, I got a, I got a, an X student who, you know, fell into my DM on, on, on Instagram and just said, you know, and look, it was a student. I was at the school for a year, and this was a student who I, you know, provided support for, but more in the way of, you know, just making the office a safe space for them to come when, when they needed it. I didn’t think that I had done to anything of any great significance. You know, other than like I said, you know, being, being an ear and, and a space, and I got a lovely message that, that said, you know, I just wanted to let you know this was, you know, a few years after I had been at the school, I just wanted to let you know Mr.


Peter LeBlanc (04:17):
LeBlanc, I have just been made the valedictorian of my school. And I wanted to thank you for your support. I, I, I knew exactly who the student was, but the the sentiment that came from them, it was both genuine and unexpected. I, I was like, I had them reflect, oh my goodness. Well, well, what did I do? And then when I thought about it you know, it, it really did. It brought me way. So it’s those kinds of things. It’s students that I connect with on, you know, on Facebook and on Instagram. And my son tells me I should go on TikTok, not there, you know, yet, but on, on, in, in spaces who, who talk about the impact of the work that we would have done together and, and, you know, with teaching staff, the same thing, and, and now people who are going into to more leadership roles, you know, that same thing.


Peter LeBlanc (05:05):
So it it’s to be able to provide that, that sort of support, even mentorship, you know, that, that I get to reflect on and, and, and may have changed either the course, you know, the path of their careers, or, you know, it, it, to, to not, it almost sounds arrogant when you say it that the path of lives, but, you know, like really to have to have kind of guided them in particular direction and, and to be able to have been a positive impact on that. I, I think that’s probably brought me the biggest joy, you know, of all the positions I’ve done, whether it’s, you know, classroom teacher, classroom support, whether vice principal, principal system level, like whatever it happens to be,


Sam Demma (05:41):
You’re a huge relationship advocate. You talk about it in your TEDx talk as well. Why do you think building relationships should be the heart of this work? And what do you think the impact of building a relationship is on a student or staff?


Peter LeBlanc (05:56):
Well, yeah, I, I think it’s critical. I always, I kind of go back to, you know, thank you for mentioning my TEDx talk. I always laugh, cuz I say, you know, my goal would be to have a million views. And I always say, you know, right now I’m 999,000 away from that goal.


Peter LeBlanc (06:14):
It, it, but yeah, I, I think relat ships are, are critical. And I go back to a, a Ted talk by by an American teacher who has now passed R Pearson who, who has the line kids don’t learn from people they don’t like. And, and, and I think that idea of like, you know, we kind of think of that from an adult perspective, right. Well, you know, do they like me? Do they know? And I think for a student, I think that like is broader than that. It’s, it may be, it, it encompasses respect, but I think it encompasses a place where students feel safe and secure perhaps to be themselves. And I think it’s incumbent on a teacher to be able to establish that through the relationship that they have with a student. And then I think, you know, as, as, as a teacher moves into perhaps a more formal role of leadership, whether it’s a vice principal or a principal or a superintendent or director that they, they still have that responsibility to foster those relationships.


Peter LeBlanc (07:12):
And, and, and that’s, that’s hard work, but I think it’s absolutely critical to learning in a school environment. You know, you, I was listening to, to, to some of your past podcasts and you were talking to, I think it was Mr. O’neil, who is now a superintendent with the Durham board and, you know, was, was your principal. And you described him as you know, and, and you were very respectful. And I, you know, I appreciate that, but you said, you know, he was probably the most fun principal you had. And, and, and I think, you know, that’s, that’s a word that a student might use to describe somebody who’s like, Hey, you know, we might say, well, that’s approachable or it’s accessible, or it’s visible. And, you know, you wouldn’t have known fun or not. If the principal had been sitting in their office doing their job from there, it, it sounds like this would’ve been a person who would’ve been inside the building, fostering relationships, knowing a little bit about you, you know, he talk about your love of the soccer ball and how would he have known that if he had have been sitting in his office kind of leading the school.


Peter LeBlanc (08:12):
Yeah. So, you know, and same right. Teachers are the same thing when, when they’re inside the classroom, when, when they’re fostering a relat should with their students. I think the students know that they know that the teacher, you know, that they, they care about them as a person. And when they know that, then I think there’s an openness to be able to learn whatever learning happens to be. Right. So, you know, and if I just, one more thing, like you talk about my Ted talks, I always think, you know, one of the other premises to that is although we have to master the relationship, we have to master pedagogy too. In the end, we are experts in learning. So we have to figure out how students learn best. And we have to sharpen that skill. We gotta make sure that, you know, that, that we are at our best in that regard, but, but we do that so much better when, when it’s based on when it’s based on the relationships that we have with our students and then with our staff and then our communities and the, you know, students, caregivers, and their, their families, whatever that looks like that, that is absolutely critical


Sam Demma (09:07):
As an educator. It’s almost like you have two jobs, one to teach and build a relationship with a student, but secondly, to be on a lifelong journey of education yourself, or consistently learning, how did you balance the pursuit of knowledge yourself with, you know, teaching every day?


Peter LeBlanc (09:30):
Yeah. I, my kids would probably say, I, you know, it cost me my, my home life balance for, for the longest time. I, I just I, I don’t, how did I manage, I, I don’t know. I made time and space to, to try and continue, you know, my own learning both formally. So, you know, I would say I don’t have a master’s degree, but I think I have 16 or 17 master’s degree credits in five different programs. So, you know, it’s like at one point, I’d say, all right, I’m gonna start formal education. Ah, it’s not quite for me. And then I go, I’m gonna try it again. Nah, not quite for me. But you know, I, I try and find resources or people to just always, you know, dig into different kinds of learning. Sometimes it was hard. You know like being a teacher, you know, in whatever could, whether it’s teacher in a classroom, whether it’s no teacher in, in a principal’s office is a, is a hard job.


Peter LeBlanc (10:22):
So there are times when the job itself is all encompassing. I would think now, you know, with teachers sort of leading in, in a very uncertain time trying to, you know, go back and forth, I won’t use the word pivot, cuz it’s not pivot it’s, you know, teaching an online model, all teaching an in-person model, which are two different things. That’s a huge amount of work. So I would imagine that the kind of learning that happens outside of, you know outside of your classroom hours is probably, you know, maybe happening a lot less or not at all for people. Cause they’re focused on their own wellbeing of their job. Would’ve been the same for me. There would’ve been times where it’s like, I can’t do the learning, but I think I’ve always been, I’ve always enjoyed learning it, it, you know, like right now I’m, I’m not working.


Peter LeBlanc (11:06):
There’s no, I have no work obligation. I’m I’m, I’m not an active principal. I don’t work for a particular school board. I do some, you know, kind of, you know, work whether it’s, you know volunteering and advising on the side or, you know, whether it’s paid work, but I’m still, I’m still involved in learning. I, I enjoyed, you know, this, this particular experience cuz I’ll learn from you and our interaction. I, you know, I’m picking up books all the time. I I’m just trying to continuously make my own mindset as an educator better even though my kind of practice as an educator has changed. I, I don’t know if that Sam don’t know if that answered your question or if, you know, I went in a different direction or if not, you’ll, you’ll pull me back in and ask me to follow up and


Sam Demma (11:45):
Yeah, you did answer it. It sounds like your life is your life and all the pieces are always fluctuating, right? There’s certain times where learning is very high and there’s certain times where learning is a little lesser and you’re focused on teaching. And I feel like that will change throughout your entire career. And it sounds like it, it did for you too.


Peter LeBlanc (12:08):
Yeah. And doesn’t it change throughout everyone’s, you know, almost life. And I think, you know, to go back to the idea of a relationship, right? So if I’m, if I’m in a school working with staff or I’m in a school working with students and if I know them and I know a piece of their life, then I’m going to be attuned to those kind of needs as well. Sometimes the students that are in front of us in our classrooms are not at their best when it comes to learning. So, you know, maybe they have an awful lot on their plate and maybe right now is not the time for them to dig into of learning. And, and other times it is you know, a good time for them to learn. So I think we all have those sort of learning cycles. So, you know, I just, I, I think for me, I just, I did what I could when I could you know, to try and, and, and, and hone, you know, my own skill.


Peter LeBlanc (12:49):
And, and then I would surround myself with people who knew an awful lot. Like I’ve been lucky through social media to, you know, connect with some incredible, you know, incredible people that are exceptionally knowledgeable about their craft, whether you know, it’s math education or, you know, whether it’s you know, decolonizing the curriculum. I think of somebody like a client in Ontario, who’s just doing some incredible work around making, you know, around awareness and action, you know, the inequities in, in, in education, you know? It is just, yeah. So, I mean, I think I could go on because I am passionate about learning it. I think that’s probably why I went into education. Yeah. you know, so I’m still passionate about it.


Sam Demma (13:32):
You, you quoted an to start this interview, you also just mentioned the importance of people who are some of the educators whose work has really inspired you. And why.


Peter LeBlanc (13:48):
Okay. Well, that’s a, that’s a good question. So it’s probably changed over the course of my over the course of my career. Right now I, I look at, so there’d be a few people Sunil sing whose work on, on sort of really thinking outside the box in mathematical education has been a huge impact on, on me. Yeah. And then some of the work that, you know, I, I, that I’m involved in, but also learning from, in, in the mentoree, which is, you know sort of a, a mentorship environment that connects different kinds of, of people. I don’t know, like I are there, there people out there, there probably are. And when we’re done talking, I probably have a list of about 20. But I, I don’t know. So, and, and sometimes it, you know, you, you, you, you, you sort of find someone, you know, I talk about the rabbit hole on online, right?


Peter LeBlanc (14:50):
You, you find somebody online and you’re like, oh, I’m gonna go and take a look. I might download a sample of their book. I’m gonna go and take a look at their, their website. And then sometimes the learning doesn’t stick. Sometimes it sticks for a little bit, and then sometimes it has a significant impact, you know, on, on career. You know, so I, like, I know for me in the early stages of leadership development, I, I, would’ve taken a lot a look at a lot of the work of Steven Covey, for example. So, you know, the idea of the you know, seven sort of steps to effective leadership, the idea of, you know, everything from sharpening the saw to begin with the end in mind that would’ve had a big impact on the early stages of, of, you know, my own leadership development, but then I would’ve looked at it less and less and, you know, found, you know, a kind of other, you know, other things as well. Robin Jackson, who is an American principal, and probably now superintendent whatnot had some work around, you know, moving people from a, to B inside of a school. And, you know, the idea of you know, of, of, of leadership and coaching. But, but again, right. You know, tho those kind of influence they, they come and go depending on, on the need to stare though.


Sam Demma (15:54):
Yeah. I think if your influence stayed the same, your whole life too, you wouldn’t be exercising that muscle of curiosity, you know, and being curious about new things that you aren’t already learning about. Yeah. You also have a blog at what stage in your educational journey. Did you start writing that blog? Oh, and what was the purpose for starting it?


Peter LeBlanc (16:17):
Well, I, I think the purpose for starting it, and this would’ve been another one of these, you know, kind of names that would’ve had an influence on my career. George Kuro, who at the time, you know, was I think the principle of it was, might have been innovation in technology G for, I think the Parkland school you know, in Alberta, I know he shifted now he’s written, you know, three or four books. He, you know, has all kinds of things that are going on, but he would’ve talked about the idea of a digital portfolio. And, and I thought that was fascinating. The idea that, you know, we can sort of reflect and write about our experiences in it education and that someone might actually be interested, you know, or might be even curious enough to, to read about it. So I’m, I’m not a prolific blogger, but I probably, it’s probably been close to 10 years since I would’ve written my first blog post.


Peter LeBlanc (17:08):
It might even be longer than that. Right now I’m focused on reflecting on the experience of kind of leading a, a very unique school and trying to be as upfront as I can. So, you know, sometimes as well, and, and, you know, we do this on, on whatever social media platform we’re on, or we do it on our blogs. We, we put our best self forward. And what I’m trying to do in this reflection is, is, you know, without going into significant detail is, is talk about both the, the things that went well, and then the things that might not have gone, you know, so well upon reflection and, you know, the, the, those opportunities that, oh, if I could do it over again, you know, I would, and I’m, I’m about halfway through the journey. I, you know, I was thinking I’d be six or seven blog posts, and I sort of wrote an outline and then life gets in the way, and I’ve done three of those six posts.


Peter LeBlanc (18:00):
And, you know, the fourth one is, is, is kind of ready to go soon. But, you know, as you said, I’m, I’m in Australia for a couple of months right now and trying to enjoy of that experience too. So I dunno, I would, I would encourage I know when I was working with staff at one point in time, you know, we had talked about trying to share our experiences with each other and, you know, it, it, it comes to the idea that when we work inside of a school, whether it’s the students or, or, or the staff or, or the greater community, we have experts on all kinds of things. And if we don’t give them an opportunity to be able to express themselves, whether that’s through through a written blog or, you know, I think of the work that you know, cha and pav do on the the staff from podcast.


Peter LeBlanc (18:42):
I’m not sure if you’re familiar with them or not, but they’re incredible educators. They just put themselves out there and that they, they genuinely share the work that they do. And by that simple act of putting their work out there, other people are both learning from and inspired by the work that happens. So, you know, why not give students the opportunity to do that? Why not take on that opportunity, you know, ourselves. So the blog kind of came from that. It came from, you know, creation of digital portfolio. It came from trying to model the idea of putting your learning out there, even though, you know, nobody, but my mom and my wife might read it, you know?


Sam Demma (19:17):
Yeah. Well, plus another 3,500 people now!


Peter LeBlanc (19:22):
Oh, there you go.


Sam Demma (19:23):
Then when you first started, there was perfect. But so what has writing done for you personally? I am a big advocate of journaling because I find that one, it sharpens my thoughts and ideas, and two, it gets certain emotions also out of my head. Yeah. I don’t have to deal with them as much. How, what has your experience been with longform writing and posting blog?


Peter LeBlanc (19:49):
Yeah, it probably very similar. It, it, it takes it, you know, if, if, if, and I tend to be somebody who sits in my head a lot you know, it, I guess the negative side of that would be, you know, a Mueller or a Brer, but, you know, I, I think the positive side of that is, you know you know, I won’t say visionary cuz that’s that I think has a different connotation, but you know, somebody who’s always trying to think of, of big ideas and, and I think it allows me at the pace of writing to take my ideas and to put them down. So, so there’s no, there’s no rush to it. I can, I can take my time and I can think about what I’m gonna say. I can kind of, you know, Smith my words a little bit. And, and I like you, I love the written word for, for kind of getting my ideas out there.


Peter LeBlanc (20:35):
You, you talk about journaling and, and you know, almost, it’s almost the way of emptying your head and kind of putting it, putting it on paper and, you know, sometimes I’ll go back over it and all, it’s not quite what I had wanted to say. So it, it, it’s a, it’s a great place to record thoughts and then maybe go back on them and, and reflect on them. You know, I talk about my, my children, my, I have a son who’s probably just a little bit older than you are, but not much. And for Christmas, one of the things I bought him was actually the men’s journal. Cause I said, you know, nobody had talked to me as a young man about the, the idea of trying to put my thoughts down in writing. And I wish they had, because as a, you know, as a less young man that, that idea of being able to put those, those ideas down has been exceptionally, exceptionally helpful.


Peter LeBlanc (21:22):
Exceptionally helpful, cuz I, I think it’s, it’s both a productive practice, you know, and of course I’m, you know, I’m, I’m currently working on on a book on visible educational leadership, which, you know, lets me sort of, you know, work on my, my writing craft, but you know, it’s also going slower than I had anticipated because I wanna make sure that, you know, the words are there in, in a way I anticipate it, but that they’re also, you know, helpful to others who may, you know, who may pick up the book at some point, you know, when it’s done that it that it reflects my passion about, you know, being out there in a community, you know, you use the word fun to describe a principle. I would do the same thing, but I talk about, you know, accessible and visible and supportive and you know, and kind of out there so that, you know, people sort of know who you are.


Peter LeBlanc (22:04):
Yeah. And I wanna make sure that, that, that, that process, you know, that, that writing process supports that. But you know, I also think too, like right now what you are doing, so, you know, the idea of, of any kind of recording of ideas. So, you know, if it’s a podcast or of log, you know, even if it’s reals, if it’s, you know you know, if, if it’s, you know you know, TikTok videos, whatever it happens to be, it allows people able to be able to record, you know what they’re, they’re what they’re thinking. It, it lets ’em kind of put them a little piece of themselves out there and then maybe go back and sort of reflect on it that I think that’s a good thing if we do it cautious, sometimes it’s not necessarily a good thing when we’ve got a record of, you know, everything we’re thinking and everything we’re doing, but, but I think it has the potential to, to be, to be great, no,


Sam Demma (22:50):
Right around the holiday season, I started seeing these sponsored ads for this new book. And it’s a book you buy for your parents and the book every single day has a question that prompts your parents to write about stories throughout their life. And when the book is done, they hand it to you. And the goal is that you have 365 stories that they may have never told you before. So that by the end of their life, when they do pass away every single year, you give them one of these books, you have like a recollection of all of their experiences. And I thought it was such a cool idea. And it reminded me of the fact, you know, when you mentioned that you bought your, your son a journal and my, my question for you is if you could take all the experience you’ve had in education, you haven’t potentially written it all down in books every single year, but you could take the experience you have in education transport back in time and walk into your own classroom. One of the first classes that you taught in, tap yourself on the shoulder and say, Hey Peter, this is what you needed to know. What advice would you have given your younger self? Wow,


Peter LeBlanc (24:04):
Wow. So to me, I guess that the, the first thing I would probably tell myself would be, you know, one is don’t, don’t doubt yourself. When you think that the relationship with students is critical. Because I think sometimes the, the push for covering curriculum or, you know, and, and I’m not, I’m not saying that isn’t important. I think we have to revise what it is that we, what we talk about is being important. But I tap myself on the shoulder and say, you know, when you are thinking that all students need is, is you to kind of support them that that’s enough that, you know, don’t beat yourself up if you know, X does and get covered in the way that you want it to, because that’s not what the students sitting in front of you needs now. And, and the other thing I, I would tell myself is you’re gonna, you’re gonna make mistakes, that there are some things that you’re gonna do that you’re gonna go, whoa, like O you’re gonna have some cringe worth moments and you’re gonna come out.


Peter LeBlanc (25:11):
Okay. You know, in, in the end, you’re gonna come out. Okay. Those cringeworthy moments will, you know, will, will, will shape you and might push you in different directions, but you’re gonna be all right. So I, I probably do that. I, I I’d let myself know right. At the beginning, the importance of relationship, I think I, it took me a while to develop up that, that understanding. I I’d make sure that I knew that right from the get go that, that, that students want and need really need to feel that that support system from, from you, you know, in, in some ways is one of the primary adults in their lives for 10 months. They need to feel that from you. So don’t, you know, don’t don’t diminish or dismiss the importance of that, of that role. Does that, does that make sense, Sam? Is that,


Sam Demma (26:01):
Yeah. Three key words that keep coming to mind and throwout this entire conversation are visibility, accessibility, and relationships. Yeah. And I’m sure there’s many more, ah, some ideas and topics that will come out in your book for people who are interested in following along your journey. One, where can they find your blog and two, where can they reach out if they have some questions or like to stay up to date about the book?


Peter LeBlanc (26:25):
Okay. So I’ll talk about the reaching out first. So I, I always say I’m more or less physic, well, I was thinking at one point in time, I was probably more visible on social media or more, you know but as always happens, you’ve got innovators and people who push practice forward. So I’m, I’m there but less visible. I would encourage people to reach out as a matter of fact when the school systems in Ontario kind of, you know, shifted and made a, a very quick decision to go, you know, back online, I’d actually put an invitation out there to, to school leaders and said, look, you know, I’m sitting on the sidelines, I’m not connected to any school, or, you know, jumping into my DM on Twitter and message me. I’m happy to help out in any way I can. I’ve got 28 years of experience, 17 of them, you know, at the helm of the school.


Peter LeBlanc (27:11):
So, you know, I don’t work for your school board. So, you know, if you trust me, go ahead and ask those questions. So I’m happy to have people reach out in any capacity, as far as where to reach me from a social media perspective, I’m probably more active professionally on Twitter than anywhere else. My Twitter handle is just my last name. So @LeBlancPeter. So LeBlanc Peter I’m, I’m on Instagram as well. And I would say, you know, those are two sort of open channels. They’re, they’re public, Instagram is sort more a blend of personal and professional life. If you’re gonna feel bad sitting in minus 20 degree weather in Toronto, about me putting pictures up, you know, of Sydney Harbor in January, then don’t, don’t go to @PeterJLAN on Instagram. That’s not the place to go.


Peter LeBlanc (27:59):
And as far as my, my blog goes, my blog and, and, and website, it would just be www.peterjleblanc.com. Right now I’m three parts into sort of that reflection on my work being SED by the Canadian military, which like I said, was an absolutely incredible and unique work experience. There really are only two Ontario prince schools on the planet, you know, who do that job. And, and then I, you know, I, I did it like, I, I, I worked with, you know, staff and with the military community, you know, in the, at the start of, and, you know, all basically through 18 months, the global pandemic. So that presented its kind of leadership challenges. So, you know, I invite people along to, to come and read about that experience. I’m writing about that.


Peter LeBlanc (28:45):
And then the book, I mean the working title is, is visible educational leadership. And interesting. You talk about the idea of, you know, of accessibility and visibility. Because that, that really is the, the, the, the premise of the book itself, it’s it it’s being published by Codebreaker EDU, which is organiz that’s you know kind of run by Brian aspenall and Davene MCNA MC and you know, it has a, a wealth of and a, you know, a large group of, of kind of educational, you know, leaders and thinkers and, and, and, and people including, you know, chain PAB on the, on the staff and podcast and, you know, all just all kinds of all kinds of people all kinds of people to learn from that book should be published at some point in 2022.


Peter LeBlanc (29:35):
I have to finish writing it first. I but it will be, you know, it, it kind of be the focus of the who, what, where, when, why, and how you know, of, of visible leadership and, and not just the idea of being visible inside your school, but, you know, how do you support teaching staff inside a classroom? How are you there for students? How do you amplify a student’s voice, particularly students who need you as a principal to be the amplifier, you know, of, of, of their voice. How do you do that in your, your community? You know, how can you, you know, take on that truly visible leadership role. Cause I always say, you know, do you really want to be the opposite of a visible leader? Cuz the opposite of a visible leader is an invisible leader and that’s, I, it’s impossible to have that stance as a leader, you cannot lead and be invisible.


Peter LeBlanc (30:18):
That’s that’s impossible. So I just wanna make sure of that. So yeah, Twitter primarily and, and you know, my I mean my email address is on my website, so you can always go there, but if you wanted to jump into my email address by all means, go ahead. It’s principallearning@gmail.com note that, you know, right now my time zone is 16 hours ahead. So there’s pretty good luck likelihood that you know, I’ll be sleeping when you’re awake, but yeah, I’m, even if it’s just a question even just to say, Hey, you know, you know, I, I heard what you had to say, you know, with, with Sam and you know, I enjoy that. Or you know, even, even people questioning and pushing my own learning, I always open to that as well. When we, if, if yeah, we’re not pushing our own learning, then we’re not we learning.


Sam Demma (31:03):
I agree, Peter, this has been a great conversation. Thank you so much for making the time. I know you could be outside this morning sitting on a beach, but you chose to be here. I appreciate it. And well, I look forward to picking up a copy of your book when it comes out, by the time this episode gets released, your blog series should be done as well. So people will be able to check out the whole thing. So keep it up and stay in touch and we’ll talk to indeed.


Peter LeBlanc (31:30):
All right. So sign copy for you then Sam, when it’s done. All right.


Sam Demma (31:33):
Sounds good.


Peter LeBlanc (31:35):
Thanks.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Peter LeBlanc

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.

Nicola Whitehouse – Vice-Principal at St. Peter High School (OCSB)

Nicola Whitehouse (@MrsNWhitehouse), is Vice-Principal at St. Peter Catholic High School in Orleans. The first nine years of her teaching career were in London, UK and combined with her time spent in Canada she has over ten years experience as a school administrator. Nicola has worked in both private and public education systems here in Canada. She has worked as a vice-principal with the Ottawa Catholic School Board (OCSB) for the last four years.
About Nicola Whitehouse

Nicola Whitehouse (@MrsNWhitehouse), is Vice-Principal at St. Peter Catholic High School in Orleans. The first nine years of her teaching career were in London, UK and combined with her time spent in Canada she has over ten years experience as a school administrator. Nicola has worked in both private and public education systems here in Canada. She has worked as a vice-principal with the Ottawa Catholic School Board (OCSB) for the last four years.

Nicola is deeply passionate about championing student voices to lead change. She believes that demonstrating respect for students and their families by listening to their ideas, being open to those ideas and genuinely considering their value is key. She is an advocate for student associations that provide opportunities for youth to find places of affinity as well as collaborate on solution-based approaches that are essential to providing mentally healthy and supportive education for all. Nicola is married with two children, aged 8 and 10.

Connect with Nicola: Email | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Dr. Gholdy Muhammad

St. Peter High School (OCSB)

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


Nicola Whitehouse (00:09):
Thanks Sam. I’m really happy to be with you today. Thanks so much for the invite. This is gonna be awesome. My name’s Nicola Whitehouse. I am currently a vice principal with the Ottawa Catholic school board. I am fourth year as a vice principal with St. Peter’s Catholic high school out in Orleans. I have been an educator for over 20 years now, which is pretty crazy. Nice to think about that. And about, yeah, I’m just hitting my 10th year of administration. It’s been a pretty awesome so far. I’m a mom and I have two kids who are 10 and eight. And my husband is also in education, so yeah, lots of, lots of chat about school. And being a teacher, being a principal in our house, for sure.


Sam Demma (00:57):
How did you get into education? Did you know from a young age, this is what you want, wanted to do? Tell us a little bit about the path.


Nicola Whitehouse (01:04):
Yeah. You know, it’s so it’s so funny because I saw that question, you know, and you gave me a heads up that we’re gonna chat about it. And it’s one of those things. I sometimes pause to think, how did this happen? And it, it has always been this way for me. Mm. My mother was in education. She finished out her career as the head of student services. My father was an engineer in math and science was like a big part of his life. I have three younger brothers and they kind of took that path and I just felt this natural affinity for education. I enjoyed school. I loved the community sense, the social aspect of, of what school offered me. I really liked leading and, and working with others. And so it just felt like a natural fit that that was gonna be, you know, where I was gonna go.


Nicola Whitehouse (01:54):
I think when I was young in high school, I was, I really gravitated towards the student leadership programs, the mentorship opportunities to work with younger kids to help them, you know, with their learning. And, and then off I went and I, I did my undergrad at Trent university and I was part of their concurrent education program, which saw my last year at Queens, which was amazing. And Queens was phenomenal in opening up opportunities for international teaching experiences. And, and then, you know, off, I went to the UK to a brand new school. It had been in existence for about a year. And, and then my career started there, but yeah, it’s, it’s, it’s just sometimes you just know, and I’ve never thought for a second that I wanted to do something different. I wanted to do different things in education, but like that is always felt home to me and really natural. So yeah, I don’t have like a, you know, sometimes we finds like, oh, I was doing this and I was doing that. And then I ended up in education. My path has been like pretty straight on that being the, the, the, what, what is it? The, the path I’m meant to be on, essentially, I guess if that a better word.


Sam Demma (03:01):
And, and off you went to the UK. Yeah,


Nicola Whitehouse (03:05):
I know. Right.


Sam Demma (03:07):
That’s a big, that’s a big statement. Can you bring us back to that point in your journey and tell, share a little bit more about what inspired you to move there, what you did in the UK and how it influenced you.


Nicola Whitehouse (03:22):
Cool. Yeah, for sure. Yeah, I go, that sounds so simplistic. Right. But I, you know, at 18 I had the amazing opportunity. The school boards in Ontario are pretty phenomenal. I think they run similar type opportunities now, but you were able to go and do a credit, you know, for your final years of high school in, in England was the opportunity. And so I went for the summer and I did a modern Western history course and lived in residence up near Regents park in London. And it was one of those memories that I had stick with me for a really long time. And it was almost always my goal to go back. I think we all maybe feel a connection to our heritage and our ancestry. And I come from an Irish British background and there was something that I wanted to go and connect with, you know, in my future.


Nicola Whitehouse (04:14):
So education offered the opportunity, you know, it was at a time in education where the teaching lists were full. You know, I graduated in 2003. I was ready to start teaching and people were looking for opportunities to kind of take their profession around the world. And so this new school came up and what was really cool too for me was that I wasn’t going to go through the supply to aging agencies. Right. So when you would go over to Europe as a young teacher in your first five years, trying to prove yourself and make connections, you were often picked up by these agencies. And it was day to day as, as, as it would be for supply teacher, but they get kind of complicated and it wasn’t necessarily secure. So there was this new school, it was in the east far east part of London, an area called Beckton.


Nicola Whitehouse (05:03):
So anybody who knows who’s listening, who knows London they run this train aboveground train called the DLR, and we were the final stop, you know, in the east part. And it was in an area that was going through some regrowth and redevelopment. And the school had had a lot of funding put behind it to create this really great opportunity for the kids in the area. And I, Sam, I turned up, I got off the flight. I’m an overp packer. I’m ridiculous. Like I had bags upon bags, pump bags. And my buddy that I was traveling with, looked at me and like, you, you’re not gonna be like, carry all that. Like, I don’t understand where you think this is going. Right. And so I was the safety concern. I had people on the tube, you know, the modern, the, the guys running the tube, kind of on the speaker saying, ma’am do you need somebody to help you?


Nicola Whitehouse (05:53):
Like, it was just like a full, like, depository of all my things, my life, I dragged it into a, a house where I roomed with four or five other educators. And it was, it was crazy Sam, like, it was such a, this is a fun part about when you’re in the beginning of your career and you’re just starting out and you have all these hopes and dreams for what you want it to be. And you’re looking to make these professional connections. And you’re looking to learn to start out with young people in the same situation was phenomenal, you know, and we were put in situations that trusted us, you know, gave us like great amounts of leadership, working with families, working with kids, working on projects that were building this school up from its beginnings to, to what it is a legacy to now, you know, of being a really great institution and you were doing it on the daily with young people who were your age in their, in their twenties.


Nicola Whitehouse (06:45):
And some were a bit older, you know, in their thirties and, and had been in the careers maybe 15, 20 years that you were getting mentorship from, but it created this really unique environment of experiences that I have carried with me, you know because you don’t know what you’re doing when you get in there right away. And you’ve, you’ve been interviewing a lot of educators and a lot of individuals that are in maybe formal education in a, in a high school or in elementary school in other ways doing education. But you don’t know when you start and that’s that you’re learning, you are a learner and that’s, what’s so key to being, I think good and, and high performing and successful as an educator is that when you take that stance as a learner, and you’re constantly seeking out the next opportunity in the next moment to grow, that’s where I think we see the greatest success as a teacher.


Nicola Whitehouse (07:34):
And so a big part of what was going on for me in the U and the experiences I was having there with, you know, limited kind of knowledge of how to do this properly. That’s I think how I became so great, cause I had to learn, I had to figure it out. I had to survive, right. And it was about survival and people listening again that were, are in their first five years of teaching. When you’re growing your resources, you’re growing your skills, behavior management, you’re learning how to develop yourself like pedagogically, but also on how you build relationships with families and with their kids. Those first five years are hard. And they’re some that are like, I’m out. I can’t, this is like too much emotionally it’s too much work long to all that kind of stuff. And then there’s others that really flourish and, and they become incredibly strong. You know, it’s those first five years, we always say, you have to make it through.


Sam Demma (08:28):
Did


Nicola Whitehouse (08:28):
You, I dunno if that’s like what you’re looking for there.


Sam Demma (08:30):
Yeah. That was a phenomenal response. Did you pick up any slang while you were in the UK?


Nicola Whitehouse (08:37):
Not words necessarily. I can use on this podcast right now, but yeah,


Sam Demma (08:42):
That’s awesome.


Nicola Whitehouse (08:43):
But yeah, things like, you know, trash was rubbish or you know, the trunk was the boots. You were going going to the Offie, which was the off license you know, to start out your Friday nights, you know, they, there were lot loads of words and the VNA, I never developed the accent. I had some Canadian friends that picked up a LT and maybe I had a little bit of a LT to the way that I would finish off sentences speak in a certain way. But definitely the language when I would, when I moved back to, to Ottawa and was in conversation with friends or with new colleagues, they were like the what? And I’m like, oh yeah, right case. So just put it in the garbage, put it in the trash, you know, that, that was a big one. And so I still carry some of that with me. Yeah.


Sam Demma (09:29):
So you picked up some slang. Did you also meet your husband on this trip? Or how did you get in contact? Yeah, yeah.


Nicola Whitehouse (09:36):
Right. Picked up the slave, picked up the husband and then moved myself back, you know, to Canada. Yeah, I did. I absolutely did. I met my husband who’s British teaching. He was part of this new school that was being built in shaped. He had finished his university at Middlesex in London. And we were friends like that was that’s another, like you had this network of young people that were dating that were friends that were support for each other. And so we knew each other for a big chunk of our career and it was about six or seven years into working together that, you know, we realized that it was more and that you know, we, it was a love interest and yeah, we, and we married and we had our son Oliver in in London.


Nicola Whitehouse (10:24):
So I just say his name because yes, it definitely has that Dickens connection and the whole kinda Oliver to thing. Yeah. For his birth, his birth space. Yeah. And we did a year as he was an associate head teacher and I was ahead of year. So we had administrative roles and it was hard cause we didn’t have family. Right. And so this balance that as educators, we try to keep with our family life and what we need to give to ourselves personally on a, on a wellness level, on a capacity level to what then what we give careers, which is very also personal and very emotional and very dedicated. We found it hard to not have a N or a grandpa, you know, around to help us with the load. So we moved back after our first year and started our careers here in Ottawa. Yeah.


Sam Demma (11:12):
That’s amazing. There’s a, there’s a song called Oliver twist and me and my good friend, not my good friend, my cousin, his name’s Daniel. Yeah. Every once in a while will play FIFA. I just love soccer. We’ll play video games. Yeah. And in the loading screen of the game, there’s soft music in the background and I heard this like British rap and was so intrigued by it that I Shaza it. And it was from the UK and some song called Oliver twist. And it was so awesome.


Nicola Whitehouse (11:41):
Hilarious. It just


Sam Demma (11:42):
Reminded you when you, when you said that, but


Nicola Whitehouse (11:44):
Yeah, yeah, yeah. The connection he’s, he’s the London boy. That’s right. And there’s many references that that’s pretty cool to hear that it got picked up as the name of the track as well. That’s


Sam Demma (11:54):
Oh, cool. And, and you had one rule for your husband when he came to Canada, what was it?


Nicola Whitehouse (11:59):
He had to learn to ski.


Sam Demma (12:03):
That’s awesome.


Nicola Whitehouse (12:04):
He had to learn to ski. Yeah, exactly. I said, listen, you know, they, and I was able to do that out there in Europe as well. I got to go and check out the Alps and do Italy and do France. And it was, it was super fun. So he knew that about me. I was snowboarding at that time. I, you know, when I snowboarding, since I was 16, but when you have kids, you gotta get back on the skis to teach them. And I said, I can’t do this alone. You gotta, you gotta be part of this. So he did like a trooper that you and he put himself on skis taught himself because be the supportive wife that I was, I was like, yeah, you just go figure that out over there. We’re gonna go and do some, you know, diamonds, but you go over to that bunny hill and he did. And he is amazing. He’s six, six too. So call guy and it’s, that’s no feat right. To figure out the ski, but that’s a fun comedian family thing to do. It’s a good destressor. Yeah.


Sam Demma (12:52):
You mentioned one of, of the traits of a fulfilled, successful high performing educator is this endless curiosity. I would argue forcing yourself to learn a new skill. You know, not that forties is old, but at any age, you know, forcing yourself to learn a new skill, is, is that trait, in example have you remain curious or how have you fed your own curiosity throughout your journey of education?


Nicola Whitehouse (13:20):
Oh, that’s a good question. I, yeah. You know, it’s, how have I fed my curiosity? I think just to, just to recognize that in that stance as learner and constantly seeking out that new information means that you’ve always got the understanding of what does it mean to learn something new. Mm. You know, and it helps you appreciate what you, who, what the individuals you’re trying to support might be going through. Mm. You know, as you try to design learning for them to be successful, you can reflect on what it is that, you know, you need to do, whether it’s, you know, an audio visual piece, whether it is the amount of practice that you need to have to master fill, you’re always keeping that in mind, in order to support the communities that you serve. You know, for me, Sam, it’s interesting, a big curiosity that I’ve had is how are we making education equitable?


Nicola Whitehouse (14:11):
You know? And it was something that I, you have had to spend a lot of time reading and unlearning to be fair, a lot of what I believe to be true and what I thought to be the right way of doing something to really understand how it was DISA, managing, and short changing the people. I was so dedicated to get it right with. So my curiosity is being fed right now by a lot by large communities that are really investing in having this dialogue about, you know, are we getting this right? You know, and who is holding the power and who is benefiting from the systems that we’re saying are the ways that you need to participate in so that you could be successful. And so, and my curiosity is said, because I’m constantly needing new people with new perspectives and we’re challenging, you know, me to make sure that I am being the best as a principal, as an educator, as a mom, who’s raising children, you know, in this world today to ensure that, you know, that curiosity that you’re talking about is actually making a difference. I’m kind of taking this somewhere else right now, Sam, but like, oh, that’s good. You know, that curiosity is good. And it, and it Def taking that stance of a learner, but what are you gonna do with that to, to make a difference to make that change you know, to help others, I think is, is a huge part of that question that you’re asking.


Sam Demma (15:35):
Yeah. It sounds like what you’re explaining is how curiosity is the first step, but then taking action based on the new knowledge you pick up is even more important than just being curious. Do you have any resources that you have read or do these communities, you mentioned that you have pulled from, that you think other educators should know about maybe a book or an article or a group that you followed or learned from that someone else should also check out if they wanna be a little more curious about the equity space right now?


Nicola Whitehouse (16:06):
Yeah. oh my gosh, I have so many, and I thought about that. I started writing things down and I just, you know, one of the kind of fundamental drop-ins for me, you know, as an educator was really the work of Dr. Gholdy Muhammad. Mm. And, you know, she, if, I don’t know if you’ve heard of her, but she’s written this book and she’s written many books and she’s just phenomenal. She’s one of these, I’m gonna say educators that is constantly planning and constantly designing and sharing with everyone so that they can see how to do it. And I find her work in cultivating genius is it was my starting point to be honest, looking at an equity framework that was going to allow each personalized student, each individual student that was in our care to be able to be seen and to be understood for who they were.


Nicola Whitehouse (16:58):
And I, and I love that when she talks about culturally, who they are, historically, who they are and how do we respond to them in a way that really maximizes the person that you’re serving, not what you’re trying to shape them to be when it comes to the system that we’re working in, but how are you manipulating the system? How are you dismantling even breaking apart the system so that these kids, these students are really coming through as the individuals that they are. And so her work really opened my eyes to assessment and evaluation. You know, what, what grading, you know, what do we need to look at when we’re applying those grades to individuals and the definition of their success? And then it, you know, it introduced me into a community of educators in the us. She’s, she’s an American you know, who is really doing a lot of prolific work in the communities over there, but it, having it come over here into Canada, it’s really created a tidal wave of what we’re trying to look at in education, in regards to the personalization of making sure that what we’re doing for kids, you know, is really seeing them for who they are and meeting them where they’re to make them the best that they can be.


Nicola Whitehouse (18:11):
So I, I will name that one text as being something that’s always been on my mind, connecting me to other pieces. And then, you know, through the pandemic, Sam, what was so amazing was the amount of virtual learning that was going on and conferences and spaces that you could jump into and vibe with people and, and discuss, and plan and commit to action without leaving the comfort of your couch. Yeah. You know, and that was, you know, for some people frustrating, they were missing like their trips off to the, the hotels and all that conference experience. But for me, it was as a mom and, and all the things that you had to manage in the pandemic and knowing I had this learning and curiosity that needed to, we said I had immediate access to so much that was you know, so helpful and Twitter with all of its downfalls, you know, and you have to be careful. Yeah. Because it does have an emotional toll and you have to really check with yourself about what are you reading and, and the reality of it, it for educators, there’s an incredible C global that I have really thrived on in the last two years, which has been really powerful. Yeah.


Sam Demma (19:15):
Awesome. Thanks for sharing those resources. You, yeah. You took us to the UK and then you brought us back. What happened when you got back? You, you handed your son over to N and what did the rest of the career journey look like to bring you to where you are now?


Nicola Whitehouse (19:33):
Yeah, so that’s, that’s interesting. It was really humbling, right? Because to come back to Canada again, hitting a time where we were not at, at a shortage of educators to transfer my experience that I had had in the UK as an administrator back year to the Canadian system, to the Ontario system was a tough journey. You know, it, it was, we are in a system right now where it’s changing. I have to say the last five years, we’ve seen a real shift of honoring the international experience of educators and finding them places equal. It’s not just education too. It’s it’s medicine. It would be it’s any type of system that has a lot of competition in it. So what ended up happen to me is I went back to supply teaching day to day, you know, and I made my application to the auto Catholic school board.


Nicola Whitehouse (20:24):
My husband had been able to make a connection with a private school here that was looking for new leadership. And so he, he got a position as an assistant head teacher there, which was phenomenal. It was a deputy head teacher at the time. And so he had some connections to private schools in the city. And so I started supply teaching day to day, and I was frustrated. I was at the time because you have pride as to how long it took you to work in your career to get to certain stages. And you wanna, you wanna keep going, you wanna keep moving forward. But, and then to come back into supply teaching, though, it was awesome. It was awesome because it was really fun to move out of you know, a high level experience of kind of what I was doing on a system level of management.


Nicola Whitehouse (21:10):
Just get back in there with the kids and, and to be in about four or five different communities every other week was really cool. So I met a lot of teachers that were doing the same thing. I met a lot of teachers in the building and I did that for about two years and then ended up with a permanent position at a private school. And so was there for about a year and a half, two years. My timing is kind of off now from the pandemic. So forgive me on that. And then I went and got myself qualified to become an administrator. I did the principal’s qualification course here in Ontario. Nice. and applied with the Catholic school board. And I was known to them through the work I’d been doing already. And I was successful.


Nicola Whitehouse (21:53):
And so, yeah, my first placement as principal with the board was here at St. Peter’s, which has been amazing. So it took some time and it worked out, you know, as a mom, who’s raising two young kids. I, you know, I had my daughter while I was supply teaching. That also was a good and work life balance. And, you know, Hey, I had, I been given the job that I was looking for straight out of moving from the UK. I don’t know, maybe my daughter wouldn’t have come along so soon. So, you know, there’s blessings in the way that life kind of works out for you. And you have to reflect on that and know that there’s a, there’s a path. There’s a reason why things are happening there.


Sam Demma (22:27):
Yeah. I couldn’t agree more. I, and you’re one of the first people that have moved to the UK and taught there that I’ve had on the podcast. So I appreciate you sharing the entire journey on the show. I think it may even inspire some other young educators or anyone actually to explore teaching in other areas as it means to see more of the world. It sounds like you’ve done a lot of traveling, not only in the UK which is awesome. Yeah. Thinking about, oh, go.


Nicola Whitehouse (22:54):
Ahead. You know what, so just to add to that, right? Because I think that we can get ourselves into a system or a a journey that seems guaranteed, right? There’s a lot of young people that wanna be employed, right. And they wanna make sure that they have that next step locked down. And I think I encourage young educators to take a risk and take a jump, as you’re saying, go and see another part of the world and experience that and gather everything you can from that, whether it’s only for a year, six months, and that’s all you do and bring that back to where you wanna be permanently. I find that I am interviewing now looking for diversity in experience. Yeah. You know, and if I can find a candidate that knows how distant different systems work, not just the one they grew up in that is phenomenal, you know, and obviously again, working in public education, there are ways that we have to go about with our hiring and employment.


Nicola Whitehouse (23:44):
But when I have the capacity to select somebody that may have had that international experience, that is a big win. And, and so forget about the hiring piece, but, but personally, you know, if you truly believe that your career as an educator is a calling and you are passionate about that, you wanna go and collect as many of those experiences possible. So I really, when I, when I’m working with young educators who are still in the program for teaching, and they’re considering, you know, where am I gonna go to apply for gods? I’m always pushing that option. I’m always saying, go and see what’s the offered internationally. Even if it’s just across the board of the us and check out how these differences work. I think it’s super important. Yeah.


Sam Demma (24:23):
You mentioned I, that’s an awesome point. I think back to when I was 13 and moved to Italy for six months, not to teach, but just to pursue my dreams and living in a different country was such an eye opening eye opening experience. And at that age, I couldn’t even leave the college by myself. I was so young and my mom was FaceTiming me every night. So I definitely didn’t even get the full survival experience. Didn’t have four or five bags on the train and people yelling at me for my safety.


Sam Demma (24:55):
It was, it was such an eye opening experience just to see a different culture and how life was lived in a, in a different place on the world. Thinking about, you know, you said earlier that one part of education is building relationships, thinking about building relationships with students and also staff. How do you think that happens? Like how do you build a relationship with a student to the point where they trust you and, you know, they, they are excited to be in your class or be your student.


Nicola Whitehouse (25:30):
I, yeah, I think it is really about, and it’s an interesting balance that you have to say, you have to navigate because it is about vulnerability and it is about being open to who is in front of you. Right? So we think about working with young people, you know, being vulnerable, but at the same time, obviously still create keeping your professional boundaries and, and keeping your understanding that you are the adult there of the child, that kind of thing. But you can make yourself vulnerable in the sense of saying, I don’t have the answers and what I’m hearing from you, and what I’m seeing you bring to the table is definitely part of the learning that I would like to as your teacher. It is, I definitely see the capacity for you to be in control of what we’re doing here. And you know, when you’re building relationships, you wanna feel like you have a partner in that relationship. So when you’re, when you’re trying to get to know young people, you’ve got a champion where they’re at, what they know as being true and powerful.


Nicola Whitehouse (26:33):
And you have to give voice and space to that. And I think when young people feel seen and heard, you know, and, and feel empowered by the fact that you’re gonna say to them, you know, in grade 10 that they absolutely can take the lead and we’re gonna hear what they have to say and then make decisions from that. That’s a huge relationship builder, you know, and consistency is a big part of that too, right? When we are exhausted, when we’re overwhelmed, being consistent in your approach with young people, so that they can rely on you for that, that is a huge relationship builder as well, you know, and it, and it’s the same with staff as well is to also see and hear them. You have priorities as a leader or anybody when you’re working, even just as colleagues as to what you wanna achieve, but you’re only going to achieve that as well as you can hear and see the others that you need to work with, you know, and they have to feel that investment in, in whatever the project is or whatever it, the problem that needs to be solved might be.


Nicola Whitehouse (27:28):
And I think what’s so cool about education. Is there a strong bond, like family level bonds between teachers that grow up together? Like I said, in those first five years, and they stay connected in their careers or go through some really like intense kind of projects or things together, and really achieve something big or go through a really tough time, you know, as human beings, you know you are bonded and it’s, and it’s, again, through that vulnerability and through that openness to accept that I need you to be successful. And, and so that I can be successful. And you, you teamwork on that. I think that that’s a huge part of making successful connections and relationships and, and it’s all empowerment, right. When we all feel empowered to make that difference, that you’ve talked a lot about, right. In your journey, that’s where you see, I think true positive relationships and difference making, you know, happening. That makes sense. Yeah.


Sam Demma (28:24):
Yeah. A hundred percent. I think behind every success story is carrying human beings. There’s so many people that, you know, play into all of our paths there’s and sometimes it’s like, it’s a miracle, like God put this person in my path. Like how, how did it happen that we crossed at this exact moment? There’s such a small chance. So yeah, there’s, it’s so true that people play such a massive role behind any difference making if you could walk into the first class you ever taught, or the first couple years of education yeah. With all the advice and knowledge you have now, and top your younger self on the shoulder and say is what you needed to hear. What advice would you have given your younger self?


Nicola Whitehouse (29:12):
I, yeah, this is not personal. Yep. These these kids are carrying a lot and they are some of them in crisis. And what you experienced in that first 50 minutes, which had you close your door and burst into tears from the shock of it. And that was truly my first day on the job to now know, you know, how young people function, you know, in, in a classroom to, to be patient with them and to always keep. And I was, I was doing that, I think at the time, but I don’t think I realized it. Listen, listen, listen, listen, and don’t give up and continue to look at the problem in different ways. And, and consider, there are gonna be many ways to kind of solve and support these kids. But I think the biggest thing Sam was we as educators wanna get it.


Nicola Whitehouse (30:08):
Right, right. We are, we are often in these careers as people pleasers as ones that wanna be known to be handling things and when we’re we can lead. And so we take it personally when it of fails. Right. And I would look back now and say there were a lot of failures, there were a lot of mistakes. There were things said that you look back and go, Ooh. Yeah, that was not the right thing. But, but give yourself grace on that. And as long as you were still committed to learning from that mistake and making the changes and not getting stuck in saying, no, I’m standing on this, like I’m gonna stick with it. This is how it has to be. But being open to that flexibility and vulnerability I think that that is a, a big thing that you need when you’re first starting out. And, you know, that’s what I would be going back to remind myself of, I think, in those early days, yeah.


Sam Demma (30:59):
That’s such a, and


Nicola Whitehouse (31:00):
Get some more sleep guess some more sleep, stop staying up till two in the morning, planning these lessons. They don’t need you to work that hard. You just go in there and listen to them. They don’t already tell you what they need from you. You don’t need to be up till two. O’clock trying to get this unit ready for that. That’s what I’d say.


Sam Demma (31:16):
If I made 15 second promo videos for each of these podcasts, that would be the promo for this one. Yeah.


Nicola Whitehouse (31:24):
Pretty much, pretty much. Oh gosh.


Sam Demma (31:27):
Thank you for doing this. This has been such a fun and enjoyable and reflective conversation. If someone is tuning in, wants to reach out, ask you a question, what would be the best way for them to get in touch?


Nicola Whitehouse (31:41):
I think on, yeah, Twitter, I’m pretty active. I did I take a little bit of a break, I think probably through the holidays, but yeah, I’m @MrsNWhitehouse on Twitter. And you can always reach out to me at my school board email as well, which is nicola.whitehouse@ocsb.ca. And I love meeting new people and I love making connections, super passionate about student voice and the unique and different ways that we’re making sure that’s centered in our school communities. So if there are people listening today that would love to collaborate internationally or even down in Toronto I would love to make those connections. That would be great.


Sam Demma (32:19):
Awesome. Thanks again, Cola for coming on the show. Keep up the great work and we’ll talk soon.


Nicola Whitehouse (32:24):
Thanks, Sam. It’s awesome.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Nicola Whitehouse

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.

Glenn Gifford – Principal at Saint Michael Catholic High School

Glenn Gifford - Principal at Saint Michael Catholic High School
About Glenn Gifford

Glenn Gifford has worked for the Niagara Catholic District School Board for over 28 years. Currently, he is the Principal of Saint Michael Catholic High School in Niagara Falls Ontario. Mr. Gifford began his career as a Long Term occasional teacher before settling in at Lakeshore Catholic High School in Port Colborne.

While at Lakeshore Catholic Mr. Gifford taught English, History and World Religions. He was also the head football coach of their Junior Football team for 14 years. Eventually, Administration called to him and he decided to finish the second half of his career as a high school administrator.

He has had stops as a Vice Principal or Principal at Denis Morris Catholic High School, Lakeshore Catholic High School and Saint Michael Catholic High School. With enthusiasm Mr. Gifford wants you to be “ALL IN” for both your staff and students!!

Connect with Glenn: Email

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Mike Loudfoot – Retired High School Teacher

Saint Michael Catholic High School

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

Glenn Gifford (00:10):
Okay. first off, thanks for having me, Sam. My name’s Glenn Gifford. I am the principal of St. Michael Catholic high school, in Niagara falls, Ontario. And yeah, thrilled to be here. Thanks for asking me. And I’ve been an educator now. It’s my 29th year. So one more year left after this and yeah, things have been going well. It’s different, but good. Yeah. So that’s for sure.

Sam Demma (00:35):
How did you figure out at a young age that you wanted to get into education? Did you know this since you were a kid or how did you stumble into this career?

Glenn Gifford (00:46):
Yeah, I stumbled. That’s a good word. Yeah, no, I didn’t. I mean, I had a good educational experience growing up. My dad was a teacher but when I went to university had had a good time at university and my grades were okay decent, but I, I thought it was gonna be a police officer and was, was ready to apply to the Ontario provincial police and figured that was the way I was gonna go. And I had a, a lab that I was asked to jump in and teach. I was a fourth year student and asked to help out for some first year students. And I went in and taught the lab. I think it was three weeks. I had to teach this lab and I had about well, my class kept growing in size, my lab.

Glenn Gifford (01:37):
And, and so the professor who came to me, remember his name is Dr. Rod priest. He came to me and said what are you doing after graduation? He said, I think I’m gonna be a cop. And he goes that would be a terrible mistake. And that was in fourth year university. And he said, have you given any thought to teaching? I was like, I, I hadn’t really but I liked it. It was fun in the three weeks limited time that I was doing it. And and so I applied to, to teachers college and and, and, and got in, and I hadn’t heard back from the police force. So I was like, I’ll do this. And nice. And the funny part is, is when I started teaching in Niagara cap, like I still remember the day I opened in my first check and I, I looked down at the bottom right hand corner.

Glenn Gifford (02:29):
And even then it wasn’t, it wasn’t a ton, but I mean, I was a student, so I looked at the bottom right hand corner and I thought somebody made a mistake because I had so much fun. I was like, they’re paying me this to do this. Like, this is, this is great. And I literally didn’t spend any of that money, Sam for, oh, probably about four months, because I thought like the, you know, somebody was gonna show up and say it would’ve made a terrible error who overpaid you. And I was waiting for like the Niagara police to come. And so I finally called the board and I said to them like yeah, this is Glen calling. I was at the time I was at Notre Dame Wellon and I said, and I just wanted to ask a question about my check and they’re like, yeah, sorry, Mr.

Glenn Gifford (03:08):
Gifford, we didn’t. And I’m like, oh, here comes like we didn’t we didn’t give you all your credit for your supply dates. We’re sorry. We’ll send you a retro check. And I was, oh my God. Then I realized, I was like, this is great. And that was truly what so thanks to my to my university professor for planning a seed that really got me to education. Then I realized, oh my God, I love doing this. And, and I’m, I’m paid at the time, you know? Yeah. I’m going from a starving student. I was like, oh my God, I get paid this to do this job. And to me, it, it just, it’s never seemed like work since then. So it’s always been just a, just a thrill to do it. And yeah, it, so the, I guess the, the thing to grab from that is you never know where, where it’s gonna come from, you know, somebody planning a seed that’s gonna grow into. So thing that, I mean, look, 15 years teaching and then five years as a vice principal and 10 years as a principal. And yeah. All from a, just a random comment from a, a university professor. So it was, I didn’t wanna start out as a teacher, but no regrets.

Sam Demma (04:16):
And tell us, tell me about what that journey looks looked like of, through the different roles and schools that you’d worked that you’ve worked at.

Glenn Gifford (04:25)
Yeah. When I first started, I was working at a, a program called the ACE program. And so it was really it wasn’t really, it was teaching, but it was with students who were struggling academically struggling with the whole concept of school. So what we did was we had ’em in class for a couple of weeks, and then we would have them at a co-op placement for a couple of weeks. And again, it was a lot of times for students, it wasn’t special education, but it was specialized education. And it was for kids who were struggling. And I think I had the personality where I could, I could kind of reach those kids and try to keep those kids in engaged in getting credits and maybe hopefully finding some type of career that they were interested in. A lot of them had had a lot of difficulty.

Glenn Gifford (05:11):
So that is a great way to start your career with regards to classroom management, with regards to all the, all the different things that come up in a, in a teacher’s career to start there with some pretty difficult kids. And I did that for about a year and a half and that worked out well. I think that laid a good foundation. Then I did some long term teaching for about a year. And then then, then received my full-time contract, where I was a teacher and, and football coach at lake shore Catholic high school in port Colburn. Nice. For, for teen years. And then and then again, just like I, I said with my professor, I had a, a principal who tapped me and a couple other colleagues on the shoulder and said, have you ever thought about administration and much, like when someone said, have you ever thought about teaching?

Glenn Gifford (05:56):
I was like, no, I haven’t thought about administration at all 14 years in in, and he said you should you’re you’re, I think you’ve got the I think you have what it takes you, you, I think people would follow you and I think you could lead. And really, again, just all the, all the planting that needed to happen there. And I looked at my friend and, and I said Brad, do you wanna do this? And he said, yeah, let’s go. And within six months we had all of our, our credits and our additional qualifications and, and and went from there then placed principal for five years, and then morphed back into a principal at league shore Catholic after five years of being a vice principal. So yeah, I’ve kind of, I’m pleased with it. I’m pleased that I spent enough time in the classroom that I wasn’t one of these people who just decided to when they enter teaching have decided that they’re going to be the superintendent of education and really don’t earn their stripes.

Glenn Gifford (06:59):
I guess, if you will, as teachers, I, I would like to think that after my 30 year career that most will remember me as a, as a teacher first and foremost, and then administration was Hey, you get to have your whole school as your classroom which is another, and they’re different jobs. Let’s face it, there completely different jobs. Like you would not believe so, you know, teachers that, you know, that’s rewarding and, and fantastic, and very difficult right now with COVID. But an administration is just wow. I just remember my time as a vice principal. I just, those people, those men and women they’re warriors. Yeah. It is so difficult. And then principal is a whole different ball game, as far as difficulty goes. And so many things come across your, your plate. You wouldn’t even believe things. I didn’t even realize when I was a teacher that were going on in a school, oh my God, that’s happening like it in 14 years, I had no idea this was going on. But as a principal, you see it all so different jobs, a hundred percent but no less rewarding.

Sam Demma (08:04):
I had another, another guest tell me the best principles are those that love teaching and didn’t want to leave their teaching job. And the, you know, if they were asked to teach tomorrow would do it gladly. And the best superintendents are the principles that never will wanted to leave being a principal and would become a principal again tomorrow if fast. And that mindset and mentality really reminded me of what you were just saying. Like, you really gotta love the work you’re doing.

Glenn Gifford (08:34):
A hundred percent. In fact, even now, like we’ll have teachers that are absent and I’ll look back, but my teachables English and social science and some world religions. And, and I’ll be like, oh, what classes, you know do we didn’t get a supply teacher? And they’ll be like, no, what class is it? Oh, it’s Mr. So-And-So an English teacher. Of course, I know what he teaches. And I would be like, well, I’ll do it. And I, and I, I just run in and do it. And because it was fun and I, I loved it and enjoyed it. And it gets the students to see you in a, in a different light, really, you know, some something in class as opposed to well, I, I see kids every day and I probably come up in one of these questions, but like, my things as principal is, I mean, you’ve gotta be invested into what you’re doing.

Glenn Gifford (09:21):
And I always use the analogy with my staff. I was like I look at a bacon and eggs breakfast. Let’s just look at it that way, the chicken participates, because the chicken donates the egg, but the pig, well, the pigs committed, right. Because the pig gives us life for the, for the meal. Right. So I ask my staff, I’m like, I need you all to be pigs for these kids. I need you to give it all. Yeah. And, and, and give me everything we’ve got all in t-shirts that, you know, the staff wear when I, when I first got to St. Michael’s and so I want, I want the level of commitment to kid. So one of the things I do is it sounds so silly, but I do cafeteria do all the time. And a lot of times places you know, teachers do that, or other people do that.

Glenn Gifford (10:08):
I do it, my vice principals do it because I want to get to know, I, I hand out we have a school of over a thousand students. I hand out about 250 to two or 80 diplomas every year, not since COVID, but even, even with COVID, I wanna know every single one of those kids. And I wanna make the effort to get to know those kids by first name, which is hard right now, because they’re wearing masks. But so it is difficult now, but I go back to pre COVID. And my, my goal is to be committed enough to, I’m not gonna be at a school for four years, and there’s gonna be a student that’s walking across my stage. And I have no idea who this person is. Mm. You’re not committed if you’re not doing that. So, and, and there’s a variety of ways that you can do that.

Glenn Gifford (10:49):
I just my personality was such, that is such that I can just get out there and just walk up to a table full of kids and start talking to ’em and chirping ’em and, you know, shooting the breeze with them and having fun and asking ’em questions about, you know, dad texting and all these other things and making fun of their phones or lunches or whatever. And you just get to talk to ’em and then they, they get to know you in a, in a, in a different type of relationship. And and that that’s worth its waiting gold when you’re, when you’re trying to establish an effective school culture that, that has made all the difference. So

Sam Demma (11:21):
How do you build deep relationships with students in the school building? Obviously communication is one of the major ways. And thinking back to your time in the classroom maybe you can pull from some of your beliefs on relationship building. Like how do you think you established that, those relationships with students?

Glenn Gifford (11:39):
Well, I think you hit the nail on the head there, Sam. I, I think a lot of administrators spend too much time. And again, again, not like I have the blueprint here, but yeah, like there’s so much that happens in a day that you can get focused on. You know, and, and maybe this isn’t the greatest thing to say, but, you know you can get focused on curriculum or you can get focused on the OSSLT or EQ AO, or you can get focused on programs. And I just remember this people don’t remember what you say people remember how you made them feel. Mm. And so for me, getting to know kids and meeting them where they are, and maybe that’s where they are at the time is getting to my student council to engage kids on social media to do fun things at school.

Glenn Gifford (12:27):
It sounds so simple, but if school is fun and you do that, engage kids, the rest takes care of itself. And I know people sit there and say, what about the curriculum? The curriculum takes care of itself. Kids will learn, listen, right now, we’re, we’re facing the challenges we’re facing with COVID and learning gaps and all that other stuff is incredible. But if kids have fun and they like coming to school and they respect their teachers and their teachers treat them well, treat them with respect and actually care about their wellbeing so that they feel it, the rest is easy. And so I’ve, I’ve empowered my student council to go and don’t sit on the bench, get up and take a swing. Let’s try this. Let’s try, let’s engage here. We had a program not a program. We came up with something called super locker at my previous school, which was in another one of my colleagues Andrew Boone brought that to Notre Dame and holy cross.

Glenn Gifford (13:29):
And, and I had it at lake shore Catholic, and now it’s St Michael’s and you know, the student of the month that it gets this giant locker, it’s all decorated in doc. And, you know, we just, and we just, our, our social media pages are, are fun and interactive. And and it, it, it, it just is something where you’re trying to create a culture of things like color wars and a lot of different things that you can do to engage students, even during COVID like you, we were doing just silly things. You know, just to keep, try to keep school fun because let’s face it for the last two years. It hasn’t been, it’s been awful. And so to try to do things at distance, to try to keep things fun when, when you have a culture that’s working in a building and you can come up with some creative ideas to do that, all the other stuff. And I’m even talking about student achievement, all of those things will fall in mind.

Sam Demma (14:21):
Mm. I couldn’t agree more. I think back to my own high school experience. And when I was excited to show up to class, I actively participated when I was excited to show up to fourth period world issues with Mr. Loud foot. This is one educator who totally changed my life. I would take notes on everything this guy said, not because we had to, but because I was so I was so invested and engaged in the class because he was invested and engaged in all of us individually and as a, a whole class. He

Glenn Gifford (14:53):
Got, and there’s that where you use Sam, right? You just use that word invested that came through loud and clear with that teacher that you had. And look what you’re doing now. Like you’re running podcasts for educational leadership. Like, I mean, so it clearly had a huge impact. So that’s one I told, you know, my staff and I say my staff, but the staff, cuz they’re not mine. Just like kids, you, you rent ’em, you don’t own ’em right. So the is just be invested and that needs to come across. And all the studies show for all of my left brain, people who want to quote studies and statistics, you know, that all the studies show that it it’s the people that are truly invested and truly care about people with. And I’m talking all people in your building, I’m talking about your teachers, your, your, your students, most importantly your, your cleaners, your caretakers, your EA, your, your cafeteria people when they know, and they all feel that they belong and that they’re going to be listened to.

Glenn Gifford (15:47):
And that the people that are around them care about them. The rest is easy. The literally the rest will take care of itself. So that’s, that’s my main focus as, as an educational leader right now is to, is to, is to try to make people not again, I don’t know if I can motivate anyone, but hopefully inspire people to motivate themselves. Yeah. To be invested as best they can. Everybody’s not a cheerleader. I am. That’s I know that’s, that’s my role at this school. I’m, I’m kind of like at my school is, is I’m the cheerleader, I’m this. And I have some vice principals who are fantastic at logistics, which is great because I’m not. And I have the prudent humility to understand that that’s not my, you know, wheelhouse, but we have some people that can help out. So together at all, pretty smooth, but big ideas and trying great things and, and, and engaging people and kids that that’s.

Glenn Gifford (16:40):
So there’s probably administrators out there. Like, that’s not me. I can’t do that. I’m not on social media. No, but, but somebody is, you know, like I, I always use this one, you know, that the only time I’m the smartest person in the room, Sam is when I’m by myself. Yeah. Otherwise you gotta lean on your people and their skillsets. And there are some people who are like, you know, mathematics, isn’t fun. And I can, yeah. But just, if the kids know you’re invested and you care about them and their wellbeing, the math just teach ’em the math and they’ll, they’ll understand and they’ll get it. So, but they just have to know that from you. We don’t have the little kids, we don’t sit there and criticize kids, you know, and I’m not saying kid gloves, but I’m just saying, let them know you care.

Glenn Gifford (17:21):
And, and the rest will take care of it and then rely on your people that you have around you. Because again, everybody has gifts and talents that I guess the question is, are you, are you using now, are you using people to the, the, the, the peak of their talent? And are you getting the most out of them? And you have to figure out what, like I said, I have some vice principals who are so technically savvy. It’s incredible. I’ll come up with an idea to say, Hey, can we live Simon cast the announcements during COVID so that we can do, you know, hi, it’s Mr. Gifford here. And, and can we set up a link and do this and share this on the Google meet and blah, blah, blah. And they’re just ideas. Yeah. But I can’t do it, Sam. I can’t do it. But, you know, I have VPs who can I have, you know, teachers and tech teachers who are like, yeah, well, you have to do this. And then I lose them because they’re speaking some different language, some technic I don’t understand, but I’ll show up like this and click on a link and, and, you know, and go to town. So, you know, I think people need to really access the resources they have in front of ’em that way.

Sam Demma (18:22):
Yeah. You know, it’s funny. I started thinking about my experience as a soccer player, the first five or six years, my coach put me in centerback. And towards the end of my career, I, he moved me to center mid and it was like a totally different change. And it felt like I was supposed to be in that position for my whole life. But I was always placed in center back.

Glenn Gifford (18:43):
And I think, were you reluctant to go there? Like when he first moved you, were you like.

Sam Demma (18:47):
Yeah, slightly, slightly, because it was, so it was so fresh and new. But afterwards I realized that the skillset that I had and the way the ball passing and certain skills that I had were very suitable for a center, mid position. And I actually ended up loving it even more than I did center back.

Glenn Gifford (19:04):
You know what, that’s, that’s a perfect example. And I, here’s the example. I can give you an education teachers. A lot of times, administrators they get into this, well, that’s my class like I’m the grade 12 law teacher here, or I teach grade 12 university level biology, and this is my class. And I had a lovely teacher one time when I was a program chair who was teaching grade 12 and and, and doing a fine job, no question about it, but I just saw her skillset. And I just, the next year I, I moved her into grade nine courses and I cannot get over. I cannot tell you Sam, how upset she was at me for moving her out of her courses. And I’m like, wow, technically they’re not your courses, but let me tell you why I put you in this course, because I think your skillset is going to be ideal for this and kicking and screaming to the point where, you know, I’m not talking to him.

Glenn Gifford (20:04):
And at the end of the first semester, she came and thanked me because it was the most rewarding change that she had ever had in her career. So, but it’s not just teachers. Most people are very apprehensive to change. Yeah. And because they’re used to things we’re built for comfort, we, nobody likes to take a step outside their comfort zone and, and try something new. Like the I will, or I’ll just, you know, when you’re working on something, anything that requires that kind of discipline we’re, we’re not built, honestly, we’re not built for that. And, and teachers are, and administrators have it. We’re creatures of habit. We do things out of habit. And then when something disrupts that, you know, it’s hard. So when they ask you, when you were asked to do something at first, you know, I didn’t like that.

Glenn Gifford (20:48):
But you say it turned out to be, you know, a great thing. Some of the greatest things you’ve ever accomplished, weren’t easy. Right? And when you look, when you get to my age, you’re gonna be like anything worth anything that you’ve ever accomplished in your life required, some suffering and some discipline and, and, you know, not the easy, you know, unless you won the lottery or something, you know, most of the things you had to work for. And, and so I think that’s, that’s a great example and getting people outta their comfort zone and and, and, and pushing ’em to greater things is, is good. Hopefully you can convince them that it’s, it’s a good idea, especially when you’re, when you’re talking to teachers who may or may not, I’ve been teaching you know, the same course for 14 years. Yeah. And, you know, that becomes hard, but most of the time I I’ve had a lot of success with, with anything like that, that, that people at least are, are ready to move forward.

Sam Demma (21:41):
Education is like gardening, you plant seeds, like you mentioned earlier, your professor planted in, and sometimes you’re lucky enough to see them blossom. Sometimes they don’t pop out of the ground 15 years down the road. And they, you know, sometimes come back and they’ll tell you, you know, how big of a difference or an impact you made. What are, you know, one or two of the stories that come to mind when you think about seeds that have been planted in your school community, maybe by teachers, by yourself that you’ve been lucky enough to see blossom. And if it’s a, a serious story, you can change the, the student’s names, but do any, any stories come to mind?

Glenn Gifford (22:22):
Well, I always look at it as, as something like that as individual students. Right. I, I like, like you said, the flower rarely seeds the seed. So there are times when, you know, and this is, I really wish that kids when I call ’em kids, but young adults now, when, if they have a run back into their teachers, you know, have those conversations, cuz it’s so important. You mentioned the one teacher year that you had Mr. Long, long fellow.

Sam Demma (22:51):
Mr. Loudfoot

Glenn Gifford (22:53):
Loudfoot. Okay. Loud foot. Nice. Even perfect. What a great, what a great handle, what a great handle, but Mr. Loud foot, like what an impact he had on you and, and, and every, every student can remember. Some of those, I I’ve been fortunate enough that I’ve had a few a few students that, you know, have, have been, have come back and, and, and said things to me and, and have told me, you know, what an impact that, that, that I’ve had on them. And and I say programs, programs, it would either be as a football coach or, or, but I, you know, going back to what I was saying, initially, Sam not so much programs is people coming back to you and saying, oh, Mr. Gifford, you know, I loved your class, you know? And I think you made me feel you know so, so like your class was funny and you made me feel like I loved learning and, and those type of cor those type of comments.

Glenn Gifford (23:47):
And so that’s the thing I’m going for as an administrator now, too, is to, you want them to feel something, not remember what you say, no, one’s gonna remember, you know, you know, how would you do right now, Sam on a, on a, on a great 11 biology test? Like you, you you’d fail it horribly, right? Yeah. As would I okay. As would, so, because I don’t remember. I have, I don’t, I haven’t taken that for 30 years, 40 years. So you know, the more the story there is, what, what the, the, I guess the edification that I get is, is kids going back and reflecting on their experience in the classroom or on, on the football field? You know, I have former student says to me, one time he calls me up and I don’t mind name dropping it’s Mattie Matheson.

Glenn Gifford (24:30):
He’s a celebrity chef. And he’s got his own TV shows and, and he’s hugely successful. And I’m so proud of him. He’ll you know, text me like on Christmas morning to go get a coffee, like just crazy. But when he says, oh, Mr. Gifford, will you be on my TV show? You know, or when another student says, Hey, Mr. Gifford, will you be on my podcast? You know? And, and it’s all, you know, just because of the relationships that you’ve made, right. Not the, oh my God, that class was great because of all the knowledge, you know, it was the, the relationship that you forged with, with those kids and, and, and had left an impact on them. And I think that’s, that’s, what’s important. And then now, now, as an administrator, you that’s, those were classroom moments, right? As an administrator, it’s harder, you know, you just wanna make sure that your school culture is such, that kids have a good time at school and are having fun and and are enjoying themselves.

Glenn Gifford (25:26):
School is a, you know, things that are important now for kids, school is a safe place. School is a place where you, can you, you address you address any kind of bullying that might happen, or you address some of the things that, you know, what do kids really need. And you look now, and there’s a, there’s a lot of needs now with COVID that kids, you know, they’re, they’re our emotional needs and their, their social needs have not been met for a few years. So, you know, we, we’ve got a, we’ve got a tall task and education ahead of us for the next couple of years, as we hopefully wind down through this pandemic taking care of kids, not only the learning gaps that they have for the last two years. I mean, you know what I mean, by a learning gap, right?

Glenn Gifford (26:06):
There’s kids that left the pandemic in March and we’re taking in a semester at high school, we’re taking mathematics. And then it was all basically online for grade 10 and now grade 11, it’s been in a, and so everybody’s sitting there going these, these kids, like, and it’s not the kids’ fault, and it’s not the teacher’s fault. Just this kid’s been outta school for two years, or he is been dropping in and doing a quad master or not bill Meer or online and synchronous and asynchronous and all these different terms. And at the end of the day, there’s huge gaps, learning gaps. There’s going to be maturity gaps. Oh my God, you know, you got, you got grade twelves. And you’re like, these guys aren’t in grade 12, but but they’re, you know, we have to work at it and we have to get through it. And, and if they feel like they’re, they’re respected and loved and wanted and, and respected in their building, the rest will take care of itself.

Sam Demma (26:56):
If you could take all the experience you’ve had in education, bundle it up into, you know, a little ball, which is almost impossible. Go with that ball back into your first class you ever taught in and hand it to your younger self and say, Glen, this is what you needed to hear. What pieces of advice would you have shared with your younger self? And I know obviously building relationships and being invested is two of the, that we’ve really touched on this whole interview, which is awesome. What else would you have told you younger yourself that you wish you heard when you first started?

Glenn Gifford (27:30):
I, that you don’t know everything yeah. That you need to have the humility to realize that, that, again, like, I, I, I didn’t start saying things like I you know, I’m the smartest person in the room when I’m by myself. I, when I was 21, you know, or 22, I kind of I’ll do it this way, because this is the way it is, you know, as, as you age. And I know everything just ask me and you know, as you age, you, you realize that, or, or different ways of doing things, or, you know, just because I had a certain personality and certain brain style, right. That, that, you know, I’m, I’m more balanced brain. I can see left and right. You know, I can see both sides and I’d see other people approaching something in a different manner. And I would be like, that’s dumb.

Glenn Gifford (28:15):
And now I look at it and I’m like, Jesus buddy, you really didn’t know much there. You, you were kind of fine by the seat of your pants and you, you probably should have been a little bit more yeah, probably would’ve been a better teacher if you were a better listener. Mm. And, and I think that’s I, I learned that probably about when I was 14 years in the classroom and probably about year seven or eight, where I just kind of really had a couple of colleagues who were, who were special teachers. And I thought to, and, and I thought I was, but then I looked at how these, these guys and girls were doing it. And I was like, man, the, like, it’s not all about me getting up there and entertaining people and making kids laugh. Like, I really gotta leave them with something other than a magical 60 minute experience with Mr.

Glenn Gifford (29:04):
Gifford every day I need, I need to leave them with you. You know, I gotta get to the, the business of education. And even my assignments, like, I mean, are you doing the same thing again? Like, are you really gonna pull this assignment out again? Like, you know, everybody knows that this is coming. And, you know, I had a colleague say to me one time, why don’t you, why don’t you look at it and do this and have the kids do? And I was like, oh my God, brilliant. But, you know, I wasn’t thinking of it because I wasn’t thinking of it. So I needed somebody else to kind of shine the light. So what I would say to younger Glenn Gifford would be listen, buddy, you can, you can even have a bigger impact if you start to listen to people as opposed to just listening to yourself.

Sam Demma (29:49):
Yeah. I love that. That’s a phenomenal piece of advice. And I think it’s, it’s a human thing. It’s not a teacher thing. I think that’s advice that we could all take yeah.

Glenn Gifford (29:59):
A hundred percent. And sometimes it’s an age thing right. Where you just think, ah, you know, everything when you’re young. And, and I remember one time, one of my grad speeches, I said to, it was funny because I just said to graduates, I just said, you know, you know, very little, you think, you know, but, but you don’t, you hear all the parents laughing because they’re like, yes, they know nothing. And they do, they know lots and you should listen to them as well. But you, you really, again, so I, I would say to myself, if I had to go back and visit young Glen, the teacher is you have two ears in one mouth. So you sort listen twice as much as you talk.

Sam Demma (30:36):
Love that. Glenn, if someone’s tuning in, wants to reach out to you, ask a question or just have a convers what would be the best way for them to get in touch?

Glenn Gifford (30:46):
They could contact me via email which is glenn.gifford@ncdsb.com, or they can call St. Michael Catholic high school. And and I’m not hard to find so St. Michael Catholic high school and that Niagara falls Ontario, or through the board website through the school website they can reach out and all the messages go to me.

Sam Demma (31:13):
Awesome. Thank you, Glen. Thank you so much for coming on the podcast. This has been a pleasure and a really fun time. Keep up the great work and we will talk soon.

Glenn Gifford (31:24):
Yeah, Sam, appreciate it. Thanks very much. I appreciate that you doing this.

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