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Speaker

Joyce Sunada – Wellness Speaker, Coach and Facilitator

Joyce Sunada – Wellness Speaker, Coach and Facilitator
About Joyce Sunada

Joyce Sunada (@JoyceSunada) has over 30 years of experience as an educator. During that time she was a teacher, an administrator and provincial leader who helped create and support healthy school communities. 

During the pandemic, Joyce stepped away from presenting workshops for a few months to identify what was truly important to her. This allowed her to establish the Joyful Collective, a collaborative group of women who work together to positively impact the wellness of educators through virtual workshops. And this time away also provided an opportunity to create sustainable lifestyle practices so she can better walk her talk and support others.  

If Joyce could give educators only one piece of advice she’d say, “Take time for your wellness, so you won’t be forced to take time for your illness.”  

Connect with Joyce: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Joyful Endeavours

Joyful Collective

Joyful Reflections Blog

Canadian Association of Professional Speakers (CAPS)

Lethbridge College – Broadcast Programming and Production

Mount Royal University – Integrative Health Coach Extension Certificate

University of Lethbridge – Bachelors of Education

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. I’m super excited about today’s interview. I am having a conversation with my good friend, Joyce Sunada. Joyce has over 30 years of experience as an educator and during that time she was a teacher, an administrator, and provincial leader who helped create and support healthy school communities.


Sam Demma (01:00):
During the pandemic, Joyce stepped away from presenting workshops for a few months to identify what was truly important to her. This allowed her to establish the joyful collective; a collaborative group of women who work together to positively impact the wellness of educators through virtual workshops. And this time away has provided an opportunity to create sustainable lifestyle practices so she can better walk and she can better walk her talk and support others. If Joyce could give educators one piece of advice, she would say take time for your wellness so you won’t be forced to take time for your illness. Professional bio aside, Joyce is a wonderful human being. She happens to be a colleague of mine at the Canadian Association of Professional Speakers and that’s how we crossed paths. And I’m so grateful we had a chance to chat. So here’s the interview with Joyce, I will see you on the other side. Joyce, welcome to the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show. We’ve crossed paths many times, although you know, just recently at CAPS Calgary’s event we made a more deeper connection and I’m so glad we did. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit behind why you’re so passionate about the work you do today?


Joyce Sunada (02:12):
Well, thank you so much for having me Sam and I just wanna back up and say, you know, us reconnecting at the Calgary CAPS session was really cool. Like just you sharing your story and you being you; that’s an inspiration for me and I believe in inspiration for young people as well as educators. So first of all, thank you. Alright, so a little bit about me, as a kid, I have five, there’s six kids in my family, and as we were growing up, I’m a middle child. And I remember we had the wooden desks and I would always play teacher. It’s like, okay, you know, the little, little ones line up, do the work. I think I really enjoyed doing check marks. You know, it’s like, okay, this is great. And so I actually out of high school, I went into broadcasting and did a couple, I have a diploma in radio arts and thought I wanted to be a radio announcer and after much consideration and some late night news work, I decided to go into education.


Joyce Sunada (03:12):
Mm. I always, I would watch movies that, you know, where the teacher would the underdogs and bring them to life and make everybody successful. And I just loved that. And so that was my dream is how could I reach out and touch students in a way that could empower them to be the best version of themselves or to reach higher than they anticipated? So my journey went from rural Alberta, one who split up to Calgary teaching health and physical education, which is really my passion some classroom teaching. And then at a point I decided to become an administrator and I just dived full in. And at the same time, our three daughters were growing up in, you know, junior high and high school and I burned myself out. Mm. And so it caused me to take a step back and go, you know, what, what, you know, what am I doing?


Joyce Sunada (04:10):
And I believe in hindsight, like hindsight is 2020. You can take that from us, elderly people, Sam is I really just feel that in the place, I wasn’t a hundred percent sure I wanted to be an administrator. Like I love the hands on with the students. And that’s where, you know, I, I got my juice from, but I think I just gave so much. And I tried to please, so many people almost altering myself. I had this vision of what an administrator I thought should be. And so it didn’t fit with who I was now. I know I could be who I am and be an administrator, whoever, whatever I wanna be after the burnout. I, I was sent on a medical leave, which lasted over a year. And during that time had a chance to, you know, ground regroup reassess. And so then I would it back teaching part-time elementary F ed again, my sweet spot.


Joyce Sunada (05:05):
And so was part-time. Mm. Upon getting better, I was approached or had an interview with a provincial organization here in Alberta ever active schools and got a full-time position as a, I guess it’s like a provincial consultant. And then I got an to teach teachers about how to teach. And that was really exciting because now it’s actually probably the first time I really understood the curriculum because now I had to teach the curriculum who are gonna teach it. So it’s interesting how we learn what we most need to, we teach what we most need to learn. And after being with that organization for about four or five years, I started to feel that same kind of trepidation or, you know, the anxiety came back. And, and so I consciously made a decision to leave. I gave a year’s notice, took some coaching courses and then really started to get into the, the professional speaking.


Joyce Sunada (06:04):
When I joined caps, the Canadian association of professional speakers and learned how to build a business and become a better speaker. And the impetus for that was to help educators realize that it’s no important for them to take care of their own wellness because, you know, healthy educators help to educate healthy students. Yes. And we know from research that healthy students are better learners. And if we can ensure that the teachers, the assistants, the administrators, the students, that everybody is healthy, then we have a better impact on our future generations. So that’s where I am right now. I’m about to be a grandma. And so it’s exciting to go, okay, what will that world look like for him? And, and how can I support people to again, create that better future for our little guys,


Sam Demma (06:53):
First of all round applause for the future grandma moment. I’m curious to know, like, what does healthy look like? Does this, is there, like, how can we define healthy? Is it a certain amount of exercise that they should be doing? Is it taking care of mental health? Like, what does that look like?


Joyce Sunada (07:16):
That’s an excellent question, Sam, and I’m just gonna kind of dig in and go, I believe being healthy is being able to really live the life that you desire so that you’re able to move the way that you want so that your, your mental focus and your mental capacity is healthy. That you have a bigger belief than yourself. Some sort of spirituality doesn’t matter what it is, but for me, if we can take a look at all aspects of our life and I’ve just narrowed it down to those three and go, okay, I’m feeling good about who I am and how I’m showing up in the world. So it’s, it’s not a prescription. And when we talk about how much exercise and how much this and that I’ve, I’ve experienced and experimented life is an experiment and different stages. Like I love how, you know, at a time you were that high level soccer player and, and that’s what you, you loved. And that’s, that’s what you, my girls were high level soccer players too, which is so cool. And so at that time, you know, you require more activity. Maybe you need to more work on your mental game in order to get to that higher level that you want. So for me being held, I think at the core is really loving yourself too. Mm. And I know that that has been a journey for me. Yeah. And I’m going to venture to say that it’s a journey for a lot of people.


Sam Demma (08:48):
Yeah. I agree. I agree. And in that journey, you also discovered cycling. Is that something that you enjoy?


Joyce Sunada (08:55):
Cycling?


Sam Demma (08:56):
Yeah. am I correcting that?


Joyce Sunada (08:59):
I do. I do cycle outside. I mean, I’m not passionate about it. Yeah. And I do cycle, but


Sam Demma (09:05):
Okay.


Joyce Sunada (09:05):
I like to experiment. I like to do different activities and I like to, I like to dance too. There’s not much opportunity to dance, dance, you know, at dances. Yeah. But just, I I’m finding joy in moving and just for the sake of moving one of my colleagues, Doug, glad out of Edmonton, he says, you know, kids, don’t go up to the playground and go, I’m gonna do the monkey bars to improve my upper body strengths. And I’m gonna race you to increase my you know, my lung capacity. They do it cuz they love it. Fun, fun. It’s joyful.


Sam Demma (09:37):
It’s like, it’s a reminder to get back to being a child a little bit. Right. Yeah. When we bury all those things under responsibilities and expectations. I’m curious though, so someone comes to you as an educator, completely burnt out. What is the first thing you, you kind of teach them or help them with or ask I’m, I’m assuming it’s a bunch of questions, but like what would, what would you do with them? At the beginning,


Joyce Sunada (10:02):
Listen, the first and foremost is, is to really listen cause that’s their reality. And I remember being in that burnt out stage and it didn’t matter what anybody said there was just dark. Yeah. And so first of all, to wholehearted, listen, and then just watch, you know, where listen, where do they want to go? And how can I walk beside them? And everybody’s journey is different. And some of it might be the burnout often is not necessarily a direct result of the teaching. I I’m kind of going out on a limb, but burnout in my experience is more that there’s a lot going on and I’m making a circle with my hand because I do have them fill out a wellness wheel to just go, what areas of your life are kind of crashing down. So it might be spiritual or physical or financial or relational.


Joyce Sunada (11:01):
Right. And so we have to take a look at what they feel is kind of the weak spot and then go, okay, how can we step into that? Mm. And really focusing on, at some point when they’re ready is how can they love themselves? You know, we have, we all have really good friends. You, you talk about your good friends in, in your golfing adventures, in your podcast. And there are things that you would not say to your good friends that we say to ourselves. Mm. You know, maybe we did 50 great lessons and one was, you know, a disaster. And it’s like how that it was so stupid or what, you know, we go off on ourselves when I taught at the university of Calgary, some of my students would be like, like they were so afraid to make a mistake. Mm. And so I reassured them, you know, whether the lesson is awesome or whether the lesson lesson is, you know, a disaster you’re successful because you’ve learned something. Yeah. You’ve learned, this is great. And it’s like, this is how can I improve? Mm. And so back to the original question is just, is really listening, tuning into what they need and walking with them to where they wanna go.


Sam Demma (12:14):
Hmm. And you just brought up a great point, you know, and I think that every human being defines success differently. Right. And you know, sometimes we define success based on end results. Some other people define success based on what their capabilities are, what they’re doing in any given moment. How do you define success now? And if you could think back to when you were an educator and maybe even burnt out, how did you define success then? And are there shifts in those definitions?


Joyce Sunada (12:43):
Absolutely. Shifts. So I’ll just tell you a funny story. So I, I knew I was kind of going down. I had left administration and I was teaching grade five. And so I took the 30 kids out. We were gonna draw clouds for art. Nice. Now the purpose of drawing, the clouds for me was so I could go and lay on mother earth and just chill out cause I needed some TLC. Yeah. And so I tell the story, as I got 30 kids out, they had squiggles on their paper and they got, I got 30 kids back in that was success. Yeah. And people were like, oh my gosh, I can’t believe you did that. I can’t believe I did that. So, you know, in those lowest points, maybe success looks drastically different. Mm. Yeah. And, and with regards to success, we don’t always know.


Joyce Sunada (13:29):
I taught a one, two split here in Calgary. Oh my goodness. Probably to 20, some years ago, over 20, some years ago. And the kids live in my neighborhood and I happened to meet up with a mom one day we crossed paths and she was so grateful that I had her son because that was the early stages of identifying ADHD. And so I learned, you know, what his challenge as were, and I applied some of the skills to the whole class and it seemed like a lot of the children thrived. And so I didn’t know that was successful until 20 years later, but I would consider that a mark of success.


Sam Demma (14:09):
Got it.


Joyce Sunada (14:10):
Now success is, it’s really about owning who I am and, and I guess loving who I am and when I do a presentation or I, I coach people, it’s just knowing that I’ve done the best that I can do. And other people will have the experience that they have. And I, I can’t control that. So if I can go away and go, okay, you know, I, I did my research. I’ve prepared as best I can and put forward who I really am and then walk away. Not easy, not easy all the time. Yeah. But that would be my, my new definition of success and just that ability to live, how I really want to live and do I every day, absolutely not. You know, there’s days where I drag myself outta bed. And then there’s other days like today, I’m gonna talk to Sam. I better get, you know, I workout in and everything ready. Okay. Here we go. So, yeah.


Sam Demma (15:06):
Yeah. I I’m with you. I, I think that every person has those days. And if you don’t say it verbally, you’re lying. So it’s it’s true. I’m curious your coaching and your work has obviously shifted due to COVID and it’s definitely different navigating a world virtually than it is in person. Like, do you have any wellness tips or tricks for, you know, balancing life and work? It all feels like it’s one and the same. Like you, you leave your kitchen and you go to your office and it’s in the same, you just switch seats. Like it’s it’s kinda, it’s kind of bizarre a little bit, you know,


Joyce Sunada (15:44):
It is, well, you’ll notice I put on my bright pink top. Yep. Just for you, cuz this is an important meeting, right? Yeah. So little pieces like that separating, you know, work from home is like, this is my designated office and I do, I’ve got, you know, I’ve got some makeup on and I’ve got, you know, work clothes on during the day. I make sure that I get outside at least for a short time, I do have a, a small dog. And so if it’s a slow walk with my dog or it is a longer walk with a neighbor to make sure that there is some outside time and then too I’ve started if I it’s uncomfortable sitting for me for a long time. And so sometimes I will just go take my novel lay on my bed. It’s a, it’s just like, okay, so my body can totally relax, read a novel, you know, set a timer, maybe 15, 20 minutes. And that’s like, okay, back at, if there’s something else that I, I need to accomplish that day.


Sam Demma (16:44):
Hmm. Yeah. I love that. And you know, there’s numerous studies that show that walking for just 20 minutes a day reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease. And I think those are pretty convincing odds to take a short walk. So yeah, I love that. I think that those are all so important and you’re, you know, thank you for, for dressing up and showing up professionally. I appreciate you’re making me feel flattered. It’s it’s cool. So what does work for you look like now, are you doing a lot of presentations virtually if they’re educators listening to this thinking, man, my teachers are extremely burnt out. My staff are beyond exhausted. What does your work look like? For those you know, clients who might be interested maybe listening to this right now?


Joyce Sunada (17:30):
My work has morphed Sam. I came off of, well, okay. My work has morphed. I actually, before COVID hit was considering kind of maybe retiring, you know? Mm. And so when March, you know, everything fell off the plate, probably like a lot of things did for you. Yeah. and I did have a couple sessions in the spring, April, and then in the fall, educators were really trying to figure out, okay, what’s next? So, Nope. We don’t wanna hear from anybody at this time. And then November started to pick up. And so I actually reached out to a group of other wellness. I’ll call them wellness educators. Yes. So we created what we call a joyful collective, the joyful collective, one of the, one of the gals, she named it, the joyful collective. And so what we do is we come together, put our expertise together and offer that to schools or school divisions or jurisdictions the, that want to know more about how to be well.


Joyce Sunada (18:31):
And the, the really fun thing is that there are, I think the four out of the six of us are practicing educators nice. And the other two women, they help to support of course, with, you know, research and you know, tried and true strategies. So it looks more like a collaboration so that we can better support and serve the clients. And because I’m about to be at grandma. And right now my mom’s having some health issues that I’m supporting her with is I’m trying to walk my talk and go, this is what’s important right now. There’s a fear that, oh my gosh, you know, everything will dry up and go away. And people will forget about me and I’m trusting. I’m gonna feed trust instead of fear here that it’s gonna unfold, how it needs to. And so maybe it’s a, maybe it’s a bit of a break. Maybe I come back stronger in this moment, Sam, I really am not too sure, but I’m open to the possibilities.


Sam Demma (19:33):
I love it. And I love that you said you’re feeding trust because it is an option. And yeah, that’s something that is sometimes hard to realize, especially when you’re going through a tough situation, that we still have a choice. Right. you know, people always say it’s hard to see the frame when you’re in the picture. And I think that’s true specifically now more than ever as we all face various challenges and problems. This has been a fun conversation. Joyce, I really appreciate you sharing your stories and coming on the show. If someone wants to get in touch with you and maybe even just have a conversation, what would be the best way for them to get in touch and do so.


Joyce Sunada (20:11):
It would be to email me jklmsunada@shaw.ca.


Sam Demma (20:29):
Awesome. Joyce, thank you so much. This has been fun. Keep up the great work and I’ll talk to you soon.


Joyce Sunada (20:34):
Thank you so much Sam for having me. All the best with your work too.


Sam Demma (20:38):
And there you have it. Another amazing guest, an amazing interview on the High Performing Educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review so other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show; if you want meet the guest on today’s episode, if you wanna meet any of the guests that we have interviewed, consider going to www.highperformingeducator.com and signing up to join the exclusive network, you’ll have access to networking events throughout 2021 and other special opportunities. And I promise I will not fill your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Joyce Sunada

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.

Sarah Hernholm – Educator turned Entrepreneur, Founder of WIT

Sarah Hernholm – Educator turned Entrepreneur, Founder of WIT
About Sarah Hernholm

Sarah is a former elementary school teacher turned entrepreneur.  In 2009, she left the classroom to create WIT – Whatever It Takes. At WIT she works with t(w)eens around the world who are interested in using their voice and ideas to launch businesses, non-profits, and/or social movements. WIT also focuses on helping t(w)eens develop emotional intelligence, soft skills, and an entrepreneurial mindset. 

She has given 3 TEDx talks, a few keynotes, and one commencement address. When I’ not “doing WIT” I’m planning my next adventure, working on a new business idea, or spending time with my amazing family and friends. 

Connect with Sarah: Email | Instagram | Linkedin

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

www.doingwit.org

www.sarahhernholm.com

Camp WIT

Do WIT Podcast

From Victim to Victor | Sarah Hernholm | TEDxYouth@Austin

Authentic self expression: Sarah Hernholm at TEDxSDSU

Bravery: Commas, Not Periods | Sarah Hernholm | TEDxRBHigh

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 to the High Performing Student podcast. The number one resource for self development for young people. If you’re a student, athlete or youth entrepreneur, looking to crush your goals and reach your vision. This show is specifically for you. Each episode is engineered to provide you with the practical systems and strategies you can use to stay motivated, beat burnout, and ultimately make your dreams a full blown reality. And I’m your host, Sam Demma. Since the age of 17, I’ve spoken to thousands of youth across north America, and now I’m sharing the tools and strategies that will help you lay the foundation for future success. So grab a pen and a sheet of paper, and let’s go. Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Student podcast. Yes, you heard that right; The High Performing student. I know you’re listening to this on the High Performing Educator, or maybe you’re listening on the High Performing Student, regardless of where you’re listening.


Sam Demma (00:58):
I thought this episode applied to both audiences that I catered to. I have a second show. I have the High Performing Student podcast and the High Performing Educator. The High Performing Educator is geared towards people in education. The High Performing Student, geared towards students. Together, there is over 300 episodes. You know, if I combine both of the podcasts together over 50,000 downloads, I’m so grateful that you choose to take your time tune in and listen to this content. So thank you from the bottom of my heart. Whatever show you’re tuning in from, I’m super, super excited to share today’s interview with you. Sarah Hernholm is the founder of WIT(whatever it takes). Her story of getting out of a career and becoming an entrepreneur and doing amazing work and the obstacle she’s overcome and the people she’s met and the impact she’s making; all of it combined really inspired me.


Sam Demma (01:51):
And I was so impressed with her, her beliefs, her ideas, her philosophies, when it comes to life that I thought I should share this episode on both platforms. So I hope you enjoy it; have a pen and paper ready because you’re gonna take a lot of notes and I will see you on the other side, Sarah, welcome to the High Performing Student podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here today. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit behind the work you do today and why you even do it?


Sarah_Hernholm (02:25):
All right. Well, my name is Sarah, Hernholm. I am the founder of an organization called WIT(whatever it takes) and we help young people become leaders and entrepreneurs, specifically tweenagers and teenagers. We believe you’re never too young to start making a difference and that you’re never too young to be an entrepreneur. And so all of our programs and everything that we do is geared around that.


Sam Demma (02:48):
Why, where, why?


Sarah_Hernholm (02:51):
It’s why wit why doing entrepreneurship? I mean, I just feel that what kids are learning in school and I used to be a school teacher. So, and I do know that there’s great teachers. I was a great teacher and I know great teachers exist, but on average there’s not a lot of great, there’s not a of great teachers out there teaching real world skills and applications to young people. And I, I believe very strongly that if you really wanna be ready for the real world, then schools should be doing that for you and getting you ready for that. And if they’re not, then other organizations like mine need to exist until they get it together over there.


Sam Demma (03:37):
I like that. I totally agree. What, what do you think are some of the real world skills that are so important that we teach to our young people today or that you even teach at, you know, your own curriculums and schools?


Sarah_Hernholm (03:49):
Well, I think we need to be teaching financial literacy. I mean, you should be very clear on how to make a budget. You should know that how much things just cost and understand where that, that cost comes from. And then that’s very empowering when you know that information, cuz then you can know when you’re getting screwed over by something and then you got like, you’re getting a good deal. Like those kind of things. And then when you’re launching your own business, you wanna know what it’s gonna cost to actually run something. And all the things that go into that. So financial like real world application of literacy is really important. I like getting young people to grapple with, with ideas. And so that looks like, okay, you wanna solve this problem that adults have created, whether it’s climate change or homelessness or fast fashion, whatever the thing is that like you don’t like then start making changes and, and start creating an alternative and create a solution. And I love that. That’s what we do at wit is we really empower a young person to take the tools they’re learning at wit and then go do something. That’s why we say, do wit, just do wit yes, I know that is a little bit close to Nikes, just do it, but it’s just do WIT and that’s really our call to action to our young people.


Sam Demma (05:06):
And at what point in your own journey did you decide I wanna leave the formal classroom and start this organization and what prompted the decision to do so because even for a young person, making a decision to change paths is a huge one. Sometimes it comes with a bunch of difficult obstacles and the expectations of others like parents, family, and friends. And I’m curious to know what prompted your career change and what it looked like.


Sarah_Hernholm (05:36):
Well, there’s nothing like getting laid off everybody to make you start wondering what you’re doing with your life. And I was a teacher in California and in California, there’s something called last and first out. So the last teacher hired as the first one fired not based on merit, not based on the impact that you have on your, on your students, but solely based on your higher date. It’s ridiculous. It’s absurd. It’s I don’t know of any other business that would ever do that. So I was laid off four years in a row due to due to budget cuts. And so the fourth year I was like, what the hell is going on? I mean, it, it was like being in a dysfunctional relationship where, you know, you’re doing like everything you possibly can. I mean, I was a great teacher. My kids were scoring off the charts, but besides that, cause I don’t really care about testing, but I knew how to play the game.


Sarah_Hernholm (06:28):
I had really, we were doing really cool things. We were even getting pressed about what we were doing in the classroom and still I was laid off or I was told to stop doing those things. And you’re like, I’m doing everything I can. And I love this and I’m doing passion and heart and it’s still not enough. This is so dysfunctional. Like this is so dysfunctional. So the fourth year is when I kind of, I had a moment of ma I’m well, first of all, it’s really good to like know yourself. So I was like, I’m not changing. The I’m not changing. I know that I’m not gonna dumb down what, I’m, how I do my teaching. I’m not gonna change to make. I was once told to stop doing things that I was making other teachers look bad. And then now parents were complaining and they wanted me to change what I was doing.


Sarah_Hernholm (07:12):
And I was like, I’m not changing it. And so I knew I was not gonna change. And that’s actually a really good thing need to realize about yourself is like, just to know yourself and to know that where your boundaries are, what your limits are, what your and I was, I’m not changing. And so if I’m not gonna change, am I willing to go play their game? And I wasn’t willing to play the game anymore. And so then I thought, well, if you’re not gonna do that, you gotta figure what you’re gonna do. And so that’s, I started figuring out what I was gonna do.


Sam Demma (07:41):
There’s so much to unpack there. Like where does your confidence come from to not change? And the reason I ask is because I feel like society pushes young people, especially to change, to mold, to certain societal standards. You might have been a little older than a high school kid when you made this decision, obviously, but where does your confidence, where does your confidence come from to, to stand in your own power and decisions?


Sarah_Hernholm (08:06):
Well, I wanna be clear that I’m not always like that. Yeah. I mean, I’m gonna be doing something right now. I got a really big opportunity yesterday and my stomach is still uneasy about it because I’m like, oh my gosh, am I gonna be good enough? Am I worthy enough? He’s probably expecting like this and what if I can’t deliver? And so it’s normal to you. Don’t just feel confident all the time. I mean it’s, but I was very, very, very confident in my teaching abilities. I’m very confident in that. Like I just, that’s something that at, can I take you back on it and do better and will I learn new practices and do better? Sure. But no one can even like, come at me with me, not caring about kids or like wanting to help kids or doing everything I possible for a kid.


Sarah_Hernholm (08:55):
Like, it’s just, that’s this one area of my life where you just like you can’t, I, I wouldn’t even believe it. Like there’s other areas of my life where I feel insecure and I feel not enough. And I try to take the, the confidence that I have in this other area and how I’ve gotten that and try to bring that over there. But I just don’t want your listeners to think that I’ve all that that goes into every area of my life. I definitely have areas where I need to work more on or I get to work more on my confidence, but I, it was UN I was unshakable. I knew I was great as a teacher.


Sam Demma (09:27):
Mm. And then, you know, you mentioned as well, this idea that school’s a little bit dysfunctional in the fact that we think our self worth comes from our GPA. And you mentioned very briefly just now, you know, I don’t care about that. And I noticed on your Twitter, you even retweeted something from someone named Neil Sharma, who was basically saying like, oh,


Sarah_Hernholm (09:46):
He was in my,


Sam Demma (09:49):
OK. Oh, sorry, Nick. Yeah. and he was basically saying shout out to all the kids who felt worthless, that didn’t do great in school, but your greatness isn’t tied to your grades. And I wanted to unpack that because I wholeheartedly believe it as well. You know, you judge someone by their ability to do good in math when they’re they wanna be the next Picasso. Like, it just, it doesn’t make any sense. You’re judging them based off something they don’t like doing. And then you’re gonna tell them they’re a failure because of it. So I wanted to know your perspective on GPA and also how it relates to students identities and, and self-worth,


Sarah_Hernholm (10:22):
Well, first I’ll share that I was not an academically inclined kid. I, I was not somebody who, what like thrives in, in a hypercompetitive academic info. And I was sometimes put into those, I, I was very fortunate to have parents who were wanting to give me the best education possible. And so we went to some of the best schools and one of the schools, I went to three different high schools, and one of the high schools was a college prep school and very, very intense, very academic and very competitive academically. And I think it was twofold. One, I just didn’t, I just didn’t buy it. I guess I was a little bit like, all right. I mean, I don’t know if it was a self-preservation or defense mechanism, but it was a little bit like you kind of suck as a teacher if I don’t understand this concept, because why are you like making me feel about, I remember one teacher would make me go to the board and do the math problems in front of everybody.


Sarah_Hernholm (11:24):
And I obviously was struggling. And instead of getting support, it was like, I guess we’ll wait, or I guess we’ll have to wait before we can move on until Sarah and I. And then when I became a teacher, I was like, who the hell does that to a kid? Yeah. Like I, cause I thought, I think you think when you’re a kid that wants you, you become an adult. Certain behaviors will make sense. While I became an adult, I became a teacher and I could never have imagined doing that because shaming, your kid is only gonna make them like perform worse and also have zero trust. And if you’re like me, it becomes a little fight or flight. So I mean, I would send I one time like walked out of a classroom, I just like put the thing down and like walked out. I probably got in trouble, but it was more like, you’re not gonna get me.


Sarah_Hernholm (12:08):
Like, you’re not gonna let, you’re not gonna have this moment of me maybe crying in front of everybody or whatever. Like I, I, but that is silly that I had to learn how to survive. Right? Yeah. Like that, like that that’s ridiculous. So I, I didn’t wanna stay at that school. My sister was there and my brother was on his way there and they were more, they were, maybe it was a better fit for them. It just wasn’t a fit for me. I went to a public school for about, I went for happy year and then I ended up going to a boarding school where a lot of people that I knew that I, I would go to summer camp. And a lot of people from summer camp would go to this boarding school. And I ended up there and probably, I would say my best high, high school teacher, one of my best high school teachers was from there, my English teacher.


Sarah_Hernholm (12:50):
And she kind of went me into shape. I mean, I, I kinda came in a little bit like a punk. I mean, I, but definitely self-preservation a lot of like defense mechanisms up get given what I’ve gone through. And she pulled me out of the room one day and said to me, you’re better than this. And you’re better than that. And I was like, I am okay. And that was really powerful. So my high school journey was that three, three different high schools became better. Academically. My later in high school got motivated. I could get the grades if I was motivated by something, but it was very hard to motivate me. And, but if it was like a carrot, like, oh, you can’t audition for something or you have to have a certain GPA to participate in something that was creative or theatrical.


Sarah_Hernholm (13:42):
I was like, okay, all right, I guess I’ll start working now. But otherwise I wasn’t really motivated. Hmm. I understand why so many people are, are motivated by grades and adults owe young people a huge apology for creating this beast, which is that we have told you that if you get a high GPA, then you will get into the school of your dreams and you will be happy and that’s not true. There is no death or, or job or title that makes you happy. It can provide happiness at times, but it’s fleeting. It’s not consistent because life happens in all the places that you end up going to, whether it’s a getting a job or a school or a partnership or a boyfriend or girlfriend, they don’t make you happy. You can experience happiness. There, so they’re is a big lie that we’ve told people. And as a result of that, we’re burning out young people and we’re also getting them pretty dependent on some hard prescription drugs. Yeah. So I it’s really unfortunate, but you know if you really wanna look at things and wonder why things happen, you just have to follow the money. And a lot of money is made on young people believing the lie that their GPA determines their worth.


Sam Demma (15:07):
How do we break that cycle? Or how do we helps students realize that it’s, it’s not, it’s, that’s not where their self worth is attached from. Yeah.


Sarah_Hernholm (15:19):
I don’t, I’m surprised that it keeps perpetuating itself. I don’t have kids yet. And, but I would never pass that on. So I’m kind of confused by all of these adults who have, even who even have, who even got the GPA, got into the school, realized that didn’t bring them happiness, realized that they had to do their own work and like maybe even change career paths, why they would pass that on to the live onto their children. I think maybe they just want, I, I think I know every parent loves their kid. My experience has been as a teacher and working with young people for over a decade is that parents are doing the best they can, what they’ve got.


Sam Demma (16:00):
Yeah.


Sarah_Hernholm (16:01):
And I’ve never met no one. That’s not true. Most parents I’ve met wanna do better by their kids and give them more than they had. And they might just go about it in walk ways. But I think parents have to just stop drinking the Kool-Aid and being like, no, I’m not, I’m not doing that. I I’m not. And, and maybe this next generation, when they have kids, maybe they will stop the, the cycle. Who knows. I don’t, I just do. I just stay in my lane, do what I can with the work that we do, cuz otherwise it becomes overwhelming.


Sam Demma (16:40):
Yeah. I’m hoping that the next generation crushes that meaning like when I become a parent, when you become a parent, because I know firsthand that it’s almost like education was everything that my parents and grandparents knew because you know, they come to this country with nothing and get an education. What gets you, which gets you a stable paying job. And that gets you a, you know, a very average life. And so in their eyes, education is protection and safety and they wanna like, you know guard you as your, as their, as their child or grandchild. Right. But I think we’re starting to realize that there’s so many other paths to a stable life that don’t just involve your grades and whether or not you get a 92 or a 72, you can still create a stable life and a great life after high school or post-secondary.


Sam Demma (17:27):
I think I’m curious to know, you know, I remember when I decided to take a break for my university studies, I dropped outta school after two months, you know, my parents looked me in the eyes and like, what are you gonna do with your life? I told them my dreams. And I said something along the lines of, and I didn’t say these exact words, but in my passion and in my description, I basically was saying, I’m gonna do whatever it takes. And I’m curious to know in your perspective, what is doing whatever it takes mean to you. And can you give us like a story or an example of a situation in your life where you’ve been told? No, because from your Ted talk, I know as an entrepreneur, you’ve been rejected hundreds of times. Yeah. So gimme some stories. What does it mean to be, what does it mean to do whatever it takes to you and gimme some stories or examples of how you’ve done it in your own life?


Sarah_Hernholm (18:14):
Okay. I’ll tell everybody that. So the name of the company that I started is called wit whatever it takes when I started it was called wit kids because I was gearing it towards elementary age. Got it. And the name came because when I was in teacher, my classroom motto was whatever it takes. The reason it be the classroom motto became, whatever it takes is because one day, and this is my first teaching job. I was teaching fourth grade in a trailer because the CLA the school was under construction. We didn’t, I didn’t have a classroom. And I was in a trailer and I was in heaven. I was so excited to start teaching and get my classroom. I mean, I was, I, I was loving teaching. I don’t know how in, how long into the first year this conversation happened, but it was probably pretty early on.


Sarah_Hernholm (19:04):
And a kid came in and they hadn’t done their homework. And I said, and I, when I always did my homework, I may not have liked school, but I always did well. I mean, I I’m gonna always, but I mean, homework was it wasn’t optional, especially elementary school. Are you kidding? I mean, my parents were still guiding me then. And so it was quiet time after school. Did you get your homework, play your sports? And I was really surprised. I remember being really at how casually. He said he didn’t do his homework. And I remember being like, why are you not concerned? Cause I’m concerned and you’re not.


Sarah_Hernholm (19:40):
And I was like okay, well you need to do your homework. Like, it’s part of your grade HES. Like, oh, okay, well I didn’t do it. And I said, well, why didn’t you do it? And without even like blinking, flinching, anything, he said, I was watching the Simpsons. And then I was even more like, are you kidding? Like you don’t even, like now you are even like, I mean, props tea for being so honest, but also like do not see a problem with this, that you were watching like a cartoon. And I said, you know, really the tip to everybody when you really wanna go like one way in a reaction, maybe it’s like more of an extreme reaction or anger or frustration lean into curiosity because that will keep you more present. So keep asking questions versus having like overreaction. And so I said did your parents like know that you’re watching?


Sarah_Hernholm (20:31):
And he said, oh yeah, we all watched it together. And so then I thought, interesting. So you have, in that moment, it was like, oh, well, the reason he didn’t think he’s doing anything wrong is because he’s doing it with his parents. Mm. And then I asked, did your parents know you had homework? Yes. Did you tell them it was done? No. And I’m thinking like just processing in real time. And I thought, oh, and I knew what demographic of kids I was teaching. I was clear on the school and the demographic and the situations of a lot of the kids. And I thought, oh, they’re gonna, this is gonna be different. Like, they’re not gonna, they don’t all have the same kind of support that I had growing up, which was sit down, do your homework, show me, it’s done. Put your folder in the backpack.


Sarah_Hernholm (21:16):
Right. Which is pretty, that’s a lot of like parenting, like a lot of like monitoring you. Yeah. And so that night I stayed late at, in the classroom and I wrote on butcher paid, I painted on butcher paper, whatever it takes, put it on the, the wall of the right above the chalkboard whiteboard in the front of the classroom, in front of the trailer. And then when they came in the next day, I said, this is our classroom motto. And we do whatever it takes. If it means you have to take your body and like put it in the other room, your homework, that’s what you do. And we do that because we love ourselves and we want, we, we have big dreams. And so I really tried to make it feel like, of course you wanna do whatever it takes because we do whatever it takes because we love ourselves so much.


Sarah_Hernholm (22:01):
And we have a, we, we believe in ourselves and we, we have goals and dreams. I didn’t wanna shame anybody. I didn’t wanna make it sound like we have to do whatever it takes, because you know, sometimes you get crappy family situations. It’s like, no, like nobody wants to, like, that’s not empowering. And that I still have that butcher paper and that, that sign and that when I went to different schools, like that was the motto. And so then when I left teaching and started my new thing, I thought I wanted to combine that. So that became wit kids then to wit then to do wit doing wit and I, I, it’s not whatever it takes to burn yourself out. It’s not about doing whatever it takes. And like I’ve hustled so hard. And so I, I only sleep one hour a day, no, whatever it takes about creating the life that you really desire and you need sleep for that life. And so do whatever it takes to get eight hours of sleep, do whatever it takes to move your body every day. It’s not a beat down, cut a corner, whatever it takes, it’s an empowering, whatever it takes.


Sam Demma (23:09):
I love that, that such a empowering story. And sometimes doing whatever it takes is sending a tweet to Gary Vee and then responding four years later and hopping on a podcast with him. Right. So that


Sarah_Hernholm (23:23):
So that was so random.


Sam Demma (23:25):
Well, you know, I think, and Gary Vee highlighted it in that conversation with you, he said, you know, it’s so important. You go into interactions, figuring out how you can give as opposed to ask. And I think that that’s such an important thing to keep in mind when we are chasing our own dreams and goals. And I’m curious to know your perspective on that and has it played a big role in your own entrepreneurial journey?


Sarah_Hernholm (23:47):
Huge. And I think it really played into why I got this big offer that I got yesterday. Opportunity yesterday is.


Sam Demma (23:54):
One second. You’ve mentioned it twice now, is it like private? Or can we like so light on yeah, it’s, I’ll tell you.


Sarah_Hernholm (23:59):
Offline, but it just happened. And so, but it’s just really timely because it’s around feeling a little bit inadequate and scared and, and that’s all really good stuff. It means you care. Yeah. And it’s on my mind and I’m gonna be working on this presentation after we have this call and this hangout. And I also feel like a, that the opportunity came due to me. It, I, of being focused more on like gratitude and, and giving. And what I mean by that is I’m really, really big on gratitude and what that looks like. It looks like I’ll just walk you through a situation. If someone’s gonna come be a guest at wit and speak to our teens. So we have something called wit Hangouts and we have them every week. And we bring in different CEOs, celebrities, entrepreneurs, we leaders, and they come in, they spend an hour with our teens for free and they share their stories.


Sarah_Hernholm (24:50):
And it’s an interview similar, like what we’re doing right now, but the kids can jump in and ask questions. And we do this because one, I believe that you should surround yourself with those who have gone before you and learn from them. And I also do this because that I expression your network is your net worth. I mean, and I think how cool is it to be 15 or 16 years old and already be connecting with John shoe? Who is this great director? And one day you wanna be a director. And now you’ve had a hangout with John talking about crazy rich Asians and in the Heights. And so I just really believe in that. And so we, I make the ask for someone to come and I share what, you know, I share the opportunity. And a lot of these, these people are like people that have met along the way in my life, but I thank them before they come.


Sarah_Hernholm (25:38):
I send a message saying, thank you in advance for making the time tomorrow to come to this hangout. We’re so, you know, just expressing the gratitude. And then during the hangout, a very essential part of the hangout is the last part of the hangout, where the teens write in the chat on zoom, their takeaways in their gratitude, because I’m wanting them to learn the value of takeaways and gratitude. And not only that, when I, I will call on a teen and say, oh, Emma, do you wanna read your, she didn’t take away. Emma reads it. And then she sees Dave’s face re like receiving that gratitude and being like, oh my gosh, like that really made him. And then the person says the speaker’s like, oh my gosh, like, I’m so glad that, that you, like, it resonated with you and I could help. And there’s this exchange of like, oh my gosh, just being, you can visually see the power of gratitudes. Then after the hangout, we’ve screenshot all the gratitude that the kids wrote. And then we send an email to our speaker and say, thank you. We thank them again. And then we say, and here are the GRA the gratitude and takeaways from our students that you can have time actually reading them and digesting them. And like, knowing that you really made an impact today.


Sam Demma (26:45):
Hmm.


Sarah_Hernholm (26:46):
Let me tell you, no one has done that for me. And I speak all over the place.


Sam Demma (26:51):
Yeah.


Sarah_Hernholm (26:51):
Now, are they wrong for not doing it? No. But when you do something like that, you stand out. And so this, this, we had a guest yes. Yesterday, and this person came and spoke and, and it was great. And I was like, oh my gosh, I really want this person to help me on my journey. They’ve gone. They they’ve gone before me. They are so like far along and I would love to work with them. And so I had a lot of asks I wanted to make, but I thought, no, the move right now is just, is gratitude. And, and, and sending the thank you email with all of the screenshots. And then they wrote me back and said, we wanna do something together with you. I


Sam Demma (27:38):
See.


Sarah_Hernholm (27:38):
And like, whoa. And I just, and receiving of that. And like, I’m really grateful. But I’m also, the other thing that I did was I got off that hangout and I wrote a thank you note to that. Person’s assistant an email because that person booked it and made it happen. And I also wrote a thank you email to the person who had introed me to the assistant, because both of those people were essential for me to get this star on. And I also think that people forget who helps them get there. And I will, I will. I know what it’s like to be the assistant. I used to work in Hollywood. I was an assistant to celebrities. I mean, you like, people don’t always treat you well, but you’re also the gatekeeper to these people. So it’s always so interesting. It’s like, so you just don’t wanna forget who got you, where you’re going or act like you got there all by yourself. And so, so gratitude appreciation. Those things are just really key for me. Give more than get it’s a tough thing though. It’s a tough thing to teach, especially to a demographic of young people who are fighting for limited spaces at colleges. And so they kind of feel like they don’t wanna share the spotlight. Yep. But I always remind them that there’s enough to go around.


Sam Demma (29:05):
So true.


Sarah_Hernholm (29:06):
There’s just enough to go around.


Sam Demma (29:08):
And I think, you know, you highlighted also within that response, the underrated value of just being a kind human being, like you’re not being a kind human being calculating like, oh, I can get this. If I say, thank you. Or please, it’s like, no, it’s just the right thing to do. It’s the kind thing to do. But natural by being a kind person like the world opens up for you, you know, in ways that you didn’t imagine, you didn’t do it to get things right. You do it to get things. But you did it cuz it was the kind thing to do. Like I, I, you know, I, there was a golf course near my house that me and my buddies just started playing at and I made an effort just because I thought it would make it funer to talk to the person behind the window who I was paying.


Sam Demma (29:52):
And I found out his name was ed and he he’d worked there and it’s his course for 25 years. And he was so happy to tell me all about his course. We finished the nine holes. I over, I thanked him, told him how much fun we had and he looks at me and he’s like, Sam, is this your first time playing here? I’m like, yeah, like this was an amazing experience. He’s like, go play it again for free. I told my buddies, they were like, bro, let’s go nine more holes. They’re super excited. Now I didn’t, you know, talk to ed and get to know ed, you know, so that I could ask him to play nine more holes, a golf, but it just, it just, it just happened. And I feel like that’s, you’re right. It’s such a hard thing to teach. And something, sometimes nothing ever comes from it, but it’s, it’s just a, I think it’s just the right way to go about living our lives. I agree. Yeah. So kindness is underrated. Don’t forget the at. Yeah.


Sarah_Hernholm (30:44):
And Gary, V’s really big on that. So a lot of that is you, if you follow, I mean, find people that you wanna follow that you wanna have on your, when you’re scrolling, but Gary is very big on gratitude and kindness and patience and all of that. So it’s good to have that always as a reminder.


Sam Demma (31:01):
Yeah, I agree. And if PE wanted, like to know more about your group I know Emma’s a founder of the sweet spot. I think that’s who you’re referencing have been some research. Yeah. If people wanted to find out more about your group, learn how they could get involved. Is that something that’s still open and, and accessible? Like tell me more about it.


Sarah_Hernholm (31:19):
So people can get involved in a variety of ways. If you’re, if you are, are a high school student, you can take college credit classes that you can then transfer to the university that you end up getting into. Cool. You can also do classes, not for credit. You can be part of WIT community, which is the members only online community of young entrepreneurs who get to go to those Hangouts and meet those people. Those, the applications are ongoing. We have fun things that we do like camp wit happens during the summer. And that’s competitive cuz I like a good competition. It’s healthy, nice and compete for some money for your business. I’ve never met an entrepreneur who doesn’t want money. So it’s really hard for young people to get access to money for their businesses. And so we try to find creative ways to get them in the arena so they can pitch and win some prize money. And if you’re an adult and you happen to be listening to this, or then we have speaking opportunities, mentorship opportunities, and we even are now letting people pitch us, adults pitch us the class. And course that they wanna teach are wit teens. And then if we like that class and course we will hire them to come in and teach that class.


Sam Demma (32:33):
Awesome. Very cool. And if someone wants to connect with you online or reach out to you directly, what would be the best way for them to do so?


Sarah_Hernholm (32:41):
Well, most of my handles I think are @miss_WIT. That’s, I mean, you can DM me. I mean, I’m on Instagram. I don’t have a ton of followers, so it’s not like, I’m like, oh, I won’t see your message, I’m getting hit up all the time. So yeah, you can find me there and then that’s probably the best way.


Sam Demma (33:03):
Cool. Awesome. Sarah, thank you so much for taking the time to chat about WIT and your own journey, time’s flew by. I really appreciate you doing this and maybe we could do a part 2 in like, you know, six months or a year from now. Totally. Yeah. I hope you, the listener enjoyed this, and got something from it as much as I did and let’s stay in touch and keep doing great work.


Sarah_Hernholm (33:25):
Thank you for having me.


Sam Demma (33:26):
You’re welcome. And there you have it. Another amazing guest, an amazing interview on the High Performing Educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review so other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show; f you want meet the guest on today’s episode, if you wanna meet any of the guests that we have interviewed, consider going to www.highperformingeducator.com and signing up to join the exclusive network, you’ll have access to networking events throughout 2021 and other special opportunities. And I promise I will not fill your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Sarah Hernholm

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Connect with Paul Devuono: Email

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Catholic Principals Council of Ontario (CPCO)

St. Anthony’s Separate School

Bruce-Grey Catholic District School Board (BGCDSB)

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:01):
Paul welcome to the high performing educator podcast. Pleasure to have you on the show here today. Please start by introducing yourself.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Paul Devuono

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

Mark Brown – Assistant Principal and Author

Mark Brown – Assistant Principal and Author
About Mark Brown

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

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

Connect with Mark: Email | Instagram | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Choose To Be You

Mark’s Personal Website

Oklahoma Christian University

Virtual Pep Rally Ideas to Boost School Spirit

Hardball

Google Forms

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):
Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. Welcome to season number 2. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. We’re continuing to have this year, amazing conversations with educators all around the world and I’m super excited to introduce you to today’s guest. Today we had the pleasure of interviewing Mark Brown. Mark is a high school administrator and he’s passionate about helping educators and students to live their best lives.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Mark Brown

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

Doug Primrose – Leadership Teacher & President of President of BC Association of Student Activity Advisors

Doug Primrose – Leadership Teacher & President of President of BC Association of Student Activity Advisors
About Doug Primrose

Doug Primrose (@djprimrose) is currently in his 23rd year of teaching. He has been at Yale Secondary for the last 15 years, and teaches Student Leadership and Law 12. He was Chair of the BC Student Leadership Conference in 2015, and Co-Chair of the Canadian Student Leadership Conference in 2019.

Currently, Doug serves as the President of the BC Association of Student Activity Advisors.  In his spare time, he coaches rugby at Yale Secondary and the Women’s team for Abbotsford Rugby Club.  In 2020 he was nominated for the Abbotsford Hall of Fame in Coaching Category. 

Connect with Doug: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Yale Secondary School Website

BC Association of Student Activity Advisors

Canadian Student Leadership Association (CSLA)

Canadian Student Leadership Conference (CSLC)

Abbotsford Rugby Club

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 Doug Primrose. He is currently in his 23rd year of teaching. He’s been at Yale Secondary for the past 15 years and taught student leadership and law 12. He was previously the chair of the BC Student Leadership Conference in 2015, the co-chair of the Canadian Student Leadership conference in 2019, currently the President of the BC Association of Student activities and Advisors, and he also coaches rugby at Yale secondary and the women’s team for Abbotsford rugby club.


Sam Demma (01:15):
He’s actually selected in, in 2020 for the Abbotsford hall of fame in the coaching category. Doug has a wealth of knowledge to share when it comes to student leadership and coaching, and I’m so excited to give you some of that knowledge today in this episode. So enjoy, and I will see you on the other side. Doug, 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 of context behind how you ended up doing the work you do today in education?


Doug Primrose (01:47):
Yeah, so I went to high school here and grew up in in Abbotsford BC and I’m a teacher here at Yale secondary School, and I actually graduated from the same school here that I, that I teach at. So I was at a few other schools in between, but yeah, so growing up, I didn’t have any intentions of being a teacher at all. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. I think like a lot of kids, they kind of graduate and not really quite sure and just try to get the feel of things. So, so I traveled for a few years and then kind of got back into it, worked a few different jobs and got back into it by helping one of my mentors; when I was a kid, a teacher who had a big influence on me and I started helping him coach rugby. So I really enjoyed it and he, he kind of said, you know, why don’t you go through and be a teacher since you seem to enjoy it and that’s kind of what I did. So I started a little bit later than in most, I guess, but glad I did.


Sam Demma (02:44):
That’s amazing. Take me back. You said, right when you finished high school, you traveled for a few years. What, tell me more about that. Where did you trave; like where did you go?


Doug Primrose (02:54):
Not all at once, but just yeah, different trips. So I’d work for, you know, a while. And then I take off and go backpack for like four months, like, you know, around Europe and nice and places like that. And, you know, went down to the states a little bit. And so just kind of did that where I work and then travel and work and then travel and, you know, with some friends and, and then, and things like that. So, and then probably right around 22 or so, I started working more full-time and then going to night school. Nice. Just to start chipping away at some classes. And before going back to school, full-time to be a teacher


Sam Demma (03:31):
And the teacher who you helped coach. Tell me more about that person, where, where you said they had a big impact on you. Like, what do you think they did specifically that, that made a big impression on you? Like why were you drawn to that one individual?


Doug Primrose (03:46):
Well, I think a couple things, one is he just always had time for us as, as students and you know, we, we saw how much work he put in and, and we saw how much he cared about us and, you know, we, we could see that as kids and you know, he was my rugby coach, but also my PE teacher. And and he had a lot of patience there’s times when we I’m sure let him down as kids. And but he, you know, got us to learn from it and and never, never really kind of gave up on us and, and, and kept, kept working with us. So, like I said, I wasn’t really too sure what I was gonna do after high school, because I was you know, I wasn’t the best student. So I really university to me wasn’t even something that was entering my mind, but he, he encouraged me and said, this is, you could definitely do it and just put your mind to it. And so, yeah, he was just one of those guys that, you know, all the students really liked a lot because of how involved he was in our kind of school culture.


Sam Demma (04:48):
Ah, that’s amazing. I I’m just, I wanna zero in on him a little more just for a second if that’s okay. Because I feel like, you know, the people in our lives that have a big impact on us, like we can learn from them as well, you know? Like so when you say, you know, he always made time for the students, what did that look like? Was it just setting aside time to have conversations? Like what did that look like back when you were in, in, in his school?


Doug Primrose (05:10):
Yeah, for sure. And time for conversations somebody could go, go to if you had any kind of issues and he would always have the time for you. Just the amount of work he put in as you extracurricular activities you know, through coaching and somebody who was just always involved. And and he didn’t, he was one of those teachers back in the day when you know, there’s all these different types of groups in the school, like social groups and, and every, everyone just really liked him. Like he really crossed all different groups there. It wasn’t just the sports guys who liked him or, or this it’s just every, every, he just had time for everybody. And you know, I think we just really, you know, were drawn to that and just just the amount that he cared for for students and, and always wanted to try and go an extra mile to, to help them out and understood also that sometimes students aren’t at their best during certain times, and there’s growth there’s growth moments, and he would take the time to help you through these things and not quickly just judge you and, and kind of write you off, you know?


Sam Demma (06:18):
Yeah. No, it’s so important to make sure that someone feels seen and heard. Right. And then listen to what they’re saying. Yeah. Take me back to when you were, you know, 22, 23 and you know, you come back from traveling and working full time and you get this opportunity to coach the rugby team. Like how did, how did that all come about? Did he approach you? You are, are,


Doug Primrose (06:38):
Yeah, so he, he did approach me. He you know, it’s always nice to have extra help when you’re coaching teams and you know, I would always come back and visit him after high school. Like when I was back in town or I had some time I’d come by school and, and then he, he’s just said, Hey, you know, I’m on my own this year. Coaching, coaching rugby, and could really use some help. So if you got some time it’d be great if you could just come by and, and gimme a hand. And, you know, I was a little bit more mature then at, at, you know, 22 or so. So there’s enough gap between me and the students as far as getting them to, to listen to me and stuff. So, so he had me come back and I just helped them out. And then I just carried on from there and help them out pretty much every year from there on out until I started teaching myself,


Sam Demma (07:23):
I know sports was also a big part of your own personal life, you know, playing rugby and yeah. And, and, and sport world. Do you find a correlation between coaching and teaching and do you think there’s some skills you’d learn from coaching teams that apply in the classroom? And I’m just curious if there’s, like you think there are some intersections between being a teacher and, you know, being a coach.


Doug Primrose (07:41):
Yeah. I think for sure you know, just preparation for one thing to to, to prepare students for a game or to prepare, prepare students for, for different things in your classroom. So making sure you’re prepared the relationship component you know, really get, and to know your students and getting to know your players. Mm. You know, the, the saying is, as a good coach has to make sure they understand how each player is motivated and treat them all kind of differently. Right. Yeah. And depending on their personality, well, it’s similar in the classroom. You gotta kind of get to really know your students and, and kind of what works for them and what doesn’t. And so I think there’s definitely some correlation there. And then I think also just that I think I came into teaching with a lot more confidence because of the experience in talking in front of big groups and, and you know, getting kids attention and things like that. So I think it definitely helped me with all the experience I had outside of the classroom, in the, a coaching world before I became a teacher. I think if I would’ve gone in straight outta high school, without that experience ahead of time for me, I don’t think I would’ve been as successful at it, at least not at the beginning.


Sam Demma (08:52):
Yeah. No, it makes a lot of sense. That’s yeah. That relates to my experiences with sport. And I can say that I, I think sports add so much and whether it’s playing in a physical sport or just engaging in any hobby, you know, playing music or doing something you know, besides the classroom work, I think it really adds to your, your character and your reputation, you know, building skills and move being on past high school. Yeah. Which is awesome. Your own educational journey. So, you know, you, you start coaching with this teacher you’re doing night school classes. Yep. At what point did you start teaching and bring me back to that first year, what did that experience feel like?


Doug Primrose (09:32):
Yeah, so I eventually did my, you come sorry, somebody’s just coming through that’s okay. I eventually did my practicum and then I I did it here at the school at Yale, and then went into my first year I was doing I actually worked in a severe behavior program. They called it, got it. So that was a program for students that weren’t available or weren’t allowed to go into any other school in the, in the city. So these were kids that had a lot of different needs. So you know, were, there was a lot of the kids had some real substance abuse issues and some real family problems and things like that. So I spent my first three years there and that was really great experience especially kind of being in my first, first job.


Doug Primrose (10:20):
I had a guy who I worked with was who had some experience that you know, also really helped me out a lot as a first year teacher and kind of showed me the ropes that way. And you know, going to see what some of these kids were going through. I think really kind of helped me throughout my rest of my career, putting things into perspective and understanding that you know, there’s, these kids come to school and some of them have a lot of things going on in their life that that we just don’t know about. Right. Yeah. So that was my first experience. And yeah, it was great. It was the school, I would’ve probably stayed in there, but the school ended up going, turning into a middle school. Mm. So it went down to grade six, so they, they moved the program somewhere else. So


Sam Demma (11:02):
Got it.


Doug Primrose (11:02):
Then I went into to another school Robert Bateman, secondary, and I was there for five years and, and taught some law and social studies and and it was great, great experience as well. And then I’ve been at Yale here now for, I don’t know, I think it’s like my 15th year or so. Now’s here student leadership that’s and student leadership in law 12.


Sam Demma (11:26):
Nice. Yeah. That’s amazing. And yeah, you know, thinking back to that first year, you intrigued me when you started talking about the different things that students ha can have going on in their lives that, you know, as educators, you might not even know about out of all the students you met over those three years, was there any transformational stories, you know, of a student, you know, really struggling and then getting to a, a more positive place? And the reason I ask is because I think at the core of, you know, an educator’s passion for teaching is the ability to positively impact a young person, right? It’s you have this ability not to, you know, change a student’s life, but to plant a little seed in them that they might water themselves, you know, three, four years from now, and you can have a huge impact. So were there any stories of transformation? It might remind another educator are listening, why this stuff is so important, why teaching is so important, and if it’s a very personal story or like very serious, you know, feel free to change their name or use a random name just to keep their identity in.


Doug Primrose (12:25):
Yeah, we had a, we had a few actually you know, just a quick one that comes to mind is does Derek, he I, the way we got him into our program was we have a, we had this thing called the Husky five back in the day, and it was a five kilometer run that the whole school would do. I think some students probably do like a Terry Fox run or milk run or things like that. So we had the Husky five, and then when you finish the finish line, they had a table there and they would hand you a freezy when you finish on. Well, all of a sudden this kid comes ripping through, on his bicycle and grabs a handful of freezes and just starts pedaling. So we kind of you know, chased the kid down a bit and, and, and said to him, Hey, you know, would you go to this school?


Doug Primrose (13:07):
And he’s like, no, I don’t go to school. I’m, I’m not allowed to go to school. And so then we started talking to him a little bit and found out that this kid had gone to school in like three years. And he was I think grade probably about grade eight age. And the reason why he wasn’t going to school at the time, was he the only way he could get there by taxi. And I guess he assaulted the taxi drivers multiple times. So they refused to drive him anymore. So we ended up figure things out with social workers and things like that. And we got him in there. And I think just with the right structure, the way the program was for him he did fantastic. And he, he ended up starting where he would only come and see us once a week.


Doug Primrose (13:49):
And then he went to half days, and then he went to full-time where he was also in some other classes like PE and our, and things like that. And anyways, we would have the kids up until they were about 15 or 16, and then they would carry on to the other school after us. And about two years later, he sent me well, he phoned me, phoned me in my classroom when I was working at Bateman. And and let me know that he was graduating tonight and just wanted thank us for, you know, getting him back in school. And yeah, so he, and he’s done quite well. He’s actually a, a DJ now. And I keep in touch, keep in touch with him through social media. And we’ve got a few of those now where I’m still in touch with him, thanks to social media and you know, the kid there’s some now are, have kids of their own and you know, have good jobs and, and are doing quite well. So I think that that grade eight to 10 period in their life was real tough for them. And they could kind of go one way or the other there. And some of them definitely chose the wrong path, but some others we were able to really help out and get them through that hard part when they just needed to mature a little bit more to get them through the next chapter of their life. So, yeah,


Sam Demma (15:06):
That’s an amazing story. I’m, I’m sure the, the emotions come bring true. And you feel ’em again, when you talk about it, probably it’s a, yeah, it’s a cool, it’s a cool example. And it’s, you know, it’s one of millions of, of stories that educators share with me every time I chat with them. And I think what’s really cool to think about is, you know, these are the stories that we know of, but there’s so many more that, you know, they never tell you the impact you made. And it’s there though, right? It’s still, it’s still real and it’s still there. You just might not hear about it.


Doug Primrose (15:36):
Yeah, we, and we had a very supportive school. It was atmosphere junior. It was called at the time. And, you know, it was it was very supportive you know, administration, which is important. And they really wanted to see these kids succeed as well. We had another student he started playing rugby and we ended up going on a tour to UK. So we went over to England and Wales and did a rugby tour. And there was absolutely no way that this one student who was in our program could ever afford to do anything like that. So the school was able to help him out and he was able to go on this rugby tour for two weeks and we were billed over there and he was bill with families. And you know, the, for a chance for this kid, who’s probably barely been outta Abbotsford to all of a sudden going on a trip overseas to, to London and Cardiff and all these great places. And the billet families had the nicest things to say about the way he, you know, his behavior and his politeness and, and everything. So it’s just nice to be able to see, you know, those kids get those opportunities that, and he probably has never been anywhere since. Right. Yeah. So that was just a big, cool experience. And the school was really able to help him out to be able to do that trip. And you know, it’s, it’s, I think that’s just so important for, for some life changing type things.


Sam Demma (17:00):
And, you know, when we’re thinking about students in the classroom as well how do we make them feel seen, heard, and appreciated? Like what can we do as educators to make sure that they feel like they’re a part of the classroom can community? Is it, yeah, I’m just curious. What are your thoughts?


Doug Primrose (17:17):
Well, I think the biggest thing is, is a relationship. And that’s what I always tell, like student teachers that work with me is the, they can teach you all the different tools in in your university classes about classroom management and seating plans and all these different things. But the number one that for classroom management and is just building your relationship with your students, cuz when the students respect you and like you and enjoy being there, then then there tend to be a lot better behaved and they seem to be more engaged. So I think the big thing is relationship and I, one of the thing I always try and one thing I always tell student teachers is try to make sure, you know, one thing about every student in your class. So whether or not I know that this student he plays baseball this student she does dance every night this student you know, they have sibling that I had two years ago and blah, blah, blah.


Doug Primrose (18:12):
So, so I just try to make sure I know something about them. So when they come in you know, I can say, you know, Hey, how how’s it going? Did you guys have a baseball game last night? And that’s all of a sudden you have that conversation. And I think that’s just really important to try and make sure to know them and then they, they appreciate that, I think as well, that relationship part. So, and then if they do have some issues, then they might be more inclined to open up a little bit more if they have that relationship with you.


Sam Demma (18:42):
Yeah. There’s, there’s a gentleman named Jeff Gerber. You probably know him. He’s like, you know, I know Jeff. Yep. He always says the biggest ship. I think the biggest ship in leadership is a relationship. Yeah. And I think it’s so true, you know, it’s, it’s so true. But on that topic of leadership, I know a couple years ago, you know, you guys hosted the Canadian student leadership conference billed, you know, close to a thousand students from different, you know, areas, what was that experience to like doing that and hosting it and you know, bring me back to that moment.


Doug Primrose (19:16):
Yeah. It was amazing. It, obviously it was a ton of work and some stressful times, but it was absolutely an amazing experience. So the planning starts about two years ahead of time. So we put the it in for, for us to be able to host it and we hosted it here at Yale secondary, but it was a school district hosting. So it was the Abbotsford school district that was the host committee. So we had students from all the different high schools in Abbotsford bepi leaders. And then we had teachers from all the different high schools help out as well. Administrators, teachers, EA everybody kind of chipped in. But yeah, it was a huge undertaking. But the week that we put it on, it went really smooth lots of good preparation. And the biggest thing was our team.


Doug Primrose (20:07):
We had an amazing team of, of staff that volunteered tiered their time to put this conference on and, and volunteered many, many hours. You know, if you think like we had, you know, one person, his job was in charge of building, finding bill at homes for 750 students. You know, we had another person, her job was to put a committee together to, to feed a thousand people every single day and a, a in a quickly manner. You know, we had a sponsorship committee who they went out and found sponsorships and it was mostly you know, it was retired teacher or retired principals some, also some people from the community and they just all jumped in and, and really took on and did a great job. So we had just an amazing team. And that’s what I really learned was, you know, there’s no way we could have done this without the support from everybody who who chip in and, and so much of their own time away from, from school.


Doug Primrose (21:07):
But I think one of the reasons everyone was so happy to volunteer was they just saw the value of it and what it, what it did for kids and the memories that these kids would have would be a lifetime a memory of this conference that they helped put on. So I think it was just a real, like I’ve had some of the teachers who’ve taught for over 20 years, to me, that that was the, the most, you know, enjoyable and the most satisfying thing they’ve ever done as a teacher was being part of that conference and the putting it together. So, yeah, it was it was great. Unfortunately, it was the last one because until, until they start up again. But it hasn’t been one since because of the co with stuff, but


Sam Demma (21:48):
Hopefully soon, hopefully I’ll see you at one of them.


Doug Primrose (21:51):
Yeah. They’re gonna, they’re gonna be doing an online one I believe in September. Okay. And then they’re hoping for 20, 22 to go back to, to live


Sam Demma (22:00):
Nice. Oh, that’s awesome. Very cool. And you know, the current situation you alluded to it with COVID is it’s been pretty challenging and, you know, you think are some of the challenges schools are facing and maybe some of the challenges that even your school has faced since the, the whole thing unfolded in March.


Doug Primrose (22:18):
Yeah, it has definitely been challenging. And I think us leadership teachers even have a bit of an extra challenge because you’re, you’re really trying to maintain school culture and maintain that positivity around the building. And it’s very difficult to do when a lot of your functions are getting canceled and grad is getting canceled and, you know, it’s tough to kind of keep these kids positive and motivated and still wanting to do things. It’s you know, I have my grade 12 class going on right now in my grade 12 lead class and, and you know, you’re here talking about, okay, what can we do to, to do some CU, some culture events to have some fun. And then they find out that day that their prom just got canceled. Right? Yeah. So it’s, it’s very difficult. But you know, the students, they persevere and they handle it quite well.


Doug Primrose (23:10):
They, they carry on and, and hats off to them. As far as challenge in our school, it’s just, you know, I know every province is different, but with us in BC right now, we’re not allowed to mix at all. So you have to stay in your own class, which is your cohort. We have a three hour class in the morning and then nothing in the afternoon, so we don’t have a lunch hour. So we can’t do any events during that time. So we’re like for an example, right now we’re planning a pep rally for Thursday. Obviously, you know, our school’s quite well known for its pep rallies and how crazy they are, but this one’s obviously gonna be a lot different. So we’re doing some, some virtual stuff, some games that we can do virtually in their cohorts and put some videos together, some fun videos and, and that, so we’re still trying, and we’re trying to make things go.


Doug Primrose (23:59):
We, we always have a big singing competition here every spring. It’s called all, and we’re still gonna try and do that. We’re just gonna have to do it different. And that’s kind of our saying this year is we’re still gonna do it and we’re just gonna do it different, love it. And but one thing that we have done, I think a good job of this year is we’ve, we’ve done some really good things in the community. And that’s one of the things that the students have done a little bit more of is, is just reaching out to the community. And one thing that we did, which was pretty cool is they, they applied for these grants that the city of Abbotsford and the community foundation put together for COVID. And how can you make people in the community?


Doug Primrose (24:44):
Basically how, how can you engage with them during COVID time and communicate with them? So my students applied for these different grants and they all got approved and they, they started doing pretty cool things like one group. They put together these little care packages for kindergarten students where they get a t-shirt and some decorating things, decorated shirt. And so they gave those to all those students. They took you know, some care baskets down to ambulance drivers, fire police, all the first responders and did that. So they did some things for our, we have a, a teen kind of outreach type program here in Abbotsford. And they put together like little toilet tree bags and stuff to give to the student the kids in the community that might need those. And, and we’ve got out and done a lot of different things at the parks and cleaning up and just outdoor activities and stuff like that.


Doug Primrose (25:42):
So we we’ve been finding some pretty meaningful things to do. And, and I think part of that too, is like with me, one of my things with teaching leadership is I, I really want the kids to come up with their stuff and I really want them to be the ones to do it, and they take ownership over it because when it, when it works out, which it, you know, usually does the the, the, they feel so much more gratifying to them because they’re the ones who really put this together. So when they applied for those grants and they all got approved you know, they were pretty excited cuz they’re the ones who did all the work to put that grant together. It wasn’t me. Yeah. you know, when they go and deliver stuff to the Abbotsford police and Abbotsford, police puts a thing on their Instagram, thanking the Yale leadership students for, for what they did, you know, you can just see that they feel so great about about that because they’re the ones that did it. It wasn’t just me doing it and telling them to do it. They came up with it all. And I think that’s one of the important things when you’re talking about you relationships and stuff is let you know, let the kids are pretty good at at coming up with some great ideas. They’re better than I am during COVID coming up with ideas. So we get them to, so,


Sam Demma (26:55):
Ah, that’s awesome. And I feel like when you give someone more responsibility, they, they feel more part of the group or community, right. Yeah. If they feel useless or like they’re not doing anything, they might not feel like contributing or, you know, using their creative ideas. So I think it’s a, I think it’s a great thing to do. If you could take


Doug Primrose (27:13):
And, and that’s sorry, that’s a, that’s a big part of our program is the community part. So we talk about like pep rallies and stuff like that, but even a non COVID year, we do a lot of community stuff and I think that’s really important. They, they enjoy that just as much as they enjoy the, or maybe even more the stuff that we do in school. Because they don’t think they, a lot of times kids want to do things and they want help and they wanted that, but they just don’t know how to go about doing it. Yeah. So you just kinda steer ’em in that direction and then they get into it. Now, the other great thing is, is when students graduate from here I still see them doing things in the community, volunteering, putting together nonprofits into their adulthood, which is pretty, pretty great because that’s something that they did here at the school that they’ve carried on. And


Sam Demma (27:58):
Yeah, it was like a launchpad here.


Doug Primrose (28:02):
Yeah. Yeah. It’s great.


Sam Demma (28:03):
And if you could take me back to year one year one, Doug, and speak to your younger self with all the wisdom and knowledge you have. Now, what advice would you give yourself? If you could have that conversation?


Doug Primrose (28:16):
Oh man. I, I think my, my problem was when I went through school and stuff, I, I don’t think I really had the confidence. And you know, it wasn’t, I think school was just so different back when I went there wasn’t as many opportunities and you know, like I think like if I had a class like my leadership class or other leadership classes that are out there in the, at all these different schools I think it would’ve been really good for me cuz it would’ve kind of got me to come outta my shell a little bit and have a little bit about more confidence. You know, a lot of the things I did when I was a kid I didn’t do things in class because I was just, you know, worried about maybe what people would think of me or maybe I just felt like I wasn’t gonna do a good enough, so I just didn’t do it at all. Right. so my advice to me would be like, get involved, get more involved in, in school activities and more involved in extracurricular activities other than just play a sport. And, and yeah, just have that confidence to kind of put yourself out there a little bit and move more.


Sam Demma (29:27):
That’s great advice. I, I feel like I’d give myself the same advice as a student. If I could go back cuz I, you know, like yourself, I only played soccer. You know, I was wanted to be a pro soccer player. I didn’t get involved in student leadership, student council, no extracurriculars. The only thing I did was play on the school soccer team and you know, play soccer outside of school and it, if it didn’t relate to soccer directly, I didn’t do it. And I feel like it limited me slightly. And so I think your advice ring shoe, not only for, you know, younger Doug as a teacher, but also, you know,


Doug Primrose (29:56):
Oh, sorry. I thought you meant me as a student.


Sam Demma (29:58):
No, that’s okay. I


Doug Primrose (30:00):
Was sorry. I was one back to my younger Doug as a student younger Doug as a teacher. Yeah, I, I, the thing is, is my first, my first job I was telling you about yeah. Was just so different, different, it was not really like a teaching type job. It was more like a management type job where you’re managing all these different kids and got it. You’re dealing with, you’re dealing with social workers and, and outside agencies and, you know, like the actual teaching part was was not you know, a whole lot. It was more just kind of you know, building those relationships with those kids and things like that. So I think that would be a big part of it. You know, get work on those relationships a, a bit more like right from the start. I think I learned that from the teacher I worked with he did a really good job of building relationships with those kids.


Doug Primrose (30:51):
Nice. I think also I think I, it took me quite a while to get involved in a lot of the extracurricular stuff. Like I did coach rugby. Yep. But I didn’t, I wasn’t involved in a whole a bunch of other different things that were going on in the school in my first few years. So I think get involved a bit more, but yeah, sorry. I thought you meant when I was in high school there, but because I definitely didn’t get involved in much when I was in school. And if I think I could do it again, I think I would try to be more involved in the activities that are going on in the building.


Sam Demma (31:21):
You and I both. I, I appreciate you sharing it. It doesn’t hurt to get advice from both perspectives so I appreciate you sharing both. Well, this has been a great conversation. If, if someone is interested in reaching out to you and chatting more, what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you?


Doug Primrose (31:37):
Yeah, they could just you know, send me an email or it’s on our school website; Yale Secondary School in Abbotsford. Awesome. but yeah, it’s it’d be great. It’s one of the great things about our leadership community that I’m in here is that we all just you know, from right across the country, we all kind of know each other and talk to each other, and get different ideas and, and bounce ideas off each other. And especially for those new leadership teachers or new teachers in general for them, don’t don’t hesitate to, to reach out to some of the people that have been doing it for a while, and we’re always willing to help out and do what we can. And, and I tell you, I, I learn so many, every time I go to these leadership conferences, I learn so many ideas from the from the new teachers. Because they got a whole different kind of perspective, and especially with COVID now I’ve learned a whole bunch of new technology things that that I, I, I couldn’t do before. So apparently you can teach old dogs new tricks.


Sam Demma (32:38):
Hey, don’t call yourself old yet. Awesome. Doug, thank you so much for coming on the show. I appreciate it. Keep up the awesome work and we’ll stay in touch.


Doug Primrose (32:48):
All right. Thank you very much.


Sam Demma (32:49):
And there you have it. Another amazing guest, an amazing interview on the High Performing Educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review so other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show; f you want meet the guest on today’s episode, if you wanna meet any of the guests that we have interviewed, consider going to www.highperformingeducator.com and signing up to join the exclusive network, you’ll have access to networking events throughout 2021 and other special opportunities. And I promise I will not fill your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Doug Primrose

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.

Suz Jeffreys – Stress Management Consultant, Tai Chi Instructor & Certified Nutrition Therapist

Suz Jeffreys – Stress Management Consultant, Tai Chi Instructor & Certified Nutrition Therapist
About Suz Jeffreys

CEO Wellness Founder Suzanne Jeffreys, MS in Education, helps high achievers stress less, power up and create more balance in their lives. Want to look and feel great, work/volunteer smarter, and have plenty of time for family and fun, but not sure how? As an international Speaker, Fitness Professional, Tai Chi Instructor and Certified Nutrition Therapist, Suz teaches the self-care and stress management strategies you need with her signature Harmony of Body & Mind Method. 

Developed over 25 years, this unique system blends moving meditation, ancient Tai Chi principles, and her love of all things fitness, food and nutritional science. Suz offers keynote speaking, health coaching, corporate consulting, live classes and online courses. 

Suz and her husband Bob live in beautiful Estero, Florida. She has 3 kids, 4 stepkids, and 7 grandkids. Quirky facts: Suz loves Thai food, good wine, stand-up paddle boarding, horses, rescue dogs and beautiful beaches! Are you ready to stop trading your health for your lifestyle and impact? Find out more at Suzjeffreys.com or www.TaiChiwithSuz.com.

Connect with Suz: Email | Instagram | Linkedin

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Bank Street College of Education

The Health Sciences Academy

Suz Jeffery’s Personal Website

CEO Wellness Blog

Tai With Suz

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. I’m super excited to share with you today’s interview with Suz Jeffreys. She has an Ms in education and she helps high achievers stress less, power up, and create more balance in their lives; in your life. The reason I was interested in bringing Suza on is because I thought her ideas, her philosophies, her practices, her teaching could help you stress less power up and create more balance in your life.


Sam Demma (01:07):
Want to look and feel great, work and volunteer smarter and have plenty of time for family and fun, but not sure how? Well, as an international speaker fitness, professional and Tai Chi instructor and certified nutritional therapist, Suz teaches the self care and stress management strategies you need with her signature harmony of body and mind method. She has been doing this for over 25 years. She has three kids, four step kids, and seven grandkids. And here are a few quirky facts about our guest here today. She loves Thai food, good wine, stand up paddle boarding, horses, rescue dogs, and beautiful beaches. I hope you enjoy this interview as much as I enjoyed recording it. There’s a moment where she literally takes us through a breathing exercise. So get ready, be in a quiet place while you listen today so you can get the full benefit of this interview. I’ll see you on the other side, enjoy. Suz, welcome to the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show all the way from Florida on this beautifully bright morning, both in Pickering and where you’re from. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit about how, a little bit behind the reason why you’re so passionate about the work you do in education?


Suz Jeffreys (02:23):
Yeah. Thanks so much, Sam, for having me on, I love your vision. I love your energy and your mission, and it’s just very cool and quite an honor to be interviewed and spend the time together. So for those of you who don’t know me, my name is Suz Jeffreys. I’ve been an educator my whole life. I’ve worked with everything from three year olds who had learning disabilities all the way up through 98 year olds and fitness. And the best thing for me about being an educator is helping people to become more empowered by helping them learn and ask good questions. So whether I’m teaching Tai Chi, which I’ve taught for 27 years, or I’m teaching water aerobics, or I’m teaching stress management techniques now; working with younger, old, it’s just a privilege to help people be empowered to change their own lives with good education.


Sam Demma (03:06):
I love that. And I’m curious to know what led you down this path. You know, it’s funny people all often tell me that was such a great speech. And in my head, I’m thinking to myself, sometimes I give the advice I most need to hear. And I’m curious to know if you had a stressful experience in your life that let you down this path, or if not, what did, was it an educator or a calling? Like, how did you decide this is what you wanted to do?


Suz Jeffreys (03:29):
Such an insightful question, Sam. You’re so young to me that insightful. I love that. Yeah, actually. Yeah. So my original I’ve had several different chapters in work as an educator. I began to be a first grade teacher. I studied in college my last year to be a first grade educator because I studied political science. I really wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. And I was putting myself through school and I was working full time, just like supporting myself. And I became interested in power and why some people take advantage of others and small groups. You know, I worked as a waitress called waitresses back then in New York city. And some people were nice and some people were not so nice. So that question expanded to why are groups of people kind to each other and not, and why are some groups of people more easily taken advantage of?


Suz Jeffreys (04:14):
And I was looking at first third countries, I was looking at indigenous populations first in the ruling class. And what I really found out Sam, it was kind of a mindblower was that people who couldn’t read or couldn’t ask good questions were the most vulnerable people. Mm. Because if they couldn’t read what was written or understand what was being said, or ask good questions, you know, really questions that would really reveal the answers that were meaningful, then there was so much more vulnerable to being manipulated. So I was like, Hey, all good. I know what I’ll do. I’ll become a first grade teacher and teach young children to love, to read and love, to learn and to love to ask good questions. So that’s really where I started, but then the story continues on from there. Cause I’ve worked with a lot of different people and several different actually as well.


Sam Demma (05:04):
Okay. So when you say that you make me even more curious, what do you mean several different species and, and how did that lead you into Tai Chi and the work you do with, you know, moving the body?


Suz Jeffreys (05:13):
Yeah. Great, great question. So a picture, this, I was a first grade teacher. I had two children was married and then when my two kids were really, really little, we were divorced and that was a very healthy decision for all all included. And the issue was I had like no money. I didn’t have a teaching job yet. I had finished my master’s degree, had a lot of school debt was struggling to find a first grade job in New York did find one. It was great. Cause I went to a great college to get my master’s degree. I had a great student teaching experience, but you know, back then in that year, which was oh, 30 years ago, like the job market was tight. Yeah. So I finally got a job. I was super excited yet. It was very challenging because I didn’t have very much money.


Suz Jeffreys (06:00):
I was paying for child support or childcare. Pardon me for two kids like babysitting for two kids, my child support wasn’t coming in. And I was like stressed the max, I’m kind of a, I can do anything kind of person. Like, let me add it. I’ll take it on. And yet I was super stressed out and overwhelmed and, and I, there was this one class. I could take my kids to where I bartered with the, the martial arts school in town. And I had no money for lessons, but my, my youngest really, really, really wanted to be in, in martial arts since he was like two. So I made him wait until he was four, but my youngest and my eldest seven and four took them to the community, martial arts school, all about building camaraderie and teamwork and supporting each other. It was a great school and cheering with all the parents on the side.


Suz Jeffreys (06:45):
But one day I was trying to hide tears while everybody else was cheering because I just hit rock bottom. That day. I’ve been struggling at that point for two years to support my children and to work hard. And I loved teaching, but I was working way too many hours with my teaching job. Plus also my part-time tutoring gig. I had started on the side to bring in more income. And honestly my kids were in daycare a lot more than I liked. And that day everything kind of came crashing down because the one treat I could afford for my kids and I saved up all week was to take them after clung Fu class on Fridays to get a slice of pizza. Mm. Back then remember like 30 years ago, 25 years ago pizza was a dollar, a slice and I would save up $2.


Suz Jeffreys (07:30):
They, they could each have one slice. I didn’t have any, we had ice water. That was it. But that was the big deal that day though. I didn’t have the $2 Sam. I did not have $2. And I felt like such a failure. And my biggest disappointment was that I was gonna disappoint my kids and I didn’t wanna do that. So I was trying to hold back, tears, sitting on this hard feature. Everybody’s like cheering. I’m just really trying not to cry. I’m literally praying for a sign. Cause I’m like, God, I can’t do this anymore. I’m working like a hundred hours a week. My kids are in daycare too much. Nothing is changing. I’m trying everything. I need a sign. What should I do differently right at that moment? And this is nuts right at that moment. I hear this soft music walking down the hall from the classroom, just down the hall.


Suz Jeffreys (08:17):
So I’m curious, I get up and I follow it. And I peek in the door and there’s all these people moving together in this beautiful, slow motion flow to this beautiful music was just mesmerizing. And I was peeking in the teacher, saw me, which I was like, ah, didn’t wanna interrupt them. And she’s like, come in. So I go in and pretty soon I start flowing with them and class went on for maybe five more minutes and I felt different. I began to breathe again. I felt my shoulders just sink and drop evident. They’ve been way up here. I was so stressed out. Mm. And I was just fascinated that I, I found out it was called TA Chi and it was all an ancient martial art to help to for self defense, but also distress less and balance better. And I was, oh, I was like, oh my gosh. That was amazing. And that moment my kids came running in. God’s honest to, they come running and mommy, mommy, guess what? Our best friends wanna take us all out for pizza? Can we go with them tonight?


Sam Demma (09:24):
Wow.


Suz Jeffreys (09:26):
Got it. That was my sign. Yeah. So I arranged with the school to bar with my Tachi lessons. And, and then honestly, in a couple weeks, everything began to shift in my life. I’ve things started to flow more easily. I was struggling less. I was feeling more centered. And honestly, even my kids told me, like, it was more fun again. They’re like, mommy, you’re smiling again. And that almost broke my heart because I didn’t even know. I hadn’t been smiling. I had no clue. Then within a couple of weeks, my tutoring business took off money was coming in. It’s like everything changed. And I took that as a sign Sam and I decided I was supposed to share this ancient TA Chi series of principles that helped create more balance in life with everyone. So I committed to a five year program to become a certified Tai Chi instructor. And I’ve been teaching in Taichi ever since,


Sam Demma (10:19):
Even to different species.


Suz Jeffreys (10:21):
Yes. Well, that’s where that comes in. So few years later I have, I get remarried. I have another child and I had the opportunity to leave my first grade job, which I love, but I was ready to have more time with my kids, still tutoring and had low spare. I loved horses as a child. And then I saw this flyer at my vet’s office for a horse rescue. They needed some extra money and they needed some extra hands. I’m like, ah, I love horses. Maybe I can help. I have a little extra money now. So I got involved with this organization and pretty soon I adopted one of the horses. Nice. And she was very traumatized. She’d been very abused. And I was looking for someone who could help train her to help her be calm and safe. Also, excuse me, to be rideable one day. So I found this horse whisper. If you ever heard that term, it’s like horse whisper named Bob Jeffries. And I couldn’t believe it. I went to watch him work with this one horse who again, not my horse. I was checking out first.


Sam Demma (11:20):
Yeah.


Suz Jeffreys (11:21):
And without touching this horse in about 10 minutes, he had this frantic terrified horse calm and centered, and he never touched the horse. Mm. It was all Tai Chi. Now, Bob didn’t know that at the time it was all flowing with energy and shifting energy and being very ground and centered and breathing now as a horse whisper, he had no idea. He was actually implementing ancient TA Chi principles, but the horse responded. I saw it and I’m like, okay, I’m supposed to do that work. So for 15 years I became a horse whisper. I became the centered riding instructor. And I went from teaching children in the classroom to teaching horses and people to bring out the best in each other.


Sam Demma (12:02):
I love that. That’s such a phenomenal story. And like what a, what a way to see the sign, you know at a moment, your life where you needed it the most. And it makes me think about the hun, the hundreds of people who might be stressed out in their life right now. Like if there’s an educator listening, who’s in the exact same shoes you were in, you know, maybe super stressed out, working so many hours per week to make sure their kids feel safe and, and healthy during this crazy time in the world. Like, what do you think their first steps should be? Like, what would you advise them to do? What would you advise your younger self to do maybe, you know, a week before you saw the signs?


Suz Jeffreys (12:41):
Yeah. So first of all, I wanna say, thank you to everyone. Who’s an educator. It’s the work that we do to serve can often be underestimated by others. Yeah. And often go unappreciated. And in those moments, it’s so important to remember why we do this work. Whether you teach first grade, like I did, or you teach high school or you teach something else completely like fitness or movement, whatever it is that you teach. Thank you for doing that because that’s how we make the world a better place, right. To share our gifts. And in response to your earlier comment. Yeah. Sam, usually we end up teaching what we need to learn the most. No doubt. I went from stressed out to much to understanding how to manage my stress and protect my energy. And for those of you who are teachers out there, or students or parents whoever’s listening, I I’d love to give you just some simple tips that you can use right now, anywhere.


Suz Jeffreys (13:35):
Anytime, if we want to let go of stress, tension, anger, fear, whatever’s just exhausting us and depleting our energy. We can always go to our breath and think about it this way. Our breath is literally biomechanically speaking. The easiest way for our body to release tension. Tension is an important to be aware of tension, anxiety, stress, fear, because they burn up our life, energy, our Chi, which is what she means in TA Chi, life energy. And then the philosophy of Tai Chi. The only cause of death Sam is that you’ve used up all your Chi, like you run out of gas. So we need to protect our Chi and to make sure that we don’t let it get wasted by things that are not important, or we can’t change. So stress, fear, regret. We gotta let ’em go. And the easiest way to do that is with the focus on her breath. So if y’all wanna do this with me, it’ll just take a minute and you really can do this anywhere. If you’re sitting sit up tall and relax your shoulders back, take your left thumb, place it gently in your belly button and layer Palm on your abdomen. And then your right hand on top. We’re gonna take a few moments to focus on our breathing in, through the nose, to fill our hands and out through the mouth, to empty


Suz Jeffreys (14:55):
Into the nose, to fill and out through the mouth to empty. If you like, you can close your eyes. That’s how we do it traditionally. But if you prefer, you can keep your eyes open, softly, gazing out. It’s something easy on the eyes, breathing into the, and out to the mouth. Listening to the sound of your deep breath Sounds a lot like the ebb and flow of waves on your favorite beach. And as we breathe deeply in this manner, you’ll fill your hands, filling up and emptying out. Our hands are on top of our center. It’s two to three inches inside our body. And we inhale to fill our center in exhale empty. We’re breathing deeply down to our center of gravity center of balance And center of power. We’re breathing deeply to relax the body, quiet the mind, and smooth out the energy. So whenever we feel stressed out anywhere, anytime I’ll invite you all, I’ll invite us all to just take 10 deep breaths, enter the nose so we can hear the sound of our beautiful breath And out through the mouth to empty. We inhale to fill up with positive energy and we Exel a let go of anything. That’s not serving us. Inhaling joy in


Suz Jeffreys (16:43):
Exhaling, anger, out, breathing balance, and Breathing, chaos out, breathing centeredness in breathing stress out. Let’s just do three more deep breaths together, breathing in and out In and out last one, together, breathing in and out, filling up with the good stuff and let going, letting go of literally anything that does not service the breath is powerful. It’s a beautiful tool we have at our resources that are accessed anywhere. Anytime. Just really a matter of realizing the potential for releasing stress powering up and balancing better. It all begins with the breath. We just have to remember to do it and to give ourselves the time it for a few deep breaths.


Sam Demma (17:52):
Hmm. What is tie? If she is life energy, what is, what is tie?


Suz Jeffreys (17:58):
I love that. So tie is grand ultimate.


Sam Demma (18:01):
Okay.


Suz Jeffreys (18:01):
Grand ultimate. And she can be can be translated in several different ways. It can be grand ultimate life energy. It can also be grand ultimate way.


Suz Jeffreys (18:13):
So the grand ultimate way in TA Chi is to conserve your energy, to protect it and cultivate more. And, and here’s why TA Chi, this is actually super interesting. And for you teachers out there, I think you’re gonna relate to this Tai Chi was created 1800 years ago by a Dallas priest named Chun. And he was head of this very important temple in China. He was the most highly regarded master of the temple. And he had a really big problem. His problem is he had a lot of responsibilities as head priests at the temple and his students meant back then Brazil men would flock from all over China to study with Chung fun and, and, and to be a dad was priest. You’d have to be a monk first and you’d have to study the, the ancient books of wisdom. And then you’d also have to practice Kung Fu, which is a martial art.


Suz Jeffreys (19:02):
And you had to become a warrior, not only a warrior that could attack and protect, but also a warrior that could heal. So you may have seen pictures or videos or movies where there’s all these Chinese people in the monk uniforms doing, you know, E so, so doing all these things together, they’re practicing one of the most important parts of ch fund’s job was to assess the students as any good teacher does. And one of the assessments was he had to test the martial arts skill and they wanted to go up to the highest level up being a monk and be ready to become a priest, which is a huge honor. Very few people made it there. It was a very, very high level of mastery, not only in the philosophy, but also in martial arts. And so Choong was a master. He was the one to test them.


Suz Jeffreys (19:48):
And if any of you out there have ever taken martial arts, you probably know for the higher levels of martial arts, you fight you spar. And that’s how they would test. But back then in China, they didn’t have like headgear and face masks and pads. No, you love like you fought. So Cho’s Ben’s problem was that he had to test all highest level students by fighting with them. And it’s not that he couldn’t beat him because the master never get every move. They always have a little secret on the head in the back pocket. It’s just no don’t mess with the master. It’s just not worth it. But his problem Sam was that he was using all this G you know, fighting with all these students. So I had to figure out a way to test his students and serve them without wasting his own energy.


Sam Demma (20:31):
Mm.


Suz Jeffreys (20:31):
So you know what he did


Sam Demma (20:33):
Invent to TA Chi,


Suz Jeffreys (20:34):
He invent to Tai Chi and you know how he got the idea. This is nuts. I’ll keep it short. He went to a cave and meditated until he he’s like, I gotta figure this out. So he went and meditated, you know, he’d get up every day and walk and eat whatever, and go back and sit and meditate. Three years later, my friend, he was coming up with nothing three years. Wow. So he went out for his daily walk. It was a sunny day. Like it is in Toronto, like it is in Southwest Florida. And he saw this big fat snake on the ground in front of him, just like, like taking a sun bath, you know, they just appeared to be totally sleeping there’s and he was looking at it and there was this circle circling on the ground and it was a spec and he looked up in the sky, there was a bird of circling. It was a Hawk. Well, he S possible second just rolls out the way and hits dog gets back up and he circles dives down again. The snake just rolls out the way, and the Hawk hits the ground really hard. Again, that happens over and over. And so finally, you can tell the Hawk is really exhausted. He does the last circle against more momentum than ever. He dives down and guess what happens at the last possible second, Sam


Sam Demma (21:47):
Snake just moves out the way


Suz Jeffreys (21:49):
They just moves outta way. It was working. The Hawk kicked himself on the ground so hard. He knocks himself out the snake, slithers over circles, a snake, and has the Hawk for lunch. Mm. And ch sun fun goes, that’s it. The snake wasn’t attacking anyone, but he wanted to protect himself off. And he was able to protect himself by getting out of the way, by allowing the attacker to waste his own Chi until he is completely de depleted. And then to go ahead with very little energy, very little effort, be the Victor. And that’s what inspired Tachi.


Sam Demma (22:25):
Hmm. It reminds me of Japanese ju to slightly it’s like the, you know, the art of Japanese jujitsu is using your enemies force against you or against themselves. And yeah, right before COVID hit here in Toronto, I, I did it for four months and it’s funny cuz you’re mentioning Kung Fu and all the different practices. And I enjoyed them, the, the sessions and the training, so much, many reasons, but one of the reasons that I enjoyed it the most was the aspect, the aspect of discipline. And and I think it’s really, it’s really awesome. And then, you know, discipline also ties into Tai Chi. Like there’s, there’s an older gentleman that I see at the park near my house, like every other day doing Tai Chi. And I never like looked into it like looking so peacefully and calmly and I just, I was always fascinated by it. And it’s really cool that you brought this up today and you’ve taught me so many things. So I appreciate it. And I know that the guest listening can say the same. If someone wants to learn more information about Tai Chi, get even get into it like what, what would, what would you advise? Would you just search up like classes and near their, or do you offer this thing online? Do you do this stuff online? Like what would be the best way for them? Yeah.


Suz Jeffreys (23:34):
Great, great idea. Yeah. For, for anyone who wants to try Tai just for free and play with it, I have a bunch of free Tai Chi videos on YouTube. Just look up Tai Chi with souse and that’s a growing library. I also have a free Facebook page called Tai Chi with souse and you can check it out. I have new content there every single week, cuz I really wanna spread the word Sam, you know, not only is Tai Chi and martial art. It’s also a way to stress less to protect our energy and to create my or balance there’s 10 ancient principles in TA Chi that were literally would change my life. And when we begin to learn those ancient principles and we implement them on day to day basis, whether we’re a parent, a grown up a kid, a teacher, a student it’s truly life changing.


Suz Jeffreys (24:21):
So my vision is to help spread the, the information and share it around the world. Cause in these crazy times, we need to find simple, profound truths that can allow us to connect more, to be healthier, to, to be more of who we truly are in this world authentically like you, Sam, you’ve got so much clarity around your purpose that you want to serve and help others learn how to serve this remarkable at your age. You’ve got the clarity and in TA Chi, we call that clear intent. Mm. When we have clarity, that’s one thing that can absolutely help us not only transform our own lives, but the lives of others. So you can go to TA Chi with sues.com or TA Chi with Sue on Facebook or Tai Chi with sues on YouTube. And you know, hit me up, send me an email if you’d like to get I have some TA Chi principles and little videos. I can actually email you. If you go to TA Chi with sue.com, you can sign up for that. I’d love to love to help anybody who’s interested in just finding simple ways to make their life better.


Sam Demma (25:20):
And you know, you mentioned the principles and every time you say something, I have like five more questions, but I’m keeping this. Like, I love that as concise as I can. The out of the 10 principles that you mentioned or alluded to, which one or two have had the biggest impact on you. Like I can imagine they probably all impacted you in various ways, but which of those 10 ancient principles impacted you the most and what are they


Suz Jeffreys (25:43):
For me, there’s really the, what had the really created a whole pivotal experience on many layers in my life was remember back in that class, the first class I just found by, I really say it like company. I didn’t, I wasn’t looking about it. Our seafood told us that story about the snake in the Hawk. And she said, so remember this means we all have Chi life energy and our life energy is precious because when we use it all up, it’s gone, we die. Mm. Instead, like if you were, it’s not that you have a heart attack, we die from a heart attack. It’s that people die from a heart attack and didn’t have enough cheat to survive. Mm. So she’s like, so our life energy is precious and we all have life. And that means every single person on this point is precious. I was like,


Suz Jeffreys (26:37):
Because till that moment, Sam, I had real self-esteem issues. Whole long story will get not get into. But I don’t know. I think a lot of people out there maybe don’t believe in themselves or their own words as much as we should. And when she said that, I’m like, wait, so Chi is precious. We all have Chi. That means I’m precious. And that means that I can protect my Chi. I can take care of me. I can simplify do less and give more. So the idea of conserving my Chi and that she is precious, keeping it simple has been just profound, really profound for me.


Sam Demma (27:13):
Cool. Yeah. I love that. Well, this has been a phenomenal conversation. We’ll definitely have a part two, sometime in the future. If a teacher does want to get in touch with you, do you have an email address you can actually share and recite right now on the podcast?


Suz Jeffreys (27:26):
Absolutely. The other website you can check out ’cause I do many things is Suzjeffreys.com. You can email me at suz@suzjeffreys.com and there you’ll see, I’m also a certified nutrition therapist, I’m a fitness instructor, and I’m a speaker ’cause I just, you know, the so many ways we can nourish ourselves and when we nourish ourselves and take care of ourselves, we have more to give to others. So suz@suzjeffreys.com would be awesome.


Sam Demma (27:52):
Awesome. Suz, thank you so much for coming on the podcast, really appreciate it. Keep doing awesome work and I will see you soon.


Suz Jeffreys (27:59):
Thanks Sam. It’s been a pleasure


Sam Demma (28:02):
And there you have it. Another amazing guest, an amazing interview on the High Performing Educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review so other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show; f you want meet the guest on today’s episode, if you wanna meet any of the guests that we have interviewed, consider going to www.highperformingeducator.com and signing up to join the exclusive network, you’ll have access to networking events throughout 2021 and other special opportunities. And I promise I will not fill your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Suz Jeffreys

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

Ryan Fahey – CEO of Fahey Consulting & Amazon Best-Selling Author

Ryan Fahey - CEO of Fahey Consulting & Amazon Best-Selling Author
About Ryan Fahey

Ryan Fahey (@wellnessrf) is a 3-time author, speaker, and edupreneur who is passionate about personal growth and well-being. He is the Owner of FaheyConsulting which aims to help people and organizations move from good to great.

His latest book, “How To Thrive In Remote Working Environments”, which supports the well-being of remote workers globally recently hit #1 on Amazon in Canada and cracked the top 40 books on entrepreneurship. Originally from Eastern Canada, Ryan has dedicated his life to pursuing wellness and is widely considered a thought leader in the wellness & education sectors. 

Three fun facts about Ryan:

  1. Early in his career, Ryan ran a mobile personal training business out of his Hyundai hatchback.
  1. Ryan has worked in various education delivery roles in a provincial capital, state capital, and national capital.

Ryan owns a small digital publication called, The Canadian Way”.

Connect with Ryan: Email | Website | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Ryan’s Website – Fahey Consulting

How To Thrive In Remote Working Environments (book)

Physical and Health Education Canada (PHE)

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:01):
Ryan welcome to the high performing educator. Huge pleasure to have you on the show. Please start by introducing yourself.


Ryan Fahey (00:08):
Hi Sam. Thanks for having me and for everybody tuning in. I hope you’re having a good day. Yeah. My name is Ryan Fahey. I’m a bit of an entrepreneur educator by trade and also a lead for special projects and resources for an organization called physical and health education Canada. So I’m excited to, to get rolling here, Sam, and to share some stuff with your audience today.


Sam Demma (00:32):
Tell me a little bit about why you’re passionate about the work you do with educators and also with schools.


Ryan Fahey (00:39):
Yeah. You know, one of the things that I’ve noticed. So I, when I, when I was in university, I went, I was training to become a physical and health education teacher. And movement has always been a big part of my life growing up, and I’ve always enjoyed the subject area of physical education, health education. And when I got into this field both as an educator now working nationally supporting physical education across the country. You know, when I look back at this, there’s just been so many people that have invested in me. You know, I’ve had some incredible mentors along the way that have supported my journey. And so one of the, one of the pieces, I guess, that drives the work I do is just willing to give back to the community and wanting to give back to this C because they’ve just given me so much, like every step of the way, and I’ll share a little bit more later, but every step of the way, you know, I’ve had people investing in me, people encouraging me, calling me lifting me up when I needed it. And and really, you know, passionate individuals when they get, when they get out there and they get into their gymnasium. So, you know, working at the national office is credible being able to support schools and, and educators, cuz it’s, it is an opportunity to give back that community that really has put me here. So so yeah, that’s a little bit about, I guess, why I do what I do and why I get up in the mornings to support the, the folks that have invested in me.


Sam Demma (02:04):
And how did you get into this work? What did the journey look like for Ryan as a young career aspiring man to Ryan now?


Ryan Fahey (02:16):
Well, so it’s funny. I was actually talking to a guy earlier today about this. We were having a conversation, so it was my last practicum. My teaching practicum at St. Xavier university. I I got approval to go on this trip down to shape America conference, which is the national kind of PhysEd conference in the us. And I was gonna get a job. I was determined, you know, I’m gonna get a job down there. So I went down, I printed off all these resumes, brought my binder. I went to this huge convention center and just started literally handing out, resonates to people. I knew that when I was graduating that I really wanted to travel and I wanted to, you know, I wanted to see the world. I was curious and growing up in small town, Nova Scotia, spending most of my life in Nova Scotia, I wanted to kind of, you know, branch out and, and explore a little bit more.


Ryan Fahey (03:07):
And really from there I got a bite. I ended up getting a job with with an organization called be active kids out of North Carolina and, and, and started there, you know, started my work was supporting early childhood physical literacy through a, a train, the trainer model. And I got to drive. I literally drove across the state in a, in this van, this B active van and would just like hand curriculums and do trainings. And so it’s kind of funny, you know, like, there’d be days I’d have to pinch myself off and be like, I can’t believe I went to school for this and I get to do this work cuz it was just, it was really cool. You know, I guess to kind of fast track from there, I came back to Canada still really was curious about traveling and seeing different parts of Canada at that point.


Ryan Fahey (03:55):
And I was very fortunate to have, get a position with an organization called ever active schools as a school health facilitator, basically going into schools and supporting them through a mentorship model and through a comprehensive school health approach. So whether you’re looking at DPA in schools, daily physical activity, whether you’re looking at being more intentional with comprehensive school health or potentially school, little sport, those were kind of the areas that I would go in across Alberta and support schools in. And you know, when I left, when I left there, I, I was really getting the itch to go international. I was really like, okay, I worked in north America, I worked in Western Canada, Eastern Canada. I grew up there, but you know, what about maybe going abroad? And so this incredible opportunity came forward to teach physical education abroad at a school in Abu Dhabi.


Ryan Fahey (04:51):
And and I jumped on it and it was a, it was pretty much a master’s in education. You know, I don’t have a master’s, but I say I have a real life. Yeah. Experience masters. But the amount I grew, the amount I was challenged and, and, and how I really had to overcome a lot of personal adversity professional adversity at, at that point was, was tremendous. And that’s really where you know, those experiences then combined have kind of led me back to Canada and let me back to, to work here nationally now, to support schools. And again, you know, just having so many unique experiences along the way, it’s, it’s kind of nice to, to be at the national office to be able to share those experiences with others.


Sam Demma (05:37):
You hopped in a van that said be active on it and drove across the country. True. Can you elaborate on that a little bit where that came from and what that initiative was and some of the stories along the way.


Ryan Fahey (05:51):
Yeah. I’ll tell you one, I’ll tell you one day this, you know, I was, I was very passionate. I mean, I’m still very passionate, but I would say I was very passionate at that point, but a little more careless. So there was one day north Carolina’s a very large state, so there’s 101 counties from west tip to, you know, the odor banks. And my role was get, get this curriculum in all 101 counties with this van. And so there was, was one day there was a tornado warning in the central part of the state. And I had a workshop planned in person in Greensboro, which is kind of in the heart of the state. And I remember driving and like my phone going off at the time, like tornado warning, you know, seek shelter and I’m driving. And I remember just like in this van by myself, just like, yeah, but not like in an aggressive way, just in like a prove it prove you wrong way.


Ryan Fahey (06:42):
I was like, you know, physical literacy, doesn’t take a day off education, doesn’t take a day off. Like people need to learn this this curriculum needs to get out there. I’m going like all in, like if this tornado takes me off. So be it. And I just went ever thinking about that. I’m like, I’m a little crazy, like, this is, this is probably not the safest thing, but yeah, I just literally drove around the state in a van and everywhere I went just kind of had some amazing people that would either build me or put me up or show me where to go within the community. And it was a fascinating experience right. At university, for sure.


Sam Demma (07:18):
That’s amazing. And you mentioned a lot of people poured into you along this journey. Talk a little bit about the mentors you’ve had and the impact they’ve made in your own life.


Ryan Fahey (07:29):
Yeah. I’d say, you know, there’s so many, I, unfortunately I lost one a few when I was actually in North Carolina. Oh, wow. And that was really tough. He a, he was a longstanding mentor of mine. But of the mentors that I currently have in my life or have had, you know, I’d say my dad is my biggest for sure. He’s, he’s the, he’s kind of that like he’s got that Sage wisdom to him, you know, it’s like, he’s got this sixth sense about everything that I just can’t seem to figure out how he does it. Yeah. He’s not on social media. You have to like go into the woods to find him. But when he is in there and when you see him, it’s like this Miyagi karate kid experience. And so he’s definitely my, my number one. And then I have a really good friend who is kind of been this pseudo friend mentor for years named Matt McDonald.


Ryan Fahey (08:19):
And we were actually just chatting the other day and he’s, you know, he is so different than me. And when we were younger, we would sometimes have our differences. And, and now like at the older I get and the older he gets, even though our lives kind of have went in multiple directions. I just appreciate that so much more. I appreciate questioning thought. I appreciate diversity of thinking. I just appreciate these multiple perspectives. And he always will be the one to ask the questions that no one else will ask. And, and I think that’s, that’s been huge for me in my life and, and it’s allowed me to sometimes walk away frustrated, but also walk away being like, okay, like I really need to think this through because Matt really asked me some great questions. So those would definitely be my top two.


Sam Demma (09:04):
That’s awesome. And for an educator who doesn’t know much about PhD Canada, and what they have to offer schools, go ahead and give a little breakdown of what pH does and how school could get involved in a partnership, a collaboration with pH or what you guys have to offer.


Ryan Fahey (09:25):
Yeah. So the organization, physical health education Canada has been around for almost a hundred years actually. Which is which crazy when you think about it. But yeah, it, you know, the organization basically seeks to support healthy, healthy, active kids through physical and health education and quality physical and health education experiences. Over the years, the work obviously has changed a lot. You know, I think, you know, a few years ago was there, there was a lot of support specifically around curriculum many years ago. And obviously there’s a big need there to support advocacy and, and, and curriculum development, curriculum improvement, things like that. And we still do a bit of that, but I would say the, the biggest piece that I carry and and for the listeners listening in that, that might be of value is the amount of projects, programs, and resources that we have.


Ryan Fahey (10:21):
So we, we, we’re very grateful in that we have a lot of great funders, including, you know, the CFL is one MBA obviously the government and, and other corporate funders as well. And, and one of the pieces I just actually developed was a K to three physical literacy resource that is focused on football. So it’s in partnership with the CFO, it’s an earlier introduction to football and it’s kind of this two pronged approach and that kids are gonna learn about football, but they’re also gonna develop the, their fundamental movement skills, like hop in and, and jumping and kicking and throwing, which are all the skills that we see in the super bowl. Right? So it’s kind of this fun project that, that we were able to work on together with them and, and to support and to get the next generation of Canadians excited about the sport of football I think is huge. And so any of the listeners tuning in there’s, there’s tons of free resources across the website, go check it out. And whatever you’re teaching, we, we probably have something to support your needs. For sure.


Sam Demma (11:28):
That’s amazing. That sounds like a great program. What’s happened during COVID with the pivot, if I’m a, had to use that word with physical education, have you guys worked on some virtual resources as well for gym teachers wondering like, what the heck do I even do with my students right now?


Ryan Fahey (11:50):
Yeah, absolutely. So when, when COVID first hit, we, we kind of went into startup mode where we’re like, okay, we need to be equally as disruptive in terms of how we operate, what we do and, and how we deliver, right? Because everything just changed so quick for everyone. And, and, you know, again, peach, Canada being so old, we’re, we’re often looked to as that, that, that lead voice. And so it was important for us to do that and to meet the needs of the teachers. So when COVID first hit, we were doing a lot of advocacy for the at-home learning mandates writing letters to many of the provinces territories in partnership with partners there to say, Hey, look, you know, in your at-home learning mandates, you need to have some form of physical education. Because that’s, that’s, you can’t just drop that.


Ryan Fahey (12:39):
Like you can’t just go away. Yeah. So that was some of the initial work. And, and then as folks began to return back to school, we created these return to school guidelines just to really help physical health education teachers on navigating policy, navigating some of decisions that they need to make navigating gym gym sizes, or how many students can be in a gym, those types of things that we’re really looking for clarity. And so we, we try to just support and guide them you know, with, with compiling resources like that. I would say we we’ve completely moved a digitally right with conferences. We’re, we’re fully digital. We have a conference coming up here in February, that’s fully virtual.


Sam Demma (13:17):
Nice.


Ryan Fahey (13:18):
And, you know, I, a big credit to the team, you know, there there’s a mix of educators on the team. There’s business folks, there’s kind of multiple backgrounds, but everybody’s just come together and said, we need to support this community. And we need to continue to listen. Because there’s, there’s a lot being thrown at teachers right now. And we need to sift through that and find clarity and develop high quality resources and supports for them.


Sam Demma (13:42):
Physical education changed my life, growing up as an athlete. I, I don’t know if I would be the same person I am today without it. So the work is extremely important and something that can’t be dismissed no matter what the world it is going through, we don’t move our bodies. We lose our mental health. And I think they’re very interconnected. There’s probably dozens of studies that link the, the mind to physical movement. Yeah, it’s just such important work. Tell me about a, a situation or a story where you heard positive feedback from a program making an impact in a, or an educator reaching out and letting you guys know.


Ryan Fahey (14:19):
Yeah. So we ran this grant campaign for a couple years, my first few years at PhD Canada. And it was incredible. It was called share to care, and it was a mental health campaign to support schools with their mental health needs. And so what we would do is we would grant funding to those schools. I think we had like maybe five or 10 schools across the country each year. And then we would highlight those school profiles as promising practices as well, and publish them on our, on our website. So that was incredible because teachers would come in and they’d be like, I didn’t know, other schools were doing this. This is amazing. So we were able to surface some of that knowledge that was happening locally so that other schools across the country could take it and run with it.


Ryan Fahey (15:05):
But it was really neat being a part of that, that campaign as the, as kind of the lead person on it. Because like, I remember one school, I went to a school in Brampton. They were a recipient and they were just so overjoyed to have us in there. Like we would come in with this jumbo check and the kids were so excited. There’s a guest in there and he’s got a big check and, you know, and I’m like excited to be in a school cause I love schools. And, and so that was a lot of fun, like to get up in the gym, they would have an assembly. We present the check and have the funder there, do a few words and whatnot. I mean, this is all stuff, I’m sure you, you know, you you’ve been in some schools, you, you know what I’m talking about, but just to see the look on these kids’ faces and the teachers as well being like, there’s hope you there, there’s, there’s groups out, out there that are gonna support us in our, you know, cause a lot of them are just doing this from the deep Wells of their heart and they’re not getting paid for these extra things and these extra initiatives and you know, all of these, these things that they’re assets that they’re bringing to their, to their work.


Ryan Fahey (16:08):
And when you get these beautiful initiatives that pop up, it’s so awesome to be able to celebrate them. So that was one just being at that school in Branford was, was one one really neat way to see the impact of the work that we do and how important it is. And I mean, sometimes it’s like a school just needs to know that that there’s hope right. And it’s so challenging right now. But but how having grant programs like that, I think that I think provides that hope.


Sam Demma (16:36):
A hundred percent on the topic of hope. What do you think are some of the opportunities that exist in education right now? I think whenever there’s a challenge, you don’t have to find the silver lining in that specific individual challenge, but somewhere within the industry as a whole, that become some opportunities. Do you think any of these opportunities are starting to pop up because of the shift in education that has happened over the past two years?


Ryan Fahey (17:03):
Yeah. I’ll give you a great example. So when I was with ever active schools out in Alberta, we were piloting this new resource at the time called don’t walk in the hallways and essentially they were different colored sticky tiles that you would put through the hallways and it would create this kind of makeshift hop scotch. So as opposed to the kids, you know, hand on the hip finger on the lip or something like that, you know, like be quiet walking down the hallway, this was a culture shift for many schools to say, maybe the kids can hop or Gallop or skip. They go, you know, from point a to point B and have a little bit more play within their day and the amount of pushback that we got at the time, not from every school. I mean, we had early adopters for sure.


Ryan Fahey (17:46):
But, you know, there were some schools that were like, oh, it’s not gonna work. You know, the, the floors it’s too, they’re too sticky. They leave a residue and it’s not clean. And now think about this, Sam. Now you go anywhere and there’s like stickers on the floor. Like stand here, don’t stand here. Here’s another arrow. So I’m like, I think we were just too early with that. But you know, now it’s like this, this would be so much easier because schools are already used to having to have things marked on the floor right now. Now the, the leap is less large because they they’ve already been doing this with, with COVID. So I think in that sense, like the disruption has allowed space for a quicker conversation, right. To say, you know what? Yeah, we don’t need to worry about all these things anymore because they’re really not that important.


Ryan Fahey (18:37):
Like we know that these things are important, so let’s just go and make this decision. So I think that’s one thing. I think it, second thing that that’s really important and this kind of goes with that is I think teacher voices have never been louder. And I think it’s amazing. I mean, you’re, you’re, you’re on social media as well as, as, as myself and seeing educators being able to stand up and say, you know, what they feel, what they want, what they need. I think we need more of that. We need more teachers coming forward saying, look, this is just like this policy to doesn’t make sense. Or this policy doesn’t make sense or this look at this best practice and like, you know, call me and you know, we’ll talk about how to, you know, replicate this. Yeah. I think that that collective voices are huge right now. And I, I, you know, go going through the remainder of this pandemic. I hope that teachers don’t remain silent. I hope that they continue to provide a ground for all wise practices and what’s working. What’s not working and really advocate for what they need, because I think that’s really important.


Sam Demma (19:40):
I tell educators all the time that I think if they choose to share their experiences, it helps everyone else in the field because it may be a situation that someone else is experiencing right now that they’ve already figured out or solved and their sharing will open a door for somebody else who’s tuning in, whether it’s listening or reading. At the beginning of this interview, you introduce yourself as an ed entrepreneur, someone who works in education and is also an entrepreneur. One of the ways that a lot of educators, at some point in their life consider using their voice is by writing a book. And I know you’ve published. Self-Published a few of them. Can you tell me a little bit about your impetus or an inspiration to writing books and what it’s like being both an educator and an author?


Ryan Fahey (20:34):
Yeah, this is it’s very interesting. So I started out with a blog. I, I was in university and I wrote this blog. It was terrible. So if anybody Googles it, it was called wellness network blog. It was terrible. The visuals were awful. But the content was okay. So, you know, I remember I fast forward a few years from that I shut down the blog. I was kind of, you know, starting my career, doing things in education, but I was driving to a school in Northern Alberta and, you know, inspiration just hit. And I being like, I need to write these, I need to write this down. This is gonna be my book. And so I pulled over the side of the highway and I literally wrote down every chapter of the book that I was gonna write. And and that’s, that’s really where it started.


Ryan Fahey (21:21):
You know, I ended up actually finishing the book and really doing the, the groundwork of the book when I was in a Abu Dhabi. So I would come home from school. And literally just, I was in a hotel and I would just put my feet up and just write for hours and hours. Sometimes I wouldn’t even know what time it was. And just put myself in this space, cuz I knew that that was the time in my life to do that. I, you know, we had, didn’t have kids at that point. Weren’t married at that point or I wasn’t married at that point. So I just knew that this is the time to do it. And so that was, that was where my, my first and second book were, were created. The third one was very interesting because I knew I always was going to write a third one Sam, but it was March of 20, 20, everything had happened and I was looking around and I, I wasn’t seeing much for or many, many kind of resources and books out there to support the wellbeing of remote workers.


Ryan Fahey (22:16):
Mm. There was a few and remote workers already in, in our, our way of life. I think, you know, there were a lot of businesses that were offering that, but not to this extent that COVID put us in. And so it was actually last the last Christmas season where I wrote it, I, I sat down, I said, I need to write a book to support the wellbeing of remote workers and I need to get another resource out there. And so I literally locked myself in quarantine for 14 days. And I was staying at my sister’s place in, this is kind of funny cuz she has a couple of cats and I felt like mark Twain, you know, like he was out in a cabin and Maine the cat and the wood stove. Like that was literally me like except no wood stove, but two cats.


Ryan Fahey (23:00):
And yeah. So anyway, I ended up cranking this thing out, but you know, to your, to your second point on what’s it like being an author it’s it’s and an educator? It’s kind of interesting when I published a second one, I had a lot of people think I was, or, you know, kind of mentioned that I was too young to be an author. Mm. And, and that really played with me, you know, play with my psyche play with the imposter syndrome. And I remember, you know, really having to, to struggle with and work through that. And then I just got to a point where it’s like anything when you’re changing an identity and you’re deconstructing one and reconstructing another, that you’ve just, there’s a shift at some point that happens. And that shift for me, I would say happened probably last year where where I said, okay, I’m gonna fully step into this identity, no matter what age I am, no matter how you know, how gray my hair is or how many letters are behind my name, I, you know, I’ve written multiple books. So that one was definitely a learning learning moment for me. And, and you really, you really open yourself up. I mean, it’s a vulnerable experience and you know, any, any day now somebody could just rip, rip my books apart on Amazon and, and I just have to be okay with that. So it’s it’s definitely an interesting journey for sure.


Sam Demma (24:16):
Putting out your own stuff is always an interesting journey. You can work for somebody else and sell their products and have someone turn you down a thousand times and wake up the next day. Totally excited to try again, but you push your own stuff out. And one day someone rips it apart. It’s like what? And it has this totally different effect on your brain. What’s interesting to me is a thousand people could tell you it’s amazing and one person rip it part. And sometimes we focus on that one negative comment rather than the thousand people that loved it and that it helped regardless of the feedback at all, putting out things that you truly believe will be valuable to others is such an interesting experience. And I’m sure writing a book helped you clarify your thought and sharpen your ideas and keeps that fire lit within you to continually learn and be curious, which is invaluable as well. What is your best advice for an author who, or an educator who wants to write a book and journey into becoming an author as well?


Ryan Fahey (25:26):
Yeah, when I was back, you know, if we go back to the van, North Carolina days I, this family that I was living with at the time the, the father was an author and that book was called taking on Goliath. And it’s actually very fascinating read for anyone who’s interested, but we were running together one day and he said to, I asked him similar question, like what, like what kind of led you to writing a book? Like how did this happen? And he said, you know, Ryan, I got to a point where I realized I’m not an author, but I have a story to tell. And I think that’s so important for an educator out there. You have a unique story. You have your unique individual, you have unique value that you can add to the world and you need to add it.


Ryan Fahey (26:08):
You know, we live in this time that it’s so easy, like to write a book or to get, you know, get your resources on teachers, pay teachers or whatever, you know, platform is out there to share your talent, share your insight and value with the world. And I find it, it’s so interesting because as educators, we time inspiring the next generation and telling kids to live their dreams. But sometimes we, we, you know, through life and challenges and whatnot, they get snuffed out in their own lives. Yeah. And I think it’s important that we, you know, we just start something small, start something simple. And, and like you said about adding the value to adding value through your gifts and talents to the world, like putting yourself out there. I think it’s a super rewarding experience and, and it just makes the world a better place.


Sam Demma (26:56):
I couldn’t agree more. And if someone wants to ask you a question about anything we discussed or during this interview wants to pick up some of your books purchase, some of them wants to learn more about the process of becoming an author. What would be the best way for them to reach out or get in touch with you? Or send you an email?


Ryan Fahey (27:16):
Yeah. Great question. So they can come to my website just https://www.faheyconsulting.org/. I’m also on LinkedIn (ryanbfahey/) with Twitter as well at (@wellnessrf). I love Twitter. I think we’re now following each other Sam. So you might get some tweets from me about how exciting this conversation was. But yeah, I’m always open to chat, you know, I even put it in both of my books, I think like, or one of my, of books I put in temperature check, you know, you halfway through the book, you send me an email and I put my email in there, like, let’s talk, like what, how are you feeling? What have you taken away? What, you know, what more could I have done cuz I think, you know, keeping those conversations and lines open is huge.


Sam Demma (28:00):
I couldn’t agree more. Thank you so much again, Ryan, for doing this. Keep up the great work. I look forward to your next book and I, yeah, I look forward to staying connected and seeing all the great work you’re up to keep it up and we’ll talk soon.


Ryan Fahey (28:13):
Thank you, Sam.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Ryan Fahey

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.

Abbey Gingerich – Teacher and Student Leadership Advisor (KCI)

Abbey Gingerich – Teacher and Student Leadership Advisor (KCI)
About Abbey Gingerich

Abbey (@MsAGingerich) is the leadership teacher and Student Activities Director at Kitchener-Waterloo Collegiate Institute (KCI) in Ontario, Canada. Her leadership program includes over 100 students who are involved in planning school fundraisers, assemblies, special events, and daily activities to make the school a more spirited and engaging place to be.

Last year, Abbey and her student leaders were honoured to receive the award for having the most school spirit in Ontario! Abbey believes that small, consistent acts of positivity can change the world. Her enthusiastic and creative approach to leadership has drawn students to her hands-on, spirited, and community-building leadership program that is quickly becoming the leading program of its kind in Ontario.

Aside from teaching leadership at KCI, Abbey has coached basketball and rugby and also teaches English and Art. Wherever Abbey goes, she leaves a trail of glitter; her enthusiasm and passion for student leadership are infectious.

Connect with Abbey: Email | Instagram | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Kitchener-Waterloo Collegiate Institute School Website

English at University of Waterloo

Ontario Student Leadership Conference

Police Foundations at Confederation College

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. I’m super excited to bring you today’s interview, Abby Gingerich. She is a leadership teacher and student activity director at Kitchener Waterloo Collegiate Institute in Ontario, Canada. Wow, lots of words. Her leadership program includes over a hundred students who are involved in planning school fundraisers, assemblies, special events, and daily activities to make the school a more spirited and engaging place to be. Last year, Abby and her student leaders were honored to receive the award for having the most school spirit in Ontario. And I can highly guarantee, and I can highly back that statement because I saw them at OSLC, the Ontario student leadership conference, and they are freaking loud. Abby believes that small, consistent actions of positivity can change the world. I totally agree. Her enthusiasm and creative approach to leadership has drawn students to her hands on spirited and community building program that is quickly becoming the lead leading program of its kind in Ontario. Aside from teaching leadership at KCI, she has coached basketball, rugby, teaches english and art. Wherever Abby goes, she leaves a trail of glitter. Her enthusiasm and passion for student leadership is infectious. Without further ado, please help me in well welcoming Abby to the show. Abby, thank you so much for coming on the High Performing Educator podcast. It’s an absolute pleasure to have you, can you start by introducing yourself to the audience and maybe sharing why you got into this work that you’re doing with young people today?


Abbey Gingerich (01:36):
Sure, so my name is Abby Gingrich and I’m in my third year in this role of student activities advisor at Kitchener Collegiate Institute and that’s in the KW area. Ooh, how did I get into this? I, I mean, it would go back to when I was in high school, I, I was obviously involved in, in student leadership. I actually went to another local school down the street; WCI, and I had great teachers and mentors there. And I, I mean, looking back, I should have just gone right into teaching. All of my teachers told me to go into teaching. I think it’s a bit of a personality thing for me that I hate doing what everyone tells me to do so I delayed for a little bit and I thought I would, I don’t know.


Abbey Gingerich (02:29):
I still went for English at UW and things like that which helped me then when I decided to switch over to teaching. But I was working at a bank for a little bit. I worked at a hotel which were all a great, great experiences, but just wasn’t so that like, it just wasn’t lighting my life on fire. Mm. And so I was living with one of my best friends at the time, and I remember, and she was a teacher here at KCI, and I remember seeing her talk about her students and talk about the experiences she was having. And she just loved it. And I had like this moment sitting on the couch and I was like, oh, I should be doing that. And so here I am, and it was I don’t know, I guess I remember looking at the leadership teacher role and think, I probably wouldn’t be able to have a chance at that role until I’ve been teaching for maybe five or 10 years. And then it just sort of worked out I don’t know if you wanna call it fate or destiny at KCI, but like an English teacher, an art teacher and the leadership teacher, we’re all leaving at the same time to other opportunities. And so they were able to package this role for me and it just felt like the perfect fit. And here I am.


Sam Demma (03:50):
That’s awesome. That’s so cool. And you could just feel the energy when you talk about your passion for teaching. So I absolutely love this. This is so cool. Yeah. You know, right now is a little bit different than maybe your first couple years in education. I know there’s a bunch of challenges, maybe share a couple of the challenges you’ve been facing and how you’ve come up with solutions or what types of virtual things are you doing to make up for it?


Abbey Gingerich (04:16):
Yeah. oh, it’s, it’s tough. Yeah. Especially keeping momentum going with school spirit, especially online. It’s, it’s just challenging to come up with fresh new creative ideas online. Luckily I’ve, I’ve always had really great students that I can draw inspiration from. And so one of the first things we did was just start small. Cuz obviously change is hard and it it’s scary to adapt sometimes. And so we figured that starting small with maybe one or two virtual activities a week or something and then building on those and just building up the height and the excitement and, and still saying to our community and to our staff and our students, we’re still here. We still care about our school spirit and our school community. And here is some of the smaller things that we’re doing. So it was just little things like wear some Raider wear and send in a photo online and, and tag us in it or wear your comfy clothes and send a picture of that.


Abbey Gingerich (05:25):
So, yes. We started out with just sort of these small, consistent little events and we’ve sort of grown them into, into bigger things as well. I also had staff send in photos or send in videos of like little tutorials that they at home. So some of our science teachers did experiments at home and we shared those online. Some of our one of our staff members is an expert juggler. So we put a juggling challenge out. And we just took like these every day at home things that students could still be doing and just hype them up and made them into the most exciting thing that we possibly could. I I’m so hands on with my course and with my teaching, I, I like students up out of their seats. I like them interacting. And so that’s been, the biggest challenge for me is to, is to have to stay in my seat.


Abbey Gingerich (06:27):
And so, you know, there are some great programs online that I’ve been able to use. We do a lot of shared documents with the students that are in class and at home home. So they’re still collaborating together even if it is in a, in a smaller virtual capacity. Yeah, it’s, it’s, it’s something new every day and I’ve just had to challenge myself to say, you know, for the students and, and for the staff as well, I’m gonna do whatever I can to still make it exciting and, and do some good KCI spirit stuff.


Sam Demma (07:05):
That’s awesome. Out of all the, I guess, virtual events or, you know, different events that you’ve done so far, what’s one stuck the most, like was there any one particular event that all the kids just loved it and kept wanting to do it again and again, and maybe something comes to mind, maybe not, but I’m curious.


Abbey Gingerich (07:25):
So we’re actually repeating this event on a larger scale coming up, but one of our staff members and his son actually built a Marvel track at home, like a Marvel obstacle course. And he sent me the video footage of it and I just turned it into like this. We were calling it the race, you didn’t know you needed. And, and like we had little videos of each marble and introducing them and then the race. And I think the host had like over a hundred comments on it of kids just engaging and upset that their marble didn’t win or, you know, saying the race was rigged and everything like that. So it, it was just something that you know, was supposed to be fun and bring some, some energy online and had real, no other real purpose beyond just that school spirit which I’m okay with.


Abbey Gingerich (08:26):
And and so we’re doing it again in place of one of our larger sporting events that we would normally have happening right now. We’re doing it again and we’re introducing new racers and we have our football coaches commentating the race. The students who are planning the event have created like over 15 feet of track in their, at home time. And so I think it’s, I think it’s gonna be pretty fun. I hope it’s gonna be pretty fun, but for some, I have no idea why, but for some reason it blew up on our social media which was just a nice experience too.


Sam Demma (09:04):
It’s the whole idea of just taking an idea offline and then showcasing it online and making it kind of funny. Right. It sounds like you’re introducing marbles, right? Like it’s pretty good. Yeah.


Abbey Gingerich (09:16):
I like that. I, I mean, and, and I say to the kids all the time, like if there’s, if there’s a way that we can just add some sparkle to something like, that’s just what I’m known for, like throwing glitter at everything. That’s sort of one of the best examples I’ve had I have is that it’s yeah. Just something that we didn’t even plan it. Right. It was footage. I borrowed from another our staff member and said, I think, I think the kids would be into this. And again, it’s just those moments that say, Hey, here we are. We’re still thinking of you. Hope this brings a smile to your face and let’s have some fun.


Sam Demma (09:49):
I love that. My, my next question was gonna be, how do we make students feel appreciated and heard during these times? Is it just the nudge on the shoulder, the unexpected message? Like how do you make your students feel appreciated?


Abbey Gingerich (10:04):
Yeah, I think, I think acknowledging them as individuals and still showing them that they’re valued especially right now in the, in these COVID times when we’re not connecting the way we usually do. Like I’m I miss a lot of my students. I only really interact with the, the 10 that are in front of me each day. You don’t have those same moments of like walking through the hallways and, and seeing a student you taught last year or seeing the girls from the basketball team that you coach. Right. I, I am, I’m really missing those moments. So we’ve been putting out some smaller challenges to some like to our athletes and saying here, send us a transition video of you. I don’t know, it’s a TikTok trend. I’m not quite up on that, but they’re doing these transitions from their everyday close to their school spirit wear or their athletic gear. And so you’re able to connect still one on one that way. And I can say, thank you so much for the video. And then sometimes it opens a conversation of how are you doing, or I really miss rugby right now. And so I think getting in touch with those students or, or when a student reaches out, really making sure that we take the time to acknowledge that and, and to take it that step further and just ask how people are doing those small moments can make a big difference as well.


Sam Demma (11:32):
Cool. And we talked a little bit about some great ideas and great successes, but it seems like the education state right now is almost like throwing spaghetti on the wall and seeing what sticks. And of course, sometimes things fall. I’m curious to know if you’ve learned from any of your own personal mistakes, and I don’t even wanna call it mistakes, but I want to call it an experiment because that’s really what it is during this time. And is there anything worth sharing with the audience that you think might be valuable to hear?


Abbey Gingerich (11:59):
Yeah, I I think personally the biggest issue I ran into was just trying to do everything exactly the same way, or just trying to if think, thinking I could just convert it to online and it would be totally fine. And, and there are just some activities that don’t convert well. And so a lot of work went into revamping, a couple of my courses and revamping even just projects as well. My leadership course looks to totally different from when it, from how it usually would look. And, and like the stress got to me pretty early on it, it was, it’s very overwhelming. And I, and I know I share this with a lot of other student activity teachers, but you feel like there’s sort of this extra weight to keep all the fun and, and the excitement and the school spirit going.


Abbey Gingerich (12:57):
And, and that’s hard. And, and also respecting that there’s a global pandemic going on, right. Like we shouldn’t be doing everything that we normally do because we need to put student safety and staff safety first. And so, yeah, the wake up call for me, I think, was just recognizing that I was heading into that burnout territory. And, you know, we’re, we’re told to give a lot of compassion to our students and just that reminder that we need to give a little bit of that compassion to us as well. And so doing again, doing those small, all consistent things every day or every other day, I think can have a bigger impact than doing big, exciting things all the time. Cuz it’s, it’s not sustainable right now. I don’t think anyways,


Sam Demma (13:49):
I love that it’s funny, small, consistent things. My grade tall voters should teacher Mike loud foot. The principle he taught me was small, consistent actions and we applied that to picking up trash and let, to pick waste. And now it’s like a guiding principle we follow. So I love that if, if you can just think about what’s the one small thing I can do right now instead of bake the whole pie at once, you know, a week later, it’ll have a pie instead of stressing the whole week. I think that’s an amazing piece of advice on the same top of, of advice. You know, an educator listening might be in their first year of teaching and maybe you can think back for a second to when you first taught your first year. You’re probably super excited. Now imagine if that first year had the global pandemic as well, and you were thinking to yourself, what the heck did I sign up for here? What advice would you give that teacher? I mean, you already gave some brilliant advice around, you know, not doing everything, just taking a small action. What other advice would you have to a fellow teacher?


Abbey Gingerich (14:46):
Yeah, there’s, I think there’s two that I, and I still really carry these close to me now asking for help makes a huge difference. Like you’re kind of just thrown into this role and then, and you’re given all of the social media power and you know, you wanna do all these fundraising activities as well, and you wanna make sure you’re meeting all all the needs in terms of diversity and inclusion for your students and, and that a lot. And so I think the more that you can involve other groups and clubs in the school and talk to your admin team and get other staff on board who are, who are gonna be hopefully just as enthusiastic but as supportive. And I am very lucky at KCI to have an incredibly supportive admin team and a very supportive staff.


Abbey Gingerich (15:38):
And so staff checks in with me constantly on, can I help with something? Are you doing okay? Can my group or my club, or you know, my group of students help with something and those moments of collaboration create really valuable learning opportunities for the students. But also then just help share the burden or the weight. Anyways. I don’t see it as a burden. I, I obviously I love it, but but just help spread that out a little bit. So it’s not as overwhelming and sometimes I forget, right. I forget to ask for help. Yeah. So I think the more you can, you can reach out and ask for help the better the other thing is get your students involved or ask your kids for advice. Anytime we’re doing something that I like, I guess would be on trend.


Abbey Gingerich (16:31):
I only know it’s on because the kids told me. And so I, I, you know, we like to, we like to spoof some of the, the trendy things that are happening. We like putting out really funny videos or, or copying a video that’s really popular. And again, those, those, I wouldn’t know about those without the kids. So ask your kids because it’s, it’s also there your audience, right. Do you wanna know what they wanna see and what they care about seeing, and, and some of that funny, again, popular stuff or the stuff that’s gonna create hype. The, the kids know that far better than I ever will.


Sam Demma (17:10):
That’s so true. That’s awesome. And I think it’s a great, a piece of advice because even myself, you mentioned TikTok, I decided about a month and a half ago to take a year off social media. So I could just imagine I’m gonna come back in a year and I’m gonna be like, what dance are you doing? Where is that from? What is that? Yeah, so that’s a brilliant, that’s a brilliant piece of advice. I’m curious to know as well during your career. You’ve probably had students reach out and thank you for the work you’ve done in leadership. And it’s, it’s, it’s changed their life. It’s helped them find new parts of themselves. They didn’t know existed out of all those students. Do you have a story of one that the leadership work that you guys are doing at the school has transformed someone that’s that’s worth sharing? And the reason I’m asking is because there might be a teacher or educator or principal listening who’s burnt out and is losing faith and maybe considering doing some different type of work. And if they can remind themselves why they started by hearing the story of a serious impact, I think it could really reinspire them and motivate them. And if it’s a very serious story, feel free to change the name for privacy reasons. Of course. But does any story come to mind for you?


Abbey Gingerich (18:23):
Yeah, I mean, it’s, it’s funny being sort of I guess I, I would still say I’m pretty young or new you into the world of teaching. So yeah, the ones that have reached out to me and thanked me are still sort of at that transition point and where they’ve thanked me is that I help them find a path or I’ve helped them. I’ve helped give them the tools to on some of their goals or to decide on a career path. So I did have a student reach out to me last year and he was in leadership. Well, it feels like forever ago, but just last year. And so I, I don’t think he knew when he signed up for leadership. I don’t think he knew what he was getting himself into. Like I I always say that I will give my most, I will give my attention to the students that are gonna put in the most work and not cuz I wanna ignore anybody, but the students that are gonna put the hustle in or have that drive whether they have the skills or the tools or not, I’m gonna, I’m gonna help provide that, but it’s, it’s, it’s that the heart, right?


Abbey Gingerich (19:32):
Those students that come in with that and are just ready to go and, you know, wanna make stuff happen. That’s where my attention is gonna go. And so I had a student who sort of started off pretty quiet coming into the course and then found himself in sort of a lead role in his event that he was planning. And he did a phenomenal job. And so I think where that translated for him though, is that then he went on he’s doing police foundations at Conogo right now and he actually emailed me. It, I, it must have been during during quarantine in March or April time. But he, he emailed me and told me that he was just elected student leader for police foundations at conno SOGA. And it’s, he never thought that that would be a role that he would ever be interested in.


Abbey Gingerich (20:26):
And after experiencing that level of leadership at high school, he just knew that that’s where he wanted to take his life. And you know, and I think the best part was that he felt very accomplished and he was so proud of what he achieved and that’s something I just like, I just want the kids to know how much of an impact they can actually make even as a youth or as a teenager. I mean, I, I don’t think that really matters. I think, yeah, they can just do incredible things right now. And so when a student can come to that realization that’s, what’s most rewarding for me. And I have to remind myself too, cuz we take a lot of criticism sometimes or we have setbacks. And so to get those positive moments from, from past students it was, was special and, and really meaningful.


Sam Demma (21:21):
Yeah. And a lot of educators say that as teachers you’re seed planters and you might not see the plant grow for many years to come. So it’s cool that you’ve already had some students reach out and I’m sure they’ll continue to blossom over the years. If any other educator listening wants to reach out, bounce ideas around with you, maybe hear about some of the cool things you’re working on, what’s the best way for them to do so.


Abbey Gingerich (21:45):
Probably email; I’m just at abbey_gingerich@wrdsb.ca and email is probably the most convenient way to get ahold of me, or I do run the KCI Instagram account. So if they ever, I’ve had other schools message us through Instagram and just say, tell us about this idea or how did you make this happen? And I’m, I’m always more than happy to share resources or ideas as well. Yeah, I think again, those, that collaboration opportunity when we go to, you know, leadership conferences and stuff, I’m, I’m missing that, of course. And I think there’s still definitely some ways that we can do that and achieve that across different schools as well so I’m excited for that.


Sam Demma (22:31):
Well, if you’re listening right now, you better email Abby. She wants to talk. Awesome. Well Abby, thank you so much for taking some time to come on the show. I really appreciate it.


Abbey Gingerich (22:42):
Thank you, thank you for having me.


Sam Demma (22:44):
Typically at this point in the episode, I would be ending it and telling you to leave a review and tune in to the next one. But after our conversation ended, Abby and I went back and forth a little more and there was one more thing she wanted to add to this episode. So here it is. So what other unique ideas are going on right now? Maybe student led projects or staff led projects throughout the school?


Abbey Gingerich (23:07):
Yeah, so it might leadership class because of COVID, we’ve actually half of them are working at home and then I have half in class and they switch. So the at home crew, I wanted to still give them something that was valuable for them for the course. So I’ve actually created I’m calling them community outreach, passion projects, and they have an opportunity to identify a passion that they have which was very challenging for some but then also do research and further their education on that passion. And it didn’t have to be school related at all. Just something that again, you know, brings some fire to their life. And then I wanted them to, I challenged them anyway to find a way that they can convert that passion into something that can positively impact their community.


Abbey Gingerich (24:04):
And so their community might just be home their family. It might be their school community. It might be the KW community at whatever level they were comfortable creating something. That was sort of the added challenge. And then of course you add in all of the health and safety measures of COVID there. So I’m, I am in, I’m just blown away by what they’ve been able to achieve. I have student, I have a student who she sews and she’s been making masks and she’s actually been selling the masks to raise funds for indigenous rights in KW. And she has raised almost $800 on her own just at home. Oh wow. During COVID times. And now she’s even realizing that the fundraising is not enough. She’s ready to turn sort of her awareness into action. And she’s getting in touch with council members and members of, of leadership in the KW community and, and getting in touch with them on how to, again, further this cause.


Abbey Gingerich (25:14):
And that’s just been amazing. And I have another student that is is also a sewer, but is interested in climate change and she’s been collecting thrifted or used fabrics and repurposing them into SCRs and little pouches. And she’s been selling those and working on creating then also information on the fashion industry’s impact on the environment and how to be more sustainable. And so it, it’s so interesting to see the different levels that they’ve been able to take their projects and and these passions and translate them into something that’s gonna make an impact on their community. And then other students haven’t, they, they didn’t have to do a fundraiser component. Other students are creating I have one student creating resources for new youth to Canada either through immigration or just moving to Ontario as well.


Abbey Gingerich (26:15):
And she’s put together full resources community resources that youth should know about when they’re new to Canada or new to KW. And so sort of the, I guess the accomplishment that’s come out of them and to realize that they could still make an incredible impact on their world at whatever level that is. They’ve been able to do that even during COVID and in, in a very short period of time too, it’s only been about six weeks. So that has been one of the most rewarding things that has come out of this time. And I had no idea going into it that it was gonna go that this way. But it’s been incredible.


Sam Demma (26:56):
That is so cool. Thanks for sharing.


Abbey Gingerich (26:59):
Thank you.


Sam Demma (27:01):
And with that final thought, thank you so much for tuning into another episode. I hope you enjoyed this interview with Abby and got something from it. There was so many pieces of wisdom and nuggets and unique ideas that you could take, make your own, and also use for your school. If you did enjoy this, consider leaving a rating and review so more teachers like yourself can find this content and also live out the high performing educator philosophy. And as always, if you have ideas that you think should be shared with your colleagues around the country, around the globe, please reach out at info@samdemma.com so we can share your story with our audience. I’ll talk to you soon.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Abbey Gingerich

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

Peter LeBlanc – Author and Retired Ontario and International principal

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

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

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

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

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

Connect with Peter: Email | Twitter | Website

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

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

SHAPE International School

CodeBreakerEdu

Principal Learning Blog

Rita Pearson TED Talk – Every kid needs a champion

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:01):
Peter welcome to the high performing educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show all the way from Australia. Please introduce yourself.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Sam Demma (31:33):
Sounds good.


Peter LeBlanc (31:35):
Thanks.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Peter LeBlanc

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

Phebe Lam – Associate Vice-President, Student Experience UWindsor (Acting) 

Phebe Lam - Associate Vice-President, Student Experience at UWindsor
About Phebe Lam

UWindsor alumna Phebe Lam (@Phebe_Lam) (BSc 1995, BA 1997) began a two-year appointment as acting associate vice-president, student experience, on March 22. Dr. Lam earned master’s and doctoral degrees in psychology from Wayne State University and has been teaching at the University of Windsor since 2015.

In addition to teaching the “Mentorship and Learning” course, she has helped to expand the reach of mentorship programs across the Faculty of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences and developed new student advising and support programs, including online projects such as the Pathway to Academic and Student Success peer mentor program and the Reach Virtual Online Peer Mentor Support. Lam has also served several roles in support of the Student Mental Health Strategy and as chair of the Senate Student Caucus.

Connect with Phebe: Email | Twitter | Linkedin

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

BIDE Institute UWindsor

Drew Dudley Leadership Speaker

Wangari Maathai (Environmental Activist)

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):
Phebe, welcome to the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here, please start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit about why you’re passionate about the work you do today.


Phebe Lam (00:13):
Well, thank you. Sam, it is, you know, a pleasure to, to be here with you in this moment. And you know, I’m very, very, very grateful for this opportunity to share some of my, my experiences. So my name is Phebe Lam. I by trade I’m a psychologist actually starting off as a educational psychologist. But you know, let’s maybe take a, a few steps back. My undergraduate degree was in, in science and, you know, pre-med, I, you know, thought I wanted to become a doctor. But things didn’t end up that way. I think pretty much within the first week of school, I knew that, you know, there was something else for me and that road you know, was, was something that I might have to, to put aside. And so when I finished my general science degree I switched over and and completed my psychology degree and really felt that that was, you know, you know, my, my true love you know, ever since my first memories as, as a child is, you know, always wondering, you know, why, why did that person say that?


Phebe Lam (01:32):
Or why did that person do that? And we know, you know, psychology is a science of, of human behavior. Right. And so that always fascinating me. And so I was, I was truly in, in the right place in psychology. And so I went on to do my master’s degree in marriage and family psychology at Wayne state university in Detroit, Michigan. And then went on to do my PhD in educational psychology. And so I’m a licensed psychologist in the state of Michigan and practiced there and worked at Wayne state university in the school of medicine for about 15 years in mostly health psychology and also doing in working in a immunology clinic working the specifically, specifically with children, adolescents, and young adults and their families infected and affected with HIV.


Phebe Lam (02:32):
And so that really, you know was the kickstart of many of the things that I’m I’m doing today was from the, those early the experiences working with some amazing clients, amazing families that, that really inspired me to, to, to who I am today. So, and then 2015 I I started working for university of Windsor going right back home, full circle, and working in the faculty of arts, humanities, and social sciences teaching doing administrative work, but working in student support creating initiatives for students for engagement for, for retention. And then also I taught a mentorship and learning course, which also was another moment that sort of redirected my journey in education and really sparked again, a lot of the things that I I’m doing today.


Phebe Lam (03:39):
And so where I’m at now I am in a acting associate vice president role of student experience. And I started that this year actually in March and it’s been quite the journey. So, you know, when you’re least expecting things to happen, they always happen. And I’m very grateful that I had the courage to, to take this on because there’s no looking back and I’m here today and I’m excited and really looking forward to them, many things that I can still do for, for the university community as well as beyond that. So that’s sort of in a nutshell.


Sam Demma (04:28):
That was an awesome response. Let’s backtrack to the transition from medicine to education. How did that transition happen? What prompted you to get into working more so into schools?


Phebe Lam (04:42):
Okay. So you know, I, I’m gonna give a, a little example and I might be dating myself by, by doing this, but that’s okay. I, I own it and I’m proud of it. So back in the sort mid eighties and late eighties, early nineties Kodak, the company had commercials and they were, you know, this Kodak moment, right? And the whole commercial was, you know your true colors, your true colors, you know, let your true colors shine through and, you know take those opportunities. And so throughout my life, I looking back, I had all these sort of codes, exact moments where they, you know, really changed, you know, my direction in, in life. And so so going from, from thinking about a career in medicine to, to education and psychology the turning point if I had to pinpoint was when I almost blew up our science lab because my partner and I, we didn’t know that our buns and burner was on and it was on, and suddenly the the GA at the time said, you know, I think we smell some, some gas and everybody’s looking at each other.


Phebe Lam (06:02):
And I looked at my little buns and burner, and I, I saw that it was indeed on, but with no flame. And so at that moment, we, you know, I kicked into action. I, you know, we turned it off. But inside, there was a moment where I thought, you know what there’s something more, and me sitting in this lab full of anxiety, full of stress, because I didn’t know it was my first year, first lab. I didn’t know where, what I was doing was unsure, but at that moment, because of that, I don’t know if it was the stress. It was that moment where some light turned on and I said, okay, Phoebe you know, hang tight. There’s something out there. And so from there on, I was always looking, always listening, always, you know, trying to you know, maybe you can sum it up as being just curious, curious as to what my journey should be.


Phebe Lam (06:59):
And so, as I was curious, talking to more and more people you know, learning and seeking out mentors it led me to, to hone in on, you know, how I love and I thrive to be in the environment where there is that learner teacher or mentee mentor relationships and, you know, supporting people in their darkest moments really, really touched me. And so then I knew that, you know, psychology and education was something that I wanted to head into. And at that moment, I still didn’t know what, you know, what, where that was going to lead. Right. But I was very open to those opportunities. And and here I am.


Sam Demma (07:48):
Steve jobs has this quote, and I’m gonna read it off of my phone because I shared it on Twitter recently. He said, okay, your work is gonna fill a large part of your life. And the only way to be truly five is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. And if you haven’t found it yet, keep looking, don’t settle. And based on what you just told me, it sounds like that little quote that Steve shared, it was at a 20, a 2005 Stanford commencement address sums up what sounds like your journey in education. It sounds like you were curious to find the thing you loved and that curiosity just kept pulling you forward. Where do you think absolutely. Where do you think that curiosity kind of comes from where you always, some, one that was interested in things growing up or was it cultivated?


Phebe Lam (08:46):
You know, a part of it was always interested, you know, and always curious of the things that I didn’t know. Mm. And very early on my especially my father really instilled in, you know in, in myself the, the desire and that passion to always be curious, you know, always ask questions. And as I’m speaking now, I can’t even think back to my grandparents who, who you know, had also very close relationship with. They would always, you know, we would always talk about or they would share their stories with, with me. And I was always very curious and very good listener. I think I mostly did a lot of listening more than asking questions. I don’t believe that I was that kid that asked a lot of questions. Right. I was always the, the, the observer, the, the listener and, and taking everything in and then, and then reflecting in the processing on that.


Phebe Lam (09:54):
But I, we really enjoyed stories, you know, listening to stories. I mean, that’s how I learn, learn the best. And that’s, you know, part of my teaching is through telling stories and listening to people’s lived experience. Wouldn’t it be great, Sam, if, you know, everybody could write their own story, you know, and we could tap into someone’s journey. And I think about that when I teach, I think about that when I mentoring students and working with students is, you know, taking that time to say, Hey, you know, what is your story? You know, what were your experiences? Because it’s not until I understand and hear those stories that I can be, be here to help support and, and truly understand, and, and, and listen and appreciate where they are in that moment when I’m with them. Yeah. Oh, I hope I answered that question.


Sam Demma (10:50):
You did, you did the importance of stories is connected to this idea of, of the importance of mentorship. I’ve had many mentors in my life who thinking about it now taught me so many things through the sharing of experiences and stories that they went through, which is why I think it’s so important to have somebody in your life who can mentor you, who can have your best interests at, and also be willing to invest some time into sharing some of their own experiences and learnings with you. You are a big fan of mentorship, helped turn it into even like a curriculum. And course, can you talk a little bit about that?


Phebe Lam (11:32):
Absolutely. and, you know before I start talking about it, you know, I use a lot of word interchangeably and I, and, and words are so incredibly important because, you know, I used to think about, you know, the, the education as the learner and the teacher, and now I’m finding because of, you know, that Kodak moment or that opportunity to, to head down you know, teaching this course mentorship and learning has led me to think about, you know, re or unlearning and relearning what education and what teaching really is. And for me teaching is actually mentoring because it’s not, there’s no boundaries. You know, when the class is done where you’re done taking my course, that relationship continues on. And I tell this to my students all the time, even my, anybody who I I’ve ever worked with. And a past teacher or professor you know, Dr.


Phebe Lam (12:35):
Clark Johnson back in my grad school days, he said this to all our students, you know, your tuition with me is good for a lifetime. Hmm. As long as you can find me, I’m here for you. And I offer that to all my students. I mean, you find me, I I’m here to support you. And through the, you know, 20, some odd year as of post-secondary teaching I’ve had students come back to me. I may not remember them you know, but I, you know, I I’m there. And so, okay. So leading into the mentorship. So in 2016 I was given the opportunity to teach a course called mentorship and learning. And it’s a fourth year level class that that teaches third and fourth year students to become mentors in a first year course in the faculty of arts, human to use in, or social sciences.


Phebe Lam (13:36):
And these mentors are in a majors only. So if you’re a psychology major, you would mentor in the first year psychology course. Okay. And so this class actually began in 2005 co-founders Tina Dr. Tina pules and professor Tson bacon. And so they gave me the opportunity to teach this class. I did not know what I was getting myself into. I mean, I did some work with mentoring in HIV where we would have doctors and nurses and staff at the hospital be mentors for, for, for, for children in, in our clinic. But this, you know, teaching mentorship, like I know about mentoring, but, you know, so I kind of just dove to it and said, you know what? I trust that they chose me. And you know, I’m gonna trust this process and I can tell you Sam it has changed my life, you know being a mentor and a mentee.


Phebe Lam (14:41):
It, you know, first year students that come to university is a transition period, and we know that they’re at risk, right. And so having these mentors who are their peers is incredibly important, right. We’ve seen the, the statistics in retention, but more importantly, this class is for these, you know, 25 to 50. Now we have about a hundred students mentors to foster and to to help them to grow in, you know, leadership and becoming mentors for the rest of their lives to seek out mentors to be mentees, but to also be mentors themselves. So, yeah. And and many of the students that I’ve taught over the years you know, they’re working alongside me in the office of student experience even right now. So these are relationships that have continued on. Yeah. And will continue on,


Sam Demma (15:41):
Did the BIDE Institute come to life with students in that class? Or tell me a little bit about the origins of the Biden Institute as well.


Phebe Lam (15:50):
Okay. yes. So the by Institute B I D E stands for belonging, inclusivity, diversity, and equity. And this is a student led student run initiative that focuses on those four pillars, belonging, inclusivity, diversity and equity, and the co-founders of these, this Institute are two two of my students who went through the mentorship and learning program. Cool. And I knew, you know, you know, when you see you know, the potential in, in, in, in students you know, my first, my first, you know, thing to do is to, to grab a hold of them and say, Hey, listen, you, you, you know, this is, this is a great opportunity. And actually they came up with this opportunity or this initiative I said to them, you know, back in may, I said, listen, you know, I wanna do something for the students.


Phebe Lam (16:50):
And, you know, it’s not me, it’s gonna be students working with students, students coming up with these initiatives. And within two months the Biden Institute came up and and we’re very excited to kickstart this very unique Institute for students. Basically it’s a platform where students can come to together share their experiences, share what they know, share their passion through conversation, through activities and providing a safer and brave place for them to be able to see their, their creativity, see their thoughts come in to to, to life and to be able to to, to, to build their legacy every day.


Sam Demma (17:44):
Hmm. It’s amazing. If someone is interested in learning more about the Institute, does it have a web URL or a, a page that someone can search to read about it?


Phebe Lam (17:54):
Yes. Yes they do. Yes, they do. Sorry. Yes, we do. So if I can share that link with you you know, after yeah.


Sam Demma (18:05):
Awesome. Amazing. And what the does the day in the life look like in your current role and position you’ve done, you know, various different things. What, what does the day in the life look like now?


Phebe Lam (18:20):
Oh, wow.


Sam Demma (18:21):
That’s a tough one.


Phebe Lam (18:22):
Oh, no, it’s it, yes. It, it’s a, it’s a tough one, but it’s also really exciting just, you know, it is every day of you know, how can I even sum it up? It’s it’s leadership in a in a, in a way that I didn’t see leadership as it is the way that I see it today. And so, you know, just a few points, you know I’ve really learned that, you know, I don’t have to have the right answers and just the thought of that gives me freedom, right. Gives me freedom to, to be curious, because that’s also freedom. And, you know, understand that the power in leadership comes when we share it and we support it in others. And a large part of what I do is is, is fostering our future leaders and having students working in my office.


Phebe Lam (19:30):
Now I have, you know, this office has, you know five directors that are are, are so wonderful. And, you know, when I look at the work that they do it’s the commitment, you know, it’s their it’s, I see the inspiration that they have in them and the passion that they have in them to really serve the students, because they want to make, you know, this community this world a truly, a better place. And, and again, you know, that leaving that legacy be, be behind, right. As, as we move forward you know, in the day in the life, you know, every day is about being vulnerable keeping in check with who I am being aware and constantly reflecting and and assessing where I am where others are and to meet others where they are not expect to, to come to me and be at my place, but for me to put forth, authentic and genuine effort to go to where they are and to meet them where they are and see what our student needs are and what what needs are for those who work alongside me and to nurture that.


Sam Demma (20:54):
Awesome, something that I believe is important is being a lifelong learner. And you strike me as someone with curiosity, who is always looking for new ways to grow and learn new things over the course of your career, have you found any books or resources or courses or things that you had went through that were extremely valuable that you think if other educators had the chance to read, watch, or experience would also be helpful for their personal development?


Phebe Lam (21:29):
Absolutely. So I have a, a few a few a few videos or a few individuals that, that again have really impacted my view in perspective in not just, you know, education or teaching and learning and not just in mentoring and leadership, but for every day. Mm. So you don’t have to be a teacher or you can be a child or anyone, you know, I mean, there’s seven point what 8 billion people in this, in this world. And we’re all unique living beings, right. Each with our own lived experiences. So so yes, there are, there are the first one is Drew Dudley. He is a, you know, leadership speaker and he speaks to everyday leadership and the lollipop moment, how we should be creating impact every day through not just the big stuff, because most of us are not doing those big grand things, but those everyday leadership opportunities by, you know, as simple as acknowledging what somebody’s done for you, and those are those lollipop moments, and I’ve really done a lot, made an effort to do that more and more.


Phebe Lam (22:49):
And week I, I, I look back and reflect on my life and think, oh, you know what, at this moment, this person made a huge difference in my life. And it could have been easy as a, a, a, a constant smile that this person always had. And I, I went back and I acknowledged that, and, you know and that’s been really great. So ju du lead the everyday leadership, his Ted talk really really impacted me. The other person that’s really impacted myself is Dra woman’s right. A, she won the she received the 2004 Nobel peace prize for her work. And she speaks to the story of a hummingbird and where, you know, a hummingbird is in this huge Flos and this Floris is consumed with fire, and all the animals have, you know, come together and are, is looking with, at this floors burning and feeling, you know, very overwhelmed and powerless, and, you know, not knowing what to do, except for this little hummingbird and this little hummingbird, you know, said to itself, well, I’m gonna do something about this fire.


Phebe Lam (24:04):
So it flies back and forth to the stream and brings with this little beak, a tiny droplets of water and sprinkling onto this huge forest fire. And all the animals are, you know, animals bigger than the hummingbird, you know, said to this hummingbird, you know, what are you doing? You know, you’re so small, this fire is so big and your wings are so little, you know, you only carry a drop of water at the time. Like, what are, you know, what’s that gonna do? And, you know, this little hummingbird was not at all discouraged. And it turned to these, these animals and said, you know, I’m doing the best I can. Mm. And, you know, I, I carry that with me. And I shared, you know, this story with, with my students all the time, as I, you know, we can just do the best we can, you know, and and that’s enough.


Phebe Lam (24:52):
Right. And, you know, and it’s okay to be that hummingbird because there are other hummingbirds around who are doing this exact same thing. And, you know, we, we, we can, you know, we see each other and together, you know, is better. And you know, as, as small as you think that you are, or maybe you may feel insignificant, you really are not you know, you just need to do the best you can and to, to be able to reach out for support when you can. So those are, you know, the two you know, two little videos, short videos that that really has, you know, impacted my journey and has really, you know, given me some clear direction. I always go back to, to those two things. You know, especially when times are challenging and when times are difficult.


Sam Demma (25:43):
That’s amazing. Those are both two awesome resources. I’ll make sure to link them in the show notes and on the article. So you can watch those if you’d like as well, Phoebe, this has been a really enjoyable conversation packed with so many experiences and ideas. If someone wants to reach out, send you a message, what would be the best way for them to get in contact with you?


Phebe Lam (26:07):
My email at the university of Windsor I’m also on LinkedIn. I have to do better with that. Not as I don’t keep up with that as, as much, but that’s one of my goals for 2022. But yes, my email is, you know, Phebe.Lam@uwindsor.ca


Sam Demma (26:28):
Awesome. Phoebe, thank you so much. Keep up the amazing work. Keep being a hummingbird and making everyday impact. And I’ll talk to you soon.


Phebe Lam (26:37):
Thank you, Sam. Thank you again for this opportunity.

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