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Valerie Dumoulin – Proud Principal of Ecole Secondaire Cochrane High School

Valerie Dumoulin - Proud Principal of Ecole Secondaire Cochrane High School
About Valerie Dumoulin

Valerie (@Val_Dumoulin) is a proud member of Taykwa Tagamou First Nation and a wife and mother to two amazing children. She is approaching her 30-year mark in education having taught in Attawapiskat, Moosonee and Cochrane.

She is currently the proud Principal of Ecole Secondaire Cochrane High School and has been in this role for 4 years. Previous to that, she was the Vice-Principal at Cochrane Public School for 3 years. Valerie enjoys walking at 5 a.m., spending time with my family and doing Indigenous beadwork in her spare time. She is a Board member at the Ininew Friendship Centre and is passionate about the importance of relationships, mental health and resiliency.

Connect with Valerie: Email | Twitter | Linkedin

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Ecole Secondaire Cochran high school

Taykwa Tagamou First Nation

Dr. Robin Hanley Dafoe (Resiliency Expert)

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):
Valerie welcome to the high-performing educator show. Huge pleasure to have you this morning. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself?


Valerie Dumoulin (00:09):
Well, I’m Valerie Dumoulin and I am the principal of Ecole Secondaire Cochran high school in Cochran, Ontario. I’m a proud member of the Taykwa Tagamou First Nation. I have been a high school principal now for four years previous to that, I was a vice-principal at our sister elementary school, and I’ve been a teacher I’m actually approaching my, 30-year mark. I’ve taught it in a variety of grade levels all the way from kindergarten to adults. And, I really am fortunate to be in the role that I am right now. And I really enjoy working with, teenagers and the staff that I have.


Sam Demma (01:09):
Did, you know, growing up that education was the career and vocation for you?


Valerie Dumoulin (01:18):
Probably in some sort of sense. I actually wanted to be a social worker nice when I would younger. So I always kind of knew that I wanted to be in a field that was in service of others somehow. I always was very empathetic almost to a fault and I wanted and I knew I wanted to help people. And I grew up in Moosonee Ontario, which is a pretty remote place. Only accessible by train. It’s a, mostly an indigenous community. And you know, there was a lot of inequities that were there and a lot of systemic barriers and I always felt like I wanted to, you know, help people. So when I was in grade 11, we moved to Cochran is where I live now. Nice and finished high school here and then went off to university and you know, somewhere along that, that, that line, I, I changed my mind and decided to apply to teachers college instead. So here I am.


Sam Demma (02:22):
And did you have teachers that really inspired you back when you were a student that you can recall or remember anyone that stood out or maybe even the opposite and that’s why you wanted to change and, and get involved?


Valerie Dumoulin (02:37):
Absolutely. I think when I think about where I grew up and, you know, just a lot of, like I said, the inequities of the area, I mean, my parents had, had their family quite young and they certainly didn’t go off to post secondary school. And a lot of my classmates that I, that I grew up, a lot of my good friends that I grew up, you know, as a child in, in, they also like have kind of beaten the odds and their teachers and lawyers and doctors and nurses and, and it, and I always wonder, like how did we, you know, kind of break through that cycle. And I, and I do think it was probably a common, the nation of things, I think like when I think about our parents, even though they were young they had high hopes for us and they always instilled in to us that we, you know, that they wanted better for us and that we could invoke change.


Valerie Dumoulin (03:31):
And I think it was, it was teachers too, because the school did play a lot of a big, big role in making us believe that we can do better and do anything that we put our minds to. So I think that and certainly lots of different teachers who stood out, you know I think about you know I had a, my grade three teacher was named Carol Bernie. She became our, she was the principal of, of the public school that I went to. She had a, she had a huge impact on me because she was female, she was indigenous. And she, she kind of made me feel like I could do something like this.


Sam Demma (04:34):
Inequities in education definitely have started really bubbling to the surface over the past. I would say, you know, two years in total, roughly what are the inequities that still exist? And maybe you can even think back to when you were a student, cuz you talked about those inequities, which are the ones that are still around and, and, and are you passionate about changing and working on?


Valerie Dumoulin (05:01):
Yeah yeah, there, there, there are still lots of barriers that we’re, we’re continuing to work on. It’s hard to believe it’s still 20, 21. And, and a lot of the, the things that I faced as, as a student in growing up in or still exist for, for some families, you know, I think about our indigenous population, for example, and at, Eole Secondaire Cochran high school, we do have about 40% of our student body that is indigenous. And there still is a lot of mistrust of the education system and we’re, we’re breaking it down slowly, but it’s, it’s slow. Yeah. You know, just because of all of the history with residential schools and all of the experiences that perhaps their families have or perception of teachers and schools and buildings you know, we’re slowly chipping away at that. So I, I, I feel like that still exists on some level.


Valerie Dumoulin (06:03):
And it’s gonna be a constant process. You know, I, I, I often think it’s gonna take, you know, more years to actually break that generational kind of cycle, but you know, it it’s, it really is inspiring to know, know that we have a lot of supports in place for, for students like that. And it’s not just the indigenous students, it’s also educating the non-indigenous students because they also didn’t get the true history because their parents just weren’t simply taught it. So it’s not their fault either. You know? So we really are, you know, together in this, in this path to reconciliation.


Sam Demma (06:42):
I agree. Absolutely. And along with equity being something that bubbled to the surface, COVID brought so many other challenges. What are some of the things that have been challenging over the past year to years? And how’s the school community, have you strive to sort of overcome these things?


Valerie Dumoulin (07:03):
So I I’m finding lately the biggest challenge is keeping our spirits up. Yeah. Cause it’s been 22 months now that we’ve been dealing with COVID. And so it’s almost been two years. And as we speak today, it’s January 30 we’re approaching it’s January 14th today. And, and we’re going back to, you know, there’s so many changes that are happening. So it’s, it’s dealing with this constant change and this stress of living in the pandemic and, and we’re basically COVID weary. So I feel like it’s my job to help staff feel calm, supported, and as happy to, as I can so that they can in turn, make their students feel safe and happy and calm. Yeah. So how I deal with this challenge is I, I, I listen, I, I try to make, think of ways to make things better for people. And, and I’m here to remind them constantly that they can do hard things and they can do more than they thought that they were capable of.


Valerie Dumoulin (08:03):
And they can also do that them well, you know, so yeah, when I think about it, COVID has really changed the face of education. There have been really a lot of positive things that have come out of having to deal with COVID. So something like, like paper, for example. Yeah. You know, you wouldn’t believe like the amount of school budget that we spent on photocopy paper before the pandemic, and now we’ve become paperless pretty much, you know, we still use a bit of paper, but using asynchronous platforms and using the cloud and ditching hand outs more, I think that’s been a positive change. Nice. also I think teachers have really shifted into the 21st century rather quickly and they’ve done, done so really well. You know, they they’re using digital platforms, they’re managing break rooms, they’re using collaborative apps. I would’ve said probably before the pandemic that students probably had the edge on, on teaching staff and, and teachers on, you know, being digital. But now I, I, I could, I bet that a lot of our teachers could probably show the kids a few things. Yeah. You know, and that change has happened super, super fast. So it’s been pretty amazing.


Sam Demma (09:26):
Oh, go ahead. Keep going.


Valerie Dumoulin (09:27):
Was just gonna say the, the last thing that I, that I kind of have been really impressed with is, is the focus on mental health. Mm. And I think that’s been a positive of impact of COVID too, because you know, now people are prioritizing, what’s important, you know, self care and as taking like a front role and people are, are starting to take care of their minds and bodies more and, and, and organizations and systems are feel like that is that’s something that they wanna, they wanna promote as well.


Sam Demma (10:01):
And prioritize sometimes in front of the curriculum or the KPIs or the outcomes of the organizations, which are, which is super awesome. What does exactly, what does self-care look like for youth, for how do you fill up your cup? So you can ensure that you’re pouring into your staff, like you said, and, you know, listening to them and making them feel happy.


Valerie Dumoulin (10:26):
Yeah. I, I definitely have started taking, you know, time off, like trying to ditch the email a little bit more, you know for myself, I I’m a Walker, so I have, I’ve always had dogs and I have two Huskies that depend on me to get up every morning and walk them for, for an hour. Nice. So I find that’s a really good time for me. It’s, it’s my thinking time. It’s very peaceful. I, I walk at 5:00 AM.


Sam Demma (10:52):
Nice.


Valerie Dumoulin (10:52):
Streets are quiet. You know, I get to think about like, reflect on things. Think about the day prioritize things that I wanna get done. It, it’s just a good time and I it’s me time. I also beat, I, I do some I make earrings and oh, cool. Do some indigenous type beat work. So I think that’s, that’s really helped me in the evenings kind of just you know, keep busy you, but also like focus on something else other than school, because I would say too, like, it’s, it’s been a learning curve for me to kind of let things go. I’m usually on like 24 hours, somebody would email me at nine o’clock. I’d probably email the back within five minutes, but I’ve been kind of stopping myself and saying, okay, no, that can wait till tomorrow and feeling okay to do that, which is pretty amazing. So I think that’s helped tremendously.


Sam Demma (11:42):
Boundaries. I struggle with them too. Sometimes I don’t ever turn off and people talk about burnout and you always think to yourself, oh no, I’m, I can work like this. And one day it just hits you and you go, holy crap. Like this is a real thing. And I need to set up some proper boundaries for myself. And I think a lot of people hit that threshold at some point in the last two years. So I couldn’t agree more and that’s awesome that you’re up so early walking, very that’s a cool practice. What, what do you think are some of the opportunities? I know there’s a lot of challenges right now, but what do you think some of the opportunities in education are?


Valerie Dumoulin (12:24):
Well, the, some of the opportunities that I think well, the students, like, I, I, I feel like another benefit of COVID is that families have been kind of forced to spend more time with each other. And I see that as, as, as being hopeful for, for, you know, the future because you know, I, I do, I did see kind of an alarming trend of, you know, families being really disconnected from each other. And they, you know, being tied to their phones, for example, and, and not listening or talking with their kids. And I think that’s really negatively affected kids. And as a result, we’re seeing like anxieties and behavior issues and things like that. So I’m hoping that COVID has kind of forced families kind of do things together. I have been seeing positive things. I’ve mentioned Taykwa Tagamou for example that first nation I’ve I’ve, you know, I belong to like their Facebook page and I, and I see things where programs that they have in the community are putting out really neat challenges, for example like a immune kit, like something simple like that, they’re saying, you know, we’re distributing pizza kits and we challenge families to make pizza together and then post it on the page and, you know, and, and people get to see these fam families doing things together.


Valerie Dumoulin (13:48):
So that makes me hopeful that families are, are connecting and, and talking and doing more with each other because kids have been craving that I think, and it, it will, it will help the future. So that, that gives me kind of hope for, you know, the future and, and what’s in store. And certainly with my own family too, you know, like we, you’re kind of isolated. I’ve been like, oh, let’s play a board game. We haven’t played a board game many years, you know, those kinds of things. So it has brought families closer together. I think. So I think that’s been a positive.


Sam Demma (14:23):
Me and my entire family got COVID actually over the holidays. And whenever someone asked me that question, oh, how is your holidays? I feel so bad giving them the response because they’re gonna be like, oh my God, I’m so sorry. And we, we ended up being okay. The symptoms were, were mild, thankfully, but the positive of it was like you said, we spent an unusually large amount of time together, dinner, breakfast, lunch walks, board games, movie marathons. And it was awesome. It was really cool. So I think with every challenge, there is an opportunity. Sometimes it’s just hard to find them or, or see them, especially when you’re going through a storm. And yeah, I, I agree. I think connection is a big one. That’s come out of this and a desire for more connection. We realize how important face to face communication, not over the phone, but actually in person really was. And I think that will, that will hopefully remind us after this all passes, that we need to continue doing those things and continue prioritizing mental health and continue prioritizing relationships. Over your, the course of your career, what resources have you found helpful? Whether it’s mentorship, whether it’s actually things that you’ve read watched, or been a part of that informed, you know, the way that you lead?


Valerie Dumoulin (15:56):
Through this board, like I’ve been fortunate that our board has really prioritized mental health for, for all of our staff. So they’ve brought in some great speakers. Nice. You know, so Dr. Robin Hanley defo on resiliency, like she I’m listening to her audiobook. Again, having listened to some of her, her her talks that she’s had nice Jesse Wente he’s a, an author participated in his online kind of talk that he had for, for staff and students of DSB one. So lots of different influences, but definitely restorative practices that has been really that that’s something that’s really influenced me as, as an administrator. You know, I, I view mistakes as learning opportunities, so it’s really, it’s, it’s really good to talk to kids and I know kids are gonna mess up, you know, and, and do silly, stupid things and things that they regret.


Valerie Dumoulin (17:01):
But I mean, if, if you bring the people that they’ve harmed together and have a restorative conversation, it changes into a learning opportunity. So sometimes being firm is the way to go, but I’m finding more and more that having those restorative conversations and giving chances to kids is paying off. Kids are learning how to you know, restore mistakes and talk to people that they’ve harmed make future decisions based on learning from, from their actions. And the biggest thing is taking responsibility for what they do, you know, and, and owning up to it. And, and admitting that, you know, they’ve done something wrong and that they are committing to, to rectifying kind of their mistakes.


Sam Demma (17:54):
That’s awesome. Restorative practices are so important. I even think back to when I was in elementary school I did some silly things and got a suspension. It’s just something I don’t really talk about often to be honest. And my principal was at the time his name’s Mike was big into restorative practice and he brought me the other students into his office. We cried, we were so upset with ourselves and what we did, but at the end of it, it was a serious learning opportunity. And, you know, seeing it from the student’s perspective, I found it really helpful. And I think it’s a really important thing to continue doing.


Valerie Dumoulin (18:31):
Exactly.


Sam Demma (18:33):
If you could take your experience in education, bundle it up into a ball, walk into the first classroom you taught in and tap your younger self on the shoulder and say, Valerie, this is what you needed to hear. Like, what would you have told or what advice would you have given your younger self?


Valerie Dumoulin (18:55):
That’s a good question.


Sam Demma (18:56):
Yeah,


Valerie Dumoulin (18:58):
I think back actually, my very first year teaching, I was I was teaching aa a grade two teacher. So what would I have told myself? I probably would’ve said, you know, take it easy on yourself. Like you don’t have to do, you don’t have to know everything. Cuz I remember feeling, you know, as a first year teacher really confused, like, can I do this like really doubting myself and you know, maybe trying to do too much. And I remember being so exhausted just like even after a day’s work, I’d go home and have a two hour nap and then I get up and plan for the next day, you know, but you, you have to really like just take it easy on yourself, rely on your colleagues and really get to know the community that you’re in for myself.


Valerie Dumoulin (19:47):
It was a first nation community. I, I was used to living in small Northern communities, but it was still quite a different at world just because when I was up there, there, you know, a lot of the, the, the nurses and the teachers had running water, nobody else had running water. Wow. So they used to have to go to like a community area to, you know, fill their jugs, to take home, to do washing and cooking and cleaning and all sorts of things. So it was, it was quite a different world. And so I had to really, you know, understand where my students were coming from. And and, and maybe that’s how I, you know, became really interested in and understanding like how important relationship is and understanding and being empathetic towards other people’s situations. So I think that probably kind of helped me as I move forward in my career.


Sam Demma (20:41):
Love that. Awesome. Valerie, thank you so much for taking some time to come onto the podcast, share your experiences, your philosophies around education. If someone listens and wants to reach out and ask you a question, what would be the best way for them to get ahold of you?


Valerie Dumoulin (20:58):
Well, on social media, of course, I am on Twitter (@Val_Dumoulin) and I am on Facebook and Instagram. Email works as well: Valerie.Dumoulin@dsb1.ca. Anyway, you know, I, I’m more than willing to, to talk with people and invite people to, to connect with me for sure.


Sam Demma (21:15):
Awesome. All right. Thank you so much for coming on the show. This has been a pleasure. Keep up the great work and we’ll talk soon.


Valerie Dumoulin (21:21):
Okay. Thanks, Sam.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Valerie Dumoulin

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.

Annibale Iarossi – Principal at St. Marcellinus Secondary School

Annibale Larossi - Principal at St. Marcellinus Secondary School
About Annibale Iarossi

Annibale Iarossi (@Princ_Iarossi), is the Principal at St. Marcellinus Secondary School in Mississauga.  Annibale’s passion has always been working with diverse learners and seeking opportunities for them to experience success.  He began his career in 2002 at St. Augustine Secondary School in Brampton as a Special Education Resource Teacher. 

In this role, Annibale sought to provide his students with the necessary tools they needed to achieve their best results.  In 2005, Annibale accepted a job as Student Success Teacher at the newly built St. Joan of Arc Secondary School.  In this role, he was able to work collaboratively with students, teachers, admin and support staff in planning for the success of all students. 

This role also motivated Annibale in moving forward with his personal goal of being a Secondary School Administrator.  In 2013, entered into administration as a Vice Principal until 2019 when we was appointed Principal of St. Marcellinus Secondary School.

Some of Annibale’s favourite moments as both an educator and a student have been outside the traditional classroom.  As a teacher, he has enjoyed coaching football, soccer, basketball,  and cross country. 

He continues to firmly believe that significant learning occurs outside the classroom when collaborating with other individuals in a team environment.  In his spare time, Annibale enjoys watching his children play basketball and working out at the gym.

Connect with Annibale: Email | Twitter | Linkedin

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

St. Marcellinus Secondary School (DPCDSB)

Catholic Principals’ Council of Ontario

Peel Principals’ and Vice Principals’ Association

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


Annibale Iarossi (00:10):
I’m my name Annibale Larossi. I am the principal at St. Marcina secondary school in Mississauga with the din peel Catholic district school board.


Sam Demma (00:21):
When did you realize in your own career journey that education is what you wanted to pursue?


Annibale Iarossi (00:28):
I think that was rather early. When I was a student, I, think what motivated me to get into teaching was having great teachers and great teachers allowed me to fall line myself and allowed to me to realize the leader that I was, and so that translated into me getting involved in, in things in high school. And then that moving, moving into volunteering while I was in university and working with learners of all types. And I realized, yeah, this is, this is for me. I want to, I wanna be a leader in my classroom, my school, and now ultimately you know, I’m leading the school as a principal.


Sam Demma (01:12):
Take me back to yourself as a student, you mentioned that you had some great teachers. Do you remember two things, one who they were, and secondly, what you do for you that had a big impact?


Annibale Iarossi (01:26):
For sure. And, and when, when I looked at you know, who these teachers I was talking about they influenced me in different ways. Some of them influenced me by actually teaching me in class. So I had to teacher I, I recall Mrs. Roberts and who who taught, who was a history teacher and, and that’s, that’s my teachable area. That was the area I went into, got my degree. And, and she really motivated me through her lessons. And you know, you never knew what was gonna happen in the class. She was very enthusiastic, very creative and which allowed me to then in, in turn grow in my creativity. Other teachers that I had that were fantastic for me were some of my coaches in, in high school whether that be my football coaches or soccer coaches you know Mr. Barco, miss Dayton, Mr. Dayton Mr. Hollowell, Mr. Desna, all these, all these guys that motivated me to be a leader on the field then, and and all played a part in building who I am as a person.


Sam Demma (02:45):
Were athletics, a big part of your upbringing as well?


Annibale Iarossi (02:50):
Yeah. You know what I was, I was always involved in, in sport. I guess not to the same degree as, as kids are nowadays, when you stay involved in sport. And I look at my kids were involved in both are involved in basketball and I was never involved that, that much into sport, but it, it kept me engaged in school and it kept me to be affiliated with something that had purpose. So it in school, especially, I love being involved in sports and that’s why when I moved to become a teacher, I, I coached and I, I coached cross country. I CRO coached soccer. I coached football all of these sports. And it, it, it allowed me to give back to what those educators did for me.


Annibale Iarossi (03:54):
Yeah. So, so when I started when I started teaching, so I started teaching back in 2002, 2003, I was at St. Augustine secondary school. And I was I was in the special education, the academic resource department. So I was working with some of our diverse learners and, and that’s where my passion started in terms of with diverse learners and helping them achieve success. I was mentored by my department head Joce, Neves, who has now passed away. And he cared so much for students. He cared so much for not only them getting their credit, but their wellbeing, where they were going to be after high school, what they were doing outside of school, were they okay. And that resonated with me and it wanted me to work to the same standard as he did.


Sam Demma (03:39):
Absolutely. And when you think about your journey through education, where did it start and what brought you to where you are now? And I don’t mean you as a student, but you as an educator.


Annibale Iarossi (04:56):
So as a special education teacher, I was, I was at San Augustine for three years and really loved that, but I felt, I felt I needed a challenge and then a new school was opening up and St Joan a and the principal at the time CLA pit Tosha. Another one of my mentors brought me on staff as a student success teacher and student success at that point was a new a new role. And I remember going into it not even knowing what I had to do. And ironically we started out in this building at St. Mar Salinas. We were housed in this building. And basically I was, I was ensuring students experience success, worked to the best, to their ability and ensure that they graduated and got to their post-secondary destination where wherever that would be.


Sam Demma (05:50):
And is that student success position, does it serve the same purpose today, or for someone who has never worked in student success, what does it look like and, and what are you doing day to day?


Annibale Iarossi (06:01):
Yeah, so student success it, it, it really, and the student success teacher, it really is defined by the, the, the person who is in the role. Cool. because everybody does interpret it in a different way, but the essence of it is how can I get my students to graduate experience success, go to the post-secondary destination that they need to get to, whether that be university college work apprenticeship what tools can I provide my students what support can I provide my students to get them where they need to go? So I think that’s how I always approached it. And, and it’s, it’s been those were, those were some of the best years of my life in term in education because the students I worked worked with in those eight or nine years, I still, I still keep in contact with them today. Whether I run into them in the neighborhood or they’re coaching my kids or, or whatever. They’re, they’re there. And, and it’s, every time I see it, I, I feel like, you know, I it’s, I, I, I live my purpose. I live my purpose through being able to support them.


Sam Demma (07:19):
Right now student success is very important. Student wellbeing is very important. Staff wellbeing is very important. Staff success is very important. All those things are kind of at the forefront because of what’s happening in the world. What are some of the challenges that are facing your school community and potentially other school communities right now that you and the staff and students are striving to overcome?


Annibale Iarossi (07:48):
Absolutely. I think you hit it right there with you know, being in a pandemic. It is highlighted a lot of challenges. Some of the challenges though have turned into opportunities and those opportunities to, for instance, a challenge at the beginning of the pandemic was technology and, and being able to navigate technology and, and staff and students being able to navigate technology well, that, that that’s turned into an opportunity to, to, as, as professional teachers, they’ve turned that into an opportunity to be better teachers and to offer their students more. And and as students you know, digesting that, that new, this new technology and these new apps and, and all kinds of things, it’s given them a different skillset. Now, if we, you look back to the wellness piece, I, think that’s high.


Annibale Larossi (08:46):
I think that’s something that remains a challenge. I think moving in and out of school buildings has provided students with some, some mental health cha challenges, some wellness challenges, and as staff, what we’ve tried to do is keep the lines of communication open through our guidance department, our student services support services such as child and youth worker, social workers but, but the people who are on the ground first, our, our teachers are the ones that, that bring it to our attention so we can deal with it. And, you know, I have a wonderful administrative team who, who you know, shout out to all three of my VPs, Maria Laurie and Sheena, who who do a fair, fantastic job every day promoting student success and wellbeing for all our students.


Sam Demma (09:41):
And how do you personally fill your own cup? I know it’s sometimes a challenge. I, I struggle setting boundaries between work and life. And sometimes when things get overwhelming, you might be spending every minute of every day thinking about work, how do you, you know, set up the boundary for yourself and also fill up your own cup?


Annibale Iarossi (10:05):
Yeah, I’ve gotten better at it as I’ve transitioned from vice principal to principal. I know starting as a vice principal, I thought, I, you know, I was a single vice principal, so I had, it was me and the principal. And I thought I had to be everything to everyone. And I thought I had to be on call all the time. And you know, you let you let yourself slip you, you, you get into a rut. And and then you question whether you’re, what you’re doing is the right thing for, for everyone. And but as, as I’ve moved on with experience in this role and in having mentors in this role I’ve realized that the balance is important. So I, you know, I, do things like take care of myself, take care of my diet, take care of myself at the gym workouts get involved with, with of within the community as well.


Annibale Iarossi (10:58):
So it, it’s very important that that we do strive the balance. And, and I, I, I do now you know, I have more time to spend with my, my kids more time to spend with my wife being able to coach my son in basketball has been has been another great thing. So you know what, busyness, isn’t always bad. It’s just where you allocate the, the busy time that if you allocate it all one spot, it’s not always healthy, but if you break it up, busyness is pretty good.


Sam Demma (11:29):
It keeps you moving forward.


Annibale Iarossi (11:30):
Yeah. Yeah. Keeps you young.


Sam Demma (11:32):
Yeah. A hundred percent. And throughout your educational journey, what resource is experiences, programs, or things that you have been a part of, which of which of those things have been helpful to your personal and professional development? Did any, did anything come to mind?


Annibale Iarossi (11:51):
Yeah, I think I think first and foremost, I am a big proponent of mentorship. I, I think I’ve, I’ve served as a mentor through our administrative team through our principal vice principal association and through our board. And I’ve been a mentee I’ve, I’ve, I’ve had the opportunity to work some with some great principal within our board to be able to rely on for for assistance when I need it, because I don’t have all the answers. And you know, I, I think I’d be fooling people if I, if I had the answer to every question. I think relying on some PD through our association Catholic principals, council, Ontario and our board is, is, is, has been very beneficial to, to myself. And I, I would say most most administrators and, and that I’ve worked with.


Sam Demma (12:46):
Love that. And what did that mentorship look like? I’m also a huge fan of mentorship and there might be some new teachers wondering how do I find myself a mentor and might be a little overwhelmed with the idea of it?


Annibale Iarossi (12:59):
Yeah. Like I think so first I being, I remember being appointed a mentor and I was like, I’ve only been in this role for like three years. How am I mentor? Like, I, you know, I, I barely know anything. But then, you know, it, I think the cornerstone of a cornerstone of mentorship is listening and, and, and listening to what your mentees need listening to what they’re asking and listening to what they’re not asking. I think it, it’s, it’s, it’s very important. I’ve had some really great mentors as as principal, too as a principal as well. You know some former principles of mine Dan Kaun, Michael Grady guys, I’ve relied on to ask questions where I didn’t have the answer. And you know, what it allowed me to then pay it forward with other principles or vice principals that call me, or email me and say, Hey, do you have the answer to this? Or do you know, can you lead me in a certain way? And it it’s, I think it’s a great cycle to be a part of.


Sam Demma (14:07):
You mentioned earlier that in those moments of potential burnout or over pursuing work and not by balancing it with, with life and other important activities, sometimes you question not you specifically, but in general, as an educator, you question is this the right thing for me and everyone else. I’ve asked educators that similar questions a few times, and they’ve told me that during those days they have this little folder on their desk and it’s filled with all the notes that students would’ve sent over the years. And they’ll peek into this little this little notebook and remind themselves that the work makes a massive change. Yeah. Is that a true, is that a true thing that educators, do?


Annibale Iarossi (14:48):
You, you know what, so for a lot of people who really know me, they, they, they know that I am probably one of the least sentimental guys who are gushy or, or you know, that kind of guy, but I I’ll be honest. I, I do keep, I, I do keep, like, thank you cards. Like I’m looking right across from my desk right now to the table in front of me. I have about, you know, 12 thank you cards that are, that are there. And you know, I, I do keep those then in my desk just to, if I do need to rely on it you know, letters that I’ve gotten from students. Absolutely. I think those are the ones that really resonate and, and, and keep you are going on, on on days where you’re like, am I still making a difference emails from parents? You know, you always remember that you are make, you might not be making a difference for everyone, but you’re, you are making a difference for someone.


Sam Demma (15:46):
Mm it’s so true. If you could take the and knowledge you gained from your entire teaching career, kind of bundle it up into some advice and then travel back in time, walk into your own classroom of the first year you started teaching, tap yourself on the shoulder and say, Hey, an evil, you know, this is what I wish you heard when you just started. What would you have said to yourself?


Annibale Iarossi (16:15):
Yeah, I, I think maybe one of the first things, that’s a good question. One of the first things I, I would probably say is don’t take yourself too seriously. Mm. I know when I started when I started teaching, I, I was, I, at the time I, I, I, I was overwhelmed. I had a number of students in my, in my classes with a number of needs that I didn’t think I could I could help them with. And I, I even reached the point that I was like, is this teaching for me? And I, I, I think gaining perspective is important. Listening is always important in, in this profession. You need to be able to listen, you need to be able to process the information and then you need to be able to act. So I would say a first year teacher don’t take yourself seriously. Don’t stress out, get self balanced, and you’ll be okay.


Sam Demma (17:17):
Awesome. That’s a great advice. Thank you so much for taking some time to come on the show, share a little bit about your experiences, some ideas that have been helpful for you. If someone’s listening and wants to reach out what would be the best way for them to get a hold of you.


Annibale Iarossi (17:33):
Sure. Email is always good. I don’t know if you want me to, I can give you my email address. It’s annibale.iarossi@dpcdsb.org, or you know I’m on Twitter. So you can look me up on Twitter and or LinkedIn, and feel free to contact me.


Sam Demma (17:59):
Awesome. Thank you so much for coming on the show and keep up with the great work.


Annibale Iarossi (18:03):
Thanks, Sam. All right. Take care.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Annibale Iarossi

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.

Rob Gilmour – Principal of Loyola School of Adult and Continuing Education

Rob Gilmour - Principal of Loyola School of Adult and Continuing Education
About Rob Gilmour

Rob has been an educator for over 30 years with the Algonquin and Lakeshore Catholic District School Board and involved in computer-managed and online course delivery for most of his career. Rob started his career at Loyola teaching through the Pathfinder Learning Systems computer-managed program before initiating the online course program for the Board.

He co-founded the Ontario eLearning Consortium where he served as Executive Director before being seconded to the Ontario Ministry of Education as Education Officer for eLearning. Rob returned to the ALCDSB where he was elementary vice-principal and principal before returning to Loyola as Principal and taking on the additional role of eLearning Principal and Principal of International Education.

Connect with Rob: Email | Linkedin | Website

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Ontario eLearning Consortium

Algonquin & Lakeshore Catholic District School Board

Michigan Virtual | Demand more from online learning

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):
Rob welcome to the high performing educator. Huge pleasure to have you on the show this morning. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself?


Rob Gilmour (00:10):
Sure. so my name’s Rob Gilmour and I’ve been an educator for over 30 years with the Algonquin and Lakeshore Catholic District School Board, kind of in the Kingston Pickton area of the province. So like I said, I started my career at Loyola, a school of adult and continuing education. I said 30 years ago, I looked after it was called Pathfinder learning systems. So it was computer-managed learning. So what would happen is the student would do a, kind it, of a pretest, a diagnostic test based on that score, they would be referred to a, a physical library of books. And so I’d say, go to this book and do this question, go to that book, do that question. Then they’d come back and they’d do a post test and based on those results, that would kind of guide them in terms of what to do next through the course.


Rob Gilmour (01:06):
So like I said, I went from that into kind of computer programming you know, Cisco networking courses. I then moved to the school board as a special assignment teacher to look after creating a an e-learning program for the board. Excuse me. From there, I, I met some other people from other boards in the province and kind of co-founded the Ontario e-learning consortium. Cool. and I was kind of the first executive director of that group. So helped lead that group for the first couple of years to I then was succonded to the Ontario ministry of education where I was an education officer for e-learning Ontario.


Sam Demma (01:53):
Nice.


Rob Gilmour (01:55):
So did that for a couple years. And then I got to a point where I, you know, I kind of had to make the decision, am I going to continue with the ministry or do I want to go back to the board? And I kind of missed working with students. Yeah. That’s the one thing with the ministry job. You’re kind of a long ways away from direct contact with students. And I missed that. That’s kind of why I went into teaching. So I returned to the board as elementary vice principal, the elementary principal, and eventually made my way back kind of full circle. So I’m back at Loyola, but as the prince, as the principal of Loyola. So yeah, as I’m principal here at Loyola, I also had duties as the e-learning e-learning principle for the board. I’m currently a, also the international education principal. So that’s for students coming overseas to Canada to study. So I kind of managed like after that program as well.


Sam Demma (02:57):
That’s awesome. Very diverse experiences. Take me back to your initial decision to get involved in education in your own career journey. Did you always know that you wanted to work with students in a school setting, or how did that decision come together for you as a professional?


Rob Gilmour (03:14):
Yeah, no, I didn’t. So I, I like and was involved with coaching early on in elementary school and high school coaching, younger students. So I knew I loved coaching, loved working with younger people, but I didn’t know if teaching was what, you know, the career path I wanted to go, Dale. My, my father was you know, involved with coaching. So I saw him he was a, not a teacher, but, you know, I had other friends that were so actually when I graduated from university, I became an educational assistant. Mm. So I was worked as an EA at local high school here in town and being in the classroom, being in the school you know, working with some students with special needs. I really, you know, after that experience, I knew that, okay, this is what I want to do for the rest of my life is, is working with kids and, and working in the school. So at that point I applied and went to teachers college and kind of the rest is history, as they say. Yeah.


Sam Demma (04:18):
You also mentioned the interest in engagement, starting the organization in e-learning. Where did, where did that passion for e-learning come from and tell, tell me a little more about that venture.


Rob Gilmour (04:32):
Yeah, so, like I said, it’s, it’s one of those things where, you know, as I started with the in Pathfinder learning system, so it was kind of computer managed learning, so it kind of very, so this is back in the early nineties. Yep. Very early nineties, so very kind of tiptoeing into kind of computer managed, computer online, learning in a sense. And so I kind of really started there. I mean, I didn’t have a background in computers. You know, I came outta teachers kind with, you know, geography, social sciences, and, you know, there was a job opening, so I took it and it was this computer managed learning. And from there they thought I knew something about computers which I really didn’t. And so, you know, but learned as I went along, so, you know, got into, I said, did got my Cisco certification and you know, to other courses in terms of software courses.


Rob Gilmour (05:27):
So there, I got kind of my love, I guess, for technology and working with computers. And and then, you know, e-learning was just kind of starting up right, as, as kind of the late nineties you know, they’re looking hot, you know, universities and postsecondary are starting into kind of the online learning. And so I think because I got into it very early on and it was new and, and I guess that’s something I’ve always liked in my career. I mean, I’ve always liked new challenges, new things, you know, maybe cutting edge or what have you, you know, so that’s always been attracted to me. And, and so, yeah, yeah, I kind of got involved with it, you know, met some great people along the way. You know, other educators had great support from my school board. So had great principals had great, you know, superintendents and director of education who really supported me along the way and kind of allowed me to go off and kind of develop and try to grow a program.


Sam Demma (06:37):
Very awesome. When you think back to your journey, what resources courses or other people, like what resources, whether it’s books, courses, or people did you did, did came across your path and you found really helpful that you might wanna shed some light on?


Rob Gilmour (07:00):
Yeah, I mean, at that time, the, the United States, the us were a little bit further ahead in can than Canadians in terms of online learning. So there was the Florida virtual school. There was also the Mitch Michigan virtual school. And so I, you know, the, luckily I was allowed to go to some conferences down in the United States where I, I got to hear speakers you know, people kind of leading these programs. And, and so, you know, kind of hearing what they’re doing, kind of the innovative things that they were doing and how they’re approaching not just kind of the delivery of the courses, but you know, how courses were created kind of the whole student engagement part, you know, trying to create, you know, those relationships online you know, all the challenges that, you know, typically online courses have, and, and talking kind of brainstorming with these other leaders kind of in, in the, in the area about how to overcome those challenges really kind of, you know, helped support me.


Rob Gilmour (08:07):
So, I mean, I don’t know if there was necessarily one person there was a, there was a book on a digital game-based learning, and certainly that had a real kind of interest. There was actually a gentleman at university in Kingston at that time who was doing a master’s program and, and looking at creating kind of a, a grade nine math curriculum. That would be basically almost like a digital game. Oh, wow. So, so, you know, you’d kind of go into it and, you know, based on question and should answer and guide you kind of through, you know, different doors and different options. So it is fairly basic, but just the whole concept and idea, because, you know, as you know, I mean, teenagers and you get them online and playing these video games, what, whatever game it might be, you know, Minecraft or whoever it might be. They’re certainly engaged. And so we are kind of thinking if we could create online courses similar to that you, you know, you and have to worry about telling students to go to school, they’d be engaged in it all the time. So that that’s kind of certainly the vision and the hope you know, that, that we get there at some point.


Sam Demma (09:26):
Yeah. That’s awesome. Would you buy any chance, remember to the name of the book or the, the professor?


Rob Gilmour (09:34):
I sort, I don’t, I mean, I think, I think the book was digital. Game-Based learning. Cool. I think is the name of the book. Okay. I can’t remember the gentleman, but


Sam Demma (09:44):
No, that’s okay. No worries. You mentioned that you, your career is come full circle and now you’re back at Layola, which is awesome. What does what does your role look like to day in this school?


Rob Gilmour (09:57):
So just to get background about what Loyola is, so Loyola’s kind of adult and continuing education. So we serve students 18 and over nice that are either coming back to get their high school diploma, or they’re looking to upgrade to go to college, or they need it for work. Also we offer English as a second language courses. So for newcomers to Canada. Yep. We have a personal support worker program. We have literacy and basic skills. So my, my role here is kind of supporting the teachers and the department heads but very fortunate to have kind of great department heads, great teachers. You know, a lot of times they say my role is to get outta the way of them because they do such a fantastic job and, and it’s kind of support them, look at, you know, I guess my role is to look at funding you know, kind of the financial side of things you know, making sure that programs are viable making sure that we have the right staff and the right positions.


Rob Gilmour (11:09):
And you know, I, I try as much as I can to, to talk with students because I mean, again, that’s, that’s kind of the, the love and the passion, right? Why you kind of go into education to begin with is you know, to, to make a difference in students lives to kind of help them in terms of where they wanna go in terms of their goals and their next steps. And we just try to help support students best we can to so that they can reach those goals and achieve whatever dreams that it is that they have education.


Sam Demma (11:40):
I’ve said this many times is like a gardener, or is like gardening, you, you plant seeds and the hope that they grow. And sometimes you see them grow right in front of your eyes. And other times, 20 years later, they flourish. And, you know, you’re lucky if the student comes back and finds you and says, Hey, Rob, you know what you said, had a massive impact. I’m curious to know when you think of stories like that, of transformations that you have seen, whether it’s a student or someone in the school that you heard about do any of those stories kind of jump to mind that that you’d like to share? And the reason I ask is because I, I think hearing those sort of transformations reminds teachers why this an educator is why this work is so important.


Rob Gilmour (12:28):
Yeah. I mean, certainly, I mean, you do hear some of those stories. Yeah. You do have some students that will come back to you and they’ll write you an email or they’ll send you a note or, or they’ll come up to you, especially during graduations. Yep. That, that they’ll come up and they’ll say, you know, thank you, you know, this program changed my life. You know, this teacher really helped me and, you know, helped me stay on track. You know, when I was ready to give up their, you know, they had the encouraging words or, you know, gave me a second chance. That’s, you know, you know, our sure. We’ve got it in the classroom here. You know, the big thing here is we, we talked about instilling hope. Mm. So kind of our role here is type to instill hope in our students, that they achieve success, that they can be successful.


Rob Gilmour (13:18):
And so, you know, yeah, you hear those stories, like I say, at graduations, now you will hear other things from other people. I, I, you know, a few years ago, I, I had a student when I was vice principal in elementary school. You know, I had a student who’s had ’em for a couple year. He is a little more challenging perhaps than kind of the other, other students. And we spent a lot of time together. And I think I was only with him for grade one and two, but in grade eight, he had to you know, write, write a paragraph on who had the greatest impact in his elementary career. Mm. And I heard that he, he put me down, which I was, you know? Yeah. I mean, kind of chokes you up a little bit. Yeah. The, you know, to know that you had that impact and, you know, like I say, I think most teachers will say, we don’t realize we have that impact.


Rob Gilmour (14:12):
Right. And that’s actually something that, you know, oftentimes you tell, you know, new teachers or young teachers to be aware of that you may not realize that impact, you know, the words that you say to students, you may not realize kind of the, the impact that you’re having on them. And, and, you know, you can quite literally change people’s lives and change people’s perspectives and, you know, mental health and everything else. So, so taking that responsibility seriously and, and making sure that, you know, you’re, you’re always being positive and you know, putting students first is, is always really critical.


Sam Demma (14:50):
That’s awesome. And so you explained you did a really great job explaining what Loyola stand Loyola stands for and the purpose of the school. What drew you to this school as opposed. And I know you’ve worked in elementary schools and others, but this is definitely unique a school. And I think it’s a really important, a really important school. What, what drew you to it?


Rob Gilmour (15:14):
Yeah. So I mean, the reason why I wanted to come back to, to Layola is you know, you’re dealing, you’re dealing with people here that you know, they’re not forced to come to school. There there’s no requirement that they must come to school. They’re coming back here because they, they want to come back. Yeah. and, and not that, that makes it any easier. But you know, you’re coming back with people that, you know, have a dream that they down deep inside, they really want to come back. They really want to try to improve their lives for themselves and for their families. And, but they have a lot of obstacles, whether or not it’s substance abuse, whether or not it’s you know, poverty, whether or not it’s mental health you know, there’s a lot of obstacles and, and so that makes them not in a necessarily the easiest students all the time to deal with.


Rob Gilmour (16:16):
But, you know, and oftentimes that makes it, you know, it can’t make it the most rewarding students to deal with. Yeah. Because, you know, when you do, you know, help somebody, you really are helping them. And, and, and they are very appreciative of it. Certainly, and yeah, so, so it’s, you know, it’s just a different student that you may find in, in a, in an elementary school or a regular high school, kind of that adult learner is you know, they’re, they’re motivated, they’re, they’re dedicated, but, you know, oftentimes they’d have families, they have work, they have all these other commitments right. On top of them. And, and so anything you can do to kind of help them and support them is is tremendously rewarding. And so that’s kind of, you know, in terms of ending my career, that’s certainly kind of the, the place I wanted to be to, to, to, to go out For, for sure. Yeah.


Sam Demma (17:19):
And if you could, if you could take all of the knowledge and experience you’ve gained in education over the past, I think you said 30 years you’ve been working in education. Yep. Yeah. If you could bundle it all up, walk into the first that you ever taught in and tap yourself on the shoulder and say, Hey, Rob, here’s what I wish you knew. What advice would you have given yourself?


Rob Gilmour (17:48):
Well, I mean, you’re always told, right. You know, going through teachers college anywhere else, or any PD that, you know, professional learning just about the whole relationships piece. Right. Yeah. You know, it’s a, you know, as a young teacher, perhaps you’re so focused on curriculum. Okay. So, you know, my lessons that, you know, know sometimes you, you forget about the relationship piece. And so I would think that, you know, that’s the kind of the most important thing to, you know, and think that needs to really guide you is, is having those relationships with students, having those relationships with staff, with parents you know, you’ll cut, you’ll get the, for the curriculum, you know, that, you know, don’t, don’t worry and panic about, well, I, I need to cover, you know, fractions next week because if I don’t cover fractions next week, I’m gonna be behind.


Rob Gilmour (18:40):
And, you know, and, and there’s that, you know, that little bit of panic sets in, you know, as, as a young teacher, because you wanna do a good job and you wanna make sure you’re preparing your students for, you know, the next grade and the next step that they need to do. And you know, so you’re trying to make sure they have all the knowledge and things, all those pieces, but, you know, like I said, that relationship piece and, and, you know, the building, the whole child, they talk about, you know, making sure that, you know, that, you know, the, the they’re respectful that they get along well with their peers and that, you know, you’re helping them with those pieces too. Because they’re, you know, as equally important in terms of, you know, their future and where they help to go having those pieces. So yeah, I guess that would be my, my main message that would tell myself.


Sam Demma (19:30):
That’s awesome. And if someone is listening to this conversation wants to reach out to you and ask a question, what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you?


Rob Gilmour (19:41):
Yeah. So they could you know, through Loyola. So certainly they could talk, contact me at Loyola either by phone. They’re welcome to email me (email). I have a LinkedIn you can, you know, search me through, through LinkedIn account. You know, so there’s few different ways and I, I’m more than open to, to talking to, to people. I mean, that’s, you know, that’s the one great thing in terms of education is you know, I kind of learned through my, my career is there’s a lot of great people that know way more than me, or others do. And oftentimes they’re very keen and eager to share that knowledge and experience with you.


Rob Gilmour (20:37):
You know, you just need to ask sometimes people a little bit shy cuz they feel that they don’t have much to offer, but once you kind of ask the question, you find it they’re full of great information and knowledge and can really help you out. And you know, be, and because of the, kind of the work that I’ve done, you know, kind of doing things that are somewhat new, like I said, with e-learning in, in the province you know, you’re always discovering something new and a new way of doing things, a new approach. You know, the biggest challenge the last little while that, you know, everyone’s had in education is, you know, with the pandemic. Yeah. you know, you’ve been forced to find new ways of doing things. And, and it’s, you know, it’s not all bad either.


Rob Gilmour (21:28):
And some of those new ways new approaches to, you know, deliver programming, you know, you know, bringing in a part, you know, hybrid type of delivery of courses is, you know, I’ve, I’ve always been a big advocate of it. We did action research project a couple years ago that that proved in terms of adult education anyway, a that kind of the hybrid approach. Some in class, some online provides the flexibility for students, but also provides that, you know, relationship piece, that accountability piece, you know, look in the person eye to eye you know, really helps to lead to, to success. So yeah, but like I said, by all means people are more than welcome to, to reach out to me. I’m happy to, to talk and to share anything that I can offer. Yeah.


Sam Demma (22:18):
Awesome. Well, again, this has been an amazing conversation, Rob, thank you so much for taking the time to share your experiences and come on the show. I keep up the great work. Can I look forward to connecting again soon?


Rob Gilmour (22:31):
Great. Thanks very much, Sam. I appreciate the opportunity.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Rob

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.

Al Mclean – Principal at Timmins High & Vocational School

Al Mclean - Principal at Timmins High & Vocational School
About Al Mclean

Al Mclean has been an educator for 25 years and is currently the Principal at Timmins High & Vocational School (TH & VS). Al taught in a small community high school for 6 years, in K-6 school for two years and a Grade 7/8 school for four years. Before becoming Principal, Al was the Vice Principal at two high schools in Timmins for 11 years. Outside of the classroom Al enjoys hiking, backpacking, squash, hockey and hunting.

Al has been married for 17 years with two children. His favourite quote is: “The road we travel is equal in importance to the destination we seek. There are no shortcuts.” – Murray Sinclair (former Senator and chair of Truth and Reconciliation Commission)

Connect with Al: Email

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

District School Board Ontario North East

Timmins High & Vocational School

National Day for Truth and Reconciliation – Canada.ca

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):
Al welcome to the high performing educator. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here this morning. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit about why you’re passionate about the work you do?


Al Mclean (00:11):
Okay. So first off I’m Al I work with district school board Ontario Northeast. I am currently located in Tim’s Ontario. We’re about eight hours north of Toronto. So I’ve been working with the school board for 25 years now six as a teacher, 19 as an administrator principal at all levels, of the system from K to 12. I’ve also been VP at this school, particularly for seven years. And this is my third go-round at this school. And I’m back for my first time as principal for the last two. But I think what kind of gets me very excited is that it’s, it’s always changing and you get to see the best in kids. You get them as they come in in grade nine and you get to see them leave in grade 12. And the changes that they exhibit in four years is amazing. I thoroughly enjoyed my time at the elementary levels as well just to see the changes there, but it’s just so exciting to be with the kids and the energy that they often provide is fantastic for guys like me as I get a little older in my career.


Sam Demma (01:26):
That’s awesome. Would your school be located close to O Gorman? I know it’s different boards, but is that in the same area in Tim’s are very far away.


Al Mclean (01:35):
Yeah, we’re, we’re actually fairly close. So we’re in like a little educational hub. So not only do we have at other high school from Urman from our, our English Catholic, but right. We’re actually right beside a French Catholic high school as well. Nice. And across the road from us is our grade seven, eight feeder school. And around the corner is the French Catholic school, seven, eight feeder school. So it’s always a busy place. And my colleagues at all those buildings, I know very well and you’re fantastic people and but that’s basically where we are.


Sam Demma (02:08):
That’s awesome. And what, what got you into education when you think back to your own career journey and search, did you know you wanted to be in education and how did you land here?


Al Mclean (02:20):
Well, mine actually, I was that typical when I was in school at, we had the OAC year, the grade 13 year. Yep. So I was wandering around and basically my guidance counselor said, look, you have two days to decide what you’re doing and where you’re applying to. And, and so I was fortunate. I had two teachers and and I’ll start with probably the second greatest influence in my teaching career is a guy named Bob. And he was came to me. I came to my stool in my grade 12 year and was a PHY ed teacher. And and so I remember two particular incidents with him, but one that really stood out and why I wanted to be a teacher is that he, he came to watch a basketball game. So he had taught me in PHY ed.


Al Mclean (03:06):
He knew we were playing basketball and he came to watch a switch was surprising, cuz we weren’t a good team at all. I grew up in, in bury Ontario and there were much better high schools at basketball than us. And so Bob was in the stands. We lost by I think, 48 points. And I remember going in a class the next day and Bob pulled me aside and we said, you know, good game last night. And I kind of chuckled and said, well, Hey, we lost. Right. And he said, but, but your effort didn’t change. Right? Your effort from start to finish down by two, down by 48, never changed. And he said, that’s gonna serve you well in your future life. And at this time he didn’t know kind of what I was thinking of doing. So I really appreciated that.


Al Mclean (03:51):
And then I went the next day to another gentleman by the name of Brian and Brian was my English teacher for a couple years. And Brian was ahead of the curve. So back in 1992, when I graduated, you know, there’s no computers there’s no internet. There’s nothing like that. Right? Yeah. So Brian just had this creative way of teaching us and letting us do stuff. So for example, he said I want you to Chronicle you every year from zero to 18 and you decide how you want to present it to me. So you can imagine kids are doing all sorts of different things. So I, I met with him and I said, look, I’m going into teaching. And you’re a big reason why, like the last two years with you seeing what you do with kids. And, and he really helped me come outta my shell in terms of taking risks, taking chances.


Al Mclean (04:44):
Right. And, and he gave me that confidence. So I said, I’m going in because of you primarily. And I, something he always said to me and I can’t credit him for, for actually coming up with this. Cause I don’t know. But he said to me, he said, look, when you get into a teaching career, he says, I, I’m very thankful you’re going in. I think you’re gonna do a great job, but always remember this, just try and seek to change the life of one kid per semester or change the course of a life. And he said over 30 year career, two semesters that 60 kids, what other profession, other than medical or emergency services can say that if, if you use that as your guide, you’ll do very well in life. And I’ve always taken that to heart. And, and I’ve tried to tell other teachers that along my way because it’s been very true for me.


Al Mclean (05:34):
Right? And, and one of the good things sadly Brian passed away years a few years after his retirement, but I’ve did get the chance to tell him his impact and everything. And so a couple years ago, about six, seven years ago, I get this random email from a secretary that says this, this girl’s trying to reach out to our school. She remembers this teacher and I’m not sure, but you were here at the time. You might remember. So I said, well, it’s me give her my email. And I remember the student, I had taught her and she she had a, a serious incident mentally and needed some guidance. And I was just there, you know, just listening. Yeah. And, and she wrote this email to me, that basically said, because you listened because you did this you know, I now had the confidence to seek out mental health.


Al Mclean (06:29):
And I am now working for Canadian mental health. I’m an advocate. And I use you as an example all the time. Wow. And you know, those are, are some of the things that it obviously brings a huge smile to my face and that’s why we do, and I do what I do. But it’s just nice to hear that. And you don’t always hear it, you know, a year later or two years later. So it’s, it’s gratifying. It it’s, it obviously makes us feel very good when we do get those things. But even just little things when you see a kid change in four years, and whether you had a little hand in that as an administrator or teacher, it just feels good. And, and I think that’s why we all do what we do in this profession.


Sam Demma (07:11):
I loved what you mentioned about the goal or the intention of changing the course of one student’s life per semester of, of our 30 year career Tupac Shakur, who is a poet he’s passed away now, but he would always say, I might not inspire the kid or change the life of the kid, change the life of a kid, but I will spark the mind of somebody who will, and I think in education, it, it creates such a ripple effect. You have a positive impact on, or change the course of the life of one student. They might change the course of the life of another 10. And it just can, it continually ripples, which is really awesome. And like you mentioned, sometimes you don’t hear the stories. Sometimes you plant the seed and it gets watered 20 years later. I but it doesn’t lessen the impact in any way, shape or form. No. So your journey, so, so tell me a little bit more about that journey itself. So you made the decision, you were gonna get into it because of these two teachers. And then what did that journey look like?


Al Mclean (08:14):
So it after university I applied to a job in a small north remote community, about 45 minutes north of here called Erica falls. And I had a, like I said, I grew up in Sudbury. I went to school in thunder bay, Ontario at Lakehead university. Nice. So the north was always something that attracted me and, and I love the lifestyle of it. So I got this job in this small remote community. And then it was about 5,000 people that lived there. So as a new teacher, when I walked in there, it was, everybody knew you like, you were the new kid, you were the new person in town. I stuck out like a sore thumb, right? Like you’d walk into a place and people would be like, you didn’t grow up here, you know, type of thing. So it, it really taught me teaching in there.


Al Mclean (09:02):
It, it was great. I met some wonderful students that have now actually are teachers in my school. Cool. And, and just some other wonderful kids that have become friends along the way through a variety of different means. But it was really interesting because when you teach in a small community and you know, our small, Northern remote communities, even up the coast that would, would do this too. It’s. Everybody has like, feels like it’s, it’s a piece of you, right? Like they just feel like they see you at school. They see you in the community know, they might see me at the gym and, and it’s this expectation that you’re available to them. And, and I really appreciated that because when I grew up in Subbury sometimes in some classes you feel my high school was 1200 kids. You feel like a number going through.


Al Mclean (09:50):
Right. But the kid that sees me at the gym in Erica falls that comes back and says, Hey, you know, I saw you at the gym. What were you working on? Arms legs, back chest. Like, what were you doing? You know, it’s, it took on a different idea for them. And it just this idea that they could relate to you, but at the same time, you know, keep that professional student distance. But I just found, it was a way in and a way for me to get to know them. So when I teach them, it doesn’t become like some of the teachers I had where you’re in there for an hour and 20 minutes. And you leave. Yeah. You know, some kids really appreciated that, you know, we knew them, I knew their parents. Let’s say I got to know some of their parents. So it’s just that small community feel.


Al Mclean (10:33):
And it, it really impacted me in terms of ING every day to, to really reach out to kids. Right. So in the role I play as an administrator whether it’s vice principal or principal here, you know, there’s 620 kids here right now. And, you know, the pandemic is one thing because of mass. But when I was here as a VP, I really tried to reach out to the kids that I see in the office. So that a kid walking through this building could say, you know, what, the principal or the vice principal talked to me today, you know? And, and, and to me, that’s what the small community brought that, that was part of my biggest learning of the journey. Was that always remember that, you know, whether Al McClain was doing well in school or not, he needed somebody to say, Hey, how’s your day today? Mm. You know, how was that basketball game last night? And, and there’s always those kids that may not get that. And we forget that sometimes that, you know, that there are kids that we think go along okay. In schools, but always reach out to them because they need that.


Sam Demma (11:37):
A hundred percent. And back to the good game comment that one of your mentors, men, you know, said to you staying motivated and showing up, despite the fact that you’re down 48 points yeah. Is a quality that’s important for all human beings. I would argue that that situation is replicated in education right now with all educators. Absolutely. It feels like we’re down 48 points.


Al Mclean (12:05):
Absolutely.


Sam Demma (12:07):
How do you, or how do we still do our best to show up positive? We, during times like this?


Al Mclean (12:14):
Well, I think for me and the staff I work with and I’ve worked with some of these staff members on and off for 15 years now. Wow. And, and I would think, and, and the one thing that keeps me motivated, and I like to think keeps them motivated is they’re invested in these kids. Mm. Like this is whether they’re family, friends, or kids of family, friends, whether they, they know the parents, the grandparents just the fact that teachers are invested in kids and, and know that they can make the difference. Like when I look back you know, one of the comments I made to my staff about Brian and Bob was, you know, 30 years ago, 25, you know, 30 years ago, they didn’t call, ’em a caring adult, but we do now. Right. They didn’t talk about teaching resiliency to kids, but that’s what they were doing.


Al Mclean (13:05):
You know? So these practices have always been there. And I’d like to think that our staff is well aware and staff across the board are well aware of these ideals and, and what motivates us and, and me, and a lot of the ones I work with and have worked with is that idea that they do have that impact regardless of what’s going on. So, you know, whether we’re in a pandemic and over a computer screen, they’re trying to reach out to make sure your experience is the same as in a classroom. When you walk through the door, they’re trying to make sure that, Hey, Sam, you know, how was your night you know, did you have hockey last night? Did you play, you know, did you have your music lesson? How’d that go? So they’re invested. And I think that’s what motivates us all is that we know on some level we make a difference and what we do day to day, whether it all, whether it’s a large impact, but we recognize that we wanna make sure we replicate that day after day. And like you said, with Tupac provide that spark.


Sam Demma (14:04):
Absolutely. And as an educator, curiosity is something that you have to have. I, I think back to the teachers that made the biggest impact on me and his, my teacher that changed my life was named Mike loud foot world issues, teacher. And he’s retired now. And he started the semester by walking into the middle of the class and saying, I don’t want you to believe anything. I’m gonna tell you. But if it makes you curious, I want you to go home and explore more yourself. And it instantly hooked me. And he, he spent the whole semester with this thick binder like this Al and it was all his own personal notes on history, on different aspects of history and different aspects of world issues. And he was so curious about learning himself, that his curiosity just naturally rubbed off on all of us. I’m, I’m curious throughout your journey throughout education, have there been any resources or books or programs that you’d went through as a teacher and an administrator that you thought was meaningful and helpful for my own in like personal development and curiosity. And if there is anything that comes to mind, maybe not an actual physical resource, but even a mindset shift please feel free to share.


Al Mclean (15:20):
Well, I, would think one of the things that O over my, my career and, and when I started my career, like I said computers, weren’t a big thing in the inner Annette, wasn’t a big thing. So, you know, you talk about that binder. When I, I was remember in E falls, I was teaching a law class and I would have a subscription of McLeans and I would photocopy articles that I could bring into my classes. Mm. And, and talk about in my psychology classes. And it, it’s interesting in, when you talk about a program, I would say the tire equity, inclusivity change. That’s been happening in education. Yeah. It’s been coming for a while. It’s been term that now. But I would think, I look back to when I was in high school and in no way did the students, I went to school with resemble the students I see in high school now.


Al Mclean (16:09):
Yeah. So when I think, you know, whether it’s, you know, I, I made the, I’ll make this comment later probably, but black lives matter. Every child matters our LGBTQ two plus community. When I really look back at it. And I say, those people have come to the forefront of education and their needs have been put forth more than Al McClain’s needs. And I think that’s a good thing because the Al Blains of the world might just, by the way I look get through, but not everybody. And I, I really have to say that you know, I know you interviewed our director as well. And and she has the indigenous portfolio. I’m very fortunate to work with some amazing indigenous you know, student advisors and an indigenous vice principal. And one of the things, and, and they’re able to provide to me is a perspective that I can’t get through a history book.


Al Mclean (17:05):
Yep. Right. And, and so I really appreciate that. And I say, that’s the biggest change on, on me and my journey. And my learning is that now these textbooks that didn’t tell us everything, I now work with professionals that have that knowledge and are willing to share it. And it’s, it’s fantastic, you know, and, and I, I’d be remiss to say that, you know, I’ll talk about a student later, but the students too, they’re the student voice. And, and I that’s been the offshoot of everything is that we have allowed the student to have a greater voice, and they’re taking advantage of it to be able to tell us a lot of different things.


Sam Demma (17:45):
Tell me more about that student voice aspect. What have you seen slowly start to come to life by giving students more of an opportunity to speak up and share?


Al Mclean (17:55):
So I’ll, I’ll refer to one of the things that happened to us on September 30th. I apologize if there’s a, a sound in the, in the background.


Sam Demma (18:03):
No worries. You’re a busy guy.


Al Mclean (18:06):
But one, one things that happened on September 30th and the national day of truth and reconciliation is we, we had wonderful community partners that came and they set up a TP the night before. And we had a couple of students who spent hours here helping them set it up. The next day, when we came to school, we had two who students practice traditional teachings out of the TP. And we invited teachers to bring their classes down and to sit in and afterwards I was talking with one of the students and I said, you know, how was today? And, and he said to me, he goes, you know, it was excellent. He goes, I can’t believe I’ve had an opportunity to teach what has been taught to me through my elders in a school setting. Wow. And as a, as a I’m English history qualified.


Al Mclean (18:57):
So as a history teacher, it, it really hit me to say, you know, here I am in my 25th year, we’re 2021. You only now are students feeling comfortable to, to do this. Yeah. Right. You know, and, and so that really hit me and, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I enjoyed the teachings that they had. And I think it’s one of the things that we wanna hold close is that, you know, we want students to be able to feel comfortable because when I started here in 2007, I made this comment to the staff in my first year and a half here, when I started here in 2007 you know, we have an indigenous population. That’s almost a quarter to a one fifth of our school. And I remember talking with some students who were fearful to walk through the building, whether you were indigenous or non-indigenous, you just didn’t feel like part of the building, you know? And when students say that they don’t feel like part of your building part of your workplace, that, I mean, that hits home. Right. So now to see the change in the last 15 years, it’s been and I’m not claiming responsibility for some wonderful administrative teams before me that have done a lot of groundwork. But it’s just great to see. And I think that’s, that’s the thing I noticed most about student voice is that that transition from this is a building I walk into versus this is a building I haven’t impacted.


Sam Demma (20:23):
Mm that’s amazing. And as you go through education, work in different roles and positions, I’m sure you’ve learned a lot personally. If, if you could wrap up your experience and you could walk into the first classroom that you ever taught and like, watch your younger self teach and kinda like tap yourself on the shoulder and say, Hey, Al, here’s one piece of advice for you. Yeah. What would you say to your younger self and also to other educators who are just getting into this vocation?


Al Mclean (20:57):
I, would think, and, and I thought I thought about this question and, and I always go back to nine 11 you know, what happened in 2001 and nine 11 in the us. And I remember I was in class and it’s my fourth, fourth year of teaching. And I remember a guidance counselor coming in and, and saying, you know, the world, like there’s planes hitting, you know, towers. And all of a sudden all the internet went down and people were crashing the internet trying to get information. And I remember afterwards what came out of that was, you know, these are the people that did it. And, and again, no fault of the people I worked with, but it almost came, if you look like this, you’re not a good person. Mm. Right. And, and when you watched a lot of the media, and I think I’d go back and I’d, I’d really talk to my, my younger self about, about, explain more about media to, to students and, and the interpretation.


Al Mclean (21:54):
Right. And, and we see it now, we’re lucky that kids are socially aware and the internet provides a lot of things. But I think back then, you know, I didn’t realize it until a couple years later when I got into an administrative role that, you know, you look at the kid, you know, you don’t look at oftentimes, you know, where they’re coming from, or, or who, they’re a part of. Sometimes you look at the kid, you look at their situation because I think for a good year afterwards, it was like, you know, if you’re from this country, you’re bad. Mm you’re. You are the country that terrors. And I don’t think it, it still happens today. Yeah. Right. We still have that. But I think, you know one of the things I’d say is try and do a much better job when you’re younger of changing that narrative.


Al Mclean (22:42):
And I think that’s my, that’s my, my one thing to young teachers coming in right now is regardless of what’s happening in the world starts to change the narrative. If there is a, a report on, on the news, or, you know, we always like to joke here with one of our, our history teachers. We’re big, obviously big history guys, you know, the change in politics, let’s say in the us, from Barack Obama, to Donald Trump, to Joe Biden, you, you look at those things and you don’t want that narrative coming out without some context. So yeah. Don’t let things just go by right. Talk about it you know, engage students in it because they will engage in these conversations and they want to, so that would be my biggest advice is, is just to engage in the conversation and, you know, frame the narrative, let students talk about the narrative frame it, because the other thing I find is, and this was you know, going back to my, my very first year I had a student come back or sorry, my second year I had a student come back from university saying like, sir, I came from a town of 5,000.


Al Mclean (23:48):
I went to Ottawa, which was, you know, 850,000 people. And sir, like, there’s things going on that you’d never realize, like things that happen at night. And, you know, and I, I sat there and I said, well, that’s, that’s life, that’s life in a big city. And she’s like, I was never exposed to it. We never talked about this. Right. So I think that’s the thing is, is engaging people. And it’s hard to do. I think we’ve seen with certainly the events of all the, the mass graves that we’ve that, you know, Canada has exposed over the last year. Those come conversations can’t be avoided and, and they’re good conversations to have framed correctly. That would be my, my biggest thing to get to young teachers is don’t shy away from that because there’s opportunities in there if done correctly.


Sam Demma (24:40):
So important. I interviewed a lady named Pella who runs a media literacy company, and she is hyper focused on media. And, you know, she explains that media is anything that communicates a message, like absolutely everything that communicates a message is a form of media. And yeah, there are so many things to worry about or, or not to worry about, but to think about and reflect on when consuming media first being who’s the publish. Sure. And what is the publisher’s point of view and understanding those two things first kind of changes the way that you interact with it and engage with it. And I think having those discussions in classes about media is so important. So that’s a phenomenal piece of advice. If, if someone’s listening and wants to reach out to you Al and just shoot you a message, what would be the best way for them to get in touch?


Al Mclean (25:30):
I would say there’s a couple of different ways. So Timmis, vocational school does have a website. You could easily search it off our dsb1.ca. You’ll get to it. We do have th HBS Instagram accounts, but if somebody wants to reach out, my email is Al.Mclean@dsb1.ca. I’ll welcome any conversation.


Sam Demma (25:59):
I’ll keep up the great work and thank you so much for coming on the show.


Al Mclean (26:02):
All right, Sam, thank you very much for inviting me. I, certainly appreciate the work you do too. And, and your messaging around last year as well. I, I watched your messaging and the work that you’re doing is, is awesome. And it’s great to see. And again, a, another example of a teacher lighting, a spark, as you said, and, and, and look what’s happening, right. And I think you’re doing awesome things, and I’m just, I was glad to be a part of this.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Al

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.

Greg McLean – Principal of Sacred Heart Catholic School in Bruce Grey County

Greg McLean - Principal of Sacred Heart Catholic School in Bruce Grey County
About Greg McLean

Greg McLean (@WalkertonGreg) has been in the educational field for the past 28 years as a teacher, school administrator and instructor for Niagara University and Catholic Principals Council of Ontario. Greg has worked in 9 schools and in 3 different school boards and is currently the principal of Sacred Heart, Mildmay after a year of being the principal of St Isidore Virtual School, the first-ever virtual school in Bruce-Grey Catholic District School Board!

Greg graduated from Laurier with a Certificate in Positive Psychology this past year and also obtained a certification as a Life and Wellness Coach. He is also a musician (drummer, vocals and guitar) and has performed live over 300 times in a variety of venues over the past 20 years. Greg is also a community-minded individual who embraces volunteerism- being a member of the local Optimist Club and a volunteer at the food bank, Victoria Jubilee Hall and Special Olympics. Greg also advocates for individuals with Down Syndrome- helping others to see their abilities.

Greg has been married to his wonderful partner Jayne for 26 years and has three children, Abby, Lucas and Dashiel. The family resides in beautiful Walkerton, ON.

Connect with Greg: Email | Twitter | Facebook

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Catholic Principals Council of Ontario

Laurier Certificate in Positive Psychology

A Slice of Brockton (Greg’s Podcast)

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:01):
Greg, welcome to the high performing educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here today from Brockton start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit about who you are?


Greg McLean (00:10):
Well, my name is well, first of all, thank you for introducing me as a high performing educator. That’s awesome. My, my name is Greg McLean and I work as a principal in the Bruce Gray Catholic district school board. I reside in the town of Walkerton that sits in Brockton. So Brockton’s municipality and Walkerton’s a town in there. The same Walkerton that endured that water crisis back in 2000 best water in Ontario, right? This is what we say. And I’ve been in education. This is, is my 29th year and I’ve been a principal for the past 15. So we’re looking at about a 50 50 split and I’ve got a family. My wife Jane is a guidance counselor at sacred heart high school. I have three children, well adult children now. My oldest is 24 and resides in, in Guelph and is working time. Yay. And my middle child, my son is 22 residing at Toco. And my youngest boy is 16 years old and he’s in grade 11 at the local high school at sacred heart where my wife works.


Sam Demma (01:14):
That’s awesome. Very cool. And as educators, we always preach the importance of lifelong learning. There’s never a day you stop learning. And I understand that you’re someone who, when the COVID initially hit, took it upon yourself to actually obtain more education. Can you please explain how that process unfolded and what you set out to learn and achieve?


Greg McLean (01:36):
Well, sure. First of all, yeah, like lifelong learning. I think if you’re in the education world, you’re forced with lifelong learning, but I don’t wanna use the word force because I’m thinking that the vast majority of people who get into education are, are lifelong learning by choice. And whether it’s a course an AQ course so that you can teach a different course or it’s something that’s just something you’re really interested in. We, we, we kind of attract those, those people. It it’s actually a character, character strength to have a love of learning. And it’s actually a Catholic graduate expectation, lifelong learner. So yeah. Putting all those together. Yeah. Like during the pandemic, I mean, it was really, really easy for people to get down and to get you know, that sense of being you know, I don’t, I’m gonna say hopeless, but cabin fever.


Greg McLean (02:25):
But just knowing like what, what do you do to, to feel good in this and, and mentally well, and I think one of those things that you can do and that I’ve learned is that, you know, obviously part of self-care is, is, you know, having hobbies and things that you can do. And so part of the spirit of my lifelong learning as I kind of went back to school and I got a certificate Laia university in positive psychology which is kinda the study of all the stuff I just talked about. Yeah. And spent the year learning about how to live your best life knowing that your best life isn’t avoiding stress and avoiding problems. It’s actually how to deal with them in a really healthy way, because that’s the price of admission, right? Discomfort’s the price of admission. You just have to learn how to, to, to manage it and, and to, to thrive as opposed to, you know, just languishing. So, and then just this past year, I worked on getting my life and wellness certification coach. So I’m gonna try to at all those things together and you know, kind of push that forward and, and hopefully serve serve my community and the people around me.


Sam Demma (03:26):
That’s amazing. When you say positive psychology how do you explain that to somebody or like when, when you use that term, what does it mean?


Greg McLean (03:37):
Well, I guess there is a catch phrase. I, I kind of used it before. It’s like the study of use of living your best life, like how to live your best life. So that’s how you kind of boil it down. I think there’s psych, when you think about psychology, you might think about what’s wrong with you. Right. But cause of psychology is the study of what’s right with you. Ah, and it’s so much right with us and it’s also about mindset. So the good news is that in the education world, I was able to bring that perspective in the course at all times to say, you know what, I’m really affirmed right now because some of this stuff that I’m learning about, we’re actually doing like the Mo the positive you know, mindset work by Carol Dweck. Right. How important that mindset is in, in resilience and overcoming adversity.


Greg McLean (04:21):
I mean, we’re talking about that right now. Right. We’re back into another adverse moment. So you know what, where’s your mindset. And I mean, let’s not be Pollyannaish here, right? Like pandemic’s a pandemic and job loss and job loss and, and, and, and sickness and illness and death. Aren’t, aren’t positive things, but it’s like a acknowledging that, and it’s okay to not be okay, but what can you do to get out of being not okay? And you can, and we are all, we’re all skilled and we’re all gifted that way. We just sometimes just don’t know it.


Sam Demma (04:52):
And it’s obvious you have a passion for learning, teaching, sharing, which makes you a phenomenal person to get into the vocation of education. How did you, how did you determine you wanted to become a teacher when you were a kid and someone asked you, Greg, what do you wanna be when you grow up? Did you always say a teacher, a principal, someone in education, or how did you discover this path?


Greg McLean (05:14):
Say, I don’t know anybody who starts by saying they wanna be a principal. I don’t know. I don’t know about that. Well, you know, it’s funny because my, I feel like my life has been very serendipitous in the sense that I don’t, I don’t think like some other people, they just have a life track and they’ve got this vision about what they want to do. And, and although as a kid, I do remember getting satisfaction from teaching someone, something, whether it’s a, a skill or something like, you know, you’re working together of the group of kids and you’re one of the kids and those kids get it cuz of something you did or said, and there’s, there’s immense joy and satisfaction in that. And, and certainly obviously that resides in me somewhere because I wouldn’t have gone the root of, of, of, of being a teacher. I disappointed my mom. You know, I think for about three weeks when I was in grade three, I did declare I was thinking about being a priest being in the priesthood. But as I said, that was a three week three week dream and, and with a broken dream for my mom she wanted grandkids.

Greg McLean (06:11):
Yeah, yeah, yeah. Well, that’s what I said. The good news is you got grandkids out of it. Right. and so yeah, like, I mean, going through high school, same, the same thing, right? It’s this niggling thing at the back of your head? I don’t think I was necessarily convinced that that that’s what my, my pathway was. I certainly liked music. I’ve always liked music. And my life, my, my career journey basically is a mesh of, of, of music and, and of, of like leadership and of teaching. Like it all kind of, kind of coalesced and, and again, it evolves and, and, and sometimes it’s, you’re taking specific steps towards it. And other times, again, as I said, it’s serendipitous things just appear before you, but if you were talking to my wife, she’s, she wouldn’t say things don’t just appear, you manifest them with your thinking. So I give her a huge shout out Jane, because certainly from my, the lifelong learning thing, I mean, yep. I can take certain courses, but, but she’s got a real pension for this mind, body spirit avenue that I’m kind of going in towards knowing that it’s of such a benefit to, to everybody.


Sam Demma (07:11):
That’s amazing. I couldn’t agree more. So explain the path that you did take and how you did end up where you are today.


Greg McLean (07:23):
Well I love to say that, oh, I mean, I have heritage a hundred percent heritage in Newfoundland. I’m a, I’m a, a Newfoundlander by heart, but I wasn’t born there. Yeah. I, I basically from my beginnings of being schooled and living in, in Georgetown, not too, not too far away from Pickering you know what, I always have been a believer in. I’ve always gone to Catholic school. I’ve always been a believer of, of the Catholic schools. My parents have been people have always promoted cause I have to pay actually tuition in high school to continue to go to a, to a Catholic school. But, but basically my, my journey into high school where I loved music and I, I loved, I guess I had, again, I set that pension somewhere in there for teaching all came together because eventually as I applied to teachers college, I got accepted and moved to Bruce Gray, moved to Walkerton.


Greg McLean (08:20):
It was a call I got from a superintendent in the middle of, of August looking for a music teacher. Now, I’ll be honest with you. I love music, but I don’t, I don’t have a music background in terms of a degree. I played the drums. I played the drums in the school band, Cardinale school band in the, in the mid to, to late eighties. And and I guess that, that superintendent happened to be my vice principal at the time said, oh, band equals music teacher, which it, it doesn’t really, I mean, it opened the door, but I mean, the first, first little bit was a struggle. And I, I never actually saw myself as a music teacher until probably about four or five years after the fact where I’m going. I, I had that realization that moment where I’m going, I am right, because before I was either thinking I’m gonna get out of this, or I don’t know enough about this, but somehow through self-teaching and absorption.


Greg McLean (09:10):
And the fact that the kids were so excited to learn an instrument, like kind of pushed me to learn it. And then, you know, we had bands and we were going to music festivals and we were doing quite well, and I’m going, you know what, I teach grade seven, eight, but I am a music teacher. And I was really proud of that because that’s unlike math or science or, or, you know art or, well, art, I’m gonna keep art of that. But these are, those are passions of, I think the mind and music is of the heart and, and to be able to have that it’s a real gift to see kids get that gift and to be excited about teaching music. So somehow that ended up me getting a job teaching at Bruce Gray Catholic district school board. And you know, what about halfway through the career? About 15 years later, it became a principal and, and in leadership and that’s a different story.


Sam Demma (09:55):
Of course. So your journey was slightly unexpected. When you were thinking about, you know, getting into jobs in the workforce what was the other options on your mind? Like what the other things you were thinking about?


Greg McLean (10:13):
That’s a good question. We won’t count the grade three example. What we, I actually thought about music production. So I actually was accepted at haw college for music production. Wow. I also thought fleetingly about being a pilot. Oh, wow. And but those two are the kind of the areas coming out of grade 11 and grade 12 that I kind of thought of. And you know, it’s like a lesson to, to people maybe listening if they’re in high schools, like I avoided physics because I thought it would be too hard and I didn’t really give myself a chance. And and because I didn’t take the physics meant I didn’t take other courses. And therefore kind of that pilot thing kind of was chosen out for me. Right. And that’s too bad because I mean, we don’t live in, we don’t live in regret, but I’m thinking that that was a, a pathway that was shut down because I shut myself down and, and I, I would’ve been able to do it.


Greg McLean (11:09):
Right. I think about my, my head self now is like, no, Greg, you would’ve been able to do that. Like, don’t sell yourself short. Right. So those are some of the other areas I, I would was I was certainly thinking about, and of course, and, and teaching, and, you know, back to a conversation earlier, before the recording started Sam, like you talked about, you know, even now, like no one I think gets into the business, wanting to be a principal when you start in an education, maybe some people, but, but it’s, as you go along, it’s, it’s the, the higher level view of what you want for kids that are around you in the school, around you. Whereas a classroom teacher, you are, you are responsible for those 25 or 30 kids in that, you know when you begin to look at the higher view of all the kids and the building and the, the you know, how well people are and how much fun people and how, how people are learning is when you start going, okay, well maybe that’s where maybe that’s my, in my sphere of influence needs to be beyond 25 people, but 300 or 400 people.


Sam Demma (12:07):
Yeah. And, you know, you mentioned not shutting yourself down for potential opportunities. It’s not only relevant to people in high school, closing yourself off. I think it’s relevant to all human beings, whether you’ve been teaching for 50 years or not, there might be something you wanna do. And if your mind talks you out of it, there’s 0% chance it’s gonna happen. So I think it’s, it’s an important lesson for all on the topic of you know, things that are helpful, pieces of advice, mindset shifts. What have you found beneficial in helping you show up as your best self in your day to day job at school? Are there any books, resources, programs you’ve went through that helped you as an educator or someone that worked in schools?


Greg McLean (12:56):
I don’t know if there’s been one resource. And as I had mentioned, like there were some of the things that we were doing in schools for a long, for a little while now, at least for 10 or 12 years, if not longer, that help with that kind of positive psychology, we were calling it positive psychology with the kids, like the fact that we do guided meditations with, with kids. Yeah. And we do mindfulness with kids and, you know you know, we talk about mindset and those sorts of things. That’s been helpful for me as well, because not only am I learning about as an adult to help the kids, but I’m learning about it as an adult to help myself. Yeah. So that work all the way through. Now we’re, we’re a little bit more fortunate than say 20 years ago where we didn’t have the same mental health support 20 years ago.


Greg McLean (13:38):
I don’t know if we needed, had the same mental health need. I don’t, I don’t have the data on that, but the fact that I work with professionals who are in the, in the you know, the know about these things is also incredible. I’ve learned a little, like a lot about that. And certainly just a speaking with my wife today about a, a new book that I’d really like to read that Torene brown has just released. And she talks about emotions. I think it’s something about Atlas of emotions or something like that. Don’t quote me on that. I’m gonna look it up, but it’s really fascinating cuz she talks about 87 emotions and I’m thinking and she says that, you know, most adults can only name that they’ve experienced three or four emotions. And to know that there are 87 and what do you do with that information?


Greg McLean (14:17):
The fact that you know yourself that way, and you’ve got that language and then how does that, how does that benefit you? Right. So there’s always things there’s always things to learn and kind of the pathway kinda opens up as you go, right? Like it’s like, you’ve got this flashlight and you’re seeing as far as the flashlight can go, but that the outer edge of the flashlight it’s still opening up for you. Right. So it’s, it’s good stuff. I’ve been very fortunate to be in education because I can’t imagine how much less I would know if I wasn’t in education.


Sam Demma (14:43):
Yeah. So true education is a, a seed planting career, a seed planting vocation sometimes, you know, your actions plant a seed in somebody else who you may never realize the growth of you. They may be far gone out of the school building when you see the growth happen, but sometimes the seeds you plant and a student and a staff member and we that we plant in each other, you have the opportunity to see it grow and flourish in front of, and it’s really spectacular and cool. And it’s a very fulfilling feeling when you think of the students who you’ve seen grow and transform over the past 29 years and all different schools you’ve been in. Are there any stories that come to mind of a student who first came and wasn’t their best set or striving to live their best life and, and somehow had a transformation. And if you do, would you be willing to share this story?


Greg McLean (15:39):
Yeah. I might speak in some generalities as opposed to like naming anyone, but of course from, from an elementary school standpoint, I, I mean, that’s a really great stance to have is to know that you’re potentially planting a seed. And you’re not gonna, you may not see that. And that’s the, that’s the faith piece because you, you, you, you are doing what you can in grade one. Like people might remember the grade one teacher, but they’re not gonna remember the content. They’re not gonna remember all the songs that they sang. They’re gonna remember that. So, and so was a love, loving, caring person. That’s a pretty good seed to plant love care. The virtues, you know, like those things are super important and the importance of relationship, but, but when you run into students and you see them three or four, like, okay, so for me, we’re in a small area kind of a rural area.


Greg McLean (16:31):
And we recycle a lot of, of our grads back into education, which I think I, I take as like a real feather in the cap for what we’re doing because we, a lot of our young teachers and EAs and support people are people that were students. And now I’ve been in it long enough that they’re coming back as students and they’re coming back as employees. So I have a co you know, I have people on staff who’ve, I’ve, I’ve worked with or worked with their parents. Oh. Or I’ve known their parents. And, and thinking back to what that student, when, and I’ve been primarily a grade seven, eight teacher when I was teaching to think about the kids that struggled and then finding out that a couple of ’em own their own businesses. A couple of them you know, work at Bruce power here locally, which is, you know, a great, a great career to have.


Greg McLean (17:13):
And, and thinking that, you know, at the time, maybe in the back of your mind, you were thinking, wow, what’s this guy, what’s this person gonna do. Right. Like, I, you know, you don’t see that, but that’s a back of your mind thing. And if you keep in the front of your mind at all times that, you know, it’s a work in progress. And what you’re seeing now is like a brushstroke and the painting’s not done. Yeah. That has to keep, and you have to keep reminding yourself of that because there are times you’re going to come up against some challenging, challenging behaviors and, and, and, you know, and people, who’ve got some life circumstances working against them, but that’s what education’s all about. You know, Catholic education, that moral purpose, right? Like we’re here to kind of, even up the playing field. Right.


Greg McLean (17:50):
You’re I always say we’re here for all the kids, but we’re, we’re there for some, a little bit more than everyone. It’s like, kinda like an analogy of going to the doctor. Does everyone go to the doctor? No. and some people need a doctor more often than other people. Right. So you think of yourself in teaching an education as you go to the people that you need to bringing the faith piece back into, it was, you know, who did Jesus minister to like, wasn’t the rich and famous wasn’t the people who were doing well. It was people that weren’t so like, let’s, let’s emulate what we’re doing there in, in education. And, you know, I mean, it’s worked for me.


Sam Demma (18:21):
Yeah. I love the philosophies. Thanks for sharing. When you think of 29 years all the experiences you’ve gained, the people you’ve met, the people who have poured into you and helped you become the school leader you are today. If you could wrap it all up, it’s a hard question. Go back, walk into your first year of teaching, walk into that classroom, look at your younger, as he was doing his job. What advice would you give knowing what you know now and what the experience you have?


Greg McLean (18:59):
Wow. You’re right. That’s a good question. That’s hard. That’s a tough one. That’s, that’s a question I’m gonna include on my podcast, by the way that I’m gonna, if you could go back to your younger self yeah. You know what, that’s, that’s, that’s a great reflective, I think number one is to tell myself, you, you can do it, have faith in yourself. You’re resourceful. You’re whole, you’re talented. You’re you, you’re perfect as you are. And just embrace that and that lets you go, cuz I didn’t think so when I was first starting, right. I’m thinking, you know, you’re a confident which is again, maybe the, not a natural, but to know that, you know, you’re doing the best, you’re bringing the best. And if all your, if you’re bringing your best at every single moment, like, you know who you can be, then you have to take, you have to be happy with that and have be satisfied with that and be kind to yourself about it.


Greg McLean (19:48):
I think the other piece is, is, is the, is the kindness for other or love for others? And I certainly have come from evolve you know, evolved in my depth of understanding of what that looks like. And, and not just an education standpoint, but just in, in a relationship standpoint is, is, is knowing that if you’re, I always thought I was empathetic, but I think I I’ve grown my empathy. Knowing that you can’t always account for what people are bringing in behind them. And what you’re seeing is just face value and there’s so much more behind them that you don’t know about. And, and so don’t make assumptions and just, just, you know, love one and love them for who they are. And, and you don’t try not, you know, try to be like, not judgemental, I guess, or, or you don’t shut anyone down. Right. That’s I think that would be it like those open, maybe some like an open kind of vision towards all people.


Sam Demma (20:40):
Love it. Cool. And if someone is listening to this right now and was inspired, intrigued, curious to learn more, what would be the best way for them to reach out to you and get in touch? And by the time this comes out, you might even have your own podcast. So maybe they’re gonna reach out about that show also. So please share some contact information.


Greg McLean (21:00):
Okay, well contact information let’s start with email: gregmcle@icloud.com. You could also find me on Twitter at @WalkertonGreg and also I have a Facebook presence, just look up Gregory, J McClean. And I’d love to hear from people who’ve heard this and have a question or wanna talk to me about being a priest when they’re in grade three.


Sam Demma (21:29):
Sounds good, Greg. Thank you again for coming on the show. This was awesome. Keep up the great work and we’ll talk soon.


Greg McLean (21:35):
Thanks very much for featuring this. And it was great to talk to you as well.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Greg McLean

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.

Michelle Lemaire – System Principal at the Halton District School Board Welcome Centre

Michelle Lemaire - System Principal at the Halton District School Board Welcome Centre
About Michelle Lemaire

Michelle Lemaire (@MsLemaire) is an educator for over 20 years, starting her teaching career as a math teacher in Seoul, Korea. Born in Singapore, Michelle spent her formative years there and continued her high school education in Ontario, followed by earning bachelor’s degrees from Queen’s University and a Master of Education from the University of Toronto. Today, she is the system Principal at the Halton District School Board Welcome Centre.  In this role, she is responsible for newcomer students and their families.

She is a proud mum of two children, a partner to her best friend of 25 years, and sister to four crazy siblings – all of whom keep her grounded in her journey through life.  Michelle is a self-proclaimed foodie, news junkie and world traveller who seeks every opportunity to learn and be the best version of herself every day.

Connect with Michelle: Email | Linkedin | Twitter | Instagram

Listen Now

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

Resources And Related Media

HDSB Welcome Centre

Ontario Principal Council Feature

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 (00:01):
Welcome back to another episode of the high performing educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker Sam Demma. Today I have the privilege of interviewing Michelle Lemaire. Michelle and I had the opportunity over a year ago now to work together at her old school. Ushe has now moved on to a new position. She is a systems principal at the Halton district school board. Michelle is a school administrator, who has worked in various roles in different countries with a demonstrated history in building community, through positive relationships, collaboration, and innovation. She is skilled in curriculum leadership, capacity building and data informed decision making. She has her Masters of Education focused in measurement and evaluation from the university of Toronto. She brings a genuine passion, curiosity and authenticity to her work in education, which I think is so, so important. I hope you enjoy this amazing conversation with Michelle and I will see you on the other side. Michelle, welcome to the high performing educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here today. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit about what you do in education?


Michelle Lemaire (02:15):
Well, thank you very much, Sam, for this opportunity. My name is Michelle Lemaire and I’m currently the system principal of the Halton district school board at the welcome center, which serves newcomer families. So new to Halton as well as international students who come to visit our schools and live with us for as long as four years or as short as one year or even six months. So this is where I am now. And I’ve only been in this role for couple of months formally. And it’s been a great ride so far and I’m pretty excited to, to stay on this journey.


Sam Demma (02:53):
Well, let’s speaking of journeys, let’s, let’s break down your own journey to where you are today. Okay. You know, how did you get into education growing up? Did you know that you wanted to be a teacher or how did you stumble across this vocation?


Michelle Lemaire (03:06):
Well, that’s a great question. Inevitably somebody would always ask me that question along the way, and my response has always been the same because it’s true. I, I’m the oldest of in my family. So the, the duty and responsibility to care for my siblings has always fallen on me and that’s okay. Because I really enjoy it and it fulfills me. I mean, there are times where I wanna pull my hair out right. And get super frustrated. I mean, they are your siblings after all, but at the end of the day, it really fills me up. When I see young people being successful at what they’re doing, or at least taking steps towards achieving their goals or achieving what I see as their potential. So that’s what really fills me up and drives me in my job and in my role. So that’s how I kind of fell into cheat teaching.


Sam Demma (04:03):
That’s amazing. That’s so cool. I, I mean, you could have got into coaching, you could have got into, it sounds like anything related to caring for, and working with youth along the way. Did you have teachers or educators kind of tap you on the shoulder and say, it’s so obvious that you love caring for young people, you should get into teaching. Was there any mentors in your life or did you just know? Yeah.


Michelle Lemaire (04:23):
You know what, that’s a great question. There weren’t any explicit taps, but I did have teachers and principals who looked out for me and I’ve always been so grateful for that. I saw like they had direct impact on how I did at school. And that really kind of made me think about, gosh, you know, if they can do this for me, how awesome would it be if I could do this too, for, for others, for young people. So, you know, as I went through high school, I remember my grade 10 grade nine music teacher, and he was my music teacher all through high school. Right. And he was the best like Mr. AFAO. I can just tell you now, like he is cool and quirky and funny, but strict. And I always knew that he’s got my back and he’s always looked out for me and one of what’s best for me.


Michelle Lemaire (05:16):
And he would check in on me, which I really deeply appreciated. I had a principal, a high school principal who was always curious about what I thought and would always talk to me about stuff. And I’m like, me, you wanna talk to me about this and I thought, gosh, you know, how, how awesome it was to feel that my voice matters. And so to me that was so empowering and that really fueled me and really got me towards the journey of, of educating. So it was kind of like one step led to another, right. You’ve got my home life where I’m, I’m helping my siblings and I’ve got, I’m being at school and I’ve got these teachers who mentored me and cared for me and asked me for my thoughts. And so those two kinda came together in a, in a very what’s the word in a beautiful way, harmonic way, that kind of led me to, to my path in education.


Sam Demma (06:17):
So inspiring teachers. I think it’s, it’s so funny. We can all think back to a teacher we had in high school who really poured into us. I hope. Yeah. Everyone had that experience. And every educator I ask on the show has a similar answer. They can pinpoint who those people were and why they had an impact fast, fast, you know, moving forward, you, you finished high school, I’m assuming you went to teachers college. What was that first role that you got into an education? And how was that experience as a new educator for you?


Michelle Lemaire (06:46):
Oh my gosh. , you know what, my first teaching job, I actually taught overseas. Oh, wow. Yeah. And I, and I would not change it. One, it was really hard. It was super hard. I taught in Korea. Wow. So I taught in an international school there in English. I taught math there and it was really, really hard because as a new teacher and I reflect upon that now I was so caught up with the curriculum, the math, you know, like, I’m like you guys, you guys need to know this. And, and the focus as I think about that now, and, and with my experience, it’s always about the relationships, right? It’s always about the connections that you make with other human beings. And that’s what gets through to each other to it, to all of us. I mean, you mentioned earlier, you know, you talk to people and every teacher you talk to have always said, I had this one teacher who really looked out for me, but I bet if you to everybody else, who’s not an education.


Michelle Lemaire (07:50):
They would have a, they would have a, of people who would say I had this really awesome teacher, or I had this really horrible teacher. And to me, that’s, that’s what I would like to change. I want, I want more of that. I had this awesome teacher and less of the, I had a really crappy teacher. Do you know what I mean? Yeah. So I think so you’re, I, back to the original question, like what, what was my first couple of years as a new teacher? It was really hard as I got caught up with curriculum and I mean, I built relationships along the way. And by the end of my first year, I realized that, you know what, like, I really need to focus on the relationships as well as the curriculum, if not more with the relationships so that kids can trust me.


Michelle Lemaire (08:41):
I, it boils down to trust, right? Like the kids can trust, like the teacher’s got my back. And I need to do what they ask me because I trust that when they tell me to do these things, it’s for my own good. And it will come back to help me out. So in subsequent years I took that to heart and I really worked at making sure that I built those good relationships with kids. And with my colleagues too, because it takes a village. Right. We get to lean on each other. And I certainly don’t have all of the answers and I’m not perfect. And I’m not highly skilled in every single area. Yeah. I need my colleagues to help me out in my blind spots.


Sam Demma (09:25):
That’s amazing. So you said something that was interesting, you said it was really hard and then you said, but I wouldn’t change a thing. And typically those two sentences don’t go hand in hand, you know? Yeah. So tell me more about the aspect of that experience that made it so desirable that you wouldn’t change a thing, because I think other educators might benefit from teaching overseas as well, or maybe it’s something that they should all look into or consider. Yeah.


Michelle Lemaire (09:52):
The really hard part was a couple of things. So one was one is the fact that you’re living in a foreign country and you’re not familiar with the culture with the way things work. In, in Korea, I did, I don’t speak Korean, so I, I, I’m not fluent in the dominant language and culture. So I was an outsider from the very get go. And to me that really reminded me of what it’s like to be vulnerable, right. And to not have all those things, those privileges with you all the time. And cause of that, I think I’m a better teacher. I’m a better human being because it taught me the value of kindness and the value of empathy and patience. Right. the other hard part was I think just cuz you would start any new job, a new something is always hard.


Michelle Lemaire (10:55):
And I needed to work through that. I needed to go through that process and allow that to happen and go on the other side and said, you know what I put on all that hard work and you know, what it was worth it. Yeah. And I learned so much about it. I mean, you, I’m sure you can relate to that Sam as, as an athlete, a professional athlete and going through your own personal journey. I’m sure you relate to that too. So that’s why I feel that it’s, it was so hard, but I wouldn’t change it because it made, made me who I am today.


Sam Demma (11:27):
That’s amazing. I love that. I I’ve had so many experiences from traveling too. I, I haven’t taught overseas. That’s a totally different ballgame, but just the experience of being immersed different culture can be so eyeopening and world view broadening, you know, you could change your perspectives very quickly. So you came back from teaching and then what did you start doing here?


Michelle Lemaire (11:51):
I, I, everything was so serendipitous. I came back. I was so fortunate to be able to find a full-time job upon returning back to Canada. And I just started teaching right away in high school again at high school where I didn’t even expect to land. Like I didn’t even think I could, would get the job, but I did. I was so lucky. And I, so teaching math again at that high school, the first year again, was another new journey because I’m suddenly flipped back to an English speaking country and you know, I’m teaching math. And then the following year I was swapped and taught. I taught in a different program where I was working with a lot of in risk youth. And that itself taught me a lot too. About the privileges that I enjoyed growing up and realizing that not everybody comes to the table with the same social and cultural capital.


Michelle Lemaire (12:50):
So again, that really built my character. And, and my values would solidified what it was that I got into this profession for right. There were days of course, pulling my hair up, just like I’m helping my siblings, I’m ready to like scream. But then at the end of the day, when you go back and you, and you, you talk to the kids at the end of the year and you would say, you know what, guys, that was a really hard year. And they’re like, yeah, miss, that was hard. But they would say, but it’s okay, miss, we got your back. And I’m like, and this is why I’m here. Right. so yeah, that was my, my journey back here in the health.


Sam Demma (13:35):
That’s awesome. And at some point you made the decision to not leave the classroom, but take on a different role in the school of principal. Yeah. What every educator I’ve talked to always says, principal is great, but I miss being in the classroom. and I know that leaving the classroom is a very difficult decision. What was the impetus or the inspiration for you to, you know, reach for that different role in the school? And how did you enjoy both of the roles?


Michelle Lemaire (14:04):
Well, it, it’s funny, you should ask because I never thought of myself being a principal, right? Like it was not something that I actively thought of to say, and by this time I’m gonna be that what provided the impetus was I was working with a principal and I had this idea. I was like, so what do you think if we did this, we can really engage kids this way and really move them forward in their learning. What do you think about that? And my principal said, huh, yeah, let’s try it. And I’m like, oh my gosh, did you actually just say yes. And the fact that he was able to empower me with this idea and make a difference with kids in the learning, I thought, gosh, how awesome would it be if I could be in that chair and, and empower other staff to say, yes, you can do this. That’s a great idea for kids. It’s a great idea to help kids cuz it’s good for them. And that really was what pushed me over to, to really go after this, this position of being an administrator.


Sam Demma (15:16):
It’s funny when you were saying or explaining the idea yeah. Of him giving you permission or telling you to go for it. Yeah. The word that came to mind was like enabler. It sounds like a principal as someone who enables potential, you know, a hundred percent.


Michelle Lemaire (15:30):
and that exactly it just like a classroom teacher would enable or empower their classroom, their students. Yeah. The principal’s job is to empower students and their staff to make the, to give them that permission, to try things in the spirit of helping students be the best that they can be. Right. And unleashing that, that potential.


Sam Demma (15:56):
Love that. What do you think are some of the programs that you’ve run in the past in your schools that, that you think were a success or that some of the, or maybe even some of the teachers approached you and said, Hey, Michelle I have enough idea yeah. And you kind of enabled and some good things happened.


Michelle Lemaire (16:18):
That’s a great question. I don’t know if I can nail down to one or two programs that were good for kids, but there were, I can give you a few examples from last year, even though last year was a really different year for us in schools. Right. and despite the challenging year, last year, we had lots of great things happening in our school, not my school now, but lots of great things that happened. So for example, we had one teacher come to me and said, you know, what, how cool would it be if this is my, I wanna get kids to redraw the red dress, the red dress pro project on a murdered, missing in indigenous women. But we draw them using lines that we can define using math, linear equations on Desmos, create these dresses and then hang them up for display to commemorate the murdered and missing indigenous women.


Michelle Lemaire (17:23):
And I said, yes, how awesome would that be? Let’s do it. And let’s bring in our indigenous instructional program. The, to help us through with this, let’s bring in our shift team to think about how we’ve been creatively display this while still honoring this project, the, the initiative behind the re the redress project. So that’s one idea. And, and in this entire journey, our kids benefited and that was the main thing, right. They benefited in so many different ways, you know, of course they learned math, but what’s more important was they truly understood and really dug into the issue of the miss and indigenous women in a math class, which seems so out of context by why not, like, why can’t we have these interdisciplinary learning, right. Yeah. So that was that’s an example of a project I’m really proud of. I’m proud of my staff for doing it. I’m proud of our students for participating in it. And for the other periphery staff that came together to allow it and, and help it along its way.


Sam Demma (18:35):
That’s the new phrase educators will take away from this episode that they can bring back to their principles or, you know, admin saying, wouldn’t it be cool if , yeah. That’s such a, yeah. Such a great way to put it because is I think every, every movement, every, you know, event starts with one of those sentences, right? How do you, how do we build like a community and a culture where principals or sorry, where teachers in their schools feel connected enough and a part of the community to come to you with the idea and actually share. Do you think it’s about letting them know that every, every idea is a good idea or yeah. How do you build a community where staff are willing to come and, and ask those questions?


Michelle Lemaire (19:23):
I, I think first I think you need to model it as a leader that, that you are willing to take risks yourself. And I don’t mean like risks that are, you know, uncalculated. Yeah. And, you know, like, because there is always a threshold of risk that we have to manage. It’s a real, the real part of our job. Right. so there are always some kind of what I call non-negotiables. Yeah. Right. You can never put a student at risk. You must always maintain the privacy of our children. You must always keep learning at the forefront. Those are the, the non-negotiables you need to always honor the individuality of each student and honor their voice, et cetera. So once those foundational pieces are set in, in, in place, then as a leader, you model and you ask questions. Right. And what I have learned in my journey, and I continue to learn because I, I don’t think I’ll ever get it right.


Michelle Lemaire (20:28):
Is to always ask questions, but it’s not about just asking any question, you need to ask the right questions. Mm. And you spend the time trying to find what are the right questions, because once you have the right questions, then you can better define a problem. Right. So my hope is, and, and my you know, my mantra as a leader has always been all, given the non-negotiables, here are my things that here are the things that I wanna go after, which is engaging students, making sure that they are reaching their full potential, that they all always feel included. They’re never left out. The table’s always set for them. Come what may given all of that? What can we do? And how can we, how can we do it in, in a way that would engage kids? And what I have learned is that you ask the kids, the kids would tell you. And that to me is a form of sharing power, a form of including voice. And at the end of the day, our jobs as educators is to facilitate that, how do we share it while maintaining all of those?


Sam Demma (21:47):
Non-Negotiables. That’s an amazing philosophy. yeah. Thanks. And, and a way to look at it. Yeah. Thanks. Usually I think about non-negotiables as like taking out the trash and doing the dishes in my house for my parents, you know..


Michelle Lemaire (22:00):
That’s the same in my house. It’s true.


Sam Demma (22:03):
That’s awesome. I love it. Yeah. And so, if you could know, there might be some new educators who are just getting into teaching, listening to this interview. If you could like, basically take the experience and knowledge you have now and give advice to first year teacher Michelle, knowing what, you know, what would you tell your younger self?


Michelle Lemaire (22:26):
That’s a great question. I would tell my younger self and, or new teachers that it’s O it’s okay to not know everything. Mm. Cause when you start, you feel like you need to know everything. And I, and I maybe that’s a function of youth, right. I will, would, I would say it’s okay to not know everything and you will continue to not know everything. And the key thing is to always be curious and to approach situations with both curiosity, curiosity, and humility. Right. And then the next step is to look for common ground, always look for common ground, cuz differences will always be there. Yeah. It’s the common ground that gets you through stuff and you can walk through things. So once you look for common ground, you build that relationship, then you can move forward. Right. Mm-Hmm so I think that would be the advice kind of be kind to yourself. It’s okay. To not know. And it’s actually better that you don’t know everything because that keeps you humble. But please continue to be curious and be kind and look for common ground.


Sam Demma (23:45):
Now we have common ground because you and my mom make us do dishes and yes, the clothes , it’s funny. That’s awesome on your right behind you. No one can see this cuz it’s audio, but there’s a little quote that says, be yourself, everyone else has already taken. What about that phrase? Kind of stuck out to you so much so that you put it on the shelf.


Michelle Lemaire (24:04):
I love that you picked that up because from, from the time I’ve been a teenager and my dad always kind of said that to me and I, you know how parents say up to you and you’re like, okay, whatever. Yeah. You’re my dad. Like as if you would know anything, you’re my mom. Like as if, and they would always just tell me like, who cares, what I other people say or what other other people think. And I would just kind of dismiss it. And as I got older, I mean, I wasn’t a shop one day and I saw that and I got, I said, you know, that’s it. I need to be me. And I need to be okay with being me. And I get to define me because nobody else gets to define me. Everybody else is already taken. And not me because why I define me. That’s why that, that statement really resonated with me.


Sam Demma (24:58):
Love that. I think encouraging authenticity and just defining your own self worth is so important because when you realize that you’re one of one it’s like when you can trust in your intuition and your own creative ideas, you can bring things to the table that no one else could because no one has your unique experiences and no one’s taught, you know, no one’s taught in the same school at the same time in Korea, teaching English, you know, like all those things build up the person you are. Yeah. So such, such an important reminder also for kids, you know, but hundred percent, Michelle, this has been an amazing conversation. Thanks so much for coming on the, the show here today. If, if there’s an educator listening that wants to reach out or get in touch, what would be the best way for them to reach out to you?


Michelle Lemaire (25:44):
Different ways through email (lemairem@hdsb.ca) and through Twitter (@MsLemaire), I have an Instagram account (@mslemaire) that I created for kids. They can reach out to me through Instagram if they want, if that’s their thing, but you know, any of those three different ways would work.


Sam Demma (26:00):
Okay, perfect. And I’ll put your, if you’re okay with it, an email totally on the Twitter, in the show, note to the episode. Yeah.


Michelle Lemaire (26:06):
Sounds good.


Sam Demma (26:08):
All right. Thank you so much again for coming on the show! Keep up with the great work and we’ll talk soon.


Michelle Lemaire (26:12):
Yeah, you bet.


Sam Demma (26:14):
Hey, it’s Sam again. I hope you enjoyed that amazing conversation on the high performing educator podcast. If you or someone, you know, deserves some extra recognition and appreciation for the work they do in, please consider applying or nominating them for the high performing educator awards, go to www.highperformingeducator.com/award. You can also find the link in the show notes. I’m super excited to spotlight and feature 20 people in 2022. And I’m hoping you or someone, you know, can be one of those educators. I’ll talk to you on the next episode, all the best.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Michelle

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.

Mike Anderson – Principal of the Grand River Otters Elementary Remote School (4200 students)

Mike Anderson - Principal of the Grand River Otters Elementary Remote School (4200 students)
About Mike Anderson

Mike Anderson (@manderson27) is a high energy educator and the Principal of the Elementary Remote School of the Upper Grand District School Board. 

Formed in August 2020, the Elementary Remote School is a K-8 “virtual” school with approximately 4200 students, 220 teachers, 30 RECEs, 4 administrators, and 2 office coordinators. Their students and staff come from all across the Upper Grand District School Board.

Mike describes it as running a tech start-up. 

Connect with Mike: Email | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

UGDSB Elementary Remote School Website

How company culture determines success (Culture eats Strategy)

Bachelor of Education at University of Windsor

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 a good friend of mine. His name is Mike Anderson. He is the principal of the Upper Grand District School Board Elementary Remote School. The abbreviation for that is ERS, there school is known as the grand river otters, otters being their mascot.


Sam Demma (00:59):
And there’s tons of jokes about that. Mike was a teacher who hired me to speak back in, I believe it was December. It might even have been late November and he has one of the largest remote schools, virtual schools in all of Ontario. They have approximately 4,200 students! Over 200 teachers 4 administrators, 2 office coordinators and their administration staff, and their students come from all across the upper grand district school board! Mike, on this podcast alludes to it being almost like a tech startup. You know, you’re figuring things out as you go. And I can tell you, Mike is someone who has immense amounts of passion and purpose. You know, it’s very apparent that he has time for every kid in his school. He makes time, he’s answering hundreds of emails per day. He is someone who wears his heart on his sleeve and you can feel it during today’s interview. So without further ado, let’s jump into the conversation with Mike Anderson from the Elementary Remote School of the Upper Grand District School Board. I’ll see you on the other side. Mike, thank you so much for taking some time to come on the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show. We just literally worked together, like a week or two ago. Tell the listener why you got into the work you do with young people today and the unique situation you’re in right now running a remote school.


Mike Anderson (02:26):
Sure. Sam, thanks for having me on. It’s an absolute pleasure. So I’m an elementary school principal normally in a brick and mortar school. And I, I got into education. I think it all started when I was a kid going to camp at summer camp and, and I grew up watching counselors that had this great positive energy and were enthusiastic and playful, and they liked learning and there was a performing element to it and I found it really inspiring. To be honest, I don’t know if I found my teachers that inspiring growing up. And I always kind of thought like, I wish, I wish school could be more like camp where there was that like sense of fun and energy. And so I think, my career as an educator, I’ve tried to bring some of that camp feeling into a school environment. You know, building a community, connecting with kids being, yeah, having a playfulness around how we’re learning and how we’re doing things.


Mike Anderson (03:34):
So, so now as a principal at a remote school with, or so we’re 4,200 students, 265 staff I mean the challenges this year are yeah, in some ways, like it’s been absolutely ridiculous. This past fall has been the hardest I’ve ever worked as like in my life on anything. But it, it has this vibe of a, like a, a fast paced tech startup is the, is the way I kind of explain it. It sounds funny, but yeah, like we just, there was a while where we were, we started the year and we were short staffed, and our school together without enough teachers and we made a go for it. And we tried our best to to provide a quality program for our students. And there was a ton of challenges that we faced. And, it, it always felt like we didn’t have enough time to, to get everything done, but we’ve also yeah, we’ve had some, some good success. It, it feels good to look back and be like, you know what?


Sam Demma (04:57):
That’s awesome. Yeah, it cut out there. Just it cut out a tiny bit just near the end there. I don’t know. It was, I don’t think it was you. It was me and don’t worry. I’m gonna cut this little part out. Okay. But you said when you said it feels like, and then it, it just dropped


Mike Anderson (05:13):
And you


Sam Demma (05:14):
About sorry, go ahead, startup. Yeah, I got, I got the whole tech startup piece and then towards the end it just cut out.


Mike Anderson (05:23):
It feels like over the last few, we are starting to have some recognition of our progress and some success that we’re having. So our hard work has been paying off. And when I say art, like it’s an entire team of people that, that is working incredibly hard to make this school function.


Sam Demma (05:42):
And it’s different this year, obviously than it has been for you in the past. What is, what is keeping you motivated and hopeful during this challenging time? I don’t wanna say it’s a bad time or a negative time. It’s just different. It presents new challenges and hurdles.


Mike Anderson (05:58):
Yeah. So I, I mean the things that give me hope and that keep me going, I think it working with some incredibly inspiring colleagues teachers and office staff and administrators who been yeah, just thinking outside the box and being creative. One of the things we’ve, we’ve sort of created an infrastructure in our school that allows like we have for a while we had a frequently asked questions running on a, on our staff website and we said, we need this to be crowdsourced. So we, we need everyone. Like, if you have a question thrown on there and if you don’t wanna her throat on there, we’re gonna, we’re gonna build this together. And the analogy we kept using with our stack was we are, we are gonna build an airplane together, but we have to do this while we’re already flying in the sky.


Mike Anderson (06:49):
We’re gonna build an airplane in the sky. And, and it is, it is not gonna feel ready to fly yet. There’s gonna be problems. And we need to just keep doing our best and work together. So the, the school, the elementary remote school, and we call ourselves the, the, the otters. We have we’ve, I’ve, it is incredibly inspiring to see the collaboration and the just, just the, the helping each other people. We have a, a, a Google chat we, which is an ongoing chat room with 260 plus staff members. And people, every day, someone asks a question and five different people give different suggestions and responses. So it, it, it kind of is like being in a school and you walk into a staff room, you’re like, Hey, anyone know how to fix this, or you pass someone in the hall, but we don’t have halls.


Mike Anderson (07:37):
We don’t have a staff room. So we wanna, it has turned into a place where people are helping each other and it is super exciting to see. And also you can imagine like in, in it’s also a way to decentralize sort of the, all the information so that I can share it out. And sometimes I’m jumping in the chat and answering and clarifying and other times like, it’s yeah. It’s, it’s staff working with staff. It’s, it’s really cool to see. I think another thing that gives me hope is I mean, we are working with kids, right? Kids are like, I find they are constant source of hope. You see either their creativity and their what, like, I don’t know about you, but when I see kids doing things that are thoughtful and kind for someone else, it fills me with a joy like that. It, I mean, it, it drives me to say, well, I’m, I’m in the right business here. I, I feel so much pride in, in seeing our students when they, when they step up and, and do things that yeah, they’re just amazing. So yeah, those are sort of the, my big drivers, I think. Yeah.


Sam Demma (08:52):
I’m with you on the, the second one and the first, although I’m not in a school seeing a chat box with 260 teachers, I, you got me really curious when you started talking about that. I’m, I’m sure there’s dozens upon dozens of amazing unique ideas that have been shared in that chat. And I’m curious to know what has been working or what have some of your teachers that you’ve heard and you thought, wow, that’s a brilliant idea. And maybe they report it back, that it went well. And maybe you can also share a challenger too. That might show someone that, Hey, you’re not going through this alone. It’s, it’s a universal challenge.


Mike Anderson (09:28):
Right? So I, I think that one of the, I mean, in terms of a, an overall success that we’ve had at our school to, to, to address the remote element of our remote school, I mean, all of our staff are a few of them are schools. But most people are by themselves or in a, in a room that they set up to be a, a teaching space. And we knew early on that we needed to build a culture a connected culture where we’re all part of something. It’s not just like I’m teaching at home this year. Mm-Hmm, , it’s, I’m part of something I’m part of something bigger. So we worked really hard and it sounds funny, but the very beginning myself and the, the first two VPs that we had Jen Apgar and Alan go we met in my garage on lawn chairs, like socially, just, this is back in August.


Mike Anderson (10:25):
And we are like it that maybe one of the reasons, it felt like a tech start, starting in a garage. I think one of us tweeted out like in the beginning and, and it is like, it had this sense of excitement and we had to answer all these questions, like, how are we going to decide who’s teaching? What, who are our staff gonna be? What’s our schedule gonna be like for the day, what, well, and, and we talked about, you know, what, what kind of strategies are we gonna use? And, and the one thing, the quote that started, and I, I, I feel bad cause I don’t remember who said this quote, but it’s it says the quote is culture eats strategy for breakfast. Mm. And, and we started with, we need a culture in our school, so we need a logo, a mascot, we need a brand.


Mike Anderson (11:12):
And we came up with the otters nice. And and, and we build off of that. And we, we knew we needed to be part of, we needed people to say, I’m not just like, oh, I, I sit at home and teach, no, I’m an Otter. I’m part of something bigger. So we, now we have spirit wear, we have our website. We have at one point I actually bought a giant Otter suit and store for an dorky little I mean, it was like a, a prize if kids raised enough money for our, our first Terry Fox video or Terry Fox campaign, which is like a, a fundraising campaign. We ran that at the very end of September. And I would say that was sort of a, a pivotal moment for our school because one of our teachers, I’m gonna get a shout out to Melissa Rose who came up with this idea and she took this initiative on, and we did a crowdsourced video where teachers all, all remotely submitted little video clips.


Mike Anderson (12:04):
We, she edited together. We posted it out there and we challenged people like we’re gonna try to raise. And I think our initial goal, like, you know, we wanna raise 500 or a thousand or 1500. And one of the, if they met one of the if the students raised that kind of money there were different sort of incentives. Mine was I’d wear a, an embarrassing auto costume around to work. And I did and it was funny so, but the neat thing is like, we raised way over our goal. I think we ended up braising over $7,000. And we, we think part of the reason that we raise so much money on awesome video and staff engagement and students getting excited about it, but also I think it was we interpreted this as, as the community saying, you, we wanna support you.


Mike Anderson (12:51):
You’re doing, we really happy. And we started to about then from parents, like, thank you. You’ve created a place for my child to go to school every day and learn, and they’re happy. Mm. So some parents and, and fair enough, after last spring with the emergency distance learning the online learning this fall, I think people had some different expectations and a bunch of parents I heard from said, this is going so well. We just wanted to make sure our kids were safe at home and not getting COVID. We didn’t expect them to actually make connections and like, be excited about learning and sharing things. So I, I think about the staff we we’ve had where been like a Google meet. So like similar to a zoom and students are still like, they’re getting school work done, but we’re, we’re always trying to think about what else can we do in our school to create a positive experience for our students, in fact not, not to suit your horn there, but Sam, like when you came in last week for your assembly, for our, for our school it was awesome.


Mike Anderson (13:57):
And the, the kids, like they loved it, the staff loved it. Your, your, your message of I mean, talk about like giving kids hope and and, and a like profound optimism for how they can make a difference, even during a global pandemic.


Sam Demma (14:13):
No, I appreciate that. And it’s so into inspiring to see kids taking action. I share that feeling that you have, that when a kid, you know, believes in themselves and takes an action that maybe they’re uncomfortable with at first, but they know they wanna do it. It just lights you up. And you just finished telling me before we started the interview that you have a student who approached you and said, I wanna make a website really curious to know how as educators, can we help our students have those moments where they start believing in themselves more. And then how do we not hold their hand through the journey, but give them the permission to go try and fail, and maybe just share that story of, of that kid and what actually happened there.


Mike Anderson (14:58):
Yeah. I mean, one of our students reached out to me today and said, I have an idea for our student council. And I said, okay, what, what is it? And this is just like back and forth messaging. And I said, tell me, tell me, I like, I like great ideas. What are you thinking? They’re like, what if we had a, what website for our student council? And I said, I love it. That sounds fantastic. You do you know how to do this? They were like, kind of, and I’m like, great. I think you’re the webmaster , this is the kind of, I mean, we have this really unique opportunity and we’ve tried to our student council and we, we have a parent like a school council as well. And we’re trying to do things like we do in brick and mortar.


Mike Anderson (15:37):
We’re trying to provide those opportunities for our kids online. And student council is something that we’d I, I, I, I, I’m gonna give a shout out to a student named Gemma who back in September, she, she created a Google slideshow and she’s like dear principal Anderson. I would like to propose that we have a student council love it. And she made this whole Google slideshow. And honestly I opened it and I had that feeling of like just amazement, just like, this is exciting. This is a student who is yeah. Just has a bunch of great ideas. And you’ve actually met Gemma cuz she introduced you on our on our assembly last week. I know. So she’s like, yeah, one of the active members of our student council now. And I think she and two of her classmates are now working on a school newspaper.


Mike Anderson (16:28):
And they want to give a space for our students to have a voice to write our articles about events that are going on in our school. And I’m thinking I’m gonna connect them with our new webmaster and start getting this all published it yeah, I think giving students a voice, giving them an opportunity in their school to say, this is what I’m passionate about, and this is what I want to do. The more that we can do that for kids it has this incredible ripple effect. One, I find it quite energizing and, and exciting for to, to see that and, and to develop those young leaders it gives them a venue and it also makes them feel, Hey, I, I, I can have an impact here. I can, I can have, you know, I can do something here in my school and I can have a voice in, in what my school, the community and the culture of the school is. Like, I love


Sam Demma (17:20):
That. Yeah. Yeah. And I can’t wait to see the, the website if, you know, if they need any help. I, I built my own site on WordPress and would be happy to share some, some wisdom as a fellow web master.


Mike Anderson (17:32):
I love that. I love that. So, and this is where yeah, I mean, connecting with community partners yeah. Is is always, it makes it for the students it’s so much more authentic, right? Yeah. so I know that we have one of our grade five classes Mrs. Kat’s class they’ve been connecting they’re, they’re very passionate about environmental issues and they’ve reached out and brought in some special guests to talk about what they can do and some, some projects that they can take on and take ownership for. So I, I sat in, on one of their conferences with a a local environmental champion. Nice that, yeah, it was super impressive. That’s awesome. I, I like bringing in community connections for kids to make the learning. It just, it makes, it brings it alive. Right. You’re not reading about something in a book you’re like asking questions to an expert. Yeah. And of all the times to do that, the remote school is perfect. The kids are all on a video screen. They know how to do this. Yeah.


Sam Demma (18:40):
Yeah, that’s an interesting perspective because I’ve also heard the other side of that, where a lot of educators are saying, oh, this is the year where, you know, we can’t do so we’re just not gonna do them. And I’m curious to know what your perspective is on that and how you would address that. And what yeah. What your thoughts are.


Mike Anderson (18:59):
Right. So my colleagues in the brick and mortar schools are obviously it’s the most important is keeping everyone safe and it is different. They can’t have, have assemblies like normal. So your assembly I mean at the remote school, there’s things that we can do that just cause of, yeah. Like we, we can kind of be more, we can think outside the box quite easily. And I mean, you can imagine at a school, they said, we can have we can have clubs, but we need to do it with physical distancing and maybe it’s gonna need to be remote. So I know I heard about one school, that’s trying to run a club and kids are in different classrooms, on a video meet in the same building. Yeah. Well, like we’ve got an awesome chess club right now, nicely. One of our teacher, like, yes, figure this all out.


Mike Anderson (19:52):
And we’ve got like moving towards like a ladder ranking system and kids challenging each other. And like, this is, I mean, yeah, it’s fun. We’re, we’re starting Tom Barker is taking the lead one of our teachers and we’re gonna start a coding competition in our school. And that like, yeah, now, you know, we, what we don’t have is we don’t have recess time. Mm. Right. But our, our students, like our they’re getting Ette every day or, or, I mean, depending on the age, but I know yeah, some kids are the other day when the first big major snowfall my daughter is one of the oters, so she was in grade seven. Nice. And her challenge, she’s like your physical activity. You need to go outside, you need to build a snowman as apology can, and then come back inside, you have 15 minutes go.


Mike Anderson (20:38):
And she like comes running down the stairs. I was like, where are you going? She’s like, hi, it’s ed. I gotta go. I was like, that’s awesome. Like she, and it’s cool. I mean, I don’t, yeah. It awesome. Those kind of things. We, we’re trying to leverage the opportunities we have being remote. We part a big way we do that is by partnering with parents and, and, and working, it is a partnership, especially this year mm-hmm to, to help our students kind of navigate it. And I, I should say, I mean, there, there are some people that are finding remote. I mean, it’s, it’s challenging and it’s different and we try to be creative and we try to think outside the box and still provide a quality education for our students. But it, there, it, it’s not perfect. There are, there are some stumbling blocks and there’s hurdles and there’s challenges that we we spent a lot of time trying to navigate through and, and learn from. But it does feel like we’re making progress, which is a positive thing.


Sam Demma (21:34):
No, that’s awesome. And for me, it seems like your successes with this remote school will almost become a rubric. If we have to do another year of virtual learning, what you’re going through is what Joseph Campbell would call the hero’s journey. You’re you went into the unordinary world, which is like the, the remote world, cuz no one’s ever done this before. And you overcame objections and figured things out and got challenged and figured out the problems. And now you’re coming back around the other side. And if this is to happen again, everyone, one’s gonna turn to you and your 250 staff and say, how the heck did you do that? Because you might have to do it again. And I mean, we could just call your experience right now, innovation, like this is what’s happening with your school. And I think it’s just a cool success story to highlight.


Sam Demma (22:26):
And I know there’s challenges that come all along with it, for sure. But what you’ve been able to do with all of your colleagues and everyone in the school is, and the parents and the students and everyone is, is phenomenal. And to have the kid engaged to the point where they run outside to build a snowman is pretty awesome. Which is, which is cool. But if you could go back in time to when you were just starting to teach and have wise, Mike right now speak to young foolish Mike, when you just started teaching. And of course you weren’t foolish, but you know, less wisdom, less experience. What advice would you give yourself? And then what advice would that, that this advice is probably the same as what you tell other educators, but what advice would you also give to your colleague right now and the education calling?


Mike Anderson (23:16):
I think I, I came into the teaching profession understanding that it’s important that you build relationships Hmm. With students and with parents and with colleagues. And I, I love the quote and I, again, I, I, I like quote, I don’t always remember where they’re from, but no one cares what, you know, until they know that you care. Hmm. And, and at, at the core, I think back the, some of the the, the best experiences and the best connections that I’ve made with, with students and with colleagues are through those like quality, like sincere human relationships. Mm. Caring about people is, I mean, it, it, it, this is a relationship, it’s a people driven enterprise. So I know even I, yeah, just thinking back, like connect first, build, build those relationships first cuz once you have that established then it’s so much easier to get kids excited about learning to get them passionate and enthusiastic.


Mike Anderson (24:20):
I, I should yeah. I, I just think back in my, are about the, the, the best experiences that I’ve had in this profession have come have been built on those relationships and building relationships that are sincere and honest and, and when there’s trust developed students can yeah, they thrive when, when, when a, when a, when a student knows that an educate or cares about them and is on their team and is encouraging them and supporting them it’s really exciting to, to watch what they can do and, and how far they can go.


Sam Demma (25:00):
I love that. And I C I couldn’t agree more when I think about the, the teachers in my life, who’ve made a huge to impact. It was people that were passionate about their content, like extremely passionate about what they were teaching, but then made an effort to get to know every kid in the class, to the point where they take their generic content and then add three or four words to apply it to specific students. You know, you know, I remember my teacher, Mike loud foot, who I talk about in my speech. He used to teach essence and then towards the middle and the end, he’d say, Hey, for, for you, this means this and Sam for you, this means this and Mike for you, this means this. And having those people who took the time to get to know you and build a relationship with you. And it just, it just heightened the experience so much. And I, and I couldn’t agree more. So thanks for sharing and anyone listening, you know, focus on the relationships, prioritize the relationships. Mike, thank you so much for sharing some of your wisdom. It’s already been 25 minutes time flies when you’re having a good conversation. Is there any way people like, what’s the best way for people to reach out if they like this and they just want to chat with you or have a conversation?


Mike Anderson (26:08):
Yeah, so, like, I think on Twitter, my my Twitter handle is @manderson27. And 27 is also the number I wear on my hockey Jersey shouted out to Darrell Sittler. Nice on. But yeah, so @manderson27 is probably the best way to connect with me. I’ll give you my email address as well. If people wanna send an email, Mike.Anderson@ugdsb.on.ca. Just heads up, I get between 200 and 300 emails a day right now in this current job. So it is super hard. I’m doing my very best. Yeah. To to get back to people in a timely fashion, but yeah, I’d be happy if anyone had any follow up questions or thoughts especially with the the winter break coming up. I’ll hopefully get a chance to get caught up on my email.


Sam Demma (27:00):
No, it sounds good. I’m, I’m dumbfounded that you even opened mind. So I appreciate it.


Mike Anderson (27:06):
Cool. Sam, thanks so much. This was awesome.


Sam Demma (27:08):
You too Mike. Appreciate it. And there you have it. Another amazing guest, an amazing interview on the high performing educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review so other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show. If you wanna meet the guest on today’s episode, if you wanna meet any of the guests that we have interviewed, consider going to www.highperformingeducator.com and signing up to join the exclusive network, you’ll have access to networking events throughout 2021 and other special opportunities. And I promise I will not fill your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

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Michael Booth – Principal of Blyth Academy’s Yorkville and Orbit Campuses

Michael Booth - Principal of Blyth Academy’s Yorkville and Orbit Campuses
About Michael Booth

Michael Booth is the Principal of Blyth Academy’s Yorkville and Orbit Campuses. Previously, he taught undergraduate courses at Northwestern University, Loyola University and Indiana University while pursuing a Ph.D. in Film Studies. Michael has a B.A. from McGill University and an M.A. from New York University.

Connect with Michael: Email | Linkedin

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Blyth Academy Website

Principles by Ray Dalio

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):
Do you want access to all the past guests on this show? Do you want to network with like-minded individuals and meet other high performing educators from around the world? If so, go to www.highperformingeducator.com, sign up to join the exclusive network and you’ll get access to live virtual networking events and special opportunities that will come out throughout 2021. I promise you I will not fill your inbox. you might get one email a month. If that sounds interesting, go to www.highperformingeducator.com. Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator Podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s guest is Michael Booth. He is the Principal of the Blyth Academy, Yorkville and Orbit campuses. He has previously taught undergraduate courses at Northwestern University, Loyola University and Indiana University while pursuing his PhD in film studies. Michael has a BA from McGill University and an MA from New York University.


Sam Demma (01:06):
I had the pleasure of speaking at a couple of Blyth campuses over the past few years, and Michael’s energy really reflects the professionalism that all of the Blyth students and campuses have and contain and pass on to all of their students. I hope you enjoy this episode. I’ll see you on the other side. Michael, welcome to the High Performing Educator Podcast. It’s a pleasure to have you on the show today. Why don’t you start by sharing a little bit about yourself with the audience and explain why you got into the work you do with young people today?


Michael Booth (01:36):
I am the the Principal of Blyth Academy’s downtown Toronto campus. I started with Blyth Academy. We are a, a small boutique private high school in Southern Ontario with campuses across the province from, I think we have 10 campuses now stretching as far east, as London and west as Ottawa. I started with the school 11 years ago now when I was returning to Toronto with my family after the first half of my career was mostly in, in academia, in the states and I was doing my graduate work there. And we were coming back to Toronto. I was looking to come back to secondary education and they were opening a new campus at that time in Mississauga and asked if I would be interested in running that, which I did for eight years. And a couple of years ago go, move to the Toronto location, and this summer I’m also the principal of a new campus we’ve begun, which exists in the virtual hemisphere. Nice. Which is in following the model of what all of our bricks and mortar campuses did in the wake of the lockdown in March running classes face to face with teachers and students through the zoom platform on an entirely, but the, these classes are exclusively virtual for its students.


Sam Demma (03:17):
That’s awesome. And it’s slightly different than maybe what teaching was like last year in the past 11 for you. What has been working in your two locations, virtual and in person with your students right now, and what problems or challenges have you been faced with that you guys have slightly overcome or are still dealing with that someone listening might find valuable?


Michael Booth (03:38):
Well, we’ve been very fortunate at Blythe because I think that more than most, any other school in the province our existing, physical model the gap between that model and what we, we are doing virtually is I think smaller at our school than most any other. And the reasons for that is that we have always had very small class sizes. So in the physical campuses, our class sizes have always been capped at 16 students. The average class size is eight students in the virtual world. We cap them at 12 and they still average about eight. We also have what used to be a, a fairly unique academic calendar where most high schools in the province are either semester with two semesters of a full course load being four courses per student, per semester, after or full year with students taking all their courses from September, until June at the same time, we’ve always been on a quarter system which is in fact what most of the public schools in the province have now turned to.


Michael Booth (04:57):
And the quarter system means that a full course of students is two courses per what the public schools are calling quadmesters. We call them terms. So from September, until mid-November, you might take geography and math, and then you’ve completed those courses, and then you move on to science and history and, and so on. And so that that mix of two courses at a time plus small class sizes plus our school is everything we do and, and our entire structure is dedicated towards very rigorous, comprehensive communication between ourselves students and students, parents, and guardians. Mm. And so in the wake of, of COVID in, we, we were notified, I think, right before March break by the Tuesday after March break, we had resumed classes on the same schedule, same timetable, and didn’t miss a day for the rest of the, the year.


Michael Booth (06:13):
And we simply maybe not, but more simple for us. We were able to effectively mirror what we do in the physical campus, through the zoom platform, so that those are when students are only doing two classes a day, the duration of the classes is longer. So we have two hour and 15 minute time blocks for each class per day. And that doesn’t necessarily mean that students just, as in the physical campus, it’s a very rare, you virtually never would walk around our classrooms and see teach every teacher classroom after classroom standing at the front of the room and, and in a more of a lecture mode trying to pitch it down the middle and hoping that more advanced students aren’t bored and weaker students are following. We have two hour and 15 minutes with an average of eight students in the class to engage in different styles of teaching different styles of assessment.


Michael Booth (07:20):
A lot of one-on-one conferencing, a lot of group work. Our teachers float around the room and students have opportunities to engage in different learning activities in the same class. On the same day, we can do that through the zoom platform as well. So it’s not necessarily the case that our student are listening to a teacher drone on, as I am for two hours on end. They might have a half hour 45 minutes of more traditional classroom conversation, discussion, PowerPoint presentation, have a small break rejoin, and then they might be assigned independent work that they might in breakout rooms on zoom. They might do off camera and then come back. They might have conferences scheduled with the teachers in that second hour to do one on one work. And so our model is really equipped us well to, to carry on in, in that format, the physical school we have resumed physical classes in September and because of our class sizes we’ve been able to maintain social distancing and cohorting of 15 or fewer students.


Michael Booth (08:34):
So no student is exposed to more than 15 other students at any given time of the year. And if a student is unable to come to the school because of an illness in their household, or a situation of immunocompromised or something like that, there is a virtual option coupled with the physical option, always available mm-hmm . So teachers have cameras in their classrooms and you’ll see if a student’s not able to be there. The student will be projected onto a a screen through zoom and be able to interact with their classmates and the teacher.


Sam Demma (09:10):
That’s cool. That’s how awesome game plan. And I think you’re existing model sets you up and life up really well to adapt and evolve with the current situation. What has, what have the students really enjoyed about the changes? Have they given the school or teacher any feedback on what they’re liking and disliking or what they wanna see more of and less of?


Michael Booth (09:34):
Yeah, I think, I mean, I was, I was actually really impressed and we, because we are, we’re a small school community, very, very inclusive, very diverse, very supportive. We all last year, we already had, you know, a very strong community that proved quite resilient. And our approach was able to cater to students that were struggling to adapt to a virtual classroom. And they supported each other for some students they actually really, I mean, they like the fact that they don’t have a commute for some student into, might be struggling with anxiety for them, some of them, the virtual format has actually helped alleviate that. I think, but I, I don’t know that the students have really in the virtual school their are students that don’t live within commuting distance to our physical campuses.


Michael Booth (10:41):
And so we have students from Alberta, we have international students that, that appreciate being able to join our schools without being physically there. They appreciate that we’ve been able to maintain continuity. So where many students in the last half year have, have effectively lost quite a bit of their access to teachers and curriculum. So we’ve, we’ve really this year, for example, our grade 11 math class is struggling because many of the students did not gain the fifth foundations they needed in grade 10 math. So we’ve been kind of triple timing it to help those students through their grade 11 course. But the students that have been with our school ha have not had that struggle because they didn’t have that interruption. We still have the same flexibility and of time tabling. So students have as much course selection and of course, flexibility and adaptability through the year that they’ve always had with us, whereas in many schools, because of the, the challenges that they’re facing the timetables are pretty set and they’re not changing and they’re not adapting.


Michael Booth (11:59):
And and very often they don’t even know exactly what it’s going to be in the next quad master, much less the third or fourth quad master. I think that the challenges that we faced are, are again, they’re, they’re not dissimilar from what we face in the physical school, it’s just, they’re taking on digital forms. So for example, students being shy about or, or, or lazy about, or not wanting to turn their cameras on. And we, as with everything, we, we approach that with empathy and support, we reach out to the student and their families to try and have discussions about what’s happening. If it’s a case of something appreciable like, like anxiety or their, an internet connection, isn’t speedy, we’ll make arrangements where that, you know, that’s okay. But as, as the, as the weeks progress and the year progresses, we, we approach that not unlike we might, we would approach attendance.


Michael Booth (13:06):
So if a student is struggling to make it to class on time or to come to class that’s, that’s enters into the conversation that the school has with the student and their, and their parents or guardians. And unlike, I, I, I know again in the, I, I’m not meaning to I fully appreciate the challenges that, that some of the public schools and the province are facing. And I, I really admire the work they’ve done, but they simply don’t have the capacity to help students and, or require students to have their cameras on. So they’ve got, you know, 25 students in a class and all of their cameras are off. And we, that’s not the case with us. We, we might have one student that we’ve made an arrangement with, but otherwise their cameras are on, they’re engaged and we’re having daily lessons with all of the interactions that we normally would.


Sam Demma (13:57):
Nah, that’s fantastic. And I know your campus has a lot of athletes as well, and extra quicks are a big part. How are you navigating these students who were super involved in other areas, aside from academics, not being able to do those things anymore, is there some way to deal with that and manage with that that’s been successful?


Michael Booth (14:15):
I, Yeah, that’s the, the athletics part is, is more challenging. Where, where one of our strengths lies is with the four terms and three periods a day of which students take two they can manipulate the schedule so that if they’re doing athletics outside of the school, so we have competitive figure skaters, hockey players, soccer players track athletes who have been able to maintain their, their practice schedules. There’s not a lot of games going on, even outside the school. So that’s a nice option with, with our clubs and physical education classes. We, we ran PHY ed in the fourth turn in the spring last year. And it was actually a great course to run because it, it helped us to motivate the students to get outta their bedrooms, which I think initially, I mean, it’s still a problem, but it’s initially it was a serious problem.


Michael Booth (15:16):
And we were doing yoga classes online and we were doing fitness classes, or we were asking them to design their own health programs, but varsity soccer is not really happening. Unfortunately mm-hmm, with other extracurriculars and clubs, because we’re trying to maintain the cohorts of students on Wednesdays. We run a shortened academic day and then we have two periods in the afternoons dedicated to extracurriculars and clubs. So our student council is up and running. We have a math club, we have a model UN club. We have, I think about eight different clubs going and extracurriculars going on for a total student population of 150 students. And so weekly, they’re getting to do that, meet other students in the school. And and that’s how we’ve been able to


Sam Demma (16:10):
Do that. That’s awesome. No, it’s fantastic. There’s so many different challenges, but it seems like you guys have been very successful at managing it and pivoting and finding what works and sticking with it. I think a huge key was the empathy piece that you mentioned in meeting kids where they’re at and understanding their situation before trying to coach them through anything. And I’m curious to know when you were a young person, not that you’re old , but when you were younger and you were in school did you have an educator in your life that made a huge impact on you and what did that person do? That made a big difference. And how did that, like, how did that lead you into education? Was there a defining moment where you decided I want to be a teacher?


Michael Booth (16:53):
Yeah, I think grade seven. I was I was fortunate to go to a, an independent school in Toronto where not unlike many of my friends, my dad was in, in, on base street and banking. And I, I thought until grade seven that I would just do whatever it was he did when he put his suit on to go to work in the morning. But I had an English teacher who was that teacher that, that that touched a lot of us and made me even more excited about the humanities than, than I had been in the past. And really after that, it didn’t occur to me to do much of anything but teaching. And that was really twofold. One was, I always liked working with, with kids. I was a camp counselor but it was also the academic side of it.


Michael Booth (17:46):
So that was, you know, my first job was actually working at the high school. I went to I was working in the boarding house and I was and actually my high school teacher that really inspired me had to take a leap of absence for the second half of the year. So when I was in my second year out of undergrad, I took his, his courses. And that was that, that kind of sealed the deal. And then I wanted to pursue graduate work. But the thing I loved about the graduate work most was the teaching and the thing I didn’t like as much as it was not as conducive to raising a family and yeah, and, and engaging students as much as I wanted to focus on. So that, that was what prompted me to come back to Toronto and, and, and work with life.


Sam Demma (18:38):
That’s awesome. That’s a cool story. And was it just a push that he gave you that inspired you? Was it, what, what made him an impactful teacher? Because the educators listening who are thinking, how can I be more effective with my students? And I can tell you, I had a grade 12 world issues teacher named Mike loud foot who changed my life. And the thing for me with him was his passion. He really cared about what he taught, what he taught. And when he talked about it, you just wanted to listen because he was excited. And I I’m curious, what was it like, what was the qualities of your teacher that made it different from every other class?


Michael Booth (19:14):
In the, in the case of the grade seven teacher, that’s when we started talking about themes in the novels, we were reading of the story and that I’d never done that. And so it brought my level of engagement with the material and my level of thinking beyond what I knew existed. Mm. And then he, he taught like, instead of in, for the poetry unit, instead of only doing 19th century romantic poets, we studied pink, Floyd’s the wall. And we did, I, I think it, I think it was a three or four week unit on that. and so that made me realize that studying wasn’t just out of the textbook and it wasn’t remembering dates and so forth. Mm-Hmm . So in, in my, the case, my high school teacher he, he taught a course that was of his own design that he, that called modernism and I, I, and about modern the modernist movements in art and literature and and the arts in general and, and philosophy.


Michael Booth (20:20):
And I didn’t know that existed either when, when I was in grade that was grade 13. And like a lot of my teachers in high school, I, I would sit in class and I wanted to be as smart as they were. I wanted to be able to cite thinkers and I wanted to be able to interpret the world. I wanted to be able to give commentary and analysis at levels that I couldn’t at the time. Hmm. So that’s a little, that’s a little passe these days. I think, I think a lot of times when people, you know, the current pedagogical trends are more towards experiential learning and student driven learning, and finding ways to, to engage the students almost as if it’s your job to, to, to tap into what they are interested in. Mm. Whereas in my day it was more the case that you’d kind, it was, the teacher would stand there and just be so illuminating that you would be inspired.


Michael Booth (21:32):
And I, I think I, I, I think a mix of both is, is worthwhile. And I, I, I sometimes worry that we put we certainly do it Blyth and, and we put a lot of emphasis on making sure are that we are engaging, the students interests as they exist before they enter the classroom. And my feeling is there’s actually nothing wrong with challenging them to move outside of their, their the interests that they bring in to recognize connections between those interests and what the teacher may be talking about that day. Mm. And, and there’s nothing wrong with challenging them to exceed what their immediate knowledge is of. And I, I, I think particularly in the age of social media where their interests, their desires, their curiosities are being satisfied by the second. And it’s whatever they, they within themselves think to tap into quite literally they don’t have as much experience with feeling uncomfortable or challenged.


Michael Booth (22:47):
And so I fear that if we don’t, build those skills in them, that the world is a much harsher and crueler place to enter as an adult for them than it was for me in my generation. And I fear that when confronted with the challenges of having to meet the expectations of someone other than themselves, that they won’t have much practice in doing that. And so we’re constantly trying to find that balance with us and, and, you know, like with the black screens, like we start with empathy, we start with accommodations, but ultimately the goal is to work on resiliency and that may involve consequences. And we don’t lay them down at the outset. As a matter of course, we work with each student with each family to find what the, the line is. Yeah. But ultimately we’re working to wean them off of the accommodations and the need for degrees of empathy that they might need at the start.


Sam Demma (23:50):
That’s so true. And Ray Dalio, hedge fund manager wrote a book called principles, and he talks about problems and he says most often the bad outcome is just a root of a bigger issue. So having a screen is not actually the, the problem, it’s a symptom of a problem, which you have to uncover through conversations. So I think the approach that you guys take is a great one and it’s well thought out, and I think it can be applied to any problem a students facing. It’s probably not the real problem. Just a root, gotta dig a little bit deeper. That’s fascinating.


Michael Booth (24:25):
Yeah. One of my refrains to the teachers is 99.99, 9% of the time, whatever the behavior or posture a student is, is, is presenting is not what’s actually going on inside. So if it’s a boy that’s kind of fronting and pretending, or not pretend, but acting like he doesn’t care and he’s not interested and sometimes a little oppositional or what have you underlying that is actually some, probably some insecurity maybe you know, certain struggles in particular areas of processing or what have you mm-hmm . And so you always have to translate what’s in front of your face, into an understanding that you don’t actually know. And until you have a better sense of it, give the benefit of the doubt because otherwise they’ll shut down. Yeah. But then going back to my earlier point, ultimately, we’re going to work to get you to, to the place where we don’t have to do that translation, because we figured, figured out where, where the problem lies and what we can do about it.


Sam Demma (25:35):
Yeah. There’s a quote what people don’t or what kids or students don’t, what, what kids don’t speak out, they act out I think Josh ship was the speaker who said that once, and it really resonated with what you do is saying what you’ve learned so far on your educational journey. Maybe you, if you could, could you summarize your key learnings that if you could talk to your former self, when you just started, like what key learnings or pieces of advice would you give? Imagine there’s an educator listening. Who’s just starting teaching now, or is a little overwhelmed your experience over the past 11 years, what do you think are some key things to tell your younger self or a new educator?


Michael Booth (26:14):
Well, I think what we were just talking about is, is is probably the, the refrain that I, that I use the most and the, the way I can best explain it is there’s a great seminar that I’ve gone to a couple of times that my wife is a social worker. So she, she introduced me to this and it’s called walk of mile in my shoes. And it’s for parents of students with learning disabilities and what they do. They start the seminar by showing parents of student of children with, with learning disabilities, a problem on a, on a board and asking them to take five or 10 minutes to solve the problem. And, but the problem is pure gobbly go, and there is no solution. Yeah. And when the parents experience that, then the presenter says, so that’s what your child is going through 24/7.


Michael Booth (27:11):
Mm. And I’ve been to a couple, my wife has been to many and, and she says that she’s, and it happened when I was there. She’s never seen, been attended the seminar when one of the fall, others has not broken down in tears realizing that when he was brow eating his, his son or daughter, that they weren’t being lazy or resistant or whatever, just for the cuz they liked to do that. Cause they were having a struggle that was invisible to the parents. And I think it’s similar. We all fall into habits of, oh, they’re Johnny. So and so is struggling again and giving me a hard time because Johnny is lazy or unmotivated or what have you. And I’m not in the trenches in the classroom as much as I used to be. So I feel like it’s my job to remind teachers to try to walk a mile in their, their student shoes.


Michael Booth (28:07):
Mm that’s awesome. And, and then on the other token, I mean, it’s all about navigating these, these, these often conflicting or competing demands not necessarily only accommodating and this is parents and students. Yeah. We have the capacity at this school to be highly responsive to students struggling or trying to achieve a higher goal or what have you. And the, the immediate impulse is at times to, oh yeah, we can make that accommodation. So we will, and that’s fine at the start, but ultimately the end goal is always, how do we, how do we work ourselves off of needing that accommodation? Like if, if possible.


Sam Demma (28:57):
Yeah. That’s awesome. And a side note question before we wrap up today over your right shoulder, there’s a picture on the wall. It might it be Martin Luther king. I’m curious to know if this is your office or what that picture says.


Michael Booth (29:12):
No, that, that is my office. It’s it’s an album cover for a John QUT train jazz saxophone player.


Sam Demma (29:19):
Nice. yeah. Cool. Very cool.


Michael Booth (29:22):
Having a rough day. I’ll just turn around and look at that and it makes me feel a bit better.


Sam Demma (29:26):
Oh, I love it. Cool. That’s amazing. And if anyone wants to reach out, have a conversation, they think something you said was impactful or inspiring, what’s the best way for someone listening (an educator) to do so?


Michael Booth (29:39):
My email mbooth@blytheducation.com is, is great. And I can schedule zoom calls and, and phone calls and or email exchanges.


Sam Demma (29:48):
Awesome! Michael, thank you so much for taking some time today. I really appreciate it, it’s been really insightful. And there you have it. Another amazing guest, an amazing interview on the high performing educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review so other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show. If you wanna meet the guest on today’s episode, if you wanna meet any of the guests that we have interviewed, consider going to www.highperformingeducator.com, and signing up to join the exclusive network. You’ll have access to networking events throughout 2021 and other special opportunities. And I promise I will not fill your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Michael Booth

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.

Nicole Haire – BC Program Head Hayat Universal School Qatar

Nicole Haire - BC Program Head Hayat Universal School Qatar
About Nicole Haire

Nicole Haire (@NicoleHaire) is a powerhouse educator.  She worked in Canada for most of her career, but for the past five years in Qatar as the BC Program Head at the Hayat Universal School.  She has hosted the Canadian Student Leadership Conference and is a nerd for self-development books and literature.  Enjoy this interview.

Connect with Nicole: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Hayat Universal School Qatar Website

Canadian Student Leadership Conference (CSLC)

Activities that Teach

University of Toronto Education Programs

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):
Do you want access to all the past guests on this show? Do you want to network with like-minded individuals and meet other high performing educators from around the world? If so, go to www.highperformingeducator.com. Sign up to join the exclusive network and you’ll get access to live virtual networking events and other special opportunities that will come out throughout 2021. I promise you I will not fill your inbox. you might get one email a month. If that sounds interesting, go to www.highperformingeducator.com. Welcome back to another episode of the high performing educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker Sam Demma. Today’s guest is someone with an insane amount of energy. She geeks out on self-improvement books, just as much as I do. And she’s someone that knows everybody in this space of student leadership and, and student advisory. Nicole Haire is the British Columbia, the B C head of all the grade 8-12 students at Hyatt Universal School (HUBS), which is in Qatar.


Sam Demma (01:10):
She’s been in Qatar, I believe for the past five years and she’s doing amazing work, like absolutely phenomenal work. Previously, she’s hosted a CSLC, the Canadian student leadership conference at a school. She’s, she’s been around. She knows everyone in this industry. She’s someone that you should know if you don’t and she’s someone that has a lot of wisdom to share. I hope you enjoy today’s episode. Nicole, thank you so much for coming on the high performing educator podcast. It’s a huge pleasure to have you on this show. Why don’t you start by telling everyone on listening, where you’re tuning in from and how you got into the work that you’re doing with young people today?


Nicole Haire (01:49):
Well, thank you, Sam. What a privilege to be with you. I’m tuning in from Doha, QAR in the middle east, which about six years ago, I had no idea that that was a place or where it was, but it’s attached to Saudi Arabia right next to the United Arab Emirates near a lot of people know Dubai, but Doha is a city of about 3 million people and it’s beautiful here. We’re actually hosting. We, we, because I live here now are hosting FIFA in 2022. So the whole place is under construction. There’s this go bigger, go home in Doha. So I work at a, a BC offshore school. I was a Principal in prince Edward island for Ooh, a lot of years, 25, 26 years. Single mom with three kids in University and I felt like I needed a challenge and an adventure and this opportunity fell into my lap and


Nicole Haire (02:45):
I decided to take a leap of faith and come to the sandbox. And I came for two years. And after a year and a half, when I had to make the decision, whether I would go back to Canada just yet, I wasn’t finished learning what I need to learn here so it’s been quite an adventure. I’ve done lots of traveling, but my students, my, my teachers are from mostly Canada, but also UK, South Africa. So lots of diversity and the students themselves are 98% Qatari nationals, which is unusual for an international school here. Usually they’re mixed, but our school is mostly kids from here. So it’s, I’ve learned so much and not really speaking fluent Arabic yet, but , I, I know the, I know the school where’s like Halas, like that’s enough and yallah get going. You’re late. They’re like, oh, Miss.Nicole, you speak Arabic. No, no, I just school, I speak


Sam Demma (03:40):
School. that’s so awesome. Tell me more about how this opportunity fell in your lap. I think, you know, especially in student leadership, we can talk about seizing opportunities, but the opportunities typically come when the students ready or prepared to take advantage of them. And I, I want a little more context on how this fell into your lap.


Nicole Haire (03:58):
That is so so true and it’s, it’s not that I hadn’t had, you know, little voices talking to me prior to that, but I wasn’t, I wasn’t ready to listen. And to be honest, as a single mom, I was working three jobs. I was a principal for all week long. I was a waitress on the weekends. I was teaching at the university and I was just going solid I all the time. I was also heavily involved with student leadership at my school and at the national level. And I just, I, I was passing myself on the highway. I was just running, running, running all the time. And one night I was driving home from the restaurant where I was waitressing at like two in the morning, cuz we, we closed late and I fell asleep at the wheel and I went off the, to the side of the road.


Nicole Haire (04:43):
I fell asleep and I almost hit a post wow. In a country road in prince Edward island. And I went home and I, I just thought I I’m out of control. Like I, I have to get a handle on this. And, and to be honest, I know everyone has different faith, but I wasn’t in a faithful place at the time. And I just said, I prayed. And I said, you gotta show me the way. And I put my name into a search agency and I had an opportunity to go to Toronto to a job fair. And I met the people from my school and because I had this leadership background and because they were building a high school and they wanted somebody experience with that, they offered me a job within like two months. My household, I had a job in Qatar.


Nicole Haire (05:27):
Nobody knew where Qatar was including me. I blindly went and everything inside of me just told me it was the right move and I needed to take the risk. I needed to take a leap of faith and I did. And it has just been in the best decision I’ve ever made in my life and, and was a one time in my life where I truly knew what I was doing was exactly right. So I think going with your, your gut instinct, whether you call it your gut instinct, your gut instinct, like I think we know when we’re doing the right thing for us mm-hmm and just to get over the fear is the biggest thing like to take, to take that leap of faith means to put the fear aside and just, and just trust and, and go for it. And that was what I did and it’s been the best. So,


Sam Demma (06:10):
Wow. That’s such an amazing story. You see, if I ask a simple question, we get a whole nother layer. So the decision and the move, and I absolutely love that. That’s that’s, that’s the truth. Yeah. I love it. And you know, you mentioned earlier that you were you’re super involved in student leadership. Mm-Hmm how has that translated into your role now in Qatar? Are you still striving to do things on campus? And where did that passion stem from to get involved in student leadership and be the president of C S a and, and really champion the leadership activities in Canada?


Nicole Haire (06:46):
Wow. Well, I, well, I laugh cuz I always say I’m a Leo , that’s part of my problem. nice. Yeah. Born in July, but also just as a, as a child growing up, like I, we can all trace our leadership roots back, you know, and I was the girl guide and in girl guides, I had leaders who saw the potential in me and I wasn’t right away a leader. You know, I had, I had adults in my life, take me aside and say, I think you have this skill. I think, I think we’re gonna put you in a position to practice. And they corrected me and they guided me guide ha ha girl guides. But you know, I got to, when I got into school, I was just always a, a person who was an extrovert and wanted to, I wanted to be happy and I wanted school to be happy.


Nicole Haire (07:30):
And so I was in student council and I, I did all those things. And then as a teacher, I think you, you kind of paid the, you know, so people did that for me. So I started being a student council advisor at my school in Toronto where I started my career. And then again, when I moved back to prince Edward island and then one day a friend of mine said, we’re going to take some kids to the Canadian student leadership conference. It’s in Sacville Nova Scotia, 2001 let’s just go. And I’m just, I think that’s part of my personality is I’m usually the one that jumps on the bus and says, where are we going? You know, it’s kinda like get on a plane to Qatar. Where am I going? You know? And I, I just always, I like that adventure and that, that sense of fun.


Nicole Haire (08:14):
And so we took kids to see SLC 2001 in the Sacville and it was right after nine 11, it was the whole thing was just serendipitous. But we got there and we had no idea. We got off the bus and everyone was screaming and our kids were just like, Deering the headlights. Like, what is this place? And by, by the middle of that conference oh no, actually it was the first night when they say, you know, soon. So see whatever first year and you know, Yorkton, Saskatchewan and the Saskatchewan kid scream. So I’m saying to prince Edward island, get ready, get ready. We’re gonna, they’re gonna say PEI and we’re gonna scream. And they didn’t say PEI. They said every province except PEI. So I turned to Dave Conlin and I said, why didn’t they say PEI? And he said, PEI is the only province that hasn’t hosted.


Nicole Haire (09:03):
And I said, well, that’s unacceptable. We’re gonna host. So in 2008, they put me in the board and I was a director for PEI and in 2008, my, my school hosted the first CSLC in, in, in prince Rhode Island. Nice. And it was fabulous. And just, just memory will never forget. And a team building experience as a school that will never forget. Because when you have to bring a thousand people from across Canada to your school for five days, the best part was the ability because my mother in charge of billing with a friend of mine and, you know, a small town Summerside PEs 15,000 people, we had 45 extra families that didn’t get to host billets because everybody wanted to be part of it. And it was such a, yeah, it was such a feel good week. And so that, that kind of thing, like just seeing of people benefit from you know, just seeing them become leaders.


Nicole Haire (10:00):
I think that that’s why I love being a principal. It’s, it’s not about me being the leader. It’s, it’s finding leadership in my staff and empowering them and kind of working yourself out of a job. The best thing you can do as a leader is work yourself out of a job because every, everybody around you is, is doing their part and, and their body in, you know, so I think they’re all kind of different transferable skills. Some of the things I did in grow guides, I used in my school in, in Qatar, but when I got here, the school was not a high school and the oldest grade was grade nine. Mm. Were gender segregated as our community here is Muslim. And the boys and girls after grade from grade four on, they separate into boys classes and girls classes. So I came in kind of naive to that whole culture and religious tradition.


Nicole Haire (10:51):
And, and I decided I would bring the boys and girls together to train for student leadership my a first month here. And they tried it and then they both came, both sides, came to me and said, please, please don’t do that to us again. That’s not how we do things. and I realized that I, it was a good lesson for me because rather than coming into a place and imposing my view of what I thought things should be. I had to come in and, and be quiet and observe and be respectful and get feedback and find other ways to do some of the things that I wanted to do. So one one thing we’ve done when I was in my school in PEI, we dismantled student council because we found the same 20 kids were doing everything. They were, they were fundraising, they were spiriting.


Nicole Haire (11:40):
They were, you know, doing everything and exhausted. And about three teachers as their advisors were also exhausted. And student council runs from August to July. I don’t care what anybody says. It might take a couple of weeks off in July, but you’re all the time. So we dismantled our student council into into councils, like the ministry here, here. I did it. I brought the idea here and our students do it here as well. So here we have the ministry of sport. Nice. The ministry of the interior is the got government ministry of activities is student activities, ministry of finance. They all wanna be in that ministry of global citizenship because here in Qatar, they have ministries and ministry of the interior is actually the government. And we had just a boom of kids because some people do wanna be just finance. They don’t wanna rah and cheer and march in the parade, or do philanthropic things.


Nicole Haire (12:37):
They just want to count the money. And they wanna put that on their CV as going to university to study accounting say, and some kids are spear kids, and some kids are philanthropists and some kids are sport kids. And so each ministry has a mandate and we had 20 plus teachers involved and about 200 kids. And they had never had student leadership at the school because the school was never a high school. So they decided to, we didn’t have recycling in Qatar when I got here and our kids by their initiative came up with the reusable, like the wa water bottle stations. And they did a whole proposal and got the school to put in the water fountains so that the kids can use wow. And they banned, they banned plastic water bottles from the school. Nice. Like, and so kids are kids, you know, and that’s, that’s what I found when I came here, I was like, okay. So they may dress differently. They may have a religion. And that’s different than mine, which is often more, more like it than different from it. As we have more conversation with one another, but just kids or kids and they still love to lead and they want to have great schools and they’re excited about life and they care about this planet and they care about one another. And I just, potato potato, I just felt like I was home when I got here. You know? So I, I stayed because of the kids. Yeah.


Sam Demma (14:03):
That’s so cool. Mm-Hmm you mentioned over 20 teachers help with it and have participated. There’s other people I’ve spoken to on the podcast and outside of the podcast who sometimes tell me that these positions of student leadership or student council sometimes go vacant, cuz someone doesn’t wanna step up. How were you able to get 20 teachers interested, involved, and excited to help with this work?


Nicole Haire (14:29):
I think you have to be contagious. And I’m not saying that the people that struggle to get help are not contagious because I think people are exhausted right now. Mm-Hmm , especially in this time, like we haven’t launched our student ministry because everybody’s online and now we’re starting to, we’ve all got our legs under us. And it’s like, okay, let’s get student assemblies running virtually let’s, you know, there’s ways around a mountain, but you have to have energy to create energy. And when you’re running on low with your battery and everybody’s just in survival mode, because there’s so much new learning and teachers are learning technology while they’re trying to deliver curriculum and they’re trying to, you know, sleep. And it’s been D to try to do the proactive things, but it’s kind of like when you’re tired and you don’t exercise because you’re tired and then you eat potato chips because you’re tired.


Nicole Haire (15:21):
And then you exercise cause you’re tired. And it’s like a, a vortex of doom. I find that if you do the push and you get people rolling, the energy feeds the energy. And I think we, we were, it’s new also. There’s a little bit of a novelty attached to it here because we haven’t done it before. So people jumped in and were, were willing to get involved. And maybe I think in some schools, traditionally at home, the one person would be kind of tagged as you’re student advise, you know, the student council advisor and, and you’re stuck. It’s like a life sentence. And and other people might think, oh, that’s what they do. And there’s no room for me. And what I’ve always found with leadership is you have to sometimes ask, if you put out a, an email and say, anybody wanna be involved, you’re not going, you’re gonna get of crickets.


Nicole Haire (16:12):
Nobody’s gonna answer that. But when I’ve walked up to specific people and said, I’m just gonna tell you what I see in you. I see this, you know, trade in you. I think you have a lot to offer. Would you be interested? People are usually like really you see that in me because quite often they don’t see it in themselves and they would kind of like to, but they don’t really see themselves that way. And once they’re invited and once they get a chance to get their feet into it and, and the kids are, the kids are the energy. I mean, you can’t be in student leadership and not stay young for the rest of your life. You know, you go, you go to those leadership conferences and you just come back. Like the world is, is perfect. You know, you only took three kids with you and there’s always the crash, the crash that comes with, they go back to school and they’re like, ha, then the whole school’s like, , it’s always a bit of a downer. But then they, then they bounce back and they do great things. And it’s the same way that I think kids get other kids involved. It’s what adults do with adults, you know? And, and half the time it just takes an invitation.


Sam Demma (17:19):
Yeah. I love, I love that. Cause I think it applies to inviting anyone to do anything. Especially if you appeal to people’s your belief in their people’s abilities, especially like you mentioned when they don’t see it in themselves. Yeah. Have


Nicole Haire (17:33):
You, and to off and offer them support, I think is the other big thing mm-hmm , you know, like to just say to somebody, okay, you’re gonna do student council and take off and leave them with that big piece of, you know, the work to do. I think the, the scaffolding is important too. It’s sort of like a coaching mentorship gradual release, you know, you walk with them for a while and then they take off and do wonderful things without you. And that’s what I mean by working yourself out of a job.


Sam Demma (17:58):
Yeah, no, I like that. And it’s passing the Baton on really. You’re just sure.


Nicole Haire (18:03):
And building capacity, building capacity is huge.


Sam Demma (18:06):
You know, it’s like the relay the 4, 4, 100, you don’t just slap the Baton in their hand and just stop. It’s like you guys both run together and you slap it and then you slow down and they speed up.


Nicole Haire (18:15):
That’s an excellent analogy.


Sam Demma (18:17):
For sure. Yeah. And you know, this work is very transformative and sometimes you don’t see the transformation that a student or a teacher might have when being invited into student leadership. But I’m certain that over the years you’ve seen students change and transform and incredible, you know, you might be listening right now thinking that, you know, this year is different and you’re burnt out and you know, an educator listening might think, you know, they might, they might be thinking, what the heck did I get into if this is their first year teaching Uhhuh yeah. And a story of transformation might just be the thing they need to hear to remind them that this is really important work. And if it’s a serious transformational story that comes to mind you can change the name for privacy reasons, but I’m curious that you have any stories of transformation that you think are worth sharing with other educators to inspire them and remind the, then why they started teaching


Nicole Haire (19:12):
For, for teachers transforming or students,


Sam Demma (19:15):
Maybe one of each .


Nicole Haire (19:17):
Okay. Well, I can, I can tell a story about a teacher that was a first year teacher, I won’t say in which country. But that person came in sort of dear in the headlights, very, very fresh, very green and in a very challenging, you know, situation and was sort of thinking that she had to have it all figured out. You know, there’s some sort of false sense of, I don’t know what they teach you in teachers college, that if you show any, any weakness or any need or you know, need for support in your first year that you’re not gonna get your contract, or I don’t know what, but I never in my life have seen anybody start something new and not need that support. So I just keep, always saying to people, it’s smart. People who ask for help, like, don’t, don’t just take it on and try to do it by yourself.


Nicole Haire (20:07):
Let us know. And finally, she came to me in tears one day and she was just like, it much, I can’t handle, I’m gonna quit. I’m done. And I, we just sat down, we had a coffee and I told her the things that I saw that were strong and the things that I was willing to help her with. And I went into her classroom and I, I was in her classroom once a day for maybe two weeks and eventually still started extracting myself and she left her school because she was going to further her education go do her masters. And when she left, she was probably one of the strongest young teachers that I had. And she wouldn’t have said that about herself in the first year. And I think, I think we need to be kind to ourselves. Like I always say this to my children when they start, you know, talking badly, I’m always like, no, no, don’t talk about my daughter that way.


Nicole Haire (21:00):
Or don’t talk, you know, don’t say those things about my daughter to yourself. And, and I’ll just say, you know, you should treat your yourself and give yourself the same advice and the same cut yourself the same slack that you would your best friend, because you need to be your best friend. I think the biggest piece for teachers is to find some allies like Steven Covey says, you know, access your allies. And we’re not, we we’re in a very isolating profession in the sense that we surrounded by people all day. We have 150 kids on our rosters, but we go into our little silos and quite often we work in isolation. There isn’t great time for collaboration, you know, to get together, to talk things out. And I think it’s really important to carve time outta your day, to sit in this staff room, but only sit next to positive people.


Nicole Haire (21:50):
I’m sorry, I I’m, I everybody’s valuable, but if I only have 10 minutes to sit in the staff room, I’m gonna sit by someone who’s gonna feed my soul, not suck me dry. You know? So you have to be very strategic about who you talk to. And not just because not just likeminded people. I, I’m not saying not to open your mind a different points of view or, but some people are, are just negative because they’re negative. And you know, you can say a prayer for them and wish them the best, but you don’t have to allow them to steal your joy. And I always say, nobody gets to rent space in your head without your permission. So, you know, everything that happens, I choose how I react to it. I choose whether or not it ruins my day. I everything’s on a Richter scale of one to 10.


Nicole Haire (22:35):
I ask myself, is this a two or a 10? Quite often, it’s a one mm-hmm and just get on with it. You know? So I think we have to be patient with ourselves that our career is it’s a marathon, not a sprint. And the teacher I am today was not the teacher. I was in my third year when I thought I knew everything. Mm-Hmm I was just smart enough to be dangerous. Mm-Hmm so I think, you know, it’s possible to, to learn and grow if you open your mind and your heart and you just be kind to others and to yourself as far as students to transforming, oh my God, like, that’s why I do the work I do. I it’s like caterpillars and butterflies. And, you know, I think the biggest thing that I see with the students, both here and at home is a generation of kids that have been protected from struggle or are afraid of struggle.


Nicole Haire (23:29):
And I always tell the story and I’m sure you’ve heard it of, you know, the moth and the cocoon and the little girl comes by and she sees this moth and it’s struggling. And she takes the screwdriver and pops it open and the moth falls out and dies. And when her grandfather says, you know, what did you do? She said, I tried to help him. And the grandfather said, you know what? It’s in the struggle that it learns how to fly. Mm. And you know, so I have a student right now, who’s struggling. And we zoom once a week for 45 minutes and he just wants to talk. He just wants to talk about the things that he thinks about. And, and I, I see his struggle, but it’s good struggle, you know? And, and I think we’re afraid of this struggle. We think I don’t wanna be sad.


Nicole Haire (24:13):
I don’t wanna be challenged. I don’t wanna be disappointed. I don’t want to grieve. I don’t want to feel these things, but it’s through working through the feelings of these things that we build our strength, so that the next thing that comes, we’re ready for it. And I’ve seen students that thought that they were, you know, victimized by everything, around them, terrible things in their lives and, and realized that inside of them was this strength and this, you know, capacity to be happy to, to move through things and around things. I always say there’s many ways around a mountain. Like you, we don’t just have to keep slamming into the mountain. Like we can go off road, we can blow it up. We can, dig a whole under it. We can, you know, there’s, there’s always a way through. But I think it’s okay to embrace the struggle. Like I, I, it’s not supposed to be easy all the time. There’s gonna be happy days and sad days. And, and when I see a, a student learn that lesson and, and just embrace their journey, that’s when I know they’re gonna be okay.


Sam Demma (25:21):
I love that. So that’s awesome. And you mentioned a lot of educators right now are working silos, and that’s the whole reason I started this, this project, this podcast, and the hope that I’m so happy to hear this. Yeah. And, you know, you shared so much great ideas and advice, even just the simple ministries idea of someone’s listening and wants to turn their student council into many governmental divide and conquer. Yeah. I think it’s a really unique idea.


Nicole Haire (25:49):
Yeah. And, and I think everybody’s willing, nobody really wants to take on except for crazy people. Like the people I know love want to say that they’re gonna take on the whole student council. I mean, that’s a big job and, and only crazy people like Dave Conlan and marking Lynn that, you know, those people do stuff with joy. But if you said to, like we did at home the lady that was usually used to counting the money for the student council is like, would you like to be the advisor for the finance council? She said, absolutely. I can do that. You know, and somebody else was like, well, I have an interest in sports. I have no interest in, you know, running student activities, but we could do Dodge ball at lunch and, and do healthy living stuff. And it’s like, but then those people became the advisor for that council.


Nicole Haire (26:39):
Mm. And all of a sudden I had all these leaders in my school and they weren’t leaders before they didn’t have the opportunity to practice being leaders. And they just had their little poss of people and they, you know, so each, each just to finish that, what that is each council here, we have ministries, we have prime ministers here, there, we had presidents. So funny, I’m in no sense with prime ministers and in Canada, I had presidents. But anyway, we had a president’s council here. It’s called the prime minister’s council. And so each it’s sort of the nights of the round table. So each council has a prime minister, has a leader. And it’s chosen by the people who work with him and her. And they come once a month around the table. So this is how it would work. There would be like a, a student activity week coming up like Qatar national week, we celebrate the birth of Qatar.


Nicole Haire (27:34):
And the, the activities council would say, we wanna have like an activity every day. And the sports people would say, we’ll take one of the days. We’ll do Dodge ball teachers against do, okay. That’s done. The finance people will say, does anybody need to buy anything for this? You need supplies. You need money. They’ll do a proposal. And they’ll tell them how much money they can have. The communications ministry will say, do you need like announcements, posters? What are we gonna do with that piece? And the global citizenship kids say, you know, we should have a food drive. And at our school be like, we have a dance and everybody brings food and we do something and, you know, hunger for whatever. And it just, they just collaborate. Mm-Hmm , and it’s like a, it’s like a network and it’s so cool. And they support one another and they all have a different piece, but together they’re a whole student body ministry of the interior is the voice of the school, the elected council that deals with policy and meets with the PRI meets with the principal once a month to talk about student issues.


Nicole Haire (28:34):
And they’re the student voice. So if something happens at the school, it’s the prime minister of the interior who speaks on behalf of the students because he’s elected by the students or she is.


Sam Demma (28:44):
That’s so awesome. I love that. Yeah. Very cool. It’s like a mini society in the school. Yeah.


Nicole Haire (28:50):
It’s and, and everybody’s invested, right? So the more kids who are involved, the more it’s just like everything. Like, if you wanna do something, you say, you have to do this. I may or may not. Mm-Hmm , but if you get me involved and I’m part of co-creating what’s happening, and I have invested interest in it, when an activity happens, our kids are like, get involved because this is something that I’m passionate about and I’m excited about, and, and it’s contagious. It just, yeah. And you, you start with things that kids are interested in and over time they just, they start to realize it’s the culture of their school. And that’s what they want. A, a good school culture.


Sam Demma (29:29):
Nice. Yeah. And for all the keen educators listening, the keeners, I know you mentioned Steven Covey, I’m curious to know what are some books or resources that you’ve really enjoyed that have helped with your own personal development that you think another educator might, might fancy , you


Nicole Haire (29:46):
Know, I, well, and to be honest, I’ve read all the, you know, the Gladwell and all these types of books. But for me, the, the books that I have used, and I’m not doing this as a pitch to make money for anybody, but the Canadian student leader association has resources. Dave Conlin has been overseeing that they have books that I’ve used in my classroom called ones called activities that teach. And what I loved about them was we would have fun day Fridays, and you would just open the book and it would be like an activity. It tells you how many minutes it’s gonna take, what you’re materials are, how to run it, what the debrief questions are. My kids used to just my students, like when I was a teacher, they’d be like, is that fun day, Friday? , you know, like we would always do these leadership activities.


Nicole Haire (30:32):
And then we had climate days at school where we brought together a hundred kids and did sort of breaking down the walls, kind of fill void style stuff. Which completely completely changed the culture of our school, getting kids, talking to kids, they didn’t usually talk to. And just understanding that everybody has a story and it’s hard to hate someone whose story, you know, and you know, so that wealth of resources, I took those books. And when I got over here, I couldn’t carry them all. Also then I ordered them and Dave shipped them over and we’ve been using them here, spirit activities and just, you know, kind of fundamental values type leadership activities that are fun. But at the end of it, you go, whoa, I didn’t know. I just learned something. You know, kids, kids are having fun. They don’t know what’s happening until you hit them with the message. And then they never forget it. It’s, it’s sneaky, sneak attack


Sam Demma (31:27):
but it works,


Nicole Haire (31:29):
But it works. And those resources are fabulous. I’ll, I’ll be honest. I’ve used those the most.


Sam Demma (31:34):
Okay, awesome. I’ll make sure to link those in the show notes as well. And if anyone wants to get outta their silo and visit another farm, maybe talk to you a little bit and connect and have a conversation.


Nicole Haire (31:45):
Yes, absolutely. And I mean, we zoom like to me, we are, we’re blessed in a way this whole COVID thing has been, you can look at it one of two ways you can look at it as the, you know, the disaster that everybody talks about. Well, I wish it would get back to normal. I hope it never goes back to normal. I hope we go back to what we were before, because I think this COVID this big stop and think that we have had where it’s like everybody go to your room and stop and think . Yeah. Seriously, it gives, it’s given us an opportunity to reflect on what’s important in our lives about our own personal health and wellbeing. About, you know, I, in the COVID time where we were completely online, I started walking again. I started eating healthy. I was sleeping more there, you know, it was different stress, but there were other stresses that weren’t there anymore.


Nicole Haire (32:39):
My kids and I started zooming every Sunday. Nice. And I’ve been here for five years. We had never zoomed all of us together. Now we have religiously every Sunday, got it. We have family time and we zoom them to catch up my sisters. So we are in silos, but we’re in silos by choice. There’s there no excuse for us to be in silos. And I would love to talk to anybody that wants to talk. So, you know, I’m, I’m a few hours ahead of you right now. It’s almost 11, o’clock my time. But we, we seem to be able to make connections. And I, I keep in touch all the time through zoom and WhatsApp and we’ve, we’ve got all this technology and it’s like nuclear energy. It can be a weapon or a tool. And if we start using, I think the tools at our fingertips to stay connected instead of to keep us separate we have a hope of , you know, it’s like everybody together.


Nicole Haire (33:35):
I always say to my team at school sticks in a bundle or unbreakable, it’s like a Kenyon proverb. It’s like, you can’t break a bundle of sticks. You can break individual sticks, but you can’t break as if we’re a bundle. And I see it over and over every time someone’s, we keep in touch with each other, we’re checking in, you know, there’s perpetual chocolate in my office. People have places that they can go one other person a day just to check you in on you and say, they see you. I think having mentors is very important. And just, just to say hi, just to know that, you know, if I didn’t show up today, somebody would call my house and see where I was. you know, so it’s, that’s awesome. It’s about relationships. I think that’s, if we have those relationships, we have, we have hope.


Sam Demma (34:19):
That’s awesome. I, and if someone does wanna reach you and build a relationship what would be the best way for them to do so? Is there an email that’s best or?


Nicole Haire (34:27):
Or, yeah, sure. Yeah. I it’s it’s easy for me. It’s hairenicole2@gmail.com and it’s H A I R E like hair on your head with an E, but yeah, they can just email me and then if they wanna chat further, we can and chat or share resources or share stories, whatever. But I think I think people should, I mean, I’m not saying don’t contact me, but I think people haven’t even tapped into the resources that are right beside them. Yeah. The teacher next door. I always, in my notes, I give a challenge each week to my staff and a quote of the week and the challenge this week was go find somebody, spend 10 minutes with them and ask them how they are. And just reach out to that teacher next door. And we don’t know what they’re going through, you know, and, and you’d be surprised sometimes you have things in common with people that you think you don’t. Take 10 minutes to talk. Yeah.


Sam Demma (35:22):
Love that. That’s awesome. Well, thank you, Nicole so much for coming on here. So much positive energy, and I know everyone listening can feel it as well. I really do appreciate it, and I wish you all the best and I’ll, I’ll definitely keep in touch. And I, you know, one day maybe I can come to Qatar and say, hello.


Nicole Haire (35:38):
But I would, I would pay to work with you, Sam. I’m really, I have to say that when I meet young people, that just, you can, when you say you see potential, I’m just sitting here going, I’m gonna keep track of Sam, cause someday I’m gonna say I talked to him in 2020, but I think you’re a phenomenal person and congratulations for the work you’re doing. Thank you. I appreciate it. You’re most welcome.


Sam Demma (36:02):
I’ll talk soon, Nicole. Okay. And there you have it. Another amazing guest, an amazing interview on the high performing educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review so other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show. If you wanna meet the guest on today’s episode, if you wanna meet any of the guests that we have interviewed, consider going to www.highperformingeducator.com and signing up to join the exclusive network. You’ll have access to networking events throughout 2021 and other special opportunities. And I promise I will not fill your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Nichole Haire

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

Dr. Seth Goldsweig – Vice Principal at The Leo Baeck Day School and PhD in Educational Leadership

Dr. Seth Goldsweig - Vice Principal at The Leo Baeck Day School and PhD in Educational Leadership
About Seth Goldsweig

Dr. Seth Goldsweig(@SGoldsweig) is the vice principal at The Leo Baeck Day School in Toronto. He has been in formal education for 17 years. His PhD is in educational leadership and believes that education is a tool to help students find their voice and change the world.

Connect with Seth: Email | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Leo Baek Day School Website

Padlet

Easy Baking Recipes for Kids

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):
Do you want access to all the past guests on this show? Do you want to network with like-minded individuals and meet other high performing educators from around the world? If so, go to www.highperformingeducator.com. Sign up to join the exclusive network and you’ll get access to live virtual networking events and other special opportunities that will come out throughout 2021. I promise you I will not fill your inbox. you might get one email a month. If that sounds interesting. Go to www.highperformingeducator.com. Welcome back to another episode of the high performing educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker Sam Demma. Today’s guest is Dr. Seth Goldsweig. He is the vice principal of the Leo Baeck day school in Toronto. I had the pleasure of speaking in front of his entire student body last year before COVID 19. And it is my absolute pleasure to bring him back on the show here for you today.


Sam Demma (00:59):
He has been in formal education for 17 years, has a PhD in education leadership, and thinks that education is a tool, a very strong tool to help help students find their voice and change the world. The other day, he sent me an email telling me that one of his students at his school is working on building the reactor that’s in the middle of iron man’s chest, and he’s supporting this kid on his venture to learn about technology and bring this project together. And I’m sure in this interview, you will hear Dr. Seth’s energy just shine through in his responses. I hope you enjoy this, I’ll see you on the other side. Seth, thank you so much for coming on the high performing educators podcast. It’s a, it’s a pleasure to have you.


Dr.Seth Goldsweig (01:42):
You it’s a pleasure to be here. Thank you.


Sam Demma (01:45):
Can you share with the audience who you are and what got you into the work you do with young people today?


Dr.Seth Goldsweig (01:52):
Sure. My name is Seth gold. So I’m the vice principal at the Leo Baeck day school in Toronto. And I’ve been, this is my, I think 11th year as a vice principal. I started a school before, now is my eighth year at this school. And I’ve been in education for I think, 17 or 18 years. What got me into it. I mean, many things. Certainly, I love that feeling when when you see a kid starting to feel really good about him or herself and know you played a part in that, it’s just, it, it, it makes you feel warm all over. It’s just a really special feeling. You know, you had a part in, in someone’s success. There’s a selfish reason. I think kids are our future and and I’m only gonna be in this business until, until I retire and I wanna make sure we’re in, we’re in good shape for the future.


Dr.Seth Goldsweig (02:44):
So I, you know, I wanna make sure that they’re set up to succeed and then I think the most important one though Sam, is that kids are amazing. Can I tell you a short story about something that happened to me today? Absolutely. I hear that a student we’ll call him Ben. Ben is looking for me, right? Dr. G Dr. Goldsweig. Ben needs you. Okay. So I like, he’s not in my waiting for me in my office. I go, finally, I find him outside Ben, you know, what’s going on? Oh, I had to ask you something. I made a pinata for my friend; it’s her birthday. And I wanted to know if I could hang up my pinata and so she could hit it. So here I’m worried, like there’s some big, like major thing going on. He had a fight or he’s upset about something stress, but no it’s cuz he had made a pinata for his friend and they wanted to to set it up. It was her birthday, I think, hours making the pinata. It was, you know, it’s things like that, that happened every day that you’re surprised by their creativity and what they do. And it just, it makes it really special.


Sam Demma (03:44):
How do you cultivate a school culture where kids decide to make pinatas and ask you to help them and hang it up? I think that’s a very unique culture you’ve built. And I’m curious to know if you think there’s any specific traits of students that you’ve encouraged in them to have them doing things like that.


Dr.Seth Goldsweig (04:05):
I think it, listen, it all starts with the teachers. You know, if it’s happening in the classroom, that’s happening elsewhere to try to, you have to cultivate a, a love of experimentation and learning and, and inquiry. And, and if you are interested in what the kids have to share, then I think they’re gonna keep sharing. There, there’s a study that shows about creativity and the most creative people are kids in SK and then every year we get less and less and less creative. And and they did this by asking about paper clips, how many different things can you do with a paper clip? Mm. And adults will come up with a few things, you know, I can put paper in it. Maybe I can use it to like, hang my keys or something. Kids start asking, well, what color can it be?


Dr.Seth Goldsweig (04:51):
What’s it made out of, can it be different sizes? Can it, and so, so if you, if you use the kids imagination as a model and you just keep keep encouraging it, then I think you end up with a, a school culture that does that the other day, a kid comes up to me that Mr. Gold or Dr. Goldstein, I’m trying to figure out how to build an arc reactor from Ironman. And so he showed me, had this this whole diagram and he’s trying to figure out the technology for reactor every day. He says he gets a little closer. He shows me the updates and my job’s simple. I just have to listen and say, that’s amazing. Keep going. I can’t wait to hear the updates. So I think if you just show an interest in the kids, they’re gonna, they’re gonna thrive.


Sam Demma (05:35):
That’s awesome. And times are different right now with COVID we’ve been presented with unique challenges. What are some challenges that you’ve been faced with as a school that you’ve overcome and maybe even a mistake or two that you’ve made that you’ve learned from that you think is valuable to share?


Dr.Seth Goldsweig (05:52):
The the challenges are numerous. The mistakes are numerous and learning is numerous. You know, one of the, one of the challenges community is really big at my school. And we, we were very lucky for, for many, many years that you could physically come into contact with people and community physically, whether it’s having a school barbecue or, or having a new parent breakfast all of these things that, that make community possible. And so now we find ourselves in a situation where we still wanna build community, but everyone has to be physically separate. And so we’ve had to get creative in how we do that. So some of it is doing things online. Some of it is, you know, for our new parent breakfast, we had a as online zoom, but we still, we, we wanted the breakfast to be part of it.


Dr.Seth Goldsweig (06:38):
So when they dropped their kids off at school, we gave them boxed breakfast as a way of saying, you know, sit down, eat when we have our, our our orientation. Let’s try it, let’s try and make it special. You know buddies, we have a whole buddy program where big, our older kids are with our younger kids, which is really, I think, an important part of our school, that kids, when they go into grade four and they they suddenly become up till grade three, they’re the little buddies. And then at grade four, they become the big buddies. It’s a big, important moment for them. And how do you do that when you can’t have kids come into contact with each other? So we’re trying new things, we’re trying a pen pal system, or we might do an introduction over zoom, and then they start perhaps creating a, a Padlet together, which is an online program.


Dr.Seth Goldsweig (07:22):
So we have to look at it at new ways. You know, I think another challenge is we have some kids who are learning in class and some kids who are learning at home and how do you meet the needs of everyone at the same time the teacher are finding it very it’s time. It’s really hard to be there for, for so many different people. And I think so part of it is trying things and as I said, failing miserably, and I think that’s an important part of the learning process. Part of it is just getting used to the routine. And part of it is sort of giving teachers the space to, to know that I support them and that , you know, I can only ask you to try as hard as you can. I can’t ask more than that. And so if if they’re trying things and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, you know, hopefully they know that that that I, I, I support them.


Dr.Seth Goldsweig (08:12):
And as long as we just keep trying to, to meet everyone’s needs the best of our ability, then we’ll, we’ll get there. It’s not the same as being in person. But, but there’s a, a certain understanding the times are different. So there’s a flexibility that, that comes on, you know, and I think the, the other piece is, is the things that make school amazing outside of the classroom mm. Where it’s clubs, sports teams, field trips and, and those rethinking how we’re doing them. So we, we thought figured out a way to do student council. So that’s gonna come back. Some of our field trips now are virtual field trips. There’s a definite loss. You know, we have kids in grade eight who are, you know, ready to be the stars of the basketball team or the hockey team. And, and it’s a loss for them that, that they’re not able to do that. And, and so some things we don’t have answers for, we’ve not yet figured out how to create a basketball team to compete against other schools. But we’ll, we’ll keep working at it.


Sam Demma (09:04):
I had a conversation with another educator who said, maybe this year, we just do e-sport tournaments and play against other schools on PlayStation or Xbox. And I thought it was a pretty unique idea, but it, it takes out the physical aspect of it. And a kid who may have been dedicated to basketball’s whole life. Maybe I didn’t play video games, and isn’t a good online eSports gamer, but so many unique ideas. You have kids hanging pinatas and building iron man suits. What, what can you share in terms of a story? I’m sure you have dozens over the years. What, what can you share of a story where a student has been impacted by something you’ve done in the school? And maybe it’s totally changed their life and education. Oftentimes we don’t even know the impact we’re having until 10, 15 years down the line. And they write us this letter that we keep in a folder on our desk. Have you had a story like that of a student and you can change their name for the purpose of this podcast? The reason I’m asking you to share is because an educator might be listening, who’s a little burnt out and lacking hope. And I think it’s those stories that remind us why education is so important.


Dr.Seth Goldsweig (10:14):
So I had a unique opportunity. I’ve been out of the classroom for 10 years mm-hmm and last year we had a need for for some, for some teachers. So I went back into the classroom and I was speaking specifically when we went online. So from April, till the end of the year, I was teaching grade four classroom. So on top of it being the highlight of my day I got to connect with the students in, in in a different way that you don’t get to as an administrator, as an administrator, you’re sort of over, you know, you’re trying to oversee the whole school and making sure everyone’s safe and happy, but you don’t develop those personal relationships that you do if you’re the classroom teacher. So along the way we read, you know, I’ll share sort of a general thing, I think about the class, but then some feedback a student even gave to me that, that I think I didn’t even realize it had an impact.


Dr.Seth Goldsweig (11:02):
Hmm. So in terms of the overall students, you know, I, I, I want my kids to be creative and, and explore, and we had read a story and they had to show the ups and downs of the main character in a way that, that worked for them. So one of them is into baking and he created, created a sheet of brownies and then showed the ups and downs to the icing that he did on, on the brownies that he took pictures and presented. It was amazing. Another one we, we, we played around with a program called Flipgrid. And so she made a video where she did like spoken monologue. I, I gave 10 minutes as the time limit for the video and that wasn’t enough time. So she had to do two videos where she went through the whole story just spoken model.


Dr.Seth Goldsweig (11:45):
It was incredible. Other students, you know, created posters and, and other students like created these Lego cities to show what they did and they spent hours and hours on it. And so, you know, I hope that for all of my students, you know, I was able to help them find a love and education and, and finding their own voice in these projects and, and feeling that they put in their time and express themselves in the way that that that sort of meant to them. Now, I also had a policy where you, if students didn’t do great on the first try, I would give feedback and say, you know, here’s, here’s what I think you need to do to make it better. If you wanna do that, I’ll, I’ll take a look and give you a new grade. And I had one student who kept on doing that and she would say, you know, thanks.


Dr.Seth Goldsweig (12:27):
I really appreciate that. And, and this and that, and, and she would always take the work and the feedback and then send it back to me. And at the end of the year, she wrote me a letter and just said, you know I really appreciated the fact that you gave me a chance to do stuff second time and, and make it better. Mm. I felt like I learned and grew. And and that made, I don’t know, it made school better for me. So it’s not like an amazing life changing story, Sam, but, you know, I think that little thing kind of made my day. I didn’t even realize that that had an impact on her. And here she’s telling me that that one little policy I had was, was a very impactful experience for at.


Sam Demma (13:02):
School, small, consistent actions make the biggest changes. Right.


Dr.Seth Goldsweig (13:07):
Oh, I heard you say that. Absolutely.


Sam Demma (13:10):
That’s, that’s awesome. And when it comes to you know, bringing people in, you’ve been teaching now at the vice principal level for 11 years, how do you decide what specific types of messages to bring into your school, whether it’s in person or virtually you, you’re obviously very specific with the, the, the messages that you put in front of a young mind. So I’m curious to know there might be an educator listening who wants to understand that a little bit better, and maybe you have some insight to share?


Dr.Seth Goldsweig (13:39):
Well, in terms of messages that we bring. I guess, you know, we, it’s never something I decide on my own. We, we haven’t seen I would say one message that keeps coming back in terms of this current COVID time is we’ve been so overwhelmed by the resilience of the kids, the the commitment of the teachers and the appreciation of the parents. Mm. And so, you know, that that is a message that I want out there, you know, loud and, and clear like it, you know, there’s always, there’s always some issue here and there that we have to work through, but all in all, like the kids are just so happy to be back. They like every kid I’ve asked, do you like it better here with all the protocol for COVID or do you prefer to be at home, online learning every kid I speak to says that I’d rather be here wearing a mask so much better.


Dr.Seth Goldsweig (14:27):
Teachers come to me every day and say, can I try this? Can I try that this didn’t work. So let you know, maybe this will be better. They want it to be a good experience for the kids. They really wanna do everything they can to help make the, the experience better for the kids and, and the parents. I get emails on a daily basis that, that say we are beyond impressed with how hard you guys are working to try and make this possible. And so, you know, the appreciation also goes a long way. They’re in a way they’re sort of our clients, right. We’re trying to make them happy and give ’em a program that I am at a private school. So we’re trying to make a program that they feel good about that they’re happy about. So I, I guess that’s the main COVID message, again, the resilience of the kids, the commitment of the teachers and the appreciation of the parents.


Dr.Seth Goldsweig (15:14):
But then other messages, it has, it’s the same, whether it’s COVID or not, I mean, be a good person, be kind explore the world learn from differences. Have an open mind, have a growth mindset. Like the, these are all things that are common. Like we just want our kids in many, I, I, I say to teachers often, we’re trying to teach ourselves out of a job, right. We know we’ve done well. If we can set the stage where kids are, have the tools to learn on their own and that we’re on their side, maybe to guide them, but that really they’re driving the learning. And that takes a long to get there, but that that’s really our goal is to give kids the tools to, to learn.


Sam Demma (15:55):
Awesome. And if you could go back in time to your first year in education, but still know everything that you know now what pieces of advice would you share with yourself? There’s a bunch of educators listening who may just be getting into education, and this is their, or first year teaching. And they’re thinking to themselves, what the heck did I sign up for? what can you share with them through the years of, of, of accumulated wisdom through teaching?


Dr.Seth Goldsweig (16:24):
So if if you’re, if you see this as a job, you’re not in the right profession, mm-hmm, , it’s more than a job teaching the, the commitment you, you don’t go home, leave it behind you. And I’ve been reminded of that every day of my career. Mm-Hmm so that’s something that I, I would keep in mind and just, it would reinforce in me saying, well, you know, you’re doing the right thing, cuz you, you feel good about what you’re doing. Relationships, relationships, relationships, relationships, that is the most important thing in teaching have a in good curriculum is great. Having a cool technology that you use is great, but if you don’t have a relationship with the students, then it’s gonna be really hard to teach. And so that, that, that, that is sort of the, the main thing that, that drives everything else that I do.


Dr.Seth Goldsweig (17:09):
So how do you do that? You gotta get to know the kids, you gotta ask and learn new things about them. And I keep asking them questions about it. So that is certainly something I would, I would remind myself as a, as a new year teacher who has the wisdom of someone who’s been teaching for a long time. And then, you know, the final thing is every day is different. Mm. Every day is different. And that sometimes the different is great and sometimes the different is, is brutal. But you know, if one day’s bad then, well, probably the next day is gonna be great. And so just a, a reminder that you never, if you feel stuck, you know, you’re not gonna be stuck forever.


Sam Demma (17:45):
Yeah. You went as an educator, you’re the main character in that story that you shared in grade four and you’re gonna have ups and downs. Right. And that’s a good thing to remind yourself of often, Seth, this has been awesome. Thank you so much for taking the time to chat. If another educator is listening, wants to reach out to you, bounce some ideas around what is the best way for them to do so.


Dr.Seth Goldsweig (18:08):
What I, what do I do? Do I give you my email? Do I tell you the school that I’m at? Whatever, whatever works. My email is sgoldsweig@leobaeck.ca I’d have be, you know, more than joy to bounce ideas. That’s that that’s education, right? We keep, we keep learning from one another. And so the more ideas we have, the, the more positive we can do. Awesome.


Sam Demma (18:39):
I look forward to hearing about the finished iron man suit and more birthday parties in your school. Keep up the great work and we’ll talk soon.


Dr.Seth Goldsweig (18:46):
Okay. Thanks, Sam, take care.


Sam Demma (18:48):
Awesome. And there you have it. Another amazing guest, an amazing interview on the high performing educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review so other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show. If you wanna meet the guest on today’s episode, if you wanna meet any of the guests that we have interviewed, consider going to www.highperformingeducator.com and signing up to join the exclusive network, you’ll have access to networking events throughout 2021 and other special opportunities. And I promise, I will not fill your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Dr.Seth Goldsweig

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.