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Student Leadership

Brent Dickson – A masterclass on events, engagement ideas and becoming the least popular teacher in your school (It’s not what you think…)

Brent Dickson – A masterclass on events, engagement ideas and becoming the least popular teacher in your school (It’s not what you think…)
About Brent Dickson

Brent Dickson (@brent_dickson) is a leadership & physical education teacher at Centennial High School. In 2005 Centennial High School started with one leadership class of 25 students.  Now Centennial has six leadership classes per year with around 200 students total. 

Brent has been teaching student leadership in BC and Alberta for over 20 years. He has presented in schools and conferences across Canada and is the Director of the Canadian Student Leadership Association. Previously, he served as President of the Alberta Association of Student Councils and Advisers. His previous schools have also hosted the Jr. High and the Adviser Alberta conferences.

Currently teaching leadership and P.E., he is the Department Head of Student Leadership at Centennial High School in Calgary, Alberta. He also coaches rugby there as well, and he is the certified Link Crew coordinator there. Brent was awarded the Canadian Student Leadership Association Leader of Distinction Award in September 2012 and an Alberta Excellence in Teaching Award Finalist in 2004.

Connect with Brent: Email | Instagram | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Brent Dickson’s Personal Website

Canadian Student Leadership Association (CSLA)

Alberta Association of Student Councils and Advisers (AASCA)

The Boomerang Project

Centennial High School Website

Kahoot

What is a Walkathon?

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 episode is a little bit different. Firstly, we don’t have the normal intro playing. You may have already noticed that. Secondly, we have a repeat guest. Our repeat guest today is Brent Dixon. Brent is a leadership and physical education teacher at Centennial High School in Alberta. In 2005, the high school started with one leadership class of 25 students, and it now has six leadership classes per year with around 200 students total. I’m so grateful that Brent took the time to come back on the show. We used today’s conversation to talk about so many amazing ideas that he has implemented in his school, in his classrooms, with the help of his student leaders that have created massive impact and generated awesome results in the hope that you can steal and borrow some of these and his ideas. We talk about everything from the power of colouring to running a rock athon, to using candy <laugh> to generate some very meaningful conversation and ideas, to having a special appreciation for students on their birthdays. Like there are so many amazing ideas in today’s conversation, and I hope you really enjoy it and take something away. I will see you on the other side of this conversation with Brent. Today’s special guest is a good friend of mine, Brent Dixon. Brent, welcome back to the show. Please take a moment to introduce yourself.

Brent Dickson (01:41):

Well, hello, my name is Brent Dixon and I’m a teacher in Calgary at Centennial High School. We’re a 10-12 school and for the most part I teach student leadership, and then I occasionally have a phys ed class. Also, in the spring I coach junior boys rugby. So I’m a man of many efforts, I guess. Not talents. <laugh>,

Sam Demma (02:03):

You’re a man of many both. And I can say that from personal experience. There are tons of teachers listening to this, some of which are always looking for new ideas. They can’t see that. Behind you. During this interview is a collage of colored superheroes and cars and unicorns and just beautiful pictures that your students colored behind you on the wall. Can you explain what those pictures are, why they’re up there, and how a teacher could use something similar to engage their students in a leadership perspective?

Brent Dickson (02:36):

Sure. So it was actually as Covid forced us to get a lot more creative. when I was doing leadership classes, we didn’t run near as many activities and sometimes we weren’t even doing any. So I really had to find stuff to engage them. And so I, I can’t credit where I got the original idea. I saw it somewhere, but the idea to let kids color in class. So once a semester when they come in, I have four different designs out specifically Spider-Man and cars and a unicorn, and of course SpongeBob squarepants, but it could be whatever, nice. And a whole bunch of crayons. And then they come in and I say, it’s just time to color. And so they’ll start coloring one thing and they are very into it. And then on the instruction it says that we’ll put them up around the classroom once you’ve shown it to me.

Brent Dickson (03:24):

And so I kind of talk about how it’s kind of like a fridge door at home where you know you color something great and your mom puts it up nice. So they, the first time I did it, I couldn’t believe how into it they were. And then I realized I really gotta limit this to once a semester. And so I chose a Friday where our, our Fridays are shorter class. And even that day we had a modified schedule, so it was a little shorter. We never actually got to doing any leadership work. Cause kids would come up and they’re like can I color a second one? I’m like, well, it has to be different. Okay, so now I’m doing SpongeBob. Can I color a third one? Sure. by the end of halfway through the second class, I had to run down to the photocopy room and make more copies cuz I realized I wasn’t gonna have enough for the day.

Brent Dickson (04:04):

And then they show you very proudly and they put ’em up around the room and we just use like some green painters tape and I’ll leave them up until the, well, until the end of the semester. And there’s actually three I can’t really show you, but they’re up behind a screen. This was last spring. These three kids said, we want ours to last longer, <laugh>. So they’re behind the screen we pull down so you can sort of see ’em sometimes. I’m looking at ’em right now and so they might just be there a long time. But oh, one little tip though. Don’t put green tape on your windows cuz I discovered if I left them up too long, the sun would make it leave residue. Ah, we were scraping tape off of those windows. It was not good. So

Sam Demma (04:47):

Do you stick to the walls?

Brent Dickson (04:49):

Stick to the walls? That’s right. Otherwise it’s awesome. And so actually we did that last Friday and so now it’s Tuesday. I still have kids. They’re all coming in. They, they’re checking out each other’s, they actually take their friends to show them their drawing. And then there’s one that’s that my grade tens thought was amazing. They all had to look at and find out what kid in grade 11 had made that post or colored that thing. So it’s, it’s a simple little thing, but they just need a break and they need something a little different and something that, that they can feel good about and be engaged. So

Sam Demma (05:22):

I think it’s the simple little things that make the biggest impact. Sometimes the small ways in which we appreciate other people engage our students leaves the biggest impression. I remember being in your classroom, facilitating some workshops, speaking in the school, and there was something that you do for every single student’s birthday that I think is priceless. And it’s one of those simple little things that really makes them feel appreciated and included in a part of the community. Can you explain your little birthday hack and where it came from? <laugh>?

Brent Dickson (05:55):

Yeah. Well it, most of my ideas, I either copy from someone else or they’re by accident. And so I had some ring pops left over this a few years ago, just kind of little, the cheap candy you put on your finger and then you suck on the ring pop. I had a few left over in from some activity and then it was a kid’s birthday and I said, well, why don’t you have a ring pop? And they got like all excited and then the other kids are, can have a ring pop. And I’m like, well, it’s not your birthday <laugh>. And so then it became a tradition and so I, I was hitting I think it was superstore to get ring pops and then there was a real crisis because they weren’t carrying them anymore. And you can tell my generation, it didn’t occur to me that I could just go on Amazon and order buckets.

Brent Dickson (06:39):

So once I figured that out, started bringing them in. So what happens is I’m, I’m lucky on my attendance program, it tells me two weeks out every kid’s birthday. Nice. And so when it’s their birthday, the very first time we practice, there’s a very specific song. So it’s happy birthday to you. And then they have to point their fingers and they go Cha Chacha. They do that a few times. And then at the end we say, happy birthday Dear Sam, and we draw your name out and happy birthday to you. And then they have to show jazz hands and we say, and many more <laugh> and it’s super cheesy, but they all know how to do it and they expect it. And then sometimes they’re writing their names on the calendar that the birthday’s coming up, the kid comes up and they choose their ring pop and I take a picture of them with it.

Brent Dickson (07:26):

And and then some of the kids they like, they’re asking, well, can I get a ring pop? It’s not your birthday. oh it is. Well show me your id. You know, they have <laugh>. And then the kids like, well what if it’s not my birthday this semester? I’m like, well, you come on your birthday or close to it and I’ll get you one. Well what if my birthday’s in the summer? You come last day of classes in June and we’ll take care of you <laugh>. Several kids will come in looking for their ring pop for sure. So wow, it’s a little thing. But if you make the ring pop a big deal, then it becomes a big deal to them. They can’t get one. I mean, they can obviously go to the store and buy their own, but I will never give a kid a ring pop for anything other than their birthday. I got other treats and stuff for other things, but it’s just the event and making a big deal of it that I think and, and letting ’em know that, that we know and that we care about ’em.

Sam Demma (08:13):

You could use any object, but if you hype it up and make it significant, the students will also hype it up and believe it’s significant. And I think that’s such an important reminder, not only for physical gifts and little objects, but for teaching. When you’re passionate about what you’re teaching, you’re passionate and enthusiasm about the subject will hopefully rub off on the students. your Ring pop idea made me think back to a conversation I had with Josh Sable, and you might know the name Josh is from Tanem Bomb Chat. It’s not a west A school in the west. He’s, he’s here in Toronto, but they do this thing at the end of the year that they call the Golden Bagels. And it’s like the Oscars, but they hand out these shelac bagels <laugh> on a golden piece of string. And it’s like the school’s big end of the year celebration.

Sam Demma (09:08):

And I, I was at the school recently and they gave me one as a parting gift and it’s, it is ugly, it’s a bagel with sesame seeds on it, glued on. And you, you would think to yourself, who the heck would want this? But it’s what’s attached to it, the meaning that’s attached to it. And I think there’s so many things that you do that have such good important meanings in your classroom and outside of it, one of the things that I loved was the wall of cell phones. Can you talk about what inspired that decision? And I, I just think that in a world that’s always glued to their phones, it’s such a cool idea and one that I think other educators could benefit from trying in their own classrooms if done correctly at the start of the semester, <laugh>.

Brent Dickson (09:52):

So this is how you can become the least popular teacher in your school,

Sam Demma (09:56):

<laugh>.

Brent Dickson (09:57):

 so I had a couple years ago, I had a semester that put me over the edge with a class that the phones were such a problem and they were just getting worse and worse. They just couldn’t leave ’em alone. And so they were addicted to ’em all the time. They’re on top of that. They weren’t engaging with each other, they would, I even had like a guest speaker in one time and third of the class is on their phone. And so it just kind of had decided that’s enough, but you can’t, you can’t really do it mid-semester. You have to kick it off at the beginning. So some friends of mine at SKO High School in Edmonton had been doing this, so I copied their idea and I found out that there are phone caddies you can order off of Amazon. I had no idea.

Brent Dickson (10:37):

 and then when I went and searched it, like there are tons and tons of them. So apparently this is a market, I shouldn’t be surprised that this is a big market for teachers. So it’s a thing you kind of can hang over your blackboard. And so I ordered one that’s got 42 slots in it. You wanna order the bigger one if you got bigger classes. And then when the kids come in, they have to put their cell phone in their designated slot. And so I write down the number for each kid, so in case one gets left behind, I know who it belongs to, they have to put it in right away. And then on the screen I have what’s called a do now activity running. So it could be almost anything. It might, so for example, today I had these cards you hand out that were pre-made and they had to ask someone else what’s big question number one?

Brent Dickson (11:21):

So like one, and then I have the kids report after. So one kid asked someone else, who would you invite to dinner if you could invite anyone? Another question was what countries have you traveled to and which was your favorite? So it, you know, simple basic stuff like that. Yeah. So they, so I’m taking away their phone, but I’m giving them something to do right away. And so I have a whole PowerPoint set with a whole bunch of these slides that I go to and I just recycle each semester. And then the other thing I do is the kids are not allowed to have their cell phone until the last 10 minutes of class. Mm. And so unless they come to me and they have a very specific reason they’re posting something or looking for something. And the funny thing that happened when I first started was I’d put up these times on a piece of paper and I said, it’s exactly this time.

Brent Dickson (12:08):

So you don’t get the phone until three twenty four, not 3 23, not 3 22 or whatever it is. Right. And then this one kid says grade 12 student, well Mr. Dixon, how are we gonna know what time it is if we don’t have our phone? And I’m like, that is an excellent point, <laugh>. But then I went to Walmart and I bought a little digital phone and I, it’s right beside the phone caddy. And now all the kids know, and I actually ran into him just a week ago. He, he graduated last spring and he was back at the school and I said, Hey, your your clock is still there. He’s like, no way. And I said, yeah, I, I’ll tell teachers how sometimes you don’t think of everything and you gotta listen to students. And so the clock is there and they know that they can’t touch their phone until it touches that spot.

Brent Dickson (12:58):

Now the real bonus for that is it actually frees them from the phone. It allows them to engage with each other if I, and then I can be the bad guy, right? Like, oh, I wish I had my phone. But most part they really don’t. Yeah. And so we, when they’re working on their projects and stuff, we’ll play music. Like a kid can be DJ for the day with a Bluetooth speaker and whatever, but they’re talking to each other. So even if they’re sitting and making a poster or they’re planning something or whatever, they’re also talking about what happened on the weekend. They’re talking about that science test they hated or whatever it is. But they’re connecting, which we know more than ever is super important as they’re having that face to face conversation. I, I will never go back to cell phones and kids’ hands. I, I, I thought it would work and I was really impressed with how great it really has made a difference in the class.

Sam Demma (13:52):

Speaking about listening to students, what are some of the ideas that have been student generated in the school over the past couple of months? Is there anything that students in your class have suggested you try or as a school that you do? Is there initiatives or ideas or anything that’s going on right now that you think this was, you know, co-created with the help of the students in front of me?

Brent Dickson (14:17):

Well, there’s one little one that it’s not hard to do either that we’d been talking about before is we called them kind of our dinosaur posts on Instagram. And so it kind of had 2, 2, 2 names. It was the dinosaurs of the school or it was the day so you can decide what you, so Centennial opened in 2004 and I came to the school in 2005 and the kids were starting to talk about what was different. I was telling ’em some stories about how the gym wasn’t ready the first time and oh, what the cafeteria looked like. They were fascinated by this stuff. It was like I could have gone an hour of old school centennial story time. So then I said, well, why don’t we, or do you wanna explore this further? So they came up with the idea that we would identify, so they picked five teachers that I kind of told ’em who had been around a long time.

Brent Dickson (15:08):

So they interviewed them all and they asked them, they asked them what was one of their favorite stories from back in the day, and then something about why they, I’m trying to remember now why do they why they’re still at Centennial now and what do they love about Centennial cause cuz a lot of people have taught here for, you know, 18, 20 years. And so they came up with these stories and they took a picture of each of them and to promote it, they put some of these dinosaur posters up around the school and just said, coming soon. And then for five days they just posted them on Instagram and it got a lot of conversation. I think kids were like, no way. That’s what it was. Like that wing was closed. You had to wear hard hats at the beginning or whatever it was that that they thought was great.

Brent Dickson (15:51):

So it was, it wasn’t very hard and it kind of showed a little shout out or respect to those teachers that had been around a while. And it wouldn’t have to be from the beginning of the school, but you know, just in your building who’s been here maybe 10 or 15 years, cuz they’ll have, even if the physical building hasn’t changed Mm. They’ll have stories of stuff that was different. We used to do this, or this time this thing happened, or, or whatever. It’s, you know, so it, it wasn’t very hard and it worked really well.

Sam Demma (16:19):

There are, it sounds like there are a couple of things you do annually, the birthdays, the phones, the coloring, the different activities you mentioned previously. What are some of the other things that you, you do on a non-negotiable basis? Every single year, like this is an absolute hit and every single time we do it, students love it and you’ve continued to do it or intend to continue doing it because you think, gosh this always has such a positive response.

Brent Dickson  (16:54):

I, I’ll go from really small to really big. Okay. I would say that one of our biggest that has the biggest impact is our rock athon.

Sam Demma (17:02):

Ah, nice.

Brent Dickson  (17:03):

To every spring. And so we had done it before Covid for a few years and then of course it got blown up like everything else. And then we brought it back this last spring. And so I’m sure a lot of people listening have had this similar experience where we’ve got these traditions, but there’s no kid in the building that’s done them <laugh> kinda like starting over again, right? Yeah. So rock athon, what we do is we raise money for the Alberta Children’s Hospital, but it really doesn’t matter what you choose. Nice. And kids will form a team of, of six to 10 kids and they have to fundraise as a team, $750 to qualify to come to Rocka. And then they also pay a ticket fee for the, for the event, for the expenses of the event. So right now it’s been $25 though it may have to go up a little bit with inflation here in the future.

Brent Dickson  (17:56):

Nice. The kids have to, so the first thing they do is they register as a team. They pay their, their $25 per person fee, and then we have them in as a group and then they start their fundraising. And it can be from soliciting people to bottle drives, to bake sales. Like there’s all sorts of creative stuff that goes on. And if they raise that amount of money, then on the day of rock athon, we always do it on a Friday one or they have to bring in a rocking chair. So that’s the idea of rock athon. It’s not like rocking and rolling. And so at one, so for 15 hours straight, one kid or another has to be in the rocking chair and rocking. Ok. And so that’s kinda the thing that they’re getting sponsored to do. So during this, and we set them up in little groups in the main cafeteria area, we kind of map it out with tape on the floor.

Brent Dickson  (18:46):

And so that’s kind of their little living room or their camp. And so during class some of them get excused and they’re rocking and they get to miss school while they’re doing it. So that’s not a bad thing. And and then what we do is if they fundraise $1,500, then they get power at their station. so I have like several electric cords stacked away for Walkathon. So the idea there is they can plug in like an Xbox or a, a blender for smoothies or whatever they want. And some kids say, well, I’ll just bring my own. And I’m like, and then I’ll cut it up because my wall <laugh>, but they’re good with, so usually about a third of the groups will fundraise that extra money. And so it’s like Call of Duty all day with them and they’re loving it. Right.

Brent Dickson (19:32):

And so that goes during the day and then we actually bring in a whole bunch of food trucks and the food trucks will give us a percentage of their profits in our parking lot. And all the kids in the building get to participate in that. But if you’re part of Rock Aon, you’re wearing a t-shirt that says rock athon on it and kind like a v i p we walk you to the front of the line and those lines are pretty long, so it’s nice to be able to get your fries or tacos or whatever else it is. Right. I give a taco shout <laugh>. And then after school, once the building’s cleared, we have a full on party. Okay. So we have, we actually bring in some bikes and trikes and skateboards and then go up, down, up, down, or they’re allowed to actually ride the bike in the building.

Brent Dickson (20:14):

Nice. we’ll set up treat tables. We have a photo booth going at one point. We bring in a professional improv company. This year we’re looking at maybe doing a hypnotist. we’ll do like cahoot games and then there’s times we just let ’em sit and visit and chill and we bring in dinner for them as well. And then we go till about 1130 at night. And it’s, it’s an awesome experience because I, the key things you gotta do, if you’re gonna try to fundraise for something that’s significant, you need to have a great cause and then you need need to have a social experience for kids just said, Hey, donate money to Children’s Hospital. We’re not gonna get much if we just said, Hey, why don’t you come hang out with all your friends on a Friday night at Centennial. They’re not coming when you put the two together, that’s the magic where they have those things and then you’re gonna have success.

Brent Dickson (21:06):

And we had, I can’t tell you how many kids I heard after, either anecdotally or personally talking about, oh, I should have signed up for Rock Athon. I didn’t know what it was nice. We’re anticipating we’ll have at least 50% or twice as many teams next year. Now the kids have seen it and they kind of know what it is. It’ll top out at some point, but you just kind of have to see it and experience like, oh, I should have done that. So that it’s, it’s a big huge event. It takes a lot of practice and, and work to get ready for. But the other real payoff too is your kids running the event. Oh man. Like the, how happy they are and how good they’re feeling about what they did and that it was their thing that they ran. So

Sam Demma (21:45):

That’s a massive idea. Give us a medium size idea and then a small idea.

Brent Dickson  (21:53):

Play bingo in the cafeteria at lunch.

Sam Demma (21:56):

Hmm.

Brent Dickson  (21:57):

So I would strongly recommend buy yourself a smaller bingo drum.

Brent Dickson  (22:02):

Is so easy. You just go in at lunch and you can go on the the worldwide web and they have plenty of printable bingo cards.

Sam Demma (22:10):

What’s that?

Brent Dickson (22:10):

Just yeah,

Sam Demma (22:12):

<laugh>,

Brent Dickson (22:13):

Just get just get goofy prizes. Like go to the dollar store, get like a two liter bottle of pop, get a thing of chips, get, get a thing of Princess Tiaras or Wagon wheels, it doesn’t really matter. And, and you just play bingo at lunch and Nice. And so we’re about 1500 kids in our school and every time we do bingo, we’ll have two to 300 kids. All their playing bingo. Nice. And when they call it, they come up, they get their prize, they’re super happy, it doesn’t take very much and it’s, it’s a win. Right. And the nice thing about it is, you know, if you’re doing the pie eating contest or something like that, that’s a few kids that participate and launch the watch. We do a lot of that kinda stuff, but this is one where they can come up and they can, whoever wants, can be a part of it and have a chance to win. Right. And then if you’re really ambitious, take their pictures of the winners, post it on Instagram so they’ll have glory forever as they won these, this pair of two sweatpants from the smart shop that who knows <laugh>, how they’ll ever be able to wear it. But, but it’s glory forever. Right.

Sam Demma (23:17):

<laugh>. Okay. Medium size idea. What if someone orders a small leadership idea? What are you telling them?

Brent Dickson  (23:23):

Small leadership idea.

Sam Demma (23:25):

I mean you already shared a few at the beginning of this call, but anything else come to mind?

Brent Dickson (23:30):

Oh I think just, well I’ll give you a couple lollipops in the classroom. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> I discovered this one by accident and it works really well. we had some, some kids, we have an opening orientation with our link crew program where we bring candies in for these tours and stuff and there was a bunch left over and so a kid comes up and says, Hey, can I have a lollipop? And I’m like, sure. Then another kid, Hey, can I have a lollipop? And so I realized this was popping. These are the cheapest type that you get when you go to the doctor when you get a shot. Lollipops or not fancy schmanzy lollipops. Yeah. And I started putting them in this bowl and there was a run on lollipops real quick. So then I discovered I can only put out one bag a week or I’m gonna go broke <laugh> issue Now I went to the dollar store and they’re not carrying them right now.

Brent Dickson (24:21):

Okay. I had to turn to Amazon at a slightly larger expense. I need to find a new supplier of my chief load cups. Nice. But it’s just a little thing that’s really easy. And then I think the other thing is, is little things is just recognizing kids in your school. So we do things like we’ll have the coyote the month display and we just picked four random kids that have done not academic or athletic, but just have done cool things. Like a teacher just told me a half hour ago, Hey, I got a kid for carry of the month and it was a kid who has been helping out with a special needs kid, ah, and just kind of helping them at lunch and some things like that, that kind of just stepping out and, and that, I don’t know this kid very well. They may not be an athlete at all. They may not be an academic all star, but that’s pretty amazing what they’re doing. So that’s a, that’s a way to recognize,

Sam Demma (25:07):

I won’t forget the young man who held the door open when I walked through the front doors of your school. And then you told me that he holds the door open every day for everybody. And I think I had three or four students after I was making a big deal about it. Tell me that they walked through the door every day and he’s holding it for them. And most times they have their hands full and they’re so grateful for it. So I think recognizing your population once a month, once a week in your classroom, I think that’s a great idea.

Brent Dickson (25:36):

Here’s another little bonus idea along that lines. We, we do Walmart greeters on Friday mornings. Nice. You have kids go, we have two doors that kids come in, you have to kind of figure out your building. Maybe there’s just one place or maybe there’s a couple. So we split ’em up and I’ve got two Bluetooth speakers. So they go to each door and they play whatever music they want, long as it’s appropriate. And they just say good morning. They kinda wave, say Good morning, welcome to Centennial. Kind of like a Walmart greet. And you, I’ve watched when kids come in, some, some will be stone faced all the way through. but some you see they get a smile on their face or Oh hey, how are you? That kind of thing. Right. And so we made some t-shirts that kind of ripped off the Walmart logo. We changed it to Centennial. But you don’t even need anything like that. You can go to the Dollar Star and get Walmart greeter hats or, I mean, who cares? You call it. Yeah. It’s, it’s, it’s nothing. But and actually the kids have found the music that works the best is old school like playing Abba or Elvis or something like that. Cause cause no one really has an opinion on it, whether they love it or not.

Sam Demma (26:38):

<laugh>,

Brent Dickson  (26:39):

It’s just a little easy thing to do. And oh, and then when my, my kids come back as Walmart greeters they get a two pack of dad’s cookies and a superstore juice box.

Sam Demma (26:49):

Nice.

Brent Dickson  (26:50):

Not a big deal, but like that’s how you earn those is you’re a Walmart greeter. Right. And it’s mostly just thanks for coming in early and, and doing that for other kids. Right.

Sam Demma (26:58):

Yeah. I think the incentives are great ideas, whether it’s a ring pop lollipop, a dad’s cookies, some chocolates. I know you have assorted candies that you hand out for certain things too.

Brent Dickson (27:10):

This seems like the most unhealthy leadership program ever. We we’re really not all about just handing out candies of bribing kids. There’s a lot more going on. But

Sam Demma (27:18):

We talked about candy, crayons, social media ideas, recognizing students. We talked about the rock athon. This was a full on masterclass for student leaders and student leadership ideas. So Brent, thank you so much for coming on the, the podcast today to share all of your wisdom and insights. If someone wants to learn more, you have a blog filled with ideas where should they go to read and and check those out?

Brent Dickson (27:46):

It’s easy to remember; brentdickson.net. So you go on there and I try to faithfully periodically I put down stuff, just different ideas, things have been working out. usually try to start with a story about something that kind of inspired me. Usually something that a kid did. And then here’s an idea for your school. Here’s an idea you can do in your class. And when you go on there, you can either like it and follow it or you can actually click a click a spot where the post comes directly to you in an email so you can check it out and hopefully it helps you out.

Sam Demma (28:15):

Awesome. Brian, thank you so much. I’m gonna title this podcast episode, how to Become the Most Unpopular Teacher in Your School, <laugh>

Brent Dickson (28:25):

Perfect

Sam Demma (28:26):

With the phone case id. I love it. no, seriously, thank you so much for coming on the show. Keep up the great work, keep up the great writing, and I look forward to crossing paths again soon.

Brent Dickson  (28:35):

All right. Thank you brother.

Sam Demma (28:38):

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

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Brent Dickson

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.

Alexis Epp – 3rd Year Student at the University of Regina (Bachelor of Social Work)

About Alexis Epp

Alexis Epp helped develop and launch the Mental Wellness 30L program through the Sunwest School Division. She is finishing her 3rd year of her Bachelor of Social Work degree through the University of Regina and is a certified peer support.

Alexis has used her lived experience to help youth throughout the province and create resources for students and teachers. When she isn’t doing school work or creating mental wellness resources, Alexis loves spending time with family and friends.

Alexis is extremely passionate about youth mental health and helping people. As someone who has experienced the mental health system, she hopes to one day work in policy, changing policies to center around consumers rather than policymakers.

Connect with Alexis: Email

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Mental Wellness 30L program

Sunwest School Division

Bachelor of Social Work – University of Regina

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 (00:55):

Welcome back to the show.

Sam Demma (00:56):

Today’s special guest is Alexis Epp. Alexis help develop and launch the Mental Wellness 30 program through the Sunwest School division. She’s currently finishing her third year of her Bachelor of Social Work through the University of Regina, and is a certified peer support. Alexis has used her lived experience to help youth throughout the province, as well as to create resources for students and teachers. When she isn’t doing schoolwork or creating mental wellness resources, Alexis loves spending time with family and friends. Alexis is extremely passionate about youth mental health and helping people. As someone who has experienced the mental health system, she hopes to one day work in policy, changing policies so that they can center around consumers rather than the policy makers themselves. I hope you enjoy this interview with Alexis and I will see you on the other side. Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma, and today we are joined by a very special guest, Alexis Epp. Alexis was connected to me through a past guest, Elena, and I’m so excited to have her on the show today. Alexis, welcome.

Alexis Epp (02:02):

Thanks for having me.

Sam Demma (02:03):

Please start by introducing yourself.

Alexis Epp (02:05):

Yeah, my name is Alexis Epp. I’m 25. I am currently just finishing up my third year of social work. It’s a four year program, so one more year and I get my degree. I was born and raised in a small town and yeah, I helped Elena make the Mental Wellness 30 program and now we’re here.

Sam Demma (02:24):

What was your experience like growing up in a small town? Whereabouts are you from?

Alexis Epp (02:30):

It’s called Bigger Saskatchewan, if you’ve ever heard of it. The slogan is New York is big, but this is bigger. Nice <laugh>. Yeah, it’s great. It was really difficult for me, honestly small towns, very limited resources, so when you’re struggling with mental health, there’s not much that can be done. I was extremely lucky that the family I came from had the financial resources where they could take me into Saskatoon to get me the help I needed. But I know lots of people aren’t that fortunate, so I was extremely lucky that way.

Sam Demma (03:12):

When you say you struggled with mental health, was it something that started when you were in school or when do you think you started struggling?

Alexis Epp (03:22):

I think I’ve struggled my whole life honestly with anxiety but it’s not really, When I was growing up, it wasn’t really something that was talked about, so I didn’t know I was struggling. I just got it. It was kind of that, Oh, you’re nervous. I competed in pianos. So it was always just, Oh, that’s just the nerves. And I mean, I would cry before I went on stage and it just got chalked up to, Oh, those are just nerves. So I thought that was normal. And then when I was around 14 or 15 I really started to notice it. Then I was having trouble with my motivation. I had trouble getting up for school. I was missing a lot of school at that point. I always had stomach pain physical pain, and I was like, This just doesn’t make sense. And so my mom took me to my family doctor and that’s where I first heard the word depression. And I wasn’t really told much about it. I was just kinda, Oh, I think you have depression. Here’s a pill, take it every day. And sent me on my way. And so as a 14, 15 year old, I kind of took it when I took it if I felt like it. And so it didn’t really help me. <laugh>

Sam Demma (04:45):

<affirmative>. At what point did you start building the habits and the practices to really cope with what you were experiencing and grow into the person you are today? <laugh>?

Alexis Epp (04:58):

Honestly, not until I was around 20. It took me a really long time and a lot of traumatic experiences and just, I hit rock bottom and that’s when I was like, Okay, something needs to change. Cause obviously this is not working. And so in high school I had missed so much school, I had fallen so far behind. So I actually got my adult 12 instead of my full grade 12. So I had gotten that and that really, there’s a lot of stigma behind that. I thought I was a failure because I didn’t get my full 24 credits in high school. So I was very ashamed, felt super guilty. It was really hard for me. And then after I had graduated with my adult 12, there was some really bad accidents in bigger and three of my friends passed away within three days. And I mean, I wasn’t taught how to breathe as an 18 year old.

Alexis Epp (06:03):

I didn’t know what it was like to lose someone at such a young age and three people within three days. It was a lot for me to handle. So I decided I couldn’t be in that town anymore where I was constantly reminded of all of my law. And so I moved to Saskatoon shortly after I graduated and kind of was like, Okay, new city, fresh start, everything’s gonna be perfect. And unfortunately running away from your problems doesn’t work <laugh>. So when I moved to the city I originally was a nanny and for a while things were really good. I had thought things cause I had moved, everything was better <affirmative>, it solved my problems. But then I faced more trauma and I ended up losing my uncle who I was very close to and then my grandpa. And then I had a cousin pass away from an overdose and then my parents got divorced and it was just one thing after another and I started to spiral again cause I didn’t have those coping tools, <affirmative>.

Alexis Epp (07:18):

So I didn’t know what to do. And I had actually made a plan to take my life and my mom had found out about it. And so she took me to the emergency room. And in there it was not a great experience. I was put in a kind of closet. It was technically a room, but it was a storage closet with a bed. And so I was in there for around 10 hours total. And no one really checked on me while I was in there. And so I just started, we spiraling even more and I was texting my mom cause she had to go back to work and I said, I can’t do this. Can’t when I get out I can’t do this anymore. So my mom came back and showed the nurses my text messages and the nurse straight up said to my mom, she wasn’t just looking for pension.

Alexis Epp (08:22):

So yeah, it was a really bad experience. And from there I got admitted to the hospital where I spent around two months there. And while I was there Elena, I reached out to Elena cause I was taking classes again cause I was in a good place at the time. And then it happened really fast. So I called her and kind of told her what was going on and why I wasn’t handing an assignment. And she was like, Can I come visit you? And I was like, It’s not fun here. It’s like a jail, honestly, you have to buzz in and out. But I was like, If you want. So she came to visit me and said, Do you wanna build this mental wellness class with me? Like I said, I thought she was absolutely crazy at the time. I was like, mm-hmm <affirmative>, okay, whatever. But it kind of just really exploded from there and after I had gotten the help I needed from there.

Sam Demma (09:24):

That’s awesome. What was the experience like? First of all, thank you for sharing such vulnerable parts of your journey and your story. And I know there are people that can relate to certain parts of it and I appreciate you for being open and sharing that. What was the experience like building a curriculum with your teacher <laugh>? Like what did that even look like?

Alexis Epp (09:48):

It was honestly wild at the beginning. It was a lot of late nights cuz we were doing this just as volunteers at the beginning late nights over coffee, just kind of hanging out, really getting to know one another. And Elena actually through the journey, became one of my best friends. And it’s really cool the course because it came from a youth perspective. So I mean now that I’m a little bit older, it’s not necessarily the same, but back then I could really relate to what youth were going through cuz I was a youth. And when I went to my parents and I was like, I need help, their reaction was we don’t know how to help you because when we were your age, mental health wasn’t talked about. It was pushed under the rug. So when I went to them, there was, we don’t know what to do. So it was kind of a lot of just learning together and taking the resources that I had gotten from my therapist and doctors and nurses and social workers and everyone and just making these resources accessible to those who need it. Cause it shouldn’t be hard to get help for your mental health. And right now it still is unfortunately.

Sam Demma (11:12):

What are the avenues of help that you found most helpful that you think if another student is struggling they should look into?

Alexis Epp (11:22):

First and foremost, I definitely recommend if you are in crisis or just need someone to talk to you, kids help. Phone is absolutely amazing. I’ve used them a lot and even as a 25 year old, I know you can still use them as an adult. So that’s definitely a good place to start if you’re struggling. I don’t know about other places, but I know in Saskatchewan we have something called mobile crisis. If you are struggling they can help you out as well. And I believe it’s two 11 now in Saskatchewan where you can text them and they can give you resources where you are, which is awesome. So yeah, there’s lots of resources that are coming forward. But I would say my saving grace was honestly my psychiatrist, which is unfortunate in a way because they are quite inaccessible and there’s very long wait lists and not very many. But that really truly made the difference for me.

Sam Demma (12:28):

What did they do for you that you think really helped or Yeah, what was it about that relationship that you think really assisted you?

Alexis Epp (12:43):

It’s hard to explain, but I guess the relationship was, she just validated how I was feeling instead of offering me opinions or telling me to just be happy, she really validated how I was feeling and didn’t try and explain it, but she said, It’s okay, you feel this way. And I think that was one of the biggest things, but she just listened to me and it’s hard to find that lots of people are trying to help but give unsolicited opinions and that can be really hard when you’re struggling,

Sam Demma (13:16):

Especially if you make it seem like you know what they’re going through and you might have no idea. It’s like

Alexis Epp (13:23):

Absolutely, I think it’s very frustrating and I know people come from a good place, but when you’re in that position, especially me with my depression, I know what I need to do. I’m just stuck in that freeze mode where I just can’t bring myself to do it, but I know what I need to do, I just can’t do it. So when other people are constantly telling you and reminding you what you need to do, it gets really overwhelming.

Sam Demma (13:50):

When a student approaches a teacher and is struggling with their mental health, what would you recommend a teacher or an educator do? Who wants to support?

Alexis Epp (14:00):

First of all just listen. Don’t try and diminish it or say, I got this a lot in high school, but that’s just normal teenage problems. And I’m like, no it’s not. So definitely just listen, keep an open ear. And I would say safety is number one. As a future social worker even that’s one of the first things we’re taught. If someone talks about suicide, they need help and that’s a crisis. So you can’t really wait and see if that one’s gonna get better. Take that as an emergency and get the emergency help, whether that’s police or a social worker or the parent that needs help. But yeah, I would definitely just say listen. And in our school division we have something called Teacher resource base and we have so many mental health resources in there for students and teachers. So that’s definitely a really great thing to provide the students with. I would say yeah, just listen and if they ask for, help them, but kinda follow their lead, see what they need, not what you think they need, but find out what they actually need.

Sam Demma (15:28):

That’s great advice. Thanks for sharing that. I appreciate it. I know there’s so many teachers who can relate to that experience and who have had students approach them before and maybe felt a little handicapped as if they weren’t sure what the best route of action was to help that individual even though they really wanted to.

Alexis Epp (15:47):

And that’s the thing, I know so many teachers who want to help but they don’t know how. And just remember that when a student comes to you, that’s a very vulnerable position to be asking for help that that’s a lot of trust. So definitely just make sure you’re taking that seriously with the trust and maintain that trust.

Sam Demma (16:08):

Awesome. So you ended up helping with the building of the curriculum? Yes. Tell me more about that experience. So once it was finished, after all the long nights and the coffee chats and getting to know each other and becoming best friends, what has happened since? Or did you help teach it? Tell me more about it.

Alexis Epp (16:31):

Yeah, so I’ve gotten a lot of cool experiences from it actually. I did get the chance to help out at school in Saskatoon here, one of our pilot programs. And so Elena and I would go there and I actually got trained as a peer support through the program. So I’m a peer support through the program so students can talk to me and I can kinda just listen and be a friend. And then I was given the opportunity to work with Cmha National and be on their youth advisory council. And so I got to do that, which was really cool. Brought a lot of cool opportunities, just giving my opinion as a youth trying to advocate for youth across Canada. And then I was also given the opportunity to be on the Saskatchewan advocate for children and their youth council. Nice. And with that, I was actually asked to, they just released a report I believe back in March called Desperately Waiting and they gave some recommendations to the government about some changes that can be made for youth with mental health and within school systems. And so I actually got to go to the legislative building in Regina and speak to some officials about that report. So that was a really neat opportunity.

Sam Demma (18:01):

And where has your journey taken you now? So you finished the building of the course got back on your feet per se, and where do you see yourself in the next couple of years? What are you pursuing now?

Alexis Epp (18:17):

Yeah, so I am just about done my social work program. So then I will have my bachelor social work nice. And my plan is to work for a few years and then go back and get my masters and then eventually I really wanna go into policy and make a difference because I’ve been in the system, I know how hard it is for both the consumers, the people are using the system as well as people working within the system. It’s super frustrating for everyone involved. And so I feel like policy needs to be created around the people who actually are in need of the policy and in need of the system. So that’s kind of the end goal.

Sam Demma (19:03):

I love that. Something you mentioned earlier that caught my attention was coping tools. You know, mentioned that when you first were starting your own journey, navigating through mental health, you felt like you didn’t really have the tools you needed and I’m sure many young people and even adults can relate. What are some of the things that you continuously go back to try and maintain positive mental health and to I guess help yourself when you’re not feeling the best?

Alexis Epp (19:35):

So I actually have three things that I use consistently. For me, the biggest thing was just starting things. So I use something called the five minute Rule. And when I’m having bad days, which I still do and that’s okay, I did a five minute rule where no matter how badly you don’t wanna do something, just start it and do it for five minutes. And if after five minutes you still are really down, really not wanting to do it, that’s okay, you don’t have to do it. But usually those five minutes you kind of just forget that you didn’t wanna do it in the first place and you get over that hump. So that’s one of my biggest things. My second one is the five senses, if you’ve heard of that

Sam Demma (20:28):

I have

Alexis Epp (20:29):

Is it’s cause I still have anxiety. So what it is, you can do it quietly, you can do it out loud, doesn’t matter. You look around and find five things you can see and then you list those off. And when I’m having really bad anxiety attacks I think about the textures, the colors I go into details. And then, so it’s five things you can see, four things you can touch three things you can hear, two things you can smell and one thing you can taste. And when you’re focusing on your senses, you can’t think about two things at once. So it’s very grounding and it takes you away from what you are anxious about and really just grounds you and makes you focus on the presence.

Sam Demma (21:25):

I love that one.

Alexis Epp (21:26):

<laugh>. Yeah. And then my last one is based on scenarios. So when I’m anxious about something or overthinking something, I’ll take a piece of paper and I write the best case scenario, worst case scenario and the most likely case scenario. And then I’ll write each of those out. And then I will also write kind of a game plan. If the worst case scenario happens, what am I gonna do? And so after I’ve written those all out, it kind of just makes you look at it from a different perspective. And sometimes I’m like, that’s so unlikely that that’s not gonna happen. But then even if it does happen, you have a game plan. So it takes away some of those worries.

Sam Demma (22:09):

That’s awesome. I love that. Do you crumple the page and throw it out after <laugh>

Alexis Epp (22:14):

Do actually. Okay. Sometimes I’ll rip it up and yeah, I usually wait until the scenario plays out and then I’m like, okay, I don’t need to, It helped me and now it’s done.

Sam Demma (22:26):

Cool. I’m curious, it sounds like the relationship you had with Elena, with your psychiatrist really helped you turn into your own success story. And I’m curious to know if the mental wellness study program has had students go through it who at first were really struggling and came out the other side feeling like they were in a much better place mentally. And if so, are there any specific examples or stories of students that come to mind when you think about those individuals? And if you could share one and you could change their name if it’s a serious one. I just think it’s important to remind people that influence work with or impact youth of stories like these positive transformations to remind them why the work they’re doing is so important.

Alexis Epp (23:13):

<affirmative> honestly, I think every single student who has gone through the program has had that significant change whether or not they were struggling. Everyone knows someone who is struggling with mental health. So even if you’re not someone who is, Yeah. So I think that’s been a really big impact. And just within the course we have a lot of lived experiences and I’ve heard so much feedback on that and I’ve had students tell me I thought I was the only one who went through that. So just knowing there are other people out there who they can relate to has been a really big thing. And I’ve had students tell me when they started this program, they were just kind of lost and didn’t know where to turn, what to do, and just kind of stuck in that fight or flight or freeze mode and they just didn’t know what to do. And going through the program just gave them the tools to get out of that and be able to think more clearly I guess. So yeah, I, I’ve had students who have struggled really bad with their family lives, with their schools, with bullying and this program gave them the tools to get the help they needed whether it was professional help or not. Cause this is not professional help in the course, but it does direct them to the helps that they need.

Sam Demma (24:50):

Awesome. That’s so cool. And who’s the course available to, if someone wanted to check it out, could someone search it online or how would someone find it?

Alexis Epp (25:00):

Yeah, for sure you can. Right now it counts as a credit but only in Saskatchewan. Cool. It’s available to all the Sun School Vision students, but if people are interested they can, I believe Elena gave her email during the last Yeah. When she was on here. Yeah. So if there’s anyone interested in the program, whether they’re students or teachers, they can reach out to her or just Google the Mental Wellness 30 program through Sun West School division and they can kind of check it out that way. And if they email Elena directly, she is able to give them a bit more access and help them out that way.

Sam Demma (25:46):

Okay. Awesome. And if you could take your experiences throughout school and education and wrap them all up into a form of advice and go back in time and give your younger self some words of wisdom and support. Knowing what you know now, what would you have told your younger self when you were just starting high school?

Alexis Epp (26:08):

Knowing what I know now, I would probably tell myself that you’re not alone. No matter how isolated you feel. There are other people struggling, there are other people who can maybe not exactly relate, but they’re going through something similar and you just kind of gotta find your people. Like you’re not stuck in the same spot forever. Even if it feels like a crisis now you’ll, you’ll have good days and bad days, but things get better and you do find your people

Sam Demma (26:43):

People. Awesome. Alexis, thank you so much for taking half an hour out of your day to come on the podcast and share some of your experiences and insights relating to mental health and just education. If someone wants to reach out to you and ask you a question, what would be the best way for them to get in touch?

Alexis Epp (27:02):

They can email me and my email is alexis.epp@outlook.com.

Sam Demma (27:09):

Awesome. Alexis, thank you so much. Keep up the great work. Best of luck with the social work and the policy making and the feature, and I look forward to staying in touch.

Alexis Epp (27:18):

Thank you so much.

Sam Demma (27:21):

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

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Alexis Epp

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

Dave Levy – Language Arts Teacher at Green Acres School and Passionate Athletic Director

Dave Levy – Language Arts Teacher at Green Acres School and Passionate Athletic Director
About Dave Levy

Dave Levy (@DavidAsherLevy) is a passionate Athletic Director and Educator. Throughout his career Dave has been motivated by student choice and voice. As Lowell School’s first Athletic Director, Dave recognized potential growth opportunities and created a strategic vision to develop a robust athletic program. He recruited coaches as well as athletes, and fostered positive school community relationships which embody the values of diversity, inclusion, sportsmanship, and fair play. Over 80% of the student body participated in after school athletics. Now, the program boasts 18 different teams. Additionally, Dave coaches cross country, basketball, track and field and baseball – and he has coached three state Long Jump Champions!

Dave enjoys working in the classroom as well as a Middle School Language Arts teacher. Currently at Green Acres School, Dave helps students to find their passions and motivates his students to be able to communicate their ideas both orally and in writing. Dave has also served as the founding Student Government advisor, helping the students to make sure that their voice is heard.

He is also a passionate volunteer for the Washington, D.C. chapter of HOBY (Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership) a leadership seminar for high school sophomores. Dave has been volunteering with HOBY since 2001 as Treasurer, Leadership Seminar Chair and the President of the Corporate Board.

Connect with Dave: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Lowell School

Green Acres School

HOBY (Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership)

HOBY Canada

University of Guelph

University of Western Ontario

What is a Writer’s Workshop?

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):

Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast.

Sam Demma (00:59):

This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest crossed paths with me at a conference in Washington, DC and I’m so grateful that we have the opportunity to bring him on the show today. David Levy is a passionate athletic director and educator. Throughout his career, Dave has been motivated by student choice and voice. As Lowell School’s first athletic director, Dave recognized potential growth opportunities and created a strategic vision to develop a robust athletic program. He recruited coaches, as well as athletes, and fostered a positive school community filled with relationships which embody the value of diversity, inclusion, sportsmanship, and fairplay. Over 80% of the student body participated in afterschool athletics. Now the program boasts 18 different teams. Additionally, Dave coaches cross country, basketball, track and field, and baseball, and he has coached three state long jump champions. Dave enjoys working in the classroom as well as a middle school language arts teacher.

Sam Demma (01:59):

Currently at Green Acres School, Dave helps students to find their passions, and motivates the students to be able to communicate their ideas, both orally and in writing. Dave is also served as the founding student government advisor, helping the students to make sure that their voice is heard. He’s also a passionate volunteer for the Washington DC chapter of HOBI, Hugo Bryan Youth Leadership, a leadership seminar for high school sophomores. Dave has been volunteering with HOBI since 2001 as treasurer, leadership seminar chair, and the president of the corporate board. I hope you enjoy this fun-filled conversation with Dave, and I will see you on the other side. Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today we are joined by a very special guest. I met him at a conference in Washington DC called The HOBI. He was wearing an orange hat, really caught my attention. <laugh>. David, such a pleasure to have you on the show here today. Please start by introducing yourself.

Dave Levi (03:03):

Well, thank you. It is, it’s a real honour. Sam blew us away when, when coming to the conference, we said, qell, we can’t pay you. He said, No problem, I’m gonna come, I’m gonna light it up.

Sam Demma (03:12):

We don’t do that for everyone, just so you all know when you hear it. This is

Dave Levi (03:16):

A youth youth volunteer program. Okay. So it’s a little bit, we don’t pay anybody. It’s a little bit, It’s just getting his brand out there, which as you can see, you know, there’s like a book, there’s like awesome speaking gigs, so it’s going pretty well. but anyway, I’ve been volunteering for this youth leadership organization called Hobi, or he O’Brien, Youth Leadership for a long time. And we run leadership programs for high school sophomores all throughout the United States, but also in 40 other countries around the world. I know we have a, a big Canadian audience and I got to do the program at University of Guelph. Nice. A couple years ago. That was great. with some really epic Western Ontario friends. Nice. And Hopi was kind of my, my intro to education. I feel like. I started volunteering when I was 15.

Dave Levi (04:00):

I’ve not gone away and I had a great opportunity, I think to work with small groups of high school students, but also to realize that, as you say, small, consistent actions matter when you’re do behind the scenes before you get to climb the ladder, you know, and you’re getting, you know, drinks for speakers, you’re setting up chairs, you’re running around making sure everything is, is ready to go. And those things make the program special for the student ambassadors, whether they know it or not. so I think that was a really great intro to education that and sleepaway Camp. I worked at a camp called Independent Lake for many years, which has a circus so you can do flying trap PEs and juggling. and I got to be a counselor there and work with a lot of students and I knew after that that’s, that’s what I wanted to do. And I was very lucky because I have a, my middle school librarian became the head of a school and she saw me when I was in college and said, If you wanna be a middle school teacher, call me in four years. And I did. And then I got to work with her. So, very lucky opportunity

Sam Demma (05:01):

For those educators who know absolutely nothing about Hobi. Do you wanna give them a little rundown what it is, why it’s so special and important to you, and why they should look into it for maybe even their own kids?

Dave Levi (05:12):

Yeah. First of all, you should all look into it. Hobi is a youth leadership program for high school sophomores. And we run programs for students from public charter and private schools. And it is a three day weekend in which we focus on individual group and leadership for society. So we bring in speakers who are experts in a variety of areas like Sam and the kids get to learn from those speakers and sort of ask questions and make connections with both the speakers, but also with their peers about ways that they can make a difference right now. They don’t have to wait until they’re an adult. A society sees them to be a leader. They can, they can sort of get going in their communities right away. We do a lot of community service projects. so this year the group worked to Clean Horse Tack and all kinds of other materials for a nearby barn.

Dave Levi (06:02):

It was quite a hefty project. That stuff gets real muddy. we’ve also gone to soup kitchens. We have gone to retirement homes. We have been very busy and we do service projects throughout the year afterward. and the connections that the kids make through these panel opportunities, through games and simulations, through service projects is very, very powerful. And I think they really walk away a change person. It’s only three days. but they come back as alumni. We do service projects together throughout the year. we have an international program called the World Leadership Congress that has 400 kids from 20 different countries. It’s like a mind blowing, you know, leadership on steroids. It’s just, it’s magical. so I love Hobie and I was very privileged to be a student ambassador as a 10th grader and I just have not gone away cause it’s great.

Sam Demma (06:52):

The experience for me, even not as a high school student, was phenomenal. And the activities, the tunnel of love, which we can talk about in a second to clarify <laugh>. but some of the, some of the things that really, I guess one of the specific things that really made an impact on me was the handwritten notes that you would write for students and that you wrote for myself and pretty much every single delegate and and person that was a part of the event. can you talk a little bit about where your habit of writing handwritten letters came from and why you think it is it matters and makes a difference?

Dave Levi (07:29):

Yeah. well I’ll think, I’ll start with my mom who’s the, the real expert behind handwritten notes, Thank you notes, birthday cards get well cards, everything. She’s got everything organized. And so I developed this habit where I, I have a stack of envelopes with everyone’s birthday, all of my connections for the whole year. And when their day approaches, I wanna make sure that I send them a handwritten birthday card. Cuz I think the message is totally different In our media era receiving mail, it’s very exciting. So I always ask my students what kind of mail they get and they’re like, I don’t get mail. I mean, occasionally there’s a magazine or there’s like a note from grandma but generally speaking they don’t get mail. And so I do a letter of correspondence with each one of them. It’s a true labor of love.

Dave Levi (08:11):

 and I ask them questions about the characters in the books we’re reading, but eventually I also ask them, you know, Hey, you did really well in the soccer game. Can you tell me more about that? Oh, I understand you’re really into robotics. Like what you know, and they can sort of take it whatever direction they want. They ask me questions too. And then I learn a lot of things about them that I would not learn if we were having an allowed conversation. There’s usually a little bit of pushback before the first letter. So they think seriously, like, I have to get out my notebook. I’ve, you’re standing right there, I forgot you. A letter like <inaudible> <laugh>. but usually after I have written them back once and they realize that the letter is very specific to them that is a, a real game changer for them. And you know, they get to talk about their favorite subject, which is them and language arts. Language arts is also their favorite subject, but <laugh>, so, and then at, at the hobi at the youth leadership program, I started leaving the notes outside of the student’s doors. So when there are dorm rooms and you know, you wake up and you’ve got, it’s like Christmas, you wake up, you got a letter, boom, how cool is that? What a way to start your day, right? Yeah.

Sam Demma (09:13):

Yeah. It was memorable and I enjoyed reading it and I keep a journal so I stay footed in there and 10 years from now I’ll look back and be like, Whoa, this guy David wrote me a letter back then. I remember that <laugh>.

Dave Levi (09:24):

Yeah, I mean I think the relationship building is probably the key to having good classroom management, having good successful educational practices. And so that’s one of several ways to do that. But I do think that kids have a real buy in. They’re like, Wow, he spent a lot of time on this. and he must really care otherwise why I do that.

Sam Demma (09:45):

How else do you build relationships with the students in your classroom? like when you think about students and the relationships you’ve built, what do you think you’ve done that’s helped facilitate those relationships?

Dave Levi (09:57):

 well it’s really important to me that I find out what their passions are. In some cases I’m helping them find their passions in other cases they already know and I just ask them a lot of questions and then I sit there and listen. there’s a lot of like, tell me more about that. Oh, that’s interesting. You know. and so I think those things are really important. And then, you know, being in their world as much as possible. They’re in the play, they’re in the basketball game, they’re in the whatever. I’m gonna go and I wanna see them in action and then I wanna be able to ask them very specific questions about what I saw the next day. And I think those things make a huge difference in terms of building relationships. I also try to build some, a lot of routines in our classroom, but also, like I tell them every day that they’re my 32 favorites, you know that I cry one tear for each one of them <laugh> that we’re apart on the sad days where we don’t have language arts. I tell them just how miserable that’s making me. I’ll recover, but it’s rough. and I think that they, they appreciate my like horrible sense of humor. <laugh> on some level. You know,

Sam Demma (10:58):

Something that also made an impact on me at Hobi was the compliments in that exercise, the tunnel of love. I’m hoping you can explain what it is. I’m not sure if it’s illegal, if you’re legally allowed to do it outside of hobie events, but maybe an educator could steal this at like the end of the year and maybe do it with their classroom as a cool little activity.

Dave Levi (11:17):

Yeah. Every educator should steal it. I think it’s really a magical experience. So we set the tone by saying this is gonna be a, a very sort of low-key, almost somber experience. And so every kid, we get them to form a human tunnel. So there are people on both sides and then someone will go through the tunnel and they’re blindfolded. And so you can sort of pull them to the side and whisper something positive that you’ve learned about them or that in a way that they impacted you. And in Hopi it only comes from three days. So it’s like really magical. The things that the people say and the things people say are surprisingly very specific. You know, it really impacted me when you said this to me when you led this activity, you know, I learned this from you and so on. And some of those relationships are, are many years deep with kid people who’ve come back to volunteer on a number of occasions.

Dave Levi (12:06):

And so as a result those connections are really deep. And so you walk through the tunnel, people are pulling you aside to say special things to you about all the things that you’ve, you’ve done. You don’t necessarily know who they are cuz you’re blindfolded and you just met, but you know that you like what they’re saying cuz it’s very nice and thoughtful. And then you get to the end and like, if you’re not crying, I mean, I, I mean impressive, but I could never get through it without crying. And then you get to get back in the tunnel. Like the tunnel just keeps growing and you get to share the same messages with, with other folks who are coming through. And it has never done anything like it. I think it’s really a magical experience. So I do, I recommend it to all educators.

Sam Demma (12:44):

Yeah, it’s a cool activity. I, that definitely stuck in my mind throughout the entire three days along with everything else about the conference. But that exercise was, I thought really cool and something that could be replicated and used in different situations to make a positive impact on youth and the people surrounding them. so tell me more about your journey through education. You’ve done a lot of volunteer work on the side. How did your career start in education And tell me about the different roles you’ve worked in and what, what brought you to where you are today?

Dave Levi (13:13):

 well I had the privilege of of starting with my middle school librarian as my boss and I got to jump right in and teach seventh grade humanities right off the bat. So it was history and English and one big party of fun. Nice. That’s how I advertised it to them. And I learned a lot in that year. I got to run the student government, which was a real experience and teach writer’s workshop, which is where the letter writing correspondence started. Nice. and I was at that school for three years, I think the most memorable student government experience. And working with student government has taught me a lot about the issues that are important to students and how I can support them. Nice. And taking that. And they were concerned about the amount of time that they had for lunch. So they made this very unique a PowerPoint presentation about all of the reasons that lunchtime should be extended.

Dave Levi (13:58):

You know what, if you wanna meet with a teacher during that time, like is it really healthy to be eating that quickly? You know, what if you’re studying for, And they had like a lot of data, it was very impressive. And so the principal was not thrilled about this presentation cuz you know, the schedule was set. And so they went on a hunger strike where they refused to eat lunch for like a week march around school with signs. And lo and behold we added 10 minutes to lunchtime and what a victory it was for those kids <laugh> to have that opportunity. other student government experiences have included with, I recently helped some kids rewrite the dress code Nice. To make sure that the dress code was focused on sort of a gender neutral language before that it was basically just written for girls.

Dave Levi (14:43):

Yeah. And the girls took issue with that as they should. And I said, we’ll rewrite it. And they did. And then they came to a faculty meeting and they presented their, their new, their new language and we went with it and that was the new dress code. And I think it’s been really powerful for those kids to know that they have a voice and they can make those things happen. And then a few years into my teaching career, I was already coaching cross country and basketball and track, which are my, my sport loves. And I had an amazing experience coaching cross country where we started with just a few kids. by the time I left that school after three years we were up to 30 kids. I had coached a state long jump champion who went on to run a university. and so when I got to the new school I thought, gosh, like this has gotta come.

Dave Levi (15:29):

 so at that time there was no sports program to speak of at that school at all. And so I thought, well, cross country is a very accessible sport for everybody. You don’t need any equipment. You just like go out in the woods or the neighborhood, whatever you can go running. And the best part to me is the ability to improve and how easily measurable it is. You know, I can say, well this time you ran this and this time you ran this and so you’re better. Like, you can’t argue with me whether you have like you made a number of passes in a basketball game that’s like a little harder to measure, although it can be. but cross country and track are just so very simple. And so we got up to the point where we had 70 kids, we won many championships.

Dave Levi (16:04):

But I think the best part was that the kids improved dramatically. They made a little tunnel as the runners came through at the end to support their teammates. and I think the culture of cross country is really special in that every runner is competing with themselves, has an opportunity to improve and their teammates really care about the success of each other. Even though it is a somewhat individual event. There’s definitely a team aspect. It’s you’re scored as a team but also people are really supporting you in those regards. And so once I had done cross country and I got together one of the first basketball teams and then I had, you know, six or seven track kids who we took to meets and they got pounded and it was an experience for everybody. you know, then I went to the head of school and said, Hey, I think our school needs an athletics program and I wanna run it and this is what I think it should look like.

Dave Levi (16:54):

And she thought that was a good idea. So it started as something that was very small. and you know, we were sort of the homecoming opponent at the beginning. but we grew to be a very competitive program with lots of participation. about 90% of the kids were participating. Wow. 170 kids were participating in track and field, which was really special. and it’s starting as early as as kindergarten. So I had five year olds out there like long jumping over the sandbox and shot putting with wiffle balls and like really learning the language. And then, you know, they’d get to middle school and I could ask them about their lead leg and trail leg and hurdles and they knew what I was talking about, which was pretty technical stuff for a 11 year old. so that was really a very neat experience to be able to build that.

Dave Levi (17:40):

 we grew to have lots of teams. You know, originally there was only one girl that wanted to play basketball. Now there’s four basketball girls basketball teams. Wow. So and she came back recently to speak to them, which was a really neat experience. So I think having kids get excited about this program and have passion for it and be proud of it was really important. And then all the leadership skills that they learned very valuable. And then their voice too. They kids wanted to start a baseball team and I said, If you can find 15 kids and an adult to, to coach you, I will do everything else. I didn’t actually think that they would, but they did. And so then lo and behold there was a baseball team and the same thing happened with girls lacrosse. And so that’s been really exciting to be able to build a program into something I’m really passionate about to help schools kind of get that off the ground.

Dave Levi (18:29):

And I think it increased the brand dramatically. You know, we’re all over the place competing against schools double our size and to make the kids know that I took and bring it back to the letter writing thing, I wrote an email after every game highlighting the accomplishments of every kid with a line that was specific to each person. Damn. and so the kids, you know, I was like reading about themselves in the New York Times and I think they felt really special and I know parents forwarded onto their grandparents and aunts and uncles and there were like hundreds of them cuz I would do them after every game. So it was really, I thought I enjoyed being able to retell the story. Yeah. And I think the kids then knew that it was really important. Whether they made the buzzer beating jump shot or they, you know, just were in a good defensive stance that day, I was gonna find something to highlight them. and I think that stuff is, that’s been a really special part of my experience is being able to combine athletics and teaching so that kids know I see them in in multiple places and understand them.

Sam Demma (19:31):

What a powerful, another powerful example of just compassion and showing how much you care. and just making people feel seen and heard and how much of a difference that makes. I’m surprised you didn’t say baseball was one of your favorite sports, knowing that your parents own a mini, a little stadium <laugh> and run a team. You better careful think they listen, listen to this

Dave Levi (19:52):

<laugh>. but yeah, no baseball all super fun. and the Orioles had a winning record this year. So we can, we can be excited about that at

Sam Demma (20:01):

The start. It’s all the same. Can’t say the same about the Blue Jays, but yeah, that’s a, it’s for another time. <laugh>.

Dave Levi (20:06):

Yeah. I had a, I had a really powerful moment when I played basketball, which is that we had, there was like 30 seconds left and one of my teammates said, Listen, give me the ball and then after I score, no one’s gonna celebrate. We’re just gonna pretend that we don’t care. That it doesn’t matter. We’re gonna be excellent sports by just shaking hands and walking out here we can celebrate on the bus. And that moment really, really impacted me. So now if we’re ever in a a close game, I will tell the kids, you know, regardless of the outcome we’re just gonna be like, cool. We came, we played, we had fun. Yeah. And we can, we can debrief later, but we’re gonna make sure that people leave having a good experience from the opportunity to play us.

Sam Demma (20:45):

Mm. I love that. I, I’m curious, sometimes people struggle with getting students to buy into any programs they’re running. The fact that you were able to, and you know, you and other staff and the entire school culture, you were able to create this environment where from one student starting four, you know, girls basketball teams, that’s like pretty significant. H how do you start engaging the population of a school to get involved and engaged in programs, sports or other programs?

Dave Levi (21:16):

Well, I think part of it is if you have a passion for a sport or a club or a team that you wanna start the first thing is to just go around and tell people that it’s your passion. Say I’m doing this, you wanna come do it with me. there is not one kid that I have not spoken to about running cross country. Mm.

Sam Demma (21:34):

At the whole school

Dave Levi (21:35):

In the whole school. And a lot of those kids have heard it from me over and over again. And they’re, they could, they could deal with a different conversation topic if I, if I granted that to them. But just try it one time. Just come one time, you’ll have a great time then I won’t bother you anymore. That isn’t true. But <laugh>, no, I think that show showing people that it’s important to you and, and bringing really positive energy no matter what the activity is, people are gonna gravitate towards that. and then no matter how many people you have, like just start, just say, okay, well we’re gonna meet at this time and we’re gonna do this. and create an agenda whether you’re like building a robot or you’re going for a run or you’re creating a constitution for student government, which is how we started with one kid.

Dave Levi (22:19):

 you know, I think those things are, that’s the energy that you need to bring is, you know, this is happening. And then I think the more you talk about it, the more you post flyers and you’re telling everyone about it in the hallway, people will gravitate towards that kind of energy. And, you know, being the first follower is, is a really big deal too. So I think having, having people come out and get excited about it and then over time you can build, build a history. I was told my, my class, you know, once you’re in the, once you’re in the group, you’re always in the group. and I meant it, you know, whether I’m not, I was still working at, at whatever school, you know, they’re, if I see them around the city, you know, they’re all, we’re always in the group. And I think that builds a culture of, you know, these are the records, this is the history, you know, you’re part of something bigger than yourself. but it, it oftentimes just starts with one idea.

Sam Demma (23:08):

What keeps you personally motivated and excited to show up every day and pour your energy and heart into programs and try and make a difference?

Dave Levi (23:17):

Well I think the kids are just the best. That is the, you know, the kids are really, truly never the problem. And it’s interesting because during Covid I had a lot of people tell me that their teaching experience was highly unpleasant. and you know, working on Zoom is, I mean some people work from home all the time and they’re Zoom experts, but I think most teachers were like, What is this? What is this platform? I can’t see any of the time. They don’t have their camera on what’s the deal. but for me it was like, why miss you? So I’m gonna come and show up and I wanna learn more about these kids and try to make the experience as best as possible. And if it’s a good experience for them, it’s usually gonna be a good experience for me too. So in the covid time I studied as much as I could.

Dave Levi (23:58):

I watched as many videos and reached out to as many tech experts. But at the end of the day, I think the most important thing was the kids just knew that I was still me and they were still them. And even though we were behind a screen, we were still gonna have class discussions that were the same. We even, I did cross country where we like virtually over zoom, like warmed up and did our butt kicks and hi knees in the kitchen. And I was like, this is your workout. Like go do it. you know, we had virtual dances and virtual spirit week and virtual talent show and I just think trying to find a way to make things special is important. And for me, knowing that I get to wake up every morning and go hang out with middle school kids, cuz they say to me, Why are you always so happy? And I was like, well you, you know I get to hang out with middle schoolers every day and middle schoolers are great. They’re just becoming people. It’s very exciting. They’re learning those passions that we talked about earlier, but they haven’t fully developed their views on the world, which is awesome. And so they’re willing to engage in really intense debate and they’re also willing to be sophisticated and silly. When I wear a cape and dress up is super similarly <laugh>. Like they’re into it. and they learn all kinds of comparisons. So.

Sam Demma (25:03):

Cool. Well what resources have you found helpful in your own journey as an educator and a teacher? And that could be other people, that could be podcasts, that could be books, that could be things you’ve watched that could be movies, that could be like absolutely anything. Where do you draw your learning from?

Dave Levi (25:21):

Yeah, I mean I think that people is probably the best resource and I had a really awesome opportunity early in my career where I was paired with an expert teacher, Natalie, who is just extraordinary and shout out Natalie was, yeah, shout out Natalie, she’s a rock star. And so I got to observe her in action and then she observed me in action and we compared notes. and that was really powerful in part cuz she wasn’t my boss, she was just a peer who wanted her classroom experience to be better. And I wanted my experience class, classroom experience to be better. We learned a lot from each other and I think that’s true in general, if you go to observe other master teachers doing their craft and talk to them about what makes them tick. My all time favorite teacher, Mr. Chaman from 11th grade US history, he runs a newsletter called Class Wise.

Dave Levi (26:11):

And when I told him that I was gonna be a teacher, he said, Well you know, you gotta subscribe to this. And that has taught me a lot of nice great best practices too. in terms of books, I really enjoyed the power of thinking neutral at something like that. I see. but the idea was that when you’re in a car you can put yourself in drive or you can put yourself in reverse or you can be neutral. And so while I am an enthusiast and I believe in being positive, I also think there’s a point where one needs to be realistic. So if you’re facing struggle you can just say, Okay, well today I’m gonna go to school and I have first period and we’re gonna do this lesson and I don’t know if it’s gonna go well or if it’s gonna go poorly.

Dave Levi (26:53):

I assume it will cuz I’m really good but I don’t know that. but I do know this. And so I think sharing that mentality with kids, you know, is very valuable a lot of times when they have doubt about what they can and cannot do helping them to sort of solve that puzzle is best from a neutral perspective where they’re not thinking about themselves in a, in a negative way. So I think that’s been really positive. And then also I’ve listened to quite a few episodes of the high functioning educator and seriously, I have learned, I have learned a lot, I’ve been very impressed with all of the best practices of many people you’ve interviewed. So thanks to those who came before me.

Sam Demma (27:32):

Yeah. And thanks for sharing those. I love those ideas. If you could take your experiences in education, bundle ’em all up, hop in a time traveling car, go back not to the future, back to the past and you know, walk into the first day you started teaching in a classroom setting and tap yourself on the shoulder and say, Hey David, this is what you’re, you need to hear right now. What advice would you give yourself? Not because you wanna change what unfolded or your pathway, but because you thought it would be helpful to hear it at the start of your teaching journey?

Dave Levi (28:08):

Yeah, I mean I think the first thing is not to take it so seriously. Hmm. I think we have a lot of, well a lot of teachers were star students and so they are sort of perfectionists and so, you know, people spend hours planning their lessons in the same way that they plan them in university, which really has very little application to the actual experience in the classroom. And then if kids are talking out of turn or they don’t seem a hundred percent engaged or they say something to you that you wish you didn’t hear I think those things can really throw you off course and they just don’t really matter that much. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, I also think there’s a lot of pressure from administrators whether it’s from observations or turning in your lesson plans or whatever that feels really important in the moment, but actually is just like a blip on the radar.

Dave Levi (29:03):

It’s just one day out of 180. And so I think knowing some of those things is great. I also think that having routines in the classroom is absolutely essential and I did not, I didn’t really know that when I started teaching and I didn’t have great routines and the kids, well it’s sort of their job as, as you know, first year teacher, seventh grader just gonna give you a hard time. That’s like they, and they, they nailed that job. I have discussed that with lots of them since then who are now adults and they’re like, Yeah, you were young and you were new and we were just gonna, we were gonna give it to you. and they did. They, I mean we had fun. We learned a lot. Yeah. but they did not make it easy. And so I think having routines in terms of we’re gonna do this for the warmup, we’re gonna get out our planner and we’re gonna do this. And letting the kids know what what’s coming is really valuable because they really benefit I think from being able to plan ahead and then you can do all kinds of fun activities within that framework once you have sort of a structure planned out.

Sam Demma (30:04):

Gotcha.

Dave Levi (30:05):

I would add, if you say you’re gonna do something, you gotta really do it. so kids remember everything and even if it’s a small thing, if you tell them that you’re gonna do something, then you need to deliver.

Sam Demma (30:17):

I always tell students when you tell someone you’re gonna do something, you put your reputation on the line and if you don’t do it, your reputation in the other person’s mind who you promise something to slightly decreases. Like when I tell my dad every Wednesday, I’m gonna take out the recycling. If I don’t do it <laugh>, I know my dad’s gonna be thinking about me <laugh>. And I think it’s the same for everybody, but probably especially young people because they are looking up to you as that, you know, as their role model. and you don’t wanna let them down. Right?

Dave Levi (30:50):

Absolutely. Absolutely. I want them to, I mean, it is okay for them to see me make mistakes cause I make mistakes all the time. And we work through that together. Actually, it’s funny, I give them, I call them grammar dinosaurs, I give them a sticker when I make a grammatical mistake on like a handout or nice whatever. And so usually they put those on their binder or their water bottle, but this year they have taken to putting them on the wall so they can document all of the mistakes that I’ve made. And we’re got, we got a whole menagerie up there of dinosaurs at the moment, so I got up my game I guess. But I appreciate that they’re taking this with a grain of salt and they’re holding me accountable too, which is important. Yeah. Cause it goes in place.

Sam Demma (31:29):

That’s awesome. Very cool. Well if someone’s listening to this and has been at all inspired or intrigued by some of the things you’ve shared or the stories you’ve talked about, what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you and ask a question?

Dave Levi (31:41):

Well they can, they can email me at davidasherlevy@gmail.com. I’m also on Facebook and Twitter with all the same handles, and I would love to hear from other high functioning educators and compare notes ’cause as I said earlier, I think that’s the key to, to success in the classroom and on the court and on the field.

Sam Demma (32:08):

Awesome. David, thank you so much for coming on the podcast. Appreciate it big time my friend. Keep up the great work and we will talk very soon.

Dave Levi (32:15):

Looking forward to it, Sam, thanks so much. It’s real honor.

Sam Demma (32:19):

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

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Dave Levy

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

Dr. Sunaina Sharma – Program Leader at the Halton District School Board & Practicum Advisor at Brock University

Dr. Sunaina Sharma - Program Leader at the Halton District School Board and Practicum Advisor at Brock University
About Dr. Sunaina Sharma

Dr. Sunaina Sharma (@DrSunainaSharma) is an in-school program leader and secondary teacher with over twenty years of experience teaching with the Halton District School Board in Burlington, ON. She strives to put the learner’s needs at the forefront of all program planning, classroom teaching, and professional learning so that students participate in authentic and relevant knowledge construction.

Her doctoral research centred on understanding how to leverage digital technology in the classroom so that it supports student engagement. In her current role as an instructor and practicum advisor at a Bachelor of Education program, she uses her knowledge, skills and experience to guide future educators.

Connect with Sunaina: Email | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Halton District School Board – HDSB

Bachelor of Education – Brock University

Dr. Susaina Sharma’s Personal Website

Google Workplace

Ted.com

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. Today we have a very special guest. Her name is Dr. Sunaina Sharma. Dr. Sunaina Sharma is an in-school program leader and secondary teacher with over 20 years experience teaching with the Halton District School Board in Burlington, Ontario. She strives to put the learners needs at the forefront of all program planning, classroom teaching, and professional learning, so that students are participating in authentic and relevant knowledge construction. Her doctoral research is centered on understanding how to leverage digital technologies in the classroom so that it supports student engagement. In her current role as an instructor and practicum advisor at Brock University at a Bachelor of Education program, she is using her knowledge, skills, and experience to guide future educators. I hope you enjoy this conversation with Dr. Sunania Sharma and I will see you on the other side. Welcome back to another episode on the High Performing Educator Podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. And today we are joined with a very special guest, Dr. Sunaina Sharma. Dr. Sunaina Sharma actually uses one of my TED talks in her classroom, <laugh> which prompted her to reach out, and I’m so excited to have her on the show here today. Please start by introducing yourself.

Dr. Sunaina Sharma (02:18):

Hi, I’m Sunaina Sharma and I have been an educator for over 20 years, and despite all the challenges, it is still my passion.

Sam Demma (02:30):

What made it your passion over, or I guess 20 years ago, what started this journey for you?

Dr. Sunaina Sharma (02:36):

It’s an interesting story because I never intended to become a teacher. My path was set. I was going to go to law school and I was going to be a family lawyer. upon graduating with my Bachelor of Arts degree, I walked down the street from where I lived to the local high school and asked if anyone needed a volunteer because I graduated and I wanted to have more experience working with youth. And an English teacher at that school, Mo leaking, said, Oh, I’d love to have you join my class. My grade elevens are writing essays and they could use some help. So I started by going in twice a week. And what Mr. Leaking did with his students in that classroom was magic. His students were excitedly engaged and I wanted to be a magician like him. So I actually rescinded my acceptance to law school and set up on the path to attain my Bachelor of education.

Sam Demma (03:34):

You mentioned Mr. Leaking was a magician of sorts. What exactly did you witness in his class that got you so excited about doing something similar with your own group of students?

Dr. Sunaina Sharma (03:47):

So what he was doing with his students in his classroom was completely different from what I experienced in high school. My high school experience wasn’t very positive and I just remember copying notes and wrote memorization and weekly quizzes and monthly tests. And what he was doing was there was such an energy and excitement in the classroom. There was so much noise and movement, but it was all very planned and calculated. So if you looked through the window of his classroom, it looked chaotic, but it was all like organized chaos. It was so much fun to be in that room. I went from volunteering twice a week to four or five times a week. I just wanted to be in that room.

Sam Demma (04:31):

Oh, that’s so awesome. And what took you from that room to where you are today? Tell me a little bit about your journey through education.

Dr. Sunaina Sharma (04:39):

Okay. So I completed my Bachelor of Education in 2001 and immediately got hired by the Halton District School Board at the school that I volunteered at No Way <laugh>. So that, that opportunity allowed me to build connections, real connections with students, but also other educators in the building. So I ended up working for that school until it closed in 2018. And that school was amalgamated into the school that I am currently at, which is mm, Robinson in Burlington. Nice. And I’ve been at that, I’ve been at that school for four years along the way. I do love learning and figuring out how to be a better teacher. That’s always at the root of all of my learning and experiences that I seek out. So along the way, I ended up attaining my master’s degree, my master’s of education, and then I thought I was done, but then I wasn’t and ended up completing my PhD in 2018. So I have my PhD in education. Nice. So with that opportunity, it’s allowed me, I am a department head or program leader in my school. It’s allowed me to not only inspire and engage the people I work with, but it’s also allowed me to work in a Bachelor of education program in mentoring and guiding our future teachers,

Sam Demma (06:03):

Which is such an important role. I think teachers when performing very well and making genuine connections with their classrooms have a very big impact on the future being the kids that are gonna be running the future and being a part of it. I think back to an educator I had in my life who, like Mr. Leaking for you created an environment that all the students in his class wanted to be in. you know, over the past couple of years things have been quite different and a little bit challenging. I’m curious in your roles, what are some of the challenges you’re faced with right now and, and kind of how are you coming, coming, getting out of or getting over some of those things?

Dr. Sunaina Sharma (06:43):

Yeah, definitely the current challenges that students are struggling in the classroom after two years of disruptive learning, they do have gaps. And as such, when they encounter difficulty, they get frustrated and the outcome is they’re giving up, they’re struggling to persevere, to overcome the challenges and the obstacles.

Sam Demma (07:03):

Gotcha. H how as as an educator do you kind of support or help a student get over that or get through it? <laugh>

Dr. Sunaina Sharma (07:12):

It’s, it’s offering care and support. We always have to remember that our students are children. Mm. Although they like to present themselves as adults, they are children and we as educators are in a position to teach them we need to reestablish or reteach them. That learning involves failing. Mm. Somehow they’ve learned along the way that failing is bad or wrong and that’s where the unlearning needs to come. And we really need to reinforce that failing is part of learning and they have to fail forward.

Sam Demma (07:46):

I love that. I think back to soccer, growing up as an athlete, our coach would always sit us down after a terrible performance and instead of scolding us, would provide us with the opportunity to chat about it with all of our teammates to try and identify what went wrong and what we could learn from so that, you know, in the future, similar situations wouldn’t unfold again. And it felt like he helped us look at failure as a stepping stone rather than a, you know, an a dead end. So I think that’s a really important lesson to share with young people. what gives you hope? What keeps you motivated and inspired to show up to work every single day and put your best foot forward?

Dr. Sunaina Sharma (08:25):

Students and my colleagues give me hope. Students since 2020 actually have gone through four different modes of learning and they continue to still come to school every day and try their best and engage My colleagues give me hope because they’re always reflecting and learning. My department does not have the course binder that we keep reusing every semester or every year. We’re constantly revisiting our courses to make them better. Our courses never remain static. And the fact that my colleagues are willing to put in the work every summer to make the courses better for the upcoming year is inspiring.

Sam Demma (09:06):

I love that. you mentioned thinking about failure not as a challenge, but it’s something to learn from. I’m curious, among your own journey, if there are certain mistakes you’ve made or certain situations that have happened in your career that you’ve learned from that you think are worth sharing with other educators who might be listening?

Dr. Sunaina Sharma (09:25):

Yeah, that’s a great question cuz it actually is gonna allow me to talk about my PhD research. I used to think technology engages students and over the years I would encounter various professional development opportunities that introduced me to new technology and that would peak my interest. And I would go home and spend the whole evening planning this amazing lesson for the next day. And the next day as the students would walk into class, I would be excited because I thought I had this amazing lesson planned. And on a number of occasions there was detachment, disinterest, and complete disengagement. The students were not compelled with this lesson that I spent hours the night before planning. So that would have to result in me going to my teacher’s toolbox to just come up with something different for the day. But this happened a number of times and it led me to want to explore the relationship between digital technology and student engagement.

Dr. Sunaina Sharma (10:28):

I have seen the power of technology to engage students who have previously been disengaged, but I’ve also seen that sometimes they, the technology itself is what causes them to disconnect. So that actually is what inspired my PhD research because I couldn’t figure out why does technology work sometimes and why doesn’t it work other times? And I learned it’s not the technology that actually engages them, it’s what the technology allows them to do. It’s the outcome. Mm. So if the technology allows students to collaborate, connect, and construct their own knowledge, then it will engage them. So if you’re using technology in a different way than you should dump the use of the technology.

Sam Demma (11:16):

Tell me more about some of the tech tools that you have come across in your journey that you often go back to and consistently use because you think they allow students and teachers to have those three types of interactions.

Dr. Sunaina Sharma (11:32):

It’s nothing new. Often I think as teachers we’re looking for the new thing, but it’s often going back to the tools that we have and using them in a different way. Hmm. So for example if you attempt to have a class discussion, you’re always gonna have these few students that are participating in the class discussion. Often all your other students in the classroom have a lot to say, but for whatever reason they’re not raising their hands. Sometimes they just need more time to process to articulate their ideas or they feel like they’re being dominated by this other strong voices in the classroom. So one thing that I do is I’ll have a class discussion on a Google doc. We all use Google Docs, but to suddenly use a Google Doc for a class discussion allows students to carefully read each other’s thoughts process and then thoughtfully share their ideas. When I post a Google Doc as a class discussion, I will typically get 100% participation on that Google Doc. So again, it’s not a brand new tech tool, it’s using the tools that we already have at our fingertips in a different way so that students are able to collaborate and connect and construct their own knowledge.

Sam Demma (12:47):

And if working in groups, each of the groups could have a different color font selected so you could very quickly and live see the edits happening on the document, which is really, really awesome. I think that’s a, that’s so cool that you use Google Docs. I had never have used in a classroom Google Docs live with my classmates and my teacher. I think that’s a really cool idea. So thanks for sharing. you know, we talked a little bit about the learning around technology. what are some things that keep you motivated personally outside of technology? Cuz it seems like it’s a big part of your career. <laugh>,

Dr. Sunaina Sharma (13:29):

The people who I surround myself with are always the ones that are motivating me. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, we all have our days where it’s just, it’s not a good day, but suddenly you’ll enter a building and the people around you inspire you. I think educators are incredible people and we are resilient and never give up and that’s what we want to inspire in our students. I’m always working to try and build that self-efficacy and capacity in other educators around me. And this year I’ve actually received a great opportunity. I’m actually on a leave from my teaching position for one year. So I can take on this opportunity as a instructor and practicum advisor in a Bachelor of education program. That way I’m working with our future educators to motivate and inspire them. And it’s really interesting. I entered the program to motivate and inspire them and it has been so motivating for me to see our future educators. They are lifelong learners, they are dedicated to making school positive and they’re dedicated to making positive change in the schools.

Sam Demma (14:43):

Hmm. That must be a pretty cool experience working with the future educators of tomorrow. Right now. I’m curious maybe this, you’ve been in that role for a short period of time so it won’t be as applicable, but tell me about a story or a situation where a program that you ran or maybe you in a program you were a part of had a big impact on a student, whether that’s an educator as a student or an actual student in a high school or middle school.

Dr. Sunaina Sharma (15:11):

Yeah. I’ll tell you about our English program at our high school and then I can kind of share a little nugget of information on how that impacted my Bachelor of education program. Sure. But I don’t have a single story cuz how do you capture an amazing program? In, in one story, while I’ll give you a little snapshot, our entire English program focuses on the overarching umbrella of equity. So in our Grade 10 program, our students choose a graphic novel from a selection of nine. And one of the students chose to read a graphic novel and she said, I’ve never read a book for school that had a Muslim character. She’s wearing a hijab. And for me that was impactful because she saw herself in something that she was reading for school. our English program in grade 11 has students identifying what they see as a problem that is impacting equity or is creating an equity.

Dr. Sunaina Sharma (16:12):

And they work to identify a solution and try to inspire a larger audience through media to tackle that problem. And that allowed, so one of the grade 11 students actually took on a project to advocate for change. It took her to our school principal, it took her to the parent council, it took her, took her to our school board, and the result was change. she advocated for menstrual products in all hdsp bathrooms regardless of the fact that they were male bathrooms or female bathrooms. And now Htsp has implemented that across the board and that came from a grade 11 students English project.

Sam Demma (16:53):

Wow. So

Dr. Sunaina Sharma (16:55):

The impact of our program is that students are seeing themselves, seeing our community, seeing their global world, and they’re inspired to use their voice for positive change. So I was sharing a little bit of our program with my Bachelor of Education program students and one of my students started to get emotional. So I, I went over and said, Is everything okay? Cuz regardless of the fact that they’re adults, they’re still my students. Yeah. And they’re all humans. And she said, and she began to share a hurtful comment that a teacher had made about her eyes because she’s of Asian descent. And she said, What you are doing in your school with your English program is what I want to do, and now I realize it can be done. Mm. So I think the, when students see themselves in the curriculum, it is so powerful not only for those students, but for us as educators to see that positive impact.

Sam Demma (17:58):

Those nine books, it sounds like, you know, those resources had a big impact on that one student who saw herself in the material shared. I’m wondering for your own personal and professional development, if you have come across any resources throughout your own learning journey that you found really helpful. And this could also be peers but if there’s any books or courses or videos or people you follow that you found helpful what are some of those things?

Dr. Sunaina Sharma (18:30):

I don’t like to say this is the golden title. Yeah. This is the Golden Book. As I mentioned, we’re constantly changing our program. We’re on a four year cycle, so every four years we kind of revisit and say, Okay, is this outdated? Should we keep this or should we remove it? So I’m reluctant to name a title, but the news, we’re constantly using the news and having students look at the news. It’s so important. They’re aware of what’s happening in our world. We like to live in this little, I call it the Burlington bubble, but we need to be aware of what’s going on around us. The news is a great resource for me. Also, Ted, that’s how I stumbled across your TED Talk. We use your TED Talk. I think Ted Talk is the platform that we’re trying to create in our students. We want our students to know that their voice matters. Sometimes they say, Why does anyone wanna hear about this? And you go to TED Talk and you hear these amazing pitches or speeches or presentations on topics that you would think maybe wouldn’t have a large audience, but they do. So TED Talk and the news for me are great resources and tools, also documentaries. Hmm.

Sam Demma (19:49):

Awesome. I love that. I, I would love for you to send me <laugh> outside of this podcast, a list of awesome documentaries for my own pleasure watching <laugh>. So please do. is there anything that you would share or say to an educator right now who is feeling a little bit burnt out, a little uninspired and needing not a full pep talk, but maybe some words of advice? and if that person walked into your office at Brock and told you that, what would you kind of share with them?

Dr. Sunaina Sharma (20:22):

I would tell them to just take a deep breath and you’re not the only one. Lots of fe people are feeling burnt out and tired. with the ch with the changes in our students and their own self-efficacy they are needing our care and support more so than before the pandemic. I would continue to affirm to them that they are amazing and they’re great. Keep doing your best. If you are doing your best, that’s what matters. And if you’re feeling like you need some support, you really need to count on the people around you. Everyone’s a team and we’re all working together. That’s the case in my department, in the school that I work at, but also in the Bachelor of Education program with the other instructors in the cohort. We’re always leaning on each other for care and support. So I would tell that burnt out teacher, you’re doing great. Take a deep breath. Is there anything that people around you can help support you through?

Sam Demma (21:28):

Mm. Love that. That’s awesome. Well keep up the amazing work that you’re doing with educators. If another educator is listening to this and wants to reach out and ask you a question or share resources or have a conversation, what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you?

Dr. Sunaina Sharma (21:44):

The best way to find me is on twitter. I think twitter is such a great way to connect with others from around the world to engage in professional dialogue.

Sam Demma (21:53):

Awesome. What would your Twitter handle be?

Dr. Sunaina Sharma (21:56):

@drsunainasharma

Sam Demma (21:58):

Okay. Awesome. Sunaina thank you so much for making the time to come on the podcast here today. I really appreciate it. Keep up the amazing work and we’ll talk to you soon.

Dr. Sunaina Sharma (22:06):

Thank you so much Sam.

Sam Demma (22:08):

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

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Dr. Sunaina Sharma

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.

Lorne “ABE” Abramson – Provincial Advisor for the Nova Scotia Secondary Students Association and Historian

Lorne “ABE” Abramson - Provincial Advisor for the Nova Scotia Secondary Students Association and and Historian
About Lorne “ABE” Abramson

Lorne has been a lifelong advocate for youth with diabetes as well as youth empowerment. He has been very successful at developing and supporting many programs in these areas. Since the eighties, he has volunteered his team supporting dozens of youth programs, camps and positive character-building experiences for students. 

He has won numerous awards, including the Dalhousie University Coaching Award, for 20 years of service in coaching Nova Scotia youth and the Frederick Banting Award, from the Canadian Diabetes Association, for significant contributions to the mission of the Association in the areas of education and service.

Connect with Lorne: Email | Linkedin

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Nova Scotia Secondary Students Association

Dalhousie University

Canadian Diabetes Association

Mount Saint Vincent University

Diabetes Education and Camping Association

Before the Parade by Rebecca Rose

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 (00:58):

Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest is Lorne Abramson. Lauren has been a lifelong advocate for youth with diabetes, as well as youth empowerment. He has been very successful at developing and supporting many programs in these areas. Since the eighties, he has volunteered his time supporting dozens of youth programs, camps, and positive character building experiences for students. He has won numerous awards, including the Dalhousie University coaching award for 20 years of service in coaching Nova Scotia youth, and the Frederick Banting award from the Canadian Diabetes Association for significant contribution to the mission of the association in the areas of education and service. Lauren has so much expertise in the area of youth empowerment and so much energy and wisdom to share, so I hope you enjoy this conversation and I will see you on the other side. Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host, Sam Demma. Today we have a very special guest. I met this guest in Nova Scotia at a conference and I’m so glad that we crossed paths. Some people know him as Lorne. Most people know him as Abe. Some people know him as Coach Abe. Abe, I would love for you to introduce yourself and let everyone listening know who you are.

Lorne Abramson (02:22):

Sure. Thanks Sam. Yeah, I’m, I’m my claim to fame was probably as a you know, as a person who started getting into teaching. So I was a math, a math teacher, how I became that is a, an extremely long story <laugh> which I will probably not get into, unless you ask me the appropriate questions. <Laugh> but I ended up becoming a math teacher, which my high school math teacher from Montreal who I, who I loved dearly. He was the one that said to me when I graduated, he said to me, you know, Lauren, he said, “everybody in those days called you by your last name.” You know, you know, I, I think you should consider becoming a math teacher. And I, and I I’ve made the stupidest comment I have ever made in my entire life.

Lorne Abramson (03:26):

And that was, who would wanna be a math teacher? <Laugh> that was like, it was one of those, this is to the guy that I had total respect for. And what I meant was in those days, math teachers, like teachers in general got no pay. It was like, it was crappy, you know, and and I wanted to be a dentist anyway, <laugh> so, so anyway to say the least over a period of years, I changed careers a couple of times and and then became a math teacher and eventually a math department head. And I always felt like I don’t know. I, I always felt that I needed to be more involved with community. And, and so for me the, the extracurricular stuff became almost more, this got kind of weird, but, but almost more important in some ways because I was a very accomplished math person.

Lorne Abramson (04:35):

So it was I went to McGill and did my joint honors in math and chemistry. And that was not a, that was not an issue. So I never had to work hard at, at the math part, but I really wanted to work hard at getting to know kids really well. And, and so I got involved in coaching volleyball, which I knew nothing about, except for the fact there were six on the side that was the limit of it. And and that became a big part of my life. And you know, and then I got involved in theater and, you know, and we did a lot of musicals and, you know, anyway, I it’s it’s and eventually in 1991, I got involved with the starting of the intro Lasse, which which, where, where we met the, you know not in 1991, but <laugh> sorry, Sam, but

Sam Demma (05:43):

I have to ask you though, because when people think about extracurriculars student leadership, typically I’ve heard people talk about the antithesis of it being math and science, and like these super academic courses that happen in schools. And usually those individuals are the ones who want their kids in their classroom, not going to conferences and not getting involved. So like, how the heck did you like have these two seemingly opposite things be so intertwined in your experience? Like what changed you or were you always of that mindset and you just also loved math?

Lorne Abramson (06:25):

The heck, it’s a good question. So I right from the get go I became the student council advisor at the, at Ellsley I at the J Oley high school was the school I taught in. And it’s obviously it’s a school in Halifax and it’s, it had this kind of funny deserved rep reputation of being a, kind of in a tough area. But in actual fact it was ridiculous. It didn’t make sense at all. That being said being the student council advisor I got to meet people like Andy Tido, who you might know and and St. Saunders and Tyler Hayden. And look, there were, there were so many people because of my connection as student council advisor eventually in 1992, mark Fraser who was he? He had been the student council president at Halifax west high school and Andrew Demond, who was the student council president at Parkview education center in, in Bridgewater, in Nova Scotia.

Lorne Abramson (07:53):

They met at a a CSLC or Canadian student leadership conference. They met at that, and they met also at the same time at that a whole bunch of kids from remember, this is 90, 91, I think was when it happened. But, but they met a whole bunch of kids from Ontario who were part and parcel of the O essay. So the Ontario secondary school students association, and and I heard the two of them said we could do this <laugh> it was kinda like, that was kinda like that. And I, I, I had the guy who was my who was the student council, president of Illsley was a guy who now is one of my neighbors. Oh, wow. Is Paul and Paul. He was just a great guy. And Paul said to me, I got this letter from this guy, Andy Kibito and a couple other people.

Lorne Abramson (09:03):

And he said they were there. Apparently they’re having some event at I think it was, it was being held at St. Pat’s high school, which, which now is underground somewhere <laugh> wow. It doesn’t exist anymore. And he said would you, would you be willing to come as our advisor? And I said, well, I am your advisor. What the hell matter with you? And he was really, he, it was kind of like, I think he, he really wasn’t quite sure what anybody’s role was gonna be. We had no idea. This was like, this is so new that nobody really knew. Yeah. And so we went to the conference and I can’t remember, there was probably about, I don’t know, 60 or 70 people at the conference. Nice. It was over a weekend. We held, we all slept on the stage of St.

Lorne Abramson (09:55):

Pat’s <laugh> being a camper that didn’t bother me. Yeah. You know, but and Paul, Paul was the one that, you know, he was the one that got me involved in the first place. And then I don’t know. And then it kind of just, I don’t, it kind of just took over, you know, and, and eventually, I think the next year I became the, the advisor for the Metro region, how that happened. I, I honestly got, I wish I could remember all that, but I think, I, I’m not sure that’s okay. How that exactly happened. But I know that I knew a lot of the people in, in the other schools in Metro.

Sam Demma (10:41):

Gotcha.

Lorne Abramson (10:41):

You know, cause I, I knew a lot of teachers, you know, and so on. And the guy who was the provincial advisor was a guy named cam Morrison. And he was also from Halifax west of course. And he was quite close with mark Fraser. And so at time we, and hi, his wife and my wife worked in nursing together. Ah, and, and so anyway, we, we knew each other outside of school as well. And I think, I think that what happened was he ended up staying as provincial advisor for, I think, I can’t remember it was two or three years. Then another guy took over from SAC high and, and then in 1990 I took over as provincial advisor and right till this year, so. Wow. Yeah.

Sam Demma (11:41):

Oh, that’s awesome. You mentioned earlier that like one of the things you think are so important in connection with student activities and extracurricular activities is building strong relationships with the students, the kids. How do you build a strong relationship with young people in your experience?

Lorne Abramson (12:01):

Well, I think first of all, it’s a matter of building trust. Mm-Hmm <affirmative> with all the nasty stuff that you hear about things that are going on in schools drives me nuts. I, I just can’t that part of it is just see, seems like, I don’t know, I never had, let me put it this way. I never had that, that issue. Whether it was personality or what part of it had to do with the fact that I think was that you know, I had a family my, we had, we had two daughters. My wife was always understanding about why I was going away that weekend <laugh> and and then I, I don’t know. I, I, I remember a couple, I, I eventually ended up being a Canada games coach for, for guys.

Sam Demma (13:00):

What haven’t you done?

Lorne Abramson (13:04):

I always say in the, I, you, if you live long enough, you’ll do a lot of stuff. Yeah. You know, like when, if you didn’t, if, if that didn’t happen to you, what’s wrong with you <laugh>

Lorne Abramson (13:22):

No, I, I, I, I get the question. I I’m gonna say trust was a big thing building that it takes, that takes a lot of, a lot of, I don’t know, desire to, to build that. I had, you know, the alumni of the organization played a big role in that cuz you know, people like, like Tyler Hayden and I used to have this, this very funny competition. And it was just that the competition was how many conferences have you been to? You know, and I, and at some point we were tied, you know, cause he used to come to, he used to come to everything and and he would speak at a lot, a lot of stuff. And I don’t know. And then one day he, I knew he was going away. I think it was one of the provincial conferences and I knew that this is gonna be it.

Lorne Abramson (14:31):

I got him, he was gonna be able to be there. And and so I, I made sure that I called him from wherever hell I was. And I said, okay here’s the deal. So now, now that you’ve been defeated, <laugh> this is it Tyler. And he said, okay. I COE. So ever, ever since then it was kind of, I just built more and more anyway, he, and he would not go to a lot of the regional conferences, but I don’t know. I think, I think people like him and people like, like Andy and, and Stu and, and Phil what was Phil’s last name? He was from Winnipeg. Oh God, he was, he’s also a keynote speaker.

Sam Demma (15:28):

Is it Phil Boyd?

Lorne Abramson (15:30):

Phil Boyd. Yeah. Yeah. And and I, I, you know, there were a lot of people like that that were around Mark Sharon Brock who I haven’t seen forever, like a long time. But there were people that were, there were people in the plus a who became keynote speakers like Paul, Paul Devo and Jeff Bri, they spoke together and we became very, the two of them, we were, we were still very close. Nice. They, they both got married. We went to the weddings, we went to it’s like, yeah. And, and I really like Paul’s wife Mor I like him <laugh> and if he sees this too bad, Paul okay. <Laugh> but I think he likes my wife more. He likes me anyway. I think a lot of it, you know, again, aside from just the trust issue, there’s a lot of testing that goes on, you know, like you can’t like, you know, you can’t develop the trust without some risk associated with that.

Lorne Abramson (16:53):

I think, I think once people who are involved in anything see other people that have faith in their relationship with you, that can’t help, but build, you know, for them, you know a good relationship. So I, I, it’s probably not a very good way of putting it, but you know, over the years, geez. I, I mean, I, all I can say is that it got easier and easier. Let me put it that way. There was expectations that I would always be there. That’s another thing, you know, that you’re, you make yourself available and accessibility

Sam Demma (17:46):

Being accessible to the

Lorne Abramson (17:48):

Students and yeah, so that, that’s, that’s a big deal. And I, I knew that, well, that, that, that was, that was a big deal in good times and bad times. And, and you, and there, there’s always gonna be both, you know, that happen, you know, in a, in an organization like this. And I, I, you know, I don’t know. So for, from that point of view, it got, like I said, it got easier and easier. I, I can’t say it any easier than that, but yeah. But the fact of the matter is, is that you know, there was, there was always someone in the organization or some buddies who who come outta the blue and, and will represent the people that you think that you wanna deal with. You know, like, and I, I don’t mean that to become your, your chosen ones, but, but it look, you can’t help.

Lorne Abramson (19:00):

Sometimes you can’t help that, you know? And so I, I, I guess that’s happened sometimes you, sometimes you think, how the hell did I ever get to know this person? Like, I don’t even know why, and, you know, and, and I, and, and you want, you wanna spend time with them somehow to change in some ways, this is probably totally off the wall, but change the way that they operate. Mm. And you re you realize that something about that is, is you, you, you see something in them. Mm. That, and it’s not just being a teacher all over again, but it’s, it, it has some part in that that you realize that you’re, you’re see an opportunity. Like, I’ll give you example of number of years ago, there was a guy who got elected president. He made a terrible mistake.

Lorne Abramson (20:15):

And that is he, he he just jumped into a situation where he, where, where it was just a bad choice. And I, I was sort of stuck with trying to figure out, well, how, you know, how do I, and I, I, you know, what, what do we do about this? And cuz he really, what he really needed to do is resign. And I didn’t know. That was the first time that happened. I think if I remember right. And I, and I wasn’t quite sure what to do about that. And it wasn’t like I have control over that. I’ve never had control of the organization. But I wanted something else to happen and nothing happened with that guy until years and years later. And he, he went off and became a teacher in Korea. Wow. And and he ended up marrying a Korean girl and they have a wonderful family and I met him.

Lorne Abramson (21:25):

I think they were, they were living in, I think they’s probably gonna know this, but they were living in in Vancouver. I think if I remember right. They moved back to Canada anyway. And I had a conversation with him and he said, and he said to me, I don’t know what was going on in my head in those days. And I thought to myself, oh my God, you know, like, this is, this is a good thing to say to me, it was good. Like it was like, and I, and I remember thinking he’s a really nice guy, you know, that’s like, it was kind like, like all of a sudden there was this, this change of, of, you know, of looking at him and thinking, oh no, he’s not just some jerk. You know, that that’s, that made, that just happened to make a mistake, but it’s also, he actually is a really nice person.

Lorne Abramson (22:22):

And, and somehow this all came out now, you know, like, and it took, it probably took his family in, in being a, being a parent. And, you know, I dunno, like, it just seemed like that was it. So, yeah, I know. I sometimes you’ll, you’ll, you’ll meet people like that. Who’s a girl Rebecca Rose, who was on the conference committee, she, I don’t think she ever became her and I were very close and she she came out of the closet at some point and she wrote a a book last year and the book is called oh shit. Was it before the parade? Hmm. I can’t, I’ve never remember it’s before the parade or after the parade. Anyway, it was a book about the gay community or the development of the gay community in Halifax in. And I went to her book launch. Oh my God. It was lovely. It was just like, it was like one of those. And I, and I was always close with her. She’s just, she’s just dynamite, you know? And, and like I, and her and I, and she ended up speaking, oh, well you, well, you met,

Sam Demma (23:45):

Yeah. I know her, listen to speech. I attended her. It was awesome.

Lorne Abramson (23:51):

Yeah. And she, there’s a person that got badly treated by a couple of people within the inter plus a, I think it was probably had something to do with the time of what was going on in, in, in the area that, you know, there were people that didn’t didn’t have a how to describe it. I was, it was from a, from a, a sociological point of view, you know, the relationship with the gay community was crappy. You know, it was just shitty, you know, and yet she had a lot of friends and, and she’s, Ugh, I love that girl. Yeah. She’s just, she’s fantastic. So when we met at her book launch, I hadn’t seen her for quite a while. <Laugh> and it was really funny. She’s like, like was really, you can imagine this, okay, she’s up there talking about her book, I’m sitting in the audience, which was packed at the Halifax library. And and she looks up and sees me standing like in the back, you know, I’m standing there and she stops what she was doing in the middle of all this. And she waves, hi, you know, like that. Right. It was like in the middle of, so everybody’s now turning around, you know, <laugh>,

Sam Demma (25:28):

Who’s a <laugh>

Lorne Abramson (25:31):

And every was turning around, you know, you know, and I, I threw a kiss, you know, and, and she went, she was great. So it was really funny. So afterwards, we went out for coffee and I mean, she’s, you know, again, she’s just one of those, she’s a, she’s a survivor in some ways. Yeah. I, I think, but also a survivor with a great attitude, you know, as you could tell that so it sounds like I know, I, I feel, I always feel very fortunate, maybe the smart and parcel of this. I always feel very fortunate to have met a lot of the people that I have met through the interse and, and in other, other things that I’ve done I mean, I’ve always been able to stay, I dunno, fairly close with, with people that I was close with and, you know, and just because they graduate and wherever go on, you know? Yeah. It’s, it’s like, it’s like Paul, Gule my, my neighbor, you know, <laugh> yeah. I, now I wave him when he walks by with his dog, you know? <Laugh> yeah. Anyway.

Sam Demma (26:42):

Okay. Yeah. Sounds like trust is a big one accessibility, and then just the general desire of wanting to make a change in other people’s lives. Like it, it sounds like that those are some of the, the big ones. When, when did you start getting involved in camps and on camps and being around camps and involved in camps have been a big part of your, your life as well?

Lorne Abramson (27:04):

Yeah. my camp story is it started in, in Montreal.

Sam Demma (27:13):

Okay.

Lorne Abramson (27:15):

And I was 16 and I had, somehow I had I had my nationals in swimming and I had my my instructors for canoeing.

Sam Demma (27:30):

Okay.

Lorne Abramson (27:30):

And, and I had never gone to camp. It was like, my parents could never afford to send me to camp who was expensive. And so a friend of mine said to me, you know, we were all looking for jobs, you know, I was 16 years old, you know, like, and and I, and this friend of mine says to me, you know, you got swimming and you got canoeing. Why don’t you go to camp? You know, like, and I said, camp, <laugh> like, don’t, they pay nothing at camp. And he said, no. He said, for people that have those, those specialties, you get well paid, you know, you’re okay. So I applied to camp Milwaukee, which was in Northern Quebec and it was a, a tripping camp if you know what that is. And it’s a camp that, that has kids that go and they go out on, on canoe trips.

Lorne Abramson (28:29):

Oh, cool. Yep. They’re there, they’re there for eight weeks. Wow. It’s not just a one week camp. And and so I, I went there and I had a great time and I had five to eight year olds <laugh> you can imagine, wow. I never, in a million years ever dreamed that I’d be working with teenagers. I mean, who the hell would wanna do that? You know, <laugh> and so I, I ended up going there and then the next year I got an offer from a local camp, which was called camp nominating and in a similar job, bigger camp. And I went there and I had a great time. And and then I, the next year I got offered a big job at pine valley camp, which was in the IANS. And I was at pine valley camp.

Lorne Abramson (29:26):

I worked my way up and eventually became the director. Ah, and and I was there for a long time. And then, and eventually I ended up, you know, moving to Nova Scotia, met my wife, and she was a nurse at, at camp. And and I and so I ended up moving to Nova Scotia. And like I said, you know, when I got involved in, in camp camp always played a role for me because I, when I eventually, when I got, got involved I started getting involved with volleyball and, and volleyball became a big deal. And as, as my own skills, as a coach got bigger, got better. There was a volleyball Nova Scotia camp, oh, that had started. And and, and my lady who was the, there were two, two women aside from my wife, but two women in my life that, that were both volleyball coaches.

Lorne Abramson (30:35):

One was Lois McGregor from hou. And she, she’s a very accomplished coach. And and, and Eva Justins who became the technical director for volleyball, Nova Scotia. Ah, and they, they took me little Abe. They took me under their wing and they, they just treated me like their kid, brother. It was just great. And they, they took me to everything. I was like, their, their here, here, go, go get Lauren. He’ll be fine. <Laugh>. And so I ended up with the two of them. We ended up running the volleyball Nova Scotia camps. Wow. For, for, for volleyball. And and then I don’t know, I, you know, as I, and then, then what happened was like, like I said, my wife and I got married and we had our daughter LA was born in 1989. And we had an older daughter is three years young, three years older than that.

Lorne Abramson (31:45):

But Lara was born in 89 and she, when she turned six in 1985, I had been doing all these camps all this time. And she ended up developing type one diabetes. So her doctor just happened at her doctor came to me and said, I heard that you this is the part that’s, that’s kind of a little weird, but he said, I heard you’ve been involved with camp. And I said, how do you know that? And I said, he said, turns out that Lois who I mentioned was one of his patients, <laugh> you, you, she must have said something about me in camp, you know, but that’s the only thing I can think of. Yeah. and so he ended up saying, look, are you you might be interested in getting involved in the diabetes camp. Cause he’s the one that started the camps.

Lorne Abramson (32:40):

Oh, wow. Back in 1961. And so I said, yeah, I might be, but I’m going away with my family to a, a one year program with to teach in, in England with the Commonwealth teachers Federation. And so I’ll be away for a year. And I said, I remember saying him said, do you think we should go, like, we’ll spend our first year with diabetes with, you know, at some, some place in another country. And he said, well, if you don’t go, I’ll take her, you know, <laugh> so, and he, he became very, he and I became very close. Ah, and that when I got back cuz I did, I did a couple of camps in, in England, like volleyball camps. And and then when I got back, he called and said, so cap starts tomorrow.

Lorne Abramson (33:40):

Want to come? You know, <laugh> I said, OK, what would you like me to do? And he said, I want you to, he said, I’ve been doing these caps for a lot forever. And I want you to take a look with your experience, want you to let me know whether you think that something needs to be changed. Mm. Which was a gutsy gutsy thing for someone who was initiator. Yeah. You know, to actually say, yeah, if you think about that. Yeah. And that, that was a big deal for me. Cause I, I thought what a, what a gutsy guy, you know, like, like, and I thought, and I knew him, I didn’t know him that well, you know? Anyway he and I became very close and and of course he was Lara’s doctor and you know, and so on and everybody loved this guy.

Lorne Abramson (34:30):

He was the quintessential camp doctor. He was it, you know? And so that’s got me started in the diabetes camps, which and then eventually when we, when we came back from England Laura had gotten involved in, in writing, in equestrian writing. Wow. So she went, so we got her involved with the Halifax junior Bengal answers and I got, I ended up, God knows how you end up with the Sam. You know, I ended up on the board of directors for the, you know, junior Bengal answers, like knowing absolutely zero, except for the fact that I’d go and watch my daughter ride, you know, that was yeah. And and myself and the writing instructor ended up starting a, an equestrian camp wow. For kids. And mostly it was for the horses, which was <laugh>, which I never, whichever I think back on it that holy crap, what did we do anyway, I did that for a couple of years and also did the diabetes camps. And I don’t know. And then I, I just kept going. And as you know, when we talked, I I’ve been doing it ever since. So I’ve doing the diabetes camps now. I think it’s been 35 years. Wow.

Lorne Abramson (35:53):

All over the world. It’s been, it’s been a, really, a really nice ride. Nice. Like it’s not over, but I had a great time two weeks ago being at the the camp at Kera national park. Nice. And you know, being the head chef

Sam Demma (36:14):

Nice.

Lorne Abramson (36:15):

Which is another thing, you know, I can do with you know, and I, like I said, you know, when inter plus a kids ask me, so, okay. How do you know all these people <laugh> and I, and I said, as I said to you earlier, I said, well, you

Sam Demma (36:32):

Live long enough.

Lorne Abramson (36:33):

Yeah. Live long enough or something might be wrong with you. Yeah. <laugh>. So

Sam Demma (36:41):

If you could, if you could, you know, take the experience and the, the wisdom that you have now, based on all the different experiences you’ve been through over so many years, and you could travel back in time and tap Abe on the shoulder when he was starting his first year of teaching. And first year of being a student, you know, council advisor, knowing what, you know, now, what advice would you, would you give your younger self

Lorne Abramson (37:09):

Just follow your dreams and just I can’t, I can’t say that anything that happened over the years had negative impact, but I just, I don’t, I mean, I, I don’t mean that everything was fantastic, you know? Yeah. But I don’t know, you know, like, like, I, I, I’ve always, like, you know, when I got involved in the diabetes camps, I loved the fact that my daughter who was seven years old at the time that she developed, I don’t know what would happen if we, if she had not developed really good relationships with the, with her friends that went, that were at camp, all who had diabetes and those kids today are 43. Wow. And they’re really good friends. And like, they still are like, it’s mind boggling, you know, like when you think about it. So I feel from on a personal level, you know, I feel like that was a big achievement, you know?

Lorne Abramson (38:21):

And I, I, I, I don’t think, I don’t know. It’s not that I, I did anything extraordinary in that sense. I just feel like though that, that there was a lot there was a, a lot of the things just happened to fall into place. And, you know, and I, I, if I, if to answer your question I don’t know what, I, I don’t know what would’ve happened to me had I not left the whole dentistry dream. Mm. You know there was a, there were a couple of people that, you know, cause I always wanted to be a dentist. I wanted to be an orthodontist. I had a, a cousin of mine who was, who was a dentist and he and I were quite close. And so I, that, that was the reason it wasn’t nothing to do with being a dentist actually.

Lorne Abramson (39:24):

But I, I can’t, I, I if I think back on it, I, when I don’t know, when I made a decision, I was the end of my second year of dentistry at university of Montreal. And I, I think part of me, I loved, I loved being at university of Montreal. I I’m bilingual. And, and for me, I dunno, that was, that was a, a perfect place for me. So I guess when I, when I’m thinking about this, when I made the decision to leave dentistry, people around me were totally in a state of shock. They thought, are you outta your mind? Like, you know, you’re leaving behind the million dollar paycheck, you know, like, what are you crazy? And, and I, and that was everybody. That was my girlfriend, my parents, every everyone that I ever had any contact with, except for one guy, one single guy.

Lorne Abramson (40:42):

And that was the guy who was the, he was the chair of the dental faculty at university of Montreal. And I went to see him, had to go see him, you know, tell I wanted, I wanted to leave or a leave of absence, I guess. And I had, fortunately I had done very well in, in the academic side. So for me, it was, I, it’s still, it’s still a hard thing for me to talk about because I, I know that in today’s world, what I’ve learned from people from younger people is that it’s a different world now. People are changing their, their choices, like all the time. Like it’s like, I, I, I’m always amazed at that. And I, I, I, I’m proud of the fact that they could do that and not fault to pieces. Now I’m sure there are people fault to pieces, but, you know, but then again, you see it a lot, you know, and for me at, at that time, it was such a mind boggling you know, choice that, cause in those days, you know, you, you made a choice in career, you stuck and you, and you stuck with it, you know?

Lorne Abramson (42:21):

And that, that was it. So for me, I, but anyway, at that time, I, I remember thinking, what am I gonna do? And, and I went to see my Dr. Ju his name was and sat in.

Lorne Abramson (42:55):

Don’t do anything that you think that you possibly might not be happy with. And I remember thinking that, I think, well, geez, you know, nobody’s ever told me that before nobody ever said those words, you know? And so I, I said to him, so what, what, what choice he said to me, look, he said, I I’m gonna give you a leave of absence. That’s unlimited. He said, you’ve done. Well. He said, what I’ll do for you is this every five years, I’ll send you to stay in touch with me every five years. I’ll send you a little note saying that if you haven’t made a choice to come back yet, then that’s fine. <Laugh> so I like, this is, this is what went on. This went on Sam, this went on for 20 years. <Laugh> now just think about that. I was a teacher, I, I only became a teacher in 1972.

Lorne Abramson (44:00):

And you know, really, I had no goals of being a T teacher, you know, that was not in my life choice. But I did. And and that’s a whole other conversation, but, but it was, again, a decision that totally made sense, you know, in this, in the sense of what, what kinds of things I was involved in and also, you know, becoming in, in the extracurricular world, it was perfect, cuz I not only did it fit with my going to camp, but also, you know, it had all kinds of other re repercussions. Yeah. And so he and I, Dr. Bushier and I, he was my saving grace. He was at the, there was nobody and, and there’s never been anybody else that that, and from those days, I don’t even know any of the people that I, I, I totally, I, it’s funny cuz my, I think that that time my girlfriend got married and she lives in now.

Lorne Abramson (45:12):

She lives in Florida, I think somewhere. And she and I kind of, you know, we talk once in blue moon and but you know, when I think about it, I dunno, you know, he was it. Yeah. And so, and of course the, the choice for me, I remember about 10 years after I’d been a teacher <laugh> I went to visit my old math teacher from high school who at that point had become the human resources head of human resources for the Montreal Protestant school board. Okay. And so I, I went to see him and he, he, he immediately said, hi Abrams an hour. You know, I was like, you know, that, that gravelly voice. And and I said, look, you know, you were right. I, I went back, made the choice to be a teacher and I’m very happy.

Lorne Abramson (46:17):

So he was really funny. He, I don’t know whether I have this here. Oh, it’s downstairs. He, he turned around and in his shelf he had a bookshelf and his bookshelf, he pulls out this red algebra book. Okay. And he said, I’ve been wondering if you were ever gonna come back and get this book. And he pulls it out and he opens it up and it’s, you know, how they used to have that stamp in the books that you’d have your name and all that, and what grade you were in and all that. And he pulls this thing out and it’s my algebra book, like my algebra book from grade 11 and issues you and I’m thinking yeah, there was all kinds of things like that that happened in my life. That was one of them. I I dunno. I, I can’t, you know, it’s funny cuz part of me, I, those were kind of funny days, you know, where I was making all these choices and and but that being said, it seems to have worked out.

Lorne Abramson (47:41):

<Laugh> just, you know, and I, if I talk to like a lot of times the inter plus eight kids, a lot of them will, you know, will will again ask me about choices. And you know, I said, it doesn’t matter. You know, like you, you can make a choice that you think is not gonna work out for you, but you, you can’t tell, you know, you, you don’t know. I mean, geez, my, my choice of being a teacher was insane. I was working for the department of health and welfare in Halifax for federal government, for family allowance. <Laugh> like, I, cuz I had become, I had become a Stu a social worker. Yeah. Essentially. And and I, I ended up I walked into work one day and here’s this poster on the wall. This is so ridiculous. This post big poster. And it says, do you work for, you know the federal government, do you have an undergraduate degree?

Lorne Abramson (48:54):

Are you interested? And, and, and then tells me that if, if I decide I can, I could go into they’ll, they’ll give me a full scholarship, not gonna cost me anything the full scholarship to do a bachelor of education. And then and then you could become a teacher and, or you could you oh. And by the way, and you’d get, you’d continue to get your full salary <laugh> for the whole year. Right? Oh my gosh. Okay. So I’m thinking to myself, what idiot wouldn’t do this. <Laugh> like, I was just thinking why, why and what it was about was I, later on I realized that the people that, you know, the, the government at the time in Nova Scotia were having a really hard time getting qualified teachers and that they were, they were ending up with teachers who this is not, not really saying anything, but the, the, the fact of the matter is they had a lot of people coming from other countries like India, Pakistan, China the west Indies, you know, a lot who, who didn’t necessarily speak English that well mm.

Lorne Abramson (50:16):

That being said, but they were, they probably had really good math skills. Mm. And but they really needed was a challenge local. Yeah. Yeah. They needed people who were local. And so they were offering this program. <Laugh> God just like, I think, I thought, really this is a program. And so I jumped at it and, oh, and, and then the other thing was when you were finished the year and you became your cuz it was a one year program. When you finished the year, you had the option of not going to become a teacher, but you could just take over your, your old job again.

Sam Demma (50:55):

Oh, wow.

Lorne Abramson (50:56):

I mean, it was, it was, it was such a ridiculous choice that like I thought, like really who, who wouldn’t do this? Yeah. So so I ended up God so I ended up doing that. I went to Mount St. Vincent university in Halifax, which at that time had 10 guys and 1500 girls.

Sam Demma (51:19):

Wow. <laugh>

Lorne Abramson (51:20):

And all 10 of the guys, except for, I think one were all married, had just recently got married. So not, not a good choice, but anyway, at that time and so I had a lot of, of friends that were girls anyway. And a lot of them ended up also at the end of the year, they ended up teaching. Wow. Got jobs at jail mostly. And, you know, so we, we became, we stayed friends for a long, long time. So I, I, and that, that was beginning of my teaching career, you know, and go figure on the first day of, of school, the principal at the time, who was a bit of a jerk, but he, he he actually went thing he was good at was hiring staff. And he, he said first day we had a meeting and he said, okay here’s the things that are available for you to volunteer for <laugh>, you know, was like, you know, everybody in the school was expected to volunteer for something. Mm. And so CA volleyball came up cuz the two volleyball coaches had left the school and they went to teach in the valley somewhere. Okay. In Annapolis valley. And I thought about it. I thought, well, I don’t know anything about volleyball, what the hell? <Laugh> nice. That’s helpful. So that was one of the great choices I ever made. But you know,

Sam Demma (52:56):

I don’t know, it sounds like trusting in your choices is a, sounds like that would be like a piece of advice that you might not know what the end result looks like, but still act confidently now and things will unfold as time passes. It sounds like all of your stories, they often involve other people. So it’s, you know, it sounds like building deep relationships, not only with students, but also with your colleagues and just human beings in general. Sounds like it’s been a big piece of your journey. <Laugh> whether it’s, you know, the doctor of your daughter or, you know the President elect of an association in Scotland. So <laugh> yeah, it’s it’s really cool to kind of hear your stories and, and your pathways and what we could take away from it. If, if there’s a teacher or someone, even if it’s not a teacher listening to this and they wanna connect with you or ask you some questions, what would be the best way for them to get in touch or reach out?

Lorne Abramson (54:00):

Probably just the easiest thing in today’s world would either be by message or, or by email.

Sam Demma (54:06):

Sure.

Lorne Abramson (54:07):

Do you, you, can, you, you can, my email is labramson@eastlink.ca and I don’t mind, millions of people have that email anyway. And so it’s labramson@eastlink.ca. And either that, or if they just looked up the NSSSA or Diabetes Camps, all my information is on there. Okay. So, yeah.

Sam Demma (54:44):

Perfect. Awesome. Hey, thank you so much for taking the time to share some stories. It was really fun and exciting to chat with you, and I appreciate you, you making the time, especially during a very busy time in your own personal life.

Lorne Abramson (54:57):

Ah, well, I’ll come. You can come visit us in our apartment. <Laugh> yeah.

Sam Demma (55:02):

Sounds good. So that’s good.

Lorne Abramson (55:04):

Okay, Sam, thanks very much.

Sam Demma (55:07):

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

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Lorne Abramson

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.

Scott Johnson – Principal at Bowmanville High School

Scott Johnson – Principal at Bowmanville High School
About Scott Johnson

Scott Johnson (@ScottJohnsonP) is the principal at Bowmanville High School. He started his career as a high school physical education teacher in Ontario and after a 2 year move to Alberta, returned home to a variety of teaching roles.

He has taught every grade other than Kindergarten and Grade 5 and has been fortunate to work in several different school communities. After working in Special Education, Scott became a vice principal and is thrilled to be back at BHS as principal. 

Scott is known for his innovative approach to teaching and for his work in integrating technology and pedagogy. Scott is passionate about equity and student success and works to ensure that all students are supported throughout the school.

Connect with Scott: Email | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Bowmanville High School

Kawartha Pine Ridge District School Board

Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE)

Cult of Pedagogy

Revisionist History with Malcolm Gladwell

Wikis, Blogs, and Podcasts: A New Generation of Web-based Tools for Virtual Collaborative Clinical Practice and Education by Applied Research Press

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):

Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast.

Sam Demma (01:00):

This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest is Scott Johnson. Scott Johnson is the principal at Bowmanville high school. He started his career as a high school physical education teacher in Ontario, and after a two year move to Alberta returned home to a variety of teaching roles. He has taught every grade other than kindergarten and grade five and has been fortunate to work in several different school communities. After working in special education, Scott became a vice principal and is thrilled to be back at Bowmanville high school as the principal. Scott is known for his innovative approach to teaching, and for his work in integrating technology and pedagogy. Scott is passionate about equity and student success, and works to ensure that all students are supported throughout the school. I hope you enjoy this interview and I will see you on the other side. Scott, welcome to the High Performing Educator podcast. It’s a pleasure to have you on the show here today. Please start by introducing yourself.

Scott Johnson (01:58):

Thanks Sam, and, and thank you very much for for having me on the podcast. My name is Scott Johnson. I am currently the principal of Bowmanville high school in Bowmanville, Ontario. We are a 9-12 school with approximately a thousand students located right in central Bowmanville.

Sam Demma (02:18):

When did you realize in your career journey growing up that education was the field you wanted to pursue and work in?

Scott Johnson (02:26):

Well, to be honest with you, I, I would be, I, I think I’m fairly late to the game in terms of determining what I I wanted to do. I was a PHS ed student at the university of Toronto and had the opportunity towards the end of my degree to do some work in some local high schools in downtown Toronto. And really, really enjoyed the experience I got to work with. I actually played hockey at the university of Toronto and I got to work with a, a former teammate of mine who had moved on to become a teacher. And I just really enjoyed the experience and thought to myself, this might be a, a, a good career move for me. I, I really enjoyed Fette as a, as a student and played all kinds of sports growing up and thought, you know, maybe I could join the ranks of the PHED teachers of the world.

Scott Johnson (03:19):

And so that’s sort of what got me into education and lots happened between then and now sort of over the last 17 years to get me you know, into the role of principal. And I, I, I’ll be honest, I’ve, I’ve enjoyed every, every step along the way. So I think the goal was to be a PhysEd teacher. I’m not sure if I ever actually realized that because I, I was his ed teacher for a very brief period of time, but I’ve got to do a lot of interesting things in a lot of interesting places and yeah, I’ve really enjoyed all, all the steps along the way.

Sam Demma (03:52):

Let’s unpack some of that journey, the 17 year journey from the start to where you are now, what was the start? What role were you in? What school take us through the journey from then to where you are today?

Scott Johnson (04:06):

Well, it was an interesting journey. I actually went to teachers college directly after university and then took a year off after university to go play hockey over in Germany for a year. Wow. Which was a great experience. It was tons of fun. But probably three quarters of the way through that hockey season. I, I kind of got the itch to, you know, I wanted to get started on this career in teaching. And so made the decision, you know, towards the end of the hockey season that I was gonna try and pursue this, this teaching career more seriously and ended up <laugh> I ended up actually accepting, I was so excited to be a full-time PHED teacher that I applied for and took a job at a school that I, I didn’t know really what the school was. And it turned out that it was a PHED teacher job in a youth correctional facility where I worked for a year.

Scott Johnson (05:03):

And, and I, I, I, it was a, a very bizarre way to start my career in terms of just not being something that I would’ve expected, but it, it couldn’t have been a better start to my career. I learned a ton working in that setting and working with those students and that I, you know, can say quite clearly, that, that had a significant impact on helping me get to where I I am today. You know, just, just dealing with students who had obviously been in conflict with the law and, and had lots going on in all assets or all aspects of their lives and, and seeing how school could, could be a, a positive influence on their life, really, you know, set me on a, a, a, I think a good track teacher wise after that. My, my now wife and I decided to move out to Alberta for a couple of years.

Scott Johnson (05:56):

And so we moved to a very, very rural community in, in Alberta. And I actually ended up teaching at a, at a incredibly small school, K to nine 160 students in a town that didn’t have a single stoplight. And it was just another great experience, just great kids, great families got the opportunity to teach a whole bunch of different grades. And again, really enjoyed the experience after a couple years, my wife and I decided to come back and I ended up teaching grade seven, and then I taught a little bit of special education in high school. And then I taught at an alternative education school. Then I moved to a, a lead teacher of special education role, and then moved into being a vice principal at an ed school, and then vice principal at a large rural school. And then at a small rural school. And now principal here at, at one of the larger urban schools and in our school board. So it kind of bounced around a lot, a lot of it by choice, but I, I think having that varied experience has been very helpful in the role that I’m in today.

Sam Demma (07:08):

What do you think you took away from your time working at the correctional facility with students who might have been in trouble with the law? What are some of the things you learned from those experiences that maybe informed the way that you show up today and in, in the high school you work in now

Scott Johnson (07:26):

To put it in its simplest terms? I learned very clearly that every student has a story, and I can’t tell you how much that has impacted me in my teaching career. It, it, it, I just working with those students, learning, you know, you work very closely with them, you work with them every single day. And you just, you learn so much about their story and you start to understand that there’s so much more to a student than what you, you may see, or what they may present, you know, in, in a 75 minute class. And, you know, now in my role as a principal, every single student, or every single issue that that comes across my desk, I, I get, get taken right back to that sort of touch point. That is, what’s the story here there, you know, you talk about, you know, you might hear things that for every misbehavior, there’s a reason, or, or, you know, if a student’s not being successful, as we think they could be there’s, you know, peeling back the layers of the onion kind of thing, to, to try and sort out why.

Scott Johnson (08:39):

And I go back to that very first year, really starting to recognize there is a story here for every student and it’s our job to try and work with them on, on all levels to try and help them be as successful as they can. And, and that, that lesson, like I said, you know, for, for, to get that as a first year teacher, I think was, it was difficult in the moment but has served me well over the last 17 years and, and will continue to serve me well for the rest of my career.

Sam Demma (09:09):

What resources, including people have been very instrumental or helpful in your own development, professional development in this career and job, maybe it’s some people you can think of who have mentored you along the way, some books you’ve read or courses you’ve been a part of, like, what has helped you show up at your best every day at work. And obviously you’re a human being. So there’s days where you don’t feel your best, but what do you think helps you show up to the best of your ability every day?

Scott Johnson (09:39):

Well, I, I think there’s a lot of things. And, and you mentioned, you know, the human aspect of it. The one great part about teaching is that you get to see a lot of people every day. And I mean, you know, we’ve dealt with this, the COVID pandemic over the last couple of years. And I think if you talk to, to any student, any educator, anybody involved in education, or even outside of it, the thing that they miss is that human interaction. Mm. So, you know, as a principal, I love being out in the halls. I love chatting with kids. I love chatting with teachers. I love you know, having conversations with parents, sometimes those conversations with any of those groups are not the easiest conversations, but they’re, you know, we’re all working in the best interest of students. And that’s, that’s kind of what gets me to work with a smile on my face every day.

Scott Johnson (10:31):

In terms of, of long term impact. I mean, I’ll go right back. They, they, they make you do a cheesy kind of assignment back when you were in teacher’s college, talking about your, you know, the favorite teacher or the teacher that, that inspired you. And I, I can think of a couple of teachers that I had along the way, you know, my grade two teacher, Mr. Jameson, my grade six teacher, Mr. Black, just people that had significant impacts on me growing up and, and, you know, having the hope that maybe I could replicate that experience for, you know, a young person growing up was certainly part of my motivation in terms of getting to where I am today, I’ve had all kinds of people who have been incredibly helpful. I, I, from principals to teachers just people and, and I think this goes back to you, you really can’t underestimate the impact that your words can have on another person.

Scott Johnson (11:29):

You know, I can think back to one of my principals who encouraged me to be a vice principal back when I had never really thought about being a vice principal. And, and she put that in my head and I was just like, oh, and I, I just got a sense of her belief in me and, you know, the, a small conversation on her part at a, you know, a lasting and, and significant impact on my life. So those are things that, that I try and pay it forward for lack of a better term, but there’s definitely been, been tons of people along the way, who, who just through their, their words and conversations have a, have had a big impact.

Sam Demma (12:04):

You’re one of the only guests we’ve had on who pulled out a blue ye USB microphone, and sounds like a radio host. <Laugh> gonna,

Scott Johnson (12:13):

I have been told that I have a face and a voice for radio. So I’m I’m good with that.

Sam Demma (12:18):

It leads me to believe that you might listen to a few other podcasts. Is there any educational podcasts that you’ve tuned into, or people that you’ve listened to that have helped as well as a resource?

Scott Johnson (12:30):

Well, to be honest, Sam, if, if you knew me as an educator one of the things that I like to draw upon is other other areas and bring those into education. Mm-Hmm <affirmative>, I like that you know, I’ve listened to lots of, of great educational podcasts. I mean, I started, I think my first educational podcast was the cults of pedagogy which is a, you know, a wonderful series, but what I’ve really, what I’ve really tried to bring in is some more, some different parts of, of the world and how they relate to education. So you talk about a guy like Simon Sinek you know, and, and his start with why book and, and, you know, he has a podcast. Seth golden, I think has a, a lot to say about leadership that is applicable across disciplines. I mean, a lot of it’s into business and marketing, but you take that and apply some of it to a school setting.

Scott Johnson (13:34):

Those are a couple of the podcasts. I’m sure you’ve heard of revisionist history with Malcolm Gladwell in the way that he, he can look at a seemingly straightforward issue and sort of flip it on its ear and, and you kind of, wow, I never looked at it from that perspective. And those are the kinds of things that I think are important in education. I mean, we’re faced with some fairly unique problems in this day and age. And if you’ve just, you know, that old saying, if you always do what you always done, you’ll always get what you always got, sort of thing. And, and, you know, trying to do things differently, cuz these kids are growing up in a different world in a, in a world that we really haven’t seen before. And I like to, to bring those other discipline in, in just to, to try and get a fresh perspective on some of the issues that we’re facing. And, and I find those people have, have some really quality ideas that can be translated directly to the work we do each day.

Sam Demma (14:36):

I love that if you could travel back in time to your first instance of teaching in a classroom, in a school setting and tap yourself on the shoulder and say, Hey Scott, not that you need any advice right now. Not that you wanna change anything about what’s gonna happen in your future, but this is what I think would’ve been helpful for you to hear when you were just beginning your career in teaching, what advice would you have given to your younger self or another educator listening who might be just starting this work?

Scott Johnson (15:09):

Well, I’ll tell you, I, I, I don’t have to necessarily go back in time because I got that, that the piece of advice that was critical to me. Mm. I got that from another person. And the lady’s name is Dr. Kathy Bruce. And she is I don’t know her exact role at Trent university right now, but she was the Dean of education. And I had the very fortunate opportunity at my old grade eight school to be her final teacher’s college associate teacher before she ended her teaching career and moved on to the world of teacher’s college at university. And I remember Kathy is a bit of a math guru, not a bit. She is a, a definitely a math guru and, and has done lots in the, the world of mathematics. But she had tasked me with teaching a math lesson to her grade seven class.

Scott Johnson (16:03):

And the question I asked her was, okay, where’s the textbook that you use? And she said, we don’t use a textbook. And that to me, that moment, and I’ve used that moment over and over again, over, over the last couple of decades was the, the first, the, the seed that was planted that said the education for these students does not have to look the same as your education. And I think that is the piece of advice. We, most people that go into teaching go into it because they love school and they had a, a great positive experience at school. And so oftentimes we will default to the experience that we had at school and that moment, which terrified me and sent waves of anxiety through my body saying, how am I ever going to teach math to grade sevens without a textbook? Because that’s what I was used to.

Scott Johnson (17:00):

And that’s what I was comfortable with. That is the piece of advice that I needed to say. We can do things differently. And I remember, you know, I use that again, when, when will Richardson I don’t know if you know, will Richardson, but he wrote a book in the mid two thousands called Wiki’s blogs and podcasts. You know, you, you, you mentioned the microphone. And I was, I was presented that by a teacher here at the school and I immediately was like, I’m gonna do a podcast. And I, I look back to that, you know, with my students and we’re gonna start a podcast and we’re going to do those things. And we’re talking, this is back in, you know, 2008, 2009. But it was that moment with Kathy Bruce that said do things differently. It’s okay to do things differently.

Scott Johnson (17:52):

So not only did she challenge me, but it was almost like she gave me permission. It was like, oh, okay. We can bring some of these innovative ideas, you know, into the classroom. And so, you know, I don’t know, going back to my former self, listen to your elders, listen to those people who have experience. I mean, you know, they’re the people who are doing it. And there’s lots of great stuff out there. And, and I, you know, I think of if I was a new teacher starting in 2022, you know, between Twitter accounts and podcasts and you know, other social media groups and websites, there’s tons of great resources to draw on. It’s just trying to find your niche in finding those people that that can help you. And, and I was fortunate to have a couple of those people really early on in my career.

Sam Demma (18:36):

One of the things that I believe is attractive about education is impact on young minds, shaping future change makers and seeing a student progress from potentially struggling to success or some form of clarity where they have this aha moment and a breakthrough because of years of help and support from caring adults in their lives. Could you think of a moment in one of your schools that you’ve worked in, or maybe even when you were teaching where you saw a student go from serious struggle to some clarity and some success that really brought a smile to your face, and if it’s a serious story you can change their name just for the sake of privacy. And the reason I ask you to share is because I think it will remind other educators listening, why this work is so important and inspire those who haven’t got into this work yet to seriously consider it as a pot, a potential career path in the future.

Scott Johnson (19:33):

Yeah, well, I can, I can, I can share an example of one that just happened recently. And as I, I think I started off saying that my dream was to, to be a, a PhysEd teacher and, and, you know, I, I didn’t really elaborate, but I, I, I never really made it as a PhysEd teacher because I think that first experience in the, in the correctional facility led me down a path towards special education which turned into student success, where you’re often dealing with students who have stories and those stories are often, you know, incredibly challenging. They have led incredibly difficult lives and, and have overcome so much just to even be with you in front of you know, in the classroom with you each day. And so I can think of a student and I won’t mention their name, but very difficult life history.

Scott Johnson (20:36):

Very challenging. I met this student back in, I believe their grade nine year obviously had difficulties in school, but again, having that ability to recognize the story there is more to this than what you are seeing each day, and just working with that student day by day getting to know them, working with some community agencies, just reaching out and trying to be that person. And it wasn’t certainly just me. There was a whole team of people that, that got to impact this student over the course of their high school career. And I, I ended up switching schools and, and we ended up reconnecting at, at the, the new school. And again, just continuing to be patient and working with that person. And I, I actually got news just a little while ago that they had graduated high school and were starting college in January.

Scott Johnson (21:40):

And, you know, if you, that, would’ve been a tough picture to imagine way back when we met in grade nine. And I think that’s the power of education. It’s the power of you know, in, in, in my context high school is we, we get four years to work with someone and we can do a lot in those four years. It doesn’t have to all be accomplished right away. But if you look at the, the growth that all students experience, you know, coming in at grade nine at 13, 14 years old and, and leaving high school at, at 1718 we, we have the opportunity to make a significant impact and, and in a lot of cases you know, I, I think we’re able to really help students get on the trajectory that they want to get on. And, and hopefully we, we do our best to, to bring the best out of them. And again, that’s, that’s kind of why we’re here and if you’re interested in helping people out with that, then education is definitely a career that will, you’ll find very fulfilling.

Sam Demma (22:46):

If someone is listening to this inspired, wants to reach out, ask you a question, or get in touch, what would be the best way for them to get in contact with you?

Scott Johnson (22:58):

Just send me an email. I’m on Twitter @ScottJohnsonP, not as active as I once was as, as other things have, have caught up and we’ll see where things go with Twitter, given the, the recent, the news of recently, but yeah. You, you know, my email address is, is checkout Bowmanville high school. My email address is, is there along with my picture and I’d be happy to chat. You know, one of the things that got me involved in education was some chats with some people who were in the business. At the time I was fortunate to go to the University of Toronto and be close to OISE and, and know lots of people that were in education so if anyone’s interested, I’d be, be, I’d be happy to chat. It’s a, it’s a great career. It’s got its ups and downs as all careers do, but at the end of the day, I’m, I, I, couldn’t be more happy with the decision that I made way back when

Sam Demma (23:55):

Scott, it’s a pleasure to bring you on the show here today, to talk about the journey, some of the ups and downs, some of the learnings and philosophies you hold about teaching. I cannot wait to see where the next five years of your career take you and, and what you’ll be working on and doing. Keep up the great work and don’t ever hesitate to reach out again in the future and thanks again for coming on, coming on the show.

Scott Johnson (24:19):

No problem Sam. Thanks for having me and thanks for doing what you’re doing. It’s, it’s a pleasure listening to your show and, and I appreciate the opportunity.

Sam Demma (24:27):

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

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Scott Johnson

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.

Dawn Thompson – Strait Area Regional Advisor of the Nova Scotia Secondary School Students’ Association (NSSSA)

Dawn Thompson - Strait Area Regional Advisor of the Nova Scotia Secondary School Students' Association (NSSSA)
About Dawn Thompson

Dawn (@miztee7) grew up in Scarborough, Ontario and was educated at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ontario. She is an educator with over 25 years of varied teaching experience: from Grade 4 to adults, in public and private schools, day school and summer school, in Ontario, Alberta, Nova Scotia and abroad, and in English and French. Currently, she works in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, for the Strait Regional Centre for Education.

While the subject areas of her classes have varied widely over her career, the one constant has been her involvement with student leadership. Dawn has many years of experience as a school Student Council advisor but has spent the last 11 years working with student leadership outside of school in the NSSSA (Nova Scotia Secondary Schools Students’ Association). She has been the Regional Advisor for the Strait Region and the Sou’West/Valley Region, as well as the Advisor Co-ordinator for the Provincial Conference. This year, she is proud to be transitioning to the position of Provincial Advisor for the organization.

She is a mom to 3 amazing teenage boys who make her laugh every day (and sometimes make her scream in frustration). She is a reader and a writer. She sews and gardens. But her true talent lies in the kitchen . . . and not just because of the food she makes.

Connect with Dawn: Email | Twitter | Instagram

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Lakehead University

Strait Regional Centre for Education

NSSSA (Nova Scotia Secondary Schools Students’ Association)

NSSSA – Conferences and Events

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):

Welcome back to another episode on the High Performing Educator podcast.

Sam Demma (01:00):

This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest, I had the privilege of meeting this past year in Nova Scotia. Her name is Don Thompson. Don grew up in Scarborough, Ontario and was educated at Lakehead University in thunder bay. She is an educator with over 25 years of varied teaching experience from grade four to adults in public and private schools, day school, and summer school in Ontario, Alberta, Nova Scotia, and abroad, and in both English and French languages. Currently, she works in Antigonish, Nova Scotia for the straight regional center for education. While the subject areas of her classes have varied widely over her career, the one constant has been her involvement with student leadership. Dawn has many years of experience as a school student council advisor, but has spent the last 11 years working with student leadership outside of school in the NSSSA (Nova Scotia Secondary School Students Association)

Sam Demma (01:57):

She has been the regional advisor for the Strait Region and the Sou’West/Valley Region, as well as the advisor coordinator for the provincial conference. This year, she is proud to be transitioning to the position of provincial advisor for the entire organization. She is a mom to three amazing teenage boys who make her laugh every day and sometimes make her scream in frustration. <Laugh> She is a reader and a writer. She sews and gardens, but her true talent lies in the kitchen, and not just because of the food she makes. I hope you enjoy this conversation with Don Thompson. She is filled with positivity and so much high energy, and I know you’ll enjoy it. I will see you on the other side. Don, welcome to the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here today. Please start by introducing yourself.

Dawn Thompson (02:46):

Okay. I’m Don Thompson. I am a high school English and French teacher in Antigonish, Nova Scotia at Dr. John Hugh Gillis Regional Sigh school. But more significantly, the reason you asked me to be here is because I am the regional advisor for a student leadership organization in Nova Scotia called the NSSSA.

Sam Demma (03:09):

Your heart has been tied to the NS a for many years. Please tell us why it is such a meaningful organization for you and what inspired you to get involved.

Dawn Thompson (03:22):

So when I moved here about 13 years ago, I didn’t know anything about the Ente. It’s a Nova Scotia thing. I’m an Ontario girl. And I had a couple of students in an English class who said to me, miss, we’re going to this leadership conference and we need an advisor. Do you think you’d wanna go with us? And I thought, well, that’s kind of up my alley. I’ve done student council in the past. And I was sort of looking for my thing outside of the classroom. So I agreed to go. And afterwards I found out that it was over the long weekend in may and it was a three hour drive away. And I was gonna have to take some time off of school. And I thought, holy cow, what did I just get roped into? But my principal assured me that it was an amazing organization and that the girls who wanted to go were really great young people.

Dawn Thompson (04:17):

And so he said, just do it. And I got there and about five hours in, I called home and said, I wanna go to this every year. Mm. I have never experienced anything like this in my career, the enthusiasm, the positive energy and just the astounding quality of an event organized and run entirely by students, which was so well done. I thought I have to be a part of this. And then the two girls who asked me to go ran for co premier of our region, they won the election and they said, would you be our regional advisor? And I said, okay, <laugh> what do I have to do? <Laugh> and, and, and then it’s history from there

Sam Demma (05:15):

And N S a stands, can you share what the abbreviation stands for in case someone’s outside of Nova Scotia?

Dawn Thompson (05:23):

Of course it’s the Nova Scotia, secondary school students association

Sam Demma (05:29):

Love it. I, I loved the conference. I think I had similar feelings that you had being there over the summer. I second, everything you say about it. And if someone is in Nova Scotia listening to this and it’s not involved, what are you doing? What are you waiting for? You know, get involved right now. So when did you realize as a student yourself that you wanted to pursue a career and a future in education?

Dawn Thompson (05:58):

In high school, I thought I wanted to be a psychologist and my father kept trying to talk me out of it. He kept saying, oh, Don, you’d be a really great teacher. I didn’t know if that was really what I wanted. I, you know, like I’d done babysitting and I taught swimming lessons and I’ve done summer camps and things like that. So I guess I’d kind of always been involved in teaching, but I didn’t really know if that’s what I wanted as a career. And then in my last year of high school, I had a momentous conversation with somebody who I guess was kind of a mentor. And he said, Don psychologists build hospitals at the bottoms of cliffs and teachers build fences at the top. Which one do you wanna build? And I thought, I wanna build the fence. I wanna catch them before they fall. I don’t wanna fix them once they’re broken. So I became a teacher.

Sam Demma (06:54):

And when you made that decision after these meaningful conversations with people in your life, what did the journey look like from the moment the decision was made in your mind to where you are today?

Dawn Thompson (07:06):

I remember at university preparing for my very first student teaching lesson and I was terrified. I thought, what if I’m terrible? What if I suck? How am I gonna call my parents and say, I know we’ve spent thousands of dollars in a few years of my life, but I, I think I made a mistake. And then that first lesson was incredible. And like, in that moment, I knew that I belonged at the front of a classroom that like I was born to be there. It was the right fit. So I taught in a bunch of different places. I taught in Toronto for 10 years. I taught outside of Ottawa for the upper Canada school board for a couple of years. And then we moved to Nova Scotia. And in the time that I’ve been here I’ve taught at, I think, six different schools. I’ve taught every grade level from grade four to grade 12. I’ve taught English, French history, social studies, art drama. <Laugh> you name it? It’s pretty much been on my plate at some point in my career.

Sam Demma (08:13):

That’s so awesome. And in your role today, what are some of the aspects of the job that bring you the most fulfillment and joy and just fill your heart?

Dawn Thompson (08:27):

Truly my job with the NS a absolutely does every second. A lot of the time I get asked what do you do in, in your role as regional advisor? And I often answer, well, I don’t do much. I go to meetings, I listen to these kids talk and plan. They do all the work. I’m just the backup plan. And the reality is I do the job because I get, get so much out of it. Mm-Hmm, <affirmative>, it is so inspiring to watch young people be so capable to watch them plan and run incredible events and to do it all with no payback for themselves. This is not a job that they’re getting paid to do. They’re doing the work at the conference. It’s not like they even get to go there and just enjoy it. Yeah. It it’s a significant amount of work.

Dawn Thompson (09:24):

And one of the things that I love about it is that as a teacher, I have always wanted, I’ve always felt that it was my job to prepare students for the world outside of my classroom. Yes, I’m an English teacher, but who cares? If you can write a great essay, that’s not gonna do you a lot of good in your life. I would much rather know that I’m teaching you real life skills. And the N essay is a great way for kids to actually get those skills. They learn how to write appropriate emails. They learn how to read a contract and sign it, how to negotiate, how to create a budget how to problem solve, how to hire people and how to fire people. Yeah. So the skills that they get there are always so impressive. And in my career, I hear a lot about what kids can’t do. Mm. And the NS a always shows me what they can do when you give them expectations, they rise up and they meet them.

Sam Demma (10:29):

Yeah.

Dawn Thompson (10:30):

And give me hope for the future. Truly, you know, I think someday I’ll be in a care facility and it’ll be okay. <Laugh> because they’ll be BSA kids there looking out for me. The future of the world is in good hands.

Sam Demma (10:45):

Mm. So the, the students themselves sound like give you a ton of hope. I would assume they’re also the reason you’re fired up every day to get out of bed and pursue this work. What, what, what else keeps you motivated?

Dawn Thompson (11:01):

There’s a lot of joy in a classroom, right? When you can create a really great safe environment where kids come every day and they know that it’s okay to be who they are. And and that I’m interested in knowing them and learning from them as much as they learn from me, then you often get really, really great classroom conversations that go on which, which are so inspirational. And truly, there’s a really, really wonderful sense of comradery that comes with working with amazing colleagues, too. You know, those connections you make with other educators where you can think outside the box and solve a problem for a kid that nobody was expecting that like, that’s a really rewarding experience too, at the end of the day, if I go home and say, well, you know, maybe they didn’t learn how to write a really great introduction today, but I know that this kid felt loved in my classroom. This kid got some support for making a hard decision. You know, I connected with a colleague and we found a solution for a kid who’s gonna be away for three weeks or something like that. It just, those are the little things that really make every day matter.

Sam Demma (12:21):

I’ve spoken to many people in education over the past two years, and something many of them have had in common is there’s been moments of challenge, especially throughout the past two years personally, with the pandemic. And, you know, thankfully things are changing hopefully for the better for the rest of our lives. <Laugh> school will never go back to the way it was before, which I believe is a really good thing. You know, it’s challenge us to think outside the box and maybe change some of our focuses and practices, but I’m curious to know what you think some of the opportunities are that are coming outta this interesting time.

Dawn Thompson (12:55):

Hmm. Opportunities. I worry that we are not taking advantage of the opportunities that are coming here. We’ve got kids who are really, really connected to technology, and I hope that we find a way to use those opportunities the right way, because I’m a little concerned that right now we’re not preparing kids for how to handle the technology that they’re suddenly so well versed in. They don’t have some of the skills. I think that they really need to navigate that in a healthy way, but a lot of them have become in some ways independent learners. They’ve had to be if they’re doing online learning, if they’re missing classes, because they’re homesick, there’s a lot of independence there that I think we can really cultivate in them and that we need to cultivate in them a sense of personal responsibility for their achievements and their success. And more importantly, a hope that we find a way for them to recognize that what they do at school is really about preparing them for the real world, that there shouldn’t be that disconnect between your classroom and the job you might have someday. Mm

Sam Demma (14:09):

That’s a really great point. I think there are so many pathway opportunities that exist that even when I was a student, maybe we weren’t talking about as much in school and the whole pandemic has really shined a light on the, the flexibility of education or the ways it can exist. And I think it’s given students a chance to, you know, explore the world for maybe a year. Some, some schools in Ontario didn’t even actually go into a classroom for like eight months. And so, yeah, I think you’re absolutely right, like shortening that gap or that leg between what’s getting taught and what’s happening in the world. It sounds like more real world conversations are getting pulled into classrooms, even when we were at N say, the conversations that are happening are so forward thinking and based on current events. So I, yeah, those are, those are great opportunities for learning. What, what, yes, go ahead.

Dawn Thompson (15:05):

I would love to see a four day school week

Dawn Thompson (15:11):

Where kids are in classes four days a week, and there’s one day where they do all the other stuff. They do the extracurriculars, they don’t miss any class time. They get extra support. So they’re not being pulled out of a class to get support in another subject area. I would love to see education seen in a different light. We’ve been doing education the same way for hundreds of years, but the world we’re looking at today is not the same as a hundred years ago. And so I think hopefully the major changes, the, the spotlight that has been Sean on the current challenges in our whole society will allow us to be able to say, okay, we need to really make some bold moves here. If we can survive a couple of years of major changes with no preparation, you know, no, no reports written and no experts hired and no warning. And none of that stuff, if we can manage, then we can do a lot more and we should do a lot more to actually tackle the major challenges that we’re facing in our education system. For sure.

Sam Demma (16:25):

Time to push the limits. That’s the thing that comes to mind, you know be, yeah. What, what do you do to fill up your cup when you’re not at work or in the classroom to help you show up at the best of your abilities?

Dawn Thompson (16:43):

I read I’m an English teacher, so I have a real passion for literature to start with. But to me that’s a really, really great way to decompress get lost in a book, get lost in the life of somebody else, forget your own troubles for a little while and, you know, worry about how they’re gonna manage theirs, which are so much worse than yours. And <laugh> enjoy like I have a passion for language. So I love to see how a writer creates language and controls it and shapes the world, using words. That’s exciting to me. And I make sure that I try to balance that with physical activity and with time in my kitchen, I cook, I bake, I dance at the same time sometimes <laugh> and you know, I try to make sure that I spend time with my kids and I laugh and, and hang out with my friends and just, it it’s, it really is that balance in life, all the things in moderation.

Sam Demma (17:44):

Mm. I, I support the dancing and cooking at the same time. Sounds like a party. <Laugh>

Dawn Thompson (17:51):

You have to be careful though, and you should definitely wear an apron.

Sam Demma (17:54):

Yeah. <laugh> I should get food everywhere. That’s awesome. Well, when you think about people who have had a significant impact on you as a person and your professional development as a teacher who are some of the individuals that come to mind and what do you think those individuals did for you that had a significant impact?

Dawn Thompson (18:17):

There was a teacher in high school. I took political science in grade 12, and I remember walking in to his classroom every day, thinking I know nothing <laugh> and then I would leave going. I only know what I learned today in this class from him, but he never ever made me feel like, I didn’t know anything. In fact, he was the one who started calling me a political animal, somebody who was really passionate about that. And he made me actually want to live up to that. He got me interested in politics, and so I know that a lot of what I do in my classroom, I have shaped around trying to give kids that same feeling, trying to get them to see themselves in a way that maybe they have not in the past, trying to get them to say, well, it’s okay if I’m not an expert or I’m not perfect as long as I’m always trying to grow and, and learn and be better.

Dawn Thompson (19:14):

So I definitely would consider him to be a, a role model for the kind of teacher I became and have a very long relationship with the woman who was my cooperating teacher when I was a student teacher, ah her name is gay Thompson, no relation to me. Oh, wow. <Laugh> but I actually kind of think of her as a second mom, you know, we’ve known each other for 25, some odd years now, and it was amazing to be in her classroom and see what she did and then to work with her again, later on in my career and to watch the environment she created for teachers in her presence and to call her up during the course of my career, when I was facing a job crisis, should I take this job? Should I take that job? What am I doing in my classroom?

Dawn Thompson (20:11):

That’s not working anymore. And to be able to call her up and, and talk to her, not just as somebody who understood my profession, but also who understood me as a, a friend has been really, really extraordinary. And I hope that I pay that forward to young teachers who come into my space as well. And into my teaching world, I, I hope that I give them what she gave me. And then, and then someday when I am retired, I hope that they also call me up and say, Hey, I have this really great thing that happened. And, and, and I can celebrate it with them.

Sam Demma (20:52):

Ah, I love that. Are these individuals that you stay in? I mean, it sounds like you and gay Thompson stay in touch with, do you stay in touch with these individuals often?

Dawn Thompson (21:02):

Well, I don’t talk to her as often as I probably should. That’s okay. But I, we do, we, we call at least two or three times a year, major life moments. You know, she sends my kids birthday cards, which is so lovely. And, you know, just the, the little things that make sure that you stay in touch so that we know what’s going on in each other’s lives.

Sam Demma (21:22):

Nice. Well, this interview gives you another reason to reach out to her <laugh> so hopefully it facilitates a connection. So

Dawn Thompson (21:30):

When tell her, she will be,

Sam Demma (21:32):

So it’s obvious people have played an impact. Are there any resources that you think have also played an impact, maybe that’s books you’ve read that really provided unique perspectives or courses you’ve been a part of, you know, you mentioned the conference NS a, so that’s a big resource. What else?

Dawn Thompson (21:54):

Well, the N plus a I, I know it’s a student leadership organization and it really is designed run planned. The whole thing is for students, but teachers get a lot out of it too. When we go there as advisors, if, I mean, you did a session with advisors, you spent time with advisors over the weekend. You know, how important that time is for them. There are advisors who have been going to conferences for years, and it might be the only time that we see each other, but there’s such a really great sense of family that comes with that. We’re teaching in different places in the province, we’re teaching different levels, different subjects. And yet there’s a connection that we make that is really rejuvenating for a lot of us. And having that provincial conference, especially in may leading into that really rough part of the year, which is June there’s something that really fills up your tank to help you get through the month of June.

Dawn Thompson (23:00):

So it is definitely a huge resource for me, especially because I get energy from that. But I also have an opportunity to dialogue with colleagues, which is not something that happens on an everyday basis, often in a school, you know, you’re locked in your own classroom, doing your thing, that there is not a lot of opportunity to meet with other teachers and say, Hey, what are you doing in your space? Or I’m trying this, and I don’t know if it’s working out. What do you think have you had had experience with this? So certainly the S a has given me that the other thing that I would say really, really shaped my career in terms of a resource many years ago, when I taught in Toronto at Asian court collegiate, we had a principal who was kind of visionary, and he decided that he wanted to train everybody on staff.

Dawn Thompson (23:53):

And I’m not just talking about teachers, I’m talking about TAs caretakers in the building, secretaries administration, everyone who worked in that building was trained on a program, which was called tribes. It’s no longer called that now. It’s peace learning groups. I think I’m not sure that’s okay. Because I think that they’ve recognized that perhaps the name while it was well-intentioned was not necessarily a good choice, but really it’s about cooperative learning in your classroom. It’s about creating a community of learners who support each other for their success. And it’s about the teacher as much being a part of that community of learners as the students are. And so I took the training, but I was initially very skeptical because it was really designed for elementary students and they were trying to run this program with high school teachers. And I thought, oh, really, you think I can play that game with my grade twelves, are you crazy?

Dawn Thompson (24:57):

They’re not gonna wanna do that. And I asked a lot of questions and, and I was probably a little bit difficult. But at the end of the training, I committed to giving it a shot the next year in my classes. And so in September I started it up and I’ve never looked back. Mm-Hmm, <affirmative> the difference that it made in my classroom. Every single time has been tangible. It makes kids comfortable with each other. It makes them feel safe. It creates a relationship between me and them that is so necessary if you want real quality learning to happen. So during the pandemic, it was more challenging to do that because a lot of the activities required contact and they’re supposed to be sitting in groups and working in groups and they weren’t allowed to, and they had to wear their masks and they couldn’t see each other’s faces and they couldn’t touch the same ball.

Dawn Thompson (25:57):

So you can’t play the game where you throw the ball back and forth. Like it was just, there was so much about it. That was so hard. And I felt it because the environment that I created in my space was not the same. Mm-Hmm <affirmative> it was missing something. So getting back to it this year, just renewed how much that had such a gigantic impact on me as an educator. I would love to become a trainer and train other people to do that someday. But in the meantime, I make sure that I use it in all my classes, and I talk about it with my colleagues. I have the book that has the whole program laid out. I bought it, I consulted on a regular basis. I check out new activities that I might try from it. And I think that that was a really huge component for developing me into the educator that I am.

Sam Demma (26:49):

Isn’t the book, the same title of the program? Like what would the title of the book be if someone wanted to try and find it, or

Dawn Thompson (26:55):

The, the, I don’t, I’m hoping that they’re manufacturing a new version of it. Okay. But the old version was tribes, TLC the tribes learning community and it’s I think if you go online, they have a website, but I’m pretty sure exchange if you search up tribes, it’ll take you to peace learning groups now. And I think that they’re revamping a lot of stuff, so I don’t know how many of their resources their books are available anymore.

Sam Demma (27:26):

Okay. When you say using it, is it more so a collection of exercises and activities that you could implement in your classroom or what exactly is the program?

Dawn Thompson (27:37):

Well, the program has, it’s an approach really cool to how you run everything in your classroom. Okay. So I spend a lot of time at the beginning of a course, really making sure that I’m creating that space for students, getting them comfortable. They’re sharing information about themselves. I’m learning about them as individuals, as learners. They’re learning about me. We’re developing our four agreements, which basically set the rules for the classroom. You know, it’s about being an attentive listener. It’s about being mutually respectful to each other. It’s about the right to pass or participate, meaning that there are some times where if you don’t wanna talk today, you don’t have to. But recognizing that the more you don’t participate, the less other people get to know you. And then that’s not such a comfortable space for you. So understanding that you have to make choices and really building this sense of community in the classroom respect and celebrating the differences in our space and amongst our people, but also looking for the connections that draw us together and, and help us make a community.

Dawn Thompson (28:50):

So it’s a bunch of different activities that you can do. And then it’s sort of an approach to even how you run the lessons. If I really wanted to, I could structure all my lessons that way I don’t. But often I do have activities that we do on a regular basis that build that sense of community. And then eventually, probably about six weeks in when I feel like kids know me and I know them I ask them to give me a collection of probably about five names of people who they would like to have in what I’m now calling guilds instead of tribes. Nice. because it, I think a Guild is a really great name for what they’re doing. It’s a group of people who are not related by blood, but who have a common goal, their own success. Yep. And who have things in common.

Dawn Thompson (29:41):

So I’m calling them guilds now. So they tell me five people they’d like to have in their Guild. I put those guilds together and I promise them that at least one person that they have asked for will be in their Guild. So everybody has a safe person in their Guild. But I put those guilds together thinking about genders. I think about strengths and weaknesses. I think about personalities. I think about learning styles. I think about all of the things that contribute to how they might successfully work together. And then they sit with that group. They often work with that group. They don’t do everything with their group, but many things. And what I hear usually at the end of the year is how much they loved their group, how tight they became. You don’t have to think of a name for their group and they’d come up with crazy stuff all the time. And <laugh>, it’s, it’s just, there’s so much positive about it that I think if I create that in my space, then all the learning that happens in the room afterwards comes out of the fact that this is a good place to be.

Sam Demma (30:45):

Mm. Sounds like a conference in a classroom. That’s what came to mind. <Laugh>

Dawn Thompson (30:49):

I hope

Sam Demma (30:50):

<Laugh>. Yeah. It’s so that’s so cool. It sounds like it’s had a really big impact on your beliefs and philosophy and approaching education, which is awesome. I’ll definitely hyperlink it down below so people can check it out. If you could take all of your experience in education, all the wisdom you’ve gained and all of your years teaching go back in time and like tap down on the shoulder. When, when you were just starting to work in a school, knowing what you know now, not that you would change anything about your path, but what advice do you think it would’ve been helpful to hear when you were just starting?

Dawn Thompson (31:25):

You don’t have to mark everything.

Sam Demma (31:29):

Hmm.

Dawn Thompson (31:31):

As a beginning teacher, there’s this sense that you have to be on top of everything students are doing and everything they do matters, and you have to have marks for everything and you have to be accountable and guess what you don’t, mm-hmm <affirmative> sometimes you just have to relax and let the learning take place that there are other ways to assess the learning that’s happening and to check in with kids that has nothing to do with marking the work.

Sam Demma (31:59):

That’s a great piece of advice and I’m sure people who just started teaching over the past few years could have used that maybe two years ago before they jumped in so thanks for sharing. If someone is listening to this conversation, has been inspired by it, wants to connect with you, join your personal Guild, or ask you a question, what would be the best way for someone listening to get in touch?

Dawn Thompson (32:25):

Well, I I’ve got my social media, so I am on Instagram. I think I’m @miztee77. You’d have to request to follow me because I do keep it private, teachers have to do that. I’m on Twitter, so you can find me there too. I’m pretty sure I’m @miztee7 there, and obviously I’m happy to get emails too. So you know, if you wanna talk about teaching, you wanna talk about the NSSSA? My email address is kuzykmommy@gmail.com.

Sam Demma (33:10):

Awesome. Don, thank you so much for taking some of your time to stop marking some exams and you know, join me on the podcast to share some of your experiences and beliefs around education. It’s been a pleasure chatting with you and I can’t wait until our next conversation,

Dawn Thompson (33:27):

Sam, it was a real pleasure for me too. It was so nice to reconnect with you. I, I had a great time.

Sam Demma (33:35):

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

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Dawn Thompson

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.

Reg Lavergne – Superintendent of Instruction, Innovation and Adolescent Learning and Student Success at the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board

Reg Lavergne - Superintendent of Instruction, Innovation and Adolescent Learning and Student Success at the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board
About Reg Lavergne

Reg Lavergne (@RegLavergne) is the Superintendent of Instruction for Southeast schools and for the Ottawa-Carleton Virtual Secondary School (OCVSS). Reg supports innovative and alternative approaches to Student Success and Adolescent Learning within this role.

For 23 years, Reg has served students in Kindergarten to Grade 12 in rural, urban, large, small, adaptive, and community schools as a teacher, department head, Vice-Principal and Principal. He has also served as the System Principal of Student Success and Innovation and Adolescent Learning.

Currently, Reg is working on an Educational Doctorate degree focused on increasing student voice and identity in student learning experiences. He is also designing and implementing the Authentic Student Learning Experience framework to embed student voice and is working with SSTs to build a model for Student Success for students in grades 7 and 8, and grades 9-12.

At the OCDSB, Reg has greatly enjoyed working with teachers to build and implement learning models and approaches that help students see their own genius.

Connect with Reg: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Ottawa-Carleton Virtual Secondary School (OCVSS)

OCDSB

Hero on a Mission by Donald Miller

Russ Interview by Jay Shetty

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:01):
Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast.


Sam Demma (01:00):
This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest is Reg Lavergne. Reg Lavergne is the Superintendent of Instruction for Southeast schools and for the Ottawa-Carleton Virtual Secondary School (OCVSS). Reg supports innovative and alternative approaches to Student Success and Adolescent Learning within this role. For 23 years, Reg has served students in Kindergarten to Grade 12 in rural, urban, large, small, adaptive, and community schools as a teacher, department head, Vice-Principal and Principal. He has also served as the System Principal of Student Success and Innovation and Adolescent Learning. Currently, Reg is working on an Educational Doctorate degree focused on increasing student voice and identity in student learning experiences. He is also designing and implementing the Authentic Student Learning Experience framework to embed student voice and is working with SSTs to build a model for Student Success for students in grades 7 and 8, and grades 9-12. At the OCDSB, Reg has greatly enjoyed working with teachers to build and implement learning models and approaches that help students see their own genius. I hope you enjoy this conversation with Reg, and I will see you on the other side. Reg, welcome to the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show this morning. Please start by introducing yourself.


Reg Lavergne (02:21):
It’s fantastic to be here and I really appreciate you reaching out to me. So my name is Reg Lavergne. I’m a superintendent of instruction with the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board which is a public school board in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. I support a number of schools, but I also support the innovation and adolescent learning department and the student success programming across our district.


Sam Demma (02:44):
At what point in your own career journey did you determine that education was the field you wanted to pursue and work in?


Reg Lavergne (02:53):
Okay, so this might sound sad. I always wanted to be a teacher. My mother tell you if she was here right now, that when I was a very small boy and people said, what do you wanna do when you grow up? I said, I was gonna be a teacher. And I always did say that that I was gonna be a teacher. I, so that, that truly has been, was always, and still is my main goal. I like working in education. I like working with, with kids. I like helping and working with adults who are working with kids. And I have always naturally gravitated towards kids for whom the system didn’t necessarily work as well as we might like it to. So I’ve always gravitated towards, it’s not working. Why is that? What can we do differently?


Sam Demma (03:42):
That’s awesome. Tell me about the journey from five year old reg that always told his parents and everyone in his life that he wanted to be a teacher to reg today. Like what were the different positions and roles you worked in? Where did you start and what brought you to where you are today?


Reg Lavergne (04:01):
So I, I, I, I think I’d have to say that my, my journey hasn’t been exactly linear. Although I I’ve always been connected to education, so I was in school and then I’ve worked in, in schools and, and in education, my entire career. I actually when I was in school I was very fortunate. School worked for me. I really enjoyed school. I got a lot out of it. I actually went to university and I, my first degree was in music. So I was a music teacher first and I loved that. I got to work with kids in a very different environment to help them celebrate strengths that they didn’t know they had in a way that many people weren’t looking for and, and to help them see how they can contribute in ways that to be perfectly Frank society doesn’t always put on the forefront.


Reg Lavergne (05:00):
So when I was watching kids, we would often work with I, I was a high school teacher for the most part. I actually started working in a private elementary school. And then I got hired with public board, the secondary level, and I was working as a music teacher and we would go to the local elementary schools and I would watch kids who didn’t always have the easiest paths and had lots of different things. They were working through flourish when they were working with younger children and helping them, helping them grow and helping them overcome challenges that they were working with. And I really, really loved that. And from there I became a vice principal. I, I I worked actually, I should take a step back when I was in taking my my degree, my education degree. I sought where, where I, where I could sort of put my voice in what type of placement I, I was asking for.


Reg Lavergne (05:57):
I worked with children who were suspended or expelled from their schools or districts and, and helped their, their learning. I also volunteered in a program that was designed for kids who’d been suspended so that they didn’t stay at home all day. They came, we helped them with their schooling, but we also helped them with why they were suspended and how can we not get there again? I became a music teacher after that. When I became a vice principal, my first school was working with the student was in an adaptive school. So was working for students who had lots of different types of challenges social as well as cognitive, as well as physical and I, and I worked with with them. And then when I became a principal, I worked in an inner city and a rural school.


Reg Lavergne (06:43):
But I brought a, a very strong student success link to that, to those discussions, to those schools, those situations when a student was struggling, stopping and saying, why are they struggling? What can we do differently for them asking them to do the same thing multiple times when they’ve struggled on it on the first time, probably isn’t going to make them feel better about themselves. They may learn the skill, but they’re not going to feel better about themselves as they go through that. So how do we also take into account their thinking their their feelings about themselves? Do they think that they’re a capable learner? Do they think they’re smart? How can we make sure they do see that way? And how can we make sure that they do see that there are lots of options available to them and how can we help them get there?


Sam Demma (07:25):
Mm. I love that. And they’ve gone continue,


Reg Lavergne (07:31):
Sorry. No, I, I may have gone a little off topic there, but, but that was where sort of my thinking went. And actually one part I, I actually then started I moved out of working in a school and I was working centrally. I was assistant principal for four years of student success and adolescent learning. And I supported, I think it was 96 schools in our district on school student success programming and, and looking at, at options and opportunities for students outside of the, the, the norm outside of the traditional box that we might work in.


Sam Demma (08:04):
You mentioned that you had the opportunity to see students flourish in a different environment to uncover strengths, that they didn’t even know that sometimes they had. Can you share an example of what you mean by uncovering strengths? They didn’t even know they had, because I think that’s a beautiful thing to help a young person or a student realize,


Reg Lavergne (08:26):
Mm-Hmm, , there are so many I have a couple from my past, that’ll be more general. And then I can speak to one specifically that I’m thinking about from last year. Mm. So Stu students who that I was working with, who may not have had clarity on their strengths. I spoke very vaguely to say that they may not have thought they were very good at very much. And I remember, again, I was in a high school going to local elementary schools and intentionally partnering students up with, with younger children who needed help in different things. If it was music, they may have needed help playing their instrument or setting their instrument up or trying a new instrument or working through something that they were working on, but they were struggling and giving. I, I I’m, I’m seeing several in my mind right now, and I’m years giving, providing the opportunity for them to step up, to be a leader, to show their strengths to help someone else.


Reg Lavergne (09:36):
And I think that brought in the idea of contribution, right? As soon as you can bring in the idea where a person feels like they’re contributing in some way, they feel valued, they feel valuable, they feel important. They know that they have strengths that they can bring. And I would watch these teenagers working with these younger students and suddenly see them light up as the younger student achieved, what they were working on. And I could see that the, the older student realized, wait a second. I helped them do that. Right. I was able to, to share with them some of what I know, some of the skills I have, I was able to motivate them and make them feel that they can do this. They knew it was possible. And suddenly they did that. And I would watch the kids light up. And to me, I don’t think I have the words to describe how I felt on the inside, nor how the kids felt as they were going through that.


Reg Lavergne (10:32):
Because then all of a sudden, as we’re heading back to, to the main high school, I’m watching the excitement in this young person’s eyes, I’m hearing them talk about what they did and, and how they helped the other student. I’m hearing them talk about the other student’s achievement. Like it really wasn’t all about one person. It was about the different pieces. And I remember watching kids suddenly be willing to try more and to do more back in the classroom after that, because they sudden they saw that they had a strength that they, they could contribute. They could help someone else. And we’ve seen that in a program that we actually started last year in our district, it’s, it’s a, a ministry supported provincial program. So we did not design the entire program. We did design what it looks like for our district.


Reg Lavergne (11:25):
And we started a program with one teacher. And she started reaching out to students who had dropped out of high school without graduating and talked to them about a different approach and a different type of program. And it it’s called a SW program. So that school within a college, like I said, it’s a, it’s a provincial program in Ontario. It is situated to support students who are at risk of not graduating high school and connect them to pathway options. We took a, a slightly different approach to it. In terms of, of, again, reaching out to kids who were at risk of not graduating and finding out what are you doing right now? How can we connect that to your formal learning? So basically we were, we, we did. And when I say we, I mean, the lead teacher who is the most brilliant educator you have ever met she connected with kids who, who were not at school and started talking with them just to find out more about them.


Reg Lavergne (12:21):
What are your interests? What do you like to do? What do you do outside of school? You know, when you do that, that’s actually this part of the English curriculum. And it’s this part of that math curriculum. And at this part of the history curriculum, and she was able to, to show the students who, the structure that we developed together, that they were smart. They had talent, they had strengths. It may not manifest itself in a way that we would normally capture it in a school, but they were demonstrating learning in, in in, within their life. And she was, she was able to engage with them to, they came back to work with us. Now, this was in remote last year. So they actually did not return to a traditional school, but they did engage in some traditional school structures and different things.


Reg Lavergne (13:10):
They were engaged in outside the school. The teacher captured because they captured this demonstration of their learning. They had learned, they had developed a ton of skills, maybe not sitting in the classroom at 9:00 AM on Monday, but maybe at different times. And they were able to demonstrate that learning. And she worked with, with students capturing evidence of their learning. So she did not create lessons for them every day, the students from their interests and then where they wanted to go. So meeting their pathway goals developed learning experiences. And as they were doing that and demonstrating different learnings, the teacher was, was connecting that to different curricular expectations. And the students were accelerating the, the credits that they were earning. And at the end of June last year, 22 students graduated from high school. And I believe 18 of them are in college right now. These students had dropped outta previous.


Sam Demma (14:05):
Wow. That’s such a cool story.


Reg Lavergne (14:08):
Oh, get goosebumps. When I think of that story all the time, that teacher and that program approach changed those kids,


Sam Demma (14:20):
It’s a case study of how to deal with students of whom school is not working. Right. Like you mentioned earlier, sometimes school doesn’t work for everybody. Well, I think the question that came in my mind was like, how do we help those students who school is not working for? And it sounds like this program like fills that void. Is it continuing this year in person? Or like, tell, like, tell me a little bit more about it.


Reg Lavergne (14:45):
Yeah. We expanded it three teachers this year. And the program is full again. They’ve reached out to different groups of students and they’ve intentionally reached out to students that might not reach out to us to make sure that they are aware of those pieces and that, that, that there is an opportunity. And sometimes they situated from why not give a shot, try it out. If it doesn’t work, you don’t have to stay, right. We’re not, we’re not holding you here, but if it does work, this could be changing for you. And, and something, you said it, it made me, it made me think of something else that the, the teacher engaged with as well. In that program, we’re not saying that traditional learning structures are not engaged, right. They’re not out the door, they’re still there. Yeah. But they’re engaged differently as the student needs it.


Reg Lavergne (15:34):
And I remember talking with the teacher again, brilliant educator. And she was telling me this story about a student who had struggled in school for many, many years, obviously had dropped out of high school, was back into this program. And they needed a very solid, theoretical understanding of mathematics for the program they wanted to go into at the college the next year. And so the teacher engaged in some more traditional learning so that they could understand the theoretical underpinnings of the mathematical concept they needed to go in. The difference was the student knew why they needed it.


Sam Demma (16:11):
Mm.


Reg Lavergne (16:12):
And it was connected to their goal. It was connected to their pathway. It was connected to their passion. So they were, they were there, they were into it. They were working on it. I don’t believe six months earlier, the student would’ve engaged to the same degree, but because of the approach that that program provided and that educator provided for the student, they saw meaning and purpose for their learning as they had never seen it before. So that theoretical piece that possibly, and I, I, I can’t guarantee these pieces, but possibly before they may have thought, I don’t want that. I don’t care about that. Like, I’m not doing that. They knew it was important. It was important to them. It was part of their pathway goal. So they were totally engaged and worked very diligently with the teacher to learn in that way. So it is a balance of sort of a authentic in school and outta school experiences with some very traditional, theoretical learning opportunities as well.


Sam Demma (17:07):
There’s a really phenomenal new book called hero on a mission by an author named Donald Miller. And in the book, he talks about the importance of setting goals in the context of stories. Like he believes that the reason why most people don’t bring their goals to life is because the goal isn’t actually baked into a story about how their life could change or what it is they’re working on. And when you mentioned that student who didn’t understand why they needed this, all of a sudden realizing that it’s a key component of bringing their future goal to realization it just, it like compels you to, to do it and take action because no longer is it just a math class, it’s a stepping stone in your goal or your future, you know, story. Which I think is a really cool realization. And that’s what came to mind when you were explaining that, what do you do you, what’s the teacher’s name that runs this program? Does she also does she also teach like a grade or is she solely dedicated to running and organizing this, this program?


Reg Lavergne (18:10):
So she teaches she taught all the students last year. She teaches a third of the students this year, but she’s, she works with the other two teachers and they they’re very collaborative in their approach. Cool. In terms of bouncing off each other’s strengths so that the students can maximize they’re learning off of the, the strengths from the three teachers that are, that are involved. We have a fourth teacher that helps liaise with the college, the local college we have as well. Nice. because part of that program is the students. I call it tow dipping, but they, they engage in some college courses as well. And while they’re engaging in the college courses, they’re earning a college credit and a high school credit at the same time. Nice. to try to explore different options, they may not have considered the lead teacher in the program.


Reg Lavergne (18:57):
She is extremely humble and will not be happy that I have said her name. But her name is Donna. And and she was an exceptional educator. And she you know, she was the one working directly with the students last year. Helping them see their genius, which is a saying that I captured from another one of our, our educators to see their genius and to see the possibilities before them. And you know, she has, has dramatically changed and the colleagues she works with have dramatically changed the lives of children.


Sam Demma (19:31):
I’m getting goosebumps. It’s such a good feel. Good story. And it’s so cool to hear that the program is growing. I’m sure other boards might be reaching out to you after listening to this podcast, to ask some questions and connect with Donna too. about this, because I know it’s not an isolated problem or challenge. There are so many challenges in education, especially with the pandemic, but with challenges, come opportunities being on the cutting edge of innovation and student success, what do you foresee? Some of the opportunities being in education, things that are unfolding and the school board is working on that you think are really great opportunities for the future.


Reg Lavergne (20:11):
I will never say that COVID has been a great thing. It’s been a horrifying thing. It has caused so much harm. I will say that it created the opportunity to look at things outside the box. Mm that’s my very gentle way of saying sometimes we have to knock the lid off and push the wall over. Mm. And look outside the box. Traditional approaches to learning work for some and need to be available for some, they don’t work for everybody and we need to be more attentive to, and more responsive to and proactive to different ways of learning that engage people in different in, in different ways. I, I am very focused on who is the student? What are they doing? What do they want to do? What are their strengths? How is the learning environment set up to help them see meaning and purpose in their learning?


Reg Lavergne (21:18):
When we first went into shut down because of C learning, didn’t go into shut. Buildings did congregating together, did, but learning didn’t stop. And I was so privileged at the time. I was the principal of student success and innovation and adolescent learning at the time. And at first I remember thinking, what are we going to do? The way we’ve done everything. Our entire system can’t function right now, the way we’ve done it, what are we going to do? And I have to tell you how blown away I was with students, families, and educators, as everybody morphed into doing things in a very, very different way. I had the privilege of working with all of the student success teachers in our district. Every school that has grade seven and eight or grade nine to 12, has a student success teacher assigned a, a specific position for it.


Reg Lavergne (22:15):
And I was so privileged to get to work with all of them, incredible educators, incredible credible people. And we started doing a lot of brainstorming because those are the teachers that also support the students that are at greatest risk of leaving us, having not completed their courses and completed their diploma. And so we spent a lot of time talking back and forth. Well, what does this look like when you’re talking about students who don’t necessarily want to engage in learning every day, because they haven’t had success in it, or they haven’t felt good in it. Then when they’re sitting at home, it’s even more at risk that they’re not going to engage. So what are we going to do? And we built an approach, a philosophy, excuse me, and a framework to really take a look at all right, what are you doing right now at home?


Reg Lavergne (23:08):
You are learning. You are learning in very different ways, but you are learning. It just doesn’t look like it did the previous week when we were in a school building. So what are you doing? Talk to me about that. We had one student I’ve, I, I don’t think I’ll ever forget this. A teacher shared I’ll speak generally because yeah, I don’t, I have share name, but had contacted a student who had had a variety of different experiences in schools and not all of them. Good. And, and they were now at home as, as everybody was. And the, the teacher, the, the student success teacher asked the student what they were doing and the student was tearing apart a trailer and rebuilding it with his dad at home was just something they wanted to do at home by talking with the student and finding a little bit more about what they were doing.


Reg Lavergne (23:57):
And, and he engaged in regular conversations with the students. So to, to hear what they were learning, talked to me a little bit, suddenly we realized the student was actually doing two tech education courses with his dad at home by tearing it apart. And the teacher was able to capture evidence of learning through the conversation and the student would take pictures of what he was doing and share it with the, with the teacher to say, this is what we saw today. So we had to do this for X reason. That is not my area of strength. So I can’t give you the exact specifics on what they were say. But what I do know was that the student was engaged in activity. They really loved, they were working with their dad and they were able to explain why they were making the steps they were making.


Reg Lavergne (24:41):
And the teacher actually asked the student at point would write down the steps of what you were, why you were doing it. The student was like, sure, why? Well, there’s a grade 12 technical English course that would meet the criteria of, so by building a manual on how to tear apart and rebuild a trailer, the student was also working on a technical English course. This wasn’t a student who necessarily loved writing or loved literature, right? At that point in his life, he may at one point, but at that point he didn’t necessarily enjoy that, that approach, but he was totally on board with writing down what he was doing and why he was doing, we were capturing his thinking. It was important to him. It mattered to him. He was creating a technical manual. That for him was really, really important. And that connected some credits. So during the, the initial closures, and that’s what sort of inspired and led to the development of our approach with our program as well it was very much looking at well, what are they interested in? What are they good at? What do they wanna be working? That’s where we start. And that’s how they get that spark to continue pushing themselves even further.


Sam Demma (25:57):
It sounds like flexibility is such an important part of this process. Like the, the student being flexible, but also the, the teacher and maybe in the past flexibility has not been the most utilized idea when it comes to projects or completing assignments or the way that you complete the assignment. How did, like, how do you build a culture of flexibility where, where, like an educator is proactively looking for those ways to connect real world experience to specific students learning or is this like situation you’re explaining more used for the students who school is not working for?


Reg Lavergne (26:42):
That’s a great question. I think the flexibility piece is, is key. Yeah. How do we build the environment for it?


Sam Demma (26:51):
I’m putting you on the spot. not that you have to have the perfect answer.


Reg Lavergne (26:57):
No, it’s a great question. I think, I think it’s a, it’s a brilliant question. I I’m going share some of my initial thinking. And then this is the question I’m gonna walk away from thinking even more on, I’ll be honest with you. I think, I think part of it comes down to what’s the goal and who decides the goal and who’s decided how that goal is achieved. And we have we have a society, our, our, our society, and some may argue that it has to be this way for a society. As, as, as large as our planet is to function together that there are certain goals and there are certain ways that we’ve decided over a series of years or decades that work mm. I have to talk about that, that work to achieve those goals. And I think what we’re seeing, and I think COVID has helped illuminate this it’s, it’s put a spotlight on it.


Reg Lavergne (27:55):
That practices that work, we have to stop saying that we have to start saying they work for some and other practices work for others, and we needed to be more open to a diversity of practices that are going through. I think that certainly the approach we took in the district, I was working with student success teachers who I was very fortunate. We’re very engaged, very flexible, wanted to try different things to support student achievement in different ways and move that forward. What we’re seeing is that that thinking philosophy and the use of this framework is, is expanding in the district. As people are seeing that it’s working. Because I think something that just jumped into my head after what you said was the idea of permission.


Reg Lavergne (28:41):
Do we give educators permission to go outside the box to try things that are safe, appropriate, but that engage students in ways that engage them. So rather than it being an approach that I’m confident in, because I’ve seen it work a number of times, if I see it not working for a student, do I feel that I have the permission to try something different with them, especially depending on where they’re going with it. We all, depending on geographically where you lived, the people who were in the same area with you took the exact same courses through high school, had the exact same learning, delivering models in place. I’m guessing they didn’t all do exact, the exact same thing. So they took those learnings that they had and have tweaked them to has, and it tweaks them, adjusts them and applies them to where they went with it, what they wanted to do with their learning, what they wanted to do with their life.


Reg Lavergne (29:43):
So I think a part of it is giving that permission to, to, to dip into different ways of doing things, to saying for this student, that approach is appropriate and it supports where they want to go. It supports what they wanna do. So we don’t have to follow necessarily in, in sort of a, a, a very structured manner, traditional approaches, traditional approaches work in many cases. And so this isn’t a case of throw all of that out and try this instead, this is a case of, for this person who they are, their identity, their experiences, their goals, what about this? And I would even put on the table, imagine if we started saying to the student, well, what are you interested in? Well, what would you like to work on right now within the parameters of, of the, the the, the courses that we’re working on to say, how would you like to engage in that learning?


Reg Lavergne (30:42):
There are lots of different ways of engaging in learning that is embedded within English curriculum or science curriculum or math curriculum. I think we can give permission. And I’m, I’m in a, I, I’m very fortunate. I’m in a position where I can work with a number of schools and principals and vice principals and teachers, and, and I can establish the environment that provides for that position. I don’t mean for that to sound power trippy in any way. But when I, when I say it, I’m having a conversation with someone and, and I say, why not? That gives that permission to say, it’s, it’s okay to go outside of what you may have normally done, because you’re engaging with that student in a way that is going to be more effective for them and is ultimately going to enhance their wellbeing and their achievement. And I remember that when I was a teacher asking, you know, talking with my principal and when my principal said, why wouldn’t you try that? If you think that’s gonna work, knowing that my principal was supporting my thinking was very powerful for me. So that’s something that I try to do. And I’ve always tried to do in my roles as I’ve gone through. My career is, is to make sure that we’re engaging in those conversations and that we’re providing that permission because the permission is needed for us to change the way it was to the way it could be.


Sam Demma (32:06):
There is an American hip hop artist named Russ, and he was being interviewed by this guy named Jay Sheti one time. And Jay Sheti said, what is the best advice you’ve ever received? And he said, it was a question, what if it could turn out better than you ever expected? And when you approach situations with that mentality, what, like, what if it could turn out better than you ever expected or ever imagined, instead of what, if this goes wrong and terrible, you build some courage to try new things, to take new things on. And I think the, why not question becomes even more powerful. When you look at it from that perspective and back to your toe dipping analogy, you know, if you do try it and you dip your toe and the water’s really warm, and it’s working out, you dive in and, and, you know, you scale the program, get three teachers involved. And then, you know, five years from now, maybe the program is going throughout the whole board, and there’s like dozens of teachers organizing it and running it all because of a test, a pilot project which is really cool and exciting. This has been a really awesome conversation. I’ve enjoyed every minute of it. If someone is listening to this Reg, wants to reach out, ask you a question, talk about this program or your experiences in education, what would be the best way for them to get in contact with you?


Reg Lavergne (33:27):
The easiest way would be to go to my board’s website ’cause you can find my email. I’ll spell my email over in a second, but you can find it there. My board’s website is ocdsb.ca and then you can do a search on me and you will find I’ll pop up. My my email is reg.lavergne@ocdsb.ca, and I’m more than happy for people to reach out and have conversations because as we look to what could be and what the possibilities are, that’s what I find is really, really exciting and and can truly change kids’, change kids’ lives.


Sam Demma (34:07):
Awesome. I agree. Thank you so much, Reg, for taking the time to come on the show. I really appreciate it. Keep up the amazing work and we’ll talk soon.


Reg Lavergne (34:15):
Thank you. Take care.


Sam Demma (34:18):
Hey, it’s Sam again. I hope you enjoyed that amazing conversation on the High Performing Educator podcast. If you, or you know, deserves some extra recognition and appreciation for the work they do in education, please consider applying or nominating them for the High Performing Educator awards, go to www.highperformingeducator.com/award. You can also find the link in the show notes. I’m super excited to spotlight and feature 20 people in 2022, and I’m hoping you or someone, you know, can be one of those educators. I’ll talk to you on the next episode, all the best.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Reg Levergne

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

Josh Windsor – Principal at Grand River Collegiate in the Waterloo Region District School Board

Josh Windsor - Principal at Grand River Collegiate in the Waterloo Region District School Board
About Josh Windsor

Josh Windosr is the Principal at Grand River Collegiate in Kitchener, Ontario. He has worked in numerous sectors including social services, business and marketing, and for the past 22 years as an Educator. Josh began his teaching careers in Health and Physical Education and Special Education but has taught Math, History, Geography, Science, was a Department Head of Special Education and a consultant responsible for professional development and a district elearning program.

Josh was a Vice-Principal at 3 high schools in the Waterloo Region before becoming the Principal at Grand River. In addition, Josh has been a long time coach in various sports in the community, at secondary schools and at the University level where he has been the head Men’s rugby coach at both Wilfrid Laurier University and the University of Waterloo.

As a leader, Josh believes that growth mindset and self determination theory are the key components to school improvement and fostering innovative teaching practices that support student learning.

Connect with Josh: Email | Linkedin

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

University of Waterloo

Wilfrid Laurier University

Grand River Collegiate

What is an EA?

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:01):
Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator.


Sam Demma (01:00):
This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest on the podcast is Josh Windsor. Josh Windosr is the Principal at Grand River Collegiate in Kitchener, Ontario. He has worked in numerous sectors including social services, business and marketing and for the past 22 years as an Educator. Josh began his teaching careers in Health and Physical Education and Special Education but has taught Math, History, Geography, Science, was a Department Head of Special Education and a consultant responsible for professional development and a district elearning program. Josh was a Vice-Principal at 3 high schools in the Waterloo Region before becoming the Principal at Grand River. In addition, Josh has been a long time coach in various sports in the community, at secondary schools and at the University level where he has been the head Men’s rugby coach at both Wilfrid Laurier University and the University of Waterloo. As a leader, Josh believes that growth mindset and self determination theory are the key components to school improvement and fostering innovative teaching practices that support student learning. I hope you enjoy this conversation with Josh. I surely did, and I will see you on the other side. Josh, welcome to the High Performing Educator podcast. Pleasure to have you on the show this morning, please start by introducing yourself.


Josh Windsor (02:19):
My name’s Josh Windsor. I’m a high school Principal at Grand River Collegiate in Kitchener, Waterloo in the Waterloo Region District School Board.


Sam Demma (02:27):
And you’re sitting in the seventh house that you will be flipping . Tell me about your unique journey into education. And when you realized that education was a thing that you wanted to work in.


Josh Windsor (02:42):
Yeah. So when I was young Sam, I had I, my father died very young and I kind of lived on my own right around 17 because my, my stepfather and my mother moved away from town and the relationship I had with my stepfather. Wasn’t great. So I just decided I didn’t wanna leave my friends. I stayed here and I had worked pretty much full time from the time I was 14. Like I, well, full time summers part-time jobs. And I started delivering newspapers. I had two newspaper routes, one in the morning, one in the afternoon when I was in grade six. Right. So I banked a lot of money. So I had some money that I could sit on rent. I rented a room from one of my parents’ friends and, and stayed here. And at about 19, I started working in group homes.


Josh Windsor (03:30):
So with kids and and that kind of led me into some positions where I was in a school. So kind of being a bit of an EA with kids that needed extra support. So one to one support for kids that kind of struggled with behavior and things like that. So I did a few of those stints through university and then 22, I started working for the children’s aid society and I did that offer around eight years. So one of my jobs well, most my, the job I did the longest was a night job while I finished university. It was 10 at night till nine in the morning. And part of that job was crisis support for foster parents. So I would go into foster homes when there was crisis issues and, and try to calm kids down, support the parents, you know do some mediation, those kind of things.


Josh Windsor (04:19):
And and kind of finishing school. I then really like, I liked working with kids, but I started I stayed with that night job. Then I did some business stuff during the day, and I ended up leaving, leaving that night job because I was eventually the director of sales and marketing for a very small software company. Nice. I decided I wanted to go to teachers college because it wasn’t really that fulfilling. So at 30 I went to teachers college. I continued to work in that business while I went to teachers college. And then I had my employers, they were, they were great. And they allowed me to do that because I could continue to do my job. And then when, when the Mike Harris government kind cut a lot of funding to municipalities, our software business started to decline quite a bit. And you know, the owners had said they, they probably can’t keep staff on. So they said, you know, if you have job prospects go, go around. And I was, I was done teachers college for about six months and I went in and saw a few principals and I had a job starting in January.


Sam Demma (05:21):
Wow. How did your upbringing inform the way you work with kids today?


Josh Windsor (05:30):
It, I think I have a, I have a unique perspective just around kids that live in situations and poverty. I would say, you know, I’ve, I I’ve learned through education, so I, I did my master’s bit. I I’m about three years finished my master’s and I learned quite a bit about equity work at that time, I dunno if you’ve ever heard of Laura Malindo, she’s a M P P for province of Ontario. She was actually one of my professors in


Sam Demma (06:01):
Wow.


Josh Windsor (06:08):
And she was shoe section with poverty and things like that. So I started to recognize kind of my privilege and thought I was a self-made person, my whole life. Right. I kind of


Sam Demma (06:17):
One


Josh Windsor (06:18):
Sec, Josh, that ceiling


Sam Demma (06:19):
You, you cut out after you said the word professor, you don’t mind just going back and say she was my professor and continue.


Josh Windsor (06:25):
Sure. Yeah. So Laura, me, Linda was my professor and


Sam Demma (06:32):
Oh, can you hear me?


Josh Windsor (06:35):
And I learned quite a bit about equity as cutting out.


Sam Demma (06:38):
Yeah. It’s chopping in and out just a little bit. Well try one more time. If it, if it cuts out, there’s also a call by phone option and you could just add a, a call. You could just call into this. I could give you a phone number. Okay. And we’ll get the video on, but then the, like, there’s very little chance that it’ll cut out on the phone, but it’s funny every time you say professor, it cuts ,


Josh Windsor (06:58):
But okay. Let’s I can probably go to a different computer and see if I can hard wire in might you think is my wifi.


Sam Demma (07:05):
It could be shouldn’t


Josh Windsor (07:06):
Be, but,


Sam Demma (07:07):
Well, it was fine. The whole, like first section, so kinda odd. Let’s let’s try it one more time. If it cuts out again, I’ll I’ll, I’ll pause you and we could try something else, but okay. Yeah. Start again at professor.


Josh Windsor (07:20):
So, okay. So Laura Malindo was one of my professors and a lot of the coursework was around equity and she taught me a lot about intersection between poverty and, and race and, and other types of situations where people have to deal with deal with being disenfranchised right in our society. And so thinking that I was a self-made person for a long time, I started to recognize the privilege that did have just basically white individual, right. White male. And so understanding kind how to work with kids that kind of live on those margins recognizing difficult situations. I’ve, I’ve been able to, I think build really strong relationships with students and staff. And and that helps me, I think, as we, you know, think about, especially with pandemic learning that trauma informed lens that we need around everything we do. And, and my, you know, my values are students first. And so, you know, we work to try to support students and, and we make decisions that are based on what’s in the best interest of the student at any given time. So that’s really how I, how I see things and, and how I work with students.


Sam Demma (08:41):
How do you build strong relationships with students, whether on the margins, you know, marginalized youth or not? I think there’s they definitely need different things, but I think all young people also need some standard things to build relationships with adults and teachers and educators. How do you think you go about building relationships with students?


Josh Windsor (09:05):
Well, I think, I think the first thing that we need in a school setting is, is we need good structures in place to support students as they understand what their responsibilities are and, and what their opportunities are. And so making sure that you know, students understand kind line around, around behavior and what’s acceptable, but then also recognizing that each day is a new day. So making mistakes is what we do when we’re young and, and that shouldn’t penalize you for an extended period of time, right. There’s consequences for our actions. But you know, if, if a student kind of does something that’s inappropriate in the school that, that warrants some kind of a consequence, then that next day, you know, I welcome. I, I welcome that student. You know, I make sure that my, my staff are treating that student respectfully all the time and, and try to kind build those relationships from the perspective of recognizing that, that we do make errors in our life.


Josh Windsor (10:09):
And I’m not perfect. I made a lot of errors when I was a kid, right. So I know what that can be like. And when you get those multiple chances and when you have those people that care about you in your life, especially you know, your parents, but also your teachers, when those, when those people that are a little bit different from your, from your family situation can invest in time in you and, and make you realize what’s out there and what your potential is. Then, then you feel way more confident in being able to move forward. Right.


Sam Demma (10:37):
Tell us about one of those caring adults you had in your life that made a significant impact on you when you were going through a difficult time or just trying to get by.


Josh Windsor (10:50):
Well, I would say like from the perspective of, you know, family, my mother always, you know, provided those moral values that I still hold today. And and, and then as, as kind of, I went through school, I, I would say there’s a few teachers that, that really supported me. So one of them, his name’s Jeff Sage I, I started to play rugby. So I was a varsity rugby player at university. And when I started to play in high school, I was, I was 18 years old, never played the sport, didn’t know much about it. And he just really encouraged me. And then he, he had said to me, at one point, you know, you could play rugby at university. And I said, really, I’d never thought about going to university. I’ve got three extended families with, I probably have 150 cousins.


Josh Windsor (11:38):
And I would be the only one out of that whole group that’s ever gone to university. Right. And so that was that to me was kind of inspirational where I, I, would’ve never thought about that pathway but I began to love this sport. And then I, and then I thought, well, Hey, maybe I can do that. Right. So that, and that’s where I say, when you have a, a teacher that just says to you, Hey, you could do, you could do this, or you could be this, or you’re good at this, right. That, that makes a kid feel so good. And, and, and they’re encouraged, right. And that confidence and that you know, capacity to think about themselves in a different light is, is really how, how we change lives and how we make sure that, that students can move forward and be good citizens.


Sam Demma (12:26):
Tell us more. I couldn’t agree more. I think back to the educators in my life who made a big difference and it’s people who listened people who got to know me on a personal level and built a relationship regardless of the curriculum or topic or subject they were teaching. Tell us a little more about what your journey looked like after you got your, you know, your degree in teachers college to where you are today. So the various roles you worked in education, what they looked like. And yeah, the whole journey in essence.


Josh Windsor (12:59):
So I, I started out teaching at Waterloo collegiate and I was a, I was a phys ed teacher, and I also worked in the special education department. So I was a coach as well. So I, I coached a lot of different sports. And so you got to see, you know, through, through that coaching and through PHZ, you gotta see lots of different kids, but lots of, kind of really motivated students. And then through my work in the special education department, I got to see students with learning disabilities and other needs that, you know, were needed, needed much more support weren’t as confident, right. So I had kind of, you know, those, those two real different experiences. And I worked there at WCI for about five years just different contracts, you know, never really having a full, never really having a, a tenured position at that point in time.


Josh Windsor (13:48):
And then I got a phone call from a principal Preston high school. And he was an interesting guy, like, I would, you would think like cowboy, right? Like in education and, and back then a lot of the principals were like that right there, wasn’t, there wasn’t a whole lot of rules about what they could or couldn’t do as far as hiring and, and those kind of things. So he said he said, Hey my name’s my name’s Murray baker. I hear you’re pretty good. I need a special education department head. You gotta tell me by noon. And that was, that was kind of the end of the conversation. So I, I went upstairs and talked to my principal who, who was a bit of a different character too. And he was, he laid out kind of, well, you kind of need to have more experience.


Josh Windsor (14:32):
And, you know, I had this seven year plan where I did each position for seven years and he says, you know, I don’t think you should take it. And you know, I thought about that a little bit. And then I, then I realized that, you know, opportunity doesn’t always knock. So I called him back and said, sure. So I, I did that for three or four years as a special education department had at Preston high school. And then an opportunity came up I was a gentleman by the name of Mark Harper, who was a superintendent at the time. He’s done a ton of work now. He worked at the ministry of bed and then he was a consultant for a while and he was going, he’s been going around the world to different ministries of education for different countries and supporting them.


Josh Windsor (15:15):
Wow. You know, he’s a incredibly intelligent guy. He’s, he’s super smart, but he was a superintendent on our board of did tell me, he called me and he said, I need someone to spearhead and run this new eLearning program, and then you’ll have some other duties. Would you come and be a consultant? And so I did. So I, I ran our eLearning program for a few years there. And then I went I, I went back to a school for a little while and, and after teaching for a little bit longer as a student success teacher and, and special education, and then some PHED I decided I might want to get into administration. So I became a vice principal at Huron Heights collegiate. And then I’ve been at I was at three schools as a vice principal and grand river. Now I, this is I’m into my fourth year and as a principal there, and it’s my first school. So that’s kind of my journey through different things in education anyway. So it’s been about 20 years.


Sam Demma (16:13):
That’s awesome. When you’re at here on heist, did, did you cross paths with Bob Klein?


Josh Windsor (16:18):
I know Bob Klein very well. Yes. So I actually taught leadership as I was a half vice principal, and I was the leadership teacher. Yeah. At Huron Heights before Bob Klein came to do leadership. Cool. so he, he kind of, he was doing a little bit of work with me initially, and then I got, I got moved school, so I went to kitchen and collegiate. And then Bob kind of took over leadership there. So yeah, he’s a, he’s a great guy. He’s full of energy.


Sam Demma (16:48):
Now you have a reason to call him and say, Hey, I was just to this young guy, Sam mentioned your name. such a cool journey through education. I love that. You mentioned that idea, that opportunity doesn’t always knock often. So when it does, you know, pounce on it, if it’s something that fires you up, say yes, try it out. At the beginning of this conversation, you told me that along with your career throughout education, you kind of self taught yourself to flip and renovate and sell houses. Like at what point did, did you start getting to that as well? And do you think it’s important that people in education also pursue things outside of the classroom to keep their fire lit?


Josh Windsor (17:35):
Yeah. So to probably Sam, I, cause when I started teaching, I was still working at the children’s eight society on nights and weekends. Got it. Mostly that was because I had a, had a, I just had a child. So my son was born, we kind of needed money. My wife was off. And I, I had bought a house a few years earlier with my brother that we had to sell cause he was moving. And so a lot of learning those things was just because I didn’t have enough money to, to pay anybody to do it. Right. And then and then I just started to like it and, and got into a few other things. I had a couple student houses at one point in time. The other thing that I’ve done and partway, you know, through that career in education, I’ve been a varsity rugby coach at two universities.


Josh Windsor (18:22):
So I coached at Wilford Laurie for seven years and I was I left L Wilford, Laurie. And I went back to my Alma mater, which was Waterloo. And I was there for five years as, as the head coach. So I’m not doing that now. I stopped doing that kind of the year before I became a principal, just because I didn’t feel like I was able to do everything well. And that was what I decided to give up. I also knew my son is now at university of Waterloo. So that son that was born when I first started teaching is now 20 and he’s playing varsity rugby at Waterloo. And I knew he was kinda going down that path and I likely didn’t wanna coach him. I stopped coaching him at the 13 because he, we, we wouldn’t get along very well when I was his coach. So


Sam Demma (19:07):
Awesome. I love, I love it. It’s funny. My dad was in a similar role coaching or helping very heavily with soccer programs. I was on up until about 11, 12, 13, and that’s when he took on the spectator role of quietly sitting on the stands and, you know, analyzing the game and we’d have those conversations in the car after the game ended, when it was a phenomenal performance, we had great conversations and when it was a terrible performance, we had great conversations. sometimes here in the harsh truth or feedback is difficult. Although it’s, it’s shared with you from a place of love and support in the hope that you’ll take it and improve your performance, how do you think you break sometimes hard criticism to young people, not only in a sports sense, but also, you know, in classrooms.


Josh Windsor (20:02):
Yeah. I, I think it’s really important to be honest with people. And so having those difficult conversations is something that as a, as a school administrator you really have to work at. I mean, as a principal, I spend more time with staff than I do with students now. Yeah. I really push myself to get out and, and talk to students and work with students. And because I’ve got a I’ve got a love for leadership. I try to do a lot of work with those kids still. So men in our school board, we still have kind of quasi activities directors that kind of run leadership classes. And then we have an administrator that oversees budget for those things. And so I always take on that role, despite the fact that in almost in most of our schools, it’s a, it’s a vice principal that does.


Josh Windsor (20:47):
But I, I just enjoy it. It’s an opportunity for me to, you know, be with great kids and, and support them and help them. But also then be a presence in this school. So when I have those, when I have those difficult conversations with some of those kids, it’s usually around kinda, you know, here’s the reason why we can’t run this event, right? Here’s the procedure, here’s the, you know, here are the worries that I have from a safety perspective. And so you’re gonna have to go back to the drawing board. And so, you know, students that have spent a lot of time on something have to kind of hear that, take that feedback and then go back and, and try to work. So you, you talk about positive things as you give them the, the advice or the, or the, you know, the negative feedback that they can’t do.


Josh Windsor (21:35):
Something I like to use one of the techniques that I, that I use is like a it’s inanimate third object. So if we’re, so if we’re talking about your, your planning process, for example, so when a kid tries to run an event, when our students run an event, they, they go through this planning process. There’s a template that they have to use. So when I give the, when I give the criticism or the feedback I’m talking about the template, not about them. Ah, and so using re using language like, so, so this plan is, needs some work because as opposed to, you need to work on this plan, right? So the language that, that we use is really important when I, when I use the term, you you’re, you are going to inherently take that as a personal comment. Right. And so you’re gonna internalize that when I talk about your plan though you’re not internalizing that as much. So that’s one of the techniques that I would use to kind of provide feedback to people that they maybe don’t want to hear. It usually makes things go a little smoother, right. Also use a lot of eye language. So I believe, I feel and, and that, you know, makes them recognize that I’m a part of that process. So you take on kind of that responsibility on their behalf.


Sam Demma (22:57):
I, I love that idea. I’m gonna steal it. when I have to break some bad news to people. I think when you said, I language, my mind also went to like, people’s physical eyes. I think it’s so important that when you not break bad news, but share a truth or an honest feeling with somebody that they can hear the tone of your voice and see you because you can tell if someone’s sincere in their remark or, you know, if they’re just brushing you off, whereas if you were to write it as an email, there’s so much left for guessing. Right. And people could assume one thing when you meant something totally different.


Josh Windsor (23:41):
Yeah. Agreed. I mean, there are some other techniques that I use, especially with students because body language and stance is really important. So a lot of the research out there would let you would tell you that males, for example, when you, when you are face to face with an individual, with a, with a male your shoulders are square, that, that really, to us signifies conflict or, or you know, challenge. So a lot of times when I talk to students like boys when they’re upset or angry, I go sit beside them. And so you’ll, you’ll maybe hear this, like there’ll Bey, there’s psychological kind of research and books around it. So when you wanna talk to your, to your son, you talk to him in the car. Cause you’re side by side. Right. And because, because you know, the, your tone and of that face to face stance really, really triggers kind of their, their fight or flight.


Josh Windsor (24:40):
Got it. Response rate. So, so when you sit beside them, then they don’t have to look you in the eye, which is, which is, if you think about kind of things from the animal kingdom. Right. And you know, you, look, you look at cat in the eye, for example, that’s con that’s like a challenge, right? Yeah. So there’s, so that works with humans quite a bit too. Whereas if you’re having a conversation with a, with a young lady, then they want that face to face contact, right. That, so you do square up and then you make sure your body, your body language is open. So you would never sit with your arms crossed, for example, cause that’s a closed stance and that means I’m not willing to listen. Right. So those body language things that you, you have to really think about as you have those conversations.


Josh Windsor (25:21):
And I use those quite a bit with students, but also with parents, because you can have parents that come in that are hop and mad about something, right. And then, you know, you have to try to calm them down and, and work to a solution. And that’s that’s one of the things that I find really interesting about education. And when you talk to you often talk to people in the business world who you know, think teachers get paid too much or, you know, there’s, there’s too much money spent on education and things like that. And, and I always explain it to them this way. I say, when you’re, when you’re managing a situation in your business, whatever that business is, you, you really have two points of view. You’ve got your customer and you’ve got your employee. Right. And so you’re trying to manage those two points of view when I’m trying to manage a situation in a school.


Josh Windsor (26:05):
So let’s say it’s a conflict of some kind between two students. I have four parents, if I’m lucky, cuz lots of times I have eight parents. Right. I could have outside agencies like the children’s aid and other things. I have to think about any of the adults that staff, that work with those individuals that may be involved in this. I have to think about the, the public perspective of what education should look like. And then I have to think about the policies and procedures of the school board and the school. And so I’m taking, you know, 6, 7, 8 different perspectives as I try to make a decision, which normally isn’t gonna make anybody happy. Right. Mm-Hmm, in those, in those conflicts. And so you know, you navigate those waters and, and really have to, you have to be able to build relationships and, and be able to kind of adhere to your moral compass as you, as you work through those things,


Sam Demma (27:05):
What resources have you found helpful in your professional development that has given you greater awareness at work, but also personally in your own life, you mentioned the NPP that taught you during your master’s degree. It sounds like she was a massive resource, but I’m wondering if anything else has been an inspiration or like a north star and guiding compass for, for your belief system and who you are today.


Josh Windsor (27:33):
I, I would, I would say recognizing that the public education system needs to be good for all students. Yep. Is one of the things that really drives me to continue you know, trying to do, trying to make those good decisions on a daily basis, trying to build a school culture that is welcoming to everybody and, and trying to help our young, you know, our, our young people recognize that they need to be engaged in the world to be good citizens. So you know, diff reading different, reading, different things all the time. So I’m always interested in, in research education. I’ve got a keen interest in science and physics cause that’s kind of a new area and I don’t know much about it. I was never science or physics trained, but when you hear kind of some things that are, that are happening out there, like around vision or, or other things where it’s like magic, these, these things that are going on.


Josh Windsor (28:31):
So, you know, I, I, I read different articles on a regular basis. I think about those things. And then learning from other people I think is where I, I truly get most of my kind of passion is just, just listening and talking to people, being engaged in professional development opportunities where you’re working in a group. So I think those are the, those are the places where I gain my efficacy at around, you know, what I believe. And then you know, trying to, trying to move barriers over the way a school board is school boarded, administrative of education is a significant bureaucracy. So I really work at trying to navigate through some of those things to make, make sure that things can happen. It’s really easy to say, no. You know, especially from a leadership perspective, which is where you do a lot of your work, right?


Josh Windsor (29:24):
So, you know, a student comes with an idea like we wanna have a hot dog eating contest. Right. you know, that would be one that we would say no to, but how do we then navigate through, what is the purpose of that activity? What is it that you, what is the end goal of that activity and how do we modify it to make it safe, to make it inclusive, to make it, you know, good for all of our students and to bring people together as opposed to do something that a couple of you, your friends wanna do. Right. so where where’s the greater good in what we’re doing? Where is the service leadership in what we’re doing? And, and I think, you know, from that perspective, it’s part of the reason why we’ve moved our school is a, an SDG school. And I dunno if you know what that is, the UN global system, the goals.


Josh Windsor (30:12):
Yeah. So I’ve got those goals posted up in our hallways, around our schools now. So the 17 goals are in each of our hallways. I’ve got teachers really working to try to do some real world things in their classrooms. So one example of that is we had a, a civics and history class. So two classes with one of our teachers last year start to engage some of the politicians in our community because my school is on Indian road. Mm. And the iconography, the original iconography of the school was a was a caricature of an indigenous person. And so that went away about 12 years ago. But our school nickname was the renegades and there’s still some of that residual feeling kinda around those things. And so some of our students didn’t think it was appropriate that the school was on Indian road.


Josh Windsor (31:04):
That’s our address. So we have started a process of, of engaging politicians around that with, with student support our students were at delegation at a city council committee meeting where they passed the, they, they they passed the motion to change the name of Indian road. And then that went to the, the larger council. So city council has passed that and we’re beginning a consultation process with people in the neighborhood beginning in may with our students being involved and, and teachers and things like that to, to try to move forward around, around making that change. So engaging our students in real world issues at the municipal and, and maybe provincial level, but also globally is I think how we have them recognize the change that they can make in the world, but also you know, understand that, that we all have a role as citizens to, to do the right thing.


Sam Demma (32:10):
I couldn’t agree more. It’s so cool to hear that the SDGs are on the walls in the hallways throughout your school. And teachers are actively trying to integrate those holistic outcomes and challenge based learning into the classroom. If you could take all your experience in education, bundle it all up, travel back in time, tap your younger self on the shoulder and say, Josh, this is the advice I wanted you to hear when you were just getting into education. Not that you would change anything about your path, but think about how you felt when you first got into this work and some advice or ideas that would’ve been helpful when you were just starting.


Josh Windsor (32:52):
I, I think what I would’ve told myself is just to be a little more confident in situations where, where you were working with other people mm-hmm I would say colleagues where you felt the decisions or the things that they were doing were not okay. Not in the best interest of kids. So I think as a young, as a young educator you have, you have your Federation and you hear things like, well, you don’t wanna say that to another teacher because that would be a member to member issue. And so you stay quiet on some things. And that’s one of the things I’m trying to do with some of our young teachers is encourage them to use their voice. Our, our young teachers coming out of teachers college, truly understand education. They’ve, they’ve been taught all of the right things that are research based.


Josh Windsor (33:40):
And I would say for the most part, the people that we’re hiring there’s, there’s still others there. But they’re still not confident. And they feel like they can’t say what they need to say. Right? So a lot of, a lot of the really good work gets hidden. So I think it’s, it, it’s such a, it’s such an issue with public education that we, we hire somebody at whatever 24 years old, you know, give or take a year or two. Then we put ’em into a classroom with 30 students and we have them close the door and we really don’t talk to them support them, or do much with them for a period of time. Those processes are getting a little better, but it it’s, you know, it, the professional development time that’s needed to build a, a quality teacher is extensive.


Josh Windsor (34:31):
And I, and I think, you know, I would go back and tell myself to have those conversations with those older staff that you don’t believe are doing the right things for kids. Cause it’s, it is easy to get jaded in, in this, in this business or, or industry because you will never, ever get paid anymore for working harder. And lots of times things occur that are negative in your, in your professional life that you feel like are causing you more stress, more issues. And so then you start to pull back on the things you do, right. And, and you’ve seen that clawback of time provincially over the last number of years. So things like planning time and prep time for teachers is, has continuously been clogged back while real wages have, have been reduced. And so people just don’t feel valued, right? And, and when people don’t feel valued, their efficacy drops and their capacity to be optimistic goes down and then their willingness to work hard really kind of starts to fade. Right. And and I think that can be, that can be combated just by bringing in young people that, that, you know, can energize you right. When you have those conversations.


Sam Demma (35:45):
Got it. Love the advice, not only applicable for education, but for any industry. If someone had a question about anything you shared on the podcast, wanted to reach out, chat with you, what would be the best way for them to get in touch?


Josh Windsor (36:01):
Well, they could reach me via email. So, you probably have my email. So do you want, do you want me to say it out loud?


Sam Demma (36:08):
Yeah. You can share it out loud, but I’ll put it in the show notes as well.


Josh Windsor (36:11):
Okay. Yeah. It’s josh_windsor@wrdsb.ca.


Sam Demma (36:21):
Awesome. Josh, thank you so much for taking the time to do this. I appreciate it. Keep up the amazing work and we’ll talk soon.


Josh Windsor (36:28):
Thanks Sam. It was really good to talk to you.


Sam Demma (36:31):
Hey, it’s Sam again. I hope you enjoyed that amazing conversation on the High Performing Educator podcast. If you, or you know, deserves some extra recognition and appreciation for the work they do in education, please consider applying or nominating them for the High Performing Educator awards, go to www.highperformingeducator.com/award. You can also find the link in the show notes. I’m super excited to spotlight and feature 20 people in 2022, and I’m hoping you or someone, you know, can be one of those educators. I’ll talk to you on the next episode, all the best.

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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.

Kathleen Moro – Principal at Corpus Christi Catholic Secondary School

Kathleen Moro - Principal at Corpus Christi Catholic Secondary School
About Kathleen Moro

Kathleen Moro (@MrsKathleenMoro), is the Principal at Corpus Christi Catholic Secondary School in Burlington, Ontario. She has worked with the Halton Catholic District School Board for over 30 years in both elementary and secondary roles, including Special Education. 

Kathleen believes in student-centred decision-making and working with a collaborative team to ensure that students are supported throughout their academic journey.  With an inquiry mindset, Kathleen pushes her school communities to value dialogue, persevere through tough questions, and embrace mistakes as much as success! 

Kathleen is an avid supporter of the arts and athletics, recognizing that these are vehicles for student engagement, community building, and empowering young people to realize that they can make a difference in the world.

Connect with Kathleen: Email | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Corpus Christi Catholic Secondary School

Halton Catholic District School Board

University of Waterloo

Butterflies in the Trenches by Curtis Carmichael

The Transcript

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

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


Sam Demma (01:00):
This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest is Kathleen Moro. Kathleen is the Principal of Corpus Christi Catholic Secondary School in Burlington, Ontario. She has worked with the Halton Catholic District School Board for over 30 years in both elementary and secondary roles, including special education. Kathleen believes in student center decision making, and working with a collaborative team to ensure that students are supported throughout their academic journey. With an inquiry mindset, Kathleen pushes her school communities to value dialogue, persevere through tough questions and embrace mistakes as much as we embrace success. Kathleen is an avid supporter of the arts and athletics, recognizing that these are vehicles for student engagement, community building, and empowering young people to realize that they can make a difference in the world. I hope you enjoy this conversation with Kathleen and I will see you on the other side. Kathleen, welcome to the High Performing Educator. Huge pleasure to have you on the podcast today. Please start by introducing yourself.


Kathleen Moro (02:01):
Thanks Sam. I’m Kathleen Moro. I work for the Halton Catholic District School Board and I’m a Principal at Corpus Christi Catholic Secondary School in Burlington.


Sam Demma (02:11):
When in your own career journey, did you realize you wanted to be working in education?


Kathleen Moro (02:19):
Well, that’s a great question. And I think that it’s something that, you know, I was born into a family of educators, so I think it’s just something that’s always been in my blood. And like, it’s kind of funny when you go back and look at your, your own report cards from kindergarten grade one, it, it seems to be something that I’ve just always, you know, I’ve been kind of a leader I guess. And I liked playing school when I was a little kid, so I would set up all this stuff to animals. My mom was a teacher when I was growing up and my dad was a professor of engineering. So just been in the, in the family, in the genes, I guess.


Sam Demma (02:59):
Did they tap you on the shoulder saying this would be a meaningful career or did you discover that on your own throughout school and growing up?


Kathleen Moro (03:10):
I’d say a little bit of both. I think my dad always left the door open for anything that we wanted to do. And because he was in engineering, he was really interested in ensuring that his, he, I have a sister and a brother ensuring that all of us were being exposed to sciences and those kinds of things. But my mom, I think really, really saw a lot of herself in me. And she had been a teacher for her entire career and that was, you know, she was definitely guiding me towards that.


Sam Demma (03:41):
Take us back to the start of the journey, deciding to go to teachers college or whatever pathway you took, like bring, bring us through the, the journey.


Kathleen Moro (03:52):
Okay. So I can clearly remember having a couple of conversations about not being sure what I wanted to do even going from high school into university. I, I, I mean, I guess to my father’s chagrin, I was not the engineer daughter that he had hoped for. I wasn’t particularly strong in the sciences. I’ve always been a little bit more of a communicator language based dramatic that’s like type of a person, the arts play the guitar, you know, that’s kind of my forte. So when I was trying to figure out what to do with my life, and I knew that teaching was kind of a passion. I liked working with kids and I liked being in relationship with other people. I went to my mom and dad both and they had already kind of steered my brother and sister before me and, and my mom said to me, why don’t you go and talk to a teacher at your school who you really feel has had an impact on you and see what they say.


Kathleen Moro (04:59):
So I remember that conversation. I went to see Mr. Steve keen, who was my grade 13, cuz it was grade 13 back then he was my English teacher and I went to him and I said, I love English. I’m not really sure how to make a career out of that. And he sat down with me and he helped me pick out the right university. And you know, he knew my personality well enough to say, I think the university of Waterloo would be a good fit for you, which isn’t normally a school that people go to for for English and drama, but that’s where I went. So, and it was a great choice. I loved my four years there.


Sam Demma (05:41):
So you finished your four years? Yeah. And then what


Kathleen Moro (05:46):
Yeah. Sorry. I should kept going. No that’s OK. so then in that fourth year, you’re, you know, you’re starting to think about what you’re gonna do next at the time teachers college was only a year program. So I applied to various different teachers’ colleges because it was still something I, I wanted to do. And received a couple of offers. I ended up going with Brock university, partly because I was engaged by that time. So you’re making kind of life decisions about, you know, proximity to my fiance at the time and also wanting to be close enough to home that I could commute to the school, save a little bit of money that way. So did teachers college there for a year and had all of my placements were with I think they were all, no, I had actually two placements with my current school board that I’m working for now. And one that was amazing. It was with Waterloo and it was in an outdoor education facility where I was like teaching. I, I didn’t even know how to do this, but I was taught how to crunch trees, milk cows tent, farm animals, and then kids would come in on field trips and I would be teaching them. And that was such a cool experience. I love that.


Sam Demma (07:06):
That’s so awesome. Did, did you have a background working on a farm or anything or it was totally new experience.


Kathleen Moro (07:13):
that was just a complete, like, it was just amazing. It was just something that was kind of proposed to me as, Hey, here’s a cool potential option for a, a placement in outdoor education and no, I hadn’t ever experienced anything like that. I did a couple other outdoor education courses after that though. Cause I liked it so much.


Sam Demma (07:34):
And after the placements I’m assuming you, have you worked your whole career in this board or have you bounced around like tell me a little bit about the different roles. You’ve worked in within the school board.


Kathleen Moro (07:47):
Okay. So though I haven’t bounced around at all from, I’ve been with this school board the entire time. The thing that I think is one of the things that makes a career in education, such a good option is that there are so many different opportunities within education. So I started out teaching grade eight at an elementary school and then I moved to grade a five, six split. And then I moved to grade seven where I team taught with somebody. And then I moved to secondary school and I taught English for eight or nine years. Then I moved into special education and then I became a special education department, head vice principal, and now principal and over over my career, I think I have taught now in eight of our 10 secondary school, maybe seven, seven of the time, a lot of, lot of movement and opportunities to be a part of the staff that opened a brand new school. It’s just been such a rewarding experience to be able to be a part of so many different communities and see the, the diversity there too.


Sam Demma (08:59):
Tell me more about the rewarding aspect of the work you do. I, I think teaching is one of the most honorable jobs. You have the opportunity to influence young minds that one day could change the world and one day will. And you know, not only that is in your position, you also influenced the staff. But tell me a little bit about what you believe some of the rewarding aspects of the, the work you do are.


Kathleen Moro (09:25):
Yeah, so interestingly enough, I was just right before I, I got on this call with you. I was just on a call, I’ve got four kids of my own and I was just having that, you know, life chat with one of mine about what are they gonna do with their lives. And I said, you know, teaching is a great opportunity because you, you have your, you know, what you teach during the day, but then teaching also presents you with opportunities to do all of those other things that you love. So one of the rewarding things for me was I could teach English, which I loved doing in my classroom. But then after that I could help coach cross country or I could run a choir or I could have kids involved in a play. I did the Christmas float for years, and then you get to see kids partake in building a community together.


Kathleen Moro (10:15):
And that is very rewarding. So some of the, like of the things I have a bulletin board in my office that has pictures of me and a lot of the students that I would have considered gave me gifts like their, my time with them was maybe I gave them something, but what they gave me was, was like lasting memories of joy and of that. You know, a lot of them are kids who struggle and then became successful. So that’s what I find the most rewarding is when I can look back on the times that I spent with those kids who were struggling through high school, who now still stay in touch and they’re you know, they’re, they’re successful. They’ve just graduated from business school or they’re working as a dentist or whatever the case is, but they’re having a really tough time when you were 15 or 16.


Sam Demma (11:13):
If it isn’t too much to ask, can you share one of those stories, if you feel comfortable and you could even change the name of a student, if it’s a very personal one. I think the stories of transformation are one of the common trends that inspire other people to remember why the work in education is important and motivate people outside the vocation and job to consider actually getting into it.


Kathleen Moro (11:38):
Sure. I can think of one student. I think he’d be okay with me using his name, but I’m gonna leave it out just in case. Okay. So this this man now recently reached out to me and we’ve been in touch since he graduated from, from high school. But he reached out to me to ask if I would be a reference for him because he was applying to the O PPP as a police officer. And I said, I cannot believe how far you have come. Because when he was with, when we, when I was teaching, he wasn’t in my class, but we kind of got to know each other because he volunteered in a program that we had this school called best buddies and best buddies were students who helped. They were neurotypical students who helped students with developmental disabilities. And this kid was happened to be the friend of another boy who had a brother who had developmental disabilities.


Kathleen Moro (12:32):
So that whole group of kids was just an awesome group of kids. They all came together and wanted to be part of best buddies, kid struggled school with some behavior issues. He wasn’t like of the top of the, the class by any means in terms of academics. And he got into some trouble. And when he asked me for this reference letter, he said, you know what, when they call you, you can be completely honest because I already told him that I was suspended and I said, I said, okay, I was gonna ask me about that because they generally do ask questions of teachers. And and in his case, he, he had just, he was advocating for something, got really passionate about it, got into a bit of a conversation or a, I guess, a, a conflict with the vice principal at the time.


Kathleen Moro (13:22):
And, you know, used some language towards the VP that a VP couldn’t tolerate or, or accept. And he ended up suspended for a day or two. And he came to my office just fuming, cuz he knew he was gonna be going home. And you know, he said to me, I’m just so I, I don’t know if I even said this at the beginning of the conversation, but this is a black student. And at the, when he came into my office, he said, I’m so sick and tired of seeing only white teachers in this school. And I don’t have anybody that I feel like I can talk to who understands me. And, and I said to him, if you wanna see black teachers in this school, you need to be the black teacher so that other kids can feel, don’t have to feel the way that you’re feeling that they can, you know, they have somebody to relate to. And he said to me, when he was asking for the application, you know, or for the reference, he said yeah, I, I, I remember that. And I also wanna see black police officers and I want to represent and you know, those kind of transformational conversations. It, that, that really stuck with me because it made me, you know, as a person, white, cisgender woman of privilege, it really brought to me the, that feeling of reality for the students that I was dealing with in that community at the time too.


Sam Demma (14:46):
That’s so awesome. D do you know if he got the job or is it still he, so he is working for the O PPG.


Kathleen Moro (14:53):
He’s working for the O P I think he just finished his training. He is such a great I can say kid, he’s such a great kid. He’s such a great man. He’s he’s just like, that’s the type, he’s the type of kid who can walk into a room and light it up with his smile and just a decent human being who, you know, cares about everyone. So it’s absolutely the right profession for him, I think. And I’m happy for him that he’s met with success there,


Sam Demma (15:22):
Hopefully since then the school has become a little more diverse. Yeah. What are some of the challenges that are going on in education right now? And also because of them, maybe some of the opportunities that you think will come up as a result.


Kathleen Moro (15:42):
So actually not a bad segue because I think that, you know, just like everywhere else in the world, there’s a big focus on equity and inclusion and diversity and culturally responsive and relevant pedagogy. So one of the challenges that we have in education is to ensure that we are delivering curriculum from I guess from a place of recognizing our own bias when we’re doing that. So for instance, I can, I can think about when I taught English, even the material that we are now seeing in our English classrooms is changing significantly. So you know, we’re now looking at having material that’s written by indigenous authors. That’s written by black authors by Chinese Canadian authors. We have so much more available to students now that would reflect their own lived experience. So I think that, you know, in terms of it being a challenge, I think we do still have a lot of education to do. And I think our human resources departments still have a long way to go in terms of ensuring that the you know, that the makeup of staff, teaching staff and administrative staff is representative of the student groups that are at the school as well.


Sam Demma (17:02):
Got you. Yeah, it sounds like one of the opportunities is diversity, like really making sure that moving forward things are done with a lens of diversity in mind. One of my really close friends, his name’s Curtis Carmichael, he wrote an amazing book called butterflies in the trenches, and it’s about his story growing up as a drug dealer. And then turning his life around basically te teaching himself how to code starting an academy, like an accelerator for kids and his book is becoming like recommended reading and universities at U O I T. And it’s just like such a cool story. And when you talked about the changing of material in English, English class, he kind of came to mind that’s


Kathleen Moro (17:49):
Yeah. I, I will hand that recommendation on for sure. That’s fantastic.


Sam Demma (17:53):
Yeah, yeah, yeah. Curtis Carmichael, butterflies and the trenches. When you think about your journey throughout education, who comes to mind as mentors, people who have shown you the ropes, or you think you you’ve learned lots from maybe it’s other educators, maybe it’s even books you’ve read or programs you’ve been a part of, I’m just curious to know where you think your philosophies came from or teaching style.


Kathleen Moro (18:20):
So very early on in my career, I, I was, I struggled with classroom management because you know, I, I’m kind of a energetic type of person. And I think kind of what you bring with you into a classroom kind of gets mirrored a little bit by your students. So I, my classes were always a little bit more energetic and there were kids standing up and sitting down and in groups, and sometimes that’s hard to manage until you really learn how to. And so the first, I’d say first four years when I was in elementary, I really looked to a few people who could command a room just by merely walking into it. And I ended up doing my my project for my master’s in education, on classroom management, because for some people it just comes so naturally. And for other people, you really have to learn it and practice it.


Kathleen Moro (19:18):
So I had to go to to people who were really good at that. And so some of the mentors I went to there was one who was an educational assistant, who was in my classroom at the time, who was excellent with like conflict resolution. So Steve MCLA, who was one of my mentors early on my mother was always a mentor to me because she did have that ability to just walk into any room and command a presence. She’s like, she’s got that enviable gift of being able to work a room really well, too. So she can talk to anybody at any time and make them feel comfortable. I would say as I moved on, there were a couple of really strong administrators who, who I look to as my mentors and now probably two of my greatest mentors are people who are in senior administration, in our board as well.


Kathleen Moro (20:12):
So, you know, you look for those people who may just a little bit in the next role that you’re not, you haven’t yet reached because they’ve been where you’ve been and, you know, you can learn from those people. And I, you know, the first thing that popped into my head when you asked me who my mentors were, I thought about like my, my high school teachers that I really respected, but I also thought about the students that I’ve taught, because I think it’s really important to recognize that when I’m working with students, I learn probably as much from them as they learn from me. And I, I really like that, that that’s, that’s part of my educational philosophy really is. And you know that when you, you know, you respect a student, then they’re going to show you that same respect when you teach somebody something there’s so many things they can teach you. And it doesn’t matter that they’re only 14 or 15 years old, they’re living through a different time period at a different than you experienced. So yeah, lots, lots of different people I think had journey.


Sam Demma (21:24):
That’s awesome. It sounds like the philosophy is that mentorship is not really linear. It’s not about, you know, being side by side with people, your age, it’s also vertical, you know, on an age kind of graph, like you could be mentored by someone older or younger. I guess it’s that idea, that experience isn’t really solely dependent on age, right? Like someone who is 75 years old may have never spent a minute of their life picking up a camera, taking photos, but a 14 year old kid might have already taken 3000. And so experience is more about experience, like experience comes from experience. And the beautiful thing about life is that we all have very different experiences. And if you approach every, I guess, conversation like that, it, it sounds like everyone can be your mentor in some way. which is like a really beautiful perspective to take. You mentioned English being one of your favorite subjects. Has reading been a, a way for you to learn or also a hobby on your downtime? Growing up English was my toughest subject. although I developed a reading I a passion for reading after high school ended. I’m curious to know how that’s, how also played a role in your life.


Kathleen Moro (22:39):
I actually think that happens to a lot of people because you know, what you’re saying is that you eventually, because you were able to then choose the material, it was something that nobody was telling you, you had to. Right. I think I’ve always been, I’m not, I wouldn’t call myself an avid reader. I have more more recently, I, I listen a lot to audiobooks podcasts, that kind of thing. But as growing up, I was like almost solely dedicated to fiction. So I would read stories and kind of escape into that world. And like, I like movies, I like music. I like, I like all of those entertaining types of, of things, but also I’m about those character driven movies, character driven books. So anything that had a really strong character development story and I thought was always gonna grab me, I think more recently what I’ve been reading is a lot of autobiography I’m at, I guess I’m at a point in my life where you become reflective about what you’ve done. And so you know, I started looking at some celebrity biographies, autobiographies, that kinda thing, and, and you know, just seeing what their journey has been and how they got to where they got and what they’re gonna do.


Sam Demma (24:05):
Very cool. If someone was, I didn’t , this is on the small question. If someone was writing your, your biography and they asked you the question, if you could travel back in time to the first day you started teaching, but with the wisdom and knowledge you have now, like, what advice would you give to your, your younger self? Not that you would change anything about your journey or change anything about the way it’s unfolded, but just some words of wisdom that you thought may have been helpful to hear at the beginning of your career.


Kathleen Moro (24:39):
I think I would say don’t be so hard on yourself. Like I was just, I was, you know, slugging it out and I kept wondering why, you know, what am I doing wrong? Why isn’t everybody learning everything? And this was a grade eight class in portable with 32 kids. I remember some of their names still. And you know, they were, you have that many people in that smallest space and, and 14 year old boys and girls who need to move a lot. I think I was expecting more from them and too much from myself. So, you know, if I could go back and give that person some advice, it would be, you get to, you know, don’t worry less about what you’re teaching, worry more about who and how you are teaching, because all of it comes down to relationships. They will learn from you.


Kathleen Moro (25:35):
If you care about them, that’s basically it. And, and you know, it didn’t take me long to realize that I, I developed, you know, those those good parent or teacher pupil relationship with my kids. And I, I think it’s so funny too, that teachers generally will call that the people in front of them, their kids, they don’t call them their students. So I, I was with my kids today. And because it, it almost feels like that because you get to know them, especially when they’re in elementary school and you’re with them all day, every day, they become a really important part of your life for about a year. And, and in, in some cases that stays over time, you do develop that relationship with some of them where they come back and check in with you. But yeah, I think I would probably give myself the same, the same advice now. Just don’t be so hard on yourself. It’ll work out. Just, you just need to relax a little bit.


Sam Demma (26:36):
I have one of those security questions on my banking. That’s like, what’s the name of your favorite elementary teacher? it always makes you think about that individual. And when I was in high school or, sorry, when I was in elementary school as well, one of the teaching assistants in our classroom developed a really deep relationship with me and my good friends, Nick, Angela, and Raquel, and every once in a while will take her out to dinner and like catch up and back then she obviously couldn’t tell us too much or explain things. And now she’s like telling us all these cool things that were happening in the school that we knew nothing about when we were little kids and it’s really cool experience like full circle. And she obviously feels like she’s definitely made a big impact, right? I’m sure it’s a really cool experience for her. And it is for us as well. Don’t be too hard on yourself. I think that’s amazing advice. I’m going down a rabbit hole here.

Sam Demma (27:32):
Thank you so much for taking the time, Kathleen, to come on the podcast. Talk a little bit about your experiences, some of your philosophies around education. If someone wants to reach out, ask you a question, get in touch, what would be the best way for them to send you a message?


Kathleen Moro (27:49):
Probably through email. So that would be moroaa@hcdsb.org.


Sam Demma (27:59):
Awesome. Thank you so much for coming on the podcast. Keep up the great work and I look forward to talking to you again soon.


Kathleen Moro (28:04):
All right. Thanks Sam.


Sam Demma (28:06):
Hey, it’s Sam again. I hope you enjoyed that amazing conversation on the High Performing Educator podcast. If you, or you know, deserves some extra recognition and appreciation for the work they do in education, please consider applying or nominating them for the High Performing Educator awards, go to www.highperformingeducator.com/award. You can also find the link in the show notes. I’m super excited to spotlight and feature 20 people in 2022, and I’m hoping you or someone, you know, can be one of those educators. I’ll talk to you on the next episode, all the best.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Kathleen Moro

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