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Student Leadership

Hugues Bertrand – Social Studies and Leadership Teacher

Hugues Bertrand – Social Studies and Leadership Teacher
About Hugues Bertrand

Hugues Bertrand is a Social Studies and Leadership teacher at Pierrefonds Community High School in Pierrefonds Quebec for 26 years now. Long time Quebec leadership advisor, Canadian Student Leadership Conference (CSLC) 2010 chair and Canadian Student Leadership Association (CSLA) member. 

Hugues has always been a student life enthusiast helping students discover themselves and reaching their true potential. He truly believes in being open-minded when interacting with students and emphasizes the importance of simply listening to what they have to say.

Connect with Hugues: Email

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Pierrefonds Community High School

Canadian Student Leadership Conference

Canadian Student Leadership Association

Speakers Bureau of Canada

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):
Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s guest is Hugh Bertrand. He’s been teaching for over 26 years. He’s also a huge fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers. He had a virtual background on zoom during our interview, and he airs so many amazing insights into ideas to engage his students, to make them feel a little more appreciated and valued during this time. And he also shares this idea about keeping an envelope of all the notes he has been receiving over the years of teaching and calling it his bad day file, where if he’s not having a great day, he pulls a note out, reads it to remind him self, why you got into education. There’s so many other insightful ideas on this episode. I hope you enjoy it. Take notes, listen actively, and I’ll see you on the other side. Thank you so much for taking some time out of your busy schedule to come out onto the High Performing Educators podcast. I’m curious to know, can you share with the audience who you are and what you into the work that you do with youth today?


Hugues Bertrand (01:04):
Okay, well, I’m I’m Hugues, I’ve been teaching for 26 years. I got started teaching, I guess my dad was a teacher, so that that’s obviously I knew a bit about the job but definitely doing a lot of student life stuff that that’s just, you know, wanting to make a difference and helped kids reach their potential you know, overcome the roadblocks. That’s thrown at them like by themselves or by others. So that’s kind of been my motivation.


Sam Demma (01:31):

Awesome. When did you know a lot of teachers, I speak to say they, they knew at this super young age, some of them say they figured it out after going to university. What was the case for you?


Hugues Bertrand (01:39):

I think you know, what I decided just before, you know, university I had all these different jobs you know, from being a lawyer notary to dentist and and and then just before university, when I to decide, I, you know, decided to go into teaching first it was Phys. Ed. and then high school degree. And you know, and then I just kind of branched out to social studies and in high school. So that’s, that’s when I decided it.


Sam Demma (02:06):

That’s awesome. And you’ve been teaching longer than I’ve been alive. That just means that you’re a wise and, and you know, so much about it and can provide so much great insight. And I’m really curious to kind of dive a little bit more into that. Have you been at the same school for your entire 26 years? Have you bounced around what kind of different roles have you played in?


Hugues Bertrand (02:29):

I have been pretty lucky. I’ve been in two schools. I started in, in an inner city school in Montreal for four years. Yep. And then that school closed. And then I moved to the, the school I’m at now PCHS in Pierrefonds. And I’ve been there for while now it’s like 22 years.


Sam Demma (02:42):

Awesome. So cool. And there’s a lot of challenges this year in education. Things are definitely different. I don’t want to make it negative or seem like there’s roadblocks in every way we turn, but COVID presented us with opportunities and challenges. What are some of those challenges that you’re seeing day to day in your school and whether it’s virtually while you’re at home or sitting in an office?


Hugues Bertrand (03:04):

When I think about that question is it’s, you know, like overall, like the help, right? Like, that’s like, you gotta be conscious of your own health. And then your, and your student’s health and your own family. As I explained to my students, like on day one you know, guys, like, you know, I’m more, all this PPE welcome to the new normal this, this didn’t feel normal to me. And I was very honest with them. And know they were all wearing masks in class. I was very lucky. My students were pretty good. I mean, they don’t have to wear it. They can, they can take it off while they’re sitting, but most of them do which share reassuring. So that that’s definitely like some of the challenges, like the hell aspect of it, it kids being off for six months in Quebec, like that was like, you know, that was like, they’re rusty. So that’s something that we need to keep in mind. you know, and in the mix, my school, like the seniors mix one day at school, one day at home. So like juggling the online and, and in class you know, like you got to adapt, like they have to, but you also have to adapt.


Sam Demma (03:59):

Yeah. That’s so true. How do you find teaching virtually is it a challenge? How do you get cameras? How do you get students to turn their cameras on and raise their hands and, and speak in class is difficult?


Hugues Bertrand (04:10):

Right. I, I find it’s made me a better teacher. Like I realize that the other day, like you know, I was being ready for a session and, and I definitely keep it shorter. Our classes are 75 minutes school and, and, you know, I pants to myself, lecturing. I rarely lecture for 35 minutes at school anyway. So I try to like mix it up and you know, having them to have their cameras on is, is a challenge. You know, like I know like there’s some schools that have rules and they have to have it on, but then it’s like, you know, it’s, it’s facing a wall or, yeah. You know, I noticed this morning, I was, I was teach out a few online classes and some of their bad, they were, some of them were in their bedroom and it was really dark.


Hugues Bertrand (04:45):

Like I could see the shades were down and everything. And I, I made a few comments, like guys, like, you know, like, it’s almost like it’s night in your room. Like, , you know, let, let let in some lights. But yeah, it’s not easy. I, I try to to flip the classroom a bit. So I put some talking points up and then I, and I try to engage them. And even though like, when you share documents, depending on what you’re using, you don’t see them all, but like, I call out their names, so then they have to kind of be there. And and I, you know, I, I kind of like share, like, I usually share material with them ahead of class or during class. I’m like, Hey guys, there’s a video here. That’s 15 minutes when I’m done, you’re gonna know, watch this. And then be ready to talk about it next class. So I kind of like, it’s, it’s made me a better teacher, I think, cuz I have to think about delivery. I have to think about the material I’m using. Some of the things that I was using, I can’t use anymore in the same way. So I, I think like, you know, it’s forced me to be more creative.


Sam Demma (05:37):

That’s awesome. I think that’s a beautiful way to look at it. No, one’s given me a response like that yet. And I’ve done a dozen in interview so far making you a better teacher. So you look at it from the positive perspective. There’s so much challenges going on right now, but like you are looking at this from a positive angle. I’m curious to know what gives you hope personally despite the challenges, what keeps you going, what keeps you motivated and hopeful with the work that you’re doing?


Hugues Bertrand (06:03):

I think I, I believe in the end science will win. I mean I think that’s, you know, you have to think that this is gonna, this too shall pass is gonna end. If not, I think you just gotta go bonkers. So you gotta, you gotta believe that it’s gonna, there’s gonna be an, we don’t know when you know, I mean so, so, and I think it, it forced people to take a look at their own life. What really matters obviously when we were quarantined for like all these months in the winter last year, you know, like, I mean like my, my wife’s the teacher also, so we were both at home teaching from home. Our two kids were at home going to school at home. So, you know, so that forced us to kind of like, you know work around those things. But it’s a, it’s kind of like, you know, you gotta slow down. I think, I think it’s forced me to slow down and then, okay, so I can’t do this and this and this anymore. So I think, I think, you know, like I have the hope that it’s, you know, I, I hone, I, sorry, I hope I, I hold onto the hope that it’s it’s, you know, science will win. And then basically you know, and then I kind of like just kind of prioritize things.


Sam Demma (07:04):

That’s awesome. I love that. It makes perfect sense. There’s nothing else that we can do this. Stuff’s kind of out of our control and we have to just let it play. Its play its part and then we’ll get going when it’s done. I’ve spoken again to dozens of educators already. And I’ve asked them this question, you know, we’ve, you’ve been in education for 26 years. You’ve helped dozens of students, maybe not even academically, but also with their mental health, with their physical health. Maybe you’ve mentored them, gave them some life changing advice. And maybe once or twice someone’s written you a letter when they’re like 20 years older saying hug, you changed my life back in class. And now I’m doing this job because of what you said. And I’m curious to know what can we do during COVID that will ensure that the kids that are in your class right now have that same response 20 years later. Like how do we, how do we care for our kids right now?


Hugues Bertrand (07:56):

I think, I think we gotta be there and listen we gotta be patient. You know, I mean, I’m getting like, you know, they have lots of questions and, and they have a lot of things that they’re not sure about. And then so I think we gotta hear them out. I like, for example, like, you know, like I mentioned, there’s six months, like kind of rust that asked needs to be knocked off. So, you know, things like, you know, maybe you would’ve done three, three projects and from one and then maybe you’ll do two and maybe you’ll have to walk them through things. You know and then if they’re like, you go off topic, like you gotta, you know, like you ha you have to take the time to listen to them. And, and, and sometimes this is the best thing you can do is listen.


Hugues Bertrand (08:34):

You know when I think back of kids, who’ve gone back to me over the years. You know, and unfortunately I there’s been many in, in those are bonuses that I call as I call them. Mm-Hmm you know, I think, I think, yeah, what did I do while I listen? I gave him the time you know, and like we had a case at school yesterday, like it was announced, but the way it’s announced, it’s, it’s, you know, there’s a student in a class bubble that that’s positive. So that question, that kid was already at home, so they isolate the class and yet, but some other kids in the school were like, you know, they were, I, my grade 11 class, they were upset. We wanna know who it is. We wanna know what level. And I know I, and I stopped the lesson to kind of explain like what you can’t it’s privacy it’s, you know, how would you feel is of people knew your help you know, what, what goes on between you and the doctor?


Hugues Bertrand (09:18):

So, but I mean, I could have like, just pushed a lesson, but I stopped mm-hmm cause I think they, they were uneasy. They were nervous. They, they, they, they want, they were, they were reacting to this situation. So I think we need that’s what we need to do is we need to slow down. We need to listen to them. You know, we don’t all, maybe we don’t have all the answers, but at least if we’re listening to them and gave ’em a chance to like, like a platform you know, and, and, and also I think sometimes like we gotta you know, try to like, not steer away from it, but like, you know, there’s other things going on in COVID is everywhere in the social media. It’s, it’s in news, it’s everywhere. So I think they kind of need a bit of release from that.


Sam Demma (09:53):

Sometimes I love that we have two ears of one mouth. My mentor told me, it means you have to listen twice as much as we speak. And I think it’s a beautiful testament, especially in a classroom when student voice is being heard very little, especially right now with what’s going on. And aside from teachers, they’re the next in line being affected to a major degree. So I think that’s a beautiful point. And I appreciate you for sharing that in terms of, of students that have been impacted by your direct teaching and mentorship over the years, I would love for you to share a story or two that touches your heart deeply of a student you’ve impacted. You can change their name for the sake of privacy, but do you have a story you’d like to share of a, a student who’s maybe talked to you after they graduated and said, how big of an impact they had on, on, on their life?


Hugues Bertrand (10:39):

You know what, like, it’s funny, you mentioned that and I get emotional and then like having taught 26 years and you know, and, and I, I’m kind, I think I’m the same guy after 26 years. I’m a little bit wiser. I, I sometimes like you know, I’m better at what I do. But yeah, there’s a few that I can say I can think of, but I think like, you know, when I, I think back on my first four years of teaching in inner city you know, being like 23 and, and, and I remember like, like the kids I bonded well with the kids and, and them with me. And so I guess like 30 years later, like I get these, the Facebook you know, I mean, I’m old, so I’m on Facebook.


Hugues Bertrand (11:19):

And I got this Facebook messenger from, from an ex student. You know, who’s now as a family of five kids and says, look, I just wanted to let you know, thank you for impacting my life. And I wanna let you know that I have a job now. And, you know, and I got out of like where inner city, where we lived and I’m married, I have five kids and I’m working. And so that, that, that was really meaningful for me. And this is, this was the student I always said I was closed with. And I took under my wing and you know, spent a lot of time with listening and sometimes steering them in the, in the right direction. You know, I mean, if I come closer in, in, in, you know, to my career, like, like in the last 10 years, like I have students, I still, I have a group of students that I, I talk to well actually I it’s like a group of that.


Hugues Bertrand (12:03):

I, I, that I once in a while, I’ll, I’ll drop a message, like don’t need to respond and just, just you know, thanking them from like I on Facebook. So I get to see their life and I see what they’re doing and, you know, just kind of like tell ’em, they’re all success stories. And these are kids that I’ve like, you know, over the years, like reached out to me again with, with thank you for being there or thank you for you know, what you did for me. And you know, it’s, it’s nice to have that connection. I actually have nobody knows this , that’s cool. I have I have like a folder on my desk and it’s been like, I keep it on my desk every year. And it’s like letters or notes I’ve gotten from kids over the years.


Hugues Bertrand (12:41):

And you know, so I just know when, when you have an off day, you know, you’ll open that folder and like, you know, it sets you back. So nobody knows what that folder is, or at least now, but yeah, that’s that, that’s something for me. Like, I, I’ve been very AP very lucky, you know, I mean that the kids I always tell kids you know, not for me, but like, you know, you got to let people know, like, you know, if they made a difference in your life good or bad, you got to let them know. You know, cuz if you don’t let them know, they’ll never know that they made a difference. So, you know, yeah, I’ve been, I’ve been very, very lucky.


Sam Demma (13:12):

Yeah. Sometimes they don’t send those messages or write those letters until 20 years down the road. And I think educators sometimes, especially the younger ones who are just starting don’t realize the impact they’re having and half the purpose of this podcast is to remind them that no, what you’re doing is important, despite the challenges we’re currently facing the work is needed now more than ever. And the stories of impact do surface, maybe not right now, but they might 10, 15 years from now or when you least expect it. And I think that idea of having a folder on your desk is beautiful. Do you remember any of the letters that you recently have read?


Hugues Bertrand (13:49):

Well I had, I had one a student sent me a copy of a university paper that you were roles in sociology and it was like, you know, something shed done for in university and it was about me. So , so it was really, you know, it was I was very humbled. And, and this is someone who’s like now in their thirties with, you know, two kids, but you know, I mean, I, I, I think back I’ve done mean there’s I, you know, I guess there’s so many, like, you know, that that’s hard to pinpoint one, but they’re all, they’re all you know, they all touch me like, you know, I find it very touching, so and I, and you’re right. Like, you know, we have the power as teachers, like, you know, we can make or break a kids’ day.


Hugues Bertrand (14:33):

Like, and, and we need to remember that. Because sometimes, you know, like like kids, like you know, they, they they’re fragile even if they don’t show it. So, so, you know, we have that you know, like we, we may say something or do something that’s gonna turn off a kid completely and we might, and the worst thing is you may not notice. And then they’ll just go on you know, so good or bad. So I think we, we need to be mindful of that. You know, teaching teaching is, is an important profession and you know, and I think a lot of responsibility comes with that.


Sam Demma (15:07):

That’s so true. That’s awesome. I appreciate you sharing the story and the letters and the, the good moments. I can see the smile that you brought to your face, which is awesome. And it’s encouraging for anyone else to hear. And I love the idea. Again, if anyone’s listening, go make your own folder, we can call it the folder of appreciation or whatever you, you wanna label it and put it on your desk and put all your letters in it and revisit them. When you’re feeling down. I have a similar concept that a coach told me and it’s called that you done good list, and it’s not things that other people have given to me or said to me, but it’s things that I’m proud of that I’ve done. And when I feel like I’m not doing enough where I feel like I’m moving too slow, instead of focusing on where I want to go, I focus on where I’ve already gone, what I’ve already done, where I’ve already been, the people I’ve already impacted and met, and that change of focus leads to so much more positive decisions.


Sam Demma (15:57):

And I think it’s, it’s evident not only in education, but in all areas of life. So again, thanks for, for sharing that on a, a separate note. It’s really difficult right now to bring in powerful messages into a school. And I’m sure, or you’ve dealt with bringing in speakers for dozens of years right now. It’s harder than ever. If someone’s listening an educator that might be a little bit younger, not as wise just yet, , they’re building their wisdom. They wanna, you know, bring someone into their school to speak. How would you advise them to do so? Maybe even without COVID like, what do you look for in a person to bring in front of your students?


Hugues Bertrand (16:33):

I, I think whenever you’re gonna bring somebody in front of your student, like, you know, as one of my mentors always said, like, you have to have seen them or somebody you trust is seen them, like, so that’s school number one, like just bring in somebody just to bring somebody is the, is the bad idea. Yeah. So like you have to have like seen them or heard and, or, or somebody you trust. I seen them I think you gotta think of case this could be meaningful to my students and maybe you may find it’s really like, this is really good, but like, you know, you gotta know your students. Yeah. What, what they’re needing obviously right now it’s complicated. You know, I was, I know at school, like I was, you know, reaching out administration about maybe starting some student life this year, again, you know, and through, through the bubbles and, you know, and then the next day we have a case at school.


Hugues Bertrand (17:13):

So I’m like that didn’t get that, that fell down the list of things to do for the, for my principal by no fault of hit of his. So I think ask around, I mean, there’s some great organizations in Canada you know for, for leadership. So there’s Speakers Bureau. And so, so you can, like, you can see now with technology you can usually see clips of speakers and presenters. So like that that’s, I mean, do your homework, check it out, talk to people, ask questions you know, ask definitely there’s lots of good people to bring in like you know, kids, kids you know, they, they, sometimes you need to change it up and, and they respond you know, to somebody else, you you’d be saying the same thing, but you bring, somebody give the same message and sudden like, oh, it’s heard. But you know, by, by any means necessary, like that’s, that’s always one of, some of my mantra.


Sam Demma (18:00):

No, that’s awesome. And when it comes to speakers, what do you thinks the most important thing in relation to having impact on the students? Is it content the person shares? Is it the way they deliver it? Is it how they engage the students? Is it because it’s interactive? Is it their age?


Hugues Bertrand (18:16):

I think I’ve, I’ve been very fortunate again having been involved with leadership and, and, and going to conferences and hosting conferences. So I’ve been exposed to many, many speakers. I would say the delivery it’s not just the age. But I think the delivery, how they interact with the students is, is, is big because like, you know, you have to, you have to hook them as they, they say , but you’ll have a, it’s a mix of that, a message too, because if you have them, but then you don’t have a message or don’t deliver the message then it’s you know, once you have your attention. But I think, I think the interaction with student is, is very, very important.


Sam Demma (18:52):

Okay, cool. No, that’s awesome. And is there any plans, not, maybe not even in your school, but in other schools to do stuff virtually or is that totally out of the question?


Hugues Bertrand (19:01):

I think, I think the plan is there, the idea is there. I know I, I sit on the, our central student committee at the school board and give kids from all the, every school. And we were talking last week, you know, we usually have a senior leadership day. We have a junior leadership day and we said, well, you know, we could probably do it online you know, and bring in people. So I think the plan is there. I think it’s just right now, we’re kind of like, you know, as think cases are going up, like colors changing. So we’re just kind of like, yeah, you know, we’re gonna see where we’re gonna be with this. You know, and I think it’s one of things where we may have to adapt, but yeah, I think online for now, online speaking and is, is, is probably the way we’re gonna do this.


Sam Demma (19:38):

That’s awesome. It’s also encouraging to hear for other educators. It’s, it’s not the end, right? No, this is just a bump in the road. If someone’s listening right now, who’s a fellow educator who’s a little bit burnt out. Not maybe they just started this career. Imagine you were 23 years old and this was your first year of teaching and there was someone your age talking to you when you were 23, what would you tell that 23 year old who’s just starting in this industry?


Hugues Bertrand (20:04):

Be yourself, cuz kids will know like that’s kids kids will figure out pretty quick. So just be yourself, which I think is one of my strengths. When I talk to students that I’ve had that like, you know, what are 10 years ago, 20 years ago? You know, I’m like, you know, like, I haven’t changed. I mean, I’m, I’m more gray. I, the same haircut you, although it’s long now, but you know, like like at the same haircut I haven’t changed you know, they, they come to my classroom or if they, you know, green hackers. Yeah. That was my team when I was 16. So it’s not gonna change. You know, so like be yourself you know, be open open-minded listen, listen to them. You know kids don’t do well when you come in and just talk to them like that’s or anybody for that, for that, for that matter, don’t be shy to as for help.


Hugues Bertrand (20:51):

You know that’s that these are things that you know, but be yourself, be open-minded listen to them. You know, be fair. I think like kids will respond well to that and, and, you know, it’s, it’s a great job, but it’s not for everyone. I, and, and it’s not you know, it’s, it’s, it’s, you gotta work, you know, you gotta, I mean, I I’ve been doing this 26 years and I still, still learning every day. Like, you’re, I still screw up sometimes. You know, and, and I, and I, I’m still learning, I was talking about how I adapted everything. I’ve been adapting and changing things don’t to, to, to be successful you know, and do the job, you know, in the last year or so. So now I think you just, you just gotta, you know, keep an open mind.


Sam Demma (21:34):

Love it. Open mind, listen, twice as much as you speak, ask for help, these are all great pieces of advice. Hugues, thank you so much for taking some time to do this interview today and inspire some fellow educators. I’m curious to know if anyone in the audience wants to reach out to you and maybe bounce some ideas around that’s another educator how can they reach you in, how can they do that?


Hugues Bertrand (21:54):

Well, I don’t I, I have a, I guess email would probably be the best way. I mean, I have a Facebook page, but that’d be hard to find me, so my email probably the best way to reach me. Okay. I was gonna make a joke and say mySpace, but I don’t even know what that is. So it has to be pretty old. So yeah, hbertrand@lbpearson.ca is probably the best way to reach me through email. And then we can go from there. I don’t have a website or anything, although you know so that, that’s probably the best way to reach me.


Sam Demma (22:24):

Okay. Awesome. Here again. Thank you so much, so much wisdom, so much to share, and I really appreciate you making some time. Oh, you’re welcome. I hope you enjoyed the episode with Hugues Bertrand so much practical advice and ideas to share. Please reach out to Hugues. He’d love to hear from you. He loves connecting with fellow educators and teachers like yourself. And as always, if you took something away from these interviews, if you’re taking something away from them and you’re learning something new, consider leaving a rating review. So more educators just like you can find this content and benefit from it. And if you have insightful stories or inspiring ideas that we can use in schools right now, please reach out at info@samdemma.com. So we can get you on the show and share those stories with your colleagues. Talk soon, see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Hugues Bertrand

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.

Richard Vissers – Director of Admissions at Holy Trinity School

Richard Vissers – Director of Admissions at Holy Trinity School
About Richard Vissers

Richard Vissers joined Holy Trinity School (HTS) in 1996 as the senior chemistry teacher. Since then, he has also served as the Grade 9 and 10 Coordinator, Guidance Counsellor, Director of HTS Camps, and Chair of the Miller Thomson Scholarship Committee. Whether coaching a team, guiding the yearbook, or organizing the House and Leadership programs, Richard has worked in all areas to provide opportunities for students to engage and develop pride in their school, which will stay with them for a lifetime.

Richard attended Trent University to achieve a Bachelor of Science (Honours) and then Queen’s University to achieve a Bachelors of Education.

Connect with Richard: Email | Linkedin

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Holy Trinity School

Trent University

Queen’s University

Prep Skills College Expo

Lifelong Learning

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):
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 Richard Vissers. He is the Director of Admissions at Holy Trinity School. He joined Holy Trinity School in 1996 as the senior chemistry teacher. Since then, he has also served as the grade 9 and 10 coordinator guidance, counselor, Director of the Holy Trinity School camp and chair of the Miller Thomson Scholarship Committee. Whether coaching a team, guiding the yearbook or organizing the health and leadership programs, Richard has worked in all areas to provide opportunities for students to engage and develop pride in their school, which will stay with them for a lifetime. And I can tell you from my interview with Richard, there’s a ton of value he has to share and advice to provide. I hope you enjoy this as much as I enjoyed recording it. I’ll see you on the other side. Richard, thank you so much for coming on the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show. I know we met at the beginning of the year, which for both of us felt like a long time. We go as a part of the Prep Skills College Expo, but tell the audience, why don’t you start by telling the audience a little bit more about yourself and how you got into the work you’re doing with young people today?


Richard Vissers (01:12):

Sure. Well, first off Sam, thanks so much for having me today. I really appreciate the opportunity and I have been teaching. I’m almost embarrassed to, I’ve been teaching for a long time now and I started at a boarding school over 20 years ago, and that was that was trial by fire. When you work at a boarding school, you have lots of different hats. And so I’ve been at the current school HTS right now for over 20 years. And I’ve had lots of great opportunities here. And as when, when you first reached out to me and invited me to participate, I started thinking about, you know, what got me into this role, what got me into teaching, I suppose. And really, I started to think about some of the people in my life back when I was in school, high school in particular, but even before that, you know, teachers that took an interest in me and that’s those of the memories that I have that are strongest and most positive and actually reflect a lot of what I’m doing now on a daily basis.


Richard Vissers (02:09):

So it was teachers that took the time to get to know you took an interest in you and, and came forward with ideas and, and kind of pushed me a little bit to, to try some new things that I probably you know, slightly she that I probably wouldn’t have done without some, some motivation, some encouragement and a little and a little bit of a push. So I think that’s probably, what’s mostly gotten me into what I, what I’m doing today. And those are the, some of the things that I thought about when you reached out.


Sam Demma (02:40):

Tell me more about those teachers and what they did or how they pushed you. I’d love to know.


Richard Vissers (02:48):

Let’s see you know, one of the people I had an English teacher, she reached out to me she said, you know, I’m really looking for someone to join and be a photographer, take some pictures around the school and get involved in that way. I had a, I, I tried in for the hockey team. I wasn’t the greatest hockey player, but I tried out, I didn’t make the team. But the coach you know, we had a good relationship. I was in a class that he was teaching. He, he connected with me a couple days later and said, you know, Richard saw you worked hard and we’d still like you to be involved. Could you help about and come along? And, you know, there’s managing and there’s on the bench and travel and all that. So you know, those are some people that really stuck their neck out for me and saw, you know, got me to be involved in the school.


Richard Vissers (03:30):

And, and so those are some of the things that kind of stuck with me. And I had some friends too at school that reached out and said, you know, you should really do this. And had a, one of my, one of my friends the track and field team was leaving. And I said, yeah, I’m doing track this year. And then I didn’t, I wasn’t gonna go. And she jumped in said, why aren’t you going, you know, that’s the best part of the day. You get to leave, you get to compete. And so I managed to get outta my class and jump on the bus and had a great day, and it was pretty successful and and kept at it for a few more years. So those are some memories of people kind of extending themselves to me. And, and that’s the, that’s the type of work that I’m doing now. I really think work in my position, Director of Admissions is really about finding kids and finding great families and providing some opportunity so they can come in and take advantage.


Sam Demma (04:17):

I love that that’s a, it’s an admirable role and every single player on the team, including the management, if you’re talking about hockey is super important, and I’m sure, you know, the school, the students, the administration is a little different this year in terms of the challenges you’re faced with as compared to maybe last year or time in the past. What, what are some of the challenges this school is facing right now? And how are they overcoming them or how are you overcoming them?


Richard Vissers (04:47):

It is a challenge, Sam. There’s no question about it. This is a different world a different environment and families, however, still are, are looking into finding a place for their children, finding a school for their children. And, and it’s a huge investment emotionally. It’s a, it is a huge investment financially as well, and they take a lot of time. They take it very seriously and you know, their children’s education is, is probably the single most important thing they’re going to consider as they, as they have children and, and their families grow. And it’s, it’s a very touchy, feely process. Families want to come into a school, they wanna see it, they want to feel it. They want to hear it. And the biggest challenge in, in my role and the people that I work with here the, the challenge is to replicate that somehow.


Richard Vissers (05:37):

And I’m very fortunate. I work in a school where I know that the students here take great pride. They love coming to school. They really do. They really, really do run to run to the doors when they get here in the morning, you know, they’re that excited to be with their teachers and their friends. And so how do you replicate that? How do you, how do you allow a family to look under the hood, so to speak and get a sense of how things work here and get, and get that feeling. That’ll make them feel good about their decision when they choose to apply or enroll at the school. And so those are the biggest challenges. That’s the number one challenge that that we’ve faced here. And every admissions office in every school’s faced with right now.


Sam Demma (06:18):

Yeah, no, that’s a, it’s a tough challenge, but it sounds like you’re doing a, a pretty great job at, at overcoming it. I’m curious to know what’s working in the school and with admissions what what’s working right now.


Richard Vissers (06:32):

Absolutely. Student voices are probably the big guess thing that we’ve leveraged. And we always have, but we’ve just had to find a new way to, to leverage that, you know, the parents would normally show up at school and say, hello, a few words to myself and my colleagues. And, and then we would pass them off to one of our student ambassadors, one of our tour guides and, and they take it from there. And invariably they’d come back 20 minutes later, half an hour later, an hour later, and there’s all smiles. And you can just tell that they’ve really gotten a sense of what the school looks like, and, and the kids here have done a great job. So it’s their voices that we want to include. And so, you know, just like you and I are chatting video conference now, we we’ve extended that.


Richard Vissers (07:14):

We’ve got lots of students that join us online to meet with families and to answer questions, we’ve run some student panels so that we have some of our student leaders all lined up with some questions ready to go, and parents are invited to log in and they’re, we invite them to make sure their children are paying attention to and with them. And so that they can hear these student voices. We really kind of leveraged friends as well. We wanna know when we, when we meet families who do you know, that might already be at the school and so that we can connect them and, and connect them with maybe students that are coming from a similar school, similar background. And so that you know, that there’s some credibility there that they’re not just seeing it virtually. They’re actually hearing it from people that, that they know and have some faith in already.


Richard Vissers (08:01):

And, and so those are ways we’ve also leveraged our parents in the same way. You know, most schools would say their parents are their biggest tool for marketing. You know, word of mouth is there’s, there’s no better form. And so we’ve gotten parents involved for in panels discussions like that as well, where they can come on board and answer questions, and the prospective families can, can listen in and hear their experience. And, and some of the thoughts and emotion that went into their decision making. And so it’s not rocket science. We’re putting people together online, virtually like this. But it it’s worked well. And I, and I think parents appreciate the effort and appreciate the access to some of these parents and students that are with us.


Sam Demma (08:45):

Oh, that’s awesome. And, you know, you mentioned people that, you know, and it, it jumped for me, it jumped to your colleagues like anyone in education would be, you know, happy to have a conversation with yourself, with anyone else who’s, you know, working in a school. I’m really curious to know, I know we touched upon it earlier about, you know, how you got into your role. Right now I’m curious to know what actually directed you to education though. And what, what emotions made you decide you wanted to get in, into, you know, the role of a teacher or admissions officer. Where did that come from?


Richard Vissers (09:20):

That’s a great question. And I had to think about that a little bit too and think about some of the influences earlier on in my life before I even got to university. And I mean, for, for so many people, it starts with their parents and, and my mom in particular manner, my, at her, right. And I’ve used that line with families that I meet every day, but it, my mom and instilled in me a sense of manners and, and respect for people. And that started out in an early job delivering papers. And I know that doesn’t happen very much anymore. So the car drives by and tosses the paper into my, into my driveway, but it made you, it made me get out there and meet people and talk to people and, and have to use my manners and develop some kind of customer service skills so to speak.


Richard Vissers (10:06):

And I found I was pretty good at it. And over the years, I had lots of jobs growing up that were, that were in kind of a customer service area. And so when I got through to university and I was looking around at things that might be a good fit for me, I thought, you know, I really enjoy working with people. I really enjoy working with students. And, and it was a really great teaching program at the school that I was at. And so I applied after my first year of university and I was accepted and had some great intern along the way. And so it took off from there and I’ve, and I’ve been doing it ever since.


Sam Demma (10:43):

And when you’re feeling down or unmotivated, what do you kind of reflect on to keep yourself going? What, what keeps you motivated during tough times?


Richard Vissers (10:51):

That’s an easy, easy answer here because I have the ability to still get up from my desk, walk down the, a hall and jump into the kindergarten classroom. Mm. And you don’t have to spend too many minutes with a group of four year olds and five year olds to understand why you’re in, why you’re in a school, why you’re teaching those kids. They look at you, you know, your, their friend right away. Right. big smile goes a long way and, and come. And so you end up reading with them, you end up sitting and talking with them. And so when I’m having a tough day at school or, you know, you kind of need some, some motivation it doesn’t hurt to wander down and, and see some of the youngsters, it really it’s better than a better than a cup of coffee.


Sam Demma (11:34):

I love that. And, and what, you know, that keeps you motivated, what keeps you hopeful? What, you know, what keeps you hopeful about the work that you’re doing in a school?


Richard Vissers (11:46):

Well, a school like this HTS that I work at it really truly is about opportunity. I think that’s the word that I’ll use with families and with students more often than, than most others. We want students that are gonna come in and take advantage. We have some really great facilities. We have really fantastic teachers. We have really fantastic programs and we want students that’ll come in and, and take advantage and, and look at this as an opportunity and kind of, we want them to come in with big dinner plates of eyes. Right. They’re so excited to, to jump in and, and to be able to try some of these things so forth. So that that’s something that resonates with, with most families when we’re sitting down.


Sam Demma (12:28):

No, that’s awesome. And you know, if I wanted to stop by of the school, would it be too much to ask to stop by the kindergarten section?


Richard Vissers (12:40):

I would love to. Absolutely. You know, I I’ll tell families. We have strategically placed the kindergarten classroom pretty much in the heart of the school. Nice. And whether you’re in grade 12 and coming down for lunch, or you are in our middle school heading to the gym you’re going to have to walk by those classrooms and they see and hear everything you say and do. And they, they, when they can, they wanna hug you and say hello to you and high five, you, they want you to stop in and, and be their friend. And and so absolutely Sam and when we can have visitors back in the building, you are most welcome to come in and have a, and I’ll take you by the kindergarten classroom. You’ll have 16 new friends just like that.


Sam Demma (13:18):

That’s awesome. That’s so cool. And, you know, if you could go back in time, speak to your younger self and, you know, give advice you’ve been in education, you mentioned for over 20 years, I’m sure you’ve learned some things and gain some invaluable wisdom. If you could, your former self, what pieces of advice would you give knowing what you know now?


Richard Vissers (13:39):

Absolutely. you know, one of the, kind of the, the philosophy right now, the language at our school that we’re using every day is to be a lifelong learner. Hmm. And, you know, at times you, people are resistant, they’re set their path, you know, they’re, they’re comfortable with what they’re doing and how they’re doing it. And change is always a challenge for people. But I really think that as I reflect especially now in a new technical world, digital world, you know, there’s lots of skills that that I can still be using and learning about and leveraging every day. And so you know, our message for our kids here is you’re gonna be learning for the rest of your life. Well, you know, that applies to me too. And so right now I’m kind of in the middle of it.


Richard Vissers (14:26):

This is something that I haven’t done before, you know, interviewing like this. And so you know, I want to take advantage of that and, and go through processes like that all the time and chow myself. So being a lifelong learner is something that I think everyone needs to have to kind of develop and, and come to grips with and have an understanding that it’s your benefit. You might try. You might, you might not love it. And that’s okay too, because then maybe you’ll go on and try something different that you do discover that you love.


Sam Demma (14:52):

And for every educator listening, I think it’s so relatable, especially right now, we’re being tasked with learning how to teach online or learning how to do interviews with families online, or, you know, learning how to run conferences online. It takes that perpetual learner’s mindset to continue, you know, figuring things out and learning along the journey. If a teacher wants to reach out to you to have a conversation was inspired by anything we talked about, what would be the best way for someone to get in touch with you?


Richard Vissers (15:21):

You’re most welcome to certainly call the school or send me an email. Those, those are probably the best ways. The admissions number is 905-737-1115 and my email is rvissers@hts.on.ca. But yeah, those are the best ways to get in touch with me. Unfortunately, I can’t say drop by the school, because right now in the world that we live in visitors are, you know, it’s, it’s a, it’s a tough situation.


Sam Demma (15:43):

The kindergarten kids don’t wanna see you right now, guys, don’t come. Haha!


Richard Vissers (15:47):

They wanna see you. They just they know they have to wait. Haha!


Sam Demma (15:51):

That’s true. Yeah. Awesome. Well, thank you so much for taking the time to have this conversation. It’s been a pleasure chatting with you and learning a little bit more about HTS and, and all the work you guys are up to, and the changes you’ve been making to adjust. I really appreciate it.


Richard Vissers (16:03):

Thank you, Sam. I appreciate the opportunity too. It’s a pleasure to have a conversation with you.


Sam Demma (16:07):

There’s the entire interview with Richard. I hope you enjoyed it. It inspired you to stop in front of the kindergarten class. If you have one in your school today, and maybe just look at the smiles on those little students’ faces and get re-energized about the real reason why he got into education in the first place. If you did enjoy this, consider leaving a rating and review, consider reaching out to Richard and having a conversation. And as always, if you have something that you need to share that you think should be heard from other educators around the world right now, please reach out at info@samdemma.com and we’ll schedule a time for you to come on the show as well until then I’ll see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Richard Vissers

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.

Brent McDonald – Superintendent of Education and Information Technology UGDSB

Brent McDonald – Superintendent of Education and Information Technology UGDSB
About Brent McDonald

Brent McDonald (@Brent4ED) is currently a Superintendent of Education with the Upper Grand District School Board (UGDSB). For the past 10 years his portfolios in this role have included; Safe, Equitable and Inclusive Schools, Information and Technology, Parent Engagement, Leadership Development and Succession Planning and working with his Family of Schools within the district.  He’s also the President of Educating Computer Network of Ontario (ECNO).

Brent is passionate about student success and ensuring that all students have the resources and supports needed to be their best. He is also passionate about learning in the classroom, educational technology, and school leadership.

Connect with Brent: Email | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Upper Grand District School Board

Educating Computer Network of Ontario

Ray Dalio, “Principles”

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):
Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker Sam Demma. Today’s guest has now become a good friend of mine. His name is Brent McDonald. He’s the superintendent of education and it at the UGDSB the Upper Grand District School Board. He’s also the President of ECNO. They have a strong role in providing leadership and direction to school boards in regards to it, he’s also been a classroom teacher, a vice principal, a principal he’s done every single job you could imagine in a school maybe next to being a custodian. And he has so many valuable insights and ideas to share on the podcast today. I’m super excited because you’re going to learn so much from this interview. There are so many nuggets and so many insights. I’ll see you on the other side. Talk soon. Brent, thank you so much for coming on the High Performing Educators podcast. It’s a pleasure to have you take maybe, you know, one to two minutes to share with the audience who you are and why you initially got into the work you do with young people today.


Brent McDonald (01:03):
Yeah. Great, Sam, thanks so much for having me today to start with it’s a real pleasure and really appreciate the opportunity to do some reflection too, for for the podcast today and, and really pleased that you’ve got this series going, but I’ll, I’ll share a little bit about myself. First and foremost I’m a father to two youth as well. One is in second year, a university, and one just about to head into a post secondary experiences at a grade 12. So very interested in the work that you’re doing and I know we’ve we’ve spoken a past too about connecting with the youth in our school board and hope we get to continue that when we get on the other side of things here too. For me currently, I’m an educator by trade I guess.


Brent McDonald (01:48):
And I, my role right now is as a Superintendent of Education with the Upper Grand District School Board. So for those that aren’t sure where that is. That’s a Guelf and Orangeville area. And then kinda out to the four one, and then north up into some beautiful country around Mount forest and Harrison, just about an hour and a half hour west of Toronto. I’m so close to the city, but also some, some beautiful landscape that’s there. And what’s awesome is we’ve got a school board that is an incredible mix of diverse of students and families and a geography. So some very rural country areas, which are just beautiful and then some really vibrant more cities type centers, wealth in Orangeville, for example. So lots of, a lot of the challenges that we see around the province are replicated within the walls of our board and right now as a Superintendent of Education I get to get out into our schools and, and follow up with students and staff and our principals and vice principals that run our buildings.


Brent McDonald (02:49):
And that’s fantastic for me. I love that opportunity to get out and get into our schools. Previously I was for about 10 years of principal, myself to at about four different schools in our area. And just loved that opportunity to to lead and be part of incredible staff and student bodies that that were just full of motivation and energy to, to do things. And and I think part and parcel what I look back on the work that I’ve done. Those experiences as, as a teacher previous to that, it was a core French teacher and a science teacher, or an a grade one teacher. All of those experiences when I look back at what I like about my work, the most it’s the, the motivation and the, and the power and influence that we get from, from students and the communities who are charged up about doing incredible things.


Brent McDonald (03:40):
And I know we started just before the interview, talking about your project that you were working on around picking up garbage and, and making your communities better. And when you can harness sort of that spirit and that energy that people want to, to do better and to improve and be a part of that, it’s energizing. So for me I think back when I was more your age and kind of looking at where I wanted to go in life, I had, I had multiple jobs. I had all sorts of jobs and that was, I loved working and had a lot of different experiences to try and see where I wanted to land and what I wanted to be in. And I think when I started, started to reflect on where I wanted to land in terms of a career. I look back at the work that I had done and all the opportunities that I’d ever had to work with youth and students and to be inspired and humbled by their creativity and their hope and their optimism that they had.


Brent McDonald (04:38):

That’s what did it for me? And I said, no, I, I need to be involved in this. This is a very fulfilling for me personally and professionally but also what an opportunity to lead and to guide. And I think that was the second reason that I landed into the work that I did as a student, as a teacher and then a administrator. And now into the role that I’m in is that I had the great fortune to have some incredible role models as teachers, myself and not just around the content of the curriculum that we were being taught. And when I look back at what they taught me, yes, the curriculum was, was very important, but it was more those life lessons and the work that they taught me about the attitudes that are important to have going into life and the opportunities and the belief that they had. And I thought, you know, if I can turn around and rec replicate even a part of that for students in the work that I would do, what a great what a great opportunity to have and one that shouldn’t be squandered. So, so that’s probably where I got the idea and where I got the energy and sort of the push is, or, or influences or motivators that guided me down to the work that I get to do today.


Sam Demma (05:48):

I love that. And you mentioned the work you do today. A lot of it surrounds staying in touch with staff members, touring schools every 10 days or so to check in and see how everyone’s doing. What are you hearing from those teachers in those students, in those schools? What challenges are they currently being pressed with and faced with?


Brent McDonald (06:08):

Well, very similar to to the challenges that most industries are facing right now and, and your you’re right. Sam. So the work that we do it is I don’t work in a school. I worked out of an office right now. But I do have responsibilities for, for a group of schools, but I also lead our information technology department as well. And I’ve got a fantastic group of, of managers and staff and teams that help support that work. And so for me, it’s, it’s twofold. It’s I get to, I get to see what’s happening in our classrooms, and I get to have a hand and work with incredible people to help support students in schools and our staff that are trying to teach remotely and, and work remotely and, and get involved. So that’s pretty exciting work that we get to do.


Brent McDonald (06:57):
The other work I get to do is around leadership development and succession planning for the board. So working with with new teachers, young teachers, to encourage them into leadership pathways in whatever way they want to get involved in. And we talk a lot about reaching down to students and doing the same thing for them too. So we do try and get into our schools as, as often as I can. We, we dedicate usually one day a week to getting into our school buildings. We’ve pulled back on that a lot to this September and October, just out of respect for not getting too many people into our schools. But we reach out virtually. So it’s noon today, and I’ve probably talked to about five different schools already this morning about what’s happening and there’s ways that we can do that too.


Brent McDonald (07:40):

But the challenges I’d say that they are facing are very, very similar to to what other other industries and other sectors are. And for us, and, and Sam, you look back at your school career, I’d say the one thing about our profession and our sector is that it’s typically as predictable as anything it’s by clockwork. We’ve got school year calendars or regular year calendars that we fall on. And we have the school year calendar where sometimes looks the exact same year over year, over year for decades after decades. So, you know, the first week of school programs and initiatives that happen the, the fall activities that happen that Terry Fox runs that happen every September, the sports teams that always start in the same schedule, the graduation, the proms it’s as predictable as clockwork forever, and ever, and ever. And and kids, I think students look, look forward to that.


Brent McDonald (08:36):

I remember a student, myself being in grade five, thinking I get to have that grade six teacher next year, that everybody’s been talking about it’s finally my turn or it’s graduation. Next year, we get to go on the grade eight trip, or we get to do these milestones that that people look forward to. And all of a sudden that’s turned upside down and gone. And the predictability and the consistency that’s been involved in people’s lives forever. All of a sudden gets, it gets to be a very uncertain environment. And and that causes a lot of challenges for staff and students who built careers and, and expectations around what’s coming next and plans. Particularly for students who thrive on routines or who need routines and structure to be successful and to show their best their best efforts every single day for them not knowing is, is, is an incredible part of our incredible challenge them to overcome.


Brent McDonald (09:34):

So that I would say from a student’s point of view and staff, to some extent the, the uncertainty and the constant change throwing at a system that’s typically very traditional has been very, very difficult for folks. I’d say from a, from a system perspective too, and the work that I get to do, we’re typically a very, very collaborative organization. So before we launch an, a, an idea or an implementation, or, or think about how we’re going to implement a new idea or, or, or, or any type of new project there’s a lot of time that goes into the planning, the bringing different voices around the table to get input running it by students and staff and all of our different stakeholders that we have. And I’d say we have not had that luxury in the last four to five months to be able to do that.


Brent McDonald (10:31):

So for us, our, the way that we work has been changed an awful lot, and we’ve had to become, you know, I’ll use those words like nimble and agile that, that everybody talks about. And the, the dreaded pivot word that we’ve had to do so much more than than we ever have before. And for for our sector and our educators and students too. But at a system level, that’s probably been the most difficult pieces that are traditional consultative processes that we put in place in our collaborative efforts that we rely on have had to be speeded up in such greater fashion than we’re typically used to. And we’re doing a good job of it, but it is a change, right? It’s, it’s been a big change. So those would be some of the big the two big changes that I’d see from a student perspective. And then from a systemic perspective.


Sam Demma (11:22):

That’s awesome. Yeah, someone mentioned to me the other day, the state of education could be compared to throwing spaghetti against the wall and seeing what sticks. And I’m curious to know if there’s anything that has stuck so far for you, if you have any unique ideas that are working, or if teachers have reported back to you or any principals saying, you know, Brent, this has really worked or on the other side, you know, this was a total flop and we learned something from it. Either of those things are extremely valuable. And if you have any to share, that’d be awesome.


Brent McDonald (11:53):

Yeah, Sam, I’d say for us, the one thing that we have learned the most, or that’s been most apparent, and I’d say up until, you know, September or even October, we haven’t had a lot of time to be able to pause and reflect on what’s happened because it’s been so busy, we’ve been busy throwing spaghetti at the wall and seeing what happens. So we, we haven’t had a ton of time to reflect, but the reflections that we’ve done and when, and we’re starting to do them more and more now, which I’m pleased about. But what we, what I’d say we’ve learned a lot that we have seen is for the first time ever in, in my career in the spring everybody stopped doing everything and focused on one thing, and that was getting getting us to work remotely and to have teachers and students learn remotely when we in the spring, when everything was shut down.


Brent McDonald (12:47):

So all of a sudden 5,000 staff members and 34,000 students in our board had one goal that we had to do really quickly and had to make sure it happened. And we don’t do that very often. Usually we are juggling, you know, curriculum expectations, we’re judging or juggling technology expectations were juggling. A lot of the work that we’re doing around social justice and whether it’s our anti-oppression work that we’re doing, or anti-black racism, all of a sudden everything funneled into one, one project as an entire group. And and we had to be conscious of all those other things that we did, but really it was one, one goal. And we did it. And if someone had asked me back in January, you know, do you think everybody in this board could, could just walk out of the buildings and work remotely and live remotely in the next two months?


Brent McDonald (13:37):

I’d say, no, that’ll take us years to years to really pull off in any cohesive way, given what everything else is is on everyone’s plates. But all of a sudden we didn’t have anything else on our plates. We had one thing and watching everyone come together and work together and have that spirit of cooperation and collaboration was, was fantastic. So when I say what stuck and what, what worked back to your question? I’d say we learned a lot about what we can do if we really focus and have clear, consistent goals and and keep it simple and small we can move fast and as a big system. So that was exciting for me to see I think mistake wise, the, you asked that as well mistake wise. Yes, absolutely. It’s not perfect. What we’re working on and that’s okay.


Brent McDonald (14:29):

We talk a lot about failure in our system and that failure is, is is a really good thing because you learn from it and if you’re failing and learning, that’s okay. That’s how you get better at it. And we have to be able to do that. And there, there’s a whole show that you could probably do on, on failure or a whole talk we can do on, on how you manage that. But I think we’ve created a culture of of safety for, for staff and students as best we can and by safety, I mean not necessarily physically safe, but really being able to say, Hey, you know what, we can try some things and if they don’t work, it’s okay, nobody’s going to get too upset. We’re going to fix it and move forward and learn from it.


Brent McDonald (15:10):

And I think that’s what we’ve done the last little bit. So from all of the granular mistakes that we make every day, and, you know, it’s seven months later and people are still not unmuting their mics on zoom calls, right. Those really small things that come to the, to the much bigger mistakes that we’re making. And for us, some of those have been trying to solve problems that really don’t exist. And and under estimating people in some respects too. So the example I use is we spent, we spent weeks worried about students three and four year olds having to wear masks all day and that, how can that possibly happen? Well, it did. We asked them and we provided resources and, and teaching to them. And I can go into a school at the end of the day on a Friday.


Brent McDonald (16:00):

And there’s a three-year-old has been there all week, all day, still wearing their mask and completely fine with that. So something that was a big worry for us in our planning turned out to not be a problem at all, and for most people but certainly not to the extent that we thought it was going to be as an example some of the other underestimations that we’ve made. And it’s just because it’s our first time through a lot of it, I’d say we planned. And we, we underestimated the amount of people that would take up remote learning, for example, through COVID. So, you know, our schools are open and we have options around remote, and we might’ve fought somewhere under 10%, five to 10% might pick that up and so we planned appropriately for that. And our board, we’re sitting more around 17% now, but there’s many boards that are sitting around 40 to 50% of their population that have opted for remote.


Brent McDonald (16:50):

Those numbers are staggeringly more than what we thought they would have been to start with. And we didn’t know. And again, didn’t have that time through the consultation to really find out. So it was best guesses. And so I’ve seen some areas where we have underestimated either whether it’s at the student level or systemically some of those pieces. And we’ll learn from that. And now, you know, the next time that we venture down this road we’ll know what’s a problem. What’s a real problem. And what’s not a real problem. So that’s been, that’s been interesting to watch, and I’d say we’ve learned from that.


Sam Demma (17:23):

There’s a gentleman named Ray Dalio wrote a book titled “Principles,” and we’re the most successful hedge fund managers in the world. And he has a concept known as the error log. And it’s a document shared by his entire company where every time a mistake is made instead of a manager, figuring it out, you personally log the mistake yourself, explain what happened and what you learned from it. And he says like every week, his old team reviews, this error discusses it publicly so that every single person in the company learns from one person’s mistake. And I thought it was a brilliant, brilliant concept. And you had so many other pieces of wisdom in this book. And you also mentioned, you know, the importance of resilience, which comes from overcoming challenges or going through failures and seeing the resilience of a three-year-old or a four-year-old must be a motivating site for you, especially for anybody. I’m curious to know, you know, those sites motivates you. What else keeps you motivated? What drives you to keep doing this work, even when times are really difficult and tough?


Brent McDonald (18:28):

Well, you, you, you nailed it right. There really is the youth that we have and their voices, and and seeing the hope that they have. So I’d say also the lessons that we learned from them and started the questions today, you know, why did I get into this work? And, and the other reason which lends into this motivator is, is that desire to keep learning. And we learn as much today from our youth, as I do from, from any professional development series or, or workshop. And, you know, when we look at the great work that’s happening around our environmental work that we’re doing, or around our anti-oppression anti black racism, anti-oppression work that we’re doing, our students are often the ones leading the charge and teaching us about about how things need to be. And, and sometimes we needed to take a step back and really look at at, at what they’re doing and what they’re asking and what they’re saying.


Brent McDonald (19:27):

And so those lessons that we learned from our, our youth and the questions that they put on the table holding us as the adults and the, the, the leaders and systems accountable for what we’re doing. That’s, that’s incredible. That’s a, that’s, that’s motivating for me and helps move us forward and think, yeah, these are the, these are the leaders of our future. So it’s up to us to get barriers out of the way so they can do the work that they want to see as they go forward. And, you know, I don’t know if it’s always been that way, but I’d say the student voice is, is, is alive and, and more present now than, than I’ve seen in years past. And there’s venues for it. And, you know, your, your show’s very much like that too. It’s bringing student voices and ideas for students forward. But we’re also seeing it in so many other places. So I think having that energy behind you, when you know that you’re in a school system that has 34,000 voices and opportunities ahead of them, that’s, that’s motivating you. Can’t not be motivated by that, that gets you out of bed in the morning.


Sam Demma (20:32):

I love that. That’s awesome. And for the educators who might be listening, hopefully they’re not struggling with motivation issues, but in the, in the case that they might be, and they’re struggling to get out of bed. Maybe in fact, it’s their first year in education. If I could take you back to your first year in education, and, you know, you, you started, you were a little bit uncertain, maybe really passionate to get going, but confused and overwhelmed with all the different systems and terminology. And there’s the, just, just the change of starting something new. What pieces of advice would you share with your past self and with other educators who are just starting to get into this role, especially during a year like like 2020 with the global pandemic.


Brent McDonald (21:16):

That’s a great question, Sam, in one night, we got to remind ourselves all the time and I alluded to it earlier, but I think if I went back to my first-year teaching self probably a lot of fear around failure and not doing things right. And I’d say I probably spent way too much energy worrying about that. Then just trying some things and seeing how it goes and being okay if it didn’t and moving forward. So I learned those lessons along the way, but I, I probably wish I learned those more quickly probably would have had a lot less sleepless nights as a, as a brand new teacher. I’d also say reaching out to, to colleagues and you know, when I first started, I think I remember my first email that I ever wrote as a teacher it’s we email was just coming on.


Brent McDonald (22:04):

And when that happened, which is a very sad thing to say, but I remember the first time that we got to do that as a teacher, and now the ability for teachers to connect and collaborate be outside the walls of their classroom is phenomenal. The, the PD that’s available on on social media, on Twitter feeds on, on that you can access at the, you know, whether it’s through podcasts, whatever it might be, you can get ideas and collaborate and make connections with people more than we ever could when I first started. So my advice would be not to encourage youth youth and new teachers to the profession, especially when you’re feeling up against the wall on something or worried about something, reach out and put the question out there. And I see it every day when I’m looking through feeds in the comments, the, the support that’s out there in the broader educational community for, for staff is fantastic and feels really supportive when you read it. And and there’s a, a great venue there for, for people, as opposed to just walking down the hall. There’s nothing wrong with walking down the hall and texting with your teaching partner down the way, but you have access to so much more than you ever did before. So use it would be my advice.


Sam Demma (23:16):

That’s awesome. And if someone wanted to get in touch with you, I know you’re busy and I have so much going on, but maybe there’s a fellow educator somewhere in the world who has ideas to share or wants to just bounce ideas around what would be the best way for them to reach out to you?


Brent McDonald (23:32):

Probably probably on Twitter. It would be the best way if if they’re looking for that. So my Twitter handles is @Brent4ED. So absolutely would be one of the best ways to reach out. You could do that or go into the Upper Grand District School Board website, and they can find me on there and make a connection. I just told people they should do it, just connect them and share ideas. And I think that’s what we have to keep on doing in this profession, especially as we’re all facing new challenges and new problems that we’ve never had before. We don’t need to solve it by ourselves. So it’s great to be able to bounce ideas off of each other and and see where we can go.


Sam Demma (24:14):

Right? That’s a great way to end this episode. Thank you so much for coming on here. I hope people reach out. It’s been a pleasure chatting with you, and I look forward to seeing you again in person when all of this passes or starts to change and adjust.


Brent McDonald (24:26):

We’ll definitely make that happen. Sam, I was talking to folks today who we’re hoping that we can continue down that thread too. So we’ll look forward to having you back and a huge thanks again for allowing me to be on your show today.


Sam Demma (24:38):

Thanks a lot. You bet. And there you have it. Another amazing interview on the High Performing Educator podcast. If you enjoyed this episode and liked it, consider reaching out to Brent, he would love to hear from you. And if you have your own ideas and insights that you’d like to share, please shoot us an email at info@samdemma.com. So we can also get you on the podcast. And as always, if you’re benefiting from this content and you’re enjoying it, consider leaving a rating and review. So more people just like yourself can find it and also consume it and learn new things for their own students in schools. Anyways, I’ll see you on the next episode. Talk soon.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Brent McDonald

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.

Adrian Del Monte – English Department Head and Leadership Coordinator

Adrian Del Monte – English Department Head & Leadership Coordinator
About Adrian Del Monte

Adrian (@adrian_delmonte) has been teaching for 13 years in the Toronto Catholic District School Board as an English Teacher, Department Head and Leadership Coordinator. Five years ago, he began a leadership development program at his school which emphasizes the importance of servant leadership for hundreds of students each year.

Adrian and his wife also founded Hopes Rise, a charity that works to help unprivileged children achieve fitness, literacy, and leadership goals.  He recently began a podcast called Wholehearted Teaching, which inspires teachers to bring their whole selves to the classroom. Adrian believes that there is no greater cause you can give your life to than serving others.

Connect with Adrian: Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Wholehearted Teaching

Tim Elmore, GIGO Principle – Garbage In Garbage Out

Harper Collins, “Good to Great” – Show Horse vs. Plow Horse

Jamboard

Kahoot

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):
Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s guest. Adrian actually reached out to me over email after hearing an episode on the podcast, just to let me know that he thought it was excellent content, and he’s really enjoying the interviews. And after read a little bit about himself and doing research on him, I realized that he should be someone who’s also interviewed on the show. And so we brought him on here today. Adrian has been teaching for 13 years in the Toronto Catholic District School Board as an English teacher, department head and leadership coordinator. Five years ago, he began a leadership development program at his which emphasizes the importance of servant leadership for hundreds of students each year. And you’ll see why servant leadership is so important to Adrian. In this episode, Adrian and his wife also founded Hopes Rise, a charity that works to help underprivileged children achieve fitness, literacy and leadership goals.


Sam Demma (01:01):

Adrian also recently began a podcast and is the host of Wholehearted Teaching, which inspires teachers to bring their whole selves to the classroom. A believes that there is no greater cause you can give in your life than serving others. Make sure you connect with him on Twitter at @adrian_delmonte at Hopes Rise. Hope you enjoy this episode. See you on the other side. Adrian, thank you so much for coming on the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself with the listener and sharing how you got that, the work that you do in education with young people today?


Adrian Del Monte (01:40):

Great. Well, thanks for having me, Sam I got into teaching maybe a little more unconventionally than, than others. I I didn’t have a great, great experience in high school that that’s totally on me. I I was pretty self-absorbed in high school. I had a lot of insecurities and and so I kind of buried my head in high school in my athletics. I was a competitive runner and was kind of angling for a scholarship. And when I look back on it now, there were so many teachers who were there with kind of their arms out and I didn’t really take advantage. I totally like got self-absorbed a bit focused on my, my sports so much. And, and I think I missed a lot of the high school experience. So I started studying at university and I figured I’d be a lawyer.


Adrian Del Monte (02:34):

My Nono said he would pay for . He would, he would pay for law school if one of us went. So it was like, all right. And then I realized, you know, in my third year of studying criminal justice, very few lawyers actually demand, you know, the truth like Tom, like Tom Cruise and a few good men. I want the truth. Lawyers don’t do that. Lawyers do a lot of paperwork. And so in my fourth year of university, I sort of started realizing, you know, what I feel like I want to give back. I want to give back, I want to create high school experiences for students that maybe, you know, maybe that I wasn’t aware of or, or that I, that I missed. And so I totally, in my fourth year I got into, I started, I had an in, I had enough teachables in, in English. But then I had to angle for a second one in my fourth year. And that’s really when I decided to go into teaching, but it took me a while to get there. I just, I don’t know why I think my sports while it added so much, it also kept me hidden a bit from the real world.


Sam Demma (03:32):

I feel the same way. I think we can. We’re very similar in many ways. My high school experience was so similar. In fact, I, I didn’t get involved in any activity throughout high school, aside from extracurricular soccer and rushing a soccer practice when the school bell went and I too missed out on all those abilities to serve and give back and learn more about myself with like-minded students and individuals. So I think the reason you got into teaching is, is amazing and it’s wholeheartedly centered that’s right? Yeah. Little pun there on your podcast title. Why don’t you share a little bit about your own show for educators and why you started it?


Adrian Del Monte (04:10):

Yeah, that’s that, that’s a good question. Thanks. the name of my podcast, Sam is, is Wholehearted Teaching just started maybe have half dozen episodes and you know, the biggest challenge in COVID I have found has been to keep your head in a good space. Mm. There is so many rabbit holes you can go down right now, right? Like I I’m driving into work this morning. I had the radio on from like 7:30 to 7:32. And in those two minutes, right. Car accidents on the 401, the, our, our premier is deceiving us. It’s global war. Like within seconds, your mind can just go the wrong way. You, you start letting your mind as a teacher, like, are the kids even listening on the other end of these Google meets? Are they, are they learning in this virtual school? And, and I’ve actually found the biggest challenge has been filling my mind with good stuff, like consciously going outta my way to fill it with good stuff.


Adrian Del Monte (05:09):

And so the podcast was a way that I could fill my mind with, you know, things above better things. Just, just filling my brain with one of our core principles with our leadership students is we took this from Tim Elmore, but the GIGO principle garbage in garbage out mm-hmm . And, and I think if you, whatever you put into your brain, that’s the kind of person you become. You are what you eat. Right. These puns make a lot of sense. Right. And so the podcast for me was just a way that we could sort of set up some, the content. Yeah. You know, you know, what was inspiring a little bit was I don’t know if you saw during COVID. One of my favorite shows is the office. Yeah. And John Kansky, the character who plays Jim started this some good news. I don’t know if you saw those episode, some good news. And his idea was to combat bad with good, because I think it’s so easy for us to like slip into these rabbit holes of despair. Right. And like, you start scrolling through Twitter. You’re like, oh my gosh, like the icebergs are melted. The world is over. Like everything’s. And so trying to find good to combat is really the reason for my podcast. It’s, it’s, it’s really what I’m trying to do with my, my mind, my mind right now.


Sam Demma (06:23):

And you mentioned that when you were in high school, you had teachers who extended an arm and a hand to you to try and help you, that you didn’t take. And I’m really curious to know, what do you think are the qualities, or maybe just one or two qualities of a wholehearted teacher of someone who is not only striving to teach curriculum, but really see, hear, and value and appreciate their students. How can educators listening, make sure that they are being those sorts of people, the people that reached out to help you when you were a kid?


Adrian Del Monte (06:54):

Yeah. You know what, I, I think we use this, it’s a little cliche, but, but the word is real mm-hmm or authentic or vulnerable. The subtitle of my podcast is bringing your whole self to the classroom. I think, I think, I think an, an attribute of, of, of the best kind of teacher is teaching. Isn’t a job, it’s it? It’s, it’s not something they come in, they check in, they check out it’s, it’s who they are. Yeah. This idea of their, their, they wanna learn not just in the classroom, but they wanna learn all the time. They wanna, they wanna have a growth mindset all the time, again, another cliche phrase. But I think a teacher is someone who recognizes that at my core, I’m a teacher. So I think that’s one thing, this authenticity, this integrity of, I learned recently that integrity is a math word.


Adrian Del Monte (07:51):

That just means whole it’s a whole number. And so integrity is a whole person, right. They don’t, they’re not a teacher. And then, so else later on they’re, that’s who they are. It’s just a, it’s, it’s a kind of a, a coming together of all parts of their being. And, and so that’s, that’s an attribute. I think another part of, of a great teacher is gratitude. I think that’s such a big one for teachers. I know there’s problems and, and I’m definitely not, I’m not sorry. I’m, I’m very aware of the problems mm-hmm and I think I’m also consciously aware of how grateful I am that I get to do this work. Yeah. That I get students in front of me who listen to me, who are interested in the things that I might see as important, and that I, I, I’m grateful that I get to work with the wonderful school community, wonderful colleagues. So, so I think those things, I try to keep gratitude high on my list, authenticity high on my list. I think those are some of the attributes of a, of a wholehearted teacher.


Sam Demma (08:55):

Totally agree. And when I think about Mike loud foot, who is the, not the one teacher, cuz there were so many, but one of many teachers who heavily impacted my career in life, his authenticity of being who he truly was. Yeah. Came out as some quirky mannerisms and extreme passion when teaching his curriculum to the point where it was hard not to listen to him and focus because he was just so into it. Yeah. And I think during tough times, some of that passion dwindles not that the, not that the candle ever gets unlit, but it might just, it might just reduce slightly I’m. Yeah, yeah. Yeah. And I’m curious to know if you have any stories of transformation and it doesn’t have to be a kid in your class. It could just be a story about how someone, you know, or someone you’ve taught or someone, you know, who’s taught, has transformed. A student has transformed due to, to teaching. And the reason I’m asking to share it is because it might relight or make that little handle, like it might make it brighter right now. And you can change the student’s name for privacy reasons if it’s a serious story.


Adrian Del Monte (10:04):

Hmm. Yeah. So, you know, Sam, I, I actually have never been brought to tears with my students over my curriculum. My curriculum, my, I know inside and out. I, I, I all day I can teach the books, but the stories that matter, I think that that inspire teachers are the ones that have outside the curriculum. Mm. I’ve cried with my students many times. Yeah, here’s a great example. A few years ago I had this particular class, it was a a grade 10 English class. And they were so openly curious about everything. And we went off book a ton of times. We, we went off book and we, this was maybe four or five years ago, but Google docs was just kind of getting a little bit big. And, and one of the things I started offering the students was editing, editing, help with them but because there were so many of them, I couldn’t meet with them each out after class.


Adrian Del Monte (11:01):

And, and so I started saying, I’ll edit with you, we’ll meet on your Google doc. That’s the beauty of a Google doc. You can collaborate in. So, so many ways. And, and they, they started taking me up on it. So we would edit at, in the evenings and we did parent consent forms and all those sorts of things cuz it was outside of class hours. But I started editing with the kids, giving them time outside of our class hours and, and on the last day of class and, and sorry, this is something, I think that even though it happened before COVID, this is, it is such a powerful tool. So showed out to Google docs, editing tools. So back on, back on this story, last eight class I walk in and they’ve got a cake and I get emotional thinking about it.


Adrian Del Monte (11:47):

And, and one of the things that year I really pushed was reading and Harry Potter became a huge reference. And at the very end of the very last Harry Potter, Harry Potter says to his mother as a ghost, will you stay with me? And she says, till the very end and the students on the cake had written, will you edit with me? till the very end. Right? That’s what they had written to me. Right. And it was like, what am my colleague poked her head in? And, and she saw me and she’s like, are you crying? Like, and I was like, I’m freaking crying. Like I’m crying right now because it just over it overcame me that this thing editing, editing their essays, their five paragraph essays mattered to them that I made time for them. And I can still see their faces. I, I can still see their faces is like holding the cake, them being emotional and over this simple thing of editing till the very end and, and yeah, man, those, those are the kind of things when you kind of go outside the curriculum and I think now is a time if there’s ever a time to leave your curriculum for your students, it’s 2020.


Adrian Del Monte (12:53):

And , and, and that, that story every time I think of it, I, I to use your language, ignites the fire a little bit. Mm. Ignites the fire. Yeah.


Sam Demma (13:02):

And you, you mentioned that you left and that’s a beautiful story. Thank you so much for sharing. And if anyone’s listening, I mean, I know you’re listening. If you are listening, actively please consider reaching out to Adrian. Maybe you can share a little bit about Google docs if you haven’t used it before. Mm-Hmm I know it’s really cool. Cuz you can change the colors of everyone who’s typing and you can have like 10, 15 people on the same doc typing things at the same time. Really cool tool to use. You mentioned your Nu though, made a promise to you that he pay for your education. If you went and became a lawyer. Yeah. I too Italian so I can wait for the pressures in the family. but you said that you actually wanted to give back and something that I know because of previous conversations we’ve had is that you deeply believe in the power of serving others and servant leadership. Where has that, where has that aspect of your life come into play in teaching and outside of the classroom that you think is worth sharing with others?.


Adrian Del Monte (14:04):

You know, a funny story about my no, no, I, I didn’t pursue law school, but when I was in, when I was doing my masters, I actually, I applied for, for my, for my doctorate. Yeah. And was accepted my doctorate and, and my no know said goes, that’s not a real doctor. That’s what he said. Cause he wasn’t a medical doctor. So, so anyways, you know, I gotta thank him cuz that actually pushed me a little further towards teachers college, but about servant leadership. You know, I think students have an image of a leader that is a little bit unrealistic. I think the image of, of, of leadership for most students is like someone up on a stage, right? With a mic commanding, the troops, MLK, you know Nelson men, someone, someone Barack Obama, someone up there with like power and influence.


Adrian Del Monte (14:57):

And I think that’s intimidating for a lot of students. And so when I got into leadership at the school, I realized that a more accurate representation of a leader was not someone with a Mike, but someone with a empty garbage bag. And I know this, I know this is something you, you and I connect on. Le leadership to me is, and I’m taking this from a great leadership book called Good to Great. And the author talks about the difference between a show horse and a plow horse. Right? And I think many leaders are show horses. They, they look good, right? They got the image, they got the confidence, they’re good on a mic. They can speak with a good deal of articulation. Right. And, and I think those leaders are good, but not great. Great leaders are the ones who are plow horses.


Adrian Del Monte (15:48):

Mm-Hmm right. The image in my mind of a show horse is like the one jumping over the barriers with like the fury tail. I don’t think, you know, like the eque all that, right. But the plow horse is the guy out in the field, pulling the, the, the S around his neck or pulling the yolk around his neck as he’s like grinding through the dirt. And that was a better image to me of leadership. And so one of the images that we always have highlight for our students is pick up a garbage bag, you know, pick, pick up a garbage before you get the mic. You’re gonna hold the garbage bag. And, you know, a couple years ago this, we, we played this amazing game at Muskoka woods on one of our leadership retreats. The game ended with students building these cardboard boats, sailed them through the lake.


Adrian Del Monte (16:33):

Hmm. So fun at the end of it, everyone’s got their spirit gear on, you got smoke, grenades going, you got all the it’s, a who music that wasn’t the highlight. The highlight was the six kids who stayed after and pulled that soggy cardboard out of the lake. Mm. To me, those were the kids that got it. The other kids are wonderful kids and they might have just missed the moment. But the images we posted on social media after were the garbage pickers. Mm. Not the kids with the smoke grenades. And I, and I think students need those images. Mm-Hmm, otherwise leader leadership too. It’s big of a concept for them to grasp. It’s like, well, I can’t do that. I’m I don’t wanna be on the stage. And many students don’t wanna be on in high school. I didn’t wanna be on the stage. And, and so I hid, or I found something that was a little more safe and I, and, and I think images like garbage picking are powerful, powerful metaphors for students. And so those are the kind of things that I, I try to give my students opportunities to pick up garbage. I love it. I love it. Yeah. And there’s no shortage of trash, so that’s right, right?


Sam Demma (17:49):

That’s right. It’s a great opportunity. And I love the story, man. I got goosebumps as you were explaining it because recently I’ve had a similar revelation. I mean, all throughout high school like yourself, I was very self-absorbed in, in soccer and not getting involved. And then my 21st birthday, which was September this year, I decided to take a year off social media and I haven’t logged on, it’s been over two months now. Wow. I’m I have a buddy who checks my messages for me and a high school intern who manages Twitter. And I, before I left the, the platform, I took down almost all of the pictures that I had. I had like over a hundred posts. And most of them were me standing on a stage saying basically, unconscious justly, look how great I am, you know, doing all these speeches. And, and I started to ask myself, is the message I’m spreading congruent with these posts, because I’m actually not doing young people, a service by sharing all these, highlighted all these highlights and, and huge moments because they’re gonna look at it and think, wow, I’m not doing that. I’m good enough. I could never be there. And so I took most of them down. Mm. And I started asking myself, why am I putting content out in the first place? Is it to help others or to validate my own insecurities? Mm. And yeah. So I deeply relate to you on that level. And when I come back to social media, if I do there’ll be a lot more garbage bags.


Adrian Del Monte (19:11):

Yeah. Right. You know what I think, I think it’s so important for kids to understand that leadership is not something you do yeah. For three days. Yeah. Right. And I think that’s typically the image, you sign up for a leadership experience and those things are powerful. Those are fire starters. I’m not, I’m not, you know, a trip to camp Olympia or Musk woods that those ignite the fire. But I think the kids have to really buy into a way of living. Yeah. And, and, and, and then it’s not so much about what I did for those three days. It’s about how I live the other 362 days. And, and that becomes, you know, then it’s about, I woke up this morning, the dishwasher was full. I’m an empty that even my mom doesn’t let me know that that’s or, you know, my friend my, my friend needs me. I’m gonna call her on the phone. Right. And, and I think then servant leadership is not about an event. It’s about a a way of life. And I really do think values.


Sam Demma (20:08):

Yeah. Right. Your values drive all your actions. And if you’re always asking yourself, how can I help others? Or how can I serve others? You don’t have to have talent skills, abilities, or God forbid sake, even education all the time to just be a great person to the people around you, as much as you can. Mm-Hmm and it’s funny, cuz you talk to what your Nuno. I, I think of mine when I think about this, because God bless his soul. He’s passed away now. I have the same name as him. Usually. I name you after your, your other father. Do you have the same name as your grandfather or middle?


Adrian Del Monte (20:40):

Middle name.


Sam Demma (20:41):

Middle. Yeah, of course. and and Sam, my Nuno though he would wake up 4:00 AM shovel, 10 to 12 streets driveways in the middle of the winter of people that he knew couldn’t shovel at themselves before going to work at a farm for pretty or sorry, not in the winter, but before going to work for a whole day in a factory when my dad was just growing up you know, one time I remember a story where he could called my dad because my dad knew he needed some help to cut a little spot in the grass to, to plant a garden. And they said they were gonna start the project at 7:00 AM. And my dad woke up to my grandfather, digging. The job was done when he…


Adrian Del Monte (21:20):

Got at seven..


Sam Demma (21:22):

He started at four, it came over like five. And was done by seven.


Adrian Del Monte (21:25):

Plow horse, man. That’s a plow. That’s that, that see the, those are the stories of servant leadership that servant leadership, servant leadership is not a mic. It’s not like spirit. It’s not, I think school spirit is great, but it’s not servant leadership. There, there, there there’s overlap, but they’re not the same thing. And your grandfather that’s that’s leadership. He led his family like, like how, how could, how could our, how, what better examples of that? Can we give to our students than that? Like that, that is just so powerful. That’s a great, great example. Sure. It was for you and your siblings. Like I’m sure that was a great example.


Sam Demma (22:01):

Well, I still remember it to this day, right? Mm-Hmm , it’s the stories that are memorable and stick in our mind. You know, we’ve talked a lot about servant leadership, a little, a little bit about what it means to be a wholehearted or high performing educator. Mm. You know, right now it’s, it’s challenging with COVID and I’m curious to know, not so much, I don’t wanna focus too much on the challenges, but I wanna focus on what you’ve tried that is working or is in progress and you think another educator might benefit from here?


Adrian Del Monte (22:26):

Yeah. That’s a great question. You, a, a lot of people are saying, you know, once we get this vaccine, we can get back to normal. And, and the reality is normal. Wasn’t that great? Like there was a lot of problems with normal. We had, we had, you know, again, I don’t wanna focus on the problems, but yeah, you had disengaged students, you had mental illness, you had systemic racism. There was a lot of thing. And that, that needed to be addressed. And I think COVID, I’m looking at it in a way of what opportunities does this now present us. Mm. So, so, so here, here’s an example, I think over the last several years, but particularly in a virtual learning space, teachers no longer need to hold information because the students have Google, right. Teachers used to be, if you wanted to know about what happens in the play Macbeth, you had to come to Mr. Delmonte’s class and I’ll tell you, they don’t need you for that anymore.


Adrian Del Monte (23:18):

They, they don’t need teachers to be the sage on stage. Right. They don’t need me up there with all my knowledge presented because they can Google it. So the first I’ve heard, this is the generation of kids that knows more than the adults. Now they don’t know what to do with it necessarily, but they, they have tons of information. And I think what COVID is giving us an opportunity to do is ask ourself, how can we really create opportunities for student voice student voice? And, and so when I’m designing a lesson, now I ask myself, is this experience about what I know or what the students can create? Mm, right. So, so let me give an example, cuz teachers are practical academic. So that, that sounds fine. But how do you design a lesson?


Adrian Del Monte (24:08):

So the way I would design the lesson, I’m gonna teach, right? When this interview’s over is, is I’ll start with a I’ll start with a Kahoot, right? A Kahoot is like a, a virtual game, a trivia game, but all the kids turn off their mics on their mics. So you can hear them as they play the game. Then they come into the conversation and we’ll read a story about actually, we’re, we’re reading a great piece today about it’s called dear white people. Great piece. Nice. And that’s gonna lead us into a journal entry where they’re creating a boat, asking the question of themselves. Am I not a racist or am I anti racist? And they’re, they’re different. And so they get to write a personal journal. They come back and they go into a breakout room where they’re in a conversation with a few of their a few of their classmates, an online small group.


Adrian Del Monte (24:57):

Then after that, they come back for a class discussion and then it ends with all of us contributing to like a interactive whiteboard called the Jamboard. And so when I look at, I would’ve never taught that way. Right. But what COVID is making me do is realize the kids have to stay engaged all the time. Cause there’s too many distractions in their bedrooms. Right. They’ve got Snapchat and yeah. And, and, and, and, and their bed, like things on the wall, right. They get distracted. Right. And so COVID is asking me to reconsider, how do I take the emphasis off knowledge and focus on what the students can create? And actually the homework tonight after this conversation is I’m gonna have them create like a, a poem, an original poem. And I, I think Google, while it’s a powerful source is crippling our kids a little bit. So teachers have a wonderful opportunity to innovate and, and try new things that are gonna shift the focus from what we know to what they can do. Yeah. I hope that answers your question.


Sam Demma (25:58):

A hundred percent. And if anyone’s curious about Jamboard or Kahoots or any of the resources you mentioned, including Google docs, how can someone reach out to you if they’re inspired by this and just wanna bounce some ideas around and have a conversation with yourself?


Adrian Del Monte (26:14):

Twitter’s probably the best way my handle on Twitter is @adrian_delmonte like the like the fruit cup, no relation. Yeah. Okay. Awesome.


Sam Demma (26:27):

Yeah. Cool. Yeah. Adrian, thank you so much for taking the time to do this. It was such an insightful conversation. You’re doing amazing work and I hope to stay in touch and keep watching all the cool things that happen with your class and in your school.


Adrian Del Monte (26:38):

Sam, I have got to get you on Wholehearted Teaching.


Sam Demma (26:40):

Let’s do it. That’ll be great.


Adrian Del Monte (26:41):

Thanks Sam. All right. Talk soon.


Sam Demma (26:44):

This interview could be something that you actually share with your class. I think the stories that Adrian shared and the perspectives on reframing leadership is something that is so relevant, especially right now, when all of your students are spending an average of eight to nine hours per day, a on social media, believing that leadership might be being a professional YouTuber being, becoming famous on TikTok. But when in reality, it’s, it’s all wrong. Leadership is about service leadership. Leadership is about being a value to others. And Adrian did an amazing job highlighting that today. And I think it’s worth sharing maybe with even other colleagues, especially with your students. If you enjoyed this interview with Adrian, consider reaching out to him, also consider leaving a rating and review. So more teachers like yourself can find these episodes and benefit from the content. And if you have something that you’d want to share, shoot me an email at info@samdemma.com and will get you scheduled to come on the podcast as well. Anyways, I’ll see you on the other side. Talk soon.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Adrian Del Monte

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.

Darrin M Peppard Ed.D. – Past School District Superintendent, Speaker, Author, and Leadership Consultant

Darrin M Peppard Ed.D. – School District Superintendent, Speaker, Author, and Leadership Consultant
About Darrin M Peppard Ed.D.

Darrin Peppard (@DarrinMPeppard) is an author, publisher, speaker, and consultant focused on what matters most in leadership and education. Darrin is an expert in school culture and climate, as well as coaching and growing emerging leaders, and is the author of the best-selling book Road to Awesome: Empower, Lead, Change the Game.

Darrin was named the 2016 Wyoming Secondary School Principal of the Year by WASSP/NASSP and was the 2015 Jostens Renaissance Educator of the Year. In 2017, Darrin earned his Doctorate Degree in Educational Leadership from the University of Wyoming. Darrin was inducted into the Jostens Renaissance Hall of Fame in 2019. 

Darrin now shares his experiences from over 25 years in education, specifically those learned as an education leader during the past 13 years. As a ‘recovering’ high school principal, Darrin shares lessons learned and effective strategies from over 25 years in public education to help leaders (both adults and students) to become more effective and positively impact the world around them.

Connect with Dr. Peppard: Website | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Road To Awesome

Jostens Renaissance

Bradley Skinner

Kid President

Robert Frost, “The Road Not Taken”

Rock Springs High School

Dr. Ivan Joseph, The skill of self confidence – TEDxRyersonU

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):
Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. I’m super excited to share with you today’s interview. Darrin is someone that I was introduced to by another High Performing Educator, as someone they thought I should interview on the show. And after having the some conversation with him, I can wholeheartedly and honestly tell you, Darrin is one of the most kindhearted, most influential and most open people that I’ve ever had the chance to speak to and interview on this show. His stories are amazing. His passion, his energy, his lessons, his advice. There’s just so much wisdom packed in this man. I would say he’s made a dent in education, but I don’t think a dent is a big enough representation of the impact he’s made. Darrin Peppard is a school district superintendent, a speaker and author, and a consultant who focuses on what matters most in leadership.


Sam Demma (01:00):
Darrin’s an expert in school, culture and climate, as well as coaching and growing emerging leaders. He is known for his keen insight culture. First leadership style and dynamic personality. He’s won numerous awards, been named principle of the year. He’s been added into the Johnson’s Renaissance educator of the year, and then the hall of fame. There’s so many accolades this man has collected and achieved and accomplished over the years, but on all honesty, all those things aside, Darrin’s just an amazing human being who has a lot of great stories to share. And I hope you get just a peak into some of those stories listening to this episode. I hope you enjoy it. I’ll see you on the other side, Darrin, thank you so much for coming on the High Performing Educator podcast. It’s a huge honor to have you on the show today. Why don’t you start by sharing a little bit about yourself and your recovering principle mindset and how you got into this work you’re doing in education today?


Darrin M Peppard Ed.D. (01:57):

Yeah, absolutely. Sam, thanks so much for having me on this is this is really a treat. So, so yeah, I, I consider myself a recovering high school principal you know like you and I were talking before we came on. It’s a, it’s a winding journey. And you know, certainly an interesting road that has led me to where I am now and, you know, being being through being a coach being a, a principal and now superintendent that principal role, I is still the role that I look at. And you know, it’s, it’s the time that I probably cherish the most in my professional career. Certainly a great opportunity to impact kids, a great opportunity to, to impact adults. But then also to work, you know around systems and being able to work, you know, work in and affect systems.


Darrin M Peppard Ed.D. (02:49):

You know, we were talking a again right before we started, you know, I go back to what really got me into education was when somebody asked me to help ’em coach a, a basketball team and I’m like, yeah, absolutely let’s do this. And it was a fifth grade girls basketball team. And so, you know, that is not a lot of high level in depth basketball, but it’s more, it’s just relationships and, and having some fun and, and, you know, just getting to be kids and work with kids. And that’s what hooked me to ultimately become, to become an educator. And so yeah, that’s, that’s I guess a little bit about me.


Sam Demma (03:28):

No, that’s awesome. And before your friend asked you to help coach the basketball team, where were you headed in life and was there anything else aside from that ask that he gave you that directed you in that direction?


Darrin M Peppard Ed.D. (03:42):

Ah, man, that’s a great question. So, so, you know, when I when I started college you know, I, I, I played tennis and basketball in high school. I was a, I was a really good tennis player. I was a basketball player. I was not, I wasn’t a very good player. I was just on the team, but you know then I had some injuries and, and some of those kinds of things. And I honestly, I was a little bit lost when I got into college, you know the person I probably connected with the most, at my high school. At, at a point I’m gonna talk about staff I’m sure. And, and how everybody has an impact on kids, not just teachers. And , this actually even is, is true of my life. Our high school athletic trainer was the person who had the most profound impact on me.


Darrin M Peppard Ed.D. (04:29):

I unfortunately during basketball, I spent more time in the training room than I did actually on the floor in games. I just was, you know, I just had the bad luck of getting injured a lot. And trainer John was, was somebody who really kind of inspired me. And so that’s where I thought I wanted to go. I wanted to be an athletic trainer and I don’t know, somewhere along the line, I kind of lost, lost my path. And, and to be honest with you, I, I actually dropped outta college and I got into the private sector. I was, I was working in retail sales. And yeah, fortunately when when my friend reached out to me and said, you know, Hey, I need somebody to help me coach this team. I don’t know what you know, it was it was a heck of an opportunity to inadvertently you know, or, or maybe there was some kind of destiny there to, to help me find that path. And know he, even after that, it was, you know, Hey, let’s, you know, notice this other team. And, and it really gave me a chance to connect with a passion. I didn’t know I had, and that was working with kids and supporting kids and helping kids as they, as they grow through life.


Sam Demma (05:40):

You’ve been able to experience some multiple roles, principal teacher now, superintendent as well. You just mentioned all staff have the ability to make a difference for educators listening, who might question that, that they have the power to also play a huge impact. What would you have to say? You alluded to the fact that you really believe that every member of staff can make a change.


Darrin M Peppard Ed.D. (06:01):

Absolutely. I, I think every single member of of every staff, or again, like I say, staff, you know, staff plus faculty we don’t, we don’t separate ’em in our district. We, we make sure that everybody understands that we’re all in this together and we’re all part of something special. I just, you know, through the course of my career, I, and, and again, I even go back to, to when I was a student, you know, I’ve seen those moments where it’s the coach that is impacting a kid more than the classroom teacher. Certainly they’re classroom teachers that make profound, profound impacts on kids. I absolutely don’t want to downplay that, but I think about man, when, when I was a high school principal, one of the people in my building who was probably as impactful as anybody else was a guy named Cleve and Cleve was our maintenance guy.


Darrin M Peppard Ed.D. (06:53):

Cleve was a retired engineer and just came to work at the, because he just wanted to make an impact to be around kids. And you know, so the role we gave him was in addition to just some general maintenance, he was our guy who set up for all of our athletic contests. And he was the guy who was there to, you know, make sure the water jugs were filled. And, and yeah, he did all of that, but man, that, that guy just, he just cheered his face off for every single one of our kids and our kids knew him and they loved him. He knew every kid by name. And then every one of our schools, there’s a Cleve, whether it’s a maintenance person or it’s somebody who’s working in food service, or it’s a bus driver we don’t, we don’t realize sometimes just because we get into routines and we get into our day to day, you know, I, I drive my bus and this is my route, or you know, I, I’m a special education para and these are the kids I go and work with.


Darrin M Peppard Ed.D. (07:51):

And this is my schedule. We don’t realize just how many eyes are on us and how much the things that we do every day impact, impact kids. And, and you don’t know until, until years later I I’ll share a quick story with you that here probably I’m gonna say six months ago, I got a message on Facebook from a former student. And I mean, it’s a kid that I had as a high school student. I, I had him from one year. He was part of a group of kids that I actually had at both junior high. And then when I moved to high school, those kids then were there a year later, but I only had this student one year and I never really thought that we built much of a relationship. I mean, we knew each other, but you know, it wasn’t like some of the other kids in that group because I’d only once, but he reached out to me and it was a really profound thing that, that he said to me, he, he shared with me that he felt he owed me an apology over.


Darrin M Peppard Ed.D. (08:55):

Just the way he had been as a student. He said, you know, I didn’t tell a lot of people this he said, in fact, you probably don’t remember me, but you’ll remember my girlfriend. And I, I mean, I remembered him instantly, but he said, what you don’t know is I was homeless. What you don’t know is I lived in a car and I was embarrassed. And, and so I acted out so that people didn’t know those other things about me. And I mean, this is, you know, I don’t know, 15 years later. And he felt compelled to reach out and tell me the story. Wow. And, you know, to know, to know that I had an impact on, on that young. And and for that matter that I still have an opportunity too. You know, we’re still, we’re still in contact. Yeah. What I, I guess I tell that story for this reason, whether you’re a teacher or in any other role office, secretary, principal, you don’t know the impact you have on kids until much, much later. And sometimes you never know, there’s so many hundreds and thousands of kids that every educator touches every day. And you’re making a difference and you know, right now it’s hard. Holy cow, is it hard right now, but you’re making a difference and you’re changing lives one kid at a time.


Sam Demma (10:20):

What a powerful story. Tell me how you felt when you read that message in your inbox.


Darrin M Peppard Ed.D. (10:29):

Well, I mean, as we’re talking about it, six months later, I’m tearing up about it. So, I mean, you can probably imagine you know, first we’re and I saw his name, I thought, no way wow. I haven’t heard from him in forever. And and then as I started reading that, I, I just, you know, I had to sit down. I was like, oh my goodness. And certainly, you know, I was, I was grateful that he reached out to me is filled with a little bit of pride, you know, certainly that, that I had made an impact with him. But then I also, I guess, as I reflected through the, through the course of the next few days, I also kind of was maybe a little bit upset with myself or disappointed in myself because why didn’t I know, is it possible that I didn’t take the time?


Darrin M Peppard Ed.D. (11:28):

I should have to maybe get to know him better? And I don’t know, maybe I could have helped him that because, you know, as he went forward in his life, there were some struggles with substance. There was some struggles with other things. And, and I don’t know, maybe I could have made a difference, maybe I could of to help him in that regard. But I don’t know. I guess I would say it was mixed emotions. But, but ultimately, you know, I still go back to what what I, what I cling to with that story is whether I realized it or not, I was making an impact on that kid.


Sam Demma (12:03):

Yeah. And sometimes we’re a harshest critic, so mm-hmm, , don’t be too critical on yourself. Yeah. How do we make sure as educators, we can be that cleave, we can be that Darrin for our students, especially in a time like COVID 19, how do we ensure our youth feel appreciated, cared for and heard?


Darrin M Peppard Ed.D. (12:24):

Man, that’s a really good question because, you know, one of the most difficult things, I think all of us face right now is it’s really, it’s challenging, I guess, to fill the cups of others when your cup is empty. And so one of the most important things I would say, and, and I’m probably, I’m gonna say something and I’m not doing a good job of right now. And so I’m gonna challenge myself to, to, to refocus on this, but we’ve gotta take care of ourselves. If we want to continue to make a difference in this super challenging time, we have to take care of ourselves whether that’s, you know good eating habits or, you know, getting some exercise, getting enough, sleep, drinking enough water drinking enough water. So one, I’m not doing a good job with probably not getting enough exercise, but we have to be able to make sure that that physically and mentally we’re ready to answer the bell every morning.


Darrin M Peppard Ed.D. (13:23):

And if we’re able to do that, then I would say the next thing is, you know, focus on relationships. You know, the academic piece doesn’t work without the relation anyway. And right now we probably need to put twice as much time into relationships. I mean, we, we hear the phrase, social, emotional learning right now. A lot. It is very much an in Vogue term. It’s an appropriate term but really at its core, it’s about having those relationships in place. So we recognize those challenges kids are going through. And so that kids feel comfortable reached out saying something, you know, or asking a question. I think that’s, that’s just the biggest, biggest things we can be doing for ourselves right now. You know, there’s, there’s all kinds of training and all kinds of, you know, other things we can do books we can read, but if we don’t number one, take care of ourselves and number two, build those relationships. None of that other stuff matters.


Sam Demma (14:23):

It’s foundational. It’s definitely foundational. Speaking of books, what is the Road to Awesome? What does, what does that mean to you and explain why you are compelled to write a book with that title?


Darrin M Peppard Ed.D. (14:36):

Yeah. So Road to Awesome. And there’s, there is, there’s definitely a story behind that. So and it’s like, like the road awesome itself, it’s long and winding, but so I’ll tell you when, when I go back to my first year as a as an assistant principal, so my first administrative job we, we had a pretty challenging culture in, in our school. We really had well, I’ll just put it this way. The, the philosophy in our school was catch, ’em doing it wrong. And that might be kids and it might be adults. You know, we even as a leadership team and I don’t think we were intentional with this, but this is just how it worked. I mean, the phrase that the other administrators used and, and I, I know I picked up on it very quickly and fell right into the culture.


Darrin M Peppard Ed.D. (15:30):

I’m not saying I, I stepped away from it. I fell right into it too, you know, was, I’m gonna ding that kid. I’m gonna ding that teacher. You know, it, it was all about catching people, doing things wrong. And we were in this staff meeting middle part of my first year. And this particular part of the meeting was mine to facilitate cuz we were talking about, you know, what are we gonna do about hats and cell phones? You know, really, you know, important stuff used foundational. So yeah, that’s yeah, facetiously that’s, it’s not foundational that’s, those are things we really should be wasting time on, but that’s, that’s what we were focused on. You know, kids have their cellphones out and you know, they’re wearing hats, what are we gonna do about it? So somewhere between, you know, if we start hanging ’em up on the little on the wall and those little calculator holders, or I don’t know, suspending kids or wherever, you know, people were chasing this, somebody raised their hand and just said, why does it always have to be about what they do wrong?


Darrin M Peppard Ed.D. (16:28):

And I had it be about what they do. Right. and, and I looked back at that now in time and, and I can tell you, the lady’s name is spring. She’s a school social worker, a brilliant young lady. It was like, bang, you know, the, the road splitting two for me right there. You know, we, I can keep going down this path. You know, we, we focus on what people are doing wrong. You know, maybe, maybe we can, we can exit this path and try another one. And let’s, let’s try to focus on what they do. Right. it led me to the Josten’s Renaissance program and, you know, I mean that, that’s a philosophy of recognizing rewarding and reinforcing the things that you respect. And we put that in place and we started working really hard around that and changing the way we did our work and changing the way we focused on things.


Darrin M Peppard Ed.D. (17:23):

And you know, it’s amazing how, you know, people will rise or fold whatever level of expectation you’re willing to hold them to. And if you’re using that recognition and reinforcement at a high level of expectation, they’re gonna meet that level of expectation. They’re gonna come right up to it. I mean adversity for stuff like that, you know? And I mean, let’s, let’s make it about, let’s make it about kids who are doing a great job in the classroom. Let’s make it about kids doing a great job in, in athletics or in activities or whatever, you know, in community service. You know, I mean, we shouldn’t just be focused on, you know, our football team or whatever, you know, know, I mean, we had one of the greatest bands I’ve ever been around as, as a high school principal. And I know a lot of that was we hired a great person for it, but he took that same philosophy.


Darrin M Peppard Ed.D. (18:19):

And, you know, he went from like 60 kids to 130 kids in the band and, you know, superior ratings all the time. And so, so fast forward just a little bit. And I’m at a Josten’s Renaissance Conference and I’m presenting with somebody who at the time was was a teacher I had hired now just genuinely a, a, a true friend of mine a guy named Bradley Skinner. And we showed this little video clip Kid President, who everybody loves Kid President. And he said something along the lines of using the the Robert Frost poem “The Road Not Taken” you know, what, what if there are two roads I want to be on the one that leads to awesome . And even though I’d been on this road for a long time, I’d never had a, I’d never had a phrase for it.


Darrin M Peppard Ed.D. (19:06):

And Road to Awesome was born. And we, and we still are using that as a hashtag. It became a hashtag at our school. We had to paint it on our walls. I mean, it just like grew and grew and grew to where everybody knew, you know, Rock Spring High School is we’re all about the Road to Awesome. And when it came to west grand, it brought that with me and we’re on the road to, and so over the last year or two, I, I really had started thinking, thinking, and I really wanna write a book. And I, I wanted to write a book about leadership and about, about what the things that I think, not, not that everybody should follow, but just, I think these are the six things that truly make a difference in leadership. And, and that doesn’t mean being a principal leader.


Darrin M Peppard Ed.D. (19:52):

I mean, that’s any leader that I’m a classroom teacher, teacher leader, I’m in the business world, I’m a leader, I’m whatever. So six things in the book really that I focused on you know, leading with a clear vision building positive culture and climate empowering your student, empowering your adults, telling your story as educators, man, we stink at that. We are not good at telling our story. You know, unfortunately it’s, it’s standardized test scores or, you know, things that people say on Facebook that determine story of our schools. And it shouldn’t, you know, we have great things happening in every school across not only the United States through Canada. I mean, everywhere, there are great things happening in schools and we just have to do a better job of telling them. And then the last one is, is coaching. And, and, and by that, I mean, everybody, everybody can benefit from a coach as a leader. I can benefit from another leader as a, as a principal, as a teacher, whatever I can benefit from an outside perspective supporting me and, and helping me to, to see things differently. So as we’re working through the book it only made sense that the book had to have the title Road to Awesome.


Sam Demma (21:13):

Awesome. No pun intended. Yeah, there you go. I was, I was really, I was really enjoying when you were speaking about the difference between pointing out what the students were doing wrong versus what they were doing. Right. I was actually watching a Ted talk yesterday by someone by the name of Dr. Ivan Joseph. Who’s a self confidence expert and he’s his talk has over 20 million views. It’s a great one. He took on two soccer teams to coach at Ryerson, which is a university here that were both on a five year losing streak. No one wanted the job. He stepped up and took it it and used basically what you just told me to create two winning teams that both won the national championship over the next five years. And what he said was so often coaches, and we can replace that for any human being points out what the athlete does wrong.


Sam Demma (22:04):

You know, you’re not kicking in the ball, right? Get your knee over the ball and lean, you know, lean back and stare down before you kick the ball, or it’s always gonna go too high. And he’s like, instead of doing that, you can point out what someone else on the team did really well. So John goes and does a terrible job, but then, you know, Stacy goes and scores and, you know, beautiful form. He can say, Stacy, well done. Your, you kept your head down. Your knee was over the ball and the student or the soccer player, John who didn’t kick it well is taking in what he’s saying, but not having his ego hurt or feeling bad about himself. And that hit me so hard because, you know, even with pick the, the volunteer initiative, I run, we manage six or seven people. And sometimes we, we don’t think before we SP be to that degree and we can be critical to too hard sometimes on the people we manage or even ourselves.


Sam Demma (22:55):

And I just wanted to highlight that. Cause I think the point you raised is so, so important. I can even pinpoint as a young person when my coach spoke negatively to me and how it affected me personally which is, which is really, really powerful. Anyways, Darrin, this has been a very fruitful conversation. There’s so many nuggets and things that are coming out of this. If you could sum up your entire brain, all the wisdom that you’ve gained over the past, I think you said 26 years teaching and give advice to your younger self when you were just starting in education, what, you know, couple points of advice would you give yourself that you think would be helpful along the journey?


Darrin M Peppard Ed.D. (23:37):

Well, you know, not, not to keep hammering on the same thing, but I go right back to what you were just talking about. I know there were times where as a classroom teacher or, or as a coach where yeah, I probably focused more on, you know, what we were doing wrong. Mm-Hmm and you know, I think I would, I would remind myself or tell myself that don’t take yourself so seriously, you know, take, take a breath, remember that it’s about relationships. And at the end, at the end of the day, when you’re, when the students that you have in the classroom now, or the kids that you’re coaching on the court are 30 years old. They’re not gonna remember whether or not we won this game or that game. They’re gonna remember how you made ’em feel. Mm they’re gonna remember.


Darrin M Peppard Ed.D. (24:27):

And they’re gonna reach out to you because of the relationships that you built with them. And I mean, I, I know that I did that well, but I know there’s always, you know, I look back there’s ones. I know I could have done better. And so that would be one of them would be to, to just, you know, Don worry about the wins and losses, worry about the relationships because that’s, that’s what it’s really all about. And I don’t know, maybe I would tell myself, maybe you should journal what you’re doing because, because I was writing this book, I know there were stories that slowly came back to me, but I know there’s just hundreds and hundreds and more stories that you know, both good and bad, you know, one’s where I certainly don’t look very good because of, because of what I did, but there’s a lesson that came from it. Mm-Hmm and you know, I, I wish that you know, I would’ve written all that stuff down, you know, but I guess those are probably the two things I would, I would go back and tell myself.


Sam Demma (25:25):

Cool. I love that. That’s so awesome. And I’m guessing you journal every day now.


Darrin M Peppard Ed.D. (25:29):

I do as much as I can. Yeah, absolutely. You know, it’s, it’s mostly, it’s mostly the old you know voice journal nice as, as much as it is writing.


Sam Demma (25:39):

Awesome. Well, Darrin, thank you so much for taking the time to chat today. If another educator listening wants to reach out, talk, talk about your book, talk about idea is, and what’s working in your schools right now. What would be the best way for them to get in touch with you?


Darrin M Peppard Ed.D. (25:53):

So I would say there’s two different ways you know, any and all social media, I’m Darrin M Peppard just write like that, whether it’s Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook, that’s, that’s how you can find me. The other thing too, is, is on my a website. I mean, there’s a way to contract me through the website, which is shockingly roadtoawesome.net. So absolutely those are, those are two great ways to get in touch with me. And by all means, if there’s anything I could do, somebody needs somebody to vent to talk to. If I can share a little bit of advice or wisdom or, you know, even if somebody’s just got a great where they wanna share with me, I’d love to hear it.


Sam Demma (26:30):

Awesome. Darrin, thank you so much for coming on the show today.


Darrin M Peppard Ed.D. (26:33):

Yeah. Thank you, Sam. I really appreciate it.


Sam Demma (26:36):

Such impactful stories. I don’t know if your eyes like mine almost leaked while listening to this episode, but if it touched you, if it moved you, if it inspired you in any way, shape or form, please consider reaching out to Darrin. He’s someone who would love to connect to you. He’s someone who would love to have a conversation. He’s someone who would love to share ideas with and bounce things around and be a soundboard for you. And if you found this valuable considered leaving a rating and review on the podcast, it will help more educators. Like you find these episodes during these times, so they can benefit from the content and the inspiration in the stories. And if you personally have something you, you think should be shared with other educators around the world, please reach out at info@samdemma.com and will get you a spot on the, a podcast. Anyways, I’ll see you on the next episode. Talk soon.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Darrin M Peppard Ed.D.

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.

Melanie Headley – Teacher and student council advisor at Bluefield High School

Melanie Headley - Teacher and student council advisor at Bluefield High School
About Melanie Headley

Melanie (@MelanieHeadley) is a teacher, student council advisor, lifelong learner and the #1 Springsteen fan :).  She has an infectiously positive aura and is constantly striving to provide her students with the support they need to reach their full potential.  

Connect with Melanie: Email | Instagram | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Bluefield High School

Canadian Student Leadership Association (CSLA)

Canadian Student Leadership Conference (CSLC)

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 high performing educator guest on the show is Melanie Headley. Melanie is a educator. She is a teacher and the student council advisor at Bluefield High School. She is an islander by choice, a mom, a wife, a friend, a bobcat, a teacher, a server, a lifelong learner, a runner, and the number one Springsteen fan Melanie has so much energy and so much wisdom and so much insight to provide that she, that she gives in this episode.


Sam Demma (01:14):
And she’s one of the most, I would say, energetic and highly engaged and caring educators that I’ve had the chance to speak to. So I hope you enjoy this interview as much as I enjoyed the conversation I had with Melanie. And I will see you on the other side. Melanie, thank you so much for coming on the high performing educator podcast. It’s a huge honor and pleasure to have you. I know we just talked about the fact that we know so many similar people. You know, maybe you can even start by sharing this story that you just told me and the hope that Mark might hear it and be a little inspired that people are talking about him.


Melanie Headley (01:49):
Hi, Sam. So nice to meet you. Thank you so much for this opportunity. Before actually that I shared that specific story with you, I also want to include that when Maddie Campbell from CSLA, when she emailed me saying that she had shared my name with you I actually had to go back and read the email a couple times to make sure that it was actually me. But anyway, so I’m very honored to be a part of this. So last Thursday night I had tuned in a little late to the meet the maestros session that CSLA was putting on. And at the end, when, just before we had all signed off and I think it was Dave Conlan who had said, is there any, you know, any final comments, anything else that, you know, we need to share with each other before we sign off.


Melanie Headley (02:45):
And I hope I remember correctly, but I’m pretty sure. It was Lenora that had said, if you haven’t tuned into the High Performance Educator podcast with Sam Demma, put it on your to-do list. She also said Mark England’s was uploaded today. So that was, that was really, really neat and the second that I logged off, stayed up a little later than I probably should have that night, but it was cause I was, I was listening to the lovely and kind gentle soul of Mark England. So that was really sweet because you know, not having had the opportunity to attend CSLC this year, it’s just so, so important that we we have these opportunities and whether it’s through your podcast or through a virtual meet the maestros you know, that we can still connect in those ways.


Sam Demma (03:44):
And now you’re a guest on the show. So why don’t you start by sharing a little bit about who you are and how you got into the work you’re doing with young people today?


Melanie Headley (03:53):
Sure. so again, my name is Melanie Headley and I teach at Bluefield high school Bluefield high, a school is located in the community of Hampshire. But it is about 10 minutes west of Charlottetown. So if you’re familiar with the capital of PEI Bluefield is a school just outside of Charlottetown. And I actually grew up in am Nova Scotia. So I’m not, I’m a CSA, I’m a come from away as it’s called. But the island is my home now. But I grew up in am Nova Scotia and I did my first degree at Mount Allison university. And when I went to Mount a, I was going because my end goal at that time was to be a lawyer. So my path was to go to law school and I took clinical science history and English. And in my third year I started the process of applying to law school.


Melanie Headley (04:57):
Hmm. And that included reference. So I needed two professors to write references and both agreed nice. And however, there’s a little bit of a twist. The day after I had actually crossed paths with one of the two professors that had agreed to, to support me. And when we crossed paths, he said, I need to speak to you for a second. And of course I was like, no, what, what does he wanna tell me? He doesn’t wanna write this, this reference letter. And he says to me, and, and I could honestly, I can still hear his voice in my head. And he says, Melanie, while I think that you would make a good lawyer, I think that you would make a great teacher. Hmm.


Melanie Headley (05:47):
So after I graduated from Mount a, I did not go to law school. I moved to Halifax where I worked for the year. But even more so than working, I volunteered at a junior high school. And it was through that volunteer work that I made the decision to apply to the education program at U P I. So the following September I started the program and later that my, we found out where our teaching practicums would be. And when I was told Bluefield high school, I had no idea where it was located, how I was gonna get there. So lo and behold, I did my practicum at Bluefield with two fabulous list educators who to this day have become great friends of mine. So Jennifer Gill and Brett wood both took me under their wing. And I completed my first teaching practicum with the two of them. I went on to do two more practicums, cuz at that time, U P E I, the education program was two years. And then in my second year, right before, about a week before convocation I would, I was now certified and so I was very, very keen to start substituting. So I came out to Bluefield to let them know that I would be available and the vice principal here at the time she says to me, can you start tomorrow?


Melanie Headley (07:27):
And that was in may of 2002. Mm. And I have been here ever since. Wow. And my current teaching assignment includes grade 10 English and grade 11 law.


Sam Demma (07:41):
Nice.


Melanie Headley (07:44):
Best of both worlds is right. It’s pretty great. So that’s a little bit of my my back story in terms of how we came to be an is or live on PEI anyway. And and teaching at Bluefield high school.


Sam Demma (07:58):
And at what point did you get involved in student leadership? You know, you attended the Mero session with Dave Conlan, you’re involved with the CSLA, where did all that passion and desire and decision come from?


Melanie Headley (08:11):
So even before becoming a teacher when I was in high school I was involved with student and council. Nice. And when I started teaching you know, initially my priority was the classroom. It really, really was to ensure that I delivered the curriculum well and that it was meaningful and that I, I knew my subject area. And as, as soon as I really had a grasp on that then I started to venture outside the classroom and to see where I could where I could commit outside the classroom. Right. So my, my first real commitment was actually with our, our prom, our graduation dance. Oh, cool. So myself and a few other teachers we were the teacher advisors for the grad dance for a number of years. And actually in 2015 our students, parents took over the grad dance, but that was my first, that was really my first commitment outside the classroom.


Melanie Headley (09:21):
In addition to that and this I hope to connect this to student leadership mm-hmm but prior to my involvement with our student council is myself and a few other teacher, Jennifer Gill, who I had mentioned earlier as being one of my my practicum teachers. We started what was called the rap team. Hmm. And rap stands for respect accept and protect, and the crew of us along with a group of students, we develop a program and a presentations or assembly, so to speak mm-hmm that addressed anti-bullying and character development. I love it. I love it. So we did that for a number of years. We did it within our own school, but then when other island schools started to find out what we, they wanted us to come to their schools and to present. I see.


Melanie Headley (10:21):
So kind of that character development you know, servant, servant leadership was definitely a big part of that initiative. And then about 10 years ago, the student council advisors at that time who are absolutely fantastic people and have been incredible mentors to me one of whom was presented with this year CS, a leader of distinction award for PEI. Oh, wow. Wow. His name’s Paul MCCA and yes, students call students, call him P Mac. So he had run our student council for a number of years. But then when he stepped down, he still, he, you know, I took it over. He still helped me and continues to help me to this, this day. And he’s an incredible mentor. You know, any ideas that we have, he’s always available, you know, to listen and, and run things by. And he’s been great, but 10 years ago he was ready for a break.


Melanie Headley (11:27):
So I took that on, but then I was really, really, really quick to realize I can’t do this on my own, you know, student council. It’s, it’s even like, not just even a September to June commitment, it’s really, it can be full it’s full time. Yeah. Year round. But I love it. Yeah. So Lynn cl she came on board to support me and the two of us do it together. And without her we wouldn’t be able to do, to do the things that we do. Hmm. I dunno. Did that answer the question?


Sam Demma (12:04):
Yeah. I asked how you got involved and told me that you started off by putting basketballs in between young women and men, so they don’t get too close us while they dance right. That’s awesome. I love that story and I’m sure the work that you’re doing in the school right now, it’s a little different than it was years ago, or even one year ago. Can you shed some light on what, you know, challenges you currently face with, and maybe some challenges your school or certain classrooms have been able to over, and maybe there’s some unique ideas you can share.


Melanie Headley (12:36):
So, first of all, to answer that question is living on PEI. We are very, very, very fortunate. So we’ve, we’ve only had, I shouldn’t say only, but we’ve had 66 cases of COVID 19. Oh, wow. So prince Edward island is probably not only the best place to live in our country, but probably probably in the world worldly . Yeah. So we are in school full time. Okay. And after March break last year, so March 13th, Friday, the we were, it was pretty soon to find out that we wouldn’t be returning. Yeah. And then I guess it was around may early may that we found out that we wouldn’t be returning for the rest of the year. But then in August we found out that we would be coming back to school full time. So we are in, in classes full time.


Melanie Headley (13:37):
But with, with, with that said, there’s still guidelines in place, right. So there’s no large gatherings at lunchtime. So anything that student council did in the past where, you know, large groups of students could come together was in our cafeteria or outside or in the gymnasium, those things are not, are not happening. But we’re making it work. Hmm. Yep. We’re definitely making it work. Our student council has been absolutely fantastic in the way that they embrace the op opportunity to do things differently. They’ve been really creative and the, the feedback, the feedback has been terrific as well.


Sam Demma (14:24):
That’s awesome. And you know, what are those things specifically that are working? How have some of the things shifted you, does any examples or ideas come to mind that wow. You and make you say, wow, great job. That’s really cool.


Melanie Headley (14:38):
So right outta the gate our frost week, so we have an annual week where Monday to Friday, it’s usually the first full week that we’re back at school. Every single day at lunch, there would be activities in the past, there’d be activities to welcome our grade 10 students. So what we’ve done this year to abide by the guidelines is that other than having the activities at lunchtime, our homeroom teachers have graciously allowed student council to command to their classes about 15 minutes before classes over. Mm. And they’re, they’re running those activities during home room. And so when I see the feedback has been really great, what teachers are coming to me and saying is that the, the bonds that are being formed in their home room are like never before, because in the past, when they would leave their morning class to go, you know, participate in the, the lunchtime activity, maybe they wouldn’t even go to participate.


Melanie Headley (15:57):
Right. And if they did, they were going with the people that they already know, right. They’re going with their friends this way in the homeroom. Everybody’s participating for the most part and the homeroom teach and the student council a person that’s assigned to that specific room. They’re just forming these bonds that they wouldn’t form otherwise. Yeah, that’s awesome. So what we did is on the Monday of frost week, we had what was called movie Monday. Nice. So every grade 10 in homeroom when the student council representative would come into the homeroom, and again, it was like the last 10 or 15 minutes of class and our student council has a Google classroom. So all of the events are that students just have to access it through Google classroom. Cool. And there was 10 different movie images. Hmm. So the student council member would lead the activity, but then the class as a collective would just have to decide on the title of that movie.


Melanie Headley (17:05):
Cool. And then, so we have 12 different grade 10 home rooms, and so student council would get together at lunchtime at add up, you know, their scores. And then we go over the announcements to say, for example, miss MC Nevins, homeroom had 10 outta 10, or, you know, Mr. Craig’s homeroom had nine outta 10. And that sort of thing then on the Tuesday was trivia. So trivia Tuesday, we like our alliteration. Nice. So movie Mon movie, Monday trivia Tuesday, Wednesday was Wes wisdom Wednesday. Mm. Where a quote or a song lyric or a saying would be posted. And again, the students would have to decide who said that piece of wisdom? Thursday, we didn’t name that tune. Nice. And then on Friday what we were able to do is in the Friday, we wanted to do something really fun and memorable to kind of wrap up the week, but we would call two homeroom outside at a time. And we had pylons in the shape of a 23. Cause our grade tens will be the class of 20, 23. Yeah. So we, so we had the students they would stand beside a pylon and then another teacher who’s also a photographer. He had agreed to take class photos with his drone. Nice.

Melanie Headley (18:34):
So we might have 240 grade tens, but we weren’t able to bring those 240 together to do that. Yeah. But what we were able to do the alternative was to bring out two class at a time. So one class would be the two, the other class would be the three and then we’ll get their picture taken.


Sam Demma (18:52):
I think the important things that you made them feel appreciated and welcomed, and Maya angel always says it, you know, they don’t remember what you did, but they remember how you made them feel. And I’m sure you made them feel really special. And I’m curious to know, as a teacher during this time, how do we ensure your students feel appreciate and, and feel heard and cared for during this time? Should we be taking extra care of touching them on the shoulder and saying, not physically, but of saying, Hey, is everything okay? Or, you know, what’s working right now for you in your class? Well,


Melanie Headley (19:24):
Just in the example that I gave with fr week. Yeah. I think that, you know, some of our, our new as Bobcats were the Bobcats Bluefield Bobcats. Nice. So when they came into grade 10, you know, they had, perhaps they had siblings who had gone through Bluefield or, or still here for that matter, but they had experienced fresh week, you know, like it had under how it unfolded in the past and you, some of them didn’t know what it was gonna look like for them, or even if it was gonna happen at all. Mm. So I think that they were very grateful for the fact that we were able to make it happen. Yeah. So and then continuing to do these things and, you know, just setting up opportunities to, you know, say rather than saying we can’t do that finding alternative ways. So for example we just finished at the end of October, our annual October Fest.


Melanie Headley (20:28):
Mm. So we have a courtyard, a beautiful courtyard that of in the center of our school and each year during Octoberfest we decorate kind of this photo opportunity. Nice. And we had kind of toyed with perhaps not doing that because would it encourage large groups? Our students still wanna get it well, they wanna get their picture taken with a mask on mm-hmm well, they still wanna get their picture taken if they have to be six feet apart from their, from their friend. So we still did it, but instead of doing it for the five days of October Fest, we did it for two. Nice. So I think that they were still grateful that, that we did it rather than not at all. And then another thing that we had to do differently, but again, we were happy. And the results were good was normally during October Fest, we serve hot chocolate, nice in our courtyards.


Melanie Headley (21:26):
And we call it B by L one, bring your own mug. the students need to, they bring their own mug in as long as they do their served hot chocolate. Nice. So this year due to the guidelines we weren’t allowed to do that. So instead we discussed as a council what we could do as an, and knowing that the alternative had to be a prepackaged item of some sort, that’s where our focus went and actually a current member of a council. And he’s in grade 10. His family part of their business includes these very, very well known on PEI anyway, these cinnamon bun. Ah, and anyway, they’re delicious and they’re amazing. And so I said to him, do you think we could do those anyway? So we, we sold a hun, but 110 pre, then they were all prepackaged nice have these amazing cinnamon bonds. And they sold out in about 10 minutes. right. So it wasn’t a hot chocolate, but this was still, still fantastic and memorable.


Sam Demma (22:41):
Yeah. It’s that, it’s that mentality of, we’re not gonna cancel it this year. We’re gonna figure it out. Right. It might be something different, but let’s, let’s still an effort and not just say, okay, it’s canceled and we’ll just wait till next year. It’s like, no, right. We can’t do this, but what can we do? And I think you did a great job and the school has done a great job of, of taking that question and asking themselves and yourself that very often and coming up with new solutions. You know, if, if someone’s listening and is loving these ideas and maybe wants to connect with you and dive a little deeper and ask some questions and connect what would be the best way for them to do so?


Melanie Headley (23:18):
My email is meheadley@edu.pe.ca. So that is my email. Perfect. I’m also on Twitter and Instagram. Nice. So, yeah.


Sam Demma (23:38):
Okay, awesome. And if you could travel back in time to wrap up this episode and give your younger self advice in education, what pieces of advice, knowing what, you know now, would you give your younger self?


Melanie Headley (23:50):
Hands down? Not to take myself so seriously. Yeah, honestly that is really, really, but at the same time when I say that looking back like and I, I hope that I teach this to young people as well. And I currently have a student teacher from U P E I nice. But that’s part of growing up. Right. You kind of have to grow through that. And, but I am, I would definitely try not to take, take myself so seriously and yeah, that’s awesome.


Sam Demma (24:20):
Awesome, Melanie, thank you so much for coming on the show. So many actionable ideas. I really, really appreciate it. I appreciate the energy and the, the openness to share, and I hope someone listening does reach out to you and start a conversation.


Melanie Headley (24:34):
Thank you. And thank you for the great work that you’re doing


Sam Demma (24:37):
And there you have it. Another amazing guest, an amazing interview on the High Performing Educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review so other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show. If you wanna meet the guest on today’s episode, if you wanna meet any of the guests that we have interviewed, consider going to www.highperformingeducator.com and signing up to join the exclusive network. You’ll have access to networking events throughout 2021 and other special opportunities. And I promise, I will not fill your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Melanie Headley

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

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

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

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

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

Mike describes it as running a tech start-up. 

Connect with Mike: Email | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

UGDSB Elementary Remote School Website

How company culture determines success (Culture eats Strategy)

Bachelor of Education at University of Windsor

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):
Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s guest is a good friend of mine. His name is Mike Anderson. He is the principal of the Upper Grand District School Board Elementary Remote School. The abbreviation for that is ERS, there school is known as the grand river otters, otters being their mascot.


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


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


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


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


Mike Anderson (05:13):
And you


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Mike Anderson

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

Ryan Keliher BA, BEd, MBA, – Teacher, Author, Coach and Teenage Motivator

Ryan Keliher BA, BEd, MBA, - Teacher, Author, Coach and Teenage Motivator
About Ryan Keliher

Ryan Keliher (@superstarcurric) BA, BEd, MBA, is a high school educator who has spent the past eleven years teaching, coaching and motivating teenagers. He is a former valedictorian, university basketball captain, and Academic All-Canadian who is passionate about student leadership and personal development.

Keliher resides in Prince Edward Island, Canada with his wife Siobhan and their baby boy, Rafael.

Connect with Ryan: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Charlottetown Rural High School

Ryan’s Personal Website

The Superstar Curriculum

The Hate you Give

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):
Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker Sam Demma. Today’s guest was actually someone who was introduced to me by a former guest, Melanie Hedley, a teacher from Bluefield High School introduced me over email to this gentleman named Ryan. And I’m so glad she did because the conversation we had was phenomenal and I can’t wait to share it with you.


Sam Demma (00:59):
Ryan Keliher has his BA his BEd , his MBA, and is a high school educator who has spent the past 11 years teaching coaching and motivating teenagers. He is a former valedictorian university basketball captain and an academic, all Canadian, who is passionate about student leadership and personal development. Ryan resides in Prince Edward Island, Canada with his wife Siobhan and their baby Raphael. He is also an author, an author of a book called the superstar curriculum. It’s a phenomenal book. He’s sold over 2000 copies and today we talk about so many different topics, things that come directly out of his book, but also his own philosophies on student leadership and how to navigate these difficult times. I hope you enjoy this conversation. I will see you on the other side. Ryan, thank you so much for coming on the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show this morning. Can you start by sharing a little bit about yourself and why you got into the work that you do in education today?


Ryan Keliher (02:01):
Sure. First of all, I just wanna thanks. Thank you a lot for having me on today. I’m really looking forward to being on the pod and just a little bit about me. So my name is Ryan Keliher and I am a high school teacher and I’m 14 years into my career and I teach out of Charlton Rural High School in tiny Prince Edward Island. Nice. Why I kind of got into education? I was really fortunate to have had some awesome teachers when I was going through school and they made me really like being in school and they had a really positive impact on me. And as I grew up, I kind of just felt like I’d like to that kind of do what they do. I really, I really admired them. I really thought what they did was meaningful and from a fairly early age, like in high school, kind of, it was my, it was my goal to become a high school teacher. So I really didn’t even pursue a ton of other options after I kind of got hooked in by these engaging teachers. I kind of said, yeah, you know what? I think I wanna do that too.


Sam Demma (03:07):
Ah, that’s awesome. What did they do? Like what did those teachers do for you that left such an impression on you and pushed you to pursue this path?


Ryan Keliher (03:17):
I think what, when I think of kind of the two or three teachers that stand out the most you know, they, they were really knowledgeable in their subjects, but more almost Mo I would say more importantly, they really made me and my fellow classmates feel valued and welcome in class. And when you added that combination in where students felt like they were valued in the classroom, plus they were gonna get material that, you know, from teachers who were knowledgeable in, in their content areas, it really drew me into the classroom. And, and it was a place that I liked to be at a place I liked. I liked to come every day to learn.


Sam Demma (04:00):
Wow. That makes sense. And, and I think right now that’s a challenge that all educators are, are faced with. It’s tough to do it virtually. Now, maybe in PEI, you guys might be still working in the classrooms, but what are some of the current two things, challenges and opportunities during this time, because I think both are present and I would love to some insight on, on both sides of the coin.


Ryan Keliher (04:22):
Yeah. Well, PEI has, we’ve been very fortunate to kind of, of to keep COVID 19 the spread of it at bay here on the island. So we’ve been quite fortunate. But that, that being said the last two weeks actually my high school has moved to online learning leading up to leading up to the career break. So, you know, it has presented its challenges, but like you said, with, with those challenges come opportunities. I think with education, the biggest challenge, whether it’s virtual learning or in person learning is developing that connection and maintaining that connection with students. And then kind of like what I alluded to the, you know, the teachers that I admired most growing up, they made that connection first and then that made learning a lot easier. It made engagement a lot easier. It made buy a lot easier.


Ryan Keliher (05:10):
So I think that gets more difficult when you, when you move to the remote learning model. So it’s about keeping that at the front of mind as an educator, but how can I still maintain these connections with my students when I’m not seeing them day to day? So for me, it was, you know, little checking emails here and there creating some engaging videos to kind of start class you know, whether they were funny or fun or, or just a little different. And then, and then, you know, using that as kind of the springboard to the content of each lesson, but showing that you care and showing that, that, that you value their time you know, whether it’s in person or online, I think is the most challenging, but it, it kind of, I important opportunity in education and when it comes to opportunity, I’m a big believer that, you know, I think it’s Napoleon hill who says, you know, your biggest opportunity is where you are right now.


Ryan Keliher (06:07):
So, you know, as, as educators or as students, right, it’s important that we think about what we can do in the moment to kind of have actions that create positive reactions for our students. So whether, like I said, it’s a welcome video that puts a smile on somebody’s face, or whether it’s a really well laid out plan that is going to be challenging for students, but you’ve thought about what supports you can put in place. And at the end of it, they’re looking back and saying, you know, that was really tough, but I felt I was able to do it with, with supports in place. I feel like I’ve grown from it, you know, it’s, it’s how, how can those actions create those positive reactions?


Sam Demma (06:49):
And right now, maybe not yet in PI, but sports have been canceled as well postponed, or, you know, they practiced virtually through zoom all in their basements. You, I know you growing up were a big athlete. I played soccer, you played basketball, saw the Steve Nash picture on your page. I loved it. You dedicated the first part of your book to building character, and I would assume that sports helped you build your charact to a huge degree. Mm-Hmm how did sports have an impact on you and how are we, how can we continue to build young people’s character through this time?


Ryan Keliher (07:27):
Okay. Yeah. So with, with sports, I mean, sports played a huge part in my life. And as far as character development, like it, it played a really important role. And with, with my book, you’re right, the first quarter of the book is dedicated towards character development and then it progresses into have in my development and some opportunities for leadership. But as far as character development goes, I, I often share kind of my leadership story with, with my students. So I was a kid I grew up and I was playing hockey and, you know, I was pretty good hockey player, but I definitely wasn’t the best player on the ice. And, but it seemed every year I would get the opportunity to be the captain or the assistant captain on my hockey team. And I, and it just kind of became the norm. And I never really understood why I just kind of was that per, who would become the captain or the assistant captain.


Ryan Keliher (08:21):
And then I went to junior high and I started to play basketball and the same thing would happen. I’d be thrown in the captain role of the team. And then I went to high school and the same thing would continue. And then in high school, I was named the valedictorian of my high school class. And again, I would always kind of wonder in the back of my mind, I’m like, why am I always thrown in this role? Because, you know, I don’t feel like I do anything exceptionally special as a, as a leader, but people always seem to put me in this role for some reason. And it, and it never really, even, it never really clicked until I went to university and I played university basketball. And so I was 17 leaving high school, going to my first year university. And by Christmas time I was named the captain of my university basketball team.


Ryan Keliher (09:14):
And we had players who were 25, 24, 23 years old on it. And I’m thinking, how, how come I am the captain of my team? And it finally, that’s kind of when the light bulb went off and all it was was that my personal bar, as far as character went over time, whether it was through instilling values fr from my parents was high. And I, I cared a lot about being a good teammate. I’m a big believer that, you know, the only thing better you can have than good teammates is being a good teammate. Hmm. Think better. You can have than good friends is being a good friend. I think that really helped me pursue a opportunities in life. It opened up a ton of doors and it allowed me to lead by example a lot. And like I said, there was nothing ever special about it, but I was always willing to do my best. I was always willing to set the bar high and is always willing to cheer and help others along and over time. I guess people notice. So, you know, when you’re thrown into these opportunities through sports, it there’s the skill development, but there’s the character development that occurs that is equally important. And as you grow older and you may divert away from sports that character develop, it becomes even more important than maybe the skill development, you know, ever, ever was.


Sam Demma (10:41):
And without sports present at certain times, especially right now, how can we ensure that we’re still helping young people build their character? Is it by giving them unique opportunities or pushing their boundaries? Yeah. I’m curious. What, what do you think?


Ryan Keliher (10:56):
Yeah, I, I think it’s about giving them opportunities for growth. Like for me, school, you know, is always about growth, more than grades. And sometimes students don’t see it that way. And, and, and sometimes educators don’t see it that way. Cuz we do have that responsibility to kind of assess curricular content. But when I think of my 14 years and the most important conversations I’ve ever had with students, very few of them were curricular content related. And the most important ones that stick out were always character related or, or opportunity related or, you know, goal related and the more teachers, you know, and, and, and educators think of their students in front of them. As, as people who are gonna go and do great things in a variety of fields I think you, you can be a little bit more per perceptive about developing that character education in the classroom while still, you know, making sure the content of your course is, is, is covered and, and covered to a high degree. You know, I’m not trying to discount the importance of curricular content, but it’s, it’s everyday success principles, you know, are not explicitly taught in class, but the opportunities develop to develop the, those principles are abundance. So teachers have to be aware of that and you know, are able to kind of pull those threads when the opportunities present themselves for students.


Sam Demma (12:20):
I love that. And I’m curious now, too, as well, you mentioned Napoleon hill, you have your own book, the superstar curriculum. What prompted you to write that? Was there a moment in education where you thought this is needed for, for young people? It was in a personal challenge. You set for yourself, where did that come from?


Ryan Keliher (12:38):
It, it happened when I was finishing my masters of business. My so when I finished my MBA, I was kind of in writing mode cause I just finished my thesis and I was doing a lot of journaling at the time. And I noticed a lot of my journaling had to do with these important convers that I’ve had with students over the pro the over the last decade. And a theme kind of started to emerge on how a lot of these conversations had to do with character. And they had to do with leaders, personal leadership, and they had to do with seizing opportunities and they had to do with developing strong habits of mind and thought, you know what? I’m a big non-fiction reader. And in my opinion, there, there weren’t a ton of non-fiction self-awareness books out there for, for young adults.


Ryan Keliher (13:27):
So I thought, well, maybe I’ll go and create one. And so I, so I did create the superstar curriculum and the idea behind superstar is that what, what I’ve come to learn over the years is that, you know, the biggest superstars in our lives, although, you know, we often think of the major celebrities or sports stars or movie stars. But when we think about the biggest superstars in our own lives, they’re the people who are much closer are to us, they’re our parents or our coaches or our teachers or our friends. And the, the reality is, is, is if, if that’s the case, then if you put yourself in someone else’s shoes, you might be the superstar in somebody else’s life. Hmm. So it’s just about the profound power we have to, I packed others on a daily basis and it happens at, at the ground level. And it does expand out to, to, you know, the stars that we’re talking about from Hollywood to sports. They’re tremendous inspirations, but the reality is the, the day to day inspirations that we have are all around us, including all right, ourselves.


Sam Demma (14:36):
Oh, love that. And where can people find that resource if they want to check it out? I think you offer an online version for free and then like a paperback version and a discount right now, where can they find all that information?


Ryan Keliher (14:47):
Yeah. If they wanna check out ryankeliher.com it has kind of all the information there, the book’s available on Amazon, but if, you know, if a school or, or an educator was looking to a bulk order, I would recommend contacting me cuz I can probably get you a better rate than what, what Amazon could provide. So yeah, so ryankeliher.com and you could check me out there or on Instagram @superstarcurriculum.


Sam Demma (15:13):
Cool. And if you could go back in time and speak to younger Ryan, when he just started teaching, what pieces of advice, knowing what you know now would you have given yourself?


Ryan Keliher (15:26):
I think for me, I, what I always try and keep in mind is, so my grandma, there was a teacher and I remember vividly that a conversation we had. So she was 87 at the time. And she said, you know, Ryan, now that you’re a teacher and your job is to teach. It’s really important that you also remember that your prime married job is to learn. Hmm. And that always stuck with me. And I think moving forward for, for anybody who’s going into education is to keep that kind of front of mind because COVID changed everything, new practices are going to change everything technology’s going to change everything. So the, the way kids interact is constantly changing. So educators have to be willing to learn and adapt year over year, whether they’re, you know, you’re just adding little tweaks to your practice or there’s something fundamental that has to, you know, involve you making a major shift in your practice, the importance of teachers having that willingness to learn is paramount.


Sam Demma (16:37):
I love that. And one bonus question, just for fun. What, what books are you reading right now? Is there anything that’s been interesting you or you’ve been cracking open?


Ryan Keliher (16:48):
Yeah, actually I just I’m into the hate you give right now. And I I’ve, I’ve just kind of started it, but it’s been tremendous thus far and I’m looking forward to reading it. I don’t read a ton of fiction. So it’s, it’s a good opportunity over the holidays to kind of break into that. And I’m, I’m more of a non-fiction reader for sure.


Sam Demma (17:08):
Awesome. Ryan, thank you so much for taking some time to come out on the show. I really appreciate it and, and have an amazing holiday season with family and friends. And I look forward to keep continuing to follow your journey.


Ryan Keliher (17:20):
Great. It was great talking to you. It was nice to meet you and I’ll be following your journey as well. Happy holidays.


Sam Demma (17:26):
And there you have it. Another amazing guest, an amazing interview on the high performing educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review so other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show. If you wanna meet the guest on today’s episode, if you wanna meet any of the guests that we have interviewed, consider going to www.highperformingeducator.com and signing up to join the exclusive network. You’ll have access to networking events throughout 2021 and other special opportunities. And I promise I will not fill your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Ryan Keliher

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.

Becky Stewart – Music Director at Yuba Gardens Intermediate School

Becky Stewart - Music Director at Yuba Gardens Intermediate School
About Becky Stewart

Becky Stewart (@ygtreble) is starting her sixth year as director of music at Yuba Gardens Intermediate School in Olivehurst, California. She graduated with honours from California State University, Sacramento with bachelor’s degrees in Flute Performance, studying with Laurel Zucker, and Music Education.

Becky is a recipient of the 2015 CTA Outstanding First Year Teacher Award, the 2019 Outstanding New Educator award for her district and the 2020 winner of the California Music Educator Association’s Middle School Music Specialist Award. Becky has presented at both California Activity Directors Association and CASMEC state conferences as well as regional student and adult CADA conferences on how to create a positive culture for music at schools.

In 2021, Becky has also had the privilege of being selected to be on the K-8 Music Curriculum Review Team for the Department of Education for the State of California and is on the music faculty for Sugarloaf Fine Arts Camp and Cazadero Performing Arts Camp.

This year, Becky will also be taking on an advocacy role on the Capitol Section Board of the California Music Educator’s Association. Becky is also starting her third year as a mentor through the Tri-County Induction Program for beginning music teachers. In her spare time, Becky enjoys Spartan Racing and cruising around in her 1965 Mustang.

Connect with Dave: Email | TikTok | Instagram | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

The Caring Teacher Award (CTA)

California Music Educator Association (CMEA)

Cazadero Performing Arts Camp

Spartan Racing

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):
Welcome back to another episode of the high performing educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s guest is Becky Stewart. Becky is starting her sixth year as the director of music at Yuba garden’s intermediate school in California. She graduated with honors from California state university Sacramento with a bachelor’s degree in flute performance, studying with Laurel Zucker and music education.


Sam Demma (01:04):
Becky is a recipient of the 2015 CTA outstanding first year teacher award and 2019 outstanding new educator award for her district and the 2020 winner of the California music educator. Association’s middle school music specialist award. She has performed and spoken at dozens of state conferences and associations. And in her spare time, Becky enjoys Spartan racing and cruising around in her 1965 Mustang. I hope you enjoy this amazing high energy conversation with Becky Stewart, and I will see you on the other side.


Sam Demma (01:44):
Becky, welcome to the high performing educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you virtually all the way from the states, on the podcast here today. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit about, you know, what you do with the educator audience?


Becky Stewart (02:00):
Awesome. So hi, I’m Becky’s Stewart. I am honored to be the music director at Yuba gardens intermediate school in Northern California. And I teach seventh and eighth graders music all the way from beginning band to wind ensemble and choir too.


Sam Demma (02:17):
That’s amazing. And what got you into the arts and music?


Becky Stewart (02:23):
I, my, my story with getting involved involved in band is kind of lame, but I always, my parents, you know, would put on different different shows and, you know, there’s like the public access television, you see different concerts being put on and I saw a flute on stage and it was really shiny and I knew I wanted to play because it was shiny. So, so that’s, and I got, I, my parents were nice enough to buy me a used flute for my next birthday. That’s awesome. So I got, hrivate lessons, hor my 10th birthday, ho get ready for band in middle school. So starting in sixth grade and, h got to be in band in sixth grade, which was a total blast and I went to a private Catholic school growing up and, heah, and that year the band director retired.


Becky Stewart (03:14):
So I only got one year with him. And then after that went through a couple different of, of band directors, but I, I loved band. I loved playing my flute. And then when I got to high school, I ended up switching to a different high school, my, my sophomore year because my middle school ended up closing due to low enrollment. My high school ended up closing due to low enrollment. So I ended up going to a public school in beginning of my junior year. So it closed sophomore year. And then I was able to experience marching band and show choir and jazz band and all these super fun things, got to have the opportunity to play saxophone and some ensembles, and really just had a great time and then decided to major in it in college.


Sam Demma (03:53):
That is so cool. And then when you were growing up, did you think you were gonna play in like an orchestra? Did you end up playing in any groups or did you know while you were going through it that one day you would use that to springboard you back into education?


Becky Stewart (04:08):
Oh yeah, not at all. I knew I enjoyed it a lot. I actually wanted to like switch to electric base my eighth grade year. I don’t no idea why. I think like some other girl was playing it and I was like, that is so cool. And my mom’s like, I bought you this thing, like no way. So I was glad you did that. But I, I just had such a blast with all of my friends in high school. I, my goal when I, cause I originally wanted to be a Marine biologist and that really interested me oceanography really interested me until I got to honors chemistry and my junior year of high school. And I went, oh no, this, this math and science is super, super, super hard. And I was like, I was not having a good time. Yeah. And the one class that I kept coming back to that I kept wanting to the subject that I was excelling at and really found myself wanting to work hard in that class wa was band was instrument. So I like broke the news to my parents saying, Hey, I wanna, you know, major in music in college and mixed reviews. Lots of concerns happen there.


Sam Demma (05:11):
Tell me more about that for a second because I don’t think only students, but also educators sometimes make difficult decisions and following your passion is one of the


Becky Stewart (05:22):
Oh definitely. Definitely. I it was definitely tough because you know, the whole family is like, oh, maybe you should have a plan B you know, and cause nobody else in my, and my family plays music. So it was kind of hard to hard to forge that path. But I knew that I wanted to do it. I knew that it was right thing for me. So I, I kept on going and,uit’s kind of hard, like when your parents don’t fully support you at the beginning, but you know, later on they’re like, oh, I’m glad you did that. You’re like, yeah, I know


Sam Demma (05:52):
And you all along


Becky Stewart (05:54):
So it was, it was definitely tough. And I came from a household where neither of my parents had graduated college. So they, I think they were just happy that I was going to college at, you know, they came to that realization. But yeah, it was definitely, definitely not easy. But when you know that like you were made to do something that this is your passion, then you have to follow it. But at the beginning I was a performance major for the first years of college. Like the, the dream goal for me was to play in a studio orchestra and a studio band to be hired, to play for movies and to do soundtracks. And,uthe farther I got in my college career, I, I was playing in all kinds of ensembles, all kinds of bands and having the best time, our major in the marching band and,uhad some conducting experience.


Becky Stewart (06:40):
And I ended up with a couple of injuries , which I think is go, is just like your story. I think, from what I saw and I, cause being a performance major requires so much practice time. And,uwhile like my mind was willing and able my body really wasn’t and I didn’t want to, you know, facing like, you know, perspective surgeries in the future and all these. And I was like, Ugh, I don’t think I wanna deal with that. Like so early in life. Yeah. Uso I was, you know, approached by some of my mentors, my junior year of college. And I mean, not, not because the injuries or whatever, but, you know,uI was like, I, I was going for, I was like, I’ll still do it. I’ll still do it. And then they were like, you know, we really think you should look into education. And I was like, oh, okay. You know, I, that, as a, as a second major, there aren’t very many, like many more units to take on top of music performance to get into music education. So I was like, okay, you know, graduate with two degrees. That sounds great. But it ended up being a really, really great move for me. And I wanna have changed it for the world.


Sam Demma (07:40):
That’s so amazing. Music fascinates me because it’s like all in your head, it’s like, you, you, you envision something and then you bring it to life. And it’s, it’s something to start as just an idea. Now it’s a thing that people can relate to and enjoy hearing and listening to. And I’m just really fascinated by aspir artists. I don’t care if you paint or write or sing or make music. It’s like, it’s such an inspiring field to watch someone pursue. And I’m sure you get so inspired by seeing kids passionate about it as well. Like what is, what is, tell me more about the experience of being in the classroom teaching band to grade sevens and eights and why you wouldn’t trade it for the world.


Becky Stewart (08:20):
It’s and it’s so cool. Cuz we just had our first concert last night after two years away so it was crazy. Cause our last concert was December of 2019. So last night we, we had our first show, which was the such a cool experience. Uso the kids that performed, they all learned their instrument over distance learning, which wow. Had its own challenges. You know, I couldn’t see them. I couldn’t, I, I think the hardest part about teaching online was like, here’s your, here’s how we’re putting our mouthpiece together. Here’s how we’re putting our read on. And it’s like, cuz usually I would be able to make small adjustments for them cuz it’s so hard even when you’re still developing those fine motor skills and you cuz it has to go a very certain way for it to be successful. And I wasn’t able to do that at all.


Becky Stewart (09:06):
Yeah. And you know, and then the cameras were all off and I’m like, I don’t, I don’t know what your arm looks like, but it sounds okay. Like I can kind of like hear what you’re doing and know what adjustments you need to make. So it was like a really big test in my ear, but it was amazing last night seeing the kids cuz before that you know, you get kids like, oh I don’t, I’m not sure if band was for me and I don’t know. And I’m like, okay, you, you haven’t even had a concert yet. Like you scratched the surface of what band is like we’ve gone through these first sounds together, which is my favorite thing. I love seeing their faces light up when they’re successful at something, the whole class is clapping for them. I’m screaming their name.


Becky Stewart (09:40):
Like we’re having a good time and yeah. Then just cheering each other on and, and bonding together as an ensemble. And as a class is just the coolest thing to see. They’re truly a family unit like a month into school, like they’re, they’re already bonded. And last night we, like I said, we finally got our concert and the band kids got to really see what being in band is all about. Like they were all so nervous before the show and and then they, they thought they were gonna die. And they’re like, what if I faint? What if I fall over? You’ll be, it’ll be okay. And then they, you know, they, that common experience of like being so nervous, but really, really preparing for that moment and then performing and then everybody clapping for you at the end is so cute. The kids are high fiving each other and looking at like, we did it. So those, those moments like that are really what really, what makes it so special.


Sam Demma (10:30):
I love that. I think the journey of seeing a kid progress from a nervous and uncomfortable situation into a space of confidence and self belief is what fuels every teacher, whether you’re teaching music, whether you’re teaching math, it doesn’t matter what the subject is. It’s like that journey from not knowing to knowing is just so cool to watch. That’s so amazing to hear. And did you always, when, when you started teaching, did you always teach band to great sevens and eighth? Or did you start at a different grade or has this always been where you’ve been so far?


Becky Stewart (11:01):
It’s so funny because when I like, cuz I, I, like I said, I didn’t, I, the education field was not like in the cards for me, I thought at the beginning. And then when I got my student teaching assignment, I was like, all right, you know, everybody’s in college coming off this hot high school program, like I’m gonna go to high school, we’re gonna have three jazz bands and we’re gonna have the best marching band ever and blah, blah. And so when you get your student teaching assignment, everybody’s like crossing their fingers and toes for like the big high schools that are around and like, all right, I’m ready for it. And I got a middle school placement and I was like, are you kidding me? I was, I was like, I was mad. I was like, I was like, I want middle school.


Becky Stewart (11:39):
What the heck? This is dumb. Cause I, I did not have a good, like a great middle school experience. Like my, our band was like I said, private school, super bare bones. Like non-competitive like, yeah, one period of band a day, like it was super small. And so I was like, like, this is dumb. So, and then come to find out where, you know, it’s just, I got place, this amazing middle school program totally fell in love with the age group. I fell in love with teaching them right from the beginning. Mm. I thought that was so cool where you can teach them exactly the way that you want them to be taught. Whereas in high school, you know, you have kids coming from all over of different ability levels. And I feel like that that level of that achievement gap just grows as soon as you get to high school. But it’s great having them for those two years saying, okay, I know I started you I know why you’re having these issues and how to fix it. And then we can, you know, along our two year journey, but,uyeah, it’s always been seventh and eighth grade. I got,umy current position I interviewed for it. Ubefore I graduated from the credential program. So the credential program, I did middle school and as my student teaching and then I went right into the middle school position right after that. And it’s been awesome.


Sam Demma (12:50):
Nice. That’s awesome. And let’s go back to the time in your life where you felt as a student going out on stage and performing your first time. Not actually in the musical sense, like metaphorically, that feeling of not knowing how something’s gonna go. I think every teacher went through that experience when COVID initially hit. And it sounds like you did too with being a music teacher virtually which,


Becky Stewart (13:14):
Oh yeah. Everybody kept asking me, how are you gonna do it? I’m like, I dunno, but we’re figuring it out as we go.


Sam Demma (13:20):
So how did that experience go? And like, how did you overcome that difficult situation and continue teaching and figure it out along the way?


Becky Stewart (13:28):
Oh yeah, it was crazy because I was used to seeing, seeing, actually seeing my, of kids in front of me every, every day. Cuz that that’s how our schedule is. I get to see them for, for 43, 48 minutes every day. And uthey’re like, okay, it’s gonna be distance. Like, okay, that’s, that’s hard, but you know, we’ll, we can do it, you know, we’ll, we’ll do our best. And I’m like, okay. And then,uMondays, we are only gonna meet with one class for 30 minutes and then it’s all meetings all. Okay. So now I see them four days a week, right? Nope. Now I got two days where you see them for an hour each day and I’m like, oh my gosh. I’m like, that’s, that’s like two days regularly. That’s crazy. So if a kid missed like one day of class, I don’t see them.


Becky Stewart (14:08):
So if they miss like a Wednesday, I don’t see them until the next Monday. Mm. It was crazy. So I did a lot of like being really purposeful about what exactly we were going over that day. So we really slowed everything down. And I tried to have as many cameras on as possible where it really wasn’t very many, but we worked a lot with Flipgrid like where kids recorded their own video and then posted on a page where everybody could see each other video. And I was like, oh, that’ll be fun. And they’re like, Nope, hate this. I don’t want everybody to see it. And I was like, okay, I will make it. So it’s only me. That’s use it. That’s fine. And then, you know, that went well for a little while and giving them feedback because I didn’t wanna make them play in the zoom.


Becky Stewart (14:51):
And then I realized the parents didn’t want, didn’t sign up to have an instrument in their home. Playing like at 8:00 AM twice a week. Like like, I’ve got a meeting with this trumped blaring behind me trying to learn how to play. And I was like, I know, like I know like it’s fine. Uho dealing with that too, cause not everybody could play their instrument at 8:00 AM. Okay. Just get your mouth piece out. And uhust buzz while you’re doing the valve combinations. Umo a lot of videos with that feedback, I, hodified like my band karate system to, so the kids could have a, an end goal at the end that they could see and have like different levels to achieve. And, me incorporated a lot of fee cuz I wasn’t sure when we were coming back, like there were some spots like maybe we’ll come back in November.


Becky Stewart (15:36):
Nope. Maybe we’ll come back in December. Nope. So we really got purposeful about what exactly the kids were doing. I incorporate a lot of different softwares, like smart music to assess the kids so they could record at home, use Flipgrid a lot. We got, like I said, we got to incorporate a lot of theory that we wouldn’t normally do in the classroom. We got to incorporate a lot of music history, which I really loved. And we got to collaborate with the history department with what they were doing. Like they were working on like seventh grade history does world history. So they’re working on the medieval times and the prehistoric era while we’re learning about the music from the Renaissance and the medieval times and the prehistoric and it was, it was just really cool being able to do those cross-curricular things.


Becky Stewart (16:15):
But I’ve made our program so performance heavy, like we just got our shirts and I do tour dates on the back and the whole back of the shirt is all the concerts for the year. So it is it’s amazing full. So it was really odd coming to terms with like that’s the whole identity of our program is being so performance based and like I can have zero performances this year. So it was, it was interesting take completely taking away the performance expectation and making sure that every kid was able to like do exercise number one. Okay. You’re good. Do exercise number five without like, okay, in a month we have a concert and you gotta go. But even so my, my students become performers and it’s, it was kind of weird not having that last year, but but I think they, they all got better as the year went on. They all stuck. Most of them stuck with their instrument, which was really what we were going for. And as long as they had fun last year, it was, that was, that was the main goal. Like as long as I still like band at the end, then we’re good.


Sam Demma (17:13):
That’s awesome. And I’m sure that, you know, there are some kids that realize band’s not for me. And there’s some kids that realize this is fun. I’m gonna try it again. And there’s a certain select few that are probably like, this is my life. Like they fall in love with it. Right. Yeah. Like, and you’re one of those kids when you were in school. But tell me a story of a student who maybe in grade seven to be beginning of the year, you know, was nervous, shy. And by the time they left to school in grade eight, we’re just like totally different human being. And like, you know, sometimes educators forget their purpose of their work and it’s to, you know, put belief in kids. And then sometimes you don’t hear about the impact your work has until like 10 years down the road when the kid is like in their mid thirties and has a family or something. Oh, for sure. But uyeah. Tell me like about a student like that who..


Becky Stewart (18:01):
Oh Yeah. One of my, one of my favorite kids is in the high school band right now, I saw him perform last night. He was like in this, in this group that kind of moved along together. And my school in particular has a lot of really rough families. They have great, great, great families. But there are some, like, it’s a very high socioeconomic scale. Like it’s 95% free, reduced lunch, 95, like lots of family below the property rate. I’ve had students where at least one parent isn’t prison it’s, you know, very bleak outlook on the future. So when they come to me, music and band sometimes does not seem like a priority at all. So this one student in particular, every single day and he, he sat front, playing clarinet, sat in front every single day. He’d look me dead in the eyes and be like, I hate band I’m quitting.


Becky Stewart (18:56):
And I was like, Nope, like I believe in you please say you’re doing so well. Cause I could tell he was, he was a great player. Like, no you’re doing great. And you know, when I would compliment him, he would just kind of look and be like, yeah, whatever. And every single day I hate band I’m changing electives. I hate band I’m changing electives. And I was like, oh my God. You know, at the end you’re just like, fine. Like if this isn’t for you, like whatever. But he had his first concert and I knew this is always like the biggest moment of buyin for them is because, like I said, they have this, this joint experience together where, where they’re all nervous and they all perform and they realize everybody’s doing great. And sometimes this is the first time their parents are, have come to watch them or tell them good job or say that I’m proud of you, which is really, really cool.


Becky Stewart (19:35):
And so after this performance, we always do our little reflection and he, he was like a completely different person afterwards. And he, you know, always brought his in home cause I made him. But after that was, you know, totally by choice. And uthe end of his seventh grade year, he’s just P playing and playing and working through the book and doing so well and excelling above everybody just because he is, he’s working so hard. And then the next,uhis eighth grade year,uhe ended up getting into honor band, which was amazing. So we went to the section honor band and he did fantastic on clarinet and he’s playing this music. That’s like high school music for, for junior high. And he’s,uright now auditioning for,uthe Western international band conference honor band as a sophomore in high school. And he’s yeah, he’s just absolutely killing it. He got the director’s award from me with the rest of his clarinet section as an eighth grader. Yeah. He was in two honor bands that year as an eighth grader, actually he was in the district honor band and yeah, so that was, that was very, very cool to see. He’s, he’s one of my, my favorite stories cuz he started off as definitely like, you know, the thorns on the rose and then, and then completely bloomed afterwards.


Sam Demma (20:41):
Sometimes those things that seem like an annoyance, like end up being a kid’s greatest strength, you know, maybe, maybe his stubbornness is what made him. So, you know, committed to playing the clarinet afterwards, you know, it’s true. True. Oh, that’s such a cool story. And if you could like transport back in time and speak to younger Becky, when you in your first year of teaching, like knowing what you know now what advice would you give younger self?


Becky Stewart (21:06):
Oh, oh gosh. I would say it’s going to be great because you are involved in it. Mm. Like to like know like no self doubt cuz like I, like, I feel like I pretty high self-confidence but like just, just not, not doubting. You’ll be like, what you’re doing is great. Keep going. What you’re doing is great. Keep going. Like it will be great because, because it’s you mm


Sam Demma (21:36):
That’s a really good piece of advice for everyone. So thanks for sharing but uhhank you so much again for coming on the show today and just sharing some of your stories. Umf someone’s listening and it’s been inspired by it or maybe teaches me music in their school and are, hnterested in hearing more about how you did it virtually, if they’re still teaching virtually or just curious to hear more about your program, what would be the best way for them to reach out or just get in touch?


Becky Stewart (22:01):
My email for sure. I’m also on Instagram. Our school has our Yuba gardens music, Instagram @Yubagardensmusic. And then I have my personal Instagram as well. I don’t know if it’s okay to say it or if it’ll be linked on the podcast. My email is rstewart@mjusd.com. So it’s my real name is Rebecca, but nobody calls me Rebecca.


Sam Demma (22:30):
Nice. Love it. Becky, thank you so much for coming on the show here today.


Becky Stewart (22:35):
Thank you for having me!


Sam Demma (22:36):
Yeah, this is awesome. Keep up the great work and we’ll talk soon. Awesome.


Becky Stewart (22:40):
Thank you so much.


Sam Demma (22:41):
And there you have it. Another amazing guest, an amazing interview on the high performing educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please is consider leaving a rating in review. So other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show. If you wanna meet the guest on today’s episode, if you wanna meet any of the guests that we have interviewed, consider going to www.highperformingeducator.com and signing up to join the exclusive network, you’ll have access to networking events throughout 2021 and other special opportunities. And I promise I will not fill your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Becky

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.

Ren Lukoni – Teacher and student leadership advisor at L.P. Miller Comprehensive High School

Ren Lukoni - Teacher and student leadership advisor at L.P. Miller Comprehensive High School
About Ren Lukoni

Ren Lukoni (@RenLukoni13) has been a teacher in Nipawin, Sk. for 24 hours – just jokes – 24 years. She is also the student leadership advisor at L.P Miller Comprehensive High school.

During that time she has written two leadership courses, two local pottery courses, and has been involved in student leadership not only in her school and community but also through provincial and national organizations. 

Hosting and attending student leadership conferences has been a highlight of her career, as has the relationships she has formed through those conferences and leadership networks. Ren is a firm believer in “being the change” and is also very aware that people usually hear her before they see her.

Connect with Ren: Email | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

L.P. Miller Comprehensive High School Website

Kahoot

Saskatchewan Student Leadership Conference

Virtual Bingo

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):
Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker Sam Demma. Today’s guest is a new friend of mine. Her name is Ren Lukoni. She has been a teacher in Nipawin, Saskatchewan for 24 years. During that time, she has written two leadership courses, two local pottery courses, and has been involved in student leadership, not only in her school and community, but also through provincial and national organizations. Hosting and attending student leadership conferences has been the highlight of her career as has the relationships she has formed through those conferences and leadership networks.


Sam Demma (01:13):
A lot of her friends are actually other guests on this podcast. Ren is a firm believer in being the change and is also very aware that people usually hear her before they see her. This is a very powerful conversation and I hope you enjoy it. Ren has so much passion and advice and insight to share. Make sure you have a pen and a sheet of paper ready for this interview. I hope you enjoy it. I will see you on the other side. Ren, thank you so much for coming on of the High Performing Educator podcast. It is a huge honor and pleasure to have you on the show. Why don’t you start by sharing with the listener, why you got into education and why you do the work that you’re doing today?


Ren Lukoni (01:55):
All right. Well, thank you so much, Sam, for having me on, I I’m really honored to be in the esteemed ranks as Mark England, as I saw before, and some of the others that that you’ve had on your podcast. I think what you’re doing is great. Basically my parents, both of them are educators. So it just kind of came in the, the bloodlines and I never really thought of doing anything else. Well, I did think of being a veterinarian until I realized you don’t get to play with animals all day long so that got me into education. My parents are both educator and like I said, I’ve been doing it now 24 years.


Sam Demma (02:28):
Wow. And despite the fact that your parents were educators, I know you still had to make the personal decision that you wanted to get in teaching. At what moment in time did you know I’m gonna be a teacher and dive down that path?


Ren Lukoni (02:43):
I think it just, I, I always, I guess what solidified it for me was my internship. Okay. I’m just being with the students, you know, being hands on you know, you get your four years of education you know, through lecturing, but it’s the hands on being in the classroom, that energy, that vibe that’s what solidified it for me. And I knew that that was, that was my jam.


Sam Demma (03:03):
Awesome. And you’ve been doing it now for 24 years. I would call you a veteran things, things have definitely shifted changed. You’ve had different challenges over the years. What keeps you going though? Why this work even it’s tough and challenging. Why is this the work that you think is so important to keep doing?


Ren Lukoni (03:23):
Because it’s rewarding to work with students. It’s, it’s, it’s a reward. It’s a, you, you learn from them every day. They’re inspiring. You know, lots of these students come from backgrounds and, and things that, that we have no idea what they’re, what they’re going through. And so just to, to be, be part of their day and try to brighten their day and, and make it be a you know, make school, be a place that they want to be, that they want to learn that they wanna be part of. And that’s been really tough in COVID because everyone’s been so, you know, separated and so kind of isolated. Right. Literally. So you know, that that’s, that’s been tough, but being back in has been so good on so many levels.


Sam Demma (04:06):
No, that’s awesome. And mm-hmm, speaking of, you know, seeing students change and transform and being able to impact them no matter what part of the journey they’re on right now, over the past 24 years, I’m sure you’ve had lots of students reach out. Or you’ve seen students, who’ve had huge transformations and they thank you, or they write you notes. And I’ve been talking to mark and other teachers, and they tell me that some of them have a rainy days file where they basically pull out notes that people have read them, or students wrote them, sorry to brighten their spirits. And I’m curious to know if any of those stories you’d like to share if any of them come to mind. And the reason I’m asking is because if another educator is burnt out on the edge right now, forgetting why they got into this work, a story of transformation could be something that reminds them, why, what they’re doing is so important. And if it’s a very serious story or a big transformation, that’s great. But you can change the name for privacy reasons if it’s, if it’s really serious.


Ren Lukoni (05:03):
No, it’s just there’s been a couple of things I’ve had like, like I, I said in my classroom, I keep up reminders of kind of legacy pieces from students. I mean, I keep in touch with a lot of them through social media, although not till after they graduate. That is one thing that I’ve been, been really tough on. And actually, it’s kind of funny because as I tell them, okay, once you graduate, then, you know, you can, you know, look me up on social media and I’ll have some of them at their grad parties at the stroke of 1201, send me, you know, the friend invite or whatever. And I’m just like, oh yeah, like that, that kind of, that’s a feel good thing. Right? Yeah. You know, and it’s been interesting, like I’m at the point now where I’m even, and starting to teach some of those students some of the kids of my students.


Ren Lukoni (05:46):
Nice. and so that’s, you know, a real con you know, a real feel good thing, but kind of a, a realization of, of, you know, it’s kind of cyclical, right. I actually, one of the biggest transformations that had actually, it was last year, I was actually away on medical leave. I, both my knees replaced at the same time. And, and the I was honored enough to have one of my former students who just freshly got outta university, be the one who covered my leave. And so that was really inspiring for me too. It, it has been tough with COVID it’s that connections, right? It’s the connections that are key with the students, you know, when they’re in the classroom, when they leave the classroom, I think a lot of educators would agree that our jobs are to teach ’em in the classroom, but the important ones are outside the classroom.


Ren Lukoni (06:35):
It’s what sets them up for life after, you know, high school and, and the real life situations. And I think that’s what really actually made me gravitate towards student leadership. Right. Is those, those, those impactful experiences, those life lessons. And, and I think that, you know that’s been part of key of why I’ve, I’ve kept doing things is just to keep that those life lessons going, they keep you on your toes, they keep you AF fresh. Right. and then that’s why I, I enjoy doing those kind of things, but it has been challenging in COVID that’s for sure. Yeah.


Sam Demma (07:09):
And when did you get involved in student leadership? Was this something that when you started teaching, you got involved with right away or were you introduced to it? How did that introduction to student leadership happen?


Ren Lukoni (07:20):
Well, I was I was actually involved in student leadership when I was a student myself. And I looked back in my notes when I became a teacher and I got to go to a conference in Chicago, Illinois, and one of my favorite speakers there was Mr. Mark, she Brock. Nice. and so I actually still have like, and it was a typed copy of a handout. You know, that was kind of what got me hook, line and sinker. And then I thought, you know what, I enjoyed that myself as a student. So I want to continue that in, in my role as an educator you know, getting involved in student council I actually was one of the first ones in the province to write a leadership course for credit. Nice. So that really got me inspired.


Ren Lukoni (08:03):
You know, I got involved with hosting our school here. We’re a, we’re a town, literally a town of 5,000 people, one traffic light. nice. And we hosted the, the Saskatchewan student leadership conference. We’ve hosted it three times. Nice. so at, you know, having a thousand people come to our school, come to our community and, you know, be part of it. And, and another thing too is, and I, I tell this to my leadership friends my, my C slickers people who are missing really, really greatly during this COVID experience, because we usually get to see each other at CS slick in, in some time each year. But like I said, it’s just getting involved in that and getting to know those people and having that, that network of, of people who are like you and who want to do the same and want to, to be better and, and make things better.


Sam Demma (08:55):
I love that. That’s such a great story. And it’s funny, you mentioned Mark Sharon Brock because I called him last month to talk about speaking and what advice he would give a young person, the nice bike principle. He was telling me all about his own journey. And I’m sure that had a huge impact on you. You alluded to a little earlier the challenges that you’re being faced with right now, and what do they look like? I know they’re different for each teacher and each school in each location, but what are the current barriers you’ve been facing? And maybe you can share a little bit of how you’ve overcome some of them and some of them that you’re still working on?


Ren Lukoni (09:29):
I mean, it’s an ever evolving process. And I think that’s part of it just kind of wrapping your head around it. it, it’s, it’s been a challenge, I think for me, and I don’t know what other educators feel like, but it’s the constant cleaning. Yeah. That part has kind of, you know, taken a bit of a, a hit on me. The challenges are just with people being in the classroom and then not being in the classroom. Or, you know, here, I feel we are providing a, a very safe environment you know, with the masks, with you know, sanitizing hand washing those kind of things, but it’s those connections doing so safely that at first was a barrier and now it’s, it’s been a good thing we’ve realized, you know, you can socially distanced and be safe.


Ren Lukoni (10:13):
I think it, that it’s part of the trust issues I think, is what has been the hardest overcome. Mm. And that we’re working, we’re working on it. And again, I mean, we’re just a town of 5,000. Like, you know, I, I tell my saying before I tell my, my friends, you know, N one’s really on, on the, the road to nowhere. Like, not that we’re at the end of the road, but you know, we’re not on a trans Canada. We’re our closest city of 40,000 people is an hour and a half away. So at first it was kind of interesting because , some people were joking with us like, oh, you know, Laconia, you always have an isolated life because you live in nip one, you know, you’re, you’re on the way to nowhere. And, and that was kind of the chuckle, but I mean, you know, COVID is proven to us that it, it can be in any community anywhere. And so it’s, it’s that establishment establishment of trust, you know, and, and hard during these COVID times to, to, to keep that going.


Sam Demma (11:06):
Yeah. No, it’s so true. And the relationship building is harder. I know you mentioned it earlier a little bit as well. Are you doing classes in, like in person or are they virtual? Is there of both, how’s that looking for your school?


Ren Lukoni (11:19):
It’s a mix of both for us here, our high school, well, our school, I should say it is a high school, but we’re grade seven to 12. We have about 425 students here. Nice. so with grade seven and eights they’re in the same kind of cohorts are same groupings, grades nine, about the same, they switch a little bit up for some of gonna apply to our classes. And then our grade 10, 11 twelves are division fours. We’re running a block timetable mm-hmm which I’m sure lots, others are doing two, two hour classes running quarters and then one, one hour class for a whole semester. So that’s what it’s looking like for us. It, it, you know, we’ve had to make some tweaks, some adjustments. I also happen to teach art and, and pottery. So having a two hour class of that has been really good.


Ren Lukoni (12:02):
We get a lot more creativity and, and things like that done. And I am looking forward to, I have my leadership class next quarter. So I’m really excited to do that, but then there’s gonna be challenges with that too, because, you know, we want to do things to help people and be out in the community. And it’s, it’s finding those ways to be, to, to do that still and be safe and show that we care and build those relationships and and, and just kind of get out there, but doing so in a safe way.


Sam Demma (12:26):
Yeah. No, it’s so true. And things are definitely difficult, but not impossible. And so I’m curious to know what things are working in the school right now, in terms of maybe some ideas that the school has tried to engage the students, or maybe that you’ve tried on zoom or in your classroom, any ideas come to mind that you think are worth sharing?


Ren Lukoni (12:46):
Oh, yeah, for sure. So we are running, I didn’t answer that in the previous question, but we are running like fully face to face. Okay. cool. So we do have some students that have elected to go online when people have to self isolate or self-monitor, I mean, they’ve been in touch, you know, we, we, we go online for that. So we’ve been able to do some things in our school you know, running Kahoots doing some virtual bingos have been great. And I talking to some other colleagues just this morning, actually in their saying, okay, what can we do to get that spirit up? You know, you can do your spirit days and, and people can do those individual things today as plaid day mad for plaid day. So, I mean, lots of people were dressed up unintentionally even, which was great.


Ren Lukoni (13:28):
Nice. but that’s been a challenge too, just because of the, the numbers. Right. you know, we’re still lucky enough we’re running our extracurricular programs and then live streaming them. So that’s been kind of a connection you know, to our sports. We’ve had modified sporting seasons. But like I said, our student council’s meeting our humanitarian group is meeting. They actually did they was their idea. They came up with post-it notes on lockers, just to old people that they care and to kinda give ’em a boost for the start of a second quarter. Nice. So that’s good, but you know, you do what you can and you, like I said, you have to kind of make it a place where people wanna be worth doing school clothing right now, which is also, you know, help kind of boost morale. But like I said, you know, other than that, you’re always kind of looking for something, okay, what can I do reach out? Or, you know, it’s tough to, we think of our school as like a hub for a community. And yet the only ones that are allowed in are really the staff and the students. So that’s been a real barrier as well.


Sam Demma (14:26):
Yeah. That makes sense. No, it’s true. I love the ideas of Kahoot. I love the virtual bingo. those are all, those are all great. And no one can see it right now cuz they’re listening, but you you’re in an art room with beautiful paintings all over the walls and on the roof. And you know, what, what got you interested in art? I know we didn’t talk too much about that. We talked about your journey into education, but why is an art teacher? How did that start for you?


Ren Lukoni (14:52):
Well, believe it or not. At the time our current art teacher, it was over Christmas and he was roofing and actually fell off the roof and broke his arms. Oh my gosh. And then I came in. Yeah. So it was kinda trial by fire. At that point I was just kind of a newbie. I was, I was teaching arts educat, which is music, dance, drama and art. Yeah. So the principal at the time said, Hey, you know, can you fill in? And, and that’s just how I got my start in, in doing art. Kind of took some, took some workshops and, and had help of another teacher. And I also was teaching Potter kind of self taught, took some lessons on that. You know, and just kind of went that route. And, and it’s interesting because I actually started all my educational career as an elementary teacher grades four or five.


Ren Lukoni (15:40):
And actually what, what brought me to this area? This is actually my, my dad’s hometown. But it was my, my grandmother who saw an ad in the nip one journal. And she actually sent me the clipping mail, but when I went to apply for it I heard from the division office. Oh yes. We’ve heard your grandmother. She called and I was like, really? And they’re like, oh yeah. And it went along the lines of likely my granddaughter need job and and you know, so that’s what brought me here. You know, I was lucky enough to have many years with my, with my grandmother here in Nipon my dad’s hometown. So there’s a bit of that kind of legacy. And I think that that’s a, a, a key point that we need to, you know, maybe go back to, or you know, when things kind of get tough or when, you know, things kind of seem impossible or like we’re dealing with COVID it’s, it’s, it’s those reminders of the leg see of what you did in the past, but then also how you can move forward.


Sam Demma (16:36):
I love it. and I could relate to the grandparents story. I never had my grandma or grandfather call, but they’re very, they’re very, they’re very outspoken as well. That’s how I’ll say it. And that’s a great story to end with because you showed that despite you didn’t know the role and the requirements and the skills involved, you kept a growth mindset and you were, you pushed yourself to learn the skills by taking extra classes and by jumping into the fire and with COVID, it’s a very similar scenario, although it’s not art class, it’s just new reality that we don’t know much about. And we have to put on that growth mindset and try and figure things out as we go. if you could give your younger self advice in education, like if you could go back to the first year you started teaching, but have all the wisdom you have now, what would you tell yourself that you think would be really valuable to hear.


Ren Lukoni (17:28):
Take the small risks, take the safe risks cuz those, the ones that you either learn from or they pay off the most mm-hmm I, I really believe strongly in like, you know, smart risk taking I would say like just, just put yourself out there and, and always want to lifelong improve. Mm. You know, there’s always things you can learn and be open to those things. You know, if you would’ve asked me then would I be a high school teacher teaching art, pottery leadership and art Zeta? Absolutely not, but that’s just the way it went and, and you just have to kind of roll with the punches and go with what’s what’s thrown at you and, and just find to persevere. I think that’s a big I think that’s a, a big area that we all need to, to, well, we have been persevering, but especially with students, it’s just to, to persevere, to stick with it you know, try to make it fun.


Ren Lukoni (18:21):
Yeah. Obviously you know, that first year teaching is is a lot of work. But it’s a lot of fun as well. That’s a tough one to go back and tell myself because you know, you reflect back on, on your career and, and you look back at how things have changed or how things are evolving, especially now with COVID. You know, and I think that’s also advice that you need to give is just be, be ready to evolve. You know, take, take those experiences, take those risks and, and, you know, do it for the better and to stay positive. You know, it’s easy to say it it’s hard, it’s harder to do, but it it’s that it’s that positive outlook, that positive mindset, that growth mindset, like you said that we need to, to, to really emphasize right now.


Ren Lukoni (19:09):
And, and for me, it’s the people. Yeah. People are, are, people are what and the relationships are what keep me going, keep me inspired. You know, and, and I, I wouldn’t be the person I, I am today without those, those, those impacts and, and you know, the Nicole hairs of the world, the mark E Englands of the world, Dawn, we here in Saskatchewan the, the two twisted, I call ’em twisted sisters, even though they’re not Sandra and dot out of Alberta, like I’ve had so many you know, really I’ve been so fortunate to have the crew of people that have been around me to, to you know, support me and, and help me grow. And like I said, I could go on for hours on the list of people. I mean, we got a crew from our cease, like the PI crew, the new fees you know, our own Saskatchewan crew, our SACA crew, like I’ve been so fortunate to work with so many quality people and quality leaders. And I think that that’s a good piece of advice is, is, you know, be around a good people. Hmm. Surround yourself with a good people and learn from them.


Sam Demma (20:13):
I’ll tell Nicole, you say, hi, she’s in Qatar as I’m sure. You know I interviewed her literally two days ago. And her you’ll be coming out just, just before yours. So maybe too can connect about it.
Ren Lukoni (20:26):
Yes, no, I, like I said, I miss Nicole and like I said, she has been a leader by example, let me tell you.


Sam Demma (20:33):
Nice, awesome, Ren, thank you so much for making some time to come on the show. I really appreciate it. This was a great conversation and keep up all the great work.


Ren Lukoni (20:40):
Well, thank you so much, Sam. I really appreciate all you’re doing and, and truly thank you. I’ve really appreciated it.


Sam Demma (20:47):
And there you have it. Another amazing guest, an amazing interview on the High Performing Educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review so other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show. If you wanna meet the guest on today’s episode, if you wanna meet any of the guests that we have interviewed, consider going to www.highperformingeducator.com and signing up to join the exclusive network, you’ll have access to networking events throughout 2021 and other special opportunities. And I promise, I will not fill your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see to you on the next episode.

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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.