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Student Leadership

Rebecca Newcombe – Principal at Aldershot School (HDSB)

Rebecca Newcombe - Principal at Aldershot School (HDSB)
About Rebecca Newcombe

Rebecca Newcombe (@Ms__Newcombe) is the Principal of Aldershot School in Burlington, Ontario.  She has been part of the Halton District School Board for 20 years.  Rebecca is a firm believer in student voice and innovation.  

Rebecca is a Collaborative Problem Solving Trainer for Think:Kids. CPS is an evidence-based approach that flips the traditional way we look at students with behavioural challenges and supports the student’s skill development to reduce challenging behaviour while building relationships with the adults in their lives.

Connect with Rebecca Newcombe: Twitter | Email

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Halton District School Board (HDSB)

Think:Kids

Collaborative Problem Solving (CPS)

Aldershot School

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

Rebecca Newcombe (01:50):
Hello, Sam I’m Rebecca Newcomb. I’m the principal at Aldershot school with the Halton district school board here in Burlington, Ontario.

Sam Demma (01:58):
It’s an awesome, it’s awesome to speak to you because I would always take the go train. Last stop would always say elder shot and was always wondering what was over there. Cause I never actually got off at that stop.

Rebecca Newcombe (02:10):
Worth the visit!

Sam Demma (02:12):
At what stage in your own educational career and journey did you realize? I really want to get into education.

Rebecca Newcombe (02:21):
Honestly, since the, the very beginning I’ve always wanted to be a teacher. All always wanted to be a principal and I just was, was lucky and fortunate. And here, here I am.

Sam Demma (02:33):
So you grew up kind of just telling everyone around you when I grow up, I wanna work in a school.

Rebecca Newcombe (02:39):
Yeah, weird. Right. that’s awesome. I was, I always loved school. Always loved teaching, always loved learning. It’s just was, it was just natural fit for me.

Sam Demma (02:49):
Tell me a little bit about the actual journey. So you finished high school and then what, what was the path that you took that led you to where you are today?

Rebecca Newcombe (02:56):
So I it was right outta high school, got into the concurrent ed program at Lakehead university in thunder bay. So I was living in Ottawa at the time with my parents, so 17 hours straight north and was there for five years.

Sam Demma (03:13):
That’s awesome. And then right after the five years at Lakehead did you start with the Halton district school board and been here ever?

Rebecca Newcombe (03:21):
Since? I just started out with the Durham district school board, I taught at Fort Perry high school for two years. Nice. Yeah. And then got hired on with Halton and made the move.

Sam Demma (03:30):
That’s awesome. And I would, I’m assuming you started it in the classroom and then

Rebecca Newcombe (03:35):
I did. Yeah, well, yeah, but what my first jobs was with special education. So I kind of fell into special education. It, it became an UN, like, I didn’t realize that it was gonna be my passion, but it’s, it’s turned into that just sort of by accident. I started teaching English and history and then, and special ed. So in terms of GLE, so learning resources classes within the resource room, so supporting students who may have learning disabilities right, right out of right from my, from day one up in, up in Durham. And then when I moved to, to Halton, I ended up being the the head of special education at EC ju in Milton for, I don’t know, maybe a decade and with kids with intellectual disabilities, autism, you name it. And it was amazing.

Sam Demma (04:26):
That’s awesome. Those first couple of years probably informed the rest of your teaching career which is awesome. When you think about those experiences working in special ed, are there any memories that stick out to you or, you know, experiences that you had that were really impactful on the way that you approach teaching today or education?

Rebecca Newcombe (04:53):
That is a great question because I really think it does. And when you think about it working with kids who have special needs it, you know, you have to have a different, different approach. And also found kids who, you know, who may be labeled with behavioral challenges really really were, were those that struggled, struggled the most. And I, when I moved to Halton was introduced to the model of collaborative problem solving with Dr. Alon through Massachusetts general hospital. Nice. And there it’s a, it’s a program or department within their department of psychiatry and the whole model and framework really focuses in on a mindset shift. So when we look at kids or, or people or anyone really with challenging behavior or, or, you know, even, even, you know, a problem of a opposing view, looking at it from a diff a different lens.

Rebecca Newcombe (05:52):
So looking at it as a skillful versus willful. So what I mean by that is that kids, conventional wisdom tells us that kids do well if they want to. So that they’re as if they’re choosing to, to behave poorly when really it’s a skill deficit. So if kids had better skills to manage what were asked, the expectation we placed on them, they would manage it better because that’s what people wanna do people inherently wanna do well. Right. So that changed everything for me. So and I think that really helped me in my role as the head of spec ed as a vice principal and definitely as a principal as well.

Sam Demma (06:33):
That’s such an awesome perspective. I love that, that mindset, that shift, and I think it’s so important. This year kids were forced, not only kids, but teachers and anyone in everyone in education was forced to learn a ton of new skills due to COVID 19. What are some of the challenges that have been facing the school community that you’re in right now and how you all been striving to overcome those things?

Rebecca Newcombe (07:02):
So, so part of my learning with CPS that CPS really is a trauma informed and culturally responsive approach, nice to, to working with humans in general. And I think through COVID 19 and through the murder of George Floyd and through the way we look at at racism and looking at how to become an anti-racist it’s really supported my growth that way. And I think that that’s one of the biggest challenges. I think we face not only in school, but as a society looking at how, how are we anti-racist and what are we doing and how are we breaking down those barriers of oppression and, and racism that, that do exist in all levels of society and how, how we approach that. So that’s definitely one of the biggest challenges that I’m facing right now. I also think too with the pandemic, the pandemic has taught us a lot.

Rebecca Newcombe (08:03):
We don’t, and I never wanna hear folks say like, oh, we need to go back to the way it was. It was so much better. The back at the way, it was, there’s a lot of good things about pre pandemic times, for sure. However, there are some things that we can, you know, we can take from it and looking at, like, for example right now it’s exam time, you know, traditional exam time at high schools. Well, now we’re looking at it from a completely different way, looking at it from what, what are some engaging ways that we, that students can demonstrate their learning without having to sit down and like memorize, you know, binders and textbooks and anything you can Google? Why, why, why would we ask kids to do that? Why can’t they create something that demonstrates their learning that also demonstrates 21st century skills, creativity, collaboration critical thinking, all those amazing things that we want kids to be able to do while adults be able, able to do humans in general.

Rebecca Newcombe (09:00):
So just looking at it from, from that lens, when we think about a classroom in the 1880s, you know, rows and desks and that kind of thing, and we compare it to now, I would say we don’t always see a whole lot of difference, especially when we compare to like a car, think about a car in 1880s to a car to now, or a phone, like a cell phone. Right. So, you know, one of those old school phones back then and a cell phone now, I mean, so many, so, so much different, so much change, so much innovation. And really in the school, in the classroom, we wanna harness that and really change it and bust it open and make it better for kids

Sam Demma (09:44):
As a principal. How do you, how do you manage, like bringing these big ideas into like actionable steps? So like for a teacher listening, who’s never been in a principal role before what is it like day to day and how do we try and get everyone on board with a, with an idea?

Rebecca Newcombe (10:05):
Yeah. It’s, it’s, that’s like, if you can solve that Sam, then you’re solving, like, it’s a million dollar question. It’s multimillion dollar question. I think as a principal, really, you have to trust your staff and you’ve got amazing educators in the building and they have amazing ideas. And if they feel supported in trying something new and taking a risk, you know, it is a thing pedagogically sound for kids. Yes. Okay. Does, is someone passionate to do it? Yes. That as a principal, it’s my job to say, heck yes. Get outta their way and, and let them, let them try it. Like the magic happens when, when teachers, when anyone educators step outta their comfort zone. So as long as people feel supported that way then that’s how you make stuff happen. Because if folks don’t feel supported, then it’s, you know, then they’re, they’re like, oh, what if it goes badly? What if it fails? There’s learning in that. Right. So if it doesn’t go badly, if it goes badly or if it doesn’t work the way you thought it’s, it was gonna work that’s okay. Learn from the experience, tweak it and try it differently. The next time,

Sam Demma (11:11):
One of my favorite rap artists, his name is Russ, and he talks about failures being stepping stones. And he, he even talks about bridges that got burned in the past, lighting the way for the future. And that could be used as like a failure analogy as well. And I think it’s so true that our failures are not really failures. They’re just lessons if we choose to learn from them. You mentioned when you were working in special ed that you were introduced to this new model, which is awesome. What other resources or mindset shifts have you read watched been through or philosophies that you have about education that have really helped you throughout your, your career and journey?

Rebecca Newcombe (11:58):
I would say so like the cloud of problem solving model through think kids that’s really, that’s really, that’s, that’s really guided me guided, guided me through, throughout my journey. I’m also re I’ve read a few different books and always interested in podcasts. Nice white parents listening to that podcast. Nice. the reading a book by Dr. Betina love and really looking at like, anti-racism like, so how, how do we be become anti-racist educators? And how can we make sure that all of our kids feel like they matter? And what does that look like? And how does that, how does that look in the classroom and what, what do we see in the classroom that we know we’re, we’re intentionally breaking down those systemic barriers. What does that look like in a school? You know, so really looking at that.

Rebecca Newcombe (12:54):
So as a staff we, we did an equity audit, so what are we, what are we look, what are we looking at? What are we looking for? And then we also had our equity team, our student equity team, they went and did an equity audit. Hmm. And so then sort of meshing those two, two things together and sort of, okay, what did they, what did the kids see that maybe the adults didn’t and vice versa. And so just kind of identifying the barrier, not the barriers, but identifying those things that need to be improved like life and learning and schools, it’s constant change and it’s constant improvement, and it’s not about, that was bad. It’s just, oh, we, we, we know something different now. So it’s like, when you, when you know, better, you do better. So that’s that’s sort of we’re at as, as a, as a school community.

Sam Demma (13:39):
Teachers principles, the educational field as a whole has staff and people that this year at certain points have felt really burnt out. Maybe you’ve experienced it personally. Maybe some of your staff has as well. When you are, are not feeling at your a game or when you’re a little burnt out, how do you kinda pick yourself back up or fill up your own cup?

Rebecca Newcombe (14:05):
The kids really like the, the kids are brilliant. The kids have so many great ideas. And when you look at some of the experiences that our, our students are having, in terms of the pandemic, make, it gives you sort of a, a blast of reality as an adult. So many, you know, kids 14 years old dealing with ma major life issues and major life changes. So for me that I, it it’s, you know, the, the support in that or the, the hope that they, they have is inspiring. So it just keeps you moving forward. And and the staff, you know, they continue, they continue to work so hard, despite all the challenges and despite things that are said in the media, they keep going, and that is inspiring. So I guess it’s really like you know, the others around me that, that make it, make it worth at all.

Sam Demma (14:59):
Hmm. I love that. It there’s so much inspiration to gain from everybody if you’re, if you’re looking for it. So that’s so cool to hear, you know, the past two years have been challenging. Like we, we all know it’s, it’s been different slightly in education, but it’s opened up lots of opportunities. Like you’re mentioning in areas of equity and innovating education and trying to do new things. If you could take all the learnings you’ve gained over the path entire span of your career, and walk back into your first teaching job and tap yourself on the shoulder and say, Hey, Rebecca, I know you’re just getting started. Here’s what I wish you heard. Or here’s what I think you need to know when you’re just getting into this profession, because, you know, there could be someone starting in education right now and their new experience is gonna be awesome, but you might, you know, you might have some things to share. That could be some good reminders.

Rebecca Newcombe (16:00):
I would say don’t take it personally. Mm. Do do your best. And every day’s a new day.

Sam Demma (16:09):
I love it. I love it. And you know, one other thing that fascinates me is the program schools run. There are some uniformity in all that, like certain boards bring in the same programs to all their schools. And it’s awesome. And then there’s also some individual cases where a school is looking for a specific program or thing that run with the students. I’m wondering if there’s any programs outer has run at any point in the, in your career at this school that we’re very successful. And I’m wondering if you could share the impact it made and also what the program was.

Rebecca Newcombe (16:44):
Sure. I like the servicing that it’s the students, it’s, it’s a, it’s the teacher student relationship. That really it is what is, is the, is the thing that makes a student successful. It’s not so much the, the the program we’ve, we’ve got many different programs but really, it really boils down to that student teacher relationship. And we’ve got a, a school full of amazing educators. So for me, it’s not about specialized programs. It’s about how, how a teacher makes a difference in the life of a student. Yeah. And and that can be in any classroom, not just specialized programs. And you don’t always hear about those. Right. As, as an educator, you’re lucky if a, if a, you know, a student sends you a Facebook message, you know, 10 years after they graduated to say, Hey, like, thanks you, like you made, you made a difference for cuz you as an educator, you don’t, you don’t see the fruits of your labor, right?

Rebecca Newcombe (17:39):
You, you you work hard with the students in front of you and they, it’s kind of not, not a thankless job, but you don’t always get, you don’t always get the, the depth of your impact. So for me, it’s about it’s about it’s about that. We, we have great teachers, we have a pretty unique school. We’re seven to 12. So we’ve got traditionally grade seven, eight elementary students. And then also, you know, the traditional nine to 12 high school. So that’s that, that’s a kind of a cool unique profile that enables us to have, you know, our grade seven and eights into our various tech shops and and have experiences with, with iSTEM. So we do have an iSTEM program here. So that’s amazing. It is you have to apply to be part of that program, just a, we also have a SHSM, so which also it’s actually doubled in size for, for next year, which is amazing and a can fit pro. So we’ve got lots of cool, unique opportunities for students to hopefully help them find their passion. And, but really the difference is made by the individuals, the student but the individual teacher in the classroom. And in my personal opinion, you know, it takes a village you know, to raise a child or educate a child. And that village must be equally valued. So it’s not just the specialized programs that, that make the magic happen for kids. It’s it’s the collect is

Sam Demma (19:12):
That reminded me. It’s funny, this popped into my mind, there’s a, a book by Malcolm Gladwell called outliers. And in the book he references this study of this little village filled with European people that were all from the same place in Italy. And they found that this very tight knit, close knit community lived longer than everyone else in that state in America. And they also had very low rates of heart disease or heart attack. And it was a spectacle for doctors and they ended up doing a lot of studies on the people living within this small C community. And what they found was you couldn’t determine the health of an individual solely based on that one person’s actions, but you had to look at the community as a whole and how they interacted with each other. And I think that really relates to what you’re saying about, it’s not just about the students individual actions. It’s not just about a program am coming in and that person’s individual actions, but it’s the community as a whole that, you know, lifts the, the student experience and educator experience up which is, which is really awesome. Thanks for sharing that. You mentioned, I stem, I’ve never heard of, I stem, what is the, I stand for?

Rebecca Newcombe (20:29):
It stands for innovation.

Sam Demma (20:32):
Oh, cool. That’s awesome. And then the SHSM. I know what SHSM is cause I live in Pickering, but can you explain a little bit about SHSM for educators who might be outside of Ontario?

Rebecca Newcombe (20:42):
Sure. So it stands for specialist high skills major. And so it’s a number of different courses that students will, will take to then sort of specialize in a particular area. So our equalism is you know, so the teachers who teach it are, are the experts. So if you wanna find out more about that and get all those details, you should talk to them because they they’ve lived that experience for over a decade. So they it’s a bundle of courses and the kids get actual experience being leaders in our community at the RBG through a program called Eagle Rangers. And then also through going out and doing camping and Portage and doing all those wonderful things in Northern well Algonquin. So opportunities that way. So it’s just really about experiential learning, right? Like, so digging in and not just learning about cool things in our world, but actually experiencing them. So again, it’s all about that teacher, student relationship and students following their passion to be able to, to dig in and do what do what they’re interested in.

Sam Demma (21:47):
Love it. I did not get involved in SHSM enough when I was in high school being a high performing athlete. I rarely got involved in any extracurriculars. And I think it’s one of the things I not regret, but wish I did more of. So it’s cool to hear that your school has those opportunities existing for kids. If someone wants to reach out to ask you a question based on anything we shared during this conversation or interview, what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you?

Rebecca Newcombe (22:14):
They can follow me on Twitter. They can send me an email, give me a shout at the school.

Sam Demma (22:20):
Awesome. Perfect. I will make sure I link the links. What is your Twitter handle?

Rebecca Newcombe (22:26):
It’s @Ms__Newcombe

Sam Demma (22:30):
Okay, perfect. I will make sure to add that in the show notes, Rebecca, thank you so much for coming on the show. This was a lot of fun. Keep up the great work.

Rebecca Newcombe (22:37):
Yes. Thanks. So nice to meet you.

Sam Demma (22:39):
You as well. You as well. Bye.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Rebecca Newcombe

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.

Jacquie Pece – Principal at Craig Kielburger Secondary School (HDSB)

Jacquie Pece - Principal at Craig Kielburger Secondary School (HDSB)
About Jacquie Pece

Jacquie Pece (pecej@hdsb.ca) has been in education for 33 years. She began as an Health and Physical Education and English teacher. She also worked in Guidance and as a behavioural specialist in Special Education. She taught AQ courses in Health and Physical Education at OISE for 10 years. She was a vice-principal for 8 years before becoming the principal for the last 6 years at Craig Kielburger Secondary School in Milton.

Jacquie has taught Principal Qualification courses for OPC. She was the co-chair of OPC in Halton for 3 years and is now the past president of the Halton Secondary Principal Association. She enjoys leadership work within the system to help strengthen all schools across the board and to mentor vice-principals and principals.

Jacquie loves working in complex schools that honour all pathways. She cares deeply for her students and staff. She strives to create a school where students feel safe to be themselves and are kind to one another.

Where teachers want to come to work to collaborate, and work in an environment where they are respected and encouraged to try new ways of teaching and learning to improve student achievement. She has coached her entire career in rugby, volleyball, and track and field sports.

She loves getting to know students outside of the classroom and has also travelled all around the world with students to enhance their love for life long experiential learning. She believes in all aspects of physical, mental, emotional, social and spiritual wellness and encourages others to find the balance in their lives.

Connect with Jacquie Pece: Twitter | Email

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Halton District School Board (HDSB)

Principal Qualification courses OPC

Craig Kielburger Secondary School

Halton Secondary Principal Association

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:02):
Jackie welcome to the high performing educator. Huge pleasure to have you on the show. Please start by introducing yourself.


Jacquie Pece (00:09):
Well, hello and thank you, Sam, for giving me this opportunity. I’m Jackie Pete. I’m a principal at Craig Kielburger Secondary School in Milton. And I’ve been an administrator now for 13 years here for six. And I love what I do in the Halton district school board here.


Sam Demma (00:29):
At what point in your own career did you realize education was your calling?


Jacquie Pece (00:36):
Well, it’s kind of funny because I was one of those kids that ended up playing school in my basement. So it was the type that I actually set up a little desk for Teddy bears and dolls and gave them actual like worksheets to do and mark them. I I really loved school. I had great friends in school. Played a lot of sports and really felt that I, you know, wanted to make the most out of every day type of kid. And when I played a lot of sports and, and was we were quite good at them in school and outside in sports. And then I suffered an injury. And after I think that injury that really propelled me to work more into a, a coaching aspect of, of teaching. And I ended up going into the concurrent education program at York university to become a teacher and coach, because I couldn’t be an athlete, even though our crew boats were really successful. And one crew, I was in set, a Canadian record that stood for 12 years. Wow. Couldn’t pursue sports at that same level. So the next best thing for me was to coach and coach what teaching. And then after that I became a teacher of pH ed and English and, and teaching seemed to be a natural progression and you get to coach at the same time. So it’s like a win-win for me.


Sam Demma (01:59):
Did you draw parallels between coaching and teaching? Are those, are those similar roles and what do you enjoy about coach?


Jacquie Pece (02:08):
Well, I love mentoring young people and I love to try to get them to see their full potential. Like, so if you, you take somebody who doesn’t understand a sport or a skill and you break it down for them and you make it so that they can do each part, and then you see the progression and they see the progression in themselves, the light kind of goes off and they go, wow, this feels so great. Then you like to work towards something. So you see kids bright and, and they think, wow, I could really work towards this. Sports teaches you about the limits that you think you have in yourself and you, you break through those limits. And so that breaking through that, you could do anything if you’re, it really worked hard, enough mentality transfers to life. And so we hear that all the time that sports builds character, but I love that aspect of coaching and mentoring young people to become their best.


Sam Demma (03:02):
That’s awesome. And what was your first role in teaching and how did your career evolve and bring you to where you are now?


Jacquie Pece (03:12):
My first role in teaching was teaching at pinch and mark Grove in grades 6, 7, 8, right out of university in back in 1989, which nice be there a little bit, but that had a pH ed job as well as a home room. And I really wanted to be in Hilton. So I, I transferred, I actually resigned a, a full six section job, which my mom thought I was crazy doing, but I did be because I lived in Oakville. I, I went to school in Hulton and I wanted to teach in Hulton closer to home. I knew that down the road, I wanted a family and that would be quite easier for getting my own kids involved in sports and all and raising children. So I thought I’ll hop over to Hulton. And so that’s what I ended up doing is getting sort of forcing my way in the board through long term occasional contracts.


Jacquie Pece (04:05):
And, you know, somebody said they weren’t hiring, but I didn’t listen to that. I just kept working my way in and ended up getting great jobs. And often with the students that had students that had special needs and behavioral kids, I was kind of really good with students that, or the behavioral smart alecky kind of kids. They were like, like jam. I love them. And so I, I really wanted to work with them in, in somewhat school, within a school formats where you really concentrate on developing relationships with the, the most needy and in risk kids in your school. And I get to teach them vied and English and make a whole day with them. So that was my first kind of break into teaching. And then I just evolved from teaching more English and more Fette and always working with students with special needs or guidance or any other aspect of student success that was needed. I loved all that.


Sam Demma (05:00):
You mentioned not listening to the advice or, or feedback that the Halton board wasn’t hiring. I find that really fascinating. Where do you think your drive comes from to put aside other people’s limitations as well?


Jacquie Pece (05:17):
Well, they will sort of tow, I think party lines when it comes to we’re closed to hiring, or there’s too many teachers in the teaching profession, or, you know, you, a lot of people can even say that’s not a great profession. You could make more money doing something else or, or so you, you can’t listen to the stereotypical statements that people make about a profession. If that’s in your heart, that that’s what you really wanna do, then nobody can really deter you. So you actually just keep pursuing it and the perseverance to not listen to the naysayers, even if the odds look against you is to find your way in. It’s just like a love to be solved, find your way in. So what, what do you do to, to be known, to, to get people to see that your worth is that you’re really quite good at what you do and then pursue it to the point where you end up getting your way a little bit.


Jacquie Pece (06:10):
And I, I think my older sister, Debbie, she was told that teaching was, again, one of those professions that was overpopulated and she shouldn’t be one when, and she kind of became a nurse, which was fantastic for her, but she actually wanted always to be a kindergarten teacher. And in reality, she could have easily been a kindergarten teacher and she would’ve been a wonderful one if she just didn’t listen to them. So me being the fifth child, I learn from all my other older siblings. And I’m that one that says, yeah, no, I’m gonna go after what I want, who cares what they say?


Sam Demma (06:45):
That’s awesome. I think there is both types of educators, those that love the job and absolutely wanna be there. And there’s also others who may have, have also had a different dream but are in the classroom now. And I think that’s just a refreshing piece of advice that it’s also never too late to make an adjustment. If you think you need to enter this profession or potentially part ways. And


Jacquie Pece (07:14):
We, we do have people leaving business professions, cuz it’s not as satisfying as they thought it would be. And they really found that their heart was in helping people. And so this is a people industry and it’s a helping profession. And so they end up going back to teachers college later and, and transfer over ’em we think that’s amazing. They bring a lot of worldly experience then straight going into teaching from university.


Sam Demma (07:40):
Yeah, that’s awesome. You mentioned making assignments for the Teddy bears in your basement. Did you have parents, teachers mentors in your life tap you on the shoulder along the way and say Jackie, you would make for a photo educator or yeah. What, what was your mentorship like?


Jacquie Pece (08:06):
Well, for me, my mom was critical in helping all five children do well at school or well at anything. She’s a very positive person and she’s a very organized person who breaks down things for you. She was a pretty good athlete in school as well. Mm. So she she’s the type that loves school. So she kind of brought that love of school into our hearts at a young age that, you know, you don’t quit on something. If you, if you put your name on something, it’s always gonna be the best that you can be and do. And so she would say that for me, that I would make a great teacher. I think she wanted me to first to be a dentist and I was like a dentist. I’m not gonna be a dentist. And I had it’s all through your coaching and your teachers at school that say, Hey, you, you know, you’re good at helping other people on a team or lead.


Jacquie Pece (08:56):
So you naturally end up stepping up to leadership roles at some point in your life where you go from being, making a team, which is awesome, but then actually leading a team or being a captain of a team or pursuing that chance to help other people. So coaches along the way, would’ve said, you know, this would be great. It’s a natural progression for you. I think you’d be a great teacher. And I think we all have, have had great teachers in high school too, or in elementary school, even that really you thought, well, this person I remember to this day, or they made a, such a great impression on me and I see how important it is in a child’s life and meant to have at least that one caring adult that really sees them. And so I think we’ve all had those people in our life. And that’s what helps to turn that corner. If you’re really thinking about going into education, if, if that’s the reason you also wanna give back to children and people then makes sense that you go into education,


Sam Demma (09:57):
What, what resources or mindset shifts or things have you found helpful along the way in your own professional development. And, and I’m putting you on the spot here with this question, but yeah. Share anything you might have found helpful.


Jacquie Pece (10:15):
Well, resources for me are always kind of, well, you’re gonna do your education. And if you, if you need help with any step of the way of an education that you’re trying to pursue, then don’t be afraid to ask for help. We’re not expected to know everything first, right at a gate. It’s I tell our teachers and our students here right now, we don’t expect you to be first time smart. You know, you’re here to teach, you’re here to learn. You’re here to make mistakes. So you have to persevere and really pursue what you want to pursue. So that’s, that’s a big, that’s a big thing in education. School can be hard. So if you can get as much of an education as you can, it opens more doors. And if you have more and resources available to you, whether you want to go to right to the workplace or to college or university, then just the more skill you have in general will give you that opportunity to do whatever you want to do and pursue it as a passion.


Jacquie Pece (11:14):
So ask for help for sure. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and do some of your own work and re and research. Sometimes a lot of us feel that what needs to be handed to us or, or given to us. And, and they say, I don’t know where to look or well, do you really care about it? Like rise up and go pursue things in, in the sense of be information hungry, find out everything you can about what you want to do and find your angle in. Because even in, in, in a health sector, let’s say not everyone’s gonna be a doctor, but people wanna be in the health helping profession. So where in that sector are you going to fit? Cause you can be happy doing that. If you wanna give back in the health and science sector. So finding where you fit is really important. And I think finding the balance, we all gotta learn to balance our life, whether that’s managing our social friends and, and people, whether that’s figuring out our physical bodies and what we need rest wise, eating wise and and then our mental health and our emotional health. So you gotta find those balances and really do the work to shore up those resources and all those quads of your wellbeing. And then you can do anything.


Sam Demma (12:30):
Right now. I think a lot of educators are burnt out and balance seems to be extremely difficult especially with the pandemic. And there’s so many things going on that no one expected to happen. What are some of the challenges you see on the front line that staff and even yourself are going through? And then also two part question. What do you think some of the opportunities are that are starting to bolt to the surface because of this huge change?


Jacquie Pece (12:59):
Well, yes, currently we are faced with the years of a global pandemic restrictions that have been placed on our lives is, is hard for a lot of people. School looks different now, and sometimes that can be a good thing. We don’t wanna stay stagnant in education. So however, the speed of which all things are changing makes it challenging. Yes it does. But some things had to go let, go of goodness, we, we cannot stay still. And if you think about it being oxymoron in education, if we weren’t on the cutting edge, so we should continually changing. It’s just that a lot of people find changing hard. It, it comes at you too fast. You’re not prepared, but what it has shown people is the amount of resilience that they do have, and that we always do what’s best for kids. And that’s really important if you keep kids at the center of what we do, then it, it does make coming to school a bit easier because they are struggling as well.


Jacquie Pece (13:54):
And then you’re gonna find new things when you, when you break open that box of creativity, cuz you’re breaking down those walls and dismantling things, even with the equity work and racism and, and, and discrimination. It’s a good thing to blow it up sometimes, cuz of course it’s time and it needed to happen. And that learning is so rich. And so life changing for so many of our students and each other that that’s very important work. See, I, I never mind the the change because I think it, it brings about some very much needed growth and development in people and that’s what, that’s what we’re here for. So we have to reach our students better. We have to actually get them to breach their full potential and make sure that they have equal opportunity in life. And that’s what it’s all about. So how do we overcome these challenges?


Jacquie Pece (14:50):
Well, for me as a leader, we get information from the board who gets it from the ministry. And I do, I steal a little playbook page from your stuff, Sam, that you say, well, if I, what are those three consistent things I could possibly do actions to make a difference? Well, they have to see me as a, as a stable leader. I gotta show up every day and I do show up every day with a, a smile on my face. And I show people that I really care by being kind. And I’m pretty funny sometimes and because I, you know, you gotta keep it real, but they see that I’m here and not a lot of things get to me because they’re outta my control. So I will just control what I can control. And I happen to be very calm, under pressure.


Jacquie Pece (15:39):
I get excited but about things that I need to get excited about. But I think showing up every day and saying, I’m here for you is really important to students and staff and listening to what students and staff are going through, pointing them in the right direction. Cuz I’m the type that feels that there’s a solution to every problem. So I will work with a, a team of people to come up collaboratively with, with problems, to any concern that a student or staff have, because I I’m like, okay, okay, that, that doesn’t sound good yet. You know, I listen, I’m very patient and I’m going, okay, let’s get busy fixing this. Let’s get busy finding out what the barrier is and get rid of it so that you can, can make the most of your life, right? It’s not just about school, you’re teaching them skills for life.


Jacquie Pece (16:26):
And so these days, for sure everything is being thrown at them. So you have to be steady for, for them. You have to be that calm in the storm. And I don’t sweat the small stuff. Small stuff does not get to me. I’m the type that just says, okay, here’s the problem? Here’s the, here’s the solution. Let’s try it. If it doesn’t work, we’ll try something else. But I do very much appreciate my students and their kindness every day and staff and I, and that makes me, that makes me happy. I want, I want a place like a school to be a place where students and staff wanna come to school and they’re happy to be themselves. And that’s really important to me that they feel secure enough and safe to rise and be who they’re meant to be.


Sam Demma (17:14):
And I love the, the ideas. I think they’re so important. Listening, being kind, showing people that you care, how do you, how do you care for yourself as well? Your self-care, as I know, that’s something that sometimes people in education struggle with when you put the student at the center sometimes you, you might neglect your own personal your own personal routines and habits. And I’m curious to know how you, how you balance and also fill up your own cup.


Jacquie Pece (17:46):
Well, the goodness is I was a PHY ed grad. So even though I wanted to play sports and I couldn’t play sports competitively anymore, I do believe in a healthy, active living lifestyle. So I, you know, ran till I couldn’t and then I do spin biking or do an elliptical cuz I feel it’s very important. It downloads my brain, the exercise. So I make sure that I download that stress and anxiety that might build up on me by getting those natural endomorphs to release through exercise. And I do Pilates. I have a little Pilates table at home that I invested in years ago and I stretch, I do all those things. I try to eat, right. I have a wonderful husband who feeds me, he’s a Italian. So he wants to the time. So he allows me to do my thing at work and I come home and I have a meal we’ve always eaten as a family cuz that’s very important to him, especially.


Jacquie Pece (18:41):
But to, to me also, my kids are out of the house. Now they’re 26 and 27. But that balance of knowing you come home to a loving house I never take for granted. And that note when I come home, even if I’m here at school, let’s say, and I start to think, wow, this is really hard day or this is gonna be difficult that comfort and knowing you’re gonna go home and you’re gonna be loved and it’s gonna be okay. And I picture myself sitting and, and decompressing, I do some meditate and that, and that helps. So I balance my life out. I’m a good sleeper, oh my goodness. I can fall asleep. Mid-Sentence if I had to.


Jacquie Pece (19:20):
I can turn it off and go to sleep. And so I love that, but I really do strive that in that balance I have a couple dogs. I walk dogs are great energy. And just knowing that I have a great support system is really, is really great. I have wonderful friends and you can always, you know, that’s that critical friend you can call and talk to. And, and I love movies and I love to read cuz it’s escapism, right? You turn out away from your world and jump into another world. And I love that.


Sam Demma (19:52):
Hmm. That’s awesome. Every Saturday night I go to my cousin’s house for two, three hours and we play FIFA, some soccer on his PS five.


Jacquie Pece (20:02):
See, see, it’s funny cuz I never played video games, but my son does my husband do, but I kind of get the obsession of video games cuz I could sit and do a puzzle for three hours and lose myself. And then when I’m always bugging my kid, get off the game, you’ve been at the game for like three and they’re like, mom, you’ve been at that puzzle for I’m like, oh yeah. Right. Okay.


Sam Demma (20:24):
It’s awesome. It’s funny. I didn’t grow up with video games either and never owned a console. Parents just didn’t buy it and being a high of athlete. I was always outside anyway, but in recent months, literally just these past months I found working at home and then walking upstairs to the kitchen, which is five steps away. And then walking upstairs in my bedroom, which is only another five steps away and just being in this little area and it was really nice to lose yourself in something. And I found it in playing some soccer on a PlayStation. But I think it’s important to find that outlet, whether it’s puzzles, video games, Pilates all these things are important. Invest some of our own time in.


Jacquie Pece (21:09):
Sounds like you need to get out a little bit more Sam too. Maybe you yeah. Take your soccer ball for a walk down the


Sam Demma (21:16):
Absolutely. That’s awesome though. Thank you for sharing some of your own self practices self-care practices. If you could, and you may have already mentioned some of the ideas, so it’s, if you reiterate, but if you could take your experiences throughout education throughout all the years, you’ve been teaching and go back in time, tap your younger self on the shoulder and say, Hey Jackie, here’s what you needed to hear when you were just starting in education. What advice would you have given your younger self?


Jacquie Pece (21:48):
I probably would’ve have given myself a tap on the shoulder to say, just be brave. You, you, you know, I feel I have a, a very strong moral compass, but we do as teenagers and young adults listen too much to the chatter of other people. And I would’ve been a little braver to turn them off sooner because it, it affects your self worth or self-esteem even though I think I was a strong female growing up, they, they still work their way in and create that doubt. And so I think that no one knows yourself better than you. And I think you really honor that about yourself. You know, what other people think is none of your business. So, and they’re not the bossy. So I, I always say to students that I work with too, who cares what they think, because you have to think the most of yourself and you have to connect with your inner self. And I think for all of us, we’ve made mistakes, caring too much about what other people think and not enough about our own gumption, about what we wanna do. And we think is right. And as long as you’re doing what is right, you can’t go wrong. So I think that that’s really important. I would’ve told that girl to be a little braver sooner.


Sam Demma (23:07):
I love that.


Jacquie Pece (23:08):
That’s awesome. You know, get on with it and get busy. Don’t worry about what people think.


Sam Demma (23:14):
Thank you for sharing that. That’s a great reminder for everyone, not just educators. If someone’s listening and wants to reach out, ask you a question talk about this interview with you. What would be the best way for them to get in touch?


Jacquie Pece (23:28):
They can get in touch with me through my board email. It’s the thing I, I read the most, cuz I’m on it all the time. That would pecej@hdsb.ca and I will return your email.


Sam Demma (23:42):
Awesome. Jackie, thank you so much for coming on the podcast. This has been awesome. Keep up the great work and we’ll talk soon.


Jacquie Pece (23:49):
Thank you very much, Sam. You have a great day too.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Jacquie Pece

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

Mark Brown – Assistant Principal and Author

Mark Brown – Assistant Principal and Author
About Mark Brown

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

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

Connect with Mark: Email | Instagram | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Choose To Be You

Mark’s Personal Website

Oklahoma Christian University

Virtual Pep Rally Ideas to Boost School Spirit

Hardball

Google Forms

The Transcript

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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Mark Brown

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

Craig Zimmer – TED-ED Innovative Educator and Teacher with the DCDSB

Craig Zimmer - TED-ED Innovative Educator and Teacher with the DCDSB
About Craig Zimmer

Craig Zimmer (@dropthedott) has been a history teacher for 24 years, 23 of those at St. Mary Catholic Secondary School in Pickering. He is a TED-Ed Innovated educator, TEDx Organizer and has mentored numerous student and adult speakers in their TED talks. His co-authored book, Canada: A People’s History Emerging Loyalties continues to be a resource for classrooms throughout Canada. In 2021, he was named the Durham Catholic District School Board’s Educator of the Year. He has presented at conferences and continues to finds new ways to bring history to life in his classroom.  

Craig is a firm believer in the power of collaboration to improve the educational system and create a better school environment. By working together, we can improve education and foster educator’s well-being. He also feels that the educator’s role is to recognize the importance of legacy in their teaching. Educators must live up to the legacy created by those teachers they had, to teach those lessons those in front of you and to leave a foundation for students to grow upon. He also promotes the idea that learning, and education should be fun and not bound by the confines of a textbook.  

In his free time Craig enjoys spending time with his wife Andrea, their 3 kids and Juno the Dog and Oliver “The History Cat.”   

Connect with Craig: Email | Twitter | Linkedin

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

TED-ED: Lessons Worth Sharing

TEDx St. Mary Catholic Secondary School

Canada: A People’s History Emerging Loyalties

St Mary Catholic Secondary School (DCDSB)

Write your story, change history – Brad Meltzer

Tim Urban: Inside the mind of a master procrastinator | TED

Raised By Dragons | Jim Zub | TEDxStMaryCSSchool

An Indigenous Journey to Leadership | Eddy Robinson | TEDxStMaryCSSchool

Chasing dreams and beginning again | Kate Drummond | TEDxStMaryCSSchool

The danger of silence | Clint Smith

Meaghan Ramsey: Porque pensar que eres feo es dañino. – TED – 2014

Being an Introvert is a Good Thing. | Crystal Robello | TEDxStMaryCSSchool

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 (01:01):
This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Craig Zimmer has been a history teacher for 24 years, 23 of those at St. Mary Catholic secondary school in Pickering. The exact high school that I went to as a student myself, I, I didn’t have the pleasure of being in Craig’s class, but heard so many amazing things about him from friends and students that were in his period two and three classes. He is a Ted ed, innovative educator TEDx organizer, and has mentored numerous students and adult speakers in their Ted talks. He coauthored book Canada, a people’s history. Emerging loyalties continues to be a resource for classrooms throughout Canada in 2021. He was Durham Catholic district school. Board’s educator of the year at the Durham Catholic virtual secondary school has presented at conferences and finds new ways to bring history to life. In his classroom. Craig is a firm believer in the power of collaboration as a way of improving the educational system and creating a better school environment.


Sam Demma (02:02):
It is by working together that we can improve education and foster educators wellbeing. He also feels that the role of the educator is to and recognize the importance of legacy in their teaching. Educators must live up to the legacy created by those teachers. They had to teach those lessons, those in tho to those in front of you and to leave at foundation for students to grow upon. He also promotes the, the idea that learning and education should be fun and not bound by the confines of a textbook in his free time. Craig enjoys spending time with his wife, Andrea, there are three kids and Juno, the dog and Oliver, the history cat. I hope you enjoy this conversation with Mr. Zimmer as I would’ve called him. When I was in high school, I will see you on the other side, Craig, welcome to the high performing educator. Huge pleasure to have you on the show this morning, please start by introducing yourself.


Craig Zimmer (02:57):
My name is Craig Zimmer. I teach at St. Mary Catholic secondary school in Pickering. I’ve been a teacher for 24 years and, and I love every minute of it. It’s, it’s an amazing adventure to be on.


Sam Demma (03:09):
I’m baffled that you and I have not crossed paths when I was going through high school and up until even right now, Monday morning, you know, of January 31st, 2022, but I’m glad that technology has made this possible.


Craig Zimmer (03:24):
Yeah, me too, for sure.


Sam Demma (03:26):
How did you figure out and discover that education was the thing you wanted to pursue throughout your own career journey?


Craig Zimmer (03:33):
You know, it, it, it really was because of a couple of factors. One, I was terrible at math and my whole life as a little kid, I had two passions. I had a passion for history and a passion for space. And I wanted to be an astronomer and I, I went down to my guidance counselor in grade 10 and she said to me, what do you want? I said, I wanna be an astronomer. She picked up my transcripts cuz I’m that old that they didn’t have computers. And she looked at it. She’s like, not with these marks, you gotta rethink what you’re doing. And I was pretty bummed. So I went back to my history class and my history teacher, great guy by the name of Joe Stafford was teaching. And he took me right out of that, took me out of that depression of, I don’t know what I want to do to this place where it’s like, I wanna do what he’s doing. He’s having fun. You know, and this guy had fun. He was passionate. He made the, the, the subject matter come alive. And from that moment, that day where I should have been like, I’m lost, you know, the, the path was opened up to me. It’s almost like that that obstacle needed to be clear. And from grade 10 on, I was working towards becoming an educator.


Sam Demma (04:50):
Wow. That is such an amazing story. Do you stay in touch with that teacher now? Is Joe still around?


Craig Zimmer (04:57):
Yeah, I I’ve seen him a few times. He, he moved out to king a couple years ago, so I haven’t really talked to him. I mean, he’s awesome. He won the governor, General’s awards for excellence in teaching history a few years back. Wow. you know, he’s, he’s a published author, but besides that, he’s just a passionate teacher. And he’s one of the two teachers that I really try to model myself after who inspired me to, to be where I am, because they showed me learning should be fun. You know, teaching should be fun. And that there’s so many possibilities with what you can do in a classroom and, and in how you can inspire students. So I, I haven’t spoken to ’em. I, I got really lucky though. A few years ago, my, my, my high school had a little 25th anniversary and he was there and, and, you know, we went out in the evening of a bunch of the teachers and some of the alumni went out and he didn’t have a ride home.


Craig Zimmer (05:53):
So I said, I’ll drive you home. Joan, I, I had a chance to kind of say to him, you know, thanks I’m, I’m here because of you. And it was really kind of a cool moment. Cause you know, he’s a really humble guy and he’s like, ah, come on. Don’t, you know, you’re there because of you. And I’m like, no man, you, you, you saved my life. You, you showed me the path, you know? And you, you got me to where I am, you gave me so something to love more than what I thought my dream was, you, you opened my eyes to where I needed to be. And so I I’m grateful to, to him for, for that. Yeah.


Sam Demma (06:27):
Sometimes educators do things, not even realizing the impact it’s gonna have on their students, but I think it takes a, an awareness and, and you know, an intentional action from your practice as an educator to create those experiences for students. Oh,


Craig Zimmer (06:46):
For


Sam Demma (06:46):
Sure. You mentioned, you know, he was one of the educators who really inspired you and that you, you kind of modeled yourself after who are some of the other educators as well. And what did you learn from each of those people that informed them way you teach today?


Craig Zimmer (06:58):
Well, I mean, in terms of high school there, Beth Hawkins, who was my, my drama teacher she was just a ball of energy, you know? And she gave me confidence. I was a really awkward kid. I had body issues, you know, growing up, I had low self-esteem, low confidence and I took drama and she showed me the, the possibilities of being who you want to be through, through being a character. Mm. And just opening up and letting it go and not worrying what others think about you. And, you know, again, it’s that, that idea of having fun. And I think a big part of what I’ve taken from that is, you know, as a teacher, I’ve always just gone for it, you know, really early on in my career. One of the things that I realized that as an educator, you’ve gotta create a character.


Craig Zimmer (07:47):
So I use that drama background to create the character of Mr. Zimmer he’s he’s me, but he’s me outside of my shell. Mm. He, he is, you know, the, this, this creation that I need to be for my kids, you know, who I am when I go home is a lot different than who I am. You know, when I’m standing in front of a classroom and I need to do that because the one thing I know from, from, from Beth and, and from Joe and, and I’ve been so lucky to, to call these people now, my friends was that no matter what’s going on outside your classroom and your life, you owe it to your students to come in and be everything. They need you to be that day. Even if you, you feel like you can’t do it, you gotta give ’em a hundred percent of everything you got that day because they’re worth it.


Craig Zimmer (08:36):
I mean, they, you, you have an off day and, you know, you don’t know what it could do for those kids learning and how, you know, it might turn them off from learning or how many of them just need you to be the energy that they are they’re lacking. So without a doubt those were two of my high school teachers when I got into education. One of the, the smartest things that I did was I realized, first of all, I didn’t know everything. Teachers, colleges often make this mistake of telling their teacher candidates, you know, forget what those old grizzled, cynical teachers are telling you. You know, they’re, they’re, they’re all old. They don’t know what’s going on, you’re on the cutting edge of education. And I never took that approach. I came into to St. Mary and right away, I recognized who I thought the master teachers were, the teachers that I looked at and said either a I’d want them to be my teacher or be, you know, when I have kids, that’s who I want to teach my kids, you know, without a doubt.


Craig Zimmer (09:41):
One of your former guests, Mike loud foot, you know, who, who I know inspired you and, and sent you on the path you’re on. He is one guy that I looked at who just put things into, to a perspective for me, you know, he he’s, he’s the kind of guy that he’s, he’s very calm and centered and very Zen, and you need that in education, you know? And, and he taught me, you know, so many valuable lessons. He taught me, you know, don’t get into a fight unless, you know, you can win. It’s not worth it. You know, you know, he, he said in this, this job do everything you can for, for kids, but recognize there’s only so far that you can go, they need to meet you. And he was just one of those guys that treated me like an equal, you know, I was a 24 year old kid walking in, not having any teaching experience and right away, I felt like I’d been on the team for years.


Craig Zimmer (10:36):
And I other teacher here for sure, Jack Lon, who you know, he’s a, he’s a history teacher here. He was actually a teacher at my high school. You know, my, my final year, my OAC year was his first year as a teacher and himself and Joe, you know, were really great with teenage me. I’d stay after school and talk history with those guys. Cool. And they, they treated me like a peer. You know, and I, I talked to Jack about that. I’m like, you guys must have got sick of an 18 year old kid wanting to sit around for like an hour after school. And he is like, no, we knew you were one of us. And we, we wanted to, to have that there for you and Jack, you know, Jack was the, the kind of teacher that I walked in and he opened up his filing cabinet and his binders and said, you take what you need.


Craig Zimmer (11:29):
He was, was great. So instead of me having to recreate the wheel, there was a lot of stuff there. And that’s, that started a 24 year collaboration between two of us, cuz he’s still here at St. Mary and we bounce ideas off each other and I create things and pass it on to him and he’ll come back and be like, Hey, let’s make it better this way. And I’m like, yeah, that sounds so much better. You know? And collaboration is such a huge part of, of teaching. You know, I, I ran into some teachers when I came in, who were like, I’m giving you nothing, learn, learn on your own. And they were, were not teachers in my opinion, cuz teachers helped teachers, not just students. You know, I collaborate really well with John stanza who teaches here. Yeah. You know, and although John and I have a comparable number of years that as a teacher, you know, he is, he’s really compassionate. You know, there, there are times where he reminds me just by watching him and how he interacts with students, you know, how important compassion is, cuz this is a job or you can get really frustrated.


Craig Zimmer (12:36):
And it’s hard to remind yourself, you know, these are kids who are dealing with things at home. These are kids who have things going on outside. These are kids who feel justified that they might not be getting their stuff in for whatever reason. And you’re like, you get frustrated because you’re like I and everything. And John’s the kind of guy that I watch him with them. And I remember, you know, you’ve gotta have an open heart and you know, I I’ve tried to take from, you know, those, those people you know, besides that my other favorite teacher at St Mary’s Mrs Zimmer, but I, I married her after meeting her here. So she’s my favorite to teacher at the school. I have to say that, but you know, she, she’s also really awesome in the sense that she, outside of the whole marriage thing, the educational side of things, she teaches history and art.


Craig Zimmer (13:26):
She opened me up to a whole other side of history that I kind of pushed aside. Cause I’m like art’s not interesting. And she’s like, what do you mean? Art’s not interesting. So she took me to museums and taught me and I’ve integrated that, you know, and, and I try to get what I can from everybody. I work with something valuable from each of them. So I can continue to build this character of Mr. Zimmer, who can be the best teacher for his students and, you know, by character. I mean, I’m also, I try to be really authentic with them, but have to save me for outside for my kids, for my wife. I couldn’t stand in front of the classroom and be just me. I have to be, you know, Mr Zimmer, does that make sense?


Sam Demma (14:08):
It’s like Spiderman. It’s like bat, you know, like a modern day superhero there’s an amazing book called the alter ego by Ted Herman. And he talks about this idea of building an alter ego for yourself for different situations in your life, even references a scenario or someone from the army, a general would come home and bring the same traits and actions and habits that he had as a general into his health. And it wasn’t working. And Todd coached him and helped him realize you need to have a different personality slightly, still your be your authentic self, but show up in a way that serves the people who live in your house versus the people that live in your army base.


Craig Zimmer (14:52):
Like I can’t be teacher Mr. Zimmer to my kids. Yeah, it does. It doesn’t work. You know, the stakes are different, you know, you got your students in front of you. There’s marks, you got your kids in front of you. And they’re not, they’re not there for marks. They’re there for life and you’ve gotta approach life differently as a parent, you know? So you’re, you, you have to be different.


Sam Demma (15:12):
You mentioned the importance of creation and collaboration. And as a student, that’s something that teachers always share with their students, you know, get involved, you know, do new things, create things, make friends, get, get yourself out there. Sure. What is inspire you to do that? You’ve done so many different projects. You’ve read, you’ve run TEDx events and you sit on the Ted ed council for innovation. Like tell me more about what inspired you to start getting involved in different activities.


Craig Zimmer (15:45):
You know, the, the one thing that I learned really on early on was working with others and, and to kind taking the strengths of others and balancing them out with the weaknesses of others creates better stuff. You know, there’s, I know what my strengths are. And I like to work with a team that basically says, okay, we know what you can bring to the table. Here’s what I can bring to the table. And that’s great. Like, I, you can’t do everything on your own. Mm I’m I’m only so, so good at one thing. And I’m, I’m a believer that we’re all lifelong learners. You know, I’m not one of those educators who stands up here and says, I know it all, you know, I, and I mean, I’ve got 24 years of experience in, and I’m fairly confident in my job, but you know, to quote Socrates, the one thing I know is that I know nothing I’m trying to continue to learn.


Craig Zimmer (16:39):
And I think that the best way to learn is by experience, by working with others and seeing what they bring to the table. It’s like, like I said, with Jack Selan, you know, he brought so much to me, he brought his experience to me, but the one thing he’s always said that I brought to him at that period of time was that, that energy to, you know, to see a young teacher who’s like fired up and ready to go, it reignited him. So, you know, I’ve always liked working with groups of people and knowing when to step up and take a leadership role, knowing when to sit back and to allow others to take that, that role, because I could learn something from them that that’s why working with Ted ed has been amazing for me. You know, I was really fortunate to be chosen, to be part of their first cohort for innovative educators.


Craig Zimmer (17:29):
So they worked with over 250,000 educators around the world and they chose their, of us that they work with to start this program about five years back. Wow. And you know, I got this email just out of the blue and I’d been working with Ted ed and I I’d gotten to know them because I ran the Ted ed club here at St. Mary. And you know, I was running the TEDx events and I went to Ted global in 2014. So I got to see the Ted people there. And I, you know, they, they, I was the only educator at this Ted conference, so, wow. You know, I’m sitting there at, at a table with all these, you know, CEOs of these companies and I’m like, I’m just a high school teacher. Like, that’s awesome. What is it like, you know, the, because it was so far removed from their experience.


Craig Zimmer (18:16):
So the Ted ed people picked my brains and I got to know them and, and they invited me to be part of this. And I was, it blew my mind because I’m like me, come on. I’m just, I’m just some guy who teaches. I Pickering I’m, I’m not, I’m not one of these super teachers who’s like published, but they didn’t want that. They recognized they wanted grassroots people like real authentic educators. And that was probably one of the best collaborations that I’ve had. I’m, you know, as a group of, of educators we got together, we talked, we created Ted lessons. We, you know, worked towards making the program at Ted ed stronger. You know, we, we sent them ideas. I mean, God bless them. They, they got get sick of me because I will just send emails. Like here’s like 20 ideas I came up with and, you know, there’s, there’s so wonderful there they’re, they’re like, yeah, I don’t know if this is something we can do, but Hey, keep the ideas coming.


Craig Zimmer (19:15):
And you know, the, the Ted ed club, you know, I, I helped go through the booklet there and they sent it off and said, do you think this works? And I tried it with my Ted ed clubs. And that collaboration has made me a better teacher. And if I have an issue in my classroom, they’re, they’re a peer group that I can go to and they’re all over the world. And I can say, this is what I’m dealing with. And, and I get that support. And, you know, the other day I had something I was working on. I’m not very good at Excel. So I’m like, does anyone know anything about L and right away, I got videos and links and like, oh, FaceTime me. We’ll, we’ll, I’ll walk you through it. And, and that makes us better. Educators need to educate each other.


Craig Zimmer (20:02):
Educators need to realize that we can’t do it on our own. And until I got into the, the, the process of being part of this Ted ed group, I was, I was at a place in my life where I was doing that. You know, I, I had had 10 years of teaching in when I started Ted ed and, or 12 years, something like that. And I was kind of at a place where I can do it all. I was very confident that I was already there. And I quickly realized that I needed that collaboration, cuz I was running out of ideas and I was running out of inspiration. So, you know, it, it definitely saved my, my career in many ways cuz it, they keep me fresh. They challenge me, you know? And it’s a safe place to, to share and collaborate. Whereas, you know, often when you’re, you’re in a school system, you know, very much so there’s, there’s a vision that comes forward from a ministry or a school board. And you have to conform to this vision where this is a think tank where the sky’s the limit, you know, let’s, let’s throw it all out there and see what people have, have to say.


Sam Demma (21:09):
It’s so cool that you are a part of this Ted ed group. And it sounds like an amazing network for another educator who loves the idea of like a think take and a mastermind who might not be able to just tap into the Ted ed community. What would you recommend? They do like hit, like call upon some of peers form almost like a little bit of a network or a mastermind or what other groups have you leveraged as well that may be accessible for, for all?


Craig Zimmer (21:37):
Well, you know, I think what’s really important is one, thanks to social media. You can start group pages. Yeah. You know, easily and start to, to use those, to, to build network for yourself. You know, I’m, I’m part of a lot of different educator pages on Facebook, for instance, where I may, I might not be active on them, but I’m seeing posts and I’m seeing things. And I know that I can access someone who might have something that I need. You know, I, I want to increase for example the amount of indigenous history it teach. It’s not an area that I’m an expert in and I’m trying to get there. So I can go on some of these networks and say, Hey, I want to teach my kids more about this indigenous experience, which is removed from my own, but I wanna make it something that is accessible to them.


Craig Zimmer (22:24):
What resources can I use? You know, is there a great YouTube video and somebody will get to you because you know, great teachers have these things at their fingertip. I, if somebody said, do you have a great Ted talk on body image, I’m like, boom, right away, I’ve got one. I can send you the link or, you know, the importance of history. You know, I, I’ve got one. And, and I think that’s one thing that, that you need to do. I think you start first at the school, you know, you collaborate with your coworkers, you education is something that you need to put ego aside and recognize that you are only better if, if you you’re working with others. So start that network, you know, first of all, in your school, grow it out to your school board because the, then you have the idea what their vision is that you’re working towards and you can conform to that and then go to the bigger level.


Craig Zimmer (23:18):
Then on the other side of it is get involved in things outside of education. You know, it’s, it’s amazing the people who you will come into contact with who aren’t part of this field, you know, who have different life experiences and have a different point of view than you. And, and you can bring that into your classroom. You know, experience is, is the best teacher. You know, it’s, it’s not about necessarily the content that you’re, you’re teaching it’s about the experiences that, that you can show students. This is what makes education valuable. Your, your experiences in life will be the things that you can use, you know, to grow. You know, as a history teacher, I always tell the kids, you know, remember every day you’re making history, your own history and that’s the most important one. So yeah, getting involved with different groups, just, you know, the planning, the, the TEDx conferences, and I know you’ve spoken at a few TEDxs so, you know, what they, the involvement of that is I have met hundreds of amazing people from outside of education who have given their time and, and I’ve just chatted with in helping them build their talks.


Craig Zimmer (24:30):
And it’s blown my mind, you know, the stuff that I realized I didn’t know about. And in putting those conferences together, you know, I didn’t bring history people in, you know, I tried to bring in diverse speakers. I’ve had everything from like parallel universes to sustainable cities of the future to you know, a former teacher who became an actress who left teaching to follow her dreams. Kate Drummond, her talk is amazing. Eddie Robinson, who’s an indigenous leader. You know, he, he and I had some amazing talks, Jim ZBB, who writes the Avengers from marble, you know, just to name a few every single one of those speakers, the conversations I had with them opened my mind in a new way. And that, that’s why I did the Ted conferences too, because I wanted students to experience something that they’re not gonna necessarily get in the classroom.


Craig Zimmer (25:23):
You know, we have prescribed curriculums and as teachers, you know, we also have timelines. And so often these ideas, which are on the fringes of what we’re teaching, don’t get a chance to get into the class. Mm. So that, that’s, that’s why I thought let’s expose students to something new, something that they’re gonna see when they get to post secondary. You know, let’s give ’em a little preview of what’s at, out there. And hopefully that, that opens their eyes to, you know, get involved in their community. I know you, you know, you got involved in your community and you started cleaning up you know, along the lake Ontario. And that made a difference cuz you, you inspired others to open their eyes, to see, you know, we have to be caretakers of this planet and you know, you can’t just sit back and say, someone else will do it cuz somebody won’t, you eventually have to say, you know, who’s gonna do this me, you know, and, and see, you know, you’re a perfect example of a person who through the teachers exposing you to new ideas and you know, and I’m, I’m assuming it’s Mr.


Craig Zimmer (26:26):
Loud foot. It is teaching you that, you know, it’s not just about learning from a book it’s about getting out there and learning from life and doing something to make a difference. You know, you became who you are now and you’re continuing to grow and go on that journey and it’s gonna take you somewhere. So yeah. Experience is the best thing. Cause I know my experience got me to where I am right now.


Sam Demma (26:46):
That’s awesome. There’s a, a, a book as well titled what got you here? Won’t get you there. And it’s a reminder to myself. I look at it as a reminder every day that be a student, you know, be a student, be a student. And that’s why I think these collaborate, the collaborations, these group chats, these think tanks with other educators and other people who have different perspectives is so important because a new perspective is like a new sun, a new pair of glasses that allows you to see the world in a different way. And for sure, that’s why I love Ted X and Ted events as well. I’ll have to ask you to send over some of your favorite. It talks and I’ll put them in the resource section of this article and the episode goes alive.


Craig Zimmer (27:27):
Yeah, no for sure. You know, and I try to watch, you know, new talks all the time, but nice. I go back to the old favorites cuz they they’re ones that, that constantly remind me what brought me to where I am. And sometimes that message changes as you get a older too. Mm you know, I know I’m a different teacher than I was five years ago, 10 years ago, 24 years ago. Yeah. And it’s, it’s okay to go back and revisit the old stuff. Because you can learn from it. It’s it’s I have fresh eyes now that 26 year old me didn’t have, but 48 year old me does. Hmm. You know, so it’s, it’s, it’s revisiting again, your own history that I think is important.


Sam Demma (28:11):
I, I love that idea of writing your own history every day. That’s a cool reminder. When, when you think about all the experience you’ve had, and maybe this will be echoing, some of the things you’ve already shared, when you think of about all the experience you’ve had, if you could bundle it up, walk back into the first classroom you ever taught 24 years ago, tap yourself on the shoulder and say, Mr. Zimmer, or back then maybe you didn’t have the alter ego. So you would’ve said Craig here’s what you needed to know. Or here’s what I wish you would’ve heard when you just started. What would you have shared


Craig Zimmer (28:45):
Breathe?


Sam Demma (28:47):
Mm


Craig Zimmer (28:47):
Breathe. You know, the, the first years as a teacher, you feel like you’ve got the weight of the world on your shoulders. You feel that, you know, somebody is going to come in at any moment and say, you know what? We made a mistake. You shouldn’t be here. Mm. You can’t change everybody. You can’t do it all. You, you can’t be that teacher. Who’s got 20 years of experience in, you know, so many young teachers and I was there too spend all day and all night just working and it takes the joy out of it, you know, enjoy those moments and breathe. Just take it in, you know, because everything comes once that class in front of you, they will never all be in front of you again. So enjoy that moment to have those kids. You know, some of them, you will get lucky and, and you might teach ’em two, three times, but some of them that’ll be your only chance to, to get to them.


Craig Zimmer (29:53):
So just take it in, enjoy each moment for what it is. Don’t take it all so seriously. It doesn’t all have to get done and, and don’t worry, don’t worry so much, you know new teachers spent a lot of time worry, am I hitting the curriculum? Am I contacting parents enough? Am I doing all the paperwork? Am I, you know, doting the eyes and crossing the Ts am and they end up missing these great moments. And I, I, I, I’ve missed so many great moments because I didn’t take the time to stop and enjoy them. And maybe that’s a little bit of retrospective now because you know, in eight years I get to retire. And you know, the other side of where I am now is I’m like, you know, I’m teaching these courses and it’s like, this might be the last time I teach about Vimy Ridge or this might, you know, I might only have get, get the course where I teach modern history.


Craig Zimmer (30:54):
I might only do the Renaissance lecture five more times and, and, you know, just be in that moment and enjoy it because despite the politics, despite, you know, the negativity that sometimes goes out there for educators in the public, this is the greatest job in the world. Mm. This is a job where I get to interact with so many different people every day. You know, over the years, I’ve taught thousands of kids. And it blows my mind to think about that. That I I’ve, I’ve had thousands of people in front of me and I get the privilege and the opportunity of meeting these people and hopefully inspiring them in some way to look at history differently. I’m so privileged that I, I get to come up here, tell the stories I love, and you know, what other job is gonna pay me to share the history that I love to share the stories that make our country, what it is to see the, the look on, on kids’ faces when they, they hear these stories and be like, that is, oh, cool.


Craig Zimmer (32:06):
Or I didn’t know that there’s no other job that gives me that opportunity, you know? And there’s no other job that allows you to, to kind of pass that passion on to so many. We, we ha other jobs. I know they have a reach where they can do it, but, you know, I, I, I get to say to them, have you ever heard of this, or, oh, let me tell you this story. And it’s, it’s just so cool. Like, I, I have try to have so much fun up here because it is a fun job. You know, Jack Selo told me right at the beginning, he’s like the one thing you gotta remember this with this job is there’s all that noise outside the negativity, the government, you know, the, the, the haters, it’s like, you close your door and that’s your world. And you, you get to play in your playground and he’s so right.


Craig Zimmer (33:11):
You know, and I’m so lucky that I’ve gotten to do this and, you know, and the people I’ve met, you know, I, I’m friends with a lot of former students on social media and you know, unsolicited, they, they send messages saying, you know, Hey, thanks to you. I’m in law school. I’m like, nah, it’s all you, you, you did it. I just, I’m just the guy up there at the front. Who’s telling his goofy stories. You know, but it’s nice to hear that. And it’s, it’s nice to, to see what’s become of them. And, you know, it was, it was talking to one of my former teachers, well, Beth Hawkins, who I mentioned, you know, I, she retired a couple years ago and I sent her a note and I’m like, thank you. And I, I like much like I did with Joe.


Craig Zimmer (33:57):
You know, I told her what she gave to me. And it really kind of dawned on me that, you know, another part of the responsibility I have as a teacher is I have to keep her legacy going and Joe’s legacy going. You know, I am part of their legacy and the job they did, I need to pass on. You know, we as educators, we’re part of have this bigger story of the educators who came before us, and we have a responsibility to shape and mold the educators who come after us, you know that responsibility is, is so important. So I have to try to get kids to love a subject that a lot of them in great, 10 they’re forced to take. So yeah, I’d, I’d go back and, and tell, ’em just breathe. Don’t take everything so seriously, just enjoy these moments more because they will be gone. You will only be a new teacher for so long. And, and that’s that, I think it’s a lesson for life, you know, just, we should all take a moment and just soak it in. You know, don’t, don’t just live, be alive in the which


Sam Demma (35:04):
Mm that’s such good advice. I appreciate you expanding on it and sharing why and how it’s affected, you know, your teaching and the way you approach your work. This has been such a awesome conversation. Time has flown by. It’s almost been 50 minutes.


Craig Zimmer (35:17):
Wow. Already,


Sam Demma (35:19):
If, if someone is wanting to reach out, ask you a question, a conversation, what would be the best way for them to get in touch?


Craig Zimmer (35:27):
I’m I’m on Twitter, that that’s probably the, the best way to be in touch. You can find me at @dropthedott. So it’s it’s cuz that that’s kind of a reference to my Ted stuff. Cause you always stand on that dot on Twitter. That’s, that’s really the quickest way to, to get me. That’s kind of the educational side of things that count there.


Sam Demma (35:48):
Awesome. All right, Craig or Mr. Zimmer depending on what mindset you in right now,


Craig Zimmer (35:54):
You know what I’ve wanted to call you Sam’s for so long too, because that’s when you were here, that’s what everyone calls you, you know? Yeah. But I’m like, no, he’s a grownup now you gotta call him Sam. You know,


Sam Demma (36:04):
That’s so funny. Well, thank you so much for coming on the show. Thanks for


Craig Zimmer (36:08):
Having, you know, and I just wanna say before I go you know, we here at St Mary’s so proud of who you’ve become, you know, I I’ve followed along when you, you kind of started off here getting active in the community and, and doing your cleanup and, and stuff. And you know, I, I, I was just amazed to see, see you doing that. And the fact that you were able to motivate so many other kids to join you and you know, you, you’re becoming a, a positive act of change in this world world, you know, you’re, you’re somebody who’s trying to make a difference. And, and you know, that’s the best gift you can give to guys like Mike, Mike, loud foot, you know, being that, that change being that message, the living message that he’s tried to instill in you. So keep it up, man. You’re, you know, you, you’re sending a positive message out there be be that and inspire others to be that message. So we’re all very proud of you here.


Sam Demma (37:02):
Ah, thank you, man. It means the world to me. And yeah, I, I reflect back on my experience at high school all the time. And I’m so grateful that I was able to go through St. Mary. I think it really shaped me into the person I am today. Not only Mike, but all my teachers and even the teachers I didn’t have because you would’ve told Mike things that informed the way he taught. So everyone has an impact on each other. Hey, it’s Sam again. I hope you enjoy that amazing conversation on the high performing educator podcast. If you or someone, you know, deserves some extra recognition and appreciation for the work they do in education, please consider applying or nominating them for the high performing educator awards, go to www.highperformingeducator.com/award. You can also find the link in the show notes. I’m super excited to spotlight and feature 20 people in 2022. I’m hoping you or someone, you know, can be one of those educators. I’ll talk to you on the next episode, all the best.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Craig Zimmer

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.

Camille Loken – High School Principal & Executive Coach

Camille Loken – High School Principal & Executive Coach
About Camille Loken

Camille is a Principal at a high school concurrently pursuing her Doctorate of Education. She brings enthusiasm, creativity, and a passion for reciprocal learning and teaching to all endeavours. Camille is also a certified executive coach and has worked with many leaders to help them find clarity and a path forward with their leadership dilemmas. 

She is a forward-looking leader who enjoys complex challenges.  Camille is committed to seeing herself as a perpetual amateur where learning is about taking risks and is a grand adventure. Fundamentally, she believes that life, with all its lovely challenges and complexities, is meant to be enjoyed. It is all about evolving and looking at experiences as opportunities for growth.  And, it’s always okay to have too much fun!

Connect with Camille: Email

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

The Skill of Self Confidence by Dr. Ivan Joseph

The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle

Catch Them Being Good: Everything You Need to Know to Successfully Coach Girls

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):
Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s guest is Camille; Camille Loken. Camille is a Principal at a high school concurrently pursuing her doctorate of education. She brings enthusiasm, creativity, and passion for reciprocal learning and teaching to all endeavors. Camille’s also a certified executive coach and has worked with many leaders to help them find clarity and a path forward with their leadership dilemmas.


Sam Demma (01:04):
She’s a forward looking leader who enjoys complex challenges. Camille is committed to seeing herself as a perpetual amateur where learning is about taking risks and is about grand adventure. Fundamentally, she believes that life with all of its lovely challenges and complexities is meant to be enjoyed. It is all about evolving and looking at experiences as opportunities for growth, and it’s always okay to have too much fun. I had an amazing time with this interview with Camille, and I hope you enjoy it. Get a sheet of paper, get a pen or pencil, take notes, and I will see you on the other side. Camille, welcome to the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show. We just had a great conversation off the air about adversity and my story, now it’s time to flip it over to you. Can you introduce yourself and share a little bit behind the journey that got you to where you are today, doing the work in education that you’re doing?


Camille Loken (02:00):
Sure, I’m a high school Principal. I’m at a really large high school in Edmonton, Alberta. I think probably the largest one in the city. I mean, that might change in terms of student enrollment, but it’s a big one so there’s lots of levels of complexity in a, in a high school. And I’m new here this year. So I transitioned from a k-9 school as a Principal last year to a high school this year, which so many people say, well, isn’t that interesting taking on a big school in the middle of a pandemic and yes, actually the word is more, more like fascinating than interesting. Yes, because there’s, that’s just another level of complexity. So in terms of my journey, this is my third principalship. I never set out to be a principal. That’s not, that’s not how and really setting out in this journey.


Camille Loken (02:55):
Actually, I started when I was about five. So you know, how people ask you, what would you like to be when you grow up? Yeah, I was very clear in my intention, even when I was very young; I’m going to be a teacher, and I didn’t ever go off that path. That was what I had decided I was gonna do. And so you know, a little bit of a calling and even as a kid, I remember kids coming to our door knocking on the door, can Camille come out and play? Yeah, and then there’d be a crowd waiting, because I’d come out and I’d organize everything. I’d be like, we’re playing this and this is how it’s gonna go. And they would, you know, that’s how it would be. And so like those skills were, were in me to just quite naturally to wanna be with people and wanna help them to, you know, be together and, and be a collective. And all of that was just in, in me as a young, as a young person. So yeah, so I started that path, went to University, became a teacher, worked on my master’s of education at some point and currently I’m working on my doctorate.


Sam Demma (04:00):
That’s awesome. That’s so cool. And sometimes we embark on a path from a young age and we veer off. Did you veer off it at all and do something different at first? Or was it like, no, this is, this is the direction we’re going in. And every step just took you closer to this destination.


Camille Loken (04:16):
Yeah. It wa it was, I didn’t really veer off, off. I remember a time in high school when everybody’s talking about, oh, this or that or the other thing I thought, well, is that for me? Or, you know, when you do those assessments, oh, you could be an architect or a lawyer or whatever. Typical thing came out. So in those moments, sometimes I may go, well, maybe I can be an architect or a lawyer, but then none of that ever lasted very long. Yeah, it was, it was kind of, I’m going to be a teacher. That’s, that’s what I wanna do.


Sam Demma (04:46):
And when you think back to your own teachers that have taught you in your life which ones stick out and had a huge impact on you because I’m sure you were inspired by other teachers along the journey to pursue this path as well. Sometimes it’s the reverse also having bad teachers inspires it as well, but let’s focus on the positives. Can you share any of those names and then also expand and tell me why they had such an impact on you?


Camille Loken (05:13):
Well, one, I think teachers are everywhere. I think sometimes when we talk about teachers, we, we limit teachers too, our schooling experience. But I I’ve met some fabulous teachers along my journey that are, have not ever been in school. So yeah, teacher large is a much bigger thing. And so there’s lots of people that in my life that I would consider significant teachers. And, and yet to your point of teachers teaching you how you don’t wanna be, that there’s a couple that come to mind as well. And on that note, I, I think the like school system worked for me. I got the, and, and when I say school system worked to, for me, I got, I understood the system. I knew what you needed to do to do well. I knew what you needed to do to have effective relationships like me deciding on that for myself, like working the system a little bit.


Camille Loken (06:07):
I mean, it sounds a little bit CRAs, but I got the system. And then because I got the system, the system worked for me, so I got recognition teacher, you know, well, we enjoy having Camilla in class. She’s just such a really good student. One of the things that really informed me along my path is I have a sister who has some, some significant learning disabilities. So at some point she, her and I are two years apart. So at some point in school, I was accelerated a grade and at some point she was held back a grade. And so we were in the same grade. Even though we were two years apart and not in the same class, but in the same grade. And oftentimes we were in small schools. My father was in the armed forces. We moved over two years.


Camille Loken (06:54):
So that’s, that comes into the story as well, every two years, I’m somewhere new. And so I didn’t ever stay in a school for any length of time. So naming teachers for me is like the only teacher actually that comes to mind is Mr. Peters. And I’ll get back to him when I, because I was side by side with my teacher and the school system did not work for her. Well, lot of that informed me about how I would want to be in a system and what a system needs to look, cuz it needs to be equitable. A system that works for me also needs to work for my sister and it didn’t. And that’s a problem. And you know, that’s always in me to make sure that we’re creating systems to ensure that every that is going to have an excellent and equitable experience.


Camille Loken (07:43):
So Mr. Peters was my grade nine teacher at sir, Samuel will steel doesn’t exist anymore in Calgary, Alberta, which was a school on the base. And he was, I think it was his personality and he really just went outta his way to connect with kids and see us for who we were. Hmm. So I think I probably had established a little bit of a reputation of being the good student maybe, but he, but he saw this other side of me too, right? Like the, the quirky little, you know, kind of creative, those kind of things. And he nourished those, those things in me as well. Yeah. He saw me.


Sam Demma (08:26):
No, that’s awesome. Back to the, the equity piece for a second as well. Can you share what some of those challenges specifically were, and I’m curious to know, do they still exist now? I’m sure a lot of them still do. And can you talk to some of the ways that you envision the future systems changing to fix those issues?


Camille Loken (08:48):
I think our systems are better now. I still think we have long way to grow. I think we need to, I think we really do need to pay attention to that and, and ask ourselves and check into our systems to, to see if how we’re doing. Like we need to measure it as we go along. So now we talk, we talk a lot about, oh, and I think about this just Steven as because as a kid, I didn’t have an under of how you would even do that. I just saw that it wasn’t, it wasn’t right. Yeah. But I, I wouldn’t have had an understanding of how anybody would go around about, about that as a, as a teacher. And I’ve been teaching for, I, I first started teaching in 1986. I haven’t taught all those years cuz I took off time to have lots of sons.


Camille Loken (09:35):
So was a stay at home mom for a while. But when I started in 1986, we didn’t really talk about differentiation. We didn’t talk about, you know, meeting the student where they’re at and filling or recognizing their gifts or what the strengths are they bringing into the classroom and going from there, we, we didn’t talk about that. It wasn’t something we discussed and over time that has been it, it is part of what we do now as educators who really think about how do we meet everybody’s need as a unique individual. And it’s struggle. I think we, we haven’t arrived around really understanding that because you can, as complex as human beings are like each individual is, is incredibly complex and then put 30 human beings in a classroom and you know, then you have really lots of complexities to think about


Sam Demma (10:30):
That’s so true. In, in this idea of creating more equitable schools, like what are some of the steps that, that should be taken or considered? Like, for example, imagine you, you were removed from your current reality in place, back in that school you were at with your sister, like 20 years ago or 30 years ago, I might be bettering the numbers. Totally. but you look very young, so it’s oh.


Sam Demma (10:57):
And if you’re placed back in that situation with the knowledge you have now, what are the first things you, you change or what are the first things you tell all the staff like, you know, if you have the opportunity to bring them all into the cafeteria and say, this is how we need to change right now, because I would imagine that some of the schools are like, you know, a lot of them are changing and we’re getting better as a system. Some of them might still be stuck in those old ways. And what are those initial first things we have to consider?


Camille Loken (11:22):
Yeah. That’s such an awesome question. It’s a time travel question, Sam. I love time travel. Cool. want me to travel back in time, knowing what I know now and if I were talking. So if I were talking to the staff of the school that we were both in a, at the same time and, and she was having a different experience and I, I would say, think about my sister and what are the unique gifts she brings to the classroom. Please identify with her from that. Not, not from a deficit lens. Because I think many people saw her from a, a deficit lens, what, you know, what she didn’t have or what she couldn’t do. So think about her unique strengths and what she brings to this classroom. Because I think even, even that is step one. Yeah. She would be, she would feel valued.


Camille Loken (12:12):
Yeah. And appreciated from a, from a, from a gift point of view from yeah. From being valued. And then I would say, okay, so here’s someone that maybe learns differently. Maybe retains things differently, connects to things differently, you know, what is she interested in? What are the passions that you could tap into to make this relevant? How might you make learning relevant to her? How would you provide her voice about how she could demonstrate her learning? Cuz maybe you want her to demonstrate your, her learning this way and that’s not in her wheelhouse or that’s not a strength thing or she wouldn’t even be interested in that. So how might she demonstrate her learning in unique ways to her that you, that still would meet the outcomes that you still could assess and have an understanding? I mean that, and that gets to that student voice and choice.


Sam Demma (13:08):
Hmm.


Camille Loken (13:10):
I think if we had teachers who could really understand that we would have yeah. A lot more successful students who struggle. Yeah. And not even the ones who struggle. I mean, we also think of the ones we have our gifted students that are just so incredibly bright and they’re in a classroom with teachers who are kind of teaching to the middle and yeah. They’re like this isn’t meeting my needs at all. Right. Yeah. And those students are as at risk, as, as kids at the other end, like my sister, because they they’re like, this is boring and meaningless and I, I’m not in, I’m not engaged.


Sam Demma (13:50):
Yeah. It it’s an interesting conversation because like you said, there is so many complex within the confined walls of a school building and it’s a exciting challenge to figure out how to meet all their needs. Because I think that when that day comes it will come sometime in the future. It’ll be an exciting celebration and day because I think schools will have an even a huge impact on the lives, future leaders or young people. Absolutely. You, you mentioned time travel and loving time travel questions from a teaching perspective. Personally, if you could go back to the first year that you taught what would you tell yourself as a teacher? Imagine there’s a teacher whose first year in education is right now, it’s like a full blown pandemic and maybe they’re in their PJs teaching from home with the zoom mullet. Like what, what, what advice would you have for a teacher?


Camille Loken (14:54):
Yeah, that’s right. Showing up in front of the screen with your pajama bottoms on and it’s


Sam Demma (14:59):
Knows.


Camille Loken (15:00):
Yeah, yeah, exactly. You know, if, if I were to travel back in time to talk to, you know, Cannell first year I, you know, I’d say things like you, you, you haven’t figured out, you got it. Don’t don’t question yourself so much. Like, you know, am I on the right track? Do I understand this? Am I doing the right thing? Like trust your instincts. And if you are, you know, if you love this work, like if you’re showing up for the right reasons, because not everybody necessarily goes into this career for the, for the right reasons. Yeah. I think most of us do because it, it isn’t easy to work. So I think most of us show up because we are in service and we, we want to be with children and we want to make a difference in the world. I mean, I think that’s what pulls us into that.


Camille Loken (15:54):
So I think if, if you stay in that place, right. And always be a perpetual learner, like if you don’t, I, I don’t know how to teach this or I don’t, I don’t get this kid or, or, oh my goodness. This kid is pushing my buttons. So stay in the place of being a learner. What do you need to understand about yourself? I’ve said to, I say this to teachers all the time, and I would say this to first year Camil if you have taught it and they haven’t learned it, then you haven’t taught it. So you need to think about that and, and get to it. Right. Which is gonna challenge you it for sure it will. And there’ll be time that you’re like, I, I, I don’t know. I, but there is a support system and there’s lots of, there’s lots of places you can go and there’s people you can talk about and you can work as a collective and we’re better off together. And we’re you know, creating those conditions for yourself, even if they’re not in your school so that you can have that support to, to, to support our students.


Sam Demma (16:55):
I wanna go back to the last question. You mentioned something, and that was a great answer. Thank you for sharing that. If, if younger Camil was still around, she would’ve loved that advice. Yeah. You mentioned that sometimes students get looked at at what they don’t have at the lack at the deficit from a deficit perspective. And there’s this amazing book called “Catch Them While They’re Good”. Good. And it talks about the importance of coaching and giving feedback from the lens of, you know, reinforcing what they’ve done, right. As opposed to reinforcing what they lack or they’ve done wrong. And the example that I heard in a TEDx talk by this guy Dr. Ivan, Joseph, he took a self confidence expert. He was saying, I used to coach soccer teams. And, and if a player, you know, didn’t kick the ball, right. It would go over the net.


Sam Demma (17:42):
And usually the reasons are that their knee isn’t over the ball and they’re not looking down. And he said, you know, I, I could have stopped a player and said, Hey, you know, next time, make sure your knee’s over the ball. You know, you did it wrong, make sure your head’s looking down. Or he said, I can let that player have a mistake. And you know, not, not really focus on it or hype on the mistake. And then someone else goes up and they do a great job. And I reinforce the good behavior and that in the next athlete who kicks the ball, and then the first athlete doesn’t feel demoralized cuz you didn’t single them out. But they’re like, oh, that’s what I have to do next time. I’ll try again. And I think praise and catching people while they’re good is such a, a low hanging fruit and an easy way to make them feel valued, seen, heard, and appreciated in today’s environment how do we make students feel valued, seen, and you know, teaching virtually or teaching in a classroom? Like what do you think are the ways we can make students feel like they’re a part of the community.


Camille Loken (18:39):
I love that title, catch them being good. I, you have to read that book. I have stacks of books that just wait for me to


Sam Demma (18:46):
Me too.


Camille Loken (18:47):
I know it is kinda ridiculous. And what one time, you know, at some point you’re building get books all the way kinda doubted that catch would be good. Yeah. You know, as you were, as you were saying that, talking about that story, catch them being good. I, all of a sudden in my, in my head popped a student that I had when I was so relatively new teacher, I think I was maybe seven years into my career. Nice. And she was so this is in St. Albert, very affluent community. And she was new to this school and she was living in foster care, which was relatively unusual in our school. And she came to our, to my classroom, more to our school with just so much stuff, like so much baggage, she was angry, angry, angry, angry, and she would, she would come into a class and try to get that going like to, I, I think she understood anger.


Camille Loken (19:44):
She understood people being mad at her. So she would do something to, to have that happen. And I, and I thought, well, I’m not, I’m not doing that. I’m going to go outta my way to love you. Like just to, to have the loving energy. And I had to work on it because she, she could be incredibly provocative as she stopped into stomped into the classroom and whatever she was doing. And, and I would kind of just be grounded about it and I would greet her and a big, big smile. And it’s so nice to have you and just, just blaster with this, this energy that I just I’m so happy you’re here. Right. Even if I didn’t say those words. And then in my actions throughout the classroom, just attending to that making sure that she understood that I really wanted her to be in the classroom, despite all the things that she was doing, which didn’t mean that we didn’t have conversations about this or, you know, or had a redirect or anything, but it really is, you know, love them despite what they might have or what they’re bringing, because they are a human being and they’re unique and they’re beautiful with all of that.


Camille Loken (20:51):
And you have, you sometimes have to work really hard to get to that place because some kids come with so much, they just wanna push you away, push you away, push you away. Yeah.


Sam Demma (21:02):
Wow. That’s so powerful. You you’re telling this story. I immediately thought of this guy named Josh ship who was a foster kid himself. And he he would see it as a challenge, as he mentioned it in one of his talks where he, every house he got placed into, he would try and get kicked out as fast as he could. Yeah. And it was one caring adult who showed him. No, I don’t see you as a problem. I see you as an opportunity that totally changed his life. Yeah. And I think when we approach our students as if they’re opportunities, not that we’re the grand master and are gonna shape them, but we have the opportunity to plant a little seed that might be growing and watered 20 years in their future. You, you know, you mentioned about actions and how actions kind of speak louder than words. Sometimes a student doesn’t tell us that they’re feeling down or that something’s going on, but you can tell by their actions, by the way, they walk into the classroom, how do you approach a student and address a student who you think might be having something going on or something’s a little bit off


Camille Loken (22:01):
For, for that to even be able to happen. You need to have relationships established mm. Right. From the beginning, because you can’t just approach someone that you haven’t spent time with trying to get to know or have relationships or understand, you know, and it’s in the casual conversation. So, you know, so what happened this weekend? Or what did you work on? Or whatever. Like what do you, what are you watching TV, whatever, whatever they’re interested in is just kind of these, these conversations. And they, you have an understanding, you start to get, get to know them. You share a little bit about yourself as well, like the relationships and you tell ’em little stories and does anybody have a little story? Whatever that, that foundational piece of everything that we do, everything that we do is relationships. Mm. And if in, when you’ve established the relationships, then of course you can move into those conversations.


Camille Loken (22:47):
If you have established as a relationships and you try to move into that conversation, well, somebody’s gonna look at you and go I’m not talking to you. I don’t even trust you. Right. That’s not gonna happen. So that, that has to happen before you even approach. And then it is paying attention, right. Just paying attention. It it’s, there’s this, there’s this simple thing that teachers can do greeting students at the door. And it’s, you know, there’s research on this, about what difference that makes in students lives. So you’re just outside of your classroom drawer as they come in, you’re, you’re greeting them by name, or you have some kind of handshake, or whatever’s not now in the pandemic, but anyway, before some kind of whatever, whatever, as they go in, but wait, you’re doing is you’re paying attention to how, how, how they’re showing up that day.


Camille Loken (23:33):
What’s the energy they’re bringing in that day. And it gives you an opportunity to say, oh, Hey Sam, before I go in the classroom, let’s just have a little quick talk. And then the other kids go in, I go, Sam, you just, you just seem kind of, you know, not so great today is something I need to know. And then we have a relationship. Yeah. You know, this happened this morning and okay. Okay. Thanks for telling me about that. We’re gonna, we’re gonna try to cheer you up today or whatever. Right. It’s just, it’s just moving into those kind of conversations and setting a place that you can do that


Sam Demma (24:04):
Love that that’s great


Camille Loken (24:05):
Intentionality. It takes so much intentionality around those things.


Sam Demma (24:10):
And teaching is, is, is rewarding and challenging at the same time. You also have to make sure that you have fun doing it and it’s okay to have too much fun. Yeah, exactly. How do you ensure, how do you ensure that you enjoy the work and the vocation and the calling, even in those, in, even in those tough moments?


Camille Loken (24:34):
You know, I, I think it’s this, and this is probably a, a statement that may be overused, but it, its come to mind anyways, choose your attitude. Mm. So, so right from the beginning of my teaching career, well pretty close to the beginning of my teaching career, I thought, oh wow. How I show up on any given day actually influences that entire climate of the classroom. Yeah. And when I, when I first had that realization, it was, it scared me a little bit. And I thought, wow, that’s a lot of power. Like really? I mean, if I’m having a crappy day and I go in there and, and then everybody seems to be having a crappy day or so. Okay. Knowing that deeply understanding that, that I need to show up every day and be, and have the energy for the of work.


Camille Loken (25:27):
And it makes me think so I’ve I in university, I was a drama major. I was a drama teacher when you are doing a performance and you know, this you’ve done Ted talks, right. Or so, or you go and do a speech in front. So you are, you’re moving into this performance piece. And I don’t mean that in a, they you’re moving into this in an inauthentic way. So I wanna be really clear about this. Yeah. But you’re moving in front of an audience. And they’re there to listen to you. So let’s say on your way to, to there, I don’t know you got a flat tower and you had to change it or somebody cut you off or, or you and your partner had an argument with them or whatever. Cuz you’re a human being. This is gonna happen. However, you’re showing up in front of them. They don’t wanna know all about that. That’s not important to them. And so it is on teachers to really have an understanding of that and saying, I am going to choose my attitude every day. So the climate of the classroom is such right. That I have the energy for you. And I, I love this work and I love you and I have a passion for it. And here we go.


Sam Demma (26:32):
I love that. It’s a, it’s a reminder to stay present. It might something might have happened 20 minutes ago, but the moment we have is right now and what matters is the task at hand? Yeah. It’s funny, right? When you were talking about, you know, flat tire, I once had a speech two and a half hours from my house in London, Ontario. And we drove and we went to an on route, me and my buddy Dylan. And we had about an extra 30 minutes, maybe 45 minutes. We were gonna show up pretty early and we pulled up to the on route and we went inside and got coffee and I came back outside my pockets. Oh, snap, where the heck are my keys? Look through the window, locked in my car. It’s like nine in the morning in the middle of like a random highway.


Sam Demma (27:14):
You know, I don’t have CAA, I call CAA, get them on the phone, like order the, the subscription for the next two years, they show up, we make it five minutes late. I remember running into the cloud assume going, Hey, my name’s Sam demo. Like just jumping into the presentation and yeah. Anyways, I just thought, you know what you sparked that thought. I thought it’d be a funny thing to mention, but I think you’re, you’re so right. And what’s interesting is our attitude is always in our control. Like it’s not sure it’s influenced by exterior events, but it’s, it’s up to us to choose how we, I, how we walk into the classroom. Right.


Camille Loken (27:45):
And we owe that to the children, the students that we serve to do that. Yeah. And I, I really like how you characterize that. Just staying in the present moment cuz that’s it let go of everything else. Cuz the present moment is always good. Really. I mean, you’re just right here. Just enjoy this present moment and the other things that you need to think about or worry about or whatever they will come. But right now this is where I’m at. Right. I’m


Sam Demma (28:09):
Gonna


Camille Loken (28:10):
Here.


Sam Demma (28:10):
Yeah. You wanna add another book to your list? The power of now it’s all about, oh


Camille Loken (28:14):
I love that book. I have read that book. Love


Sam Demma (28:16):
It. Okay. Yeah. Kar, Kar. Totally. I might be mispronouncing his last name, but no,


Camille Loken (28:21):
I think that’s right. Totally.


Sam Demma (28:23):
Okay. Yeah. So I found his book just awesome. And it’s a great reminder that there’s no other moment that exists. Like this is all we have.


Camille Loken (28:31):
Yeah, absolutely. So,


Sam Demma (28:32):
And, and if anyone’s been inspired so far, this has been an amazing conversation. We definitely have to do a part 2. But if anyone’s been inspired so far and wants to reach out to you, have a conversation, talk about equity or how to make the school more equitable or just to bounce ideas around what would be the best way for someone listening to reach out to you and get in touch.


Camille Loken (28:51):
Oh wow. Like, you know, I listen to podcasts and podcasters always ask that question. I love podcasts, and then people say things like, well I’m on Instagram and I’m on Facebook and I’m on LinkedIn and I’m not on any of those things.


Sam Demma (29:05):
That’s okay. Me either. I don’t use it much.


Camille Loken (29:07):
That’s great. I was gonna go, you can’t get a hold of me. My email address would be the best one. Yeah.


Sam Demma (29:14):
Do you wanna just spell it out for and like, and other educators are listening, so like you just might hear from some colleagues around the country hopefully.


Camille Loken (29:23):
Absolutely. So Camille.Loken@epsb.ca


Sam Demma (29:40):
Yeah. Awesome. Camille, thank you so much for doing this. It was a pleasure bringing you on and keep doing awesome work and good luck on the doctorate.


Camille Loken (29:48):
Well, thanks Sam. This has been awesome talking to you as well. This is fun, this conversation.


Sam Demma (29:56):
Oh, thank you. I appreciate it.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Camille Loken

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.

Jason Pratt – Principal at St. Martin Catholic Secondary School

Jason Pratt - Principal at St. Martin Catholic Secondary School
About Jason Pratt

Jason Pratt (@jasonpratt) is the Principal at St. Martin Catholic Secondary School in Mississauga. He is in his 22nd year in education, and working in his fifth school in the Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board.

An English and Special Education Teacher for 10 years, he spent 8 amazing and exciting years at two different schools as a vice-principal before being promoted to Principal at St. Martin, where he oversees a highly successful and exciting Regional Sports Program, which is run in conjunction with the mainstream neighbourhood school. He is passionate about all students and is involved in the community as a coach and volunteer. His experiences growing up and being involved in various community sports make him a great fit for the school.

Growing up the oldest of five boys and being a father to four active and energetic sons allows him the perspective of a parent and caregiver in his decisions running a school, and is something that informs his practice daily. Jason believes it takes a diverse and balanced set of opportunities, staff and experiences to support student success, and with a loving approach, students can grow and develop to their full potential.

Connect with Jason: Email | Twitter | Instagram

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

St. Martin Catholic Secondary School

Regional Sports Program DPCDSB

Naval Ravikant – The podcast and book

Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:01):
Jason welcome to the high performing educator. A pleasure to have you on the show here, please start by introducing yourself.


Jason Pratt (00:08):
Thanks, Sam. It’s a great honor to be part of this really interesting podcast. My name’s Jason Pratt. I am the principal at St. Martin Catholic secondary school in Mississauga Ontario. And this is my fourth year as a school principal. This is my first school that I’ve been a principal at. I was a vice-principal for eight years previous at two really fantastic schools as well. And before that I was a teacher for just about 10 years with a background, mostly I, I taught in English and special education before I got into administration. So it’s my 22nd year now in education.


Sam Demma (00:49):
Did you know since you were a child that you wanted to work in a school or what was the yeah. Journey to where you are now?


Jason Pratt (00:56):
Yeah, so like I was telling you before I, I had actually listened to a few of your podcasts and I had to stop because I didn’t wanna get too modeled. And you know what I reflected on that because I’d listened to some of your previous podcasts and it’s not something you’ll hear sometimes where people who wanna get education when they were really young. I knew all along for me, it was, it was a little bit more of a, a lengthy journey. I’m the oldest of five boys. And I ironically I have four sons, so I grew up with four younger brothers and now I have four younger sons. And we moved into a, a neighborhood in Mississauga, both neighborhoods I lived in, I was one of the older kids in the area because, you know it was the suburbs and we were moving in there and my parents were, were pretty early and moving into miss to, so, and I remember, you know playing right around where square one is now, and it wasn’t there.


Jason Pratt (01:49):
Then when I, when I was a kid and, you know, it was a lot of really cool experiences, but everywhere around me was all younger kids. And so I just naturally took on this leadership role of kind of organizing activities and games and, and we we would spend a lot of time in the outdoors and, and whether, you know, going to the park or going to like undeveloped areas, there was a lot of force in that area, if you can believe it back then. And we had tree houses and, and really cool things like that. And then when we moved our second time and I was, you know, in my, you know, early teens on, you know, I had these four younger brothers and we moved once again to a new development area, but we backed onto a park.


Jason Pratt (02:32):
We had tennis courts and, and, you know, baseball diamonds. And so I grew up with you know, a really good you know, an accessible space in which I could kind of organize and, and, and run these games. And my mom would often say to me, she was a teacher. She would say to me in the summer break, get these, you know, get your brothers out of the house, keep them outta the house for six hours. And I was the oldest one. So I’d organize, you know, tag or we’d play, you know, capture the flag or just different games. And a lot of kids in the area kind of you know jumped on, on board, right? So I would, I’d be kind of that organizing, you know, the organizer and I would get involved with a lot of these these activities with the kids.


Jason Pratt (03:57):
So I wasn’t a qualified teacher, but I got to, to spend some of time in a school. These were elementary schools at the time and got to be around kids. And I, and I said, you know what? This is actually pretty cool. So I, I finished my undergrad went to teachers college, and then I was lucky enough at the time the, the climate in the late nineties was such that you know, they were, they were offering permanent jobs right away. So it’s very different than it is now, where there’s a much more lengthy process of getting in, you know, on the supply teacher pool. And then you become an LTO. So I was actually fortunate enough to get hired permanently, right at a teacher’s college at a great school St. Francis, Xavier and Mississauga, that one of the bigger schools on the board with, you know, two housing plus kids at the time, and worked there for seven years and, and really enjoyed it.


Jason Pratt (03:13):
And then I think as I grew up, I, I didn’t necessarily, wasn’t drawn to toward teaching as much as I was coaching. So even at a young age, maybe 18, 19 years old, I started coaching my younger brothers, hockey teams and, and, and getting involved with being in that role. And I think it lent itself naturally to the position of teacher. And as I had mentioned, my mom was a teacher and my godmother, she was a teacher and the two of them were, were influential as going through my undergrad saying, you know, do some supply teaching. My godmother was actually a principal and she got me in as, as one of those emergency supply teachers. So actually before I finished university, I went in and it was like in a, you know, an emergency volunteer. And then I became an emergency instructor.


Jason Pratt (04:47):
And then while I was there, I got in with I wouldn’t say the wrong crowd, but the right crowd, a bunch of guys who were in and girls who were interested in getting into administration. And, and it kind of took me that way. So it was never something that I, I was, you know, you, people will say, I want to become a, a principal. I want to be everything just kind of happened with, with a certain natural flow. So I’ve really enjoyed the ride. It’s been great. And that’s kind of how I’ve ended up here.


Sam Demma (05:17):
Because this podcast is solely audio. No one can see the off, some metals hanging over your right shoulder there. How has sports impacted your journey in education and also your background?


Jason Pratt (05:32):
Well, as I had mentioned, I, I, before I wanted to become a teacher, I was a coach. And and I think the, one of the first things I did when I was a teacher is I signed up to coach hockey and we never had a strong team at St. Francis sea, but we were competitive, but we were never the elite hockey and Mississauga and hockey in particular, in the defer, in the, in the, in the robs league is, is, is pretty much just a handful of teams. It was back then, but I I, I truly enjoyed coaching. And, and, and one of the things I, I really enjoyed was organizing a lot of intramurals in the school. I thought that was almost as reward as, as coaching the school teams, because when you’re coaching the school team, I know if it was the same when you were playing same, but there was a lot of competing interests with the kids playing with club teams.


Jason Pratt (06:28):
So it was almost as if you were begging these kids to play on the school teams. Yeah. It’s very much different than the us model where the, at the, the high school teams, especially with hockey in Minnesota, they don’t even have club teams. It’s just, it’s, everything is high school, but I felt you know, with, with sports, it was a natural, it was a natural for me. I, I loved coaching. And so I coached all the way up until I became a vice principal. And even my first year as vice principal, I tried to help coach, but it was offer because, you know, the practices were right after school and you were busy dealing with stuff. So it was it was, it was, it was tough to, to have those competing interests. So, you know, I’ve gravitated more towards my role right now, as, as a school principal here at, St.


Jason Pratt (07:14):
Martin is, is really providing opportunities for these kids to to train in a, in a good safe environment. One that is financially available to a greater section of students. And that, that also comes from my experience as being a parent of my, of my kids. Two of them played at the triple a level, and I coached them both as a head coach, one with the Masaga rebels and one with the Masaga senators, both AAA organizations. And, and I took on that role as a head coach and loved it as well. But I also saw some of the, the, the pitfalls that parents can get into getting into that, that culture with with the sports and the training. So one of the thing, things we do here at this school is provide a really good opportunity for students to train and to earn credit phys ed credits, and some leadership pH ed credits, and some other elective credits while still training for their primary sport.


Jason Pratt (08:16):
Cool. And, and, and, and balancing them, playing on club teams versus is versus training. So it’s, it’s, it’s allowed us to win a lot of medals here, but that the championship medals and, and, and the, and the, the high school leagues per se, are almost a, a, a secondary now compared to these kids in their club teams. A lot of these kids go on to, to, to get a lot of success in sport because they they’re playing on club teams, whether it’s hockey, soccer, as you mentioned, like, you know, like the FC academies now, there’s, there’s a lot of different soccer academies, a lot of our basketball kids that are here our they play club basketball as well. In addition, high school is probably one of those last high school. Basketball is one of those last environments where it still is pretty competitive.


Jason Pratt (09:05):
And then now we have kids who are baseball, but we have kids that from our school have scholarships for tennis, golf swimming gymnastics, lots things. So we, we, we tend to bring a lot of kids in here. And, and so the relationship between sport and and schooling is, is so important to me. I, I did one of my master’s thesis proposals was on the relationship of sports and, and performance in school. And, and I, I it’s always been a passion of mine. So, like I had said, I’m, it’s a dream, you being at this school being surrounded by so many student athletes and, and their families and, and, and it’s, it’s, it’s, it’s been quite a ride so far. Well, but COVID is yeah. Yeah. That’s the other real part of it. I know. That’s, yeah. It’s kind of put everything on pause for a couple years.


Sam Demma (09:54):
Yeah. Athletes are being forced to get very creative, unfortunately, high school sports isn’t happening as much as it would have in the past, but, you know, I think as an athlete, you live, eat, and breathe or sport, you gotta figure out a way to continue training and stay sharp. And even if you gotta do it in your home basement for the time being, but you mentioned your school is one of the only re regional athletic schools. Can, can you explain a little bit about that?


Jason Pratt (10:21):
Yeah. So we are the only school in din peel that has a regional sports program. There is one offered in our determinist board, which is the PO district school board. So din peel. We are the only one and we’re located pretty far south we’re in the year on park valley, which is Mavis and, and Dunas which is really far south in considering our board goes all the way up to Dran county, which is right on the, you know, it’s, it’s, it’s pretty, pretty far up there. Like when you’re, when you’re looking at the board, it’s, it’s a very large geographical board. And so the way it, cuz the students apply out of grade eight, they apply to our program it’s regional. So we accept students from all around the region. They don’t have to live in our neighborhood area. Transportation is not provided so the students have to come here.


Jason Pratt (11:10):
So it’s a big commitment on, on the students and the parents to come to the school. They, they get references from their teachers of coaches and they, they themselves go through a discernment process. They apply just before the the winter break. And then when we get back, we, we have a selection committee that goes through all the applications and we take roughly 110 to 120 students each year. And those student in are in the regional sport program for two years. And in the regional sports program, the difference is, is that they do full year training in their sport of choice or if they don’t have a sport of choice, we do have a non-sport specific class. And they do that for the entire year from September to June and they get a PHY-ed credit and a leadership PHY-ed credit.


Jason Pratt (12:02):
So they get those two credits. And then in grade 10, we continue the, the program for the entire year, but those teachers are infusing the religion credit in with their PHY-ed credit. So the students will come to the school. They’ll, let’s say they select soccer, they’ll be in the soccer a focus course, which is large group activity course, but it focuses on soccer training. They’ll be with other kids of that same mindset. So the other kids who are in soccer and they’ll train for the entire year from September to June, but it’s not every day because they’ll intersperse the training with leadership activities and in class. And then in grade 10, they train once again for the whole year, but it’s interspersed with religion. So they may be the first two, three weeks. They be doing a lot of the religion work, then they’ll go on the ice or, and on the field.


Jason Pratt (12:50):
And then they’ll kind of do so it’s a real mix match. And like I had said before it back balances out all the training these kids do at night. So a lot of these kids are training 4, 5, 6 days a week with their clubs. Yeah. But we supplement a lot of that training. So I, I, you know, a lot of times when, when you’re playing, let’s say soccer or hockey at a high level, a lot of these clubs and teams that do a lot of systems and tactics they’re, they’re working on, let’s say, you know, their free kicks or their corn kicks. There’s a lot of stop. You know, let’s, let’s work this out a lot of Xs and O’s work, right. Especially at the high school level, these kids now are not doing dribbling activities or kicking. They’re expected to know that. So what we do is we supplement a lot of what these kids will be doing in their on their hockey teams and their soccer teams on their basketball teams with skills.


Jason Pratt (13:37):
So we don’t, we don’t, we don’t do the X’s and O’s here. We do a lot of skills development, but you can’t do that every day. The kids get, you know, burnt out. So we, we try to do it maybe two to three days a week, what then they’re doing their in class work. A lot of times we do yoga with them. We do nutrition with them. So they’re getting a lot of that training. They would get at a, you know, a secondary facility. And we do it for a fraction of the cost because the teachers that are teaching these programs are, are teachers and they’re getting excited. So the students don’t have to pay for it. The only thing they do have to pay for is a facility whether we’re renting ice or we’re going to an indoor bubble for soccer. This year we started a baseball pathways.


Jason Pratt (14:15):
So we have students now who are elite baseball players. So we, now we have the soccer, the hockey, the baseball, the basketball, and the non-sport specific pathways. Mm. So it, like I said, it’s a great program. We have kids from all around the region, as far up as Brampton. We have kids who come from the east and the west and they make it work. The parents make it work because a parent, myself, of, of high performing children, you’re willing to do what it takes to give your kid a good environment and a good opportunity for him to train or her to train and be successful. And then once again, when you have the culture is built around that the, the teachers here at the building are very supportive of these students. Yeah. A student may be gone for a week because they went to Florida to go to tennis tournament.


Jason Pratt (15:01):
And our, our teachers will work with that student and, and give ’em the work that, that he or she needs and, and welcome them when they’re back and not say, well, you missed the whole week of school. Now here’s a, a load of work for you to catch up on. So the culture here it’s, it’s wrapped around that, that mindset. Now, while we are a regional program, we all are still a neighborhood school. Yeah. But we do have kids that, that live in our area that come to our school. And that’s been, obviously not a challenge, but something we look forward, like, you know, something that we are looking for, of managing is managing our neighborhood school identity with our regional sport identity, because it’s, we’re not just a regional sports school. We’re about 50, 50 half of our kids are regional sports.


Jason Pratt (15:43):
And half of our kids are neighborhood kids. Yeah. A lot of them are new immigrants, new Canadians. And you know, they’re not interested in hyper a form sports. They’re just interested in, in learning what they need to do to be successful Canadians. And so it’s really managing all those intangibles and, and, and, and making it all work. And it, and it does. It’s a really good environment. The kids here are fantastic. We have very, very few behavioral issues because the kids are busy and they’re doing stuff they love to do. And then even if those kids are not in regional sports, they’re around those kids and those kids for the most part, as you know, of being a high performing athlete, when you’re in high school, they’re focused, they’re focused on their sport and being successful and not getting into trouble. Yeah. And eating relatively healthy and you know, and, and just, and they have parents or for family who backed them up and pushed them. So it’s great. It really is. It’s been good, but COVID has been like a real drawback on all this, but


Sam Demma (16:41):
You’re making me wish. I went to a regional sports program growing up, man.


Jason Pratt (16:46):
I’m the biggest ambassador for this school. I mean you know, it’s having son, like my oldest line is now in grade 11 and he’s actually in the us playing hockey with with, with a team around Pittsburgh. And he’s kind of in the same type of program, but the school and the, and the training are not related like we are. Yeah. and he would’ve loved to have come here. He really did. But at the time it was one of those things about having your son come to the school. But my other son now is, is a 2008 he’s he’s in grade eight and he’s very interested. And a lot of his friends are because they hear good things about the school. And like I said, it’s, it’s a fun place to be. It’s, it’s pretty exciting. It’s, it’s it’s, it’s, it’s, it’s been quite a ride, but like I said of it has really put a damper on things, but we’ve managed to still make it work, because like I said, it’s about training. And even though we haven’t had any teams to be able to compete, because this is part of their curriculum, the kids are still coming here and training and that’s, that’s important.


Sam Demma (17:49):
That’s super important. I was gonna ask how it’s continued, but you just answered it. Yeah,


Jason Pratt (17:54):
Yeah, yeah. So we, we don’t have a league, like our teams don’t compete, but like I said, these kids are all part of club teams anyway. So the parents aren’t coming here because they wanna win an off the championship or win robs is soccer. That’s a secondary thing. And that’s great if they do, but they’re coming here because of the training and because of the environment. And because, like I said, the culture here supports a student athlete, and I think that’s a huge part of its success.


Sam Demma (18:18):
You mentioned doing your masters in the connection between high performing athletics and education. What inspired you to do your masters in that and what was the learning, or what did you take away from that experience?


Jason Pratt (18:32):
Well, when I, I did my masters thesis in 2006 and at the time it was just an educational masters, but what I looked at was the connection at the time between student participation in sports and their academic performance, and essentially what all the, the studies had shown was that there was no difference. So a student who performed who was competing or participating in sports, their marks were not affected. So they did this cross-sectional study. And what that tells me is that, well, then that’s a good thing, because if these kids are, are able to keep their marks up and participate in, in sports then they that, I mean, the benefits are, are, are there, like we all know about the benefits of physical fitness in terms of, of mental fitness in terms of just being part of a social dynamic, being part of a team, you know, the, you can’t speak enough about how that’s so important for kids as they go through their high school years to be part of a team to be physically fit the connection between, you know, facing adversity, how to deal with loss, all that stuff.


Jason Pratt (19:41):
It’s, you know, team sports, individual sports, whatever it may be, the benefits way outweigh the the drawbacks of them competing. Since I’ve come to this school, I’ve actually started a second master’s degree in physical education. Nice. Because I thought it would be important for me to learn as much as I can about the phys ed side of it. So it’s, it’s, it’s a second master’s degree I’m working towards, but it’s a lot, it’s a lot harder this time around. It’s just, I can only tell, take one course at a time and it, it, it’s a lot of work and it’s gonna take me a couple more years and, and I think it’s gonna make me a better principle just having that background, but I think it’s important to kind of continue to learn. And it’s interesting being a student. I haven’t been a student, I started about two years ago, this second master’s degree. And, and it’s, it’s interesting how it’s tough being a student when you haven’t been a student in a while, but, but it’s fun and it’s good. And it’s good for me to, to, to stay grounded and, and to, you know, be that lifelong learner that a lot of us talk about being.


Sam Demma (20:44):
It’s rewarding. I was listening to a podcast with a tech investor, an entrepreneur named Naval, and he gave this analogy of climbing mountains and explained that every undertaking we embark upon, you know, think of it like climbing up a mountain. And when we reach the top, it’s, we’ve accomplished what the goal or that the desired outcome was. And he said, a lot of people climb a mountain, reach some form of success and get curious that, and wanna learn something else, but in order to do so, you have to climb down this mountain and start at the base of a new one yeah. And climb up it. And it’s so true that it could be overwhelming, but I think it’s such a rewarding experience. And it awesome that you’re also through your actions, not even by telling students or others, but just through your actions, proving that, you know, education happens at all ages and being a lifelong learner is extremely important. Yeah. So that’s, that’s awesome. What do you think some of the opportunities that exist today in education, there’s a lot of challenges and discussion about the cha like the, the negatives and things that are difficult right now. I’m curious to know what you think some of the opportunities are.


Jason Pratt (21:55):
Yeah. I mean, we all know about COVID and all those challenges, but you know, I, I think, I think the way that, that our, our planet is moving in, in be, you know, you can talk about globalization and, and, and that being obviously a huge factor in, in, in where students want to go. I, I think the fact that students have access to so much information and, and so much at their fingertips, it’s beneficial for them because they can look into whatever they want to, and they can research whatever they want to and, and have that, that kind of learning. But I I’m thinking the opportunities for students. I mean, we gotta think of where the world’s headed over the next couple years, next few years, and where these students are gonna, you know, where are they gonna graduate to?


Jason Pratt (22:49):
And I think a lot of it just comes down to the social piece, like how well do they work in, in team environments? How well do they work? You know, with, with their colleagues how can they manage to create a skillset that’s gonna be marketable when they, when they, when they graduate from wherever they do. And, and, and I think it’s, it’s so important right now, I’m, I’m seeing a lot of our students truly engaged. And I did mention the sports thing, but if I can put on the, the non regional sports hat principal for a second, and just talk about our specialist, high schools majors program, which is another big we pushed, which is the hospitality. A lot of our Stu you know, it’s, it’s at the last school I was at St. Marc Salinas. They had a highly successful baking program.


Jason Pratt (23:43):
And you would’ve never thought in a million years, like when I was going to school, like home EC was something you had to do and, and no one wanted to do it. I couldn’t believe it at the school, they had six full sections of baking. This is in hospitality. Hospitality is the cooking class where they learn a lot of those basics. This was a baking class. So when I got to this school, I said, let’s start a baking program. And now we had this year, we had two sections of baking. Now we’re a much smaller school than Marlins. But we had two full sections of baking. And I remember coming home one day and my kids were watching what was it, nailed it, the one where they have to bake cakes all the time. Yeah. It was reality show. And it’s just, it’s funny how kids will change.


Jason Pratt (24:24):
And, and so these are taking baking, and a lot of them will have this in their back pocket, you know, this skill. So it’s, you know, education, I, I think is, is about providing all these kind of student, you know, different kinds of students with opportunities to learn so many different skills in your traditional pen and paper textbook information. You know, there’s lots of great tech programs. We have a lot of kids who are successful in our, we have an electrical program, a lot of kids go into apprenticeship programs for electrical. We have an amazing construction class wood shop where the students are building, you know, excellent cabinetry. And, and they’re, they’re learning about you know, using the, the AutoCAD machine to kind of personalize wood. And they’re learning a lot of these principles and, and some of these kids are going on to university, but they’re keeping all these, these, these, these skills on the side.


Jason Pratt (25:16):
And I remember when I went to school, I didn’t do any of this, this hands on techy. I, I was more of a PhysEd guy and more of a pen and paper type kid, but I think we’re, we’re doing a good job at, in education by being, by diversifying the programs that are out there and giving students the opportunities to learn where, you know, what does success mean for you as you graduate? And, and it doesn’t necessarily mean you have to go to university and get a degree, but it, it’s just doing things you’re interested in being happy doing. And I think those opportunities and, and allow, want students to see those opportunities in a safe environment where they can experiment with it. Another big, real, another big program we have here. One of the more successful programs on our board is our co-op program.


Jason Pratt (25:57):
And I think one of the reasons is our, our co-op teachers are amazing at going out and getting really interesting co-op placements, whether it’s working at a veterinarian clinic, or one of our students is working at a co cosmetic surgery clinic. And, and just learning about that industry. We have a lot of students who work in other schools as elementary teachers, a lot of them work at you know, your traditional like mechanics things like that. And they get to experiment these jobs and kind of get a little snippet of what it’s like to work in that in industry. And then come back to school and say, you know what? I hated it, or I loved it. And I think that’s what high school is becoming for. A lot of these kids is, is experimentation finding out what works for you.


Jason Pratt (26:40):
And, and it’s about us working with these students. We’ve de-streamed the math for grade nine. And, and I it’s coming that we’re gonna DStream a lot more. A lot more of high school subjects will be D streamed. And I think that’s a good thing because it gives students more of an opportunity to experi, you know, experience challenges and learn and mature in an environment where they can kind of go back, make mistakes, change their pathway. But it’s, it’s, it’s definitely changing a lot from when I went to school. It was, you know, you go to school and you either, you’re gonna go to university and get a degree, or you’re gonna go and start working. And there’s really like, we’re seeing it now with colleges and, and providing students with so many more opportunities. I think it’s, it’s, it’s a huge, huge thing. So I think it’s just about providing a whole range of opportunities, allowing students to feel comfortable, choosing what they think is, is what’s best for them and, and engaging those families in that discussion. It’s all, it’s a very organic process now where I think it wasn’t so much when I went to school, it was very much, you picked the lane and stayed in that lane and that’s where you went. And that was it.


Sam Demma (27:44):
Yeah. Now students got the signals and they’re changing their lanes like crazy. Oh yeah.


Jason Pratt (27:50):
One eighties going back. Yeah. Know, I know it’s great. And it’s great to see that. And when you’ve empowered students and give them some say in what they’re doing, I think it changes them as, as learners. They don’t feel like they’re being forced one way or the other. They don’t have that pressure. They, I think they feel that they’re they’re in charge and that’s a, that’s an important thing for kids to feel like they have some say and some voice that’s.


Sam Demma (28:13):
A big, I, as a student who took a fifth year, a gap year, went to school, took a different path after school. I, I can’t stress the importance of all that enough. Yeah.


Jason Pratt (28:25):
Well, I’ll tell you something when I, so, I mean, my first year of university was not good. I was playing junior hockey and that was, you know, late games till 11, 12 o’clock at night. Yeah. And I was a languages major in my first year, so I had Spanish, French. And then, and then I took English as a, like secondary. And you had labs at 8:00 AM, and you know what, after a, a junior hockey game and, you know, you’re 19 years old, you’re going out. Sometimes you go out afterwards after the game, you weren’t getting home. And, and by the time I, I was not serious about it. So that first year was a disaster. I took a year off worked two full-time job, but well, one full-time job and a part-time job that was full time hours. And went back after that, you know, that third year, and then did well after that had kind of my focus on what I wanted to do.


Jason Pratt (29:16):
But interestingly enough, one of the side things I did as I was a student was I was worked in the service industry. And I did that for many years after I became a teacher. And what, what I saw in the service industry was a lot of my ex students who had graduated and these were the students. So I traditionally taught a lot of the college level Englishes and, and, you know, not necessarily the kids who were the best, most successful students, but what I got to see was I got to see them almost like a longitudinal study. I got to see them five, 10 years after they graduated. And what became of them. Cause, you know, you’re always like, oh my God, good luck to this kid. When he, when he, when he gets in school, what’s he gonna do? And they were all successful.


Jason Pratt (30:00):
They were happy. They were successful. They had families, they had businesses. They, they were really nice people. And these were the kids that traditionally didn’t do well in school. They were the guys who were in trouble, or they were the guys who were skipping or the girls that were, you know, you know, you know, whatever that may be like, they weren’t serious students. You would’ve thought, but no one sees them after they go. We don’t follow up on these kids after they graduate. But because I worked in the service industry and I worked for good 10 years after I saw some of the, the early kids that I had taught go on to become amazing adults. Like they were great kids and they just had to get through school to, to, but now I think we’ve, we’ve come to realize that there’s, it’s not like that anymore.


Jason Pratt (30:46):
It it’s changed. And so I’ve, I’ve, I, I was fortunate enough to have that experience and I think it opened my eyes a lot to what a school could become. And that’s part of the reason why I became a, an administrator is I loved the culture in my classrooms. I thought the only way for me to influence the culture in a school is to become a principal. And then when you become a principal, you can influence that culture. You really can. And you actually could as a vice principal, because I remember one of my first schools I started at the, there was, there was a lot of not conflict between the student and the teachers. They didn’t know how to handle. The kids were sent down a lot to the office. And as a vice principal, I role played a lot with the kids.


Jason Pratt (31:31):
I’d be like, okay, let’s, let’s go through how this happened. So I’m, I’m the teacher, you’re the student. So tell me what happened. And we would workshop almost how to, how to, you know, manage this, this conflict. And then I would go back to the teacher and say, Hey, listen, I worked with them, give ’em a chance. And, and it worked. And I think when the teacher saw that you had the kid’s best interest at heart and you were advocating for them, and the kids believed that it worked well. And I mean, I loved, I loved being a vice principal. That was an amazing role in a school when you’re a, a vice principal and you’re suspending dozens and dozens and dozens of kids, but never, they’re never angry at you. You’re doing a good job because those kids know that you like, you care for them and you’re being supportive.


Jason Pratt (32:20):
But at the same time, they made a mistake. And that was a, that was a fantastic job. I loved being a vice principal. Principal was more of an adjustment because you weren’t working so closely with kids anymore. And I felt as a vice principal, you have these really tight relationships with families and kids, and you’re working for them and you’re working with them. You’re like, come on, you can do it. I just don’t want you getting in trouble anymore. And you can get through this and, and you kind of work through them. Whereas with a principal, you’re more, it’s, it’s more of a broad picture of a school and you’re dealing with budget and staffing and scheduling and, and you’re dealing more with the adults in the building than you are dealing with the kids in the building. And that’s a change, right? So it’s like climbing another, I, I’ve not got to the peak yet of that mountain.


Jason Pratt (33:02):
I think I was at the peak as a vice principal, and now I’ve gone down and had to climb this next mountain, which I don’t know, maybe I’m getting older and it’s, it’s whatever it may be, but both roles are great. But that, that was really good. And then being a parent, being a parent gives you perspective too, on how your kids and I have, like I said, four boys who are good, good kids in that, but you get to see the parent side of it and the frustrations with my wife. And, and, and the teachers that they may have just in terms of, you know, how do we get these guys to be motivated with school and why the teachers, you know, sending this work, they don’t understand. So it’s really interest giving you all these perspectives. And I think it really influences you as a leader in a school.


Jason Pratt (33:45):
So, you know, I’m very much with, with my staff here, I’m always keep the parents informed, be very transparent, be very forgiving and understanding and, and, you know, just work with, if, if parents know you care about their son or daughter are in the classroom, that makes all the difference. When, when the parents have the impression that you don’t, that their kid is just a number or, you know, it’s, it’s not it, it, it’s just, well, the, you know, the mark is the mark and that’s what they got. You’re, you’re, you’re gonna have issues. And I said, you know, I say to them all the time, just work with parents, talk to parents, give them a call that makes all the difference in the world. And, and it has in this school, like I said, it’s, it’s a great school. We don’t really have any issues. And if we do, we resolve them quick and the parents are happy and the teachers are happy and the kids are happy, which is the most important.


Sam Demma (34:35):
Yeah, that’s awesome. It really sounds like the culture is something you focused on you, your staff, the teachers. Yeah. Even the students cuz they participated it as well. If someone wanted to reach out, ask you a question about the programs, the sports program, the way you try and embed school culture into the school, or just, you know, tell you about something they heard on this podcast, they enjoyed what would be the best way for them to reach out and get in touch with you?


Jason Pratt (35:01):
Well, if they wanna know more about the programs we do have a pretty good website with, with has some videos because we’ve had to be online the last couple years with our open houses, we actually saved a lot of our videos. Nice. So if people wanna find out more about the program, that’s where they would go and there’s excellent speakers and they talk about our program. But my email address is (email). They’re welcome to send me an email and that’s the best way for me to get ahold of anyone who needs to reach out. And if they have questions about the program specifically, or what not, I can direct them to whoever that may be. I’m always, I’m always advocating for this program because I believe in it, I would never, if your son, daughter is an excellent athlete and they live and you know, you can make it work logistically. We do have kids who come here all the way from Toronto, north York. Like it’s, it’s, it’s pretty amazing what people will do to be part of a good program. And you do it for your kids because you know, that’s so important to them, but no, it’s I’m always willing to talk more and and, and, and, and this was really great.


Sam Demma (36:12):
Thank you, Jason, for taking the time to come on here, share a little bit about your school. You, it is obvious that you’re passionate about your work and we need lots of passionate educators, so keep it up. And I look forward to seeing what your school and yourself and your staff bring to life post COVID. Yeah. With the sport programs, keep it up.


Jason Pratt (36:33):
Thanks a lot, Sam.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Jason Pratt

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

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

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

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

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

Connect with Doug: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Yale Secondary School Website

BC Association of Student Activity Advisors

Canadian Student Leadership Association (CSLA)

Canadian Student Leadership Conference (CSLC)

Abbotsford Rugby Club

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):
Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s guest is Doug Primrose. He is currently in his 23rd year of teaching. He’s been at Yale Secondary for the past 15 years and taught student leadership and law 12. He was previously the chair of the BC Student Leadership Conference in 2015, the co-chair of the Canadian Student Leadership conference in 2019, currently the President of the BC Association of Student activities and Advisors, and he also coaches rugby at Yale secondary and the women’s team for Abbotsford rugby club.


Sam Demma (01:15):
He’s actually selected in, in 2020 for the Abbotsford hall of fame in the coaching category. Doug has a wealth of knowledge to share when it comes to student leadership and coaching, and I’m so excited to give you some of that knowledge today in this episode. So enjoy, and I will see you on the other side. Doug, welcome to the High Performing Educator podcast, huge pleasure to have you on the show here today. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit of context behind how you ended up doing the work you do today in education?


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Sam Demma (11:02):
Got it.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Sam Demma (29:58):
No, that’s okay. I


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Doug Primrose

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

Anthony Perrotta – Vice Principal, MEd Student, AQ Instructor & Filmmaker

Anthony Perrotta – Vice Principal, MEd Student, AQ Instructor & Filmmaker
About Anthony Perrotta

A graduate of Humber College’s prestigious Film and Television Production program, Anthony’s (@aperrottatweets) experience in Canadian film and new media production is extensive and diverse. From corporate film experience to independent film and new media works, Anthony’s love of film/new media led him to a career in teaching that has been equally and deeply rewarding.

With a specialization in Communications Technology and Broad-based Technological Studies, Anthony has been committed to providing students with culturally relevant learning experiences. From nurturing students to tell their own stories through video production and sharing their “why” through digital portfolio design and social media branding, Anthony continuously works to cultivate spaces of learning where students feel empowered to show what they know and who they are.

With a commitment to professional learning, Anthony has held a number of positions that allowed him to leverage his expertise in digital media to serve teacher professional development. From 2011 – 2014, Anthony was a Resource Teacher with 21st Century Learning and AICT at the Toronto Catholic District Board. In this role, Anthony worked to support teachers across the TCDSB with the integration of 21st Century teaching and learning strategies and skills with a focus on digital media production, media literacy and the implementation of eLearning. In this resource role, Anthony was the District eLearning Contact for the TCDSB and was the Principal of Continuing Education eClass for a number of years.

With a commitment to student learning and the love for the classroom, Anthony ventured back to the classroom where he became the Department Head of Business and ICT Studies at Chaminade College School. During his time as Department Head, Anthony was responsible for the development of a Communications Technology program enriched by experiential teaching and learning practices. From industry partnerships with Disney Canada to collaboration with film and new media academics and industry professionals, his goal was to provide students with an experience that transcended the traditional classroom space. Furthermore, while at Chaminade College School, Anthony worked with partners including design thinker Dr. Marlyn Morris to develop a culturally relevant pedagogy framework to empower students to become global citizens with a focus on efforts to address anti-Black and BIPOC racism.

With all of this, Anthony is now a Vice Principal with the Toronto Catholic District School Board and is committed to servant leadership with the goal to empower teachers and students to be leaders of change in school and beyond. Anthony is currently Vice Principal at St. Anne Catholic Academy, School of Virtual Learning. In this role he works to support nearly 30,000 FDK-12 students who are being schooled online during the global COVID-19 pandemic.

Anthony holds an Honours Diploma in Film and Television Production from Humber College, a BA in Film Studies (with Distinction) and a Bachelor of Education in Communications Technology from Brock University. Currently, Anthony is completing his Master of Education in Media Literacy at Queen’s University.

Anthony has written media / technology curriculum for Niagara University, Queen’s University, OECTA, OPHEA, Nelson Education, Catholic Curriculum Corporation and other institutions across Canada and has presented at a number of leading educational conferences including Reading for the Love of It, STAO, Connect and When Faith Meets Pedagogy.

Connect with Anthony: Email | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Anthony’s Personal Website

Film and Television Production at Humber College

Film Studies at Brock University

Media and Communication Studies at Brock University

Masters of Education at Queens University

Toronto Catholic District School Board

21st Century Learning and AICT at the Toronto Catholic District Board

Chaminade College School

St. Anne Catholic Academy, School of Virtual Learning

Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association (OECTA)

OPHEA

Nelson Education

Catholic Curriculum Corporation

Reading for the Love of It Conference

Science Teachers’ Association of Ontario (STAO)

When Faith Meets Pedagogy Conference

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 Anthony Perrotta is actually someone that I connected with on Twitter. And I just, I’m just coming back from taking eight months off social media. I’ve been on Twitter for a little while and we met through mutual educator connections, and I asked him if he’d come on the show. He has a very unique that led him into education and he has some very grounded, genuine perspectives and experiences that I think would be super helpful to hear about. From the onset of his early career in education, Anthony Perrota has been compelled and dedicated to knowing and empowering students in telling their stories.


Sam Demma (01:21):
With no surprise, he has a huge interest in film as well. As Vice-Principal, Anthony continues in his journey as a leader, committed to creating safe, equitable and inclusive spaces for all students. All while intentionally addressing anti-black and BIPOC racism. Anthony has a very unique again, journey into education. You’re gonna get a ton out of this interview today. I can’t wait for you to hear it, and let me know what you think. Buckle up and I will see you on the other side.


Sam Demma (01:49):
Anthony, thank you so much for coming on the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show. Why don’t you start by sharing who you are; introducing yourself, and a little bit behind what led you to the work you’re doing in education today?


Anthony Perrotta (02:03):
Well, thanks for having me, Sam. I’m not sure how high performing I am but we’ll have a good conversation I’m sure. So right now I am a Vice-Principal, a secondary school Vice-Principal with the Toronto Catholic District School Board. I’m part of the St. Anne’s Catholic Academy school of virtual learning team. This was Toronto Catholic’s response to COVID impacted pandemic learning. This is a fully virtual school, K to 12. There’s over 25,000 students, and I see your mask jump up there. And, and there’s a, you know, great team of teachers, of educational support workers, secretaries, administrators; like it really is a fulsome school in terms of how we want to serve students. And it’s you know, been really, really quite a fulfilling experience to be part of this type of I guess mechanism. I hate to say that word, but it feels like it at times because it is so big.


Anthony Perrotta (03:13):
And prior to becoming an administrator, I was a very passionate and still very passionate about education, classroom teacher. My background’s in film and so I was fortunate to have experience in film production and then transition into the world of education, where I taught communications technology, media studies, and really engaged in a unique experience where I could learn from students and then provide them opportunities to share their story. And for me, becoming a teacher was really about leaning into my experience as a documentary filmmaker, which was really the, the forte that I, that I entered upon finishing film school in the early 2000s and where some people say, well, you went to become a teacher, perhaps because you couldn’t make it in film. Well, anyone who has any experience in Canadian film knows that it’s never about money. It’s, it’s, it’s not Hollywood.


Anthony Perrotta (04:24):
Especially when you make documentary films, you really aren’t making these, these movies for personal wealth. You’re making them because you’re passionate about a particular story you want to unlearn and relearn through the narrative that you’re hoping to bring to life. And it was through a documentary that I was producing in Tanzania, where I met a group of students where my thinking around education was really, I think, reaffirm that young people have a transformational power about them and similar to yourself with your volunteer work and, and your social your social initiatives. And I wanted to be part of, I think that world really, and, and getting to know kids through more of a mature lens, stripping away assumptions of what we think, especially about teenagers and really support the empowerment of their voice. And, and that’s where my mindset was when I became a teacher and, you know, finished schooling, University, teachers college, and all those types of things.


Sam Demma (05:35):
You know, you brushed over Tanzania and you got me so curious, like how, how did that experience reaffirm this idea that, that young people have this transformational power about them? What happened in Tanzania that really shifted or, or affirmed your perspective?


Anthony Perrotta (05:50):
Yeah. Yeah. Well, let me peel it back a bit. So I went, I grew up in Niagara falls and then I went to study film at hum college in Toronto. And I was there from 1999 to 2002. And during that three year period, two of my years was working as a resident assistant counselor within the student residence. So my first year as an 18 year old going to film school, living in residence was about the party. And, you know, it was a great first year being 18, 19 years old, living away from home. My gosh, I’m surprised that I could wake up for classes some days. But then second and third year, I really became invested in the culture of the community and wanted to give back. And so I was successful in becoming a resident, assistant a counselor and living in the residence as a student, but also supporting my, my peers on my floor.


Anthony Perrotta (06:46):
And that provided me, I think, with an affirmation that yes, being part of the film industry, learning how to tell these stories, learning how to leverage technology and economics and get something made was quite compelling, but there’s something quite human and relational about working with people. And even as an RA and as a counselor, I was really invested in that experience. I was like really motivated to engage with people, to help them and, you know, learn from them. And it was quite unique and it shaped me, I think, exponentially. And so when I finished film school and I was working in the film industry in Toronto and different unique experiences, I started leaning into documentary because I found I would have more creative control. I found that my political and social sensibilities could be addressed. I was, was an am still very politically minded. And there was an opportunity to work with a Catholic organization called the missionaries of the precious blood, where they wanted to document their work in Tanzania, developing water windmills.


Anthony Perrotta (08:03):
And it was a unique partnership because they helped fund the project. I received government funding outside of that particular group, it had a formal release, so to speak and tr terms of what a documentary would be a Canadian made documentary. So at 22, it was quite a significant project for me. And what was wonderful was I made really two films. One was the one for the missionaries. And then the other was mine, which was looking at the intersectionality between water international aid and pretty much mindsets around development. And so it was quite a unique piece. And when I was there, there was a group of teenagers from Camloops BC that were there traveling with me when I was making the film. So part of my film was then sh documenting some of their stories and perspectives. And it was amazing because here I am, as this 23 year old young filmmaker with, you know, independent and government funding, I, you know, it’s quite exciting.


Anthony Perrotta (09:16):
It was at the time where film was transitioning from cell, you know, from 16 millimeter to digital, like, you know, the little mini DV cams, like the new technology was exciting. It was expensive as hell, but it was exciting. And I just found myself really invested in finding out who these kids were, who I was traveling with. And I was really just amazed that at 15, 16, they were going to give up their summers and travel halfway across the world and come together as strangers, some of them and contribute to this cause. And then I thought about who I was at 15 and 16, and my experience was definitely not going to Tanzania to develop and work on windmills. I was working at Swiss and, you know, washing dishes on the tourism strip in ARA, which are humbled roots, but it was very, very separate from social consciousness and community engagement.


Anthony Perrotta (10:15):
So I was really, really motivated by these young people and just really admired how them being there, tore away at how sometimes adults think about teenagers and what they are able to contribute. And even, you know, within the world of education, there will be so much that we celebrate around teenagers, but there’s often times where they’re trapped within some type of stereotype. So I was motivated to peel back the stereotype. And I just had a sense that the idea of filmmaking was going to change quite rapidly, that how we make films and tell films and share stories and what we perceive a film to be was changing quite rapidly. And this was before YouTube. This was before Facebook, right? This is really us just recognizing digital technology with the birth of Napster, which would’ve been when I started film school at the end of my grade 13, that wait a minute, the mechanisms of production were going to shift.


Anthony Perrotta (11:22):
So when I became a teacher finally in 2005 and started in 2005 as a full-time teacher with the Negar Catholic district school board, that was really where I was introduced to not only my students, but this whole, whole new democracy around the telling of stories that now we had YouTube, which I never had as a student, for example. Right. So now the way I tell stories and the way I share them shifted the power game. So it was just a very, you know, transformational for me in awakening. So to speak when I met these young kids and just thought to myself, you know, I could still make films, the type of films I want to make that are small scale that are very personal, very intimate. And like when I was an RA at hum college residence play a different role. And, and that’s where the film world and the teaching world converged.


Sam Demma (12:25):
So filmmaking, is that something that you still do now


Anthony Perrotta (12:29):
And oh yeah. Yeah. So there’s no separation be between me and film. Like I happen to be a secondary school vice principal, but on the weekends, you’ll find me blogging about the MCU on Disney plus, or, you know, a film, a popular film that I’ve seen on TV. For me being a filmmaker as the priority, you will allows me to be a better educator. Mm. Because it’s my film making roots that allow me to be responsive to situations. And this is not to say that I look at life in some type of hyper real existence where life is like a movie, but I have to tell you studying how to make films, having a degree in film theory, going to teachers college. I’m just finishing my masters in media literacy at Queens university, looking at how popular film or any type of film, really media literacy, if you will, is very much cultural literacy allows me to be very, very open to the people I work with and the people I year to serve.


Anthony Perrotta (13:44):
So I’m a filmmaker first because that’s how I kind of see the world around me as story that everywhere I go, there’s a story, you know, right now there’s a gentleman in the backyard of my house putting together a Barbie, I’m terrible at putting together things. My wife is way better at instructional design and organizational matters than I am. I, I, I think I might have like undiagnosed ADHD. So I just kind of am outta control sometimes in terms of my thinking pattern. So if you say put together a barbecue, I’m just like, oh my gosh, like, this is not for me. Yeah. So I there’s a gentleman in the backyard now. And before he even started putting together the barbecue, like I chatted with him for about 45 minutes. So I don’t know if he’s gonna charge me for that 45 minutes that it was part of the the hourly fee. But that’s to say, I found his story so unique. Here’s this young guy coming, you know over to the house to put together a barbecue laid off during the COVID experience has leaned into taskrabbit.ca to it has made this as permanent gig. And so for 45 minutes, I was really just wanting to find out who’s this guy who’s over the house. He might be thinking, I just wanna put together your stuff and, and get outta your,


Anthony Perrotta (15:00):
But he had, you know what I have to say, we had a really nice, good conversation. And I could tell that he was like, whoa, this guy’s actually taking the time. Speak to me. Like, he’s not just, here’s my barbecue. And here’s, you know, a sectional that I want you to put together in the backyard. It was a, you know, we had gave him an espresso, he had a coffee and we chatted. And so that’s the filmmaker side of me that I love to dive into story. Right. And that makes you a great teacher. Hopefully I don’t wanna say that. I didn’t great by any means, but the greatest teachers I’ve had are the teachers that really wanted to know who Anthony Prada was.


Sam Demma (15:40):
Mm. You just basically answered the question that was bubbling up in sad while you were speaking, which was, why is stories so important? Why is understanding people’s stories super important?


Anthony Perrotta (15:53):
So when we think about story, even as a parent, I talk a lot about this with my own kids who are 10 and seven years old. There’s a humbling of one’s self. When you engage in story, it’s when you actually say, I want to listen. I want to observe. I want to unlearn and rele. And so when we provide, especially young people, safe and inclusive places to be who they are without prejudice, without judgment, without assumptions. When we start actually rumbling with the power structure of our institutions, our classrooms, for example, where we re eyes, it’s not about, you know, Anthony Prada, the classroom teacher it’s about who are potentially the 25, the 30 students in my classroom. Are they going to be given with intentionality, not by accident, not some morning chat that we start the week with. I mean, real instructional intentionality to ensure that the curriculum that I design is responsive to who they are.


Anthony Perrotta (16:59):
Mm. So the story means everything because it speaks to then as an educator, what type of content am I going to be engaging my students in? And that’s really the hot topic today. When you think about EC, when you think about the type of material that we are engaging in the whole debate around, for example, what is perceived to be a classic to kill a Mockingbird, right? Do we need to be teaching a kill a Mockingbird? Do we need to be using that artifact as a vessel to engage in conversations about equity and race? I would argue, no, I will argue no there’s many other books written by black authors, people of color that provide a more humanized and more representationally profound discourse to engage in story who are the students that compose our classrooms. There is once a time. Very recently, I remember I would often show one particular film with a group of great 10 students.


Anthony Perrotta (18:08):
And I would show back to the future and I would scream back to the future in class, peel it back, talk about its kind it’s dangers around representation. Because when you look at back to the future, everyone celebrates it as this classic eighties film, but it’s a Reagan night artifact. It rises out of 1985, Reagan America. It’s directed by Robert Zeus. Who’s, you know, quite conservative. And the film is really there to make a pronunciation around whiteness and classism that only at the end, when Marty’s father stands up to the bully, when Marty’s father asserts himself to be an American man, does he rewrite the history? And then Marty’s family, this white wealthy unit. And when they’re wealthy, then their problems don’t exist. And the only black character we see is the mayor who we don’t really get to know until, unless he’s serving in the diner.


Anthony Perrotta (19:11):
So I was showing that film and having some conversations, but then I just recognized that the climate of my classroom was changing, that the students were, you know, perhaps not responding to that film. And I learned the value this many years ago of saying, Hey, what choice do you wanna make here? This is what we could watch. What, what, what, you know, connects to you and the students would guide the conversation. And so that’s all to say that the artifacts that we are using in class to engage in whatever type of, of experience we’re hoping to build, hopefully then allows students to be as real, if you will, as possible. So that’s why story to me matters story to me matters because it allows me to understand people. It allow me to kind of check my own biases, my own blind spots. You have to be open to that.


Anthony Perrotta (20:18):
That takes a lot of work, right? That takes a lot of work for you to be able to lean into your own vulnerability and say, yeah, you know, I need to change. Or my thinking in this way is not right. It’s potentially harmful and dangerous. And then when you’re thinking about young people, you are saying, Hey, I’m just the facilitator of this space. This space is yours. I’m here to serve you and people get rattled. When there’s this thinking around servitude in education that as a teacher, I’m here to serve you. And I’ve said that to colleagues, not as an administrator, I mean, teacher to teacher I’ve said, Hey, what’s the rigidness around assessment, or what’s the rigidness around being more culturally responsive in some of our or practices. Why are there these barriers when we’re there as public servants paid for by the ministry of education?


Anthony Perrotta (21:18):
Yeah. With taxpayers dollars, we are there to be in service to the child in front of us. And that child in front of us is perhaps the one thing that somebody else loves more than anything in the world. And I have the privilege to be in that shared space for 72 or 75 minutes a day. And it’s going to be about me. It can’t be when I send my own children to their Catholic elementary school, I’m sending to that school. The two things that I care about the most in the world. And I would hope when they’re there, they’re teachers who are fantastic. And I say this with utmost confidence, they respond to them in elementary school. Teachers, I think tend to do this more naturally with my, with my bias because they’re with students all year round from September to June, got it. In high school.


Anthony Perrotta (22:18):
We tend when we’re teaching to be so content driven. I’m in math. I need to get through the curriculum. I’m in comp tech. I need to get through the curriculum. I’m in geography. I need to get through the curriculum. And then the big daddy of them all, I have to prepare these students for post-secondary. Mm. Right? If I showed you Anthony Prada, transcripts from kindergarten, all the way to grade 13, it would seem as if nobody was preparing me for university. But Hey, at this point, come fall. When I finish my masters, I’ll have a college diploma, two university degrees in a master of education, not bad for someone who other people may have felt was falling through the cracks from K to grade 13. So that’s just to say that the experience of schooling has to really be about not the educator. What about the kids, student centric, student centric, and your work. When you talk about student servant leadership, that’s what it’s about. Mm it’s about saying, how am I going to help you? What is my time here really about? And unfortunately, if in the world of education within the classroom, there can exist a great ego. And sometimes the ego that exists is that of the teacher. It’s my space. It’s my I’m giving you a test. I’m giving you a quiz. Well, within that space, then where does the student fit? Is the student just a vessel to meet the, the end game that you’ve prescribed?


Anthony Perrotta (24:02):
Right? It it’s, these are challenging ideas. And this is not to say that teachers aren’t doing wonderful work. Oh my gosh. I know so many wonderful teachers. Okay. I, I I’ll, I will never say I ran into, or I’ve worked with a teacher that I don’t believe in because the potential that is exponential, the work I’ve witnessed is fantastic. It’s transformational. However, there are time where we have to ask some real critical questions about our lesson design, about our assessment strategies. Are we really there about the students now in that too comes another tough, tough one, especially when you think about high school. And we say, well, I’m preparing students for university or college. That one there kind of always gets me a little bit worked up in terms of having a good conversation, because if you’ve been an educator who’s been far removed from university or college, then how do you know what works?


Sam Demma (25:07):
Hmm.


Anthony Perrotta (25:09):
Why are we, you know, working within a prescribed near of preparing students for university and college, when act, and when in actuality, the college and university in the post-secondary world is evolving and it’s transforming that their, their game is starting to change Yet. We say, you know, I’m, I’m still working. I need to, I can’t make this change for example, because I have to fit this curriculum piece in because of college or university. I don’t know. I’ve never seen an Ontario piece of curriculum that actually states check mark, I’m prepared child, a child for college or university. I’ve never seen it.


Sam Demma (25:51):
And who’s to say that, you know, every single student in that classroom, that’s what they wanna be prepared for


Anthony Perrotta (25:58):
Ex exactly. Right. And if I look at myself as an example, my experience was not a positive one when it came to content. Mm. I didn’t really connect with material, especially in high school, other than in my art in media classes. Cause I was really, you know, very early on, very, very much grounded in where can I tell story? Where can I have control of the mechanisms of storytelling? And so visual arts media classes really spoke to my sensibilities. I knew enough to play the game of schooling. I was respectful. I would get my CS and maybe a couple of bees here and there. I knew enough that, of course I wasn’t going to flunk out by any measures. Okay. But content, the content wasn’t speaking to me and what really spoke to me more was learning about process. And luckily how having really good teachers in unique courses that allowed me opportunities to be resilient, to construct new knowledge on my own, to be curious.


Anthony Perrotta (27:17):
And when we think about education today and what’s called 21st century learning, or are learning that as grounded in global competencies, we think about the critical thinking. We think about the collaborators. We think about skilled communication, for example, using digital multimodal medias to show what students know, we’re talking about a lot of the things that make filmmaking so exciting to me. And then when that student arrives to their post-secondary space, wherever that is, they will be able to thrive. And, and I’m, you know, I’m kind of proof of that because when I went to film school, probably teachers that said goodbye to me in June of 1999, when I graduated, they probably never thought that I’d be showing up in 2005 as a colleague teaching in that same high school as my first full-time job. And you know, what I gained outside of content was what was really invaluable.


Anthony Perrotta (28:25):
It was all about the pro us. And so when we can provide students with the freedom to make mistakes, to grow, when we provide classroom cultures where we’re committed to feedback, ongoing feedback, so a student can rework and be committed to mastery when we provide these opportunities, what we’re also providing our unique spaces to get to know the students. Mm. And the type of feedback I give to student a, in student E is going to be perhaps quite different. The way they respond to that feedback is going to be quite different. And so within that difference, our unique stories. Mm. And that was what excites me when I was as an educator, when I was in the classroom. And as an administrator, that’s what excites me when it comes to helping students and their families get through pro perhaps difficult times or supporting students, you know, to go to the next level, it’s the opportunity to pause and ask myself, how can I help you? And before I can even help, I need to get to know you.


Sam Demma (29:44):
Yeah. Ah, that’s so powerful. I love that. And you, you know, at the beginning of this interview, you mentioned this idea that the school you’re at now is so large, you know, sometimes it feels mechanical or like a mechanism because of how big it is. Can you tell me more about what the school looks like? It’s, I’m assuming it it’s a fully virtual school.


Anthony Perrotta (30:02):
It’s a fully virtual school from K to 12. Got it. Over 25,000 students. And again, in response to, COVID a fantastic team at all levels, like really transformational, really doing something at a scale that was never done before. Yeah. And I can only speak for myself, but the main difference is when you’re in a building as an administrator and you believe like I did having my door open and being in the hallways very rarely when I was in a school as an administrator. And it was only a short time that I wasn’t an administrator in a school because then COVID hit. And I, and I made a transition to the virtual. I was in the hallways all the time cuz that’s where the action was. That’s where the students were. That’s where you get a sense of what’s happening. And when you’re in your school and you’re responsible to a particular community and you’re serving that community, you get to know that community.


Anthony Perrotta (30:57):
That’s the big difference between being in such a, when I said mechanical is I’m reaching sometimes to students who I don’t really know them. So the conversations perhaps don’t have the nuance that I would have with a student in my homeschool, in a physical building. Got it. But that just means that some of the conversations I have within the virtual space, they take a little bit longer that, you know, I take my time and I, and I, and I allow the conversation room. So if a parent wants to share a piece of their story in terms of why something is happening, for example, they have that safe place to do so. And I will say, I talk on the phone a lot throughout the day. And some of the conversations are longer than they perhaps need to be in terms of the more technical piece that I’m trying to solve.


Anthony Perrotta (31:52):
But if I call a parent and that parent perhaps senses in my voice or in my approach that this is a safe place to chat, maybe they just need the chat. And there’s been many times where I must have gotten a parent or even a student on a day where they felt maybe alone and unheard and they just needed to have someone listen. And that’s really the most exciting part of being an administrator is that you get the privilege to listen to all, all of these unique stories. And it’s not about me. These are, you know, these are opportunities that are free of bias of prejudice because I recognize really now fully mature in my 15 years of teaching, that I’ve been blessed with so much growing up, I’ve been blessed with the privilege of schooling. I’ve been blessed with a wonderful wife with wonderful children that there’s been so much privilege in my existence that it’s not for me to pass judgment on anyone else. Mm. Because my world is going to differ greatly than some of the worlds in which I’m trying to navigate with students and their families.


Sam Demma (33:16):
I love that. I got it. That’s a, that’s a great point. And 25,000 students, that’s like a, that’s like a university. You’re like a huge campus. Yeah,


Anthony Perrotta (33:30):
It’s massive, man. It’s massive. And there’s so many administrators. We have a wonderful lead principal, Joe Russo. Who’s at the helm like really great, great family, man, there’s job, a great team of administrators, elementary and secondary superintendents. But really it comes down to the teachers, the support workers, everyone who is in that trench with the child, so to speak, I hate to use that metaphor of the trench. Right. but in that playground then if you will, of the classroom, the digital classroom,


Sam Demma (34:01):
I get that makes sense.


Anthony Perrotta (34:02):
Thinking I lost you there a little bit. But it’s a, it’s a huge mechanism. Oh, can you hear me?


Sam Demma (34:11):
Yes.


Anthony Perrotta (34:13):
Can you hear me?


Sam Demma (34:14):
Yep.


Anthony Perrotta (34:15):
I can’t hear you.


Anthony Perrotta (34:19):
There you go. Now I can hear you. Okay.


Anthony Perrotta (34:22):
So when it goes, when it comes to the a virtual school, you know, it’s been a transformational experience in, in, so the Toronto Catholic school board has reasons to be proud in, in so many ways because it really is this collective effort coming together to support students in a time that none of us thought we would ever encounter, I, or thought that I would encounter in my educational career, let alone my life, something at this scale. And I think if you look at it through an objective point of view, it really is about recognizing that each student that we serve, each family is unique. So we want there to be the most holistic experience possible. That’s not to say that it’s not imperfect. It is by, you know, everything we’re we’re human beings. So none of us are, are perfect. Right. But the intentions are sound in regards to the work that I’m doing now with the virtual school and in regards to COVID teen and pandemic learning, I think we’re all in education going to really need to pause and reconfigure what teaching and learning really means.


Anthony Perrotta (35:38):
And you talked to me earlier about servant leadership, and I think we’re going to have to do a lot more around that and continue the good work we’re doing, because what COVID has shown us is it’s not about content. It’s not about tests and it’s not about quizzes. It really is out that relational human leadership that is needed. And I see it with the wonderful teachers that work with my son and daughter, they know how to gauge the kids. They know when it’s time to put away the work. And more importantly, they’ve created safe places for them. They go to school mask on happy. They don’t like when they’re put in quarantine or when they’re on lockdown, they wanna be in those spaces. Why not? Because of just the fact that they like to learn. They have my wife’s side. They are very much self-directed learners and, and, and love schooling.


Anthony Perrotta (36:37):
They do their homework. They’re excited about that type of stuff. I was excited about schooling because of the social side. I was never the tiny rule doing his homework. Yeah. but they love all aspects of, of schooling. And I think any educator that puts kids first truly first, like who is that child in front me and how can I best empower them to be the very best that they can be? And as a Catholic educator, what drives me is how can I support this student in being what God intends them to be, whatever that is. Am I providing the safe place for that? I always thought that as a teacher and imperfect, you know, there’d be times, you know, and if I had my students here, many of them would tell you, this is, you know, we’re a production classroom. Yeah. So we would produce movies.


Anthony Perrotta (37:39):
We had a end of year showcase. Every school I taught at was driven by this end of year, bigger than life showcase. And for the last six years, when I taught at an all boys school SHA not college school, the end of year showcase was happening at Yorkdale silver city. One of the biggest multiplexes in the city of Toronto and the whole year was guided towards the end of may, when all of our short films, digital movie posters, graphic media would be on display, not only projected on the big screen, but taking over the concession area. And it would be our end of your showcase on the most Grandes of scales, we had filmmakers who were partners. We were doing work with Disney Canada. We would have video with academics, with filmmakers. I mean like major Hollywood filmmakers. We would go see Steven Spielberg movie and then have a Skype with the screenwriter of that Steven Spielberg movie.


Anthony Perrotta (38:31):
Everything was exponential to the max, which was quite exciting as somebody who just loves that world. But within that space, there could be a lot of imperfection. I could lose my cool, I could pass judgment without perhaps thinking I could lose my patience. And one of the things I pride pride myself on, even as a parent, is my ability to apologize. And I would apologize to the students if there was a morning where we weren’t meeting the demands of production and, you know, I forgot where I was and maybe became impatient, right. And raised my voice, or maybe made someone feel unwelcome. Right. We’re all IM perfect. What mattered next was, do I respect that human being in a way that will make them feel welcomed and right. That will make them feel and know that I value them. And that would only happen with, Hey class yesterday. I lost my cool on Sam. That wasn’t cool of me. I apologize.


Sam Demma (39:38):
Mm.


Anthony Perrotta (39:39):
Right. Sam matters, Sam, I’m sorry, buddy. Right. I didn’t really have many high school teachers who would do that.


Sam Demma (39:46):
Yeah.


Anthony Perrotta (39:48):
And I would do that because I respected the kids, their stories, their uniqueness. So very much the first two of admit that I’m imperfect, but I will do the work to try to limit how many times that imperfections taint my journey.


Sam Demma (40:07):
I love that. That’s it’s, it’s, it’s so important I think, to own up to MI to mistakes or imperfections and we all have them. So it’s a great reminder, even for everyone listening, because it, I’m sure we could all, you know, point fingers at ourselves at those moments. But like, you’re right. What what’s important is that we, we acknowledge them and we bring them to light and apologize and make up for them. Right.


Anthony Perrotta (40:31):
Yeah. And you know, and I, no, I believe that even as a parent, you know, I, there’s been many times where, and what I love about Mike kids. They’re very, very, very self efficient as a 10 and 70 year old. And their self advocacy is like through the, through the, through the roofs, like level four, they will stand up for themselves. And that’s very much something. My wife and I have instilled in them. And that’s very much my extroverted personality where I will stand for what I believe in. I was the person in staff rooms that would say, Hey, you know, that’s perhaps not the conversation to have here. I’ve been in really courageous conversations in staff meetings where, you know, I would stand up and say, Hey, right, have we thought about this? Have we thought about this? Is it us? Are we not doing the job?


Anthony Perrotta (41:22):
And that can make people kind of uncomfortable, but that self advocacy or that willingness to engage in courageous dialogue is something I believe in and something I try to instill in my own children. So as a parent, if I discipline and let’s say, I raise my voice to my son, for example, he has no problem saying, Hey, this doesn’t make sense. Why are you raising your voice at me? Why am I being penalized when this, and this happened? And at 70 years old, old, he’ll say it. And he’s not saying it to be rude. He’s not talking back. He’s sharing what’s on his mind. And you know, I grew up first generation immigrant. My parents are Italian fresh off the boat and we didn’t talk back to our parents. Right. We didn’t as a child, I didn’t say to my dad, oh, by the way, I think you’re understanding of the, this this, this consequence is unfiting like, you’d be like, are you kidding me?


Anthony Perrotta (42:18):
Like it would be nuclear apocalypse. You know, we parent differently. And there’s been many times when I’ve said to my own children, Hey, you know what, sorry, I lost my temper there. Or you know what you were right. Right. I jumped to conclusions that didn’t happen the way it did, you know, let’s talk it out. And I think that shows my kids, hopefully that I actually do value, right. Their perspective and their sense of self worth. And that’s something I think we have to model in, in our everyday encounters with young people, the kids that are sent to us, right? These are not. So imagine the great responsibility we have when another parent or caring adults, guardian grandparents sends you this human being. It’s a huge responsibility. So we have to really ensure to check our ego out the door as much as we can.


Sam Demma (43:13):
I love it. And I think when you have those crazy conversations and you allow the other party, whether it’s a young person or, you know, any human being to, to give you feedback in any way, shape or form, it also shows in that there’s a safe space and that, you know, their opinion and voice matters. As much as it might be uncomfortable for you to hear it, you know, as it is for most of us to hear feedback that we don’t, you know want to hear at certain times, but that’s arguably when we need it most Anthony, this has been a great conversation. We talked about so many different things. Thank you so much for taking the time to do this.


Anthony Perrotta (43:49):
No, no problem. I hope by, you know, made sense to some of the ideas that I shared. I think to summarize who I am as an educator, and I’m still growing, I’m still growing really is shaped. Believe it or not by all of that film work. Hmm. You know, the two worlds are not disconnected. There’s a transcendence between the two, there’s an interconnectivity between to, and my mindset around teaching and learning. I don’t think it would be there without studying film production, knowing how to mobilize and tell the story and then sharing that with kids. I don’t think I would be where I am in terms of education and being an educator without living in a college dorm and being a counselor. I, I don’t think that the type of films I was working to tell and documentary, which were really community minded, really about being responsive to other people’s stories. Without those, I, I don’t think I’d be as open to making sure that my classroom wasn’t about me. And that’s really, for me, the end game about teaching and learning that it is not about me. It’s not about any type of prescribed rendering. I may have. It really needs to be responsive to who the student is, their families. And if that means I have to do a lot of unlearning, then that’s what I need to do. That’s what I’m called to do.


Sam Demma (45:32):
I love it. The, the student-centric like, that’s the main take. That’s my main takeaway, listening to this, you know, the students be the center of everything we do,


Anthony Perrotta (45:40):
It’s student, student students. And you know, that is could be complicated at times, especially when you’re working with adults. Right? Yeah. And I just live every day, whether I was a classroom teacher. And now as a vice principal, I’m still a teacher. I still see myself as a teacher, even though the roles are different. Yeah. Every day that I’m working, it really is what’s best for students. Got it. And that’s the guiding, that’s the guiding compass.


Sam Demma (46:09):
I love it. And if someone is listening to this and is inspired and just wants to have a conversation to dive deeper in some of your own philosophies and maybe exchange a, you know, a nice conversation, what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you?


Anthony Perrotta (46:23):
They could reach me on Twitter. I, I love using Twitter as a professional learning network, so many wonderful educators. So anyone who would like to chat and, you know, have a good dialogue about education and what teaching and learning is now and what is potentially going to need to be, please reach out. This is all part of the learning. There’s no right or wrong concept or thinking. It’s all about that shared experience of having a good dialogue. So yeah, look forward to it.


Sam Demma (46:49):
Awesome. Anthony, thank you so much. And keep up the great work.


Anthony Perrotta (46:52):
Thank you, buddy. Thanks so much.


Sam Demma (46:54):
And there you have it. Another amazing guest, an amazing interview on the High Performing Educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review so other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show; f you want meet the guest on today’s episode, if you wanna meet any of the guests that we have interviewed, consider going to www.highperformingeducator.com and signing up to join the exclusive network, you’ll have access to networking events throughout 2021 and other special opportunities. And I promise I will not fill your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Anthony Perrotta

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.

Jason Schilling – President of the Alberta Teachers Association

Jason Schilling – President of the Alberta Teachers Association
About Jason Schilling

Jason Schilling (@schill_dawg) was elected president in 2019 following two years of service as vice-president and more than eight years of service as district representative for South West. Prior to his election as President of the ATA, Schilling taught English and drama teacher at Kate Andrews High School, in Coaldale, where he worked for 17 years.

Schilling is a proud graduate of the University of Lethbridge. Schilling’s assignments as president include chairing the CTF (Canadian Teachers’ Federation) Committee, serving
as a member of the Strategic Planning Group and the Teacher Salary Qualifications Board, and acting as Provincial Executive Council liaison to the English Language Arts Council. He also represents the Association on the CTF Board of Directors.

Connect with Jason: Email | Instagram | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Alberta Teachers’ Association (ATA)

English Language Arts Council at the ATA

Kate Andrews High School School Website

Drama at the University of Lethbridge

Canadian Teachers’ Federation (CTF)

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):
Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. I’m super excited for today’s interview with Jason Schilling. He was the elected President in 2019 for the Alberta Teachers Association, following two years of service as vice president, and more than eight years of service as district representative for Southwest. Prior to his election as president of the ATA, Schilling taught english and drama at Kate Andrews High School in Coaldale, where he worked for 17 years. Schilling is a proud graduate at the University of Lethbridge, and his assignments as president include chairing the Canadian Teachers Federation Committee, serving as a member of the strategic planning group and the teachers salary qualifications, board, and acting as provincial executive council liaison to the english language arts council.


Sam Demma (01:27):
Ah, that’s a lot of words. He also represents the association on the CDF board of directors. All that aside, Jason is an awesome human being with a lot of wisdom to share. I hope you enjoy today’s episode and take something valuable away from it. I’ll see you on the other side, enjoy. Jason, welcome to the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show today. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit behind why you’re so passionate about the work you do in education?


Jason Schilling (01:56):
Well, thanks Sam for having me in it. I really appreciate the opportunity to be here and have a conversation with you today about the things that I love, which is education and teaching, and I’ve always found teaching to be a joy. It’s one of the things that has been a great fit for me as a profession because I, I love working with children. I love working with students and helping them in the capacity of helping them grow and learn. I teach english and drama. Those are my two main areas. I am a drama major actually, but you can’t always find a drama job so you end up teaching other things as well. But I fell into English because there’s a, there’s the way those two really marry together quite nicely and, and things like that as well.


Jason Schilling (02:38):
From the Lethbridge area, I taught around Lethbridge my entire career and it’s started off in a small school in Vulcan teaching junior high and then worked my way up into high school. Then I switched to where I was teaching before I became President at Kate Andrews in Coaldale. And when I became president of the association, I had to go on leave from my teaching job and relocate to Edmonton in order to do this work and I knew that was a factor that I’d have to do in my life, but the day that I had to leave my school was one of the hardest days of my career because I, I built these relationships up with students and colleagues and the community over 17 years; and so then when I left, it was, it was pretty hard. And I miss teaching every day, but it’s also a really good reminder of why I do the work that I do now as association President.


Sam Demma (03:30):
I love that. And if you take me back to, you know, younger Jason, not that you’re old or anything, but like, you know, Jason right before St. Art in your career as a teacher how did you know that that was the path for you? Was there educators in your life that directed you down that path because they thought you had those associated characteristics and skills or from a young age, did you just know, you know, this is what I wanna do. Like, you know, gimme more context on how you landed in this profession.


Jason Schilling (03:59):
No, that’s a great question. When I was in junior high, you know, I was that typical kind of socially awkward little weird kind of kid in junior high, right? Yeah. And so I had this really great language arts drama teacher in grade seven. And I just always thought in my mind during that point, this would be all right. That would be a cool job, you know, and, you know, she was really great. And she, she worked with us really well and I felt it was one of the first times I remember in school feeling like somebody saw me. Right. Mm. And, and, you know, I had great teachers all through school, but this was a, you know, this, I was just something about this teacher that really kind of, kind of hit that mark. And that’s always in the back of my mind, but it was interesting when I went to university, I was a marketing major.


Jason Schilling (04:47):
I was going to get into advertising. That was my, my initial plan. And I remember, you know, university left bridges where I got my undergrad degree. It’s a liberal arts university. So you have to take all of these other subjects within the list requirements as they like to detail of them. So I ended up taking drama, which I never taken drama before. I was too shy. I was too chicken to do it as a junior high kid, no way would that ever happen. And I just remember my prop, I had there just said to me, he goes, this economics marketing thing that you’re doing, doesn’t sit you on you. Well, it doesn’t fit you, you well. And the drama class was just super easy. And then he, he tapped me on the shoulder to be in the main stage production at the university.


Jason Schilling (05:29):
And just from there, I, I changed my major. I got into drama education because it was a way to to take sort of the things that I, I really enjoyed working on. I think students really grow through the fine arts courses especially in drama. I’ve been able to, to work with students who are super shy and awkward. Like I was as a, you know, junior high kid and put them into a, a, a play where they just shine and they come out of their shell and they, and you see this growth and it’s phenomenal. And, and you kind of learn that through university when you’re working on that with students. And it just sort of came from there. And once I got into that sort of drama education part in university it changed the whole dynamics of going to university. It was suddenly became much easier. It was a joy to be there. The work was hard and the hours were long, but I didn’t mind doing it because it was, I was doing something that I love. And I, I’m very fortunate that I had on people who kind of pushed me in that direction to, to do that because you know, I, you know, some days are hard, but it’s what you love. And so you just keep doing it. So it’s great.


Sam Demma (06:32):
You, you mentioned that the day you left your school to move into the, you know, this president role of this association was one of the toughest days of your life. But that reminds you now why the work you’re doing is so important. What do you mean by that? Tell me more about the work you do now and how it relates to education and why you think it’s so important.


Jason Schilling (06:52):
Well, part of my role as, as association president is that the ATA you is you know, part of our mandate is to promote an advanced public education in Alberta. Nice. And I’ve just seen the benefits of public education for my students myself you know, I’ve gone to public school. All my university degrees are from pub arcade or from public universities in Alberta. I just know the benefits of public education and we need to fight for it because I always believe, and I’ve, I’ve said this a few times in other places as well. I think you, you fight for what you value and what you believe in. Hmm. And that’s why this role is important to me, it’s challenging. There’s some good, like everybody else, there’s some good days in there some bad days. But I carry with me, you know, that it experience of my, my teaching career. And I’ll end up probably going back to teaching once I’m done with this role as well with my colleagues and my students, and just knowing that education’s important to them as well, because they value it and they believe it as well. And I took a bunch of my mentors that I had in my classroom that I have collected over the years, and I have them in my office in Edmonton, because they’re just there as a visual reminder as well of the reason why we’re doing the work that we’re doing


Sam Demma (08:07):
Beautiful. And COVID 19 introduced some interesting challenges not only in, you know, every school, but I’m, I’m assuming also in the association and everywhere could the world, what are some of the challenges that have, that have come up and how have you and your team trying to tried to address them and overcome them?


Jason Schilling (08:28):
Well, definitely. And it’s been, it’s been a huge challenge and a difficult year for teachers and even staff working at the association because every way that we’ve normally have done things has changed and has been altered. And the things that we thought would be temporary have become sort of these permanent mainstays in our lives right now. And, you know, we still have lots of pandemic ahead of us. And so we’ll still be doing these things for, for months to come, even though vaccinations are coming, but we’re still seeing an increase in, you know, variance and other things around that as well for teachers, they literally had to change how they were interacting with their students overnight when classes were canceled last March. And they did a phenomenal job. Some days weren’t great. Some things worked, some things didn’t work. It was hard to connect with all of our students because one of the things I think the, the pandemic EC has done as well is highlighted the inequalities that we have within our system.


Jason Schilling (09:19):
Not every student has access to technology, not every student is able to you know, connect at home because they might be sharing a computer with their parents and their siblings, or, or just a multitude of things that came up, you know, poverty, income, security, all sorts of came up with this as well. And so that was a lot, a big challenge for us to manage at that time and still to do that at this point, as well as trying to deal with health protocols and now, you know, close it or schools that might have to close because they have a COVID case and moving everybody online, then coming back in for myself as a, you know, president, I usually tens of thousands of kilometers a year. Yeah. And so it’s it’s a little bit of isolating in that fact that a lot of my work has done sort of how we’re talking today through zoom. But you know, it’s, it, you just keep doing it, you just get up and you keep working to make sure that you’re connecting and engaging with members and being able to hear what they’re saying in terms of their experience, and then turning around and advocating for them down the road with you know, ministry staff and such.


Sam Demma (10:23):
And I also believe that every adversity challenge, you know, also plant there’s a seed somewhere planted of an opportunity within that adversity year challenge. And, you know, one of them is to create more, you know, equitable school. I’m curious to know what are some of the opportunities that you’re seeing as well, or the shifts that you’re seeing that you think are great and are good to be having in conversations that are happening within schools and within the association?


Jason Schilling (10:51):
Well, I know through the last little part in March and June, where teachers were working online, a lot of collabo between teachers in terms of making, you know, talking to one another and their school leaders or principals about connecting with kids and connecting with parents and making sure that lessons were being delivered. And it really started to spark a conversation towards the end of the school year about assessment and what are we assessing in school and what are the things that we need to be assessing in what’s a priority and what’s important. And those are really good conversations to have, because teaching it to me is always reflective, look back at what you’re doing, where you’re going with with things like that. And then to analyze that. So the, the conversation around assessment has been a really good one. Like, do we need to have diploma exams and provincial achievement tests?


Jason Schilling (11:37):
Like, are they capturing what students are truly learning? And we know that they don’t. And so to keep those things going forward is important. And it’s also really highlighted, I think the importance of relationships, we know that relationships are key when it comes to teaching with students, with each your colleagues in the building with their parents in the community that really highlighted that over this last year. You know, I talked to teachers who they don’t like having to go online because they want to be in the room with their students face to face, even though they’re wearing a mask and have to do, try to do social distancing as best as they can. They still want to be in that space with their students, working with them in that capacity, because trying to connect with people is really difficult through a screen.


Jason Schilling (12:20):
And for a variety of reasons you know, some kids might not turn on their cameras and and things like that. So that makes it even harder. And we also kind of learned, you know, the inequities that we have with some of our students and that we have a greater need in terms of society to address those things such as poverty even connected to the wifi is one of them. And of course, I think one of the biggest conversations that we’ve been having and still need to have in the future will be around mental health and supports around mental health as well.


Sam Demma (12:52):
I love that. And you, and we’re living in a time where students bedrooms have been transformed into the classroom, and some students are rolling outta bed and turning on their, you know, computer to join class. And it’s just as stressful and difficult for the teachers sometimes. And I would even assume yourself, like, I, I’m not sure if you’re, you’re doing this interview from an office or for, you know, from a place in your home, right. You have beautiful pictures behind you and it looks great which is awesome. You have a nice microphone, which is great. But how do you balance that work in life when they’re both? So, you know, closely intertwined personally? I just, just a very curious, personal question.


Jason Schilling (13:27):
No, it’s, it’s, it’s a really a great question because I’m actually, yeah, I am talking to you today, actually from my apartment in, in Edmonton. So I I’m working from home today because I’ve had that, that luxury being able to do that, but I do go to the office quite a bit as well, just to find that balance and that normality in life, I think COVID is really altered a lot of the normals that we, we normal. We, I’m gonna keep saying normal over and over again. Yeah. It’s gonna alter, it’s all altered the way that we’ve done our lives professionally and personally. And so I do go to the office just because some days it’s easier to, to do that, the work that I need to get done that day there, but also it allows me periodically to see other human beings.


Jason Schilling (14:10):
Right. So I might, you know, I try to time things sometimes with my assistant, because maybe there’s some, some documents I need to sign, or we need to talk about some things that are in the, the plans and works like that. So we try to, to focus that as well, or if we have a big media event such as the curriculum was just released here on Monday some of the com the communications people might come into the office as well. And, and then we’re able to do that work together because it’s easier that way. So finding that balance is it’s hard it’s because when you’re working from home and I’m not sure about your situation, Sam working from home, your work is just sitting on the kitchen table. Yep. Right. And it’s always there. And so you just end up working longer and, and, and things like that. And it’s, it’s important to find balance and to, to, you know, get outside and, and do the things that you can in a safe manner that are, are protecting yourself and others.


Sam Demma (14:59):
It brings, it brings the conversation back to that topic of mental health, right. Addressing student mental health, but also staff and human, mental health, the whole, the whole world should be addressing that. What do you, you think is important around, you know, addressing mental health in the next couple of years? Like, what do you envision or think should be happening more in schools to support that in relation to students and staff?


Jason Schilling (15:22):
Well, that’s a great question. And I think it’s a great question that a lot of us need to have conversations with our elected officials about because you know, I’ve, I’ve insane that I don’t think anybody is untouched by the effects of the pandemic. Some will feel it differently than others and that’s just human nature. That’s the way that we are. But I think one of the things, you know, coming from a small rural school is you, we would only have a counselor in our building maybe one day a week. Right. But the, the the effects of the pandemic make, or the mental health needs of our students, they come to school every day. And so we need more support that way in terms of having counselors in buildings working with students helping staff as well in terms of the support that they have.


Jason Schilling (16:05):
I mean, staff are able to access health benefits if they have them substitute teachers don’t necessarily have those support, but other staff do, and to make sure that they’re, they’re taking care of themselves and getting over the stigma of taking care of your mental health as part of your health, I’ve always been saying to teachers through this whole time, and I, I’m a victim of it myself, you know, it’s okay not to be okay. And it’s okay to have bad. I have them too, but just work and, and, and chat with people and try to support that and, and making sure that you’re taking care of yourself. That’s key. And we also need to make sure that you know, government is providing those means of support for that and making it a priority as we move forward.


Sam Demma (16:50):
I agree. And I’ve experimented with some like, different things like meditation, and, you know, there’s stigma along with that too. Right. Like, you know, just talking about mental health is, is it shouldn’t be, but it, you know, historically has been a touchy topic. But you tell someone, oh, I’m meditating. And you know, my friend’s like, what are you a monk? I’m like, no, what are you talking about? Like, this is something that I do to quiet my thoughts, quiet my mind, and start my day off on the right foot. And I think it’s so important to normalize those things in schools. Like I, I don’t know. Do you think in the next couple years, wellness will be like a, you know, something that’s very implemented in schools and social, emotional learning.


Jason Schilling (17:29):
Yeah. I think we need to make the idea of wellness as, as normalized as part possible that these are just the things that I do, whether you meditate, I run, right. And so you know, I get out there and I strap my shoes on and I, there’s not a, I say, there’s not a, there’s not a problem. I can’t solve on a good 10 mile run. Nice. And and things like that as well. And I’ve actually even said to students in the past, you know, I could have marked these assignments, but I went for run instead. Just because I’m going to be a much happier teacher for you today because I went for a run yesterday and I’ve actually had students in the past. Sometimes that we’ve, if I’m might be having a particularly cranky day, they’ll like, could you go for a run today when you’re done school?


Jason Schilling (18:12):
And, and then maybe when you come back tomorrow, you might be a little bit more pleasant and I’m like, duly note it. So, I mean, we all have those things in there that we, it just, we have to make this an ingrained part of our life and know that wellness is important for us in all aspects of our lives. And the pandemic is really showing that as well, because it’s really highlighted the things that we’re missing from our lives, maybe in terms of personal relationships and our professional relationships, and then trying to find a way to rectify that so that we can just be better or happier as we move down the road.


Sam Demma (18:45):
I agree. I totally agree. And, you know, we, we mentioned relationships earlier and how, you know, that’s one of the things that you noticed, you know, as a, something that’s super important that came up during COVID 19 and maintaining relationships how do you think we continue building relationships virtually? Is it by just, you know, phone calls and checking in with the teachers and, you know, having them check in with their students, like, yeah. How do you think we build those relationships?


Jason Schilling (19:11):
Well, ideally, I mean, in person is always gonna be better. Yeah. I mean, we, we do have these virtual things and there’s ways to, to stay connected with that. I don’t know you know, I talk to a lot of my colleagues and, you know, my friends and family I’ll do the zoom thing, but periodically I just like to pick up a phone yeah. And just call somebody. So instead of, you know, I always say if my email chain gets more than five, I’m phoning that person just to talk to them about it because after a point you just lose that. And so it’s hard and it’s not ideal, but you just do the things that you can do. And I know Christmas holidays was difficult for a lot of people and I didn’t have the chance to spend it with my family for the first time in a long time. And so we, we still managed to have Christmas dinner. We just did it by FaceTime. And we were kind of weird at first, but then at the end it was, it wasn’t bad. It was okay actually. And it wasn’t, it wasn’t too bad. And, you know, when it came dishes time, you could just, instead of having to do them, just click end then,


Sam Demma (20:09):
And then you put on your shoes and went for a,


Jason Schilling (20:12):
Yeah. I’m not sure it’s Christmas time. It was kind of cold, but I don’t know if I would,


Sam Demma (20:17):
So, yeah, that’s awesome. That’s amazing. And you know, if you could give advice, there’s educators listening to this right now who maybe burnt out right now, who may also, you know, couldn’t see their family for Christmas, who, who have been question whether or not the work they’re doing is making a difference. And, you know, they may even be thinking about, you know, leaving or quitting. You know, what advice could you share as someone who knows how important education is and educators are on the lives of our youth? What advice could you share that might be helpful? You know, imagine you were talking to a friend of yours, who’s a teacher.


Jason Schilling (20:50):
Well, and I have these conversations with teachers all the time over this last year about feeling overwhelmed or burned out by the requirements and, and things like that, of what they have to do, or working with the health protocols or carrying the stress of, you know, trying to keep a class of the 30 kids safe through the course of the year so that they don’t get ill. Is that time it’s okay to, to step back a little bit from the pressures and it’s okay to say no to some things, and I’m, I’m not, I’m not doing that. Or I’m not running book club this year. If I was at school, actually in the classroom right now, there would be no way I’d be doing a drama production this year. Just on top of everything else that needs to be done. It’s okay to take a break from that stuff.


Jason Schilling (21:33):
It’s also, I would just say, you know, talking to people we sometimes get stuck in our heads over things, or we, we, we see a lot of negativity maybe within social media, stuff like that. And, and it’s hard to put that down but to put it to, to try to find ways to support mental health and, and things like that as well. And also talking with your colleagues, because if you might be struggling with some aspect on something, they might be as well. And just finding ways teachers work very well collaboratively. And so finding that space in that time, I was really appreciative of this last year. We had a couple school boards in the fall, actually changed a couple of their PD days into just wellness days and just gave everybody the day off. And it was around the remembrance day weekend.


Jason Schilling (22:18):
And I thought that was a really good approach. Not saying, okay, well, kids, you have the day off teachers, you have to do all this extra work. And they just said, no, here’s the day off. And so I think that’s important for employers as well to, to look at what’s happening and saying, okay, we need breaks. Let’s not try to cram everything in cuz this year’s not normal. And I’ve always cautioned people from normalizing this year. Nothing about this year is normal. Nothing about the way that you’re teaching is normal. And it’s okay if you don’t get to everything because a resilient I’ve, you know, I’ve taught for English 20, 30 for 20 years. I know what I need to do in the curriculum as a professional to make sure that my students are reaching the outcomes that they need to have in order to move on to the next grade, teachers are professionals and they’ll do that. And so it just, you know, having that conversation with them and saying, you know, it’s all right, it’s, we’re all in the same boat together. And, and to just reach out that way. So


Sam Demma (23:13):
I love that I was talking to another educator the other day and, you know, we were, you know, talking about the situation, but trying to make it a little more lighthearted by like laughing about some things. And she said, you know, we’re all in the same boat and the boat’s the Titanic. I was like, relax. Like I, I know I totally get it. And you know, like yourself, I’ve had lots of conversations on this with this project on this podcast. And yeah, I think it’s important to have those people in your life that you can talk to and have conversations with and realize that it’s okay to take a day off. I’m curious to know personally what is, what is the first thing you’re looking forward to once this passes blows over the world opens up per like what is the first thing that you’ll be doing at that moment?


Jason Schilling (23:58):
Joe, what’s funny is I’m, I’m often known for not being a hugger. And so I, you know, when I keep saying to people, when this is all over, I’m still going to keep that six foot rule away from me at all times. And there people are like, we are gonna give you a hug. That’s great. I think it’s one of those things is I’m just looking forward to being able to spend time, you know, with my parents and my family. And, you know, I have a sister who lives in the states and that, and being able to see them in and for probably well over a year now. Right. And so just getting to, to be around people in that capacity, we’re, you’re just not afraid at the time and, and, and stuff like that as well. So that’ll be the biggest one. Yeah, yeah.


Sam Demma (24:40):
Yeah. You know, as long as everyone stays six feet apart, right.


Jason Schilling (24:42):
As long as there’s just not some big hug I’ll be working with.


Sam Demma (24:46):
That’s awesome. Jason, thank you so much for taking the time to chat today about education and you know, it’s important and why you’re so passionate about it, and some of the things that you’re observing and seeing. If someone wanted to reach out, you know, send you an email you probably already have a lot of those, but if someone did wanna reach out to you, what would be the best way for them to get in touch and maybe have a conversation?


Jason Schilling (25:06):
Actually the best way is just through email and it’s just jason.schilling@ata.ab.ca. And I always, I always say to teachers, I try to get back to everybody. Even the hate mail that I get, I always respond to those as well but not always as quickly as I would like to sometimes; just always depends on what’s going on.


Sam Demma (25:28):
Sounds great. Again, thank you so much. This was awesome and I look forward to staying in touch and watching the great work you do.


Jason Schilling (25:34):
You bet, Sam. Thanks very much. I appreciate it.


Sam Demma (25:36):
And there you have it. Another amazing guest, an amazing interview on the High Performing Educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review so other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show; f you want meet the guest on today’s episode, if you wanna meet any of the guests that we have interviewed, consider going to www.highperformingeducator.com and signing up to join the exclusive network, you’ll have access to networking events throughout 2021 and other special opportunities. And I promise I will not fill your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Jason Schilling

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.

Brandi Rai – President of the Alberta School Councils’ Association

Brandi Rai – President of the Alberta School Councils’ Association
About Brandi Rai

Brandi Rai (@rai_brandi) has a passion for public education – to ensure it prepares children to be leaders in our world.

Married, with five children in grades 5 through 10, and many pets, Brandi lives in Edmonton. She has served as an executive on multiple school councils, is involved with fundraising societies, and is a frequent school volunteer, with a lifelong goal of serving others.

She is drawn to ASCA’s support of school councils in the province because it ensures that all parents have the opportunity for engagement and the ability to determine their definition of effectiveness within their local communities.

Parent voice in education is crucial to student success. Education is a foundational pillar in society and having equitable access to public education is vital for Albertans.

Brandi attended her first ASCA Annual General Meeting (AGM) in 2014 and was elected as a Board Director at the 2016 AGM. She was elected Vice President at the 2018 AGM, and elected President at the 2020 AGM.

Connect with Brandi: Email | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Alberta School Councils’ Association (ASCA)

Alberta School Council’s Association Conference and AGM

Expanding Mental Health Supports in Schools

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):
Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator Podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. I’m super excited to bring you today’s interview. Our guest, our special guest is Brandi Rai. Brandi has a passion for public education to ensure it prepares children to be leaders in our world. She is married with five children in grade five through 10, and has many pets.


Sam Demma (00:58):
She is also from Edmonton and she has served as executive on multiple school councils, is involved with fundraising societies, and is a frequent school volunteer with a lifelong goal of serving others, and it’s very evident that that’s something that is very close to her heart as you will learn in today’s interview. She is drawn to ASCA; the Alberta School Council Association support of school councils in the province because it ensures that all parents have the opportunity for engagement and the ability, the ability to determine their definition of effectiveness within their local communities. Being that she is a parent of five kids, she definitely wants to make sure that her schools are being run as effective as possible. She believes that parent voice and education is crucial to student success and at the heart of everything she believes is that education is a foundational pillar in society, and having equitable access to public education is vital for Albertans, but for everyone in the world. I hope you enjoy today’s interview. Brandy Rai is a phenomenal human being doing such amazing work in education. I will see you on the others side, enjoy. Brandi, thank you so much for coming on the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show this morning. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit behind the reason why you’re so passionate about the work you do in education today.


Brandi Rai (02:22):
Thank you so much for having me. And so I am the mother of five children who are neurodiverse, they are biracial, and they are queer. And so having, having a family that is full of diversity and full of wonderful young souls who are trying to navigate a world that is not always made for them has really inspired me to lean in and to volunteer and to actively work, to create an education system that is equitable and meant for all children. And then additionally, I am married to a teacher, and so education is in every aspect of our life, whether we’re volunteering or we’re working or we’re trying to help our children through their, through their lessons. So I’m very involved because I need to be involved. These are my people and I want to do good for them.


Sam Demma (03:09):
I love that. And you know, you mentioned your kids, all five of them that you have. Are they a big motivator and driver behind the work that you do and, and why? Like if you had to give me some, some reasons?


Brandi Rai (03:23):
Well, I think that, I think that most parents are engaged and involved in their children’s education. And I know that it looks very different depending on what families, what their work schedule looks like or what their culture looks like. And also what experiences they’ve had in education a four, because they, they may not have always been positive for that family and the generations before them. And so for, for me, it has been, you know, my children are going away from me and they’re learning and they’re navigating their life and their relationships in, in, in school and class. And I think that what the, the light bulb moment that happened for me is my children are spending more time away from me during a school year than they are with me. Yeah. And so those people and those interactions are really shaping the young citizens that my babies are going to be.


Brandi Rai (04:10):
And so I am, of course I am their parent and I am an expert in my child, but schools are the resources that I am using to help them educate and navigate the world. And so it is very important that I remain connected to those schools that I volunteer in those schools and that I have a voice in the education system in terms of advising you know, my principal and my school board, even the education minister. So I show up because my kids matter to me and all children matter to me. And so, because I have the time and the, and the ability to do these things at this season of my life, that’s why I’m doing what I do.


Sam Demma (04:47):
Ah, that’s so cool. And when did you start getting involved? Like was your whole career in education or when you started having kids, you decided to get involved? Like what, tell me a little bit about how it actually manifested in your life.


Brandi Rai (05:01):
Yeah, so I actually, so I had children young, so my first child was born when I was 20. Yes. And so then whenever they went into kindergarten you know, just volunteering in the classroom, it just looks like, you know, going and helping cut things and do things with art and then it really morphed into yes, parents are important volunteers, but did you also know that they have a role in advising principal? Did you know that they have a role in understanding board policy and influencing board policy? And I didn’t know those things until I knew those things. And so once I got a taste of it’s really important that I’m, you know, reading with the, with the students or I’m you know, helping fundraise for, you know, more technology that, you know, because education is vastly underfunded in our province. So whether I’m doing those things or I’m sitting down with a principal and, and looking at time tables and saying, yeah, this would really work for junior high and this is how families feel about this. When those things came into focus for me and I realized I could have a piece of that voice I lit up and I leaned in. Mm.


Sam Demma (06:04):
Ah, so that’s so awesome. And what did your initial involvement look like? I know now, you know, you have a huge role with the all of Alberta, but when you first started, what was the, what, what did the initial role role look like?


Brandi Rai (06:17):
Well, I, so initially I started as a volunteering classrooms, you know, going on field trips in the classroom fundraising, and then for school council, I went and I was a, I was a school council member who attended and listened to the meeting, participated when needed. And then when we had our elections, I became secretary. And so you take the minutes for the school council and used, send out the agenda, you do the things that your chair would need you to do. And that’s how I started. And then it, it, you know, I became vice chair and, you know, at one point I had four children. I had five children in four different schools. And so I was on the executive of each school council and I might have been in different roles, but I was active in all those. And, and, and so there was a huge time commitment right.


Brandi Rai (07:02):
To doing that. And then eventually my school council, we, we went to the Alberta school council’s association conference and AGM. And so a trustee had talked to me about that. And a principal had talked to me about that and a fellow council member had talked to me about that. And, and I went, and I was amazed at the professional development opportunities that were available for parents to be engaged partners in education. And that was the next step that I took. I said, okay, this is how I’m impacting change locally. This is how I’m making my school community a more vibrant, inclusive space. And now I can lend my voice to a provincial landscape. And so that was the next step that I decided to take.


Sam Demma (07:40):
And as the parent of five kids yourself, who obviously you were super engaged in all of their, you know, student activities and within all of their schools, why do you believe that parent engagement is so essential and important in relation to student success? And how do we engage more parent during this interesting, crazy time?


Brandi Rai (08:03):
So that’s a, that’s a wonderful question. Thank you. And I think that so studies have shown that parents who are engaged and involved in their education, those students have higher success rates. And sometimes that can be defined as completion of high school or, you know, higher on standardized tests, those sorts of things. But what I really look for is that parent engagement that helps students become global citizens who are well regulated and can co-regulate their peers. And, and it’s that success that I believe that parents have a wonderful hand in because the school is helping with curricular outcomes. The school is helping with, you know, basic behavioral standards, but it’s the parents who re enforce that whenever those children come home, it’s the parents who, who say, oh, tell me more. They lean in and they nurture their children. And then they nurture their school communities whenever they volunteer and they help shape the culture at those schools.


Brandi Rai (08:52):
So I think that it’s, it’s the parents that solidify the learning that happens at school. And that’s why that relationship is so important. And then additionally, I think that it’s important that systems recognize that parents are partners in education. And so they do more than just inform inform the parents about decisions that are being made because and I think that we can all recognize this when you take the time to engage and consult with stakeholders and parents are a major stakeholder in education, they have more buy-in to whatever decisions are being made. So if you tell me that something is happening, but you don’t include me in any of the process, I may, I may not agree with it. I may revolt against it. I may not be an active participant in making sure that it becomes meaningful meaningfully implemented. But if you engage me the whole time, if you consult with me the whole time, then I have buy-in. I see my voice, I see the, I see the, the need for these changes to happen, and then I help with implementation. And so I think that from a system perspective, student success is impacted when parents are brought a lot on the journey rather than being told what the journey is.


Sam Demma (09:58):
Mm oh, I love that. That’s awesome. And how do we bring more parents into the journey right now? So like, I know I would assume, and I could be wrong yeah. That with COVID maybe parents feel a little more disconnected to their students and their school activities. Maybe it’s the reverse. Maybe, maybe you can tell me what you guys have been seeing in the province of Alberta and how can we still get parents involved and engaged during this crazy time?


Brandi Rai (10:24):
So I think that, yeah, so this, so the last year and a half has been, you know, obviously an anomaly. And so there is a huge disconnect that’s happening for many parents across Alberta, because we are not physically able to go volunteer in the schools. There is different communications that are happening because most of our communication is now based on emails. Or we hold our school council meetings virtually to, you know, in order to be able to respect health protocols. And so you don’t have the support of your parent community. You’re not talking to each other at pickup or after, you know, a dance performance or those sorts of things. You are extremely disconnected from your parent community. You’re additionally disconnected from your admin because all communication comes in either black and white or through a virtual platform. And so you, you’re not having the same opportunities, which means that you also don’t feel connected or, and you also don’t wanna step on toast.


Brandi Rai (11:15):
So you don’t wanna say, well, I don’t really sense some of the things that are happening, but you don’t wanna be a burden in asking for clarification or, or the ability to give your input, because you already know that the system is stressed, the adminis stress, right? So there has been, this has been a huge year of disconnect across our province in many ways. And then the flip side of that is when there’s disconnect, we are, we are wired for connection. Yeah. So when there is disconnect, we will actively seek solutions to fill in those gaps. And so we’re having council meetings virtually we’re, we’re increasing, you know, school councils and parents are increasing sharing things on social media. And that is why that, that is the, there has been an uptake in the things that are happening in education in a different way this year, partially because everybody’s getting a lot of information on social media, because that is the only connection point that they might have.


Brandi Rai (12:06):
And so, and we know how that, that can be good and bad, but we know how easy that is. So maybe I, you know, maybe I’m at the end of the day and I don’t have time to go through, you know, on my school zone or, or my power school and like read all the things. But if I connect to my school council Facebook page, or if I’m on Twitter and I see some things that are coming out around the new curriculum that might peak my interest, that’s an engagement point. That’s a touch point that lights a fire in me to do more in education. So there are some positive, even though we have been extremely disconnected this year.


Sam Demma (12:37):
I love that. And I think there’s always positives, even in every negative situation. It’s just up to us to go ahead and look for them. Right. without darkness, you can’t have a bonfire. Bonfires are beautiful. Right?


Brandi Rai (12:50):
I love that. Yes.


Sam Demma (12:51):
Right. Question for you, you, what exactly is a school council, I would consider you and your association like the experts of school councils what exactly is a school council and why are they so important and essential to schools?


Brandi Rai (13:08):
Well, no pressure to get that question. Right. Thank you for that. So, so yeah, so a school council and, and it might look different across the province, depending on that school community, but a school council. They have members parents or community members that would like to be part of the school council. The principal is also a member of the school council and a teacher designation, and then a, a teacher designated representative. And then additionally, if you’re in older grades, you might have a student representative attends. And so basically it’s, it’s parents and community members and possibly students who come and they, they work with admin on issues related to the school. And so a school council’s job is to advise the principal on any issue relating to the school. So maybe that’s the school’s plan. Maybe that’s the, like the, the school’s, you know, in, and some of the districts, they schools have three year plans.


Brandi Rai (13:57):
And so maybe you’re advising towards that. Maybe you’re maybe you’re advising towards the budget, you know, schools get budgets. And what are the priorities that parents also identify are really important places to spend that money knowing that the principal has final decision making in any decision related to a school then additionally school councils also in buys to their school boards. And so their school board might be engaging them on any changes that are happening within the district, you know, related to transportation or fees, or scheduling those sorts of things. And then higher, higher things such as right now, you know, the new curriculum draft, those are things that boards would be engaging with school councils around. And then additionally the Alberta school council’s association is the provincial voice for school councils in our province. And so school councils, can we, we have a variety of resources that help school councils understand their role.


Brandi Rai (14:49):
And so we believe that the empowerment and the respect and engagement of school councils is important for student success. And the way that we help that happen is we empower schools to learn how to be active in their own communities and to be local advocates, to, to affect change in their communities as needed or to support the culture as it is. And then we have we have an upcoming conference in AGM where we provide professional development for school council members. And then additionally, we have our AGM where members themselves have put. And so when we say members, we actually mean the school council as a whole, so not individual parents, but those school council members have put forward resolutions that then become advocacy policies that we advocate for. So for example, you know, years ago, there was a resolution that came forward related to class size and the importance of there being lower class size numbers for supporting student success.


Brandi Rai (15:41):
And so that then became an advocacy policy that we then advocate for. And it can be utilized in a variety of ways, not just in standard years, but specifically in a year where there has been COVID the importance of having smaller class sizes to mitigate the risk of spread. So that was a really long answer to say lots of things. But the, the main thing that I think that is important is that their, you know, school captures school councils are captured in legislation and regulations, and they have a role. They have a legitimate role in education. Parent voice is, is locally important. And then it goes all the way up to every table that we can carry that voice to through ASCA, as we talk with like trustees, superintendents, secretary treasurers the teachers association, any other major stakeholder group in education the Alberta school, council’s Associa this caring parent voice through school councils to that table.


Sam Demma (16:35):
And if you could speak to, you know, educators and principals outside of even Alberta and everywhere and be the bridge between, you know, a student and what they need to know about students right now, because you’re a, you’re a parent of five kids who are all in school. Like what could you share with a, you know, a principal or an educator who might not have kids that are in school right now and say, Hey, like, this is what kids or my kids are struggling with, which probably is the same struggles for most kids in certain ways and shapes like what could you relate to them to kind of say like, this is what you’re not seeing or not hearing right now.


Brandi Rai (17:10):
So I think that it’s, I think that right now what most parents and school counselors are talking about is mental health. And so they’re saying that, you know, my child’s mental health has been severely impacted and there is no support system readily available that my child can access in a timely or affordable manner to, to help with these, these issues that are happening. So that’s one thing that I know right now that parents on school councils are bringing up. The other thing is that through the years, we have really talked about the importance of, of school community. So teachers and admin, you know, relating to their students in ways that let the students give feedback and the students own the culture. And that’s really important because I can say, well, this is what my child is, is experiencing, and this is what they need.


Brandi Rai (17:54):
But as a parent, I believe that it is, it is actually more important that the teachers in the admin listen to my babies, they need to be talking to my babies about what the culture looks like in a school at their level, because we can have policies place. We can have wonderful conversations and metrics that we measure things by. But if the lived experience of those students does not reflect those policies and the intent of those policies, then it’s all for not. And so that is why it’s important that that educators be looping back to students and then be including parents in that dialogue as well.


Sam Demma (18:26):
And you started this interview by talking about the important of, you know, equity in equality in schools. What does an equitable school in your eyes look like? And, you know, how can we strive towards creating more equity within our schools?


Brandi Rai (18:41):
That is the, that is the universal question of, of how to how to solve all the problems in education. So just so, so no pressure, I guess, no pressure. So I think whenever I try to just collapse it down to the core of what it is that I’m asking for, I’m saying that equity and education and equitable access means that students in rural locations have the same opportunity and quality of education that students in metros would have. And I think that that is, and also the same inclusivity and the same opportunities. So, so I think that there is, there are definitely barriers when you travel across Alberta in terms of location and funding. And, and I think that equitable to me means that there is consistent quality and standards that are applied across education so that all, all students have access to the same opportunities within education that, that we know are meaningful for them.


Brandi Rai (19:37):
And for, for so long, I think that we’ve talked about you know, we’ve, we’ve boiled it down to, to funding and all of these different pieces. And one of the conversations I think that needs to be had as a collective with an education and is what do we identify as a basic quality education? So if we’re saying we’re providing a basic education to every student in Alberta, what does that basic education look like? How are we informing that? And then how are we measuring that to make sure that it is equitably applied and also inclusivity? So how are students with learning needs? How are they being in, into their school communities, all across the province? And, and what does that look like and what are the resources being given to make sure that it’s equitable inclusion? And then additionally, how are student, how are minorities, how are they, how is their lived experience being positively impacted across the province?


Brandi Rai (20:28):
And, and what about our queer kids? You know, how, how are they living this? And so when every student irrespective of their learning needs or their, or their racial composition or their you know, gender identity or sexual orientation, when I can say that every baby has a quality education where they felt loved and valued and seen in their community and in their curriculum, then that to me is actually equitable education. And I know it’s gonna take a long time, but I’m here for a long time. So I’m willing to keep doing this work


Sam Demma (21:03):
Awesome brand. This has been a, such a passionate conversation. Like it’s so clear that this is something so close to your heart, which is amazing because we need empathetic and heartfelt leaders. If you could give your younger self one piece of advice when it comes to fighting this good fight to end off this interview here today, like, what would you tell younger Brandy to know?


Brandi Rai (21:26):
Oh, that’s a really good question. I would just say to her oh it’s this metric that I now have that I wish I had learned a long time ago is will it matter in five minutes? Will it matter in five months? Will it matter in five years? Mm, because I think that lots of times we put our energy to putting out small fires right now. And I have learned to measure for myself if it’s going to matter five months from now, I need to give this a significant amount of energy. If I need this to look drastically different five years from now, I need to make a roadmap to make that happen. And, and that is a hard learn lesson that I have learned in my own life and in my own children’s life that if I could have given myself that 16 years ago, oh goodness, how much more could I have done with my time?


Sam Demma (22:18):
Hmm. Love that. And if an educator is listening right now and enjoying this conversation, what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you?


Brandi Rai (22:27):
So they can go to the Alberta School Council’s website and then go if they go there, we have our contact information there so they can get in contact with me directly through our executive director or our communications coordinator. And I am always willing to have a chat to help in any way that I can to get, to get the spark going, because I know that if I can help just make a tiny spark, everybody else in that community can continue to fan it into the flame that will, as you said, create a bonfire in the darkness and I’m willing to do that so thank you for that.


Sam Demma (23:01):
Oh, I love that. Awesome. This has been a great conversation, Brandi. I appreciate you taking the time to come on here and share some of your perspectives and philosophies around education. Keep, keep up the amazing work and I hope to meet you one day in person soon.


Brandi Rai (23:14):
Thank you so much.


Sam Demma (23:16):
And there you have it. Another amazing guest, an amazing interview on the High Performing Educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review so other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show; f you want meet the guest on today’s episode, if you wanna meet any of the guests that we have interviewed, consider going to www.highperformingeducator.com and signing up to join the exclusive network, you’ll have access to networking events throughout 2021 and other special opportunities. And I promise I will not fill your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

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