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Student Leadership

Terresa Amidei – Activities Director for Desert Ridge Academy

Terresa Amidei - Activities Director for Desert Ridge Academy
About Terresa Amidei

Terresa Amidei (@DRAsb2) has been an educator for 23 years.  She grew up in North Pole, Alaska and is currently the Activities Director for Desert Ridge Academy, a public middle school in Southern California. 

She cares about student voice and advocacy and works to be sure every student on campus is seen, heard, loved, and valued.  She says teaching is exhausting, but so, so worth it.  The work all educators do is vital!

Connect with Terresa: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Desert Ridge Academy

California Activities Directors Association (CADA)

What is American Sign Language (ASL)

SAVE Promise Club

PickWaste

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 Terresa Amidei. She has been an educator for 23 years. She grew up in North Pole, Alaska, and is currently the activity director for Desert Ridge academy, a public middle school in Southern California. She deeply cares about student voice and advocacy and works to make sure every student on campus is seen, heard, loved, and valued.


Sam Demma (01:04):
She says teaching is exhausting, but so, so worth it. The work all educators do is vital. You can reach her at her email, which she’ll share at the end of this interview or through her Instagram @draleadership. I cannot wait to share this, this conversation with you because it was so inspiring, and so filled with amazing ideas that you can implement into your schools and with your students. I will see you on the other side, talk soon. Teresa, welcome to the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here today. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit about what brought you to where you are in education today?


Terresa Amidei (01:41):
Oh, sure thing. Thanks for having me, Sam. This is fantastic. So I am Mrs.Amidei. I am the activity director at Desert Ridge Academy. We are in the Coachella valley and it is hot, it is so hot. Fun fact, summer school last week; 122 degrees. Swear, the actual temperature. So, the next part of your question was for what brought me here? Well, a fantastic thing. Funny story. I went to CADA, which is the California Activities Directors Association, and I happened to hear Sam talk about his amazing PickWaste thing, which is recycling and how he was student voice, student advocacy, making a change for the better. And that’s how I met Sam and how I got into education was this, I thought like this, hmm, what really matters? Hmm, what, what matters? What will make a difference? Where, what should I spend all my energy and talent on? And it was education and then not only being an educator, but then I was middle school because middle school, there’s no one who gets to be an adult that says, you know what, if I could just go back to middle school, bless you. If I could go back to middle school, my life would be so amazing. Middle school is the best years. That’s only true for kids that come here because we really do try to make middle school, not so middle schooly. Do you know what I’m talking about?


Sam Demma (03:02):
yeah, I absolutely. I absolutely love that. And you know, before we even started the interview, I saw this little, what I thought was a tattoo on your wrist. And for those of you that are listening and don’t see the video, there’s this little butterfly on her wrist. And I thought it was a tattoo. And so I asked Theresa what it was. And can you explain a little bit about that, how it originated and how it’s being used within the school?


Terresa Amidei (03:20):
Okay. Well fun. Another fun fact, our school is situated. We’re in Southern California. So we’re in the migratory path of the Monarch butterfly between here and Mexico. So a few years ago we got a grant and we actually had some butterflies. And now I wish I would’ve put that picture up that were painted as a mural on our building. And so the kids were like, wait a minute. I thought we were Diamondbacks. Like, why are we getting butterflies? So my student leaders came up with this way to make our, our butterflies make sense for them. They use this initiative, it’s called the D butterfly project. And it’s like this, you know, there’s a lot of kids, especially post pandemic. And during the pandemic and this year and a half of lockdown, they were struggling, right? Their mental health was suffering. Their emotional health was bad.


Terresa Amidei (04:03):
Their physical health was maybe they, you know, they were stuck middle schoolers. It’s the hardest part because like they don’t have jobs and they can’t drive. So they can’t leave their house. Right. Unless someone’s picking them up or we have zooms like this, where I’m like, come on, we have this activity just come on down. We’ll have a quick dance party. Woo, woo. So my kids noticed the mental health was not so great. Right. But kids, it’s such a hard thing. Like, they’re not gonna say, Hey, hold a little sign. I’m suffering. Like I’m having, I’m struggling. I’m having a hard time. I’m thinking of hurting myself. But what they will do is take Sharpie and make a little butterfly, which is what I do every day. Now, when we see that as a trusted adult, what we do is I look and if, if you were holding it up, I would say, oh, Sam, I see that you have a butterfly.


Terresa Amidei (04:50):
I’m a trusted adult at desert Ridge. Can I help you? I, I can get you any kinda help and I can listen to anything that you need. Right. and I’m happy to say that I, I was in that situation and I was able to get a kid help so that, you know, it just takes one to make it worth the effort. Right. And even if you say, no this is just a support butterfly, cuz you can put one on to say you’re supporting other people. So it’s not so stigmatizing to be like, Hey, I need help. I’m you know, if everyone’s like, oh no, we’re all rocking this. Like we’re all here to support each other. Then I would say, oh thank you so much, Sam, for your support. That means a world to, to someone who’s really struggling. And then I’d also go like this check on Sam next week in case it was a legit butterfly.


Terresa Amidei (05:33):
And it’s just been a really great, great project. It’s so simple. It costs nothing. In fact, some of my students in leadership last year, we presented virtually of course at the national youth violence prevention summit. And we shared this idea and there was a kid in Georgia who was like, miss a, I love that butterfly project. I mean, that’s not exactly how I sounded, but to me that’s how I sounded. And he go and it’s, I mean, everyone has a pin. If there’s kids who are also on distance learning, we also had a thing where if your parents were like, don’t write on yourself, you know, that’s a thing. We just added the butterflies onto our name. So where I have mine with my pronouns, my she and her we would just add a little butterfly fun fact, if you go eight, I eight kinda makes a butterfly. So that was my butterfly when, when we were on distance.


Sam Demma (06:23):
Wow. That’s awesome. That’s so cool. Does that idea or project relate to the hashtag save promise? I saw that in your, your email and I was wondering what that was all about as well.


Terresa Amidei (06:32):
Yeah. Okay. So save promise is another organization that we are a part of and we have a club I’m the advisor for that club as well. Nice. So the safe promise is stands for students against violence everywhere. Mm. It actually came out of the Sandy hook promise group and save promise club was another one. And so they kind of merged and they had this fantastic organization where they’re just saying, Hey, we gotta minimize our gun violence. And to do that, to do that, it starts with eliminating isolation, social I isolation. Like if you, I mean, it makes sense. You’re like, yes, that makes sense. If you feel like you don’t have a place in the world, if you feel like you can’t get any help, if you feel like no one notices, if you’re there or not, then of course you might be, you know, drawn into violence because nothing matters.


Terresa Amidei (07:23):
So for us, we, we were really happy to be a part of that club. In fact we got oh, what was, I, I wanna say it was a relationship. And like like what do you call it when you get like a little award? And we were like, oh, you guys are doing such a great job of like, you know, being innovative and connecting students. And I was like, yes. Because we only just started it last year. We just saw this is a serious need. I mean, not to get all serious on a, on a upbeat podcast. But when we, when the whole nation was closed down, you know, due to COVID wow. The school shootings were dramatically dropped because there were, there were no kids to be engaged in violence. When we started opening up, it was, it was heartbreaking to hear like, oh, there was another case and then another case and then something else.


Terresa Amidei (08:09):
And it’s like, guys, we can’t go back to the same way of operating. We, we have to be there for each other. We have to rise up by lifting others. If you see somebody who’s sitting by themselves, don’t let the sit by themselves. You know, like you can say, like, if I saw you by yourself, Sam, I would say, Hey Sam, do you, do you need someone to stay with you? I mean, some people are introverts, you know? And they’re like, no, I’m really good by myself. That’s great. But I need to ask to be sure, because if you’re like, no, I really just really want, I just feel terrible. Like I’m, I’m by myself, you know, mm-hmm so part, part of that initiative is we, we participated in a start with hello campaign, which is simply like, hi, hello, Hey. Yeah. How you doing?


Terresa Amidei (08:55):
You know, like acknowledging you exist, that’s where it starts. So you don’t feel so isolated. And then later in the year we had a whole districtwide where say something campaign. So it’s like, when you see something, most people who are gonna be drawn into any kind of violence, whether it’s like, oh, I’m gonna, I got some beef. I’m gonna have to fight with that person at the bus stop. You know, they say something, someone hears it before it actually happens almost every time. So part of that campaign is like, Hey, let us know. Like our number one thing is keeping kids safe. Yeah. We wanna educate you. But we I’m, I’m also trying to make fully formed functioning, loving adults, you know? Yeah. So I don’t want you to get a black eye. Like, how are you gonna you’re you’re like all scared of the bus stop cuz you think someone’s gonna try to get you like that.


Terresa Amidei (09:43):
That’s no way to live. So that’s kind of the things we’re trying to be ahead of the game and be like, no, no, no, no, we, we don’t play that game. Like no, no, no, no, no. You don’t have to sit by yourself. Like no, no, no, no, no, no. You need a friend come on over. And the other cool thing we’ve done Sam, like I’m just on a roll I better, I better have some wine keep no, no, no. I’m good. I’m good. Another thing we started is we noticed you know, there was a lot of turmoil in the country. I don’t know if you noticed, have you noticed? Yeah. A lot of divide, a lot of people, like not talking to each other, a lot of people, like, I don’t believe you or you no, you’re this. So you must not be that.


Terresa Amidei (10:20):
Or if you’re this, then you’re all these other things. People are very complex. And I think we don’t, you know, take that time to get to know each other when we realize, oh my gosh, we’re really the same. We’re really the same. Like you care about the environment. I know that from the work that you did. Right. And so I care about the environment. Like I turn on my water, I get wet. I turn off my water. Yeah. I get some soap. I turn it on. I turn it off. Yeah. That’s that’s me. You might, you didn’t know that till now. But we had that love of, of the world and the environment in common. And if we don’t have a chance to ever talk about it, we will never know that we’re really the same. Mm. You know? And, and it’s like, when you know somebody and you care about someone, it’s like, you know, I’m not gonna hurt you or I, I’m not gonna want to hurt you or I’m gonna understand you better.


Terresa Amidei (11:07):
Or I’m gonna be more willing to listen to what you have to say, because we’re the same. Yeah. We have the same things in mind. So one of the clubs that we started when we were noticing all this, you know, national turmoil, people, adults being mean at each other, adults yelling at each other adults like, Ooh, I hate you because we, we just started a club called the rise above club. And it’s a spot where, I mean, I hope I can launch it with like, you know, and make it something great. But it’s the idea that we gotta be better than that. You know? And like kids, adults always think, oh, kids like, you know, kids, they’re little, I’m telling you kid, you’re a kid Sam. Well, okay. You’re probably really an adult, but I’m like, oh, you’re much younger than me. So to me, they’re kids. Right? Yeah. Kids have great ideas. Yep. Kids can change the world. They’re not the future leaders. They’re the leaders now. Yeah. They’re the leaders now. And they need a space to like, figure this all out. Like how are they gonna be able to talk about things if they don’t understand it? How are they gonna change something? If they can’t have a voice, how are they gonna be able to navigate the world when it’s all confusing and scary and make them have anxiety?


Sam Demma (12:18):
Yeah.


Terresa Amidei (12:19):
So for me, the club is it’s about student engagement, student advocacy, speaking up how to have a voice. Like there’s so many kids who don’t even know like, oh, that’s the process of speaking to the school board and getting policy change. Oh, I could write an email to every Senator which I did on my veteran’s day. Cuz I thought, well, this is an important day. I’m gonna use my day to make sure everyone knows what I’m thinking. Sam. It took all day. But you know what? I did it. Why? Because I thought it mattered. I thought it mattered. And, and even, even if no one reads it, I know I have spoke my truth to people who have are in a position to make a change, make some kind of change. So I’ve done what I can do from my little space.


Sam Demma (13:06):
Yeah. No it’s so true. Just so much, so much good stuff. So many cool ideas. Thank you so much for sharing. What led you in education towards the extra mile mentality? It sounds like you’re involved in so many things in the school. You know, you’re making an impact on so many levels as opposed to just being a teacher. No, there’s nothing wrong with just being the teacher and teaching the class and going home. quote unquote, but there’s so much more to it than that, but it’s like, you know, you, you get involved in so many different things. Where did that drive come from? And do you think that’s been a very self-fulfilling experience as well because you probably get more out of being a teacher and an educator as well by getting involved in so many different things.


Terresa Amidei (13:51):
Yeah. That’s excellent question. And here here’s the thing. First of all, I do have a, a wonderfully supportive family, my children and my my, my husband, you know, they, they know that this work is important. Because I always tell ’em this work is so important. Yeah. Like, like I I’m thinking about the work that I could do. I mean, I, I could do so many things. Right. Like I could have any kind of job, but I always say when it comes to education you know, I’m exhausted like on the daily, you know, like when they always do the COVID screening and they’re like, do you have a headache? Do you have muscle fatigue? And I’m like oh shoot. I do. because I’ve been here for like 15 hours. Yeah. And I’m like, wait, is it because I’ve been typing and is this why I have a headache?


Terresa Amidei (14:36):
Oh, is it because I was outside and I was 122. We were doing a tour of the campus. Yes. That is why I have a wait, can I wait? I’m like, okay. I can still taste. We’re good. We’re all good. We’re all good. It it’s I always say this, like, it’s just it’s not supposed to be an easy job. Mm-Hmm like some people think, oh, teachers it’s so easy. You’ve got the summers off fun fact. I worked three sessions of summer school this summer. I, I didn’t have any time off. That was self-imposed because I wanted to help the kids. I wanted to make a difference. Ooh. I wanted, I, I, I, I’m not, I always say this shouldn’t be an easy job. It should be a job. That’s worth it. Yeah. The job is really difficult if you’re doing it, if you’re doing it well, that’s how I see it.


Terresa Amidei (15:22):
If you’re doing it well, you should be tired because you’ve put everything into it. Yep. Like imagine whatever sport that you wanna play. You know, and it’s the, like, we just had the Olympics you know, you have an excellent, like the goat Simone. Right. And she’s doing it even. She’s like, wait, you know, like, wait you know, I gotta watch out for myself. Right. That’s one little side lesson, but, but she’s gonna be tired. She’s gonna be sweaty. Right. Because she’s giving it at all. She’s not coming in. And she’s like you know, she’s, she’s doing like amazing, innovative things that have never been done. Right. So I’m thinking, yeah, I’m in a classroom. But the work that we do, what most people don’t know, unless you’ve been an educator is how many decisions that you’re doing and how many things that you’re man, like my mind is always firing.


Terresa Amidei (16:12):
Like, like this is every, like the Sies right now. It looks like this in my brain. Right. because I’m like, okay, I gotta watch out for this kid. I know that kid’s dog just died. I know this mom is in COVID this one’s battling cancer. Like I’m managing all that stuff and trying to be like, you need to help others because you’re gonna feel better if you help others, if you serve other people. So for me, this job is like, it’s mission critical. It’s mission critical because whatever I do here, if I’m doing a good job, I’m gonna create happy, fully functioning, nonviolent, helpful humans. Mm. And that’s what I wanna see. You know, that thing, like be the change you wanna see. That’s the change I wanna see. I wanna see people who care, but also like have fun. Like I I’m, I work with children, you know, elementary kids, middle school kids, high school kids, even high school kids.


Terresa Amidei (17:06):
Right. Okay. Maybe they turn 18 when they’re in high school. Right. senior year. But are they really adults? Like, do they really understand all this stuff? And like have a driver’s license and know how to vote and pay a mortgage? Like, you know what I mean? How to get a rental application? Wait, the answer’s no, they don’t know any of those things. So it’s like, you still gotta remember they’re still children. Right. They’re still navigating what it’s gonna be to be like, oh, this is the life that I wanna have for myself. Mm-Hmm and this is the things that are important to me. I mean, there’s so many advocates out there, like thank goodness that are young people. Right. even like, I look at Amanda Gorman and I’m like, oh my gosh, that poem was just gives me the chills. Right.


Terresa Amidei (17:46):
But she’s in her twenties. Mm-Hmm , you know, this is a world that belongs to everyone who’s here. So for me, I, I just want, I just want kids to come in and be able to make mistakes, but like, you know, turn it into things that are gonna work for other people. Like, you know, we create the welcome messages and we don’t just make posters and we’re trying to lift people up. Like, we’ve got little secret, you know, like, oh, we’re gonna leave the, okay, I’ll tell you secretly okay. Like Friday, we’re having this welcome back dance. Of course, with the whole COVID like, you know, we’re very mindful of all those rules. And we’re like, okay, 10 of you here and 10 there. And we’re playing the games because they’re just so craving interaction. They they’re just craving this interaction. Right. So, you know, it wouldn’t be a time like, Hey, I’m gonna invite you to dance and we’re gonna do, we’re gonna learn times tables.


Terresa Amidei (18:35):
Cause I’m gonna get you caught up. Like that would not be an event that would go over while. Right. So safely giving them this interaction. But then here’s the secret. We already made these little love notes for every single person at the school and every single adult at the school. And while the dance is going on, we have a secret, you know, happiness ninja team where we’re gonna tape them on every single desk so that when they come in on Monday, they’re gonna go what now? I mean, I hope they do that. Some will be like, what, what is this? Like, you know, and whatever. Yeah. Because they’re kids, but some it’s gonna matter to some kid and some kid is gonna keep this little note and some kid is gonna tape it onto their little Chromebook or stick it in their backpack. And you know what and will probably, and this is the hardest part of leadership. We will probably never know that it made an impact on that. Yeah. We might never know, you know, like in a school, we we’ve got like a thousand kids and, and adults here. Right. And so in that, in that huge number, you know, you, you will not get any kind of feedback. That’s like, I love that. Keep that more of that, you know, they’re, they’re not gonna say anything. Yeah. But I just have to believe like it matters.


Sam Demma (19:50):
Yeah.


Terresa Amidei (19:50):
Being welcome social, you know what I mean?


Sam Demma (19:52):
Yeah. It’s like, you know, a tree falls into forest just cause you don’t hear it doesn’t mean it doesn’t fall. Right. It’s the same thing with student impact like it. Right. Right. You know, just cuz you don’t see the positive mental changes in physical changes that a kid might be undergoing due to something at school they’re still happening. Right. And that’s such a good reminder. You know, I like to think of educators, people like yourself as gardeners, you guys are planting seeds and watering them every day and sometimes you don’t see them grow. Sometimes you do, but they all grow, you know?


Terresa Amidei (20:21):
Well, and here’s the other thing, like what you put into it. So what if I’m, what if I’m like super critical, you know? And I’m like super short with you and I’m like, just sit down, Sam. That’s growing too. Yeah. You know what I mean? Yeah. That grows too. So I mean, and we’re all, we’re all human and it’s hot and there’s lots, lots of moving pieces. So, you know, I, I try to be mindful. I don’t always, you know, hit the mark, but I also try if I realize I’m like, Ooh, I was kind of harsh to Sam. I, I always try to be like, Sam, come on. I gotta make, I gotta make amends on that one. Cuz that I didn’t, I, I need you to understand, like even if you’re correcting a kid, like, I still love you. This is fine, but you can’t do these two things like stop doing this and then I still love you. You’re good. And now it’s over for me. If you stop doing that. right. Yeah. we just gotta have a way that we are like, oh, okay. Communicate, communicating what I need so that you can be successful. I’m just, I, I feel like I’m like the German guard, like help me help you. Yeah. That’s what I’m trying to do.


Sam Demma (21:23):
That’s awesome. Love it. Cool. And what are you most looking forward to this year? I know it’s gonna be maybe looking a little different than the past couple years. but, or maybe not, but what are you looking most forward to?


Terresa Amidei (21:36):
It’s okay. I mean, you know, not to sound so cliche, but it’s, it’s like that it is the little time when you catch a, well, you know what? I’m not gonna say miss a, I love that activity. I love getting my note. Oh miss a. I love that poster was so cute, but what they, what will they will do is they’ll come in and they’ll go like this, miss am. Hi. That tells me I’m doing the right thing. Or I’ll see a kid and they’ll be like, I’ll catch ’em and I’ll see ’em I’m like, I’m like, they’re getting their note and they’re like


Sam Demma (22:06):
Quick little smile.


Terresa Amidei (22:07):
yeah. And then I’m like, yes. When here’s something to happen on Monday. Okay. You ready for this one? Sam? It is. So this is so important because here’s the other thing with leadership. You don’t have to like, I mean, I’m trying to get all kids. I mean all like all of them, I’m trying to get all of them right. To where they need to go successfully, but you gotta do it. It’s like you gotta make those special moments. Like one kid at a time, one kid at a time, like this is, this is how here for me. Like the amount of reinforcement. If I can get one kid that’s enough to get me another week. You know what I’m saying? Mm. So this happened on Monday. My kids were, it was our last week of summer school, right. Of the last session.


Terresa Amidei (22:49):
And we were giving tours to the new kids who were coming in. So sixth graders who had never been here from seventh graders who had never been here because of COVID. Okay. And I was already like, you know, we had practiced in that super hot, hot heat. And I had like Otter pops for after, when it was done, then I’m not being paid by that. They’re just the cheapest Popsicle. I’m just saying Hey. So we were practicing, we’re doing all this stuff. And I had told my kids, look, I, some parents are gonna try to sneak in and I’m gonna be like, no, no, no parents, because I can’t have you lead a tour. I don’t know who those parents are. Right. I gotta keep you safe. That’s my number one job. Yeah. So there was this kid that came in, I’ll have to demonstrate the kid comes in and they’re with a parent and I’m like, wow, like getting ready.


Terresa Amidei (23:31):
Like I’m getting ready. I’m not in my pose, but I’m getting ready. Like, you gotta go, you can’t be here. Right. And the mom says, I’m an interpreter for my daughter. And I was like, whoa. And I’m like, what, what are you interpreting? And she says we’re doing, I need to do sign language for her. Okay. Now this is where it gets really good. Don’t make me cry, Sam don’t do it. I won’t okay. This is where it gets really good. Okay. So everybody’s messed up and you can’t really, you know, you can’t really see how anywhere they’re like this. Right. And so this mom says I’m doing a you know, ASL. And I said, oh my gosh. And so then we’re like my name. And we started doing, and then the girl, okay, you gotta imagine it. Okay. So with her mouth, she goes like this, she goes,


Sam Demma (24:13):
Mm.


Terresa Amidei (24:14):
Like this and it gets better because one of the clubs we have is ASL. So I, I bring over the little QR code where, you know, we have this for all the kids and I find the ASL club and I hold it up for her and her mom. Ooh. Yeah. I’m getting goosebumps. That’s how, you know, it’s the right thing. I pull up this card and I say, Hey, we have an ASL club. And she just went while she’s still like, and she just leans into her mom and her mom and her are like that. Okay. That, that alone will get me two more weeds of effort, because think about it. Are there a lot of kids who are gonna come to our school and need ASL interpretation? No, but this girl came now think about it. She came, it’s a new school. It’s already scary.


Terresa Amidei (25:00):
Anyway, she hasn’t been to campus forever and she now she’s here and, and she’s probably worried, oh my gosh, I’m not gonna be able to talk to anybody. Like no one will understand what I’m doing. Like everyone’s gonna think. I mean, well, plus I just watched Coda last night. It’s so good. Anyway. So I’m, I’m thinking about that. And then, and I didn’t know she was coming, no one told me like, oh, Hey, you’re gonna need to have a, you know, services for this kid. No one. I didn’t know. So the fact that we are like able to accommodate it and I’m like, I have a, we already have a spot for you. We have a spot for you already. You didn’t even have to say anything. We have a club that’s already everything that you like, it’s your field. Like, it’s like, if I was a kid and I was coming to school and I’m like, what?


Terresa Amidei (25:43):
You have a sticker and hot latte club. What, it’s exactly my people with exactly the things that I like and need that I identify with. You already have a space for me. Like, just think about how I mean, and it wasn’t, I mean, just think about how she was like that information to know there would be people and clubs hearing and, and not who could, she could already communicate. Like she wouldn’t already have to advocate for herself because it was already there. Mm we’re already ready for her. What, what do you think? What do you suppose a difference that would make for that family? And, and for that kid, now that she’s coming to our school


Sam Demma (26:26):
Safety, you know, they know there’s a family away from the family, right. It’s like, right. Every student might not need ASL, but every student needs a community where they feel welcomed and involved and loved and you know, included. And I think that’s exactly what that does.


Terresa Amidei (26:42):
right. And I mean, and to me, her face was like, you get me. Yeah. You get me and you have a space already ready for me. You saved me a, a space on the bus. Yeah. That’s what it says to me. So that like, I, it wasn’t, I, I keep a little sticking out. Like I keep all my little inspirational things. Mine is like, okay. It, it didn’t have to be a big thing. It just had to be the right thing. Like nothing heroic, just the right thing. That was, it was the right thing to have that club.


Sam Demma (27:09):
Yeah. I love that.


Terresa Amidei (27:10):
And, and you never know, you just never know when you’re gonna need it. You know? Like I said, I didn’t know she was coming and I’m like, boom, I got you. You know, some other kid came out like, boom, I got you too. Yeah. Oh, we don’t. Oh, we don’t have a club. You know what? Come sit down. We’ll find you advisor. We’ll make it right now.


Sam Demma (27:26):
That’s awesome. that’s so cool. Yeah. So how long have you been working in education?


Terresa Amidei (27:33):
Ooh this is my 23rd year.


Sam Demma (27:36):
Let’s go. Thank you for your service.


Terresa Amidei (27:42):
you’re welcome. That was easy. Yeah.


Sam Demma (27:45):
that was the first time anyone’s ever pushed that button. I love it.


Terresa Amidei (27:50):
It wasn’t, it wasn’t easy. It was hard, but, but worth it, like I said, it was hard but worth it.


Sam Demma (27:55):
Yeah. I hear you. So knowing what you know now and what the experiences you’ve had and the things you’ve learned, if you could go back and speak to Tonya year one, what advice would you give me to yourself?


Terresa Amidei (28:08):
Sam? Why’d you have to go there. Why’d you have to go there, Sam . Okay. Well, so many things have changed right, since that time, but there, if there’s anyone out there who’s listening, who’s an aspiring educator. I say, jump, jump all in and be all in from the very beginning. The, I mean, I see kids all the time, like in this community, cuz I, I live where I work and you know, my, my own children are like, oh mom, we don’t wanna go to the store with you. Cuz people are always like, miss, is that you? Or they’ll be like, oh, was Ms. Like what she got in her cart? I’m like, what? Nothing, nothing gonna see here. Just all vegetables and fruits but what I would, what I, I, when I have seen kids that are now like, oh my gosh it’s so my first job I was doing eighth grade. And so that was 23 years ago. So they were 14. So 14 to 23? Yeah. 37.


Sam Demma (29:01):
Oh


Terresa Amidei (29:02):
Yeah. I, I haven’t had the thing where those kids, kids are in my class yet. That hasn’t happened yet. I’m waiting for that. But, but I see him and like I saw one guy at Costco and like, he was, I’m like, you have a Costco card and I’m like, wait, you’re married, wait, you can drive like, wait, I’m like you. And he had like a toddler. And I was like, oh my gosh, why? And I say then like, I’m like, wow sorry about anything that I might have messed up you know? Cause I just was trying so hard, you know, trying so hard back then, but you don’t have, you really don’t have the skills for several years, like a, a full on, you know, repertoire of like everything, you know, plus I’ve taught like every subject before I got into leadership.


Terresa Amidei (29:46):
So math, science, English, social studies, intervention, computer Jo geography and, and now leadership. Right? So I’m like, oh no, I know. So I would say when I got to year 15, I was like, yeah, I think I’m pretty good. you know, like I’m like, I think I’m, you know what, I think I’m not being doing an right job. Yeah. I mean, yeah, yeah. I think I’m getting this right. And then I would say maybe like by year 18, 19, it was like, I know, I know what I know. You know, I know what I know. I know my value. I know that I understand this I’ve I’ve been around this block. Like, you know, kids are always like, oh, how’d you hear me? And I’m like, oh bro, I’m a mom. I’m a wife and I’ve taught middle school for 23 years. You really think I’m missing any of that. That’s going on in the corner. Cause I’m not, you know like I already know, I already know what you’re gonna do, you know? And so you can plan for it. So my, my only advice for my young self would be like, you’re gonna get there, you’re on the right path. Your, your ideas are golden. You just need to just firm it up a little bit. Right. And then, and then you’ll be here. Woo. With


Sam Demma (30:56):
Sam


Terresa Amidei (30:57):
I’ll be like, know, I’ll be like this one day. You’ll be with Sam, the recycling guy that you met at cat . You’ll never believe it


Sam Demma (31:05):
In 122 degree weather.


Terresa Amidei (31:07):
I know that. Awesome. Doesn’t global warming. Let’s seriously get on board.


Sam Demma (31:12):
Terresa, this has been so, so fun. Thank you so much for taking the time to chat about your experiences, what’s going on in your school. Everything that you’ve gone through and your journey into education, this has been so, so cool. If someone is listening and wants to reach out and just have a conversation, what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you?


Terresa Amidei (31:31):
Yeah. I would say email. I can, do you want me to drop that to you? And then you can,


Sam Demma (31:36):
I’ll put in the show notes, I’ll put it in the show notes as well, but if you want, you can even say it now or spell it out for


Terresa Amidei (31:42):
All right. Well, do you see my name right on the little thing? So put a . in between there. So terresa.amidei@desertsands.us.


Sam Demma (31:52):
Cool. Easy, simple. Thank you so much again. This is awesome, Keep up the great work.


Terresa Amidei (31:57):
Sam. You’re doing such great work yourself. I just wanna say thanks for reaching out. Like anytime, anytime you need some filler, just call me.


Sam Demma (32:04):
I will, appreciate it.


Terresa Amidei (32:05):
I love it. I love it.


Sam Demma (32:07):
All right. Well talk soon.


Terresa Amidei (32:09):
Okay. Bye Sam.


Sam Demma (32:10):
And there you have it. Another amazing guest, an amazing interview on the High Performing Educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review so other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show; if you want meet the guest on today’s episode, if you wanna meet any of the guests that we have interviewed, consider going to www.highperformingeducator.com and signing up to join the exclusive network, you’ll have access to networking events throughout 2021 and other special opportunities. And I promise I will not fill your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Terresa Amidei

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.

Debbie Hawkins – Campus Culture Director at Sunnyside High School in Fresno Unified

Debbie Hawkins - Campus Culture Director at Sunnyside High School in Fresno Unified
About Debbie Hawkins

Debbie Hawkins (@SHS_Leaders) is the Campus Culture Director at Sunnyside High School in Fresno Unified, but grew up in the south valley and is a first-generation college graduate who after attending Fresno State made her home in the greater Fresno Area.  Debbie is the wife to Jimmy and the mother to Jonah and Noah. Family is a defining factor in Debbie’s life and thus she reduced her teaching load to part-time status in order be home with her young boys while they were young.

Having raised her boys, she finds herself immersed in the work of student activities. This work has become her passion and her home.  Sunnyside is a school committed to the work of developing student relationships, establishing a college-going culture, and being a healthy student-centred environment.

Connect with Debbie: Email | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Sunnyside High School

Fresno Unified School District

CAA Speakers

Capturing Kids’ Hears Program

Phil Boyte’s Podcast

School Culture by Design – Phil Boyte

The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom – Miguel Ruiz

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):
Welcome back to another episode on the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s guest is Debbie Hawkins, who is the campus culture director at Sunnyside High School in Fresno Unified, but grew up on the south valley and is a first generation college graduate who after attending Fresno state, made her home in the greater Fresno area. Debbie is the wife to Jimmy and the mother of Jonah and Noah. Family is a defining factor in Debbie’s life and


Sam Demma (01:02):
thus, she reduced her teaching load to part-time status in order to be home with her young boys while they were young. Having raised her boys, she finds herself immersed back into the world of student activities. This work has become her passion and her home. Sunnyside is a school committed to the work of developing student relationships, establishing a college going culture, and being a healthy student centered environment. I know you’ll enjoy this interview with Debbie because I enjoyed chatting with her and I will see you on the other side. Debbie, welcome to the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here this morning. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit about what brought you to where you are in education today?


Debbie Hawkins (01:40):
My name is Debbie Hawkins. I have a very fancy title called Campus Culture director at Fresno Unified’s largest high school in where I’m located, obviously in Fresno. Our, our student population pushes 3000 so we are the biggest. What brings me to the moment of campus culture or what other people would call student activities is when I first got into education I was a coach, but really everything I’ve ever done in education’s really about mentorship and mentoring kids and investing in kids like you know, who they would become as an adult. So I find myself in this world of student leadership, because that’s always kind of been my passion and it just, that trail led me here.


Sam Demma (02:24):
Did you have educators that kind of pushed you in this direction? Cause caring for kids could have brought you into different roles. I’m I’m wondering why it specifically brought you into a school


Debbie Hawkins (02:34):
I guess complicated childhood, but easiest to say that school was always safe for me. Mm. And I had hero teachers who very, I’m a, I’m a first generation college student. I’ll and if you knew my whole story and we had like a lot of time maybe perhaps some wouldn’t see me in the seat I’m in today because I probably never would’ve got go to college. So those teachers, those heroes of my childhood passed very much pushed me eventually into the classroom once in the classroom and coaching. I don’t know. I always found myself when the crowd of kids having a good time. And there was a point at which I was at a site and I was a little burned out with being an English teacher. If I’m being honest. And the principal flat out, looked in the eye and said, what, what, what can I do to keep you? And I said, I need to do something where I’m investing in kids as people where I care more about their story than whether or not they know a list of conjunctions. And she approached me with student activities and, and that’s where it started 16 years ago. It was just a principal trying to keep me on campus.


Sam Demma (03:48):
That’s amazing. And tell me more about how do you define a hero teacher? What does that teacher do for you that has such a big difference and impact on you?


Debbie Hawkins (03:58):
I think as much as you can, like strips down everything, I came from a really small town. Yeah. So like when you’re from a small town, everybody knows the legends of your family and your cousins and you know, all that stuff. But, so I think my hero teacher saw me individually as a person and, and none of the backstory. Mm. And like, let me start from that point on. And in a lot of ways, never saw me as broken, but saw me as having potential. Mm. So to me, a hero teacher, as somebody who gives you a clean slate from day one, and it it’s, it’s harder to do than it sounds like it really is because Def kids definitely come with stories and brothers and sisters and cousins. And you, you know, things about kids before you ever meet them. I mean, I can log into student profiles and read all sorts of things, which by the way, I don’t do intentionally and never did, even when I taught English. But I always appreciated those teachers who, who just gave me a chance to be me.


Sam Demma (05:02):
Yeah. That’s such a cool perspective. And if a teacher is listening to this in the classroom and you know, they wanna make, they wanna make their students feel the same way you felt in those classes, like what would you kind of advise or tell them that they could try and do you know, is it to make sure you set aside time to get to know each student make time to hear, hear their stories and share their experiences and upbringing or, well, how do you think that looks in the classroom or school?


Debbie Hawkins (05:30):
What I think it looks like in a classroom at a school in general is you have to be very people first. You have to be very relationships oriented first. My son’s high school English teacher, her name’s SCR and officially, and, and I will love her forever because she changed my son’s life. And what she did is in Fresno unified, we’re a restorative practices school, which has all sorts of things that go with it. But one of the things that happens within restorative practices is that the idea of circle time, which I use in my classroom every week, we call it family Fridays. But it really is, is a restorative circle where kids get an opportunity to have a voice. Well, miss officially at Bullard high school does that every week in her English class. So she pauses her curriculum to put kids in circle and, you know, really dive deep into who each other are as people and what they think and, and what I think miss officially does.


Debbie Hawkins (06:23):
And what I I do in my own leadership class too, is, you know, that whole idea of start slow to go fast. You, you gotta like slow down and let kids know you as they need to know us as people too, like as an instructor, they need to know things about me because that’s what builds trust. And you do, you have to slow down. And I think when you’re a core content teacher, it’s scary because you don’t have many instructional minutes and you have a lot of expectations of you. But I have found that in education that once a kid trusts me and they have put me in their corner as somebody who’s gonna defend them I can get 80% more out of them academically, cuz they follow me off a cliff. If I told ’em to go, you know, I guess a bad analogy, but it’s true. They’d follow me anywhere. And once you’ve built those relationships, where are kid gonna follow you anywhere? Because you’ve slowed down, you slowed down and you took that time. You actually get more done academically.


Sam Demma (07:21):
I love that. That’s such a unique way to look at it. And I think it’s so true. I had one educator come on here one time and tell me that there was one student in his class that he was struggling with and the way that he won the heart and mind of this student over was by giving the student responsibility that this student thought he would never give him. And the situation was the keys to his car to go grab his lunchbox in the front seat and you know, and it, the story just hit me in my core. I was like, wow, that’s such a cool example of building a human to human relationship, not a teacher to student one. I think that’s amazing. Where do you think these philosophies and ideas came from? Was it just from your personal experience from other teachers? Like how did you come up with these ideas and these teaching philosophies?


Debbie Hawkins (08:08):
Well, everything’s, I, I guess seated in personal experience to some extent, I mean, there’s great educators in my past when I was a student and then you get involved and you start listening. You know, you it’s, the organization, CAA is an amazing one. So many speakers there. I, I would say that on my personal journey for development as a, as a leadership teacher there’s a program called capturing kids’ hearts, which was an early program in my career that really drew me in. And then fast forward, I, I meet a guy named Phil Boyt who is Phil, boy’s amazing. He has his own podcast. Everyone should be listening to Phil Boyt, read his books. And then you, you know, there, there’s just speakers and that come into your life. And I have the privilege at working at Sunnyside. And when I was hired here, there was a man named Tim Lyles, who he lost this year.


Debbie Hawkins (09:03):
And men talk about just an amazing person to learn from what you find out in education, which I’m going to assume applies to any profession out there is that once you have an ideology of who you want to be and what you want within this setting, you surround yourself with people whose core values begin to align with yours, right? So like you go find your tribe. So I found my tribe, you know, I listen to T street speak at kata and, and now, now that I heard her at kata, I’m gonna follow every talk. I find of hers on YouTube, you know deep kindness by Houston craft my class, read that together last year. Nice. You just, you began to, you know, you hear of this person who tells you about this person who tells you about this book and you begin to seek it out. It’s personal work though. If, if you wanna be that kind of educator, it’s personal work, which I think it’s personal work, no matter where you are in life.


Sam Demma (10:01):
Yeah. I love it. And people leave behind such amazing principles and values. I think more than everything else, when someone, you know, passes on, we can look at the things that they left behind and something that sticks out for me, even, you know, you talk about service a little bit and great people to learn from like, after my grandfather passed away, I was 13 years old. And the thing that sticks out in my mind are the values that he passed on to me as a young child. And it, it sounds the same with your colleague who passed away. Sorry to hear about that. And yeah, I’m sure your school is doing a great job of celebrating his, his life and his legacy. That’s amazing though. And did you ever have any doubts growing up as a, as a young educator and what were some of the things that went through your mind? Because I think it’s a very common experience for all educators to go through.


Debbie Hawkins (10:47):
Well, I have an atypical educator story. I mean, I failed the third grade and I’m I’m dyslexic. Oh, so yeah, I I had some challenges and in, in high school I remember my very favorite high school, creative writing teacher, like on my college application to the educational opportunity program at Fresno state saying student has unlimited potential. If she can get some support with her writing. And interestingly enough, as soon as he said it, it became this quest to be good at it. And like academically after my freshman year in college writing became my strongest thing. Wow. So, you know, it’s, it’s almost like when someone shines a light on it in a way that is soft and trying to guide you rather than like light you up and blow you up, but rather a guiding light. Yeah. It inspires you to kind of go on that path and take that journey because ultimately as a, you know, a 16 year old kid, I, I wanted to be successful and change my family’s narrative. Yeah. You know, I, I wanted it badly. So this man whom I trusted his name was Greg Simpson from ex or high school, amazing educator just gently said unlimited potential with a little support in writing. So I joined writing lab. Like I went and found some people to help me and ended up being a game changer for me.


Sam Demma (12:10):
I find that. So fascinating how someone that you trust, very few words have such a powerful impact on your mindset of how you view yourself and also the actions you took in your future. And it goes to show us how important it is that we choose our words and our actions both extremely wisely when working with any human being, doesn’t matter if it’s a student in your class or a stranger on the street. Do you think that the words of educators and students have such a massive impact on each other? And have you seen in, in reverse scenario where your words or your colleagues’ words have had a huge impact on students in your school and do any stories stick out in your mind?


Debbie Hawkins (12:51):
Well, since you wanna call me on the carpet on that one today, yeah. Honestly I’ve only been at Sunnyside for four years and cool. My first year here, I, I received an email during homecoming because I did something a little different that how don’t know maybe it was because I was new or, you know, and when you’re new, you’re a little unsure and you know, I’d never been at a high school. It came from a middle school and man, that email shock me to the core. Like I never had anyone talk to me like that. So I became like this head trip thing I had to come over and I overcome like it taught me a lot though, like in reflection. Mm. I am extremely cautious about what I say to people via written communication. Mm. I try to not be short and if, if I’m gonna be short, I try and go walk over and speak to them face to face. Yeah. Like lesson learned. And then, so this week we actually had two rallies before we had a rally on day one and day two of the school year.


Sam Demma (13:51):
Nice.


Debbie Hawkins (13:51):
So day one of the school year, I told my, my little commissioner, Hey, you know, don’t play YouTube videos because the signal’s gonna drop when everybody comes into the gym. Yeah. And the hustle and bustle of it, I didn’t check in with him and he didn’t convert the file cuz he ran out of time. So sure enough, we get to this part where these very adorable little mom, girls are supposed to go dance to promote our diversity assembly. Mm. And the video wouldn’t play. so, yeah, I mean day one and I didn’t snap at him in the moment, but I also didn’t build him up. What I should have said was him and let it go. There’s always something that fails. This is our thing today. Of course. Yeah. And helped him like move through it. And I, you know, we haven’t been here for almost two years. Yeah. I didn’t coach him well enough. Like, so I’ve been spending the last I’ve spent the last week and a half now trying to build him back up, you know? Yeah. Cause it’s gonna take 20 or 30 interactions for him to be brave again.


Sam Demma (14:53):
Well, I applaud first of all, your responsibility. Thanks for sharing. I was also curious about the positive side of how words have affected students or


Debbie Hawkins (15:00):
Wouldn’t oh, positive. Okay. Positive side. Positive. Side’s easy. Yeah. I, I don’t know how I’ve become the, the teacher who, who attracts a lot of our foster and homeless youth kids. Mm. I don’t know how, but one, one philosophy I say leadership’s about what you do, not what class you have. Yeah. So a few years ago I had this one kid just show up in my room every day and just make artwork. And I just looked at him and I said, Hey, you, you have the ability to show up and be positive. You know, you should join my class. Mm. I don’t remember saying it to him, by the way. I just said it one day while they, I don’t know, coloring with markers. And anyway, Damien did join my class. The following year. He became my spirit commissioner. I didn’t know his whole story until almost the year was over. But wow. His words back to me were really powerful. He’s like, he, he basically said, your first impression of me is you should be a leader. Like you belong here. And for him, it, it made a difference cuz it came at a real critical time when he was doubting where he was. Mm. So I, I there’s, there’s a million instances where I could say I’ve said something to a kid, but here’s the funny thing. I very rarely remember the words I used.


Sam Demma (16:11):
Yeah.


Debbie Hawkins (16:12):
So you just always guard them and keep ’em positive. And, and the one thing I will say, and that I, I need to get back to doing, I used to keep a class list and I would mark down like an X mark, like, so for an for that week I had to give one overtly positive statement to each kid on my roster. Mm. And I made it like anecdotal where I would check it off.


Sam Demma (16:34):
Nice.


Debbie Hawkins (16:34):
Because you know, life’s busy. Yeah. So that’s one way that I I’m gonna get back to that this year, but that is huge. And I’ll tell you another huge one that we all overlook. I also try and call three parents a week just to tell ’em their kid’s amazing.


Sam Demma (16:48):
Ah I love that. That. And what is the, what is the, what is the usual parent response to those phone calls? how does the phone call start? I’m sure it starts with oh is everything okay?


Debbie Hawkins (17:00):
50% of the time. It’s what do you do?


Sam Demma (17:02):
yep.


Debbie Hawkins (17:04):
What’d she do now? What’s going on? It’s always guarded at first and it’s really funny that if I don’t use my personal cell phone, 50% of them don’t pick up. And then, and I give ’em my cell phone number and tell ’em, if you have any questions, feel free to call me. And it’s odd because I will get random sets of parents who will text me and ask me a general school question because I just called them to tell ’em, Hey, your kid’s amazing.


Sam Demma (17:28):
That’s awesome. That is so good. I,


Debbie Hawkins (17:29):
I, I try and I’ve, I try and do at least three kids a week for the first month of school till I get through everybody.


Sam Demma (17:35):
There’s a, there’s such a cool story behind the idea of appreciating other people that I heard on a recent podcast as well. There’s a, there’s a gentleman named Jay Sheti. Maybe you’ve actually heard of him. Heard the name. Okay. So he has a podcast. He was a monk. He went to the mountains for like three years, came back and now he makes what he says is it makes wisdom go viral. And he has all these like cool videos and that’s awesome. He has a podcast and he interviewed this guy named scooter bran and scooter, scooter bran is the music manager of Justin Bieber and Demi Lavato and all these like huge music artists. And he was on the podcast and he was saying that his grandma did something for him and his family that changed the trajectory of all the kids’ lives. He said there was four grandchildren.


Sam Demma (18:16):
And on separate occasion, she pulled each grandchild, each grandchild aside and said, I have to tell you something very important and very special. And you can’t tell any of your siblings about this. And she said, you’re the special one. and she did it to all four of them on separate occasions and scooter didn’t find out till the day of her funeral while the grandchildren were around. He said, guys, you know, grandma pulled me aside and told me when I was a young kid, that I was a special one. And then his brother said, no, me too. And me too. And, and all four of them went their whole life believing that they had this special ability that they were an amazing young person. And I thought, what a powerful way to plant a positive belief in the mind of a young person. And it sounds like you’re doing the same thing, not only with the students, but also with the parents.


Debbie Hawkins (19:01):
I’m trying. And that’s, that’s the whole thing that I will all educators like, it’s, it’s an awkward time. Yeah. Alls you can do is try and over the summer I read this book called the four agreements and, you know to Miguel


Debbie Hawkins (19:14):
. Yeah. So like, you know, in the four agreements where it says, take nothing personally. Yep. You know, that’s my challenge, this year’s cuz in this crazy world where everything’s, everything’s uneven right now, still, you know, like everything’s still uneven and people react daily at us, around us, within this organization out of a sense of fear and self protection. Yeah. So really take nothing personally. And I’m really talking to my leadership class about that. We’re actually gonna read the four agreements at the end of the year when we do our book study as a class. But Tim Wild’s favorite book, by the way. I, I just, that, that whole that’s resonating with me this year is don’t take things personally because I think when we take things personally, it, it, it holds us back. Right.


Sam Demma (20:01):
It’s true. So true. And I think that sometimes the words of other people are based on one, their past experiences and two, the current things they’re going through, you know, you, you mentioned about the email and writing a short email. It’s it’s funny because whenever we write an email communication, the other person reads it based off the current mental state that they are in. So if they’re extremely happy, they’re gonna assume that your email was, was a pretty happy one, but if they’re struggling and, and then they read a short email, that’s just to the point, they’re gonna think that you’re upset or something and you know, 90 something percent of communication is nonverbal. And so I think, you know, some of the times too, when people attack us or put us down or attack a student or an educator and put them down, it’s, it’s asking ourselves, you know, what do they have to be going through to be expressing this situation like this? And I think that’s where empathy wins, you know, but it’s tough when you’re in the experience. It’s like, it’s a tough one. So if you could travel back in time and speak to your younger self, when you were just getting into education, knowing what you know now based on the experiences that you’ve had, what would you tell your younger self? What couple pieces of advice would you give?


Debbie Hawkins (21:10):
Number one, I’d say quit keeping score. I came in as a coach. Like I was so competitive and not just about like when we were on a basketball court. Mm. You know, I wanted to be the teacher with the highest reading scores. I wanted to be the teacher with the most kids coming to, you know, this or I, I was so worried about being perceived as having value that I think it held me back. I would’ve been much better off to have been more concerned about if I was valuable to at least one kid, you know, let go of those public perceptions a little bit when you’re young and invest in people individually, like deeply in one person at a time, one staff member, one kid my younger self and I would say not to take things so personal. Yeah.


Debbie Hawkins (22:04):
I, I, I don’t know when I was young, I had a lot of pride and, and things would hurt. And, and when you let things hurt, like where they wound you, it literally prevents you from having relationships with kids and being available to kids who need you, because you’ve spent too much time in your own self hurt. Like it was a waste of my energy as a young educator, you know, I, I needed a, I, I, I would encourage every young educator to find a group of two or three teacher, friends who are safe. And when something hurts, you can tell them so you can let it go. Cause you know, there’s something about that whole, like, you know, the truth will set you free. We’ll find people to go tell your truth to yeah. So that you can be free of its damage and move on. Yeah. Sometimes I think your, our pride like makes us put in the negative stuff, cuz we don’t want other people to see it. Like go get that ne get a trusted crowd, share with them, all those, those like doubtful things so that, that you can just be set free from it and move on. Don’t let it hold you back.


Sam Demma (23:06):
I love that.


Debbie Hawkins (23:07):
Trust me. Nobody’s good at this job. I’m 26 years in every year. There’s 10 things I need to be better at.


Sam Demma (23:14):
Yeah.


Debbie Hawkins (23:15):
It, it, it, this job never, it’s a big beast. You will never be perfect. Hey, it’s messy.


Sam Demma (23:21):
Every job. That’s the mindset to have. I mean, the day you think you arrive is the day you shouldn’t ever do it again, you know?


Debbie Hawkins (23:28):
Amen.


Sam Demma (23:28):
We never arrive, you know, like we’re all human beings. We’re all messy individuals going through this experience called life and balancing everything, you know? That’s a cool mindset to have. I call what you just mentioned “Emptying my backpack.” When I feel like I’m holding onto too many thoughts and opinions of others or opinions and, and experiences and situations in my head, I call it emptying my backpack. I’m actually writing a poem about it for kids Yeah, that’s such a cool piece of advice to give yourself and I appreciate you being so honest, vulnerable, and open about this whole conversation. I think a lot of educators will listen to this and will really enjoy it and see a lot of their own experiences in what you’ve just shared. So thank you so much for coming on the show. Debbie, it’s been awesome. If someone wants to reach out, send you an email, bounce some ideas around or chat with you, what would be the best way for them to get in touch?


Debbie Hawkins (24:21):
Just use my staff email it’s debra.hawkins2@fresnounified.org. You could Google Fresno Unified in my name and find me honestly.


Sam Demma (24:41):
Cool. All right, Deb. Debbie, thank you so much. This was great, keep up the great work and we’ll talk soon.


Debbie Hawkins (24:47):
Thank you very much for having me.


Sam Demma (24:50):
And there you have it. Another amazing guest, an amazing interview on the High Performing Educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review so other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show; if you want meet the guest on today’s episode, if you wanna meet any of the guests that we have interviewed, consider going to www.highperformingeducator.com and signing up to join the exclusive network, you’ll have access to networking events throughout 2021 and other special opportunities. And I promise I will not fill your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Debbie Hawkins

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.

Lisa Nichols – Vice Principal on Special Assignment GOAL 2 Office/ School Leadership

Lisa Nichols – Vice Principal on Special Assignment GOAL 2 Office/ School Leadership
About Lisa Nichols

Lisa Nichols was born in Daly City, CA and moved to Fresno at the age of three. She graduated from Hoover High School in 1991. Lisa is the first in her family to receive a college degree. She received her Bachelor of Arts and Master’s Degree in Social Work from California State University of Fresno (CSUF). She continued pursing her education and received a second Master’s Degree in Education and an Administrative Credential.


Lisa is a Vice Principal on Special Assignment with Fresno Unified School District’s GOAL 2 Office/School Leadership. She was a part of the team that opened Gaston Middle School in 2014. She plays an important role in creating a culture in which the needs of students, teachers, families, and the community are met through building positive connections. In her first role at FUSD, Lisa implemented and ran two critical afterschool programs at an elementary school site, Girl Power and Boys 2 Men. The Girl Power program taught young girls to be confident, to stand up for themselves, and to be healthy.

The Boys 2 Men mentoring program for at-risk students, taught learning skills applicable for the real world. In addition, students learned to be leaders, self-sufficient learners, resolve conflicts, and resist peer influences. With 10 years working in child welfare, and 8 years working as a social worker in a hospital setting, Lisa has impacted the lives of many adults. She provided resources and emotional support that aided in their ability to get their lives back on track and improved the quality of life for them.


One of Lisa’s passions lies in community work. She served as Commissioner for First 5 Fresno County for six years, served seven years on the Advisory Council for Fresno Institute for Urban Leadership (FIFUL), board member for Tree Fresno for four years, served on the Children’s Movement Leadership team and the Advisor for the Bullard High African-American Parent Advisory Group for four years. She currently serves as a Commissioner for  the Fresno Economic Opportunities Commission (EOC), Board Member for the Marjorie Mason Center, Board of Directors, Member for the Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) Board of Directors, Board Member for the Black Students of California United (BSCU) Co-Advisor for the Black Student Union Club (BSU) at Gaston Middle School and is a chapter member of San Joaquin Valley Alumnae (SJVA) Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Incorporated. In addition, she has served as the co-chair for the Educational Development Committee for 7 years, which has been instrumental in hosting the African American High School Recognition Ceremony for the past 26 years.


In June of 2008, Lisa was recognized as a trailblazer by the San Joaquin Valley Alumnae Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc. In March of 2014, Lisa was recognized by the Fresno Black Chamber of Commerce for outstanding contributions to the Fresno area. She received the “Passing the Torch” trailblazer award in February of 2015 from the African American Historical & Cultural Museum and recognized as ACSA Administer of the Year in 2016.


Lisa has overcome many obstacles in her life; however, she believes her struggles have made her a stronger person. She has risen above childhood domestic violence, poverty, both speech and learning disabilities. Lisa contributes her education accomplishments and her passion for community involvement to her grandmother, Ethel Luke, who raised her, and has made her to be the women she is today. Lisa has 2 daughters, Candice, age 28 Bria, 26 and two grandsons, Ellis, age 6 and Adrian, age 1.

Connect with Lisa: Email | Linkedin

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

School of Social Work – California State University

Fresno Unified School District

Gaston Middle School

First 5 Fresno County

Fresno Institute for Urban Leadership (FIFUL)

Tree Fresno

Children’s Movement

Fresno Economic Opportunities Commission (EOC)

Marjorie Mason Center

Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA)

Black Students of California United (BSCU)

African American High School Recognition Ceremony

Fresno Black Chamber of Commerce

Association of California School Administrators

FUSD – School Based Mentorship

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):
Welcome back to another episode on the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s guest is Lisa Nichols, who was born in California and moved to Fresno at the age of three, and she’s the first of her family to receive a college degree and also a master’s degree in education and an administrative credential. Lisa is the Vice Principal on Special Assignment GOAL 2 Office/ School Leadership.


Sam Demma (01:08):
What you need to know about Lisa is that she is on a mission to help young people, whether it was starting her own program called girl power or boys to men, or whether it’s today using the obstacles that she overcame in her own life. You know, struggles like childhood, domestic violence, poverty, both speech and learning impediments and disabilities. It’s using the experiences and challenges that she went through growing up as a kid that she believes have made her a stronger person. And those are the things that are allowing her to pour back into kids and students, and would inform her educational accomplishments and her passion for community involvement . She’s also very family orientated. She has two daughters, Candace aged 28 and Bria aged 26, and two grandsons; Ellis age 6 and Adrian age 1. Lisa is a beam of positivity and hope, and I hope you feel inspired after listening to a little bit of her story on today’s interview. I’ll see you on the other side, talk soon. Lisa, welcome to the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show all the way from another country.


Lisa Nichols (02:20):
Thank you. Thanks Sam.


Sam Demma (02:23):
Yeah, it’s a pleasure. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit about who you are and what brought you to, to where you are in education today?


Lisa Nichols (02:31):
Wow, that’s a lot. So I’ll try to keep it brief. I’m Lisa Nichols and I’m a vice principal and special assignment with Fresno Unified School District in Fresno, California. We get a lot of heat here, so if you ever come into our neighborhood, you need to make sure you’re bringing a beach towel and a hat to stay cold. But I, gosh, my, you know, it was kind of a fluke because I didn’t come into education by choice. My background is social work, and I knew I wanted to be a social worker at a very young age. So I wanted to help people in need and give back. So it took a situation that happened at my daughter’s school to get involved as a parent advocate, and as a result of being involved as a parent, I was tapped on the shoulder by school officials.


Lisa Nichols (03:20):
They’re like, you would be really great at this as an advocate, as an employee. And I was like, you know what? I have a credential a counselor credential. And so that’s how I came into education. And I actually said, I would never come into education because I had such a bad experience as a parent. I just thought there’s no way I would work in a system like that, but it actually has been the most rewarding job I’ve ever had. And I, and I, I say that with all sincerity, I have really enjoyed working in the district and being able to mentor and empower young young leaders as well as teachers and staff to help support our young leaders.


Sam Demma (03:56):
That’s amazing. And I’m sorry to hear about the bad experience. If you don’t mind me asking like what, what did that entail and how did that experience motivate you to be the change you wanted to see in the school that you’re working in? Now?


Lisa Nichols (04:11):
My daughter was the whistleblower in a situation where there was students that had it was a racial incident and she spoke, got against it. And as a parent you know, you’re advocating to make sure your child is safe, but that the schools are really taking consideration of how that impacts those that have been harmed by the situation. Yeah. As but that, that situation, I always think there’s, you always, there’s good that you can find out any situation, you know, that can come outta any situation. And so as a result of that started looking at the data for African American students and realize as parents, we need to be a better partners at the table. And I know for me, I was going about my business schedule and they making sure my kids were advocat for, but I realized that it takes a village and that I needed to do my part in supporting not only my students, but my, by my black students, my children, but other black students.


Lisa Nichols (05:08):
And so as a result of that, I started an African American parent advisory group to get other parent partners at the table because we needed to understand that the schools can’t do it alone. It really is a partnership. And even when things we may not agree with certain systems or policies that the schools have. We can, if we understand them better, we can work better to look at some systematic changes. And so that’s where I came from that lens. And so that was kind of my journey. And so not necessarily, it was a bad experience as far as at the time when it happened, it wasn’t a good feeling to be a part of that. However, it did teach my daughter how to be an advocate when things aren’t right, how to step up and have a voice and not be scared. And it taught me as a parent on how I could help educate other parents about the importance of how do we, what do we need to do more to advocate for our students and our children and and do our part and that we can’t always point the finger. Again, it, it is accountability from all corners.


Sam Demma (06:09):
Ah, I love that. That’s amazing. Thank you so much for sharing and that’s really cool. Is the advisory group still, is this still a thing that exists and you guys, you know, meet on like a monthly basis or something?


Lisa Nichols (06:19):
Well, and actually, so my, both my girls graduated 10 years ago when this, when this


Sam Demma (06:23):
Project started.


Lisa Nichols (06:24):
So this happened 10 years ago. And so I’ve been in my, I’ve been in my district almost close to nine years. So the advisory council had for a minute it was, it had disappeared, but it, it came back and it’s funny because how it comes back in circle it they’ve now leaned on me as the employee to help support the current advisor, the parent advisor that’s over that, that group at that particular school. And so now I’m working to mentor the parent advisor behind the scenes on some just lessons learned what, what I wish I would’ve had at the time when I was starting this group on my own. So it’s, it’s neat to see that it’s, it’s now in effect and that they’re looking at ways to help support the school.


Sam Demma (07:05):
Ah, that’s awesome. And you know, you mentioned a few minutes ago that you never really saw yourself in education. In fact, you decided you’d never get into it. Growing up, did you have awesome educators yourself? Like, did you have teachers that you can think of or principals or coaches back in, in school that you think motivated you and maybe inspired you to realize that you might want to get into education or was your experience the total opposite as well as a young person?


Lisa Nichols (07:36):
Yeah, my experience was I didn’t, I can’t recall a teacher, which is that. And this is one of the reasons why I decided my main decision to come into education. I had a speech therapist that I can tell you who was very supported and my grandmother who was a strong advocate to make sure that I wasn’t gonna be this child left behind. Yeah. So those two individuals I can, I can recall very supported in my corner, which makes me think about why it’s important that our students have key connections and people they can identify as a person on campus that I can go to that person if I’m having a bad day, or if I feel like I have been harmed or not treated fairly, I have this person I can lean on. And so that was one of my main decisions why I said, okay, I, I got involved cuz of my daughters, but now I need to even get more involved because students don’t always have that relationship with a, a staff on, on campus.


Lisa Nichols (08:31):
Now it has changed, you know, that was 20 some years ago. when I was coming up. Yeah. And so our districts and our community is looking at how do we nurture our, how do we mentor our staff to be those relationship builders for their students. And, and I definitely have seen changes in our systems and we’ve definitely come a long ways. So yeah. So I give a high five to my grandmother who was, who was resting in heaven. Mm-Hmm and the speech therapist who, I can’t remember her name, but who always had that that ability to make me feel like I was going to be somebody, you know, that I, she didn’t give up on me and encourage me. And so I, I wish I knew her name. I can’t remember, but I do remember her, her words and her kind touch and, and those type of things.


Sam Demma (09:18):
Yeah. That’s amazing. I like, I, I think back to my own high school experience, and there’s only one teacher for me that really stood out, everyone was okay. In my experience. But that there was one educator who went above and beyond to make me feel like I could do great things like you’re mentioning who like, and I was going through a really tough experience in grade 12. I played soccer my entire life and was on route to get a full ride scholarship. And in my senior year underwent three major knee injuries and two surgeries and had to stop playing sports. And it was like this like life shattering experience. And he was the one person in my life. No, my parents supported me, but he was one other person in my life who would pull me aside and say, Sam, you’re destined for great things.


Sam Demma (09:57):
You might not see it right now, but I promise you, like, I promise you’re gonna do amazing work. And, and his words stuck in my mind, you know, and it just goes to show how powerful one caring person is in the life of a, of a young person or, or a young student. And that makes me curious, like in your school can you recall any examples on how the positive words of educators or even over yourself has impacted a young person and maybe you didn’t even know about it for like two years. And then they came back and were like, Ms. Nichols, Lisa, like, oh my goodness, you said two years ago made a big impact or maybe some of your teachers that have said those things. Can you think of any stories? And if it’s a serious transformation, you can like, kinda keep it private. I am,


Lisa Nichols (10:41):
I can think of one because I happen to be so my first position in the district was a school counselor and the school that I served at, one of the programs that I implemented was called girl power because I felt there, and it was for students that were behaviorally having issues. And they were academically not doing well. So I started this after school program called girl girls power. And I started a boys, boys to men club as well. So this is at school. Well, I happened to run. I was in a, a, in a line at in and out getting my love in and out by the way. And I pulled up to get my order. And there was a young girl that was like, Ms. Nichols. I’m like, I don’t know who this young girl is, but she goes my name.


Lisa Nichols (11:23):
Right. She’s like, do you remember me? You know, I was in your girl power group. And then, and I was like, and when she said her name, then I knew, I remember right away who she was, but she talked about how, how that group was really it just, she goes, I, I had so much fun in that group and the things that we learned, cuz they learned about being young women and we would bring in speakers to help just kind of uplift them and just give them motivation and inspire them. And she talked about how that was something she took remembered. And so it just touched my heart because you never know the impact you have on kids. Sometimes you see it in the moment and most of the times you don’t right. And you always wonder, you know, did I make an impact on that, those group of students?


Lisa Nichols (11:59):
And, and so she was there, she’s like, I’m working. I, I graduated and which is funny because it tells my age that I was running into an 18 year old at the time and she was in sixth grade at the time. And so yeah, so that was inspiring to hear her say, you know, that that group made a difference at the time in my life. And thank you for that. And so, and I, it’s exciting a couple of years ago I had ran into the program that now oversees it, the department that oversees it and now girl powers in several elementary schools. Oh wow. So yeah, and some, they always keep me adverse to what’s going on, like, Hey, you know, we started a girl power in this school. They’ve changed the dynamics and the curriculum, but the foundation they’ve been able to say, you know, we always go back to the foundation you later. So yeah, that is a, that’s a great story that I always keep because I always wonder if the group was effective. I know it’s in other schools, but just to hear a student that was once in the program is really neat, neat to see and hear how their journey, where they’ve, you know, where they’re going.


Sam Demma (13:00):
And what’s so awesome is like, even if you didn’t drive that in and out and didn’t hear that student success story, it’s still there. Like it’s still exists. It’s just like sometimes as educators, you don’t hear it or maybe you hear it 20 years later. It’s like if a tree falls in a forest and no, one’s there to hear it, the tree still falls, right? It’s like same with student impact sometimes with educators. And you could tell how excited you are about that group, cuz you’re smiling from cheek to cheek when you’re talking about it, which


Lisa Nichols (13:24):
Is, it was such a fun group because we they learned a skill every group, so a perfect things that they need in the real life world, right. How to be respectful and how to deal with confrontation and conflict. And they learned leadership skills and then we would always have a girl power tea at the very end of every session where the girls learn how to be, you know, how to eat and appropriately. And it was cute. So I, I smiled because I remember of all the community partners that came together to make the tea really look like a tea. And there was board members that stepped up to do center pieces and we had people pitching in money to do, you know, cause there wasn’t budgets were really low back back then it’s like, oh I couldn’t get money for stuff. But I, the community stepped up to make sure they had, you know, these little cucumber sandwiches, just really things that really and that it it’s the little things right.


Lisa Nichols (14:17):
And the girls, they got to dress up and they got to, to share what they learned the three months in that, in that group. So yeah, it does put a smile on my face because I think now those students are, the first group are gotta be, at least they’re they gotta be 20, 20 or 19 or 20 at this age now. So I’m wondering where they’re all at. But but just seeing her that wasn’t, that was enough to, to say, okay, that, that, that group did make an impact at least on one student.


Sam Demma (14:45):
Yeah. That’s amazing. That’s so cool. Sounds like you gotta reconnect with them again. Now you have a reason to check in.


Lisa Nichols (14:51):
I gotta go back and see if she’s at the, in out. Yeah.


Sam Demma (14:54):
That’s amazing. That’s amazing. And I wanna go back one more time again to your grandmother. Grandmother. Yeah. It sounds like she had a really big impact on you. And my grandfather actually had a huge impact on me. And I’m curious to know what your grandmother did. I was listening just recently to a podcast called on purpose. This guy named Jay, she host it and he’s like a really cool guy. And he was interviewing someone named scooter bran who happens to be like Justin Bieber’s music manager. And scooter bran was saying that when he was a kid, his grandmother pulled him and his siblings aside one by one individually without the others knowing and would say, Hey, I have to tell you something it’s a very important secret. And you can’t tell any of your other siblings, you’re the special one and they’re gonna do amazing things. And I believe in you and, and she told all the kids and at scoot scooter only realized at his grandmother’s funeral after telling his brother, Hey, you know, she pulled me aside when we were kids. And she told me that I was a special one. And, and then his brother was like, well, she told me that too. , you know, they all realized, and I was just like, wow, what a wise thing to tell a young mind, you know how


Lisa Nichols (16:05):
Powerful that is.


Sam Demma (16:06):
Yeah. And I’m curious to know what your, you know, grandmother did for you that made a, a big difference in impact.


Lisa Nichols (16:11):
Oh, that’s such an easy question. She was very big in, in giving back to your community. And so my sister and I were raised to give back at an early age and we volunteered for advance. It was nothing. And so I am super involved in the community because of the the foundation she instilled in me about, you have to take care of your, your, your village, your community, it’s important that you give back. And so and then she always talked about the importance of connections. She’s like always meet a new person every day, cause you never know how that person, how you’ll need them in the future or how so I have a wealth of networks of people that I can call on if I need something. And so I I’m always talking about the importance of community partners at the table, in our district and how there’s resources that they have.


Lisa Nichols (16:59):
And we may not have as a system and we need to partner with them as well, even when it comes to our parents. And so, and so the community partnerships are key and that’s something that she taught me. And so we always do a community service project with our young kids. I oversee what is called the black student union advisory student council. And these are young young students, black students that were teaching leadership and the importance of giving back. And so that’s what my grandmother has instilled in me and I have connections, anytime I need anything I can go to someone’s community. And I won’t get a, a note for an answer because of the connections I’ve made. And I, I have to give my grandmother all the praise for that for teaching me about the importance of a community and a village.


Sam Demma (17:45):
Ah, I love that. That’s amazing. And when you were growing up I think volunteer is so important. I feel like it’s one of the only examples in life where it’s a win, win, win experience. You know, you win because you feel good about the work you’re doing, the people you’re helping or who you’re volunteer, win, cuz you’re helping them. And then the world as a whole kind of just becomes a little bit of a better place, emit so much negative news and turmoil. Mm-Hmm do you remember some of the experiences or like where you guys volunteered? Like what would you usually do growing up with your grandma?


Lisa Nichols (18:17):
So don’t laugh, but my grandmother was very involved with the senior citizen center. And so that’s where we would hang out with her in the kitchen. She was a cook and so we would help serve the, the elder population. And you know, at our age you would think, gosh, who wants to hang out with older people? Right. But it was a, I love the elder community. And I think because my grandmother started at a young age of us appreciating our elders. Right. And so you wouldn’t think the young individual wanna hang out with older people, but we looked forward to our, our Saturdays and feeding the elders or lunch and reading books to them. And so that’s was where, that’s where we hung out as, as children. And then of course, you know, we grew up in the church and so we would always, you know be involved in our church activities, but the senior citizens center is where we hung out growing up. And so you can never say anything mean to be about an elderly. I just, I just have the highest, most highest respect for them. And that’s kind of where we were raised. Like you just, you respected your elders, you listened to them and no matter what they said, you, you let it go to one ear out the other, even if you disagreed with them, you just, it was just that mutual respect you had.


Sam Demma (19:24):
Yeah. Oh, I love that. So true. It’s similar in like European families, like I’m half Italian, half Greek and it’s like, yeah, we, we were very much taught to respect our elders as well. And hopefully everyone’s taught that, you know? Yeah. But yeah, that’s such a cool, that’s such a cool little story. When you think about education today, what do you think are some of the challenges and how have you tried to overcome some of those and maybe also on a positive note, what do you think are some of the opportunities that exist as well?


Lisa Nichols (19:55):
So at challenges, I think the thing about challenges there’s is the cultural aspect of our students, making sure that that culturally, our students are learning about who they are. And so I think the challenges are that our teachers don’t always have those tools or the resources to be able to have those conversations all the time in their classrooms. Yeah. You know, we, we do a really good job in celebrating black history or celebrating single denial or, you know, those one time events that support cultural, multicultural and identity, but it needs to be something that’s ongoing and all year long because there’s identity issues with some of our students when it comes to their culture and they don’t understand who they know or they don’t know their histories. And so that’s kind of the challenge is just making sure that we are providing those, that space and opportunity for students to learn about who they are so they can be proud and be inspired.


Lisa Nichols (20:56):
I think there’s opportunities for for us to our, our district is doing a really good job in in student of and and student voice. And, and in past years we’ve made sure we provide space and opportunity for, for students to be at the table. And so I think there’s room for opportunities for, for any education system to make sure that they have their young people up up in front, that when they’re making a decision on behalf of students, that they have students at the table helping to map out those plans and those, whatever the plan is gonna be, that there’s a young person at the table in those conversations. And so I think we have many room, many opportunities for room to do that.


Sam Demma (21:42):
I love that. And I think we’re getting to an age where students are, students are so resilient. Like it always, it just excites me so much when I see a young person like battle an obstacle and beat it. And if someone tells them, there’s no space at the table, they pull up their own chair. You know, that’s what it seems like these days. And I think that’s so exciting and awesome, and it it’s, you know, kudos to the teachers and people that are raising them cuz you know, you all are doing a great job. In terms of the difference between, you know, two years ago, education and this year what is like, what are some of those challenges? I know C’s obviously placed some barriers and how has your school tried to overcome those things and still get students the support they need and still just continue giving them an education.


Lisa Nichols (22:31):
Right. so I, I think parent engagement, it would be and I, I think that’s a challenge, especially it comes to our African American parents, I think. It’s like, how do we look at ways to engaging and making sure that that we’re listening to their concerns and we’re again having them as partners at the table. And I think that’s a, a challenge for many school districts, not just ours. Yeah. And so I am actually in the doctoral program and that’s what I’m planning to do. My dissertation on is how do we engage our African American parents? And, and to not necessarily be thinking, well, it’s the blame on, on our, on the African American community. It’s like, what if we, the district need to look at on our end, what are some things that we may need to change or do differently when we’re working with our parents?


Lisa Nichols (23:24):
And so so I think that’s a challenge. That would kind of be the biggest one that I’m thinking, especially now with COVID and you know, now, I mean, for me, I I do a lot of my things virtually still because just because of the, the feedback that I’ve gotten back from parents is like, Hey, can cuz my programs are after school. And so it’s easier for me to do virtual. But I, I think we I think the challenge is how do you keep kids engaged virtually act with after school activities and how do you make sure parents are showing up too as well? How do you engage them that way? So I think that’s gonna be a challenge because I know people don’t like the virtual space, but and so if we ever had to go back to that, you know, how do we make it more engaging?


Sam Demma (24:11):
Mm, got it. Cool.


Lisa Nichols (24:12):
Yeah. And I know nobody wants to talk about like, no, we don’t ever wanna go back to hybrid learning, but


Sam Demma (24:18):
Yeah, no, it’s true. It’s true. That’s


Lisa Nichols (24:20):
How COVID talks taught us something, right? Yeah. I mean, I just learned zoom when COVID shut down, I’m like, what is a zoom? I don’t even know what a zoom is. it took me only a month to learn how to figure it out. But I’m now more tech savvy with that. Right. It, so I don’t, it was COVID was bad. It’s it’s horrible, but we had to go through, but some skills came out of it too. Like I, we learned a lot of new things. That’s gonna make our, our new, just new generation. They’re gonna be popping when they get out there. I mean, can you imagine the skills that they have now?


Sam Demma (24:52):
Yeah. And I mean, sometimes it’s, it’s difficult to facilitate things online. That’s why like whenever I tell bad jokes and no one laughs I just push his button


Lisa Nichols (25:06):
And then I laughed


Sam Demma (25:08):
Yeah. And that’s what happens. That’s what happens with all the kids, you know, like adding in some simple tools can just make it more, more interesting and engaging for, for the kids and students as well.


Lisa Nichols (25:19):
And we learn and we learn some engaging things. You can bring, you bring music and you bring affirmations and games and you there’s ways to make virtual learning, engaging. And so I will be perfecting at because I wanna make sure in the event we ever had to do that again, that I’m prepared. So


Sam Demma (25:41):
Yeah, it’s awesome. And if you, if you could, if you could zoom back no plan intended to like nine years ago and know, give advice to younger. Lisa, when you just, is it nine years you’ve been in education? How long you it’s


Lisa Nichols (25:58):
Nine years. Yeah. I’ve been nine years. Cause I did, most of my life was social work. I 15 years in social work. And so that was hard to switch over. Yes.


Sam Demma (26:05):
So if you could, you know, go back nine years, when you, you made the, made the transfer or the, the, the transfer to education, like what advice would you give your younger self, knowing what you know now, and based on the experiences you’ve had working in education,


Lisa Nichols (26:21):
I had to tap, you know, what my grandmother used to tell me like when a door opens, walk through it, because there’s a reason why, so when someone tapped me to come into education, I question it, you know, and I, and then even I, when I got into education, I was tapped to go to apply for an administrator for, cause I’m a vice principal now. So I went from a C to a vice principal. Yeah. And to go back to school and I questioned it, but there’s a reason why people are tapping you because they see something in you that you may not see yourself. So now when I’m getting tapped I, I tend to like not question it too, too much and be like, you know, there’s a reason why I’m getting asked to do this or why I’m being asked to, Hey, put in for this position, we see that you could make a larger impact. And, you know, coming from the school site, I was tapped to do that too, to come downtown. And I was like, Ugh, I don’t know. But I knew eventually that I was gonna make a larger impact. So that’s what I would tell my younger Lisas, like stop questioning it. There’s a reason for the tap. And others are seeing things that you may not always see in yourself.


Sam Demma (27:23):
Hmm. I love that. That’s a good piece of advice. and if someone’s listening to this right now and thinking to themselves, we need more Lisa in our lives or just wanna connect and have a conversation with you about something you talked about, like what would be the best way for another educator listening to get in touch with you?


Lisa Nichols (27:43):
Oh, they can hit me up at Lisa.Nichols@fresnounified.org, and also on Facebook under Lisa Nichols. And so my name will be changing, so they might see nice Lisa Mitchell cause I’m switching over to a new name, but yeah. So yeah, I would, I welcome anyone reaching out if they wanna just you know, just kind of be a thanking partner because I, again, I go back to the takes of village. I’m always learning from others too, that reach out. And I think we are better in numbers. That’s another thing I would tell the Lisas, like lean on your village. Like when you need support and help, don’t do it alone. You definitely can’t do this work alone. You definitely need a village that are in this work with you.


Sam Demma (28:24):
Awesome. All right well, you’ll you’ll know when this goes live, cuz all those educators, this thing will knock down your front door, asking some questions but this is awesome. Lisa, thank you so much for taking some time to come on the show and share some of, you know, your grandmother’s philosophies, your own experiences in education, what you would tell your younger self, some of the challenges you’re faced with. It’s been a real pleasure chatting with you.


Lisa Nichols (28:46):
Thank you, Sam. I appreciate you having me on your show and good luck with what you’re doing. I think this is great that you’re you’re interviewing educators so we all can learn from each other. Appreciate it.


Sam Demma (28:55):
And there you have it. Another amazing guest, an amazing interview on the High Performing Educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review so other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show; if you want meet the guest on today’s episode, if you wanna meet any of the guests that we have interviewed, consider going to www.highperformingeducator.com and signing up to join the exclusive network, you’ll have access to networking events throughout 2021 and other special opportunities. And I promise I will not fill your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Lisa Nichols

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.

Lynda Burgess – Education Manager with Alberta Education

Lynda Burgess - Education Manager with Alberta Education
About Lynda Burgess

Lynda (@LyndaBurgess) is a relational leader and teacher first who has over 20 years of experience in teaching and leadership positions with St. Albert Public School.  She joined Alberta Education in 2013; working in the areas of technology, curriculum and First Nations, Metis and Inuit education.

Work-life aside she enjoys kayaking, hiking, cycling, golfing and lives in St. Albert with her 2 university-age children.

Connect with Lynda: Email | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

St. Albert Public School

Alberta Education

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens by Sean Covey

The Coaching Habit by Michale Bungay Stanier

University of Alberta – Faculty of Education

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):
Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. I’m so excited to bring you today’s interview. It is with my good friend, Lynda Burgess. Lynda is a relational leader and teacher first, who has over 20 years of experience in teaching and leadership positions with St. Albert public school. She joined Alberta Education in 2013, working in the areas of technology curriculum, and first nations meti, and Inuit education. She enjoys kayaking, hiking, cycling, and golfing and lives in St. Albert with her two University aged children. I hope you enjoy this interview with Linda as much as I enjoy chatting with her, and I will see you on the other side. Lynda, welcome to the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here today. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit behind the journey that brought you to where you are today in education?


Lynda Burgess (01:27):
Well, good morning, Sam. I’m so pleased to be here. Thanks so much for the invitation. Just delighted to be able to take part, what brought me here to this? My journey. Gosh. Okay. How far back can we go, Sam? I, I don’t know how much time you’ve got.


Sam Demma (01:42):
we can go as far back as you’d like


Lynda Burgess (01:45):
Got into teaching by default actually had always been teaching piano lessons to, to others when I was started teaching piano when I, I was about 12 and didn’t start in teaching that’s for certain, in terms of a degree started in science and, and biology and mathematics and those sorts of things, but actually ended up teaching math and science in the end, but just, you know, not sure where I was headed and someone suggested, Hey, why don’t you be a teacher? Cuz you’ve been doing that, a music teacher all along. So yeah, what the heck thought I’d give it a shot. So did, and thought I’d stay in it for a few years. Actually. It’s, it’s tough to keep teachers actually the average retention is about five years on average, which isn’t very high. So you know, but several decades later I was still teaching and loving it, absolutely loving it and continued to be inspired by and model actually I guess, teaches I’d had along the way. So Sam, I don’t know how much detail you want, but happy to chat more.


Sam Demma (02:41):
Yeah, that’s awesome. And you mentioned piano lessons. Did you play the piano growing up? Was music and art, a big part of your, your life?


Lynda Burgess (02:51):
Yeah. My mom was a music teacher. She was on the Royal conservatory board in the Western board of Canada. You know, really, I don’t know if you know much about the piano world or the, the instrument world, but she was really involved. And so we like, you know, some kids learned the first thing they put on as a pair of skates. First thing we had was piano lessons since we were, I can’t remember how old, but so did that did study seriously for, for a lot of years and actually was teaching others since I was about age 12 myself. So it was just always part of the world and I played the violin as well and studied that quite seriously for quite some time. So I guess it was kind of a fit, you know, why don’t you just be a music teacher? So , and actually that ended up being my major and I did of course, mathematics and business ed and science as well. And I’d already done somebody outta my science degree. So there was lots, lots to offer there, but it was music that got me my first teaching job. There’s no question.


Sam Demma (03:46):
Yeah, that’s awesome. Specialty. And, and people often say that you learn the most when you start teaching the thing you’re learning. And I think that’s so unique that at the age of 12, while you are probably still learning to play the piano and still, you know, honing your skills, you took on the role of teaching others, which would probably, I would assume help you also become a better piano player. I think that’s one of the unique aspects of being a teacher. The more you teach, the more you also learn, you’re always a student and I’m curious to know, you know, music could have brought you in all these different paths, but it brought you to the classroom. Was there inspirations in your life that directed you to the words of the classroom? Did you have some awesome teachers or educators growing up that really inspired you to take this path on? Or maybe even your mom


Lynda Burgess (04:31):
Well, she’s the one who suggested it actually, but okay. But I suppose not to inspire me to take that on, but they didn’t inspire me along the way. There’s no question. And then once I started teaching that I would, you know, reflect on often in terms of, you know, what I was doing in terms of modeling what I had seen from them. Some, some great leaders who really inspired me, you know, from a math teacher whose style I just loved in terms of, and I was ended up being a math teacher actually for, for a lot of my career. But, but others as well, you know, who just were so passionate about what they did or just how they approached people, you know, at the end of the day, it was always about relationship and what they were able to draw out of people and how they, how they, they got got you to certain places that you didn’t even know you could go to, you know, in terms of exploring your, your talents or your skills or your interests or just opportunities, and just really inspired by sort of positive people, amazing humans who just did great work.


Sam Demma (05:28):
Can you recount personal examples of something that might even happen to you? Like I can tell you for me sometimes to a fault when I was in high school, certain classes were just check boxes that I needed to check off on my resume to be, hopefully become a professional soccer player and get a full ride division one scholarship. Yes. And it was my grade 12 foot issues teacher, Michael loud foot who made this crazy intentional effort to get to know every student in the class, teach a lesson. And then at the end or throughout the lesson, he would call you out. He would say, Sam, mm-hmm for you. This means X and Kavon for you. This means Y and he, he knew us based on our personal passion, so would take his content and apply it to our personal lives. And I could tell you, like, that’s a personal example of something an educator did, did, for me, that made a huge difference that turned his class, not only from a checkbox, but into a, an engaging conversation that I always wanted to participate in. And I’m curious to know if you can recount like any specific personal examples, similar, not similar to that, but maybe with another teacher you had that really helped you,


Lynda Burgess (06:35):
You know, that’s a, that’s a great, great point, Sam and great examples. I love it. And it’s, you know, for me, I think if I can think of gosh, 3, 4, 5, the more, I think the more come to mind of, of instances where that happened. And it was probably more around the general theme of someone paying attention or someone seeing something and you that you didn’t even recognize that was there, you know, or didn’t know was there, I think of a, you know, option classes in high school, I took drama cuz all the buddies were taking drama, you know, really was I talented at acting cotton but, but once I was in there, this drama teacher who was, and they used to put on major operatic productions at high schools back in, they do still now too. But suddenly he was casting me as the lead role in this play.


Lynda Burgess (07:21):
I was going, what, who were you calling on? you know, just, but he would give opportunities for these things cuz he saw something that I was like, I, are you sure that kind of thing. And then other, you know, other times too, with just like, I like the, like the comment you made there about connecting to you and to you personally. And you know, I just thinking back to a grade five teacher who was, you know, teaching science and talking about something and had seen me bring something in from recess and tied it into the lesson, it was like, wow, somebody’s paying attention here. You know, somebody’s connecting to something that I thought was, you know, neat or fun or important to me. And, and so it comes back to that whole relationship piece. It really does. So that’s really, what’s driven me over the years. Even now, you know, I’ve left teaching and gone to the government side of, of work in Alberta education, but still it’s all about the relationships and empowering other people.


Sam Demma (08:15):
I love it. And what does your work look like today and what are some of the exciting parts of the work that gets you up every day and move you to action?


Lynda Burgess (08:27):
love, it gets as excited up today and, and move to action. Love it. Well I we’ve been with Alberta education now for probably, oh gosh, how long now? Eight years maybe officially and been in many different roles there started there with the technology and then engagement curriculum. And now with the first nation maintain Inuit education directorate. And so, you know, I guess what inspires me all the way along to get up and come to work every day is the people I work with. Quite honestly, it comes back to that relationship piece and within the first nation maintaining education directorate, there’s just so much to learn and it’s a whole, it was a whole new world to me when I entered that, that work group about two and a half years ago. But it’s really about and what I’ve realized more and more as I’ve been there, it’s about still coming back to the relationship and having people, you know, where are they in their journey? Where are they in telling their story? And not that what’s going on with them that they own. There’s lots of other cultures who’ve been through many things. I won’t even get into any of that stuff. Yeah. But, but it’s really comes back to their perception of where they’re at at this moment in time really. And, and moving through that journey. So lots again, it comes back to the, the people and the relationships.


Sam Demma (09:39):
That’s awesome. And how did you find yourself in this role? Like what did the transition look like? And yeah, tell me more about that.


Lynda Burgess (09:47):
Well that was an interesting one. I was in curriculum for a few years and then they were looking to bring, wanted the leadership wanted to bring more educators into the directorate who had actually education experience in the field. And so I got tapped on the shoulder, did I, would I wanna come over and work with this group or work in this area? And it was a whole new world to me and I said, yeah, why not? How could I not? Right, right. There’s so much to be learned.


Sam Demma (10:12):
That’s awesome. And how did, and you probably got this question a few times, from other people, but how did, how did COVID and the pandemic shift plans change things or force you as a team to focus on some problems or things that are going on.


Lynda Burgess (10:28):
Yeah. Great, great question. And we’ve all lived it and still living it and it’s kind of UN unfolding a little bit. Now life is kind of returning to normal slowly. Right. But yeah, it was interesting cuz it brought to the forefront and some issues that were always there, but they weren’t as urgent particularly, you know, I think of the technology and the connection and being able to connect, you know, whether it’s having bandwidth or even having a device to connect through. And you know, we saw lots of that within our communities, you know, with the first nations communities and the met settlements, et cetera, but not, not, but even urban urban centers. You know, a lot of kids here, you might have four kids in the family and do you have four extra laptops at home? No, , you know, so lots of those kinds of issues and actually technology has always been a passion and love of mine that’s ever since I started teaching.


Lynda Burgess (11:18):
And it’s what brought me over to the government initially as a lead on projects, provincially and video conferencing was one of them. And so we’d been working on that for like over 15 years so this last year and a half has been really exciting for us because , we now see that everybody’s really embracing has a need to embrace it. Right. So it’s that, that need meets to, you know, that that need meets the technology that’s there. So just lots of adjustments like that, just lots of listening, lots of listening, lots of, you know helping folks to realize that they’re not alone, that they’re not taking this. They’re not the only ones dealing with that. There’s that there’s a lot of folks going through similar things and it’s okay to be feeling or dealing or whatever. Let’s just help each other out.


Sam Demma (12:06):
Love that. And what projects are you working on right now that you and your team are excited about and they get you up every day and get you moving


Lynda Burgess (12:16):
Well, in terms of the actual work, I guess where we work now is really about, you know, supporting indigenous education, the, the students. So there’s some different things we have going on. We have this one great committee that has representatives from all across the education system. We’ve got representatives from the superintendents group, from the professional development providers across the, across the province. We’ve got school boards, we’ve got university deans who sit on this there’s people from all across the education system, the teachers, the, a TAs represented as well. And we all come together when we work in what we call our indigenous education and reconciliation circle and just pulling together all of our expertise and knowledge to, you know, how can we continue to build capacity and understanding and, and support so that really trying to improve those outcomes for, for our indigenous students. So that’s, that’s that’s an exciting setting piece of work.


Sam Demma (13:10):
That’s awesome. Do you, or have you ever heard of Larissa Crawford,


Lynda Burgess (13:16):
Marisa


Sam Demma (13:16):
Crawford? She has a company called our future ancestors and it’s, she’s doing some phenomenal work in this space. That it’s sounds like you’re working in and she might be someone to connect with. You might have just a cool conversation.


Lynda Burgess (13:31):
Excellent. Yeah. Great to know. Thanks Sam. Thanks for sharing that. And, and could be too that our, my partners in the other side of our branch who connect more outward, could be, could have made connections with her already. And that’s good to know though, appreciate that. Yeah. Always looking for those connections.


Sam Demma (13:46):
I’ll, I’ll send you like a link and you can check out someone, her stuff. She, yeah, she’s, she’s awesome. I’ve seen her speak before and yeah, it’s really empowering and super powerful and she’s breaking a lot of different echo chambers and starting like really cool conversations. But if you could go back and you could speak to, you know, you’re not old, but younger Linda


Lynda Burgess (14:08):
I Sam ,


Sam Demma (14:12):
If you could, if you could go and speak to Linda when she first started teaching, knowing what you know now and what the experiences that you’ve had, what advice would you give your younger self?


Lynda Burgess (14:24):
I just say to trust your instincts and just believe in, in, in what your gut’s telling you. I mean, there’s just so many things that come flying down all the time, you know, let’s swing the pendulum this way and here’s the latest, greatest thing. And just, you know, you, it can be overwhelming at times and it it’s overwhelming anyway, that kind of a job that it is because it’s a service profession. There’s no question about it. And don’t enter it unless you really have that, you know, you really believe in to others because that’s the kind of profession that it is and requires that kind of hard in mind. And there’s so many great teachers out there who are, you know, and who are examples of that. But you know, just trust, trust your instincts and just, you know, believe in, in, in what you know, that, you know, if somebody else comes along and like, oh, well, should I, should I, could I, should I, what should I, you know what it’s like, you know, just disbelieve in yourself really mm-hmm and don’t be afraid to ask because nobody’s got all the answers and nobody’s an expert.


Lynda Burgess (15:25):
None of us are experts. None of us have arrived at that ultimate place on top of the hill where we know it all never gonna happen, not in this business. So yeah, just keep an open mind, you know, keep learning and you know, being that lifelong learner is so true, you know, that’s a passion of mine is that just, there’s always something more to know, you know, it’s one thing I go into I’ve, I’ve met a lot of people say, well, we’re the experts. And I go really, really? You mean you, you know, absolutely everything there is. How could you possibly, you were just amazing. Wow. and they often have lots of great stuff to offer, but it’s like, I mean, you never, you never get there. You never completely get there, which is exciting though.


Sam Demma (16:04):
Right’s


Lynda Burgess (16:05):
So much more waiting. The more, you know, the more you realize you don’t know. Right.


Sam Demma (16:08):
It’s the curse of knowledge. yes. It’s funny. Every time I ask an educator to come on the podcast, oh, you want me to share? I’m like, Hey, you know, lots of things, I’m not calling you an expert by any means, but you know, you know, lots of things. And sometimes people that know lots, they think they know little and, and that’s because they’re always continuing to learn. And I think that’s such an important thing to remember on that note. Some resources. Do you have any favorite books or things that you’ve read watched, listened to that have been impactful for you as an educator or even with the work that you do specifically with the government?


Lynda Burgess (16:47):
Oh my gosh. That’s, that’s a great question, Sam.


Sam Demma (16:51):
I’m putting you on spot and


Lynda Burgess (16:51):
That’s gonna be, you have, and you know, I have a hard time remembering what I had for breakfast. It’s that’s okay. So long ago, right? What did you do on the weekend? Oh gosh, let me think. It’s so long ago, but you know, just, just little tidbits. I like those sort of quick hits and quick little tidbits. I know there’s a lot of podcasts out there now that share good information. You know, just even little books on that you might think might not fit, but to me, communication is a big piece of it. It’s not, it’s not just what you say, but it is what you say, but it’s how you’re saying it too. And it is the what, yeah. You know, I see more people paying attention to that now, as opposed to, you know, just, you know, telling students as opposed to let’s rephrase that so that the student might be really thinking it’s about them or engaged.


Lynda Burgess (17:37):
And, you know, one little book I love is the coaching habit, which just talks about how to phrase different questions so that when you’re pulling out or you’re getting the person to, to think about as opposed to giving them the response as that’s one of the best PDs I ever did was called cognitive coaching. And it was all about that. All about different sort of questioning and different situations and how to get people to really think through. And it was all by choice of language all by the language that you’ve chosen and other great resources Covey, the seven habits. Yeah. you know, there’s a lot


Sam Demma (18:09):
Of good pieces.


Lynda Burgess (18:10):
Yeah. There’s a lot of great pieces in there, you know, and it’s something will come up and go like, oh yeah. Begin with the end in mind. Right. Or listen first, you know, as opposed to waiting your turn to talk, all of those kinds of things I, I find are just so important. They’re little nuggets, but they just really make a huge difference in terms of moving things along.


Sam Demma (18:29):
And a book I read when I was 15, 16 was the seven habits of highly effective teens. yeah. So teachers, teachers, if you’re listening, you can buy a set for your students. I’m not affiliated, we are not affiliated, but it is an awesome book with cool, really cool and effective principles and highly recommend checking it out. That’s awesome.


Lynda Burgess (18:51):
Yeah. Agreed. Absolutely


Sam Demma (18:53):
Cool. Linda. Well, thank


Lynda Burgess (18:54):
You. I’m affiliated either. I get your permission.


Sam Demma (18:56):
yeah, we have no affiliation here. Just trying to be helpful. Thank you so much for taking some time to chat on the show. I really appreciate it. I look forward to seeing the awesome work that you continue to do in the indigenous space. It’s so important. Keep it up and I hope to stay in touch and we’ll talk soon. If someone wants to reach out what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you to have a conversation?


Lynda Burgess (19:19):
On Twitter, it’s probably the best way or through email is good too. It’s been a pleasure, Sam, thanks so much for the opportunity. Best of luck to you. It’s been, it’s been super.


Sam Demma (19:28):
And there you have it. Another amazing guest, an amazing interview on the High Performing Educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review so other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show; if you want meet the guest on today’s episode, if you wanna meet any of the guests that we have interviewed, consider going to www.highperformingeducator.com and signing up to join the exclusive network, you’ll have access to networking events throughout 2021 and other special opportunities. And I promise I will not fill your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Lynda Burgess

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

Dave Wilson – Principal at Cameron Heights Collegiate Institute

Dave Wilson - Principal at Cameron Heights Collegiate Institute
About Dave Wilson

Dave Wilson is the Principal of Cameron Heights Collegiate Institute in Kitchener, Ontario. He has been Principal at CHCI since January 2020. Before that he was Principal at Glenview Park Secondary School in Cambridge. Both CHCI and GPSS are IB World schools and offer Ontario and International Baccalaureate curriculum.

Dave began teaching in the Waterloo District School Board in 1997, at Southwood Secondary School. He also served as Vice Principal at Galt Collegiate, Forest Heights Collegiate, and Glenview Park. Dave believes in the importance of extra-curricular activities at school to help students engage with school life beyond academics.

Dave enjoys travelling with his family and works towards finding work/life balance by participating in various athletic pursuits.

Connect with Dave: Email

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Cameron Heights Collegiate Institute

Waterloo Region District School Board

Principal’s Qualification Program PQP

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:02):
Dave welcome to the high performing educator podcast. Pleasure to have you on the show here today. Start by introducing yourself.


Dave Wilson (00:09):
Thanks Sam. It’s a pleasure to be here. I’m Dave Wilson. I’m a principal with the Waterloo region district school board. My school is Cameron Heights collegiate. We’re located in downtown Kitchener and I guess this is my 25th year in education. And I look forward to a few more!


Sam Demma (00:27):
thank you for, thank you for your service, sir. well, when did you realize growing up that education was the field for you and how did that journey unfold?


Dave Wilson (00:43):
Well, I guess I enjoyed school and I enjoyed the experiences that I was able to have at school. And so in high school I enjoyed playing sports and being in bands and other activities. And so I think I always knew I had an affinity for the educational environment. But I was from a family of educators you know, grandparents, parents aunts. So, and so I think, I thought I wanted to try to do something different. And so I, I went into journalism, went to journalism school and was working at a small, weekly newspaper I would in Canmore, Alberta. And I found, I was spending an awful lot of time in the local schools covering sports or education issues. And then I ended up coaching a basketball team and, you know, I kind of looked at what my career was gonna be like. And I thought, you know, maybe I shouldn’t fight it. Maybe teaching is really what I wanna do. So went back to teachers college and I ended up getting a job at my old high school, which was it was great great timing. It was a little odd though. I’m now working with people who taught me.


Sam Demma (01:45):
Oh, wow.


Dave Wilson (01:46):
Sort of 12 years later, I guess it was. But that’s, that’s sort of how I got started


Sam Demma (01:51):
Kenmore, Alberta, such a beautiful place. My cousins live out there. Did you en enjoy your time out there?


Dave Wilson (01:58):
Oh, I loved it out there. Yeah. Yeah, I really did. And one of our daughters is in working in ban right now. It’s sort of, we, we got them hooked and nice. Yeah, no, that’s a great place. Fantastic.


Sam Demma (02:11):
That’s awesome. What piqued your interest about journalism? Tell me more about that aspect of your journey.


Dave Wilson (02:19):
Well, I mean, I’m always interested in what people do and why they do it and, you know, journalism’s a way to be exposed to a lot of different things and you talk to different people learn about what they do. You know, there’s a, a variety to it. You, you get to I mean, one of the good and not good things about journalism, at least from my point of view was you’re you see a lot of things, but you’re unnecessarily part of a lot of things. And so the sort of difference between journalism and education is now I’m, I’m part of the, the sort of action as opposed to the observer of it. But it, it is, you know, that was the part that drew me to it in the first place.


Sam Demma (03:00):
Awesome. Take me back to finishing your credentials and degree for teaching and give us a peek into the journey that brought you to where you are today.


Dave Wilson (03:12):
Well so my wife had gone back to teachers college a year before me. She had also started in journalism and we were living in Ottawa and she has dual Canadian American citizenship. Mm. And there were no jobs you know, it was very difficult to find a job in Ontario at that time. So we considered going somewhere else. You know, somewhere in the states. And I got a call from a former roommate of mine who had always knew we wanted to be a teacher. And so by this time he’s already been teaching for five years and he said, you might not believe this, but there’s gonna be a job coming up. And I, I think you’re qualified. Why don’t you apply? Hmm. And so it was, you know, we got, so we got our applications together and we submitted them.


Dave Wilson (03:58):
It was one of the last times in our board that they used to essentially have like a hiring fair and all the candidates would meet at the ed center. And there were interviews happening all over the place. And so my wife and I came out of that the next day, both with jobs. And so we kind of looked at each other and said, well, we can’t really give these up. Like, you know, this is gonna be great. And we were at the same school and we were at the same school for nine years and, and we’re still married. So that was good.


Sam Demma (04:26):
I was, I was gonna say education during the day education at home education everywhere.


Dave Wilson (04:33):
We’d make rules about talking about school. Yeah. I had to, you had to stop at a certain point.


Sam Demma (04:37):
That’s awesome. So after those initial nine years, what did the remainder of the journey look like to fill the 25?


Dave Wilson (04:46):
Well, I I took some courses so that I could pursue administration. Nice. And so I in our board you apply for a pool. So a vice principal pool. I got into the pool in the next year I was placed. And that was kind of fun. I got placed at the school where my, my father had been the principal and my mother had taught there. So it was it was interesting, you know, there were still a couple people left there that my dad had worked with. And my mom had worked with, so it was, it, it was a fun experience. It things went fairly well. I learned a lot and it was, yeah, I, I enjoyed it.


Sam Demma (05:26):
Was that a inground pool or aboveground pool? Yeah. That’s good thought was just joking. That’s


Dave Wilson (05:35):
Good. That’s awesome. I didn’t, the student here just asked me if we could get hot tubs, but


Sam Demma (05:38):
Really? Yeah. Yeah. Well, how do you respond to that?


Dave Wilson (05:42):
I, well, there is a swimming pool in this building owned by the city of kitchen. And I said, maybe we can just turn the heat off in that for


Sam Demma (05:48):
You. Nice.


Dave Wilson (05:48):
she didn’t like that.


Sam Demma (05:50):
That’s funny. So what are the different roles that you played in schools and of those roles, which have been from your perspective, very fulfilling and meaningful, and maybe the I’ll have, and you can touch upon why?


Dave Wilson (06:04):
Well, it, I mean, there’s certain different aspects to it. When I was a teacher, I coached a lot. I’ve coached a little bit as an administrator and the relationships you develop during any kind of extracurricular activity with kids, they can be the, the most fulfilling, right? Those are the kids that you know, you meet up with 10, 15 years later kind of thing, and see how they’re doing or you see them around town. So those experiences were really rewarding in administration. It’s more there’ll be specific student situations where maybe you’ve been able to help. And when you’re a vice principal, sometimes maybe the student doesn’t realize you’re helping ’em in the moment mm-hmm right. But, but, you know we look at it like, you know, a student might make a mistake, but we want them, we wanna help them learn from it so they can be successful in the long term. Right. So you know, you have to, you have to find your successes and your satisfactions in sometimes small interactions with families, things you can do to help them, that kind of thing.


Sam Demma (07:11):
Gotcha. That’s awesome. Along your journey, through education, working in different roles, did you have other educators that mentored you? And if so, who are some of those individuals and what do you think some of the things you took away from their instruction or example?


Dave Wilson (07:29):
Well, there’ve been too many to sort of count and name them all. You know, I think I had teachers that I would say I used as role models, you know, like I can think of a couple of my history teachers in high school, and I can think of some coaches. I remember when I was filling in as a vice principal before I was a vice principal, kinda learning how to do it. You know guy named Bruce deacon was the principal at the time. And I remember we had a, we had a challenging situation and he, he kind of sat me down and he said, Dave, you have to remember that after all this is done, everybody involved is coming back to the school, right? Like, is there was some conflict involved? I think it was a, a bullying situation.


Dave Wilson (08:13):
And he is like, so you’ve got a plan for what to do to react to it. What are you gonna do? You know, to make sure it doesn’t happen again, or to make sure these kids can get along, that kind of thing. And it was little moments like that he, you know, would take the time to you know, gave me some guidance that helps kind of helps you frame what you’re gonna do. Like you have to do these jobs, kind of you do it on your own, but you do it in consultation with other people, you know, it makes it more fun and you’re better at it. If you do it that way too,


Sam Demma (08:42):
A hundred percent human resources is one resource, right. You can learn from other people. You also can learn from courses, books, other things. Are there any videos you’ve watched or books or courses or things you’ve been a part of that you think had a positive impact on the way you approach education or how you show up every day?


Dave Wilson (09:04):
Well, it’s, this is a fairly recent example, but I’m an instructor for the Ontario principals council teaching the principal’s qualification program. Oh, nice. And, and so, you know, if you’ve ever had to teach anything, you realize that’s one of the best ways to become, you know, more of an expert in that field. Right. So I’ve been watching all those videos and reading things and it’s hard to pick out one in particular, but it’s just that experience of going through the course with my students. It, it helped me as well. Right. You know, it just you know, the number of good questions they ask, some of which I have an answer for right away and others I’m like, yeah, that’s a really good question. I’m not sure what I do in that situation. I’ll get back to it. Yeah. Yeah.


Sam Demma (09:48):
That’s awesome. Not knowing the answer and being okay with it. And honest, I think is a really important aspect of education. Not only education, but any career you get into, because we’ll always find ourselves in situations where we, where we don’t know the answer. How do you deal with those situations?


Dave Wilson (10:07):
Well, I mean, one of the things I tell the principal candidates, and I try to remind myself is that very few decisions that we make have to be made in the moment. Mm. Right. Like usually things you can take your time and, and try to have a more thoughtful approach. There are other other times when you’re sort of put on the spot and if you, if you don’t know, you’re better off just saying, you don’t know. Right. Like it, you if you, if you guess, and paint yourself into a corner that you can’t get out of, then that’s not doing any good. So you know, just, and at the same time acknowledge sometimes, and people might be impatient, right? They, people want answers to things. They want to know what to do. And it’s, you know, you can imagine the last two years of during the pandemic, the number of questions about what we can do and can’t do. And so on,


Sam Demma (10:58):
Got you. That makes total sense. One aspect of education that excites me, and it sounds like it’s something that excites you and everyone else that I’ve talked to is the potential of positive impact on young people, right? Like the, at the heart of education is, you know, helping a student realize their own potential. And in the hope that what you teach them and share with them will set them up for success for whatever path they choose to pursue in the future. I’m curious. If you can remember of a program that transformed a student or a situation where you kind of saw a student trans transform in a school, maybe it was, you know, one of your classes or someone else’s class that you heard of. And if so, share a little bit a, share a little bit of that story. And if it’s serious, you know, maybe change their name and whatnot.


Dave Wilson (11:48):
Well, there was a student at at a school who it has autism and a couple other behavioral challenges connected to autism. And when I got to the school, I was her vice principal and she would have outburst, regular outbursts, maybe, I don’t know, two or three times a week.


Sam Demma (12:12):
Mm-Hmm.


Dave Wilson (12:13):
And, and I’m not taking any credit for this cuz I was really just kind of, sort of managing some of her some of the services she was getting and our staff kind of worked with her intentionally over and over and her, she had great support from home. And by the time she was in grade 12, she was achieving at a high level and was very successful. And it, it, it was rewarding because it wasn’t just one person that had helped that, that kid, it was a number of people. And so there, there are a few stories like that and it when you have someone say, come in in grade nine and they’re having real challenges, it helps drill look back on those kids, you know, came in, in grade nine, had challenges and then worked it out by grade 12. You know, so, so it, those kind of stories, their, their heartwarming, and it’s one of the perks of being the principles I get to sign all their diplomas and, you know, sometimes the opponent you’re like, yeah, I guess we did. We got this kid there, he’s graduating, you know? Yeah. And it’s, there would’ve been moments in the previous four or five years where you would’ve said, that’s probably not gonna happen. So


Sam Demma (13:21):
Something, you mentioned the word perks and it, it sparked my memory, something, my economics teacher, Mr. Belmonte taught me in grade 12 was opportunity cost. When you decide to pursue one opportunity, you’re you cancel out the opportunity to pursue anything else in that time or moment. With that in mind, what is the opportunity cost of being a principal? So share some of the perks and also what you think are some of the more challenging aspects of it. Because I would imagine as a teacher passionate about, you know, teaching kids, it might be hard to leave the classroom at times. But there’s obviously some perks and also some challenges to all rules.


Dave Wilson (14:02):
Yeah. I mean that day to day contact with kids in that, you know, I mean, I have day to day contact with kids. I see them in the school, but it’s not the same as when you’re their classroom teacher or you’re their volleyball coach or whatever. Right. And so I have to kind of go outta my way to, to get to know some of those kids. So for example, you know, I’ll be asking our student council leaders to come to our school council meetings. So I get to know those kids. But that, that is an opportunity cost of being a principal is you, you lose a little bit of that day to day contact or that opportunity to build those relationships. On the other hand, I’ve got a bit of flexibility and that I get to be sort of part of a little part of everything, right? Like I go to all the different games and I see the different performances, especially when it’s not COVID and right. And so, you know I get to have influence on the hiring and staffing of the school, which it seems like a really dry topic, but it helps make all those other things happen for kids.


Sam Demma (15:07):
Love it. And it, for somebody who’s thinking about getting into education right now, there could be an, a potential educator listening. Who’s just finishing their credentials, super excited about teaching, but equally nervous. If you could take all the experiences you’ve had bundle them up almost like travel back in time, tap yourself on the shoulder and say, Hey, Dave, this is what you needed to hear when you were just starting knowing what you know now, what would you have kind of told you younger yourself or for other future aspiring people who wanna work in education?


Dave Wilson (15:42):
I think I tell them that when kids come to school for the vast majority of them and majority of time, they’re not, they’re not coming to school for the math and they’re not coming to school for the French. And they’re, they’re, they’re coming to school for the relationships and the way that environment makes them feel right. And so they wanna see their friends, but they also want caring adults to connect with them and they want to learn. And so maybe you get back that maybe you get to the math and the French and the science, but you you’re teaching the individual right. Each and every one we say in Waterloo, you’re trying to reach them. And you want them to have a positive experience and a positive relationship with you so that you can help them. I think if you, if you get into teaching and you think it’s all about your subject matter I think you’re gonna miss the mark. It’s, it’s about more than that. And it, if nothing else, the pandemic has certainly shown us that, that, you know, it’s the kids for the most part are craving that kind of social connection that they can get at school. And you, you’re an important part of that as a teacher.


Sam Demma (16:54):
How do you think as a teacher, or even as administrator, you build relationships with students, like what does that look like in a classroom or in your role?


Dave Wilson (17:05):
That’s a good question. Because when we’re interviewing people, we ask them basically that same question, like, what exactly do you do? You know? Yeah. Just told me, I just, that same mistake you, you told me you build relationships. What do you do? Well, I mean, there’s some simple things, like you take some interest in, in their lives and what they like to do, you know, if you’re if you’re an English teacher and you’re trying to find texts that kids want to read, you take the time to ask them what they like, and you respond like just basic human things. You, you ask, ’em how they are. And if they, if they don’t seem right, you, you do something, you, you talk to talk to the kids. It’s you know, they, what’s the that’s saying you’ll, you’ll what somebody said to you, but you’ll remember how they made you feel. It’s those kind of moments over and over and over again, that that’s how you build relationships.


Sam Demma (17:57):
I love that. Well, if someone wants to build a relationship with you reach out, ask you a question based on this conversation. Maybe they’re an educator who’s just getting into this and would love to have a conversation. What would be the best way for them to reach out?


Dave Wilson (18:13):
I think the best way probably to use my board email and contact me that way.


Sam Demma (18:35):
Sounds good. I will include your email and the show notes of the episode. So anyone who’s interested can access you there. But Hey, thank you so much, Dave, for taking the time to do this. I really appreciate it. This was a lot of fun. I, I hope you enjoyed the experience and keep up the great work we’ll we’ll talk soon.


Dave Wilson (18:55):
All right. Thanks Sam. It was my pleasure. Take care.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Dave Wilson

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.

Katrin Heim – Innovation Coach with Buffalo Trail Public Schools

Katrin Heim - Innovation Coach with Buffalo Trail Public Schools
About Katrin Heim

Katrin Heim (@HeimKatrin) is an Innovation Coach with Buffalo Trail Public Schools. Her rural roots and years of teaching, primarily in division one have shaped her approach to teaching and leadership. Katrin believes that people (students, families, and communities), are at the heart of our work as educators.   

Connect with Katrin: Email | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Buffalo Trail Public Schools Website

What is an Innovation Coach?

Leadership and Mentorship

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 on this show is working in a position that we’ve never had the opportunity to interview before. Her name is Katrin, she is the innovation coach with the Buffalo Trail Public schools. Her rural roots and years in teaching, primarily in division one have shaped her approach to teaching and leadership.


Sam Demma (01:01):
Katrin believes that people, students, families, and communities are at the heart of our work as educators or those people who work in schools and in education. She is someone I have the awesome privilege and opportunity to work with for an event in September. I’m super excited about it, and I’m super excited about you listening to this interview with her. Enjoy this, I will see you on the other side. Talk soon. Kat, welcome to the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here today. Why don’t you start by just introducing yourself and sharing a little bit behind the journey that brought you into education?


Katrin Heim (01:40):
All right. Good morning. Thank you for having me, Sam. It’s wonderful to be here. As you said, my name is Katrin. I am an educator. I’ve taught for 11 years. This is my 11th year. I’ve worked primarily as a grade one and two teacher in a small rural school in Alberta where I also live and call home. And recently transitioned to our central office in the role of an innovation coach, and so that’s a fancy term for instructional coach support teacher brainstorm partner problem solver. And so my work partner and I work closely with the, the rest of our learning services department to support the teachers in Buffalo Trail Public Schools with anything teaching and learning related.


Sam Demma (02:40):
Now, how did you transition from kindergarten teacher to innovation coach? This sounds such a, this is so cool.


Katrin Heim (02:50):
Well, you know, I’ve, I’ve always loved working with other people. Okay. And so in my role as a grade one and two teacher in this small little school I was the only grade one and two teacher. And so I would often reach out to the other innovation coaches in our division as brainstorm partners or, Hey, this looks really cool. I’d like to try this, but I just don’t know how to get started. And so I just, I, as a classroom teacher, I started forming relationships with the innovation coaches we already had in Buffalo trail and loved it. I felt that I grew as a, as a professional. I felt that with their support, I became a better teacher. My lessons were more engaging and my students were impacted in a positive way. And so I just continued to develop those relationships and when the position became available, I just thought, yeah, you know what? I I’d like to do this and, and applied and here I am. So that’s awesome. Yeah.


Sam Demma (04:16):
And so at what point in your own career search, if we went back in time, 12 years, 13 years, like at what point in your own career journey and education, did you know that you wanted to become a teacher or an educator or at least work in education?


Katrin Heim (04:33):
it’s something that I’ve always known. Okay. From a very young age and it’s not like I can’t when I reflect back on even my childhood or my teenage years or deciding to go into education. I can’t recall a specific time in my life where I felt like this is what I needed to do or wanted to do with my life. It’s just always been what I wanted to do. My I’m a fourth generation teacher. There are, you know, great grandparents, grandparents, my dad, my sister is also an educator. And so it’s, I feel like it’s just in my DNA. But beyond that, I think going to university and coming home. So I went away to university in the city and then came back to this small rural, you know, Alberta community and decided to teach here. And the reason for that was that I wanted to make an impact in the lives of kids that I was closest to. Mm. I wanted to create opportunities for my own children, for my nieces, my nephews, my friends’ kids, the people who I love in my community. And that was really what what drove my decision to, to teach and to live here and still, what, what drives my, my work in central office, you know, these are, these are the people that I care about. And this is, these are the people, these are, people are the reason I do what I do. Mm.


Sam Demma (06:32):
Yeah. I love that. That’s awesome. And, you know, you mentioned the four generations of educators, which is phenomenal. did you also have teachers that taught you as a, when you were a student that had a huge impact on your decision to get into teaching? And do you remember who any of those people were?


Katrin Heim (06:51):
Yes. In fact there are. And I, I had the privilege to work with those people as a young teacher also.


Sam Demma (07:04):
Oh, cool.


Katrin Heim (07:05):
because I came back to the school that I graduated from in high school, I had the opportunity to learn and grow from those mentors as a teacher myself. And so, you know a couple of teachers that I can recall in particular really supported me as a new teacher when I was teaching my students to read, for example as a grade one and two teacher, that’s the biggest stressor perhaps even challenge in those years. And I never felt adequately prepared to teach children to read. Mm. Because it’s so complex. And and yes, and so I had one wonderful teacher who I would swing that, you know, swing into their classroom in the morning. And I would say, you know, I tried this yesterday and it’s just not working or this is what my kids are doing right now. How am I doing what do I need to know? Where do I go next? And having relationships with these, these individuals and having an opportunity to work alongside them and to be mentored by them on a daily basis was such a privilege and and really shaped how I taught. And yeah.


Sam Demma (08:55):
That’s awesome. Yeah. I was gonna ask you like those teachers that you had, even when you, do you remember even when you were a student, so like even before, when you were a young teacher, when you were, you know, grade seven grade eight high school, do you remember any of those educators, although I guess those are the same ones actually, that, that taught you as a teacher, when you were a student, what did they do that had an impact on you?


Katrin Heim (09:19):
Hmm. I think the greatest thing that I I can recall is that they created space for myself, my peers, my classmates, to be heard in their classrooms for each of us to be valued for who we were. We each of us had an identity and we, those teachers created the space for us to discover our identities and to to really shine in our own ways. I would say primarily, that’s what I remember from the teachers who had an impact. I mean, of course there were high expectations and there were beliefs that we, we could be successful and we would be successful and we were supported in those ways. But I really think that the teachers that I remember having the greatest impact created this space for each of us to shine and to be heard in their classrooms and believed in us.


Sam Demma (10:41):
Yeah. I love that. That’s awesome. And, you know, your problem solving skill set must have been highly effective and used a lot this past year because I’m assuming there was a lot of challenges. How have things, how have things been different this year teaching or working in education versus, you know, last year, in the years prior, because of COVID like, what are some of the challenges that you had to face and how did you try and overcome them?


Katrin Heim (11:11):
Yeah, there, there were many challenges. I mean, in my role as innovation coach my partner and I, my work partner, and I support all the teachers in Buffalo trail with, you know technology supports learning supports, like there’s a lot of different things that we help teachers work through. And prior to COVID, we spent a lot of time on the road and traveling between schools and meeting with teachers face to face. And that stopped very abruptly. And, you know, back in March, when we first transitioned to online learning, we we had to adapt very quickly to support our teachers in learning the skills that they needed to teach in an online environment. And so it meant you know, meeting with teachers using an online platform like Google meets or Google Hangouts to solve technology related problems so that they could get kids and families connected.


Katrin Heim (12:29):
That was the very quick sort of sudden shift back in March. And then it was just providing opportunities for teachers to learn these skills very rapidly because they needed them. And once the dust sort of settled there with that initial transition, it became a lot more our check-ins with teachers, there were, there were different levels to those check-ins I guess we could say because as innovation coaches, we were, we are supports to teachers so that they can, they can shine as teachers and they can create opportunities for learning with their students. And as we know, as teachers, as people, sometimes we need that social emotional check in. And so oftentimes when teachers would reach out with a question or a problem, or, Hey, could you help me with this? We’d set up a Google meet to solve, you know, a pretty straightforward question or problem, and we’d end up chatting for 15 or 20 minutes just about how’s life, like what’s going on.


Katrin Heim (13:55):
And so that was, I would say, also a change because people more than ever needed to feel connected. And so whenever we had an opportunity to connect with someone on a professional level to, to work through a problem or a challenge, that personal connection aspect almost became the priority, just very organically, like it wasn’t forced, it would just happen to be what people needed. So that was also, I would say, a change and the digital the way of connecting digitally with people saved us so much time traveling. Yeah. That we actually had amazing opportunities to connect with more people and perhaps people who we may not have connected with prior to COVID simply because there, the online learning aspect created the need for support, and then therefore we were able to connect. So I think, you know, in that sense, there’s a lot of good that has come from from COVID and online learning and for us in our work, the ability to connect with people online, you know?


Sam Demma (15:35):
Yeah, yeah. It changed a lot of gas too. Right. well, yeah.


Katrin Heim (15:40):
And, and time, and, and in so many ways it’s just as effective for someone to screen share or to talk through something and to bring people together.


Sam Demma (15:54):
Yeah. I agree. I mean, I would agree with the meetings, like the, the check-ins you can meet with so many people, I’m sure you find value in the, in person when you’re talking to a large group. Right. That’s where I think it makes a


Katrin Heim (16:07):
Absolutely


Sam Demma (16:08):
Absolutely makes a difference, but you’re right. Like, I, I mean, even myself, I was telling you earlier, like, this’ll be episode 120 something. Imagine I had to drive to every person’s school. Like , this should be impossible. Like I would have to fly to Alberta, you know? So there’s so many benefits that come with the technology, you know, and, and using it effectively, what are you forecasting for the next year? , it’s a hard question to ask, but I’m sure innovation, you know, I’m sure innovation focuses a little bit on the future, but do you think that the schools in Buffalo trail will be in person or a blend or a hybrid? Like we can’t, no one can really rub the magic ball and guess, but yeah. Curious what your thoughts are.


Katrin Heim (16:51):
I don’t know. I think honestly, it’s a it’s anyone’s guess at this point I don’t expect there will be a lot different from last year in terms of how we start in September, but again I don’t have a crystal ball, so it’s, I really hope that we can we can get back out into schools because spending time in classrooms, you know, anything online just doesn’t replace what it feels like to be in a classroom. So, yeah. I really hope that that’s in our future.


Sam Demma (17:36):
Love that. And in terms of your role, so I think you do a lot of supporting the schools, a lot of supporting the teachers. Does your role also include, like coming up with innovative ideas to build on, you know, programs that are already in schools? Like, what does the whole portfolio look like if someone’s listening to this thinking, this sounds pretty interesting innovation coach, and they wanna learn more, like, how would you break it down to a person that knows nothing about it?


Katrin Heim (18:01):
so I’ll just be starting my third year now as innovation coach. And there’s no


Sam Demma (18:11):
Set definition.


Katrin Heim (18:12):
I’ve never done the same thing twice. Let’s just put it that way. So when I started the focus of my role was a lot more around technology and innovative ways to weave technology into learning particularly with the lens of engagement student engagement. And as the role kind of shifted and progressed, we began to work more with the school based coaches. So we’ve got optimal learning coaches, inclusive learning coaches in our schools, in each of our schools. And of course our admin teams in our schools, our principals and assistant principals. And so as the role evolved, we, we shifted a little bit away from the technology side of things to the instructional aspect. And so a lot of our work and I say our, because I’m part of a team and we all sort of have that same focus.


Katrin Heim (19:30):
Nice. Although our portfolios are slightly different. And so we, we sort of shifted our focus to leading professional learning for our, our groups of teacher leaders in schools. Cool. And so we looked at pedagogy. So with our optimal learning coaches, the focus was on how do we create opportunities for student learning in our classrooms that are engaging rigorous and allow our kids to connect their learning so that they they have deeper understanding of the content and how it’s connected to all of the other content that they’re learning cool. So that they’re making connections and, and gaining that deep understanding and, and creating learning that allows students to transfer that understanding from, you know, between and amongst situations. And so back to your point, you know, so we’re leading this learning with optimal learning coaches in terms of our inclusive learning coaches, we’re supporting professional development for that group of teachers as well, looking doing some coaching with both of those cohorts in terms of supporting their work in schools, leading professional learning in their schools, but also supporting them with the work that they do with their teachers in their own schools.


Katrin Heim (21:19):
So nice sort of more about supporting the teacher leaders and the leaders in each of the schools so that they can then support their, their teachers instead of us like working individually you know, with teachers. So looking to have a bit of a, a larger impact by supporting those, those leaders and teacher leaders in, in schools. So that would be sort of the biggest shift that I’ve seen in my role. And I, yeah, I mean, I look forward to continuing to build relationships with those, those groups of teachers with our principals. Nice, because we find that those relationships that we build and we initiate and we nurture, and we support the work that is happening in schools. It allows leaders and, and teachers to do what they do best. And it creates again, just like, you know, the teacher that I reflected on having an impact on me in as a student in high school. Now we create the space for others to shine. We create the space for people to feel connected, to feel supported, to ask for help if they need to, or just simply to bounce an idea off. Because as we know, the more we talk through an idea and refine it the better it becomes. And so we really do our best work when we’re connected to others. And so that’s, that’s been a little bit of how my role has taken shape.


Sam Demma (23:20):
Yeah. It sounds like it involves a lot of people, teams of people. You never do the same task twice. You’re always solving problems and traveling a lot. Usually when there isn’t COVID that’s cool. Yeah, no, I, I, I just thought it’d be awesome to highlight what the role looks like in case someone wasn’t too sure about it or, or what it included. Now, if you could go back 11 years and give younger cat advice, knowing what you know now, what would you tell your younger self in your first year of working in education?


Katrin Heim (23:55):
Education is really about people.


Sam Demma (23:57):
Hmm. What does that mean? Tell me more


Katrin Heim (24:04):
It’s about kids. It’s about family, it’s about community. And I think I always had this sense, but I don’t know that I knew it or could have articulated its value the same way, you know, 11 years ago, as I, as I can now, you know, I’ve my first my first group of grade one and twos have now graduated.


Sam Demma (24:36):
Stop aging yourself.


Katrin Heim (24:39):
Know. I know. But


Sam Demma (24:41):
That’s


Katrin Heim (24:43):
Awesome. And to see, and to still to see these kids graduate. Yeah. And to be, you know, grow into the people that they are. And to know that not just myself, but all of their teachers through their school careers have impacted who they are as people who they are as learners. We’ve, you know, the relationships that I, as a grade one teacher established with my families sets the tone for their school careers. Yeah. You know, and, and these are the same families and the same students who are part of our community. And so I just, I just think education is really about people. It’s, it’s about kids. It’s about families, it’s about community and, and, and learning of course. But those relationships and those connections need to be front and center for that learning to take place.


Sam Demma (26:01):
Mm. I love that. Mm-Hmm, , that’s awesome. And I couldn’t agree more. I have a, a mentor who always tells me people buy people. Like at the end of the day, people buy people, you know, and relationships are extremely important. And I think it’s not only true in education, but in life in general, it’s like, it’s, it’s all about community and families and, and other people. If someone wants to reach out and talk to you, another person because it’s all about people, what would be the best email address to share, or what would be the best way for someone listening to reach out to you if they have any questions or just want to connect after listening?


Katrin Heim (26:38):
Sure. people can email me at katrin.heim@btps.ca.


Sam Demma (26:53):
Awesome. Katrin, thank you so much for coming on the show again. It’s been a pleasure having you on and keep up the awesome work innovating, and we’ll talk soon.


Katrin Heim (27:01):
Thanks Sam.


Sam Demma (27:03):
And there you have it. Another amazing guest, an amazing interview on the High Performing Educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review so other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show; if you want meet the guest on today’s episode, if you wanna meet any of the guests that we have interviewed, consider going to www.highperformingeducator.com and signing up to join the exclusive network, you’ll have access to networking events throughout 2021 and other special opportunities. And I promise I will not fill your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Katrin Heim

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Mark Cossarin – Principal at Lindsay Collegiate & VocationaI Institute

Mark Cossarin - Principal at Lindsay Collegiate & VocationaI Institute
About Mark Cossarin

Mark did his undergraduate degree with a major in physical education and a minor in sociology at York University. He grew up ten minutes away, so it was nice to save money and live at home. He was a starting power hitter on the men’s varsity volleyball team for four years, and he was also an assistant coach with the women’s program for one year. He moved on to Western University for grad school to complete a Master’s Degree in Kinesiology. He taught undergraduate practicum courses in volleyball, badminton and physiology. He was also the teaching assistant for his thesis advisor’s Canadian Sport History course, which all first year kinesiology students took. During my second year there, he became the head coach of the women’s varsity volleyball team. The Centre for Olympic Studies at Western was just opening as well, and he had an opportunity to work very closely with the founder who was a member of his thesis committee. After graduating, he moved back home and attended UofT to earn his B.Ed. 

Mark Cossarin was very fortunate during his post-secondary education to be involved in many programs that allowed him to interact with a variety of leaders. Whether a professor, coach, teaching assistant or administrator, he always valued his experiences under their tutelage. It made him understand that working hard and sharing your passion for your subject area with others, has a tremendous impact on the development of meaningful programs. In the area of volleyball, we held numerous skills camps for younger athletes as well as the National Coaching Certification Program (NCCP), where coaches, many of whom were teachers, attained their volleyball certification. During this time he became a certified NCCP instructor for indoor and beach volleyball, the Spikes Program, which introduced volleyball to younger kids and the provincial officials’ certification program.

Mark’s teaching career began with an LTO at LCVI two weeks before he completed my B.Ed. in April of 1994  They needed a phys. ed. qualified individual to replace a teacher on medical leave. After 2 LTOs and supply work, he was the second permanent hire at the Adult Ed. Centre in Lindsay when it opened in March of 1995. As the low person on the seniority list, he was bumped to FFSS and then back to LCVI.  From 1998 until 2000, during Mike Harris’ common sense revolution, his wife Mary (teacher at LCVI) and himself taught at the George Washington School in Cartagena, Colombia. Students earned an American and Colombian diploma and many continued their post-secondary education in the United States. Since Italian was his first language, learning Spanish was quite enjoyable. Mary and Mark took Spanish lessons two nights a week during our first year there. He was the head of physical education and the athletic director. He taught every single student from grade 1-12 (approximately 500 students). 

Similar to his post-secondary experiences, Mark had worked with a variety of people in different educational institutions.  He saw firsthand how administrators work and he was able to determine which characteristics are most effective.  

He visited LCVI when they returned to Lindsay after their first year of teaching in Cartagena. Mark chatted with Mike Trusz who was one of the VPs. He was describing our experiences and future plans. At that point, he said Mark should consider getting his PQP qualifications. He had already worked with him and he seemed to think that Mark would be a good fit as an administrator. It is amazing how a short conversation like that can have such a big impact. Mark was flattered because he was a very effective administrator and he had a lot of respect for how he did his job.  

Mark signed up for his junior qualification, which was the first time the Queen’s Faculty of Education offered an on-line course. He was fortunate because he had to do it from Colombia since their second year had just begun in mid-August. When Mark and his wife completed their two-year contract, they came back to Ontario and he did his PQP Part 1 that summer through Brock University and his PQP Part 2 during the evenings through the Durham Board once the school year began.

Mark became a VP at IEW in the fall of 2002. After 4 years there, he moved to FFSS as principal. At the end of 2 years, he went back to IEW, and was principal for 11 years. He am now in my third year as principal at LCVI. Mark would never want to leave the secondary school environment. He loves welcoming kids in grade 9 and seeing them develop over their four years in our school. Mark has worked with wonderful people – fellow administrators, teaching staff, EAs, secretaries, custodians and the great folks who work out of the board offices. Not to mention, he has enjoyed connecting with students and families in all three school communities.

Mark’s immigrant parents always told him, “Mark, we are lucky to be in Canada. Please make sure you listen to your teacher/advisor/boss and respect them. You can learn from everyone no matter how old you are.” He has never forgotten that. 

Connect with Mark Cossarin: Email

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Lindsay Collegiate & VocationaI Institute

Trillium Lakelands District School Board – Better Together

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People® – FranklinCovey

Four Must-Do’s for Empowered Principals

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):
Mark, welcome to the high performing educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show this afternoon. Start by introducing yourself.

Mark Cossarin (03:05):
My name is mark Cossarin. I’m a principal with the Trillium Lakelands District School Board. And I’ve been here with the board since gosh, 1995. And I’ve been a principal since two and gosh, when was it? 2000 and two, I became a vice principal and I’ve been a principal since 2006. I’ve had a chance to be a principal at FFSS. I spent a tremendous amount of time over at LE Weldon in Lindsey. And now I’m the principal at Lindsay collegiate vocational Institute, Lindsay Ontario.

Sam Demma (03:41):
At what point in your own journey as a, as a young student, did you realize I want to get into education?

Mark Cossarin (03:51):
Gosh, I would say probably during my undergraduate time at York I, I was fortunate enough to be a member of the men’s varsity volleyball team and I was a starting power hitter for four years. And it was during that time, I had a chance to work with a lot of good leaders in their areas. So whether it was a professor or a coach or a teaching assistant, an administrator, I always valued those experiences on their, their tutelage, I think. And I think it made me understand that working hard and sharing your passion for your subject area with others has a pretty big impact on individuals and by extension programs. So the volleyball program at York, we did a lot of things in the community as well. So we ran a lot of kids programs.

Mark Cossarin (04:36):
We did a lot of national coaching certification program work where even during the summer, we’d run a lot of camps where the ever coaches or people who wanted to become coaches and get certified would come in. And the vast majority of those folks were actually teachers. So it was pretty neat at such a young age to be able to start doing those things. And I realized, you know what, this is something I’m pretty passionate about. I, I like it. I’m pretty good at it. And that really sort of planted the seed for me. I think,

Sam Demma (05:05):
How did volleyball and being in athletics at a high level shape, the way you approach education or your desire to teach and be a part of a team in a school?

Mark Cossarin (05:17):
Right. Well, I would say, I mean, obviously I had a, I was pretty passionate about athletics and sports and things like that. And I thought, you know what? That is an area where I think there is room for everybody regardless of what your area of interest might be. Mm. And, and that’s what I keep telling kids. I said, you know, even though I haven’t played volleyball in a long time, you know, what, you can get involved in so many ways if you’ve become educated in the sport. So you can become a coach, a referee, a, an administrator, and you can still stay involved and get to a pretty high level. If you do sort of, you know, have a passion for it and, and share that with others.

Sam Demma (05:56):
So you went to school to get the educational degree and the, the learning what did the journey look like from that moment to where you are today?

Mark Cossarin (06:08):
Sure. So I, I did my undergraduate degree at York went to grad school at Western. And then I had an opportunity to teach there as well as a TA. So I had a chance to, to get a sense of what that would be like. And then I went to teacher’s college at the university of Toronto, and my wife actually got a job here in Lindsay the year before I finished and I followed her up here. And we’ve never left ever since.

Sam Demma (06:35):
Oh, that’s awesome. A along the journey, did you have other educators, people who had an impact or made a difference in your life mentor you? And if so, like who were those people and what did they do that had a significant impact?

Mark Cossarin (06:52):
Right. again, I, I, I was fortunate enough that when I first got up here, I, I, I did an LTO for contract for someone. And actually even before I finished teachers college, I came up here. And again, I’ve had a chance to work with a lot of different administrators, whether they’re principals of vice principals, department heads fellow teachers within certain departments. And I think everybody, I think everybody has an impact on you. I think my parents always said, you know what regardless of where you are, you you’ll always be able to learn from everybody. You may not necessarily love what you see, but that’s part of the learning where you go, oh, that’s good. That doesn’t work so well. And I just think having had an opportunity to be, you know, here at L C B I, and then at, at, at the adult ed center, and then at, at the other high schools in the area, I always had a chance to interact with a lot of individuals. So there were so many, I think I, I can’t even mention all of them because I think it it’s been a good experience. And, and it’s been very lovely working up in this part of Ontario.

Sam Demma (07:52):
You worked as well in adult education. What was that experience like for you and paint us a picture of the difference between the school you were in now and that experience?

Mark Cossarin (08:01):
Sure. So it was, I was actually fortunate because I think I was the second one hired there. It was opened in 1995 and it was actually underneath LC B’s umbrella. So the board had never had an adult ed center. And these were truly adults, every single person who started with us there was over 20 years and some of them were in their sixties and seventies. Wow. And it was amazing cuz there, I was looking for transcripts from people who went to high school in a, really in 19, in the 1950s sixties. It, it was great because these folks had been away for so long and they were given an opportunity to earn a secondary school diploma. It was just such a meaningful experience to have that opportunity to work with, with folks who had had a tremendous amount of experience in a variety of areas come back and actually finish that chapter, which is something a lot of them never had an opportunity to do.

Sam Demma (08:58):
I have to imagine that’s a pretty inspiring environment. You know, it, it sounds like every single one of those learners is coming back to reach for something. Instead of just not complete that aspect of their life. What would, what was your experience did, did you find it that the learners were, or the people that were in that situation really wanted to improve, grow and continue on? Or was it an inspiring situation?

Mark Cossarin (09:25):
I think it varied depending on who the individual was, but I would say the vast majority, they already had jobs. Right. And they had worked for a long period of time, but they really just symbolically if not thing else, the opportunity to truly finish something, they never had had chance to finish when they were in their teens. Now some of them were younger and needed an Ontario secondary school diploma yeah. To apply for some jobs. So there was quite a range, but literally there was a woman who was 77 years old who was in that, you know, and she ended up going, I’ll never forget. She ended up applying for position. I think it was at a library in COBA Concor just north of us here. And she ended up working there before she passed away. Wow. So it, yeah, it was pretty cool.

Sam Demma (10:05):
That’s awesome. And what is, tell us a little bit about your school, the school you’re working in right now. What is the culture like here?

Mark Cossarin (10:13):
Right. So I’m, I’m at Lindsay collegiate vocational Institute. It’s actually a fairly old school. It, it was found in 1889 here. So it’s been here for a very long time. The school, it it’s, it’s a composite high school in rural Ontario. We’ve got about 500 students now. The numbers aren’t nearly as large as they used to be. And I mean, there’s a variety of things that we offer. So I, this is something we always tell parents at our grade eight info night that regardless of who your child is, regardless of their background, regardless of what their future goals might be, we have something for everyone here. There is a pathway for every single individual in our school, but we try and impress upon in the importance of please show up, please show up every single day, show up, please listen to your instructor, the EA in your class, whoever’s around and try. If you can do those things, we promise you will get your diploma. You will develop skills and you’ll be able to move on and do something else in an area of interest.

Sam Demma (11:18):
Hmm. It’s a really awesome personal philosophy. Is there any mindset shifts, beliefs that you’ve carried throughout your professional career and even also as an athlete that informed the way that you showed up every day? And if so, what are some of those beliefs?

Mark Cossarin (11:35):
Yeah, I, I, I know it sounds simple, but, and I’ll go back to it. Sure. Show up you really, you have to show up and you have to try, you know, you can’t be perfect at everything you do and you can’t necessarily be great at everything you do, but if you want to improve, you have to do repetition. there has to be repetition. You have to do things over and over to get better at it. So even if it’s something as simple as a skill in a sport, I can’t get better at something if I don’t do it over and over. And I would say the same thing in any subject area that you, you just gotta show up and you gotta try and just be, be positive. I mean, I think at the end of the day, you know, know what, when kids come into this building, I mean, this is a bricks and mortar school and it’s a traditional school, but we say, look, you know what?

Mark Cossarin (12:17):
We have a roof over your head. We will feed you and we will make sure you will be safe and we will listen to you, but we need you to be here. Please just come every single day if you can. Cuz I think that’s how kids connect. Right. And I just think, unfortunately, during the last two years, it’s had an impact on a lot of, well, all students, irrespective of age, right where we’re learning at home now we’re here now. We’re not, so it’s been challenging and I’d say moving forward, that’s probably one of the biggest challenges we will have now moving back to some kind of normalcy with students where guess what? We have a four period day again, you know, and we hope that you’re gonna show now it’s a little bit different. It’s not an OK master. It’s not a quad, you know, it’s not a hybrid.

Mark Cossarin (12:59):
Yeah. You’re, you’re back here now. So I think from a curricular perspective, that’s probably the most challenging thing moving forward, but it’s also great because now guess what, hopefully with normalcy, we have extracurriculars again and kids get to be part of clubs and they get to connect with others in areas of interest, you know, and we get to have dances and a prom and field trips and all of those things that, you know, over the last two years for the kids in grade, you know, in grade 10 or even the kids in grade 11, you know, they’ve never really had a chance to experience that very long or at all.

Sam Demma (13:32):
Yeah. So true. I’m sure you’re also itching to get back on the volleyball court with some of the kids.

Mark Cossarin (13:37):
Yeah, for sure. I mean, it’s just a great way to connect right. With kids who have an opportunity to do something they like. And, but again, they put in the time and it’s after school and yeah. So I, I mean, whether it’s a sport, whether it’s a club, just anything where people get a chance to connect with other stakeholders and, and, and just connect with their schools and, you know, and buy swag and wear school colors and, and, and all of those kinds of things that I think have, has been challenging over the last couple of years. But I think with everything that’s happened, I think our, our board has done a really, really good job supporting our staff and our students to get to where we could get. I mean, we never knew what it was gonna look like and on a weekly basis it would change. And even though we’re not necessarily at the end yet I think our board really has done a very good job chatting with all stakeholders to get a sense of what they wanted. And by and large, you know, what all things consider knock on wood. It’s been pretty good, all things considered.

Sam Demma (14:36):
I love it. And I mean, it sounds like you focus on the positives as well. I think it’s very easy to also focus on the things that are extremely negative and your whole life becomes those things. right. So it’s cool. Even amongst the storm, you can find some sliver of sunshine yeah. And, you know, focus on that until it passes. What resources have you found helpful in the, over your career in education? It could even be people resources, but if you found any courses or books or podcasts you listen to, or anything of that nature helpful feel, feel free to share.

Mark Cossarin (15:13):
Sure. I, I would say I’ve worked with wonderful people. So whether it’s fellow administrators or teaching staff, EA secretaries, custodians, people who work outta the board office, if you ever have a question, there is somebody who can help you and can answer that question for you for sure. No question in my mind. And anytime we have a question, somebody will help you. It’s just important that you ask and you know who to ask. I’d say you gotta keep learning your respective of how long you’ve been at something. I mean, I think it’s important that, you know, if you are an administrator, you should be a member of a S C, D or PD PDK international, where, you know, there are excellent resources for administrators that keep you on top of things moving forward, because things change. I mean, even from a technological perspective, things have changed so quickly. And now that we’re teaching generation Z, for those of us who have been at it for a very long period of time, it gets even more challengingSam Demma (16:08):
I, I had a, a past guest on and I, his name is slipping, slipping my mind right now, but he was basically telling me he would tell his students, I will never get mad at you for asking a question. No matter how silly you think the question is, I promise you I’ll never get mad at you for asking a question. So please ask as many questions as you’d like. And he said that that outcome, once kids got comfortable with it would lead him to walk around his classroom for like an hour and a half after saying it because kids had so many questions and he said, you know, I’ll get mad at you if you do something foolish, but not for asking questions. And I think you know, you’re right, asking questions is so important and you don’t always have to have the answer, but someone else who you work with might definitely have the answer. And that’s why I think it goes back to what you said earlier about, well, you have to show up, you have to try. And the third is you have to listen. That’s what you said. And yeah, I think listening is so important. Yeah. Why do you think listening is so important?

Mark Cossarin (17:09):
Why, oh gosh. But I think we’re all so different. And I think sometimes we, we make assumptions until we find out who the person is. Mm. And it’s funny, just you mentioning that teacher answering questions and you, you basically just shared probably the most important thing a teacher can do is use proximity. Mm. You know, don’t just stand at the front, don’t sit at your desk, walk around, communicate with the kids, get, get an idea of what’s going on. Cuz the moment you can get closer to a kid, you get an idea of what they’re writing down, what’s on their tablet. You know what they’re looking at, what they’re wearing, you know, all of those things give you greater insight and allows you to connect with the individual. Right. And I think that’s the important thing because at the end of it, every single class is gonna be different.

Mark Cossarin (17:49):
Right. We’re back to you know, a four, a four period day. So every one of our full-time teachers now has three, three classes. Okay. So you’re gonna have different numbers. You’re gonna have a different course. And even though, you know, the curriculum in theory should be the same, it’s gonna be different because you’re gonna have different kids sitting in front of you. And I think it’s our collective responsive bit, those first three or four days to get an idea of who’s who’s sitting in front of me, who are these folks? Where are they from? How do they feel? You know, what, what are they interested in? You know, what, what are the things that they hope to do? What don’t they like? You know? So I think good teachers do a great job those first couple of days to get a sense of, you know, know what who are they?

Mark Cossarin (18:30):
You know, what, what do they want? And even reaching out to parents, you know, literally just something as simple as hi I’m so, and so just wanna introduce myself if there’s any questions or concerns. And it’s funny, cuz I just did an evaluation for one of our teachers and she shared with me some of the emails that she got from back from parents and they were just so beautiful. Thank you so much for reaching out to me. I really appreciate it. And then even ones that came after the fact, because I knew that, you know what I’m allowed to communicate with this teacher directly.

Sam Demma (18:57):
So cool. Yeah. That’s so it’s just a simple way of opening the line of communication. Like, Hey, I’m for sure. I’m here for you if you need me, you know, and exactly. Yeah, once you open it, it stays open. It sounds like. So yeah.

Sam Demma (19:09):
That’s awesome. And I, I totally agree. I think listening enables us to wipe free of the assumptions we make, because as much as we say, you know, you don’t judge your book by its cover. We still make assumptions about people and about situations before you know anything about it and it’s just normal. It’s a human tendency. I’m curious to know though on the topic of like a ideas to improve as an educator improve your practice. If you could take the experience you’ve had in education, almost travel back in time and speak to your younger self when you were just starting in the classroom, knowing what you know now, like what advice would you have given your younger self? Not that you’re old now, but you know what I mean? right.

Mark Cossarin (19:51):
Yeah. Yeah. I probably, would’ve tried a little bit harder academically in all of my classes. Mm. You know, if I really had an opportunity, I probably would’ve tried in all the courses I was taking all the way, even throughout my undergraduate degree, cuz really, I really didn’t start working incredibly as hard as I should have until probably my third or fourth year. And I think looking back when I think about some of the teachers I would’ve had in some of the subject areas, or even some of the pros I had, I thought, man, I should have showed up and focused a little bit better. But again, as a young person, that’s part of learning. Right. When you realize, I mean, there are a lot of kids that crash and burn a post secondary because they don’t show up cuz they don’t have an interest. Right. And that’s just part of growing up and, and I think statistically, that happens to a lot of kids that we don’t realize that that’s just part of it. But I think, yeah, looking back now, I think I probably should have tried a little bit harder you know, grade, grade 11, 12 and grade 13 back in the day and then yeah. You know, first or second year university.

Sam Demma (20:53):
And I, I would say the same about my student experience. I also took the OAC the, the fifth year grade 13. Right. What about from the perspective of educator, mark? Like when you, when you first got into the, into the classroom, like if you could speak to your younger self and say, Hey mark you don’t know this yet, but this is what you need to hear. when you were just starting and teaching.

Mark Cossarin (21:15):
Right. let’s see, what would I say?

Sam Demma (21:21):
And keep in mind that there might be an educator listening. Who’s just about to get into this profession. right. Who is excited, but at the same time, very nervous

Mark Cossarin (21:31):
Right, right. I would say prepare as best you can and it’s not gonna work out exactly the way you think it’s going to Hmm so you know what, you you’re gonna have a toolbox and that toolbox will get bigger and bigger as you go along and if it doesn’t work per it’s okay. As long as you try and you get the feedback from the individuals you are around, whether it’s the students, whether it’s your department head, whether it’s you know fellow instructors who are teaching the same classes. I think that’s the key where it doesn’t make you a lesser person. If you end up having to change things or improve things or, you know, get greater insights from others who have done that before.

Sam Demma (22:12):
That’s a great piece of advice. Not only for educators, flies to all fields. Mark, thank you so much for taking this time to come on the podcast, share some of your journey, experiences, insights. If someone is listening, wants to reach out, ask a question or bounce of my ideas around what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you.

Mark Cossarin (22:32):
Sure. email again, I get it all the time and I would answer pretty quickly. So it’s mark.cossarin@tldsb.on.ca

Sam Demma (22:48):
Awesome. Mark. Keep up the great work. Thanks again for coming on the show and we’ll talk soon.

Mark Cossarin (22:53):
Thanks for having me Sam. Appreciate it.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Mark Cossarin

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.

Cassandra Tenbergen – Principal at Marymount Academy (Sudbury CDSB)

Cassandra Tenbergen - Principal at Marymount Academy (SCDSB)
About Cassandra Tenbergen

Cassandra Tenbergen (@CassandraTenbe1) is the principal of Marymount Academy.  The only all-girls school in Northern Ontario.  In her 12-year career as a principal, she has worked in schools from JK to adult education and spent two years at the board office as Assistant to the Director.  Her passion is program development, and has worked with her various school teams to create programs such as summer school e-learning, personal support worker, elite sports training program and many specialist high skills major programs.

Cassandra’s passion is student success and thinking of various ways to support each student individually.  She is also always lending a hand at the school; whether it be making costumes for the school play or stepping into coach, she enjoys being a part of the school team.

Connect with Cassandra Tenbergen: Email | Twitter | Linkedin

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Marymount Academy – Sudbury Catholic Schools

Sudbury Catholic District School Board – Schools to Believe In.

What Having a “Growth Mindset” Actually Means – Harvard …

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:01):
Cassandra, welcome to the high performing educator podcast. It’s a pleasure to have you on the show this morning. Please start by introducing yourself.

Cassandra Tenbergen (00:09):
My name is Cassandra tengan. I’m a principal with separate Catholic district school board. I’ve been a principal and vice principal for many years, since 2005. And my background is every anything from JK all the way up to adult education.

Sam Demma (00:28):
At what point in your own pursuit of careers as a, as a young student, did you realize education is the field that I want to get into in the future?

Cassandra Tenbergen (00:38):
I think I’ve always wanted to go into education. I being young during the summer, I would even play school with my twin sister and any other kid that I could find on the street. And there were tons of kids on the street back then. So we would play school all the time. So that was one of the memories that I, I had. I don’t think I ever wanted to be anything, but a teacher, I think at one point I have a memory of being in an elementary school and my principal at the time was Mr. Griffin. Great. Great man. And I remember walking past his office and I’m like, I wanna be a principal one day. Mm. And even when I went for my interview to become a teacher with sub Catholic I, I don’t remember it cuz you know, you’re so nervous. During interviews you don’t really remember a lot, but the superintendent that hired me at the time reminded me afterwards. She said you, during that interview, you said you wanted to become a principal. And I’ve been supported through this process through the board too to become a principal, you need specialists and you need all those forms. I to get those extra qualifications and they supported me along the way. And I absolutely love being in the field of education.

Sam Demma (02:15):
Tell me about the journey and what it looked like right after you got your degree. So from that moment to where you are now, like what different roles have you worked in? What did the progression look like? All that fun to?

Cassandra Tenbergen (02:27):
So I was hired back in 1997, the day after the poli the walkout and the political protest. Wow. So there were not a lot of jobs back then. I was hired November 11th, 1997. So I didn’t start in September. I kind of started right near, near the beginning of the school year, but in November, the person that I was taking over for decided to retire at the last minute with everything that was happening politically. And I started my teaching career at Marymount academy, which is an all girls school, which is also the high school that I attended. Hmm. Back in 1997 they still had OAC. So there were still five years of high school instead of work. So I taught English, which was not my major in university. My major was in science. But I did get teachables in English cuz I wanted to make sure that cause it was so hard to find a job back then I wanted to have the broadest spectrum being able to, you know, I was willing to teach anything back then.

Cassandra Tenbergen (03:47)
And I, I taught OAC. So there was actually only four years age difference between me and my oh wow. Students. Yeah. Yeah. And then I was surplus at my school. The only thing that there was only one job posted and that was math. So that summer I went to Toronto, got my teachable in math. I just kept getting different qualifications. I have a specialist in, in guidance, a special in special education. I, you know, we have four high schools within our school board. I’ve taught at all three. Wow. And in different areas. So I’ve taught math, science, English. I did guidance. I was actually our school board opened a new high school that would’ve been in 2002, I believe. Hmm. And so we started with five teachers and I was one of those five teachers.

Cassandra Tenbergen (04:59):
Wow. So I had the experience of building a school because we only started with grade nine and then we went the following year, we had nine and 10 and then 9, 10, 11. And, and it, so working, starting with a small group of people with working with the principal I was teacher and had the ability to be teacher in charge back then. So that’s when I got a little of and was got my principal qualifications during that time as well. And started in an elementary school as a vice principal, came back to Marymount , which was a seven to 12 school. Went to adult ad that’s when I had the opportunity to be a principal, spent a couple years at the school board level it’s assistant to the director. So I oversaw student success portfolio for all the high schools. And then I was sent to a school in in the outskirts of Sunbury spent seven years there.

Cassandra Tenbergen (06:02):
And then for the past two years, I I’m back at at Marymount. And I I’ve always had no matter where I went to, I had great experiences. I have great call colleagues, worked with great teacher teams in, in all the the schools. And I really I love working with the teachers. I think that’s an important aspect of leadership learning with them, learning beside them creating different programs, creating things. And I think that that is that’s my passion, one of my specialists, if you like to yeah. Consider it that is developing programs. Even in the adult education setting, I develop the PSW program, so personal support we’re and it’s still running and, and very successful today. So

Sam Demma (07:04):
That’s awesome. What a, what an amazing journey and it’s, it’s cool that it’s come full circle and brought you back to the school where you grew up which is, which is really awesome. You mentioned OAC. I was one of those students that took a fifth year. So you could have been my teacher years ago. but well, yeah, it’s an amazing journey along the way. Did you have other principles, other people in your life that mentored you and supported you? And if so, do you remember who those people were and maybe some of the things that you think they did for you that made a difference?

Cassandra Tenbergen (07:41):
Yes. I, every principal that I worked with, I learned from, mm, and we still we did have a mentoring program too for newly appointed principals and vice principal. So I was a part of that as a mentee and as a mentor. So I , you know, was on both sides of that I’ve learned from each one of them. It’s funny because some of them that have retired now asked me what I thought of their leadership and it is interesting to have that conversation with them and for cuz they all, everybody has a different leadership style. And I remember having a conversation with one of them and I said, wow, you, you kind of left me to figure some things out on my own. Mm. Which is not a bad thing. So at the time, you know, it could be scary for someone new.

Cassandra Tenbergen (08:43):
But you know, their door was always open for me to ask questions and I think that that is extremely important. So I’ve had to train two brand new VPs over the just recent years. And I think that’s really important is always having an open door quality taking the time, having those conversations, bouncing ideas off of each other, even though I’ve been doing this job for my years, it is important for, for me to have a partner that I can bounce ideas off of. Because education is changing, the kids are changing. We have to change our, our approaches to supporting those students, whether it be directly in the classroom in terms of what courses and programs we create. So having that, that partner that we can you know, bounce those ideas off of talk about how are we going to support the students? How are we going to support the parent how are we going to have those difficult convers? Yeah. All those are, are important and, and growth opportunities for both myself and for my VP.

Sam Demma (10:06):
You mentioned earlier programs, creating programs, running programs has been a big part of your education experience. Have you witnessed firsthand the effect that any has had on students within the school culture community? Maybe there’s even a story that comes to mind. Like I would love to, I’d love to hear one or two stories.


Cassandra Tenbergen (10:26):
There’s lots of stories. So the personal support worker program is in our adult education school. And oh, I created that way back when, but I thought it was important. So this people in those the adults in those programs can earn credits towards the high school diploma diploma, as well as a personal support worker diploma. First one out of the, in a school board and in our area. So I had to reach out to colleagues across the province to learn how do they develop it? And I, it was a lot of work, a lot of work and my colleagues across the province that there’s no way you can develop a program and become accredited in one. And I’m like, watch me and I did it

Cassandra Tenbergen (11:25):
I did it. There’s a lot of programs that I developed that came to mind summer school e-learning within our school board. And that’s going strong. I did that as part of my practicum for my tennis qualifications at the last high school I was at, we developed an elite sports training program really focused on not training in a particular sport, but really training the whole athlete. If you are good, if you are a good athlete, you are can be good in any, you can Excel in any sport of choice. And, and that was our philosophy and a lots of those students ended up graduating with scholarships even in the states. Wow. We would have about three, four students a year who would receive sports scholarships, whether it be college university or somewhere in the states.

Cassandra Tenbergen (12:29):
So that was a very successful even developing specialist, high schools and major programs. I’ve developed several of them within the, the high schools that I’ve been at. And a lot of them are those students are working in that area that they that the specialist high schools major in cuz part of the component of the specialist, high schools major program is co-op and I full I’m a full advocate for co-op believe it’s so important, whether you’re in a specialist, high schools, major program or whether you are not I, I will give you an example of my son who was in the health and wellness specialist, high schools, major program, and thought for sure, for sure. He wanted to be a physiotherapist. So I’m like, okay, great. That’s what you’re gonna do your co-op in.

Cassandra Tenbergen (13:25):
So he lasted three days in that co-op and said, I can’t do this. I can’t go back. I can’t do this for the rest of my life. And I’m like, yeah, that’s great. I didn’t spend, you know, thousands of dollars in tuition at a university for you to figure out that that’s not what I wanna do for the rest of my life. So I’m like, what do you wanna do for the rest of your life? And I was always, I, I say it’s, you know, one of those me mom moments where I would never for allow my Stu my child to stay home on an exam day when he didn’t have an exam. I’m like, where do you want a job shadow him? So I gave him lots of opportunities. And so when I said to him, you have to do a co-op, so where do you wanna go?

Cassandra Tenbergen (14:11):
And he’s like, I really enjoyed the placement that I had at the pharmacy. So I’m like, great. So let’s drive there right now and see if they’ll take you for several months instead of a day. So they did agree to take him most places do agree to take a co-op student. And so he was there for several months. It ended up becoming halfway through the co-op placement. They ended up starting to pay him. And he’s been working as a pharmacy assistant you know, during the summer after school hours for many years now. So

Sam Demma (14:53):
That’s amazing. I, I always try and tell students think about life like a buffet. You know, you show up to the buffet, there’s so many different food options. You grab a plate, take as much as, you know, take as as many different options as you can bring it back, you try a little bit of everything and the things don’t like, you make a mental note, not to grab those again, but the things you do, you go and double down. And I feel like, you know, your son went through that exact same situation, which is awesome because it’s just as important to learn what you don’t like as it is to figure out what it is you do. Right?

Cassandra Tenbergen (15:27):
Absolutely. And I think that’s really important for, for people to hear. So he did apply and was accepted into a program a pre-pharmacy program at Waterloo and spent two years there. And this year he was supposed to enter the school of pharmacy. And during his second year at Christmas, he came to me and said, you know, I thought that this is what I wanted to do, but no, I can’t. And I said, that’s fine. So he finished his year and I said, what do you like, what do you wanna do? Like we, we had to have that conversation exactly what you said, what piece you liked it enough to apply to the program, but not to continue in the program. So what piece did you like of that? Right. Mm-Hmm . And so now he’s he’s in a paramedic program.

Cassandra Tenbergen (16:26):
Oh, cool. Absolutely loves it. So he, he liked the he likes the fast pace of the paramedic program. He likes the ability to solve problems. And he talked to me about I love the learning about and figuring out about drug interactions. Mm. So, and he says, you know, when, when you’re responding to a situation, you have to find out what medications are. They are, you know, what is, is this a possibility of drug interactions and just that aspect of it. And that’s why he chose paramedic and absolutely loves it. So

Sam Demma (17:07):
That’s amazing. I’m glad to hear that you know, programs are an important part of school, whether it’s that actual curriculum or other things that is brought in by principals or other teachers programs have been a little difficult to run over the past two years. What are some of the challenges that, that may mountain has been facing? Other schools you’ve heard of in the board that are presently, maybe dissipating slowly, but are still like in the back of your mind?

Cassandra Tenbergen (17:38):
Oh, that’s a good question. That’s a tough question. Because everything is constantly changing. Yeah. and, you know, guidelines are constantly changing what we can do, what we can’t do. So we just, I just wanna say the word creativity, you have to be creative to keep those programs running the best that you can.

Sam Demma (18:12):
Yeah. Creativity is, is key. I I’ve seen some people pivot the way they deliver their programs. Maybe even try to do some of them virtually but you know, at may amount, was there any programs that like, kind of had to stop and the school tried to pivot slightly or do something slightly differently with it?

Cassandra Tenbergen (18:34):
We try to keep things going as much as possible. And that is my mantra for everything that we do here. Hmm. So, you know, Marymount is a school with lots of school spirit. Obviously it’s all girls, it’s like a big slumber party. like, it’s just, it’s that, that great feeling, right? You’re, you’re, there’s no boys around, you could be yourself. The, the school spirit is amazing. And how do we keep that going when you can’t have those assemblies when you can’t get together as a school? So we just find ways around it. We still have our we have our, it’s called a big lip competition. It’s a lip singing competition. Nice. So we, you know, we can’t gather in the gym together and, and ha do performances on the stage, but how can we still keep it going? So the students go up on stage, they tape it. It’s, you know, it’s going to be through zoom. Nice. We’ll try to keep things going as, as much as possible, you know, even with the co-op some co-ops had to move to a virtual platform, but we try to keep those the face to face. Co-Op going as much as we could meeting all the, you know, the guidelines and procedures that we have to follow.

Sam Demma (20:02):
Of course. So got it. And what do you think some of the opportunities might be or things that I feel like with every challenge, there is some form of growth, potential, or opportunity that presents itself. You think there are some opportunity that have come out of this, this situation or this time?

Cassandra Tenbergen (20:21):
Yes. definitely with technology. Mm. So I think that the use of technology really was able to spring even the teachers for it was a quick, oh my goodness. Such a quick they had to pivot so quickly back in March 20, 20. They have to be commended for that because we took teachers outta the classroom and that’s how they they’ve always been in the classroom. That’s you, you, you learn to teach in a classroom and then we’re saying you have to do your job virtually online. You have to do the same job, but in a different setting, using technology. So, you know, they they have to be commended for making that the switch and doing doing a great job at it. And so using technology I think, is really going to, to Excel.

Cassandra Tenbergen (21:29):
Learning for everything is at the fingertips of students now. So it’s not necessarily always teaching them about the content. It’s about thinking about the content and using it differently and really focusing on the six global competencies. So that’s something that we started looking at last year as a, a school team and something that we’re we developed the whole program around it. It’s called the spark program here. Nice. And it’s really focusing on those six global competencies students here really like the opportunity to be able to reach ahead. It is we only offer academic programming here at the like at the academic level university bound courses. So the, the students really like the opportunity to reach ahead in terms of credit accumulation and grade level. So we, this program is based on that based on the global competencies and really helping them develop those those six global competencies about, you know, collaboration, creativity, critical thinking, communication in being a global citizen.

Cassandra Tenbergen (22:54):
And self-directed learning. So some students if you stay in the program all the way to grade 11, they’re really focusing on working on a project that meets their interest mm-hmm . So for example, one student might be wanting to eventually open their own business and they might be developing a business plan and working with community partners. Cause we have a lot of community involvement community partnerships with this program. Another student you know, might be more of science focus and maybe wants to look at the a city’s recycling, a green box program. How could it be more efficient? So, you know, they contact the city and look at that, and then they present their learning and their projects to the teacher and to the the rest of the class. So this classroom teacher acts more of a facilitator for their learning.

Sam Demma (23:53):
Got it. Love it. The, the school sounds amazing. it sounds like a really lively and diverse place with lots of opportunities for growth. If you, you could take all your experiences in education and all the different roles you’ve worked in travel back in time you know, tap younger, Cassandra, not you’re still young now, but tap even younger Cassandra on the shoulder and be like, Hey, this is what I needed you to hear when you were just starting in education. And I asked the question because there’s probably a lot of people listening to this who are just starting to think about getting into education. I’m curious to know what advice you would’ve gave yourself.

Cassandra Tenbergen (24:35):
Never give up.

Sam Demma (24:37):
Mm.

Cassandra Tenbergen (24:38):
Always have a growth mindset don’t and when I say never give up, what, what comes to mind is, you know, there’s always obstacles whether you’re looking at program development or whether you’re dealing with a student and who you know, might find themselves in a difficult situation, may not be succeeding in school. And, you know, you, you work with them, their parents, maybe some community organization, and you find a plan. And if that plan doesn’t work, then try another plan and you try another plan. And I know, like I remember having conversations with, with some parents and then they get frustrated and like, we can’t give up cuz something is going to click. Mm.

Cassandra Tenbergen (25:30):
And I even remember this one girl and she was behind eight credits in her grade 12 year. Wow. And she came to me and she says, I’m determined to get, not only the, the six credits I need, but I’m, I need I’m, I’m, I’m determined to graduate. And I said, okay, so let’s sit down and come up with a plan. And I was lucky enough to have what’s called an open doors program at that school at the time. So there’s a classroom teacher in there, an EEA. It was a place a safe place for, for students who maybe a regular classroom setting, just wasn’t for them. It was work at your own pace. Some worked a little faster than others, but you know what? She did it, she ended up graduating and, you know, it’s, it’s being able to think outside the box, coming up with plans for students that that might not, you know, I, and every student’s different and every plan’s different. And just when you’re just never give up, never give up and continue to have that growth mindset that, you know, everybody can succeed. They might not all in whatever successes is for them. Right. For some student success is just coming to school. and, you know, just being there to support them, supporting them, supporting the parents, you never give up

Sam Demma (27:10):
I love that. That it’s a universal piece of advice. Doesn’t matter if you’re thinking about getting it to education, or if you wanna fly planes or start your own business, there’s no real limit to where that should be applied, but I thank you so much for taking the time to do this. If someone’s listening, wants to reach out, ask you a question about anything you talked about on the podcast, what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you?

Cassandra Tenbergen (27:35):
They can email me. So it’s cassandra.tenbergen@sudburycatholicschools.ca. I’m also on Twitter. It’s https://twitter.com/CassandraTenbe1

Sam Demma (27:49):
Awesome. That sounds good, Cassandra. Thank you so much again for taking the time to do this. I really appreciate it. Keep up the great work and we’ll talk soon.

Cassandra Tenbergen (27:58):
Okay. Thanks for.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Cassandra Tenbergen

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.

Bluefield Leadership Class **Student Interview**

Ryan Laughlin – Leadership Teacher at Bluefield High School
About Ryan Laughlin

Ryan Laughlin (@stickr10) is a proud Bluefield Bobcat from Prince Edward Island. Ryan is a veteran Physical Education and Leadership educator at Bluefield High School.

Ryan prides himself on physical fitness, servant leadership, and teaching engaging lessons that serve to develop leadership skills.

Today we are joined by the students in his two leadership classes. We ask them all the questions you’d be interested in hearing as an educator.  

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

Bluefield High School

PEI Teachers’ Federation

Physical Education Association of PEI

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 the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma, and I’m super excited to be joined again by Ryan. Ryan and I already did an interview. You haven’t heard it yet because it’s not live, but it’s coming out very soon, but today I won’t be actually interviewing him. I’m gonna be interviewing two of his leadership classes and the students inside those classes. And the reason I’m so excited about this conversation is that you’re gonna get the opportunity to hear from students, you know, from a different part of the world what their experience has been like going through school during this time. Ryan, why don’t you kick us off by just kind of explaining where this idea came from, and why you wanted to, why you wanted to do this?


Ryan Laughlin (01:15):
Sure. So like a lot of places in Canada, there’s been a lot of restrictions in what we’ve been able to do, especially with our leadership classes. So I was talking to a colleague, Melanie Headley, and we were brainstorming ideas where we could engage students with something creative and give ’em an experience that I have not been able to because of restrictions. So we were talking about podcasts, she mentioned your name and I reached out and we connected and here we are.


Sam Demma (01:39):
Yeah. And I’m excited; I’m super excited so thank you for taking this on. I mean, we could just jump right in. We’ve we’ve outlined some questions and you have some students selected so why don’t we just call Jordan up to get started? You know, Jordan, the first thing I’m curious to know is your experience, as a student, how has it been affected during COVID 19?


Jordan (02:01):
I feel that at the start of the year, it was the most challenging to try to get used to all the protocols and wearing the masks and stuff, but in the whole run of things, I guess it was really minor because they’re really adaptable and once you got in the routine of doing them you know, it’d feel very unnormal not to do them right now. But I feel I of the big thing that has been most challenging is the uncertainty that it’s brought to the school year. Like I found that not knowing whether or not the materials that were cut outta some of the classes this year will affect or make challenges next year, going into University.


Sam Demma (02:45):
Mm, yeah. Such a good point, and do you already know what you wanna study or what you wanna get into?


Jordan (02:50):
Yeah, I’m going into business next year.


Sam Demma (02:52):
Oh, nice. Very cool, thanks so much for sharing. I totally agree. The uncertainty, this situation has brought is not only thrown off school, but like literally everything. My heart also goes out to the athletes who spent years training for something and now it’s falling apart. Jayden, I’m curious to know your perspective, you know, how has COVID 19 affected you personally? And I see you’re all wearing masks, so I’ll virtually put mine on as well, but go ahead.


Jayden (03:19):
Well for like sports and stuff, it’s kind of taken away from some of the time that we could like spend doing that. Like the rugby season last year got taken away from like all the students so that was, that kind of sucked. And also like the normal prom and graduation, that’s also another thing that’s kind of taken away from a lot of the students. And also what Jordan said, the uncertainty of like, whether it’s gonna affect next year, or even if we’re gonna go into like another lockdown again, the first one was pretty rough for a lot of people. So, couldn’t imagine going into like another big one.


Sam Demma (04:00):
Yeah. I hear you, man. The mental toll that we all went through going through a lockdown is super real, and I don’t think it gets talked about a lot, but we’re not supposed to live inside our individual homes and never see other human beings. , you know, I, I think if we go through another lockdown, we’re all gonna become these socially awkward humans that don’t know how to interact and talk other people. But yeah, that’s so right. And, and thank you for sharing. We’ll move on, we’ll move on. Let’s go right to Grace or actually let’s, let’s go right to Grace Conley. What are some things Grace that you think your teacher or other teachers in your school have done that you think have been helpful during this time?


Grace Angel (04:40):
Well I’m Grace Angel. Grace Conley’s not here yet, so I’ll just, I’ll just go first.


Sam Demma (04:46):
Oh, perfect.


Grace Angel (04:48):
So I found it really helpful that teachers were, I thought of as kind to remind they’re very patient and they reminded us to sanitize and put our masks up like distance and they don’t tend to flip out over it. They know from the most part that we didn’t need to forget and they know how scary, stressful the situation is for us and adults, because they tend to have kids of their own. And they’ve given us like leeway on assignments and stuff. And they’re just, there’s overall very understanding of how hard this is for everyone.


Sam Demma (05:23):
And what does patients look like in your perspective? Like when you say they’ve been patient, what do you mean by that?


Grace Angel (05:30):
Well, they’ve like, okay. So every day, like they constantly tell us to pull up our masks cause we keep putting them down and nice. They’re not like send us to the office. They’re just like, they keep remind us over and over. And they’re not like getting frustrated with it right away. They there’s


Sam Demma (05:51):
No punishment


Grace Angel (05:52):
Learning curve.


Sam Demma (05:53):
Yeah. There’s no punishment. It’s almost like I remember when I was in high school, you show up to class late and then if you show up to class late a second time, it’s like go to the office. like, you know, I feel like in this time you’re right. Like that has been reversed. We’re a lot more understanding and empathetic of the situation because everyone’s going through this, this new learning. So I totally agree. Thank you. Thank you so much for sharing. We’ll move on right to you Cassie Casie. I’m really curious to know what do you want more of right now? Like what do you think would make your school experience more impactful or a little better?


Jordan (06:32):
Okay. I’m Charlie. I think this one was my question. Okay.


Jordan (06:36):
So right now, like kind of just want normalcy, especially since it is our graduation year. And we are really lucky here in P because we’re able to be in school and we’re able to do things that a lot of other students in, around the world in, in the, in the country aren’t able to do. And I do wanna of COVID-19 and like why there are certain measures in place, but honestly it just kinda sucks. Like not being able to graduate with the people that we’ve been in school with for the past 12 years and not being able have school activities that make school enjoyable, just kind of make it less than ideal.


Sam Demma (07:17):
Yeah, I agree. And I made a mistake, so everyone listening, I apologized I asked their own question to the wrong people. But yeah. Charlie, thank you so much for sharing Cora, what’s your perspective on this?


Jordan (07:31):
Okay, so what was the question again?


Sam Demma (07:35):
like, what do you want more of right now? What do you think would make your school experience better?


Jordan (07:40):
Okay. So for what I wrote is I kinda just thought that we’ve done what, like 12 years of school with the exact same people. And I just think that in our last, probably like month even, it’s just been a lot of actual school work and I really just wanna be here with the people. Well, like doing activities like we, our grad week, we barely basically have like, like the activities that some of the other students gone to do, like seniors in the past years, we didn’t get to do anything nearly as fun. But like I, Charlie said, it’s not really anything you can do because of COVID, but yeah. Yeah. I just wish that we got to be here with the people and not do as much school even while we’re in the school.


Jordan (08:34):
And you


Jordan (08:34):
Can do that.


Sam Demma (08:35):
That sounds like what I would’ve wanted if I was in grade 12 again.


Jordan (08:39):
Yeah, exactly.


Sam Demma (08:41):
All right. Thanks for sharing both of you. I appreciate that. Well now move on to Cassie for real Cassie, if, if you had to give me an idea, like, what do you think makes a, a strong student leader or a good student leader? Nice glasses, by the way.


Cassie (08:56):
Thank you very much. I think that a great student leader is someone who’s selfless and kind. It’s someone who genuinely cares about other people and shows dedication and all that they do. It’s someone who contributes and is very involved in their school and community, and when they see opportunity to help or make a change that they take it,


Sam Demma (09:19):
Love it. And do you think student leaders are individuals that wear like clout goggles and glasses?


Cassie (09:25):
Yes. Specifically clout goggles.


Sam Demma (09:27):
love it. All right. Thank you so much for sharing. Sam, you have the, you know, one of the most beautiful names in the world. Can you tell me your perspective?


Sam (09:37):
Well, I agree with everything that Cassie said, but also someone who isn’t afraid to go outside their comfort zone, maybe like wear clout passes to school and someone that looks at things in different ways and tries to make other people fit in. So like having a spirit day that maybe includes the athletes and another one that includes like a different group of people, not just into like one group of people in the school, having a chance for everyone to be included.


Sam Demma (09:59):
Love it, man. Love it. What does your hat say?


Sam (10:01):
My hat says PEI rugby.


Sam Demma (10:03):
Ah, you play rugby. Yeah. Nice man. Love that. Love that. That’s awesome. Thank you both for sharing. Appreciate it. We will move on to Olivia. Olivia, what is one thing you’ve learned from this class ALA, you know, Ryan’s not listening that has had the biggest impact on you.


Jordan (10:20):
So one of the things I learned in this class that had a big impact on me was the meaning of servant leadership and what a servant leader is. It wasn’t really a philosophy I was very aware of before and knew much about, but we really dived into it here. And I really liked the project we did with it in class, where we like interviewed a servant of leader from a provincial organization, a provincial nonprofit, and we got to really meet them and connect them and share who they are to our class.


Sam Demma (10:45):
So if you had to, in your own words, describe what a servant leader is like from what you’ve learned. Like, how would you kinda, how would you explain it?


Jordan (10:53):
For me, a servant leader is someone who recognizes a problem in their community and takes charge by helping those people that are not as privileged or not, as, I don’t know, profitable in the community, like they’re taking charge and helping people that need it the most. Nice. And they’re serving by doing the work that they recognize that has to be done. They’re leading, they’re trying to build other leaders in the community. They’re not focused on having as much of the authority position as just trying to take charge and help others.


Sam Demma (11:22):
Yeah. They’re not focused on the CLO goggles. They’re focused on the work. love it. I’m just, that’s totally joking. thank you so much for sharing. That was a great answer. That another Sam, oh wow. We got lots of Sam. Sam, what do you think has been the most impactful thing you’ve learned from this class


Sam (11:39):
In this class? Definitely communication. Like throughout the semester, we’ve had like so many activities to focus on communication and working with others. Like we do nonverbal communication, like just like a month ago, we did one where we’d put in groups and like we’d have to put together shape without actually communicating like one person’s outta shape. Another person didn’t see shape. But anyways, the point is Mr. Locklin, I feel like, definitely focuses a lot on communicating, whether it be non-verbal or, you know, just like learning how to communicate as a leader. You know, like being polite and being respectful and like, you know, taking consideration, like reading the room or whatever, he taught us a lot, how to do that. Nice. which obviously is quite important in a leisure class. And of course, quite useful to assume the years in general,


Sam Demma (12:26):
Love that. Thanks for sharing. I think communication’s so important, like reading other people’s body language and also being able to express your idea is in a, in a succinct way, super, super valuable, especially in any future jobs you get into or any leadership position. So thank you both for sharing. Let’s move on to the next question. So if you could give your younger self, your younger high school self advice what would you say? Is Will here yet by the way? By the way, okay, so we’ll start with Will, ’cause I wasn’t sure I wanted to ask and see if he’s here and then we’ll move on.


Will (13:00):
I find everything kind of comes into your life for a reason whether you make mistakes, like you have to make mistakes and fail to like actually learn something. And I find that’s like one of the main things, if I like told like knew that whenever I was younger, like making mistakes is fine and like failing’s fine, but that’s like definitely the biggest one


Sam Demma (13:21):
For me. Yeah. I find that sometimes we attach our self worth to our school and our grades and our accomplishments. And if we don’t, you know, succeed, we feel like we’re worthless or like we, we failed when in reality failing to just you learn , you know, you’re realizing what you did wrong. So thank you so much for sharing. Is it Nalia?


Jordan (13:42):
Yeah. It’s Nalia


Sam Demma (13:43):
Perfect. What, what about, what’s your perspective? What’s something you’d share with your younger high school self?


Jordan (13:47):
If I could tell my younger high school self anything, it would be kind of just to enjoy the small thing. So like looking back as the class of 2021, we have one normal year of high school. So it was our grade 10 year. And I definitely took things for granted in my grade til year, if that was sports or social activities or just really the environment around the school. I do anything right now to go back to the way that was two years ago. So I think I just would really tell him not to take anything for granted and to every opportunity, but to make sure that you are making smart choices and you’re making the right choices because though we really think it’s not often the right time we learned this year that maybe you only have one time. So this world is so packed unknowns. I really just think you have to take advantage of every opportunity in front of you.


Sam Demma (14:33):
Yeah. I love that. It’s funny. Cause I read this post on online the other day was talking about when you talk about, you know, way back when, you know, when our parents are 40 years old and they say, oh, I remember back in high school, like these moments will still, we’ll still have those conversations, you know, so we should live it to the fullest of its potential regardless. And I, I agree. Totally. Thank you so much for sharing that and love the bucket hat by the way. super, super swaggy. All right. Last question. And we’ll start off with Matt, Matt mills, any final pieces of advice for another student who’s listening right now,


Will (15:08):
Some final pieces of advice would be don’t get too caught up in we’re about your future. Cause the people around you will be around you for a limited amount of time, cuz people go other high school or universities and go away for hockey. You know, you never know, right? So you gotta spend as much time with them as you can. And you don’t wanna be looking back thinking you could spend more time with them when you’re too busy, worry about your future.


Sam Demma (15:34):
Agreed. And I also think it’s important to stay like, you know, don’t let our egos get in between our friendships. Sometimes we hesitate or stop ourselves from reaching out to people that we haven’t talked to in a long time, because maybe there was something that happened five years ago and it’s like, yo, push that aside. You know that person and you could have a beautiful relief, you know, be the bigger person and reach out. I love that advice. And I’m giving you this advice as well and also sharing it to anyone watching, because I also need it at certain points. So thanks for sharing that. I appreciate it. And Grace, what about yourself?


Grace (16:08):
The most important advice I’d give to myself, I’d probably just to be more in high school. Like I found that if you’re more involved in your school and doing activities and spirit days and stuff like that, then it makes it a way better environment to grow up in. Yeah. And also like what said to not take your high school years for granted, like it’s some of the best years of your life. And I remember like when I was in grade 10, I was like, oh, be in grade 12. Like I just wanna graduate and stuff like that. But I think that the grade tens need to take this time and like actually experience high school and not just wish it away.


Sam Demma (16:45):
Yeah. Love that. Thank you so much for sharing. I appreciate it. Great job everyone. If everyone on three could yell. Thank you. Appreciate it. Are you ready? 1, 2, 3.


Ryan Laughlin (16:57):
Thank you


Sam Demma (16:58):
So great to hear from you guys from leadership class with Ryan at Bluefield, this, this has been a phenomenal podcast. Ryan, we wanna pop back in for one quick second, just to wrap this up. Thank you so much for organizing this for setting up the idea. We have another class coming on the afternoon and will be slapping these two episodes together as like a long masterclass from the students, any final words you wanna share or things you wanna express or, or say


Ryan Laughlin (17:23):
No, I think this was great. The new experience for the students and you could tell they were a little nervous yesterday leading into it, and I think they did a great job and it’s interesting to hear the different perspectives from different people and connected them together and giving them a new experience, which I think is valuable.


Sam Demma (17:38):
I agree. I agree. And if anyone, if anyone’s listening and was inspired by something your student said and wanted to reach out to one of them to ask them a follow up question what would be an email that they could send you to relay it to a student?


Ryan Laughlin (17:52):
Sure. Yeah. So my email is rjlaughlin@cloud.edu.pe.ca. So they wanted to fire me a message. I could forward it to the students for the next month to five weeks here and then they’re on their way into their new adventures.


Sam Demma (18:06):
Awesome. Ryan, thank you so much for organizing this really appreciate it. It’s been a pleasure and let’s stay in touch. It’ll talk soon.


Ryan Laughlin (18:12):
Awesome. Thanks.


Sam Demma (18:13):
And we’re back with Ryan’s second class, Ryan. Thank you again for being here and bringing your students. It’s super exciting.


Ryan Laughlin (18:20):
Yeah. It’s great to be here. I’m excited to see these students have a conversation with you.


Sam Demma (18:24):
All right. We’ll jump right in. We’ll start off with Amber, Amber, I’m curious to know has been the most challenging aspect of COVID 19 for yourself as a student.


Jordan (18:34):
Well, especially being a part of the graduating class of 2021, it is evident that COVID has faced off with like several challenges from wearing masks on a daily to not being able to see your friends as often. I mainly think that the most challenging part of like having COVID would have to be just planning all of our grad events and not being able to have the, the like expected graduation and prom and just all those fun events that we always looked up to. I definitely think though that this is something, even though we hated at the moment, it’ll be something that we look back on in the future and we’re gonna be grateful for eventually


Sam Demma (19:13):
adversity builds strength. Right. I, I totally agree. Emily, what about you? What’s your perspective on this?


Jordan (19:19):
So I kinda said the same thing, the most challenging part would be missing out on a lot of the things that we got to do without COVID. So this year we didn’t have a winter formal at our school and going on field trips was harder and our pro graduation is a lot different than it typically would be, but I’m glad that we got to do in person learning.


Sam Demma (19:38):
Nice love that. Thank you so much for sharing. And I totally agree. I know you got some, a virtual background of a beach. I really miss just traveling as well, right. yeah. Yeah. Thank you so much for sharing. Perfect. Moving on. We will go right to Devon. I’m curious to know what is something your teacher or the teachers in your school have done this year that you think has been really helpful? Despite the situation


Will (20:01):
I would say they definitely helped a lot with the safety protocols because the start of the year, we were really good with sanitizing and everyone wearing their masks. And as the year just progressed, a lot of people on started lacking off with it. But for me, most of my teachers remind everyone when they come into class and since they’ve done that, everyone’s just kind of kept on track with it. So I’d say the teachers have definitely helped the most with that.


Sam Demma (20:24):
I love that. Love that. And I you’re all wearing your masks, so good job. Ellie, what about yourself?


Jordan (20:30):
So I my, my teachers have been really helpful as in, they’ve still tried to organize things to get us out of the classroom and just, they’re always smiling and always like understanding that we are going through a lot right now with COVID and it is a totally different experience than we ever would’ve expected. So we’re still going on some different forms of field trips and we’re getting outta the classroom and they’re organizing different events for us which is very helpful along with just them, them being nice in general as well.


Sam Demma (20:57):
Yeah. I hear you. It it’s like, I think teachers right now are working a hundred times harder to just even make school possible. You know what I mean? Yeah. So why don’t we on three? Just yell out loud. Thank you for everyone in your class for Ryan ready? 1, 2, 3. love it. Awesome. All right, moving on. We’ll move to Carla. Carla, I’m curious to know what do you want more of right now? Like what do you think would make your school experience better?


Jordan (21:28):
For me, it would be more gathering. So during COVID we didn’t get to have our winter formal, like Emily said earlier, our graduating like from is different this year. We didn’t like at the cafeteria table, we’re allowed to have four people in my group of friends is like a group of like eight or nine. So we can’t all sit together even just at school either.


Sam Demma (21:50):
Yeah. I hear you. Nice bucket hat by the way. Emma, what about yourself?


Jordan (21:57):
Yeah, so definitely right now is something I want is freedom. Of course, that’s almost physically impossible. We’re all trying to do our part with COVID, but ever since I was a little girl, I’ve always dreamed of a big graduate and a very big prom and going to all the high school parities, but of course, with the protocols we’re we aren’t able to do that, but I live by everything happens for a reason. So I choose to take COVID. And even though there’s a lot of negatives, I choose to take the positives and realize how much I’ve grown and matured from the challenges and adversity. Come


Sam Demma (22:29):
Love it. Love it also, by the way, nice bucket hat. appreciate the answers. It really feels like you’re on a beach, so it’s awesome. I love that. Yeah, that’s great. Cool. All right. Moving on to the next question. Sabrina, what do you think, what do you think makes a great student leader?


Jordan (22:49):
So me a great student leader is somebody who is very involved in school and I’m personally very involved in my school and I love to include as many people as I can. And I think that’s what makes Bluefield really good school for leadership, because we are very inclusive and that’s like my main thing and just be kind to everybody. Nice. Yeah. That’s


Sam Demma (23:15):
By the way, we don’t actually use the video, so don’t stress too much about it. but I would, I would say like, you’re a superhero, like bouncing in and out of the video. , you know, like when I was a kid, I always wanted to be invisible, but no, that’s awesome. Thank you so much for sharing that. I appreciate it. And again, don’t worry about it. We don’t, we don’t actually use the video. Jenaya what about yourself? And did I pronounce that correctly?


Jordan (23:38):
Yeah. Jenaya but that was pretty good, actually. So for me, like a great student leader would have to be someone who has like, I really like students interest and they’re like willing to hear everybody out. And recently we just picked like our Val Victorians. So like, I just like chose who I thought best like represented the school, but then also like every other student as well. They’re also the ones who make connections like in the hallway with like a simple, like, Hey, like how you doing? You know? And they just are really good, critical, cool thinkers and show like a lot of commitment and consistency within like the school as well.


Sam Demma (24:09):
Nice. It love it. Love it. Awesome. Thank you so much. I appreciate you both sharing. you ever seen that vine where the guy goes like this and he just disappears? that’s literally what’s happening right now. Thank you both for sure. I appreciate it. All right, next question. Let’s go with Beth. Beth, what do you think is something you’ve learned from this class that has had a big impact on you?


Jordan (24:34):
Well, just from this class, I learned kind of how to express my thoughts and opinions. I’m the type of person who’s more shy until you get to know me. So I don’t really open up to people unless I’m comfortable around them, but in this class we have like a lot of great leaders and a lot of social people. So it just kind of allowed me to open up and share, even if I’m not like comfortable with them necessarily. So it just kind of encouraged me to step outta my comfort zone.


Sam Demma (25:00):
Love it. Love it. Thank you for sharing. Awesome. And Neil, what about yourself?


Neil (25:04):
The biggest thing I learned would be skills of patience. So I play and also coach sports. Nice. So you have to learn how to be patient with cuz I coach little, 10 and 11 year olds. So you have to learn how to be patient with them. Cuz what I think as a 17 year old would be easy, might not be the same as what they find difficult. Like I, I had a little dude who could only make it to half court and that was a big accomplishment. But if I was to look at one of my high school teammates during a drill thinking, they can only do their drill to half court, then that wouldn’t be up to standards. So you just have to learn to be patient and know everyone’s situation to be able to adapt to it.


Sam Demma (25:42):
Love that adaptability sounds like empathy as well. Sounds like it could be put in. They’re empathizing with the skills of different players on your team and their situations. That’s awesome, man. Thanks for sharing. And do you have aspirations to continue coaching?


Neil (25:56):
Yeah, I would like to continue coaching. My dad’s coached me ever since I was a little dude and I would love to have kids someday and coached them. That would be, that’s a big dream of mine.


Sam Demma (26:05):
Nice man. Awesome. Thanks so much for sharing. All right, perfect. Onto the next question. Let’s go with Gracie, if you could give your younger self advice, what would you say?


Jordan (26:18):
Basically just try and be optimistic, optimistic about things and things will like will change through time. I say this because looking back on myself, like in great and everything like I’ve developed more skills and knowledge and experiences throughout my whole high school experience. Also like I’m volunteer with my community. I’m able to keep a part-time job in overcoming struggles along the way through this, I’m able to reflect and change things through like experiences and everything. And back in grade 10, like I don’t think I would ever be able to do all the things I’ve done.


Sam Demma (26:53):
Love it. Great advice. Kaylee, what about yourself?


Jordan (26:56):
Yeah. If I could give my younger high school self advice, it would probably be to just live in the moment. Like you never know, the world’s always changing. You can’t really predict the future and you can’t change the past. You just gotta live in the moment. Focus on what’s right in front of you.


Sam Demma (27:12):
Yeah, love that. I think right now it’s a good reminder too, because we’re all striving to wait for the world to get back to normal. as opposed to live in life right now. So yeah, it’s great. Great advice. Thanks for sharing. All right. Onto the next question. You know, is there any final pieces of advice for students listening right now? Adele, anything you wanna share?


Jordan (27:33):
So I believe the path to enjoying high school is to get involved and not to be afraid to try new things. I always enjoyed musical theater, but I was always scared of what other people would think. But last year I was in a school musical and it was one of the best experiences of my life.


Sam Demma (27:51):
Oh, I love that. What did you act? Were you behind the scenes? Like what was your position?


Jordan (27:55):
Well I had quite a big role in the show, so I was involved in like all the choreography and like a huge part of harmonies and all that stuff, so yeah.


Sam Demma (28:06):
Oh cool. Love that. Awesome. Good stuff. And Jenna, what about yourself?


Jordan (28:10):
Well, mine’s kinda the same as Adele, but I think that high school will be like a treasure time of your life for the rest of your life. You know, you’ve heard from every wise woman, every grandma . So get involved, make friends study hard, but remember that your high school career isn’t soon, it’ll only be a memory that you look back on. So make it a memory that you want to look back on and appreciate.


Sam Demma (28:30):
Love it. Love it. Awesome. All right. Let’s yell. Thank you everyone. On, in on three for this episode, 1, 2, 3.


Ryan Laughlin (28:38):
Thank you.


Sam Demma (28:40):
Bluefield leadership. It was, it was a great chatting with you, Ryan, if you wanna hop back on for one quick second, we’ll wrap things up. Again, thank you so much for pointing to us together. It was awesome. Everyone already has your contact info for so no need to share it again, but I just wanted to say one final. Thank you. And keep up with the awesome work.


Ryan Laughlin (28:56):
I appreciate Sam. I’m glad that you were open to this and it was a really cool experience with the two classes. So I enjoyed it a lot. I wanna thank you for that.


Sam Demma (29:03):
And there you have it. Another amazing guest, an amazing interview on the High Performing Educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review so other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show; if you want meet the guest on today’s episode, if you wanna meet any of the guests that we have interviewed, consider going to www.highperformingeducator.com and signing up to join the exclusive network, you’ll have access to networking events throughout 2021 and other special opportunities. And I promise I will not fill your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Ryan Laughlin

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.

Lewis Keys – Lead Child & Youth Coordinator California National Guard

Lewis Keys – Lead Child & Youth Coordinator California National Guard
About Lewis Keys

Lewis Keys (@thejoelkeyssr) is a Texas native that comes with over 10 years of experience working as a Youth Development Professional. He specializes in the areas of teen engagement, family enrichment, and activities programming.

Now a resident of Sacramento, CA, he serves in a senior-level leadership position providing resources and programming to military families throughout the State of California. Lewis truly believes that “connection with today’s youth is built by healthy transparency from those who lead them”.

Connect with Lewis: Email | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Upward Bound Program for High School and Middle School students

Boys and Girls Club of Greater Sacramento

California Guard – Youth Programs

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):
Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today I have the awesome privilege of interviewing Lewis Keys. I had the amazing opportunity to work with him and his youth over at the California national guard for a six week program over the summertime. And he actually, you know, was open to the idea of coming on the show to share a little bit about his own experiences working with young people and his journey in a leadership position working with youth. Lewis is a Texas native that comes with over 10 years of experience working as a youth development professional.


Sam Demma (01:10):
He specializes in the areas of teen engagement, family enrichment and activities programming. Now a resident of Sacramento, California, he serves in a senior level leadership position providing resources and programming to families throughout the state of California. Lewis truly believes that connection with today’s youth is built by healthy transparency from those who lead them. For more information, I’ll drop Lewis’ contact information in the bio of this episode so stay tuned for that, but enjoy the episode and I will see you on the other side. Lewis, thank you so much for coming on the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show all the way from California . Why don’t you start by sharing a little bit behind your own journey and how you got into the work you’re doing today with young people?


Lewis Keys (01:56):
Well, right on man. Well, Sam, first off, man, it’s a pleasure man to be here. I’m excited to have gotten to, to have known you so far, man, and, and an honor to be here on this podcast. But man, how I got started, it started back in 2010, and I was working with a program called upward bound in back in college. It was a summer program for high schoolers; well, middle schoolers and high schoolers who wanted to get, you know, 6-8 weeks of the college experience per se on campus and stuff like that. And so, you know, I worked that I was a, a activity leader for, for that, and that was fun. It was great and I realized like, you know, I had a knack for, you know, reaching young people, you know, and talking to them and meeting them right where they were and understanding that they aren’t, that they aren’t, you know, just troubled kids per se, but they are young people that need older guidance.


Lewis Keys (02:59):
and so I, I came to realize that and again, over the years I’ve worked with various youth organizations, the boys and girls clubs, great organization. I worked with other smaller organizations I’m originally from Texas. So I worked in community organizations in Dallas. So that was fun obviously. And then I made a move here to California continued to work the boys and girls club. And now I work with military youth. And so it’s been a journey it’s been good. So that’s kind of how I got my start.


Sam Demma (03:32):
Did someone inspire you when you were a young person or did some, did you have an older human being that gave you wisdom when you were a young person?


Lewis Keys (03:42):
You know, it was, it was a lot of different people from football coaches, baseball coaches family, friends relatives, you know men, men that I looked up to that were really encouraging, even women, you know, who were super encouraging and, and saw potential and said, Hey, you, you have something great. You know, don’t lose it. But I think the most pivotal inspiration was my aunt. She told me I was probably about 14 and I was sitting in my, my, I was at my grandfather’s house and I was in the back room and I was watching TV and she said, come here. And I walked over to, but I walked over there with my head kind of slumped down, you know, head down, just kind of slow, whatever she said, stop. She said, pick your head up. And I said, okay. She said, pick your head up. She said one, we don’t walk with our head down. We’re not gonna walk with our head down. We want you to see where you’re going. Right. And she was speaking obviously with vision and stuff like that for the future, but she was like, you know, pick your head up. But then the next thing she said, I want you to tell you, I wanna tell you something. She said, never forget your influence.


Sam Demma (04:48):
Mm.


Lewis Keys (04:49):
And she told me that and I never forgot it. And I remember, and I always keep that with me that no matter who I’m talking to or whether it be young, you know, young kids or whether it be, you know, adults, other adults, no matter I go, I always remember her words, you know, remember your influence. And so that is that, that I would say that’s the one person who really inspired me a lot.


Sam Demma (05:14):
Speaking in front of any group of people, young or old is a huge responsibility because of that fact you have influence or over them, you know, how do you make sure that your messaging and your programs that you have run are helping students and influencing them in, in positive ways?


Lewis Keys (05:34):
I look at it I’ll be honest. I, I take a look and I say, what would I have wanted when I was their age? Hmm. You know, I put myself back in their shoes and say, what would I have wanted and also needed. Right. for example, you know, I, we try to do, I try to make sure we do career prep, college prep, things, also exposing them to entrepreneurship. I try to make sure we expose them to financial literacy, you know, things like that. I, cause I say to myself again, what would I have? What did I need at that age? And what would I have wanted?


Sam Demma (06:07):
Mm that’s a really good way to look at it. And you know, I want to go back to 10 years ago when you first initially started I’m sure like, like yourself and anyone who does something new for the first time, it’s a little bit challenging and it’s a little bit different. Did you have any experiences or road bumps along the way that you really learned from as a youth worker?


Lewis Keys (06:27):
Yeah. Yes. And that, that particular challenge came in the form of you can’t beat too familiar with those you lead. And so I had to understand that though, I though I had enjoyed having fun with the kids and we played and we did different activities and games. They had to still view me as a, an authority figure as a leader. Right. And I had to mature as a leader. So that definitely a roadblock that I, that I had to grow into that I had to learn and I had to develop that skill.


Sam Demma (07:05):
Yeah. Well, could you, if you don’t mind, if it isn’t too much to ask, can you tell me a little more about the experience or and if it’s you know, some names you can change the names or, you know, just to keep it private


Lewis Keys (07:16):
Of course. No, no, of course, man. I was, I know, especially really I’d say, I, I didn’t, I didn’t catch it about 20, about 2010, but it really caught up to me about 2012 or 2013. When I worked the boys and girls club, I was in Dallas and worked at a particular club down there and I’d gotten to know the youth, you know, I, I had probably out of college graduating under undergrad, maybe a few months. Yeah. You know, so I wasn’t too far removed from still being a student. Right. And I was a graduate student at the time. And so I was only five, six years, you know, separated from some of these kids in aged. And so I found myself doing activities that were fun with them. And I remember doing some activities that were really fun and we had days and days out where I would joke with some of the kids and, and laugh and we’d play.


Lewis Keys (08:11):
And I remember one time where I knew that there had to be a line to be drawn. We were on our way to a, a, a program that evening could all collegiate steps. And that’s where you take some of your older high school seniors, or your whole older high school kids, sophomores, juniors, and seniors, and you get them exposed to different things, preparing them for college. Mm. And I remember that evening on the way there having one young man, I won’t say his name, but having one young man, he just, you know, he was one of the ones that I would always joke with laugh and he would go back and forth. But this particular night he was, he was being a little bit extra, as we would say, he was doing a little bit more than, than most. Yeah. cause he just, you know, he saw me as a friend, so he just kept going and kept going. And even while we were there collegiate steps, I’m like, Hey, stop talking. You’re playing too much. He would dismiss me, man, whatever, whatever, whatever. Mm. And I remember, I remember that night I had to have a very good, good, good, good talk. A very good talk. And I’m to said like that, I had to have a very stern talking to with him and letting him know like the way you acted tonight was completely outta bounds. Mm.


Lewis Keys (09:25):
You were completely outta line. You, you were, you weren’t listening to nobody, you know, you weren’t doing any of this and it wouldn’t be, I would be well within my right to suspend you from the club or whatever. And then he said something to me. He said, well, it’s not my fault that you act like one of us.


Sam Demma (09:43):
Mm.


Lewis Keys (09:44):
And it was, it was a chin check. I had to take it Sam. Honestly, I had to take it right on the chin because it was it right. Then it taught me that you can’t lead them and also be a among them. Mm. And so I had to take that into consideration. And then from that moment on, I changed the way I approached programming, the way I approached leadership, the way I approached getting to know kids. And I learned that you have to establish a boundary up front of, I am in charge and I’m here to, to encourage you and lead you. Right. But I am not one to be messed with. I am not your friend. Right. I am one to help to the next level. And so that was definitely an experience I had to I had to take you with me. I went home that night, not, I mean, it was in my mind, just replant and replant to grow from that experience. I had to learn from it.


Sam Demma (10:40):
Thank you for sharing. First of all, and being vulnerable to share the whole story. I appreciate it. And I’m sure all the educators listening right now. Appreciate it also. And you know, being 21 myself, I sometimes feel like students might feel as though I’m just like them. And there might be a blurring of boundaries in certain situations. So hearing you say this now is kind of making me think how I can apply it to my own situations when I’m working with young people as well. So I, I appreciate you sharing. How do you think we bridge that gap between being relatable, but also being the leader? You know, like those are, they seem like they’re two separate things, but I feel like we can bridge them. Like how do we actually practically do that?


Lewis Keys (11:18):
It’s one, one word transparency.


Sam Demma (11:21):
Mm


Lewis Keys (11:23):
It’s one word transparency. You have to be obviously have boundaries, obviously. Well, two words, boundaries and transparency. One, you set boundaries, which you do at the beginning. You say, Hey, I am, I am here to lead. I’m here to encourage, I’m here to help push you to the next level. But also people don’t con connect with someone they aren’t, they don’t feel connected to, they won’t connect unless they feel like you can relate to me. And how can, how can I, as a I’m I’m, I’m 32, right. As you consider, you know? Right. but I’m , but I’m, I’m 32. Yeah. And how can a 17 year old feel connected to a 32 year old through experiences? Mm. Me being vulnerable about and, and transparent about my experiences. You may have experienced, you know, you may be that 17 year old may be experiencing a time where they’re ensuring themselves.


Lewis Keys (12:17):
They’re not confident as whether it be as a athlete or as a singer, as a writer, as a, a, a musician or whatever as a leader. Well, I can take you back to what, 2006, when I felt UN not confident as a athlete when I had scholarships, but I wasn’t what I wanted to take. When I felt, when I dropped the ball, you know, all these different things, sharing our transparent stories, right. Because stories are what connects us. Right. If you think, look at human history, everything we know most of what we know about human history is passed down through stories. Yeah. And so I think it’s a, it’s being trans parent about our stories, right. Within the bounds of obviously keeping it appropriate of course, by being transparent about our stories and seeing how we can encourage them and bridge that gap so that they can say so that that young person can say, wow, okay. Yeah, they may be older, but that here it is. But they understand


Sam Demma (13:13):
Story are universal. Right. I, I think that’s why it’s so important that we share them. You know, if a teacher’s listening right now, how would you recommend they share their stories with their kids? Like how do you usually share your personal experiences with your programs and with your students to make sure they can build that relatability?


Lewis Keys (13:31):
Of course. I, if anybody’s listening, if you, you wondering how, how you can set that up, I would say it starts with environment first with the setting. You, I wouldn’t say, try to try to share your stories while they’re taking a standardized test. Yeah.


Sam Demma (13:45):
not the sound,


Lewis Keys (13:47):
Not really the, not really the moment. Yeah. But set it up, set up your environment, set up the setting where it’s comfortable letting some boundaries be known saying, Hey, we’re gonna keep this thing appropriate, but Hey, I want us to have an open space today. I want us to have some free talk today. Right. Cause a lot of times, you know, we say, okay, well we have to get the programming done. We have to get the lesson in or whatever, but it’s okay to pause for about 45 minutes and say, Hey, let’s, let’s have some moments to share. You can set it up. It can be something that is on go. It could be twice a week. You know, things like that, setting up moments and times where they can share and, and what they’re going through. And of course with teenagers and even with younger kids, they’re not gonna tell you everything that’s going on.


Lewis Keys (14:30):
Right. But asking those filler questions, how you, how you guys feeling what’s been going on with you guys, what’s happening. I do a thing. Something that I do is called high, low time. And so we do high, low time. I do with some I I’ll I’ll ask, Hey, we’re gonna do some high, low time. And what high, low time is, is that tell us some highs from your week, some positive things, some great things, some good things that happened. Some things that you saw or you were like, yo I’m I really, I was really appreciating that, but then tell us some lows, some things that you didn’t like, some things that happened that weren’t so positive. Right? And so what that does is that begins to open up, right? The can so that they can begin to, you know, start to unpack some things. And you’ll be surprised how many kids will start to look forward to high, low time, because they’ll get a chance to unpack stuff.


Sam Demma (15:16):
And other people in their life might not be asking them those same questions or willing to hear it or not even be aware of it. Whereas when it’s an outside source, it’s almost like a strange ally, right? They they’re, you’re there to support, but you’re not a family member or a friend. And I think that makes a huge difference. You do this in class, like during the sessions we do on Friday at the beginning of the last one you asked, tell us some highs, tell us some lows and students are sharing question for you. Why military youth now you’ve progressed in, you know, worked with many different young people. Now you’re with the California guard, what’s brought you to, to this specific, or what’s called you to this specific group of kids.


Lewis Keys (15:57):
You know, I honestly think that there is a need and I think there’s one a need. But also I think that powers beyond myself understood that COVID was coming and that, you know, I, I think we’re all called for a certain time and for a certain season and certain places. Yeah. And I believe that where I am now I was needed here for this particular time for COVID happening, right. For pre COVID because here I am, you know, this guy that used to work with, with, with and girls club youth and, and you know, kids in impoverished neighborhoods and, you know, coming from, you know, an impoverished neighborhood myself relating to that, to now working with military youth, you know, some of these youth, they, they may not even understand like, wait, what, I don’t, I don’t get this. I don’t get that.


Lewis Keys (16:50):
What are you talking about? And I think it is been, it’s been a, a good experience, but I think being here now what’s brought, it, brought me here. Now it is opening up perspectives mm. For our kids opening up perspectives. Because a lot of times, you know, depending on where we’re brought up, where we’re raised, what we do, we see the world one way mm-hmm . And I think that I have been privileged since being here to expose our military youth here statewide to things that that are different than their surroundings, different than their, what they’re used to. Right. They see things differently. And I think exposing them to some, some, some realities and, and some different things here of, of the, not just the state, but in the world. And I think it’s been a, it’s been an encouragement. It’s been a benefit, not only to our youth, but not only to our program, but even to some of our leaders, you know, they tell us, thank you just for what you share and what you offer. So yeah,


Sam Demma (17:50):
Love that. Love that. Thank you so much for sharing a little more about the program and what brought you here now? Where do you see yourself in like five or 10 years? , it’s a, sometimes it’s a tough question, but where, where do you see yourself in five, 10 years,


Lewis Keys (18:05):
Man? I, I honestly see. I, you know, I truly see that, you know, I’ll progress in other ways, whether it be speaking abroad in different places. I, I definitely see myself leading leading a, whether it be a, in a church setting, whether it be a, a, like I said, religious setting in that, in that aspect, but then also, but I also see myself obviously, different business ventures, all these different things, but I above all, I see myself taking care and loving on people still. I see myself to love on people.


Sam Demma (18:42):
I love that. That’s awesome. Cool. Lewis, thank you so much for taking the time today to come on the show and just chat a little bit about your philosophies and how you approach your programming with these young people in these programs. If someone wants to reach out to you and have a conversation, what would be an email they could, you know, reach you at or the best way to get in touch?


Lewis Keys (19:04):
Sure, sure. If you guys reach out to me, you can reach out to my personal email; it’s lewis.keys@yahoo.com. So reach out, love to hear from you.


Sam Demma (19:32):
Lewis, thank you so much again for coming on the show. I can’t wait for the next week session and we’ll talk soon.


Lewis Keys (19:39):
All right, Sam. Much appreciated, thank you brother.


Sam Demma (19:41):
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 consider leaving a rating and review so other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show; if you want meet the guest on today’s episode, if you wanna meet any of the guests that we have interviewed, consider going to www.highperformingeducator.com and signing up to join the exclusive network, you’ll have access to networking events throughout 2021 and other special opportunities. And I promise I will not fill your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Lewis Keys

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.