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Student Success

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

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

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

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

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

Connect with Brent: Email | Instagram | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Brent Dickson’s Personal Website

Canadian Student Leadership Association (CSLA)

Alberta Association of Student Councils and Advisers (AASCA)

The Boomerang Project

Centennial High School Website

Kahoot

What is a Walkathon?

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):

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

Brent Dickson (01:41):

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

Sam Demma (02:03):

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

Brent Dickson (02:36):

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

Brent Dickson (03:24):

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

Brent Dickson (04:04):

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

Sam Demma (04:47):

Do you stick to the walls?

Brent Dickson (04:49):

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

Sam Demma (05:22):

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

Brent Dickson (05:55):

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

Brent Dickson (06:39):

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

Brent Dickson (07:26):

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

Sam Demma (08:13):

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

Sam Demma (09:08):

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

Brent Dickson (09:52):

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

Sam Demma (09:56):

<laugh>.

Brent Dickson (09:57):

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

Brent Dickson (10:37):

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

Brent Dickson (11:21):

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

Brent Dickson (12:08):

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

Brent Dickson (12:58):

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

Sam Demma (13:52):

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

Brent Dickson (14:17):

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

Brent Dickson (15:08):

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

Brent Dickson (15:51):

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

Sam Demma (16:19):

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

Brent Dickson  (16:54):

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

Sam Demma (17:02):

Ah, nice.

Brent Dickson  (17:03):

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

Brent Dickson  (17:56):

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

Brent Dickson  (18:46):

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

Brent Dickson (19:32):

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

Brent Dickson (20:14):

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

Brent Dickson (21:06):

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

Sam Demma (21:45):

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

Brent Dickson  (21:53):

Play bingo in the cafeteria at lunch.

Sam Demma (21:56):

Hmm.

Brent Dickson  (21:57):

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

Brent Dickson  (22:02):

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

Sam Demma (22:10):

What’s that?

Brent Dickson (22:10):

Just yeah,

Sam Demma (22:12):

<laugh>,

Brent Dickson (22:13):

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

Sam Demma (23:17):

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

Brent Dickson  (23:23):

Small leadership idea.

Sam Demma (23:25):

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

Brent Dickson (23:30):

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

Brent Dickson (24:21):

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

Sam Demma (25:07):

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

Brent Dickson (25:36):

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

Sam Demma (26:38):

<laugh>,

Brent Dickson  (26:39):

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

Sam Demma (26:49):

Nice.

Brent Dickson  (26:50):

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

Sam Demma (26:58):

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

Brent Dickson (27:10):

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

Sam Demma (27:18):

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

Brent Dickson (27:46):

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

Sam Demma (28:15):

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

Brent Dickson (28:25):

Perfect

Sam Demma (28:26):

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

Brent Dickson  (28:35):

All right. Thank you brother.

Sam Demma (28:38):

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

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Brent Dickson

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

Empty Your Backpack (Spoken Word Poem)

Small Consistent Actions Sam Demma - TEDxYouth@Toronto
About Empty Your Backpack

Here is the link to watch the animation on Youtube:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JwlHs-Mkvnc

Empty Your Backpack is a spoken word poem created by Sam Demma that encourages you to realize that people’s words don’t define your self-worth. It is a video filled with emotion, hope and perseverance. It was directed and animated by Ben Clarkson, a Juno-nominated illustrator, artist and animator.

If you enjoyed this poem, you can check out the entire project, book and poem at www.emptyyourbackpack.ca

Connect with Sam: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Empty Your Backpack Animation

Empty Your Backpack Project

The Story that Inspired the Project

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 we have a different type of podcast interview, one that will leave you feeling very emotional in a very hopeful and inspiring way. Over a year ago now, I hosted an Instagram live call with a student. If you don’t know what that means, think of a video call, but with a live audience with 50-100 students watching on Instagram who can comment live while you have a video call and bring individuals up on screen to have a conversation. A student joined who I had never spoken to before and after we started talking, he told me very quickly that his biggest goal in life was to be an actor, and his second goal was to have 50,000 followers on social media. Slightly confused, I challenged this young man who we’re gonna call Josh for the sake of today’s podcast, to explain to me what in his life would change if I snapped my fingers and instantly he had 50,000 followers.

Sam Demma (01:10):

What this young student said, I will never forget. “Sam, if I had 50,000 followers, kids at school would stop bullying me and calling me a loser. My life is filled with bullies. I hate myself. I hate going to school, and I’m turning off the camera on my phone because I’m ugly.” Josh remained silent for a few moments while every student watching started filling the chat box with the most positive stuff, the most amazing comments. We connected him with his guidance counselors to make sure he felt supported, sent him merch in the mail to make sure he felt like he was a part of a community. But after the call ended, I couldn’t get this question outta my mind. How is it that this young man who has such a bright future is allowing the words and opinions of a select few individuals who don’t even care about him to affect the way that he sees himself every single day and the choices he’s making?

Sam Demma (02:14):

You know when you have a conversation and five minutes after it ends, you remember what you were really trying to say? I was sitting in my basement at my office desk on my rolling chair. When the call ended, I got up. I started walking to the first floor of my house up the staircase, and as I got midway, halfway up the staircase, what I was really trying to say to this young man, Josh finally came to mind. What I wished I could have helped him realize live on that call is that people’s words don’t define your self worth, that you don’t have to carry around the thoughts, expectations, and opinions that other people or society, places on your shoulders. What I wished I could have helped Josh realize was that he had the possibility, the potential to empty his backpack. I believe every one of us, yourself included, carry a giant invisible backpack on your shoulders and in your backpack.

Sam Demma (03:18):

You have your own personal beliefs that you have built and picked up based on your unique life experiences. But as you went through life, you also started picking up the thoughts, expectations, and opinions that other people gave to you, whether you asked for them or not. Things like, you’re not good enough, you’re too fat. Who do you think you are? What makes you believe you’re credible for this? This is never gonna work. Any of these sound familiar? If you and I never take the time to empty our backpacks of these lies, these negative beliefs that other people have given to us, we end up starting to believe them and we tell ourselves these lies, which become our internal dialogue and stories and ends up holding us back.

Sam Demma (04:12):

Imagine that the one thing holding you back is a belief that was never even yours to begin with. After the call with Josh, I started reflecting on my own experience, dealing with the words and opinions that other people placed on me. Growing up, I got extremely emotional and I started working on something minutes after that call that has finally come to life and I am so excited to share it with you right now on this podcast. It’s something I have quietly worked with Ben Clarkson, a Juno nominated illustrator, artist and designer. He took a spoken word poem that I put together titled Empty Your Backpack and turned it into a beautiful animated video. Here on the podcast, I’m going to play the audio portion of that three minute spoken word poem, and if you enjoy it, there’s going to be a link to the YouTube video where you can watch the animation and hopefully share it with the young people in your life who might benefit from hearing a message just like this one. Okay, here it is. Grab some popcorn and enjoy.

Sam Demma (05:31):

Yo, you gotta stop carrying around the thoughts and opinions of everyone else. You gotta stop. They put the world on my shoulders. I couldn’t carry it. With each appointment, doctors words getting scarier, those walls became my second home. I mean a barrier that put my heart in my hands where they were tearing it. They say, you gotta love the game. That’s why I married it. But by 17 divorced a dream and buried it six feet underneath my skin. I was embarrassed that life was black and white when I didn’t wear my jersey. Words cut like knives when they’re aimed at insecurities. Yeah, thank you, coach. I’ll never forget what you said. Your words still went through my mind while I try to make amend, I wish someone would’ve told me that my words define my journey, not the name on my back or the number on my jersey. So hear me out people’s words. Don’t define your route. You bet on you since day one. You define yourself. It’s time you grab your backpack and empty it out and stop carrying the opinions of everyone else. Grab your backpack and let it all out. This is your life. Ain’t nobody else.

Sam Demma (06:41):

It’s been five years since I stopped playing, but someone grabbed the piper cuz I’m still paying. I passed gold 22 times that I was collecting, but my boardwalk is not what you’re expecting. You see my mind is like a broken record. It keeps repeating. I mean, why do I still dream about when he was speaking? I feel five years of new journals. I feel five years with new hurdles, but this one I can’t seem to jump. Call me Jeffrey Drum swear you could search it up. This is nonfiction and whoever said words will never hurt me must have been burdened by insecurity. Cuz I can tell you firsthand that sometimes people’s words can feel like quick sand that gets you stuck. So when you find yourself sink, and let me lift you up cause people’s words don’t define your route, you bet on you since day one. You define yourself. It’s time you grab your backpack and empty it out and stop carrying the opinions of everyone else. Grab your backpack and let it all out. This is your life. Ain’t nobody else.

Sam Demma (07:43):

It’s time someone gave you your permission to forget what they said and focus on your vision. You only got one life to make it happen. So quit carrying the comments and all their reactions. You see, people are gonna say what they say, but unlike Nintendo life is a game that you can’t replace. So stop searching for the button, and I know it’s hard when their words put you outside and people these days seem to speak more boldy when they’re on line. That’s why I’m taking this moment to rewind and remind you that what matters most is how you see yourself in your mind. You see people’s words. Were never define your route. You bet on you since day one. You define yourself. It’s time you grab your back pack and empty it out and stop carrying the opinions of everyone else. Grab your back pack and let it all out. This is your life, ain’t nobody else.

Sam Demma (08:42):

If you enjoyed the poem, it would mean the world to me if you sent me a message at sam@samdemma.com via email, I would love to hear from you. There is also a book titled Empty or or Backpack that goes along with this project. And April 3rd, we will be traveling across Canada with the giant four foot backpack of beliefs bringing these messages into schools in front of students all around the country. If any of this sounds interesting, send me an email or check out the official tour website that includes the book, the Backpack, and all the information. emptyyourbackpack.ca. Again, that’s emptyyourbackpack.ca. I will see you very soon for the next episode and I hope you have a fantastic week ahead.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Sam Demma

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

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

About Alexis Epp

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

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

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

Connect with Alexis: Email

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Mental Wellness 30L program

Sunwest School Division

Bachelor of Social Work – University of Regina

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:55):

Welcome back to the show.

Sam Demma (00:56):

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

Alexis Epp (02:02):

Thanks for having me.

Sam Demma (02:03):

Please start by introducing yourself.

Alexis Epp (02:05):

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

Sam Demma (02:24):

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

Alexis Epp (02:30):

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

Sam Demma (03:12):

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

Alexis Epp (03:22):

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

Sam Demma (04:45):

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

Alexis Epp (04:58):

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

Alexis Epp (06:03):

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

Alexis Epp (07:18):

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

Alexis Epp (08:22):

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

Sam Demma (09:24):

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

Alexis Epp (09:48):

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

Sam Demma (11:12):

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

Alexis Epp (11:22):

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

Sam Demma (12:28):

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

Alexis Epp (12:43):

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

Sam Demma (13:16):

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

Alexis Epp (13:23):

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

Sam Demma (13:50):

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

Alexis Epp (14:00):

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

Sam Demma (15:28):

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

Alexis Epp (15:47):

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

Sam Demma (16:08):

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

Alexis Epp (16:31):

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

Sam Demma (18:01):

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

Alexis Epp (18:17):

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

Sam Demma (19:03):

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

Alexis Epp (19:35):

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

Sam Demma (20:28):

I have

Alexis Epp (20:29):

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

Sam Demma (21:25):

I love that one.

Alexis Epp (21:26):

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

Sam Demma (22:09):

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

Alexis Epp (22:14):

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

Sam Demma (22:26):

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

Alexis Epp (23:13):

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

Sam Demma (24:50):

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

Alexis Epp (25:00):

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

Sam Demma (25:46):

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

Alexis Epp (26:08):

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

Sam Demma (26:43):

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

Alexis Epp (27:02):

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

Sam Demma (27:09):

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

Alexis Epp (27:18):

Thank you so much.

Sam Demma (27:21):

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

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Alexis Epp

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

James Trodden – Assistant Superintendent of Learning at Buffalo Trail Public School

James Trodden - Assistant Superintendent of Learning at Buffalo Trail Public School
About James Trodden

James is the Assistant Superintendent of Learning at Buffalo Trail Public Schools. Having spent over 27 years as an educator, James has a variety of experiences as both a teacher, school leader, and central office leader. He appreciates his years spent in rural education in Alberta, as the rural context is familiar and allows for the development of close connections and responsive schools.

Connect with James: Email

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Buffalo Trail Public Schools

The Principals’ Center – Harvard Graduate School of Education

Improving Schools From Within by Roland Barth

Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment by Eckhart Tolle

Mbaraká Pu – The Alchemist

A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose by Eckhart Tolle

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 (00:54):

Welcome back to the show.

Sam Demma (00:56):

Today’s special guest is James Trodden. James is the Assistant Superintendent of Learning at Buffalo Trail Public Schools. Having spent over 27 years as an educator, James has a variety of experiences as both a teacher, school leader, and central office leader. He appreciates his years spent in rural education in Alberta, as the rural context is familiar and allows for the development of close connections and responsive schools. I hope you enjoyed this conversation with James and I will see you on the other side. Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today we have a special guest from the Buffalo Trail Public Schools. His name is James Trodden. James, please start by introducing yourself.

James Trodden (01:44):

Hello Sam. Thank you for having me on this. I am working in Wainright, Alberta and I’m the assistant superintendent of learning with the amazing team that we have here.

Sam Demma (01:56):

When did you realize in your own life as a student, or maybe even it didn’t happen as a student, but as you grew up, that one day in your future you wanted to work in education?

James Trodden (02:07):

Oh, I like that question, Sam. You know what, I look back on my years in school and some of the greatest mentors and some of the most passionate people and the people that kinda reached into my life and changed the course of my history, they were all teachers. And so I went off to do a couple of different things in the world and I kept coming back to why am I not teaching? And that led me to that path.

Sam Demma (02:36):

Two questions, part one, what did your teachers do for you that you think made it a very significant impact on your development as a young person?

James Trodden (02:49):

I think they recognized where I was at and I think in seeing me, the child, the person in front of them they recognize that bit of time that they spent talking to me would make all the difference in the world. So I think back to a couple of the great teachers and they took the time to help me learn how to and me learn how to and that all thence for.

Sam Demma (03:18):

Ah, that’s awesome. And what were the things that you did in the world where you would question why you weren’t spending that same amount of time or that exact moment teaching in a classroom, <laugh>.

James Trodden (03:32):

Oh, what other things did I do,

Sam Demma (03:34):

Sam? Yeah, you mentioned you went off and did some things.

James Trodden (03:39):

I went off to university and I was taking a degree in science and I joined a program with the Canadian forces. Nice. And I joined a training program with them that paid for my university, but I also had to spend time as the in the army. So I did that and then I finished up as a teacher and I kinda had that choice to continue in the army or become a teacher and no doubt becoming a teacher, best choice.

Sam Demma (04:10):

Oh, that’s amazing. Did you have other people in your family or around you pave the weight for that decision? Were there other teachers in your household or your entire family?

James Trodden (04:22):

No, you know, often have that story, right. Teacher breed teachers, I come from come a very low educated family. My parents didn’t get out. Elementary school we’re very low social economic class. And so the idea that I would graduate or even go to university was beyond anything that they experienced or expected or would’ve considered.

Sam Demma (04:47):

Wow. Someone told me recently there’s no story without a struggle. And I think that’s true. I think a lot of the people that I look to as role models have been through their own journeys and their own challenges. And it sounds like you’ve had yours as well. Tell me a little bit more about the journey that brought you to the position you’re in right now. What are the different roles that you’ve been a part of in education and where did you first start? Tell me more about the journey.

James Trodden (05:21):

And it’s almost like a continuation of that journey from childhood <affirmative> where those mentors, those people that looked at my life, they’re all teachers and as a kid they were reaching out and giving me that second, third and sometimes 10th chats <laugh>. And then as a young teacher, I ran into just some amazing mentors. And my first vice principal he had this idea that you had to teach something new outside of your training or repertoire. And so each year I’m teaching a course that I don’t have a clue on, but it forced you to dig deeper into your practice. And then I had another amazing leader whose sole purpose was to build other leaders. So he would take us and expose us to thought leaders experiences. He’d help us out. He would get us reading, get us connected, get us connected to authors. And so along the way I had all these amazing opportunities when I became a young vice principal.

James Trodden (06:22):

My first principal was just a veteran and at different times he would step back from opportunities that presented itself so that I would have the opportunity. So that same theme and motif. And so it’s how teachers, no matter where we are or what we do, I always say you can tell teachers in the shopping market, right, <affirmative>. Cause there’s two kids and if a kid falls down and hurts themselves and there’s 10 people around, two teachers out, the 10 will be the ones moving to help a kid <laugh>. And to down a host ofs, there’s a teacher moving there, even if it’s there. And you know what, there’s just that sense of think applies in when of, And so brought me to hear the superintendent of the schools here is a mentor of mine. I knew her in the awe when we both worked in the Alberta government. And when she had the opportunity here, I jumped at it and it’s been a gift in my life. The same sort of thing. Teachers help out. And so she’s, she’s pushed me and it’s been a great working with her.

Sam Demma (07:39):

You mentioned that principal who exposed you to authors and thought leaders and experiences out of the diverse amount of experiences that he exposed you to. Is there anything maybe a resource, a book, an author, a conference, or anything that you remember vividly because it really left an impact on you or it changed the way that you think or provided you with some new perspectives and tools to bring back to your practice?

James Trodden (08:10):

There’s so many beautiful experiences, but he had me go to dinner one night, me show up to a conference and British Columbia had me go for dinner and there’s a group of us and there’s this incredible elderly man next to me and he was like, the man was asking me, What are you doing here? And I said, Well, I’m a teacher but my principal said I should come to this leadership conference. He goes, Oh, so you wanna be a principal? I said, No, not really, but you know what, I got the chance to go to the conference and it looks great and I’m always great to learn. And he says, Why wouldn’t you wanna be a principal? I said, I love teaching. I love just that beautiful moment where you work with kids and you get to see just them learn and grow and I don’t think there’s a greater experience.

James Trodden (08:57):

And so we spent the whole night convincing me principals do this and principals do that. So he’s another person that’s a principal. And I’m like, That’s great. Go to this conference. There’s like people, Wow. And introduced the keynote. The keynote is the head of the principal, the Harvard Principal Center for Leadership. And on the stage rock walks the old man I had dinner with, his name was Roland Barth, right? And so he wrote this incredible foundational book, actually it’s out of print now. So I helped use copies that I give to new administrators and it’s called Improving Schools From Within. And he talks about the strength and the secret to improving schools is the strength of people right next to you within the building and when you can tap into the power of people. And that fundamentally changed how I still see leadership. And I think when the old guys in the restaurant next to you and then he is walking on stage and he actually is the top instructional leader for Harvard, you should probably wake up and pay what he said.

Sam Demma (10:02):

That’s really cool, man. That’s a really unique, one of the odds out of the 4,000 people that you would be seated beside him at the table, right?

James Trodden (10:12):

Oh, make no mistake. My mentor did that on purpose.

Sam Demma (10:15):

Wow.

James Trodden (10:16):

<laugh>. So he would come in, he’d do amazing things. He’d be like, James, I think you need to learn about this. Here’s a couple tickets to Nashville. There’s this and this going on. I want you to go to this conference. And you’d go down and you’d work with somebody and it would just be these amazing experiences. But that was his passion is that leadership comes through experiences and he can create experiences. So I mean he’d send us in a bunch of to see different people if we liked the book or something, he would figure out how to call. Just an incredible way of,

Sam Demma (10:55):

With the role you’re working in now, I’m sure there’s lots of opportunities to make student impact. Is there also opportunities for you to be like that principal and try and put teachers in similar positions or what does the majority of your time and days focus on now?

James Trodden (11:16):

I think that lesson from Roland Barum left me that improving schools from within. And so what is the value that we can provide to the people? I mean, people have strengths, people have weaknesses. So let’s pick on you for a bit, Sam. What was your biggest strength on the soccer field?

Sam Demma (11:35):

My biggest strength on the soccer field was probably my endurance. I wasn’t gonna be outrun by anybody.

James Trodden (11:41):

<laugh>. Okay, so you got endurance. What was one of your biggest challenges on the soccer field?

Sam Demma (11:46):

Using my left foot

James Trodden (11:48):

<laugh>. Okay, so I’m not gonna put you on the, you probably played right side, correct? Yeah. <laugh>, I’m not gonna put you on the left side because I’m gonna get you to do better with your left foot. Yeah. What I’m gonna do is I can put Sam in there for endless periods of time cause no one can beat his endurance and I’ll put him on the right side. Cause I know he is gonna struggle with his foot if that in soccer, but let’s pretend it does.

Sam Demma (12:13):

Yeah,

James Trodden (12:13):

<laugh>. So when you look at that, I think that’s what role and taught is that I don’t have to make you a better player if I’m your coach, Sam, I just have to recognize that you’re great and create the conditions for you to be great. So it’s what we try and do what nobody has it all I had, I could list to you the number of left feet I have <laugh>, the number of challenges I have, but you know what? I got a couple things down good. And I play towards those strengths. And so I try and do that when we work with principals, we have a learning team here of innovation coaches and they’re all different people and every one of them has a strength. And they probably all have challenges <affirmative>, but I’m not gonna get them played left side. I’m play to their strength. And so I think that’s what roll wanted is that the people are there, that you need ’em, how give ’em, create the conditions for them to play to their greatness.

Sam Demma (13:09):

There’s a phenomenal analogy. First and foremost, thanks for sharing that. I think I wish I had you as my coach growing up <laugh>. There’s a book called The Power of Now, which is all about mindfulness and living life in the present and

James Trodden (13:26):

That Coley.

Sam Demma (13:27):

Yeah. And the book opens with a little parable or analogy of a fictional character walking up to a man on the street asking for money, sitting on a box. And the person he asks for money from as you would know says, Well why don’t you open your box? And he goes, No, there’s nothing in the box. And he convinces the man asking for money to open the box and he opens it and lo and behold, there’s the pile of gold. And the analogy was that sometimes the gold is inside you. My question to you is how do we help teachers and how do we help students actually recognize their strengths if they don’t even realize that they have them or maybe even a student? How do we create the conditions where those things shine and we’re able to appreciate them and celebrate them and encourage them to keep using that skill or so that we can identify what their strengths are and then put them in the right positions.

James Trodden (14:30):

And so I mean you hit the point is how do we meet people? How do we intersect with them? And how do we intersect not with people or the class, but how do I know Sam <affirmative>? How do I take those moments as a teacher, as a human being in life? How do those to know Sam? And there’s something beautiful that one of my great teachers taught me and she had said, What? Meet that and you see here and understand them. I’ll say that again Sam. If see them, if hear them and you take the to understand them. I see you, you’ve shared your personal journey, I’ve listened to it. Do I understand it? Maybe on the surface, but I’ve never got the chance to sit down with you and ask the why and why now and why tomorrow. So I’m beginning to understand who you are because as we talk we have more intersections.

James Trodden (15:31):

So when I see that child come in late where I see that child struggling with reading or I see that child that’s having a great time on the playground or he owns up here, we play soccer and so owns snow soccer, can’t even say it. What do I take the time to go there and the ball with him? Do I take the time to understand why can’t read? Do I take the time? Cause when I see him and I hear him, I generally ask kids, how often do little kids get asked, What do you feel about this? What could I do better? <affirmative>, do you wanna see a kids go crazy, ask them a couple things that they wanna do better about the playground and their ideas are, but do you understand, take the time to understand of right. So I think that’s when you at how do get to do of ’em? And do you understand

Sam Demma (16:33):

What was the gap between dinner in BC to James first role as a principal?

James Trodden (16:43):

My first admin role as a vice principal, What was the gap? It was a couple years in there. There’s nothing more beautiful than being a classroom teacher.

James Trodden (16:55):

And so how do you make that choice to leave that what you love most? And so it was a couple years of training. I started my master’s degree, took a bunch of courses, and then it was just the idea that maybe we could multiply where we do, teacher has a beautiful impact in the classroom, but can we multiply what we do and have an impact in the school? <affirmative>, can we multiply what we do and have impact in multiple schools? And can you use that philosophy of meeting people where they’re at and hearing and understanding ’em? Can you change your little corner of the world with that?

Sam Demma (17:38):

Sometimes educators have a mentor who walks into their life and almost randomly out of their control and is the most helpful and guiding person they could have asked for. I think on other occasions, sometimes educators don’t know who to turn to or where to go. I wonder what your advice is on potentially finding a mentor. And I think that most people in education are so excited to help especially if you just ask. But from the educators listening who aspires to learn more and improve themselves and they think a mentor would help, how would they go about finding one?

James Trodden (18:25):

Sam, you hit both the key point and the paradox of the key point teachers help. It’s sure there’s a extra chromosome somewhere and some genetic code that <laugh>, but what’s really unique about a profession, especially at the beginning is we’re the profession that kinda works and lives for the most part in isolation. So you take a new teacher, a new teacher, they took all their courses with their professors and their classmates and they go off and do a practicum and they teach with a supervising teacher and the university mentor comes in and evaluates and maybe the principal comes in and they do that the four weeks and then maybe the 10, 12 weeks depending on the program. And they do a practicum and then they get their own classroom, they walk in and the door shuts

Sam Demma (19:21):

<affirmative>.

James Trodden (19:22):

And those great leaders and great systems find ways to open up that door. But you hit the ground running so fast, you’re young, you’re new to the profession and it can become very isolating. So what we talk about when we had the new teachers here is we introduce all the people that will help. It starts with the person sitting next to them and it starts with our superintendent is there to help out, they superintendents there to help ’em. We start by pointing out all the people that will help and we say, You know what? The difference between your success and not your success isn’t your ability and skills. It’s not what And don know the fundamental difference between the success that you have will be based upon on do you ask for help at the right time and the wrong time?

James Trodden (20:16):

<affirmative>. And we start to break down of the closed classroom. So as a profession, s a lot different. Remember my first here’s list, there’s classroom shut and make principal doesn’t know your name. Welcome to B <laugh>. So why systems have done so much better breaking that down and seeing them and doing that. So yeah, I think we ought to continue to push that. So what advice would I have is that you need to go and ask when things are good and you need to go and ask when things are bad. And you need to take the time to see other professionals at practice and you need to not worry about what you know or don’t know. Because a year veteran will know more who hasn’t taught that long, but it doesn’t mean that you don’t have value to them and they have value to you.

Sam Demma (21:11):

When you say see another teacher at practice, do you mean physically sitting in the back of their classroom with a notepad and watching them teach? What could that look like in a hypothetical situation?

James Trodden (21:26):

It could be that simple. It could be asking ’em to come into your classroom. It could be you going into their classroom. It could be saying, Hey, you know what, we’re both teaching social studies. What’s the chance that we can both it and see how it <affirmative> taking those time and your prep time? And teachers are so they work so hard, <laugh>, so, and they have that time, they’re often pressured to things. But can you take the time to and sit Sam’s 15, he kind of heard that he’s really at talking kids and watch you in your practice.

Sam Demma (22:10):

You asked me before the podcast started, Hey Sam, you doing okay? Your eyes look low, your tone of voice because it’s getting close to my early bedtime here, <laugh>, while we record this, but you took a very intentional moment to actually ask me how I’m doing. And I think it’s so important that we don’t brush over that when we’re speaking to anybody especially educators who are always filling up the cups of others. I’m curious to know how does James fill his cup to make sure that he can show up every day excited to try and pour into others and do good work?

James Trodden (22:50):

I live at absolutely gifted life, Sam. I get to spend time with people I respect and <affirmative>. I get to work at a job that Ive spent decades doing the best I can to what I can. But you’re right, balance. How do you find balance in 12, 13, 14 hour days? What you find it by making sure that you’re taking care of yourself? Are you eating when you can? I think a lot of young teachers, they get caught up. So squirrel snacks here, hours. But I think at i’s that physical health I meditate twice a day at I do long retreats on the weekend and hours meditating. So that’s kind of my personal piece.

Sam Demma (23:46):

Now, do you meditate in silence? Do you use an app? If there’s an educator who has heard about meditation so many times but has no idea where to start and thinks it’s about crossing your legs and saying what would your advice be? <laugh>?

James Trodden (24:03):

I think there’s so many different entry points into meditation nowadays. There are apps in that, but I do something at times with a or I teach where if you were to stop for one and just close your eyes and to every sound around you and just say, I hear the beep of my phone, I hear the wind on the window, I hear the creaking of my as I back and forth, the of my shirt as if you sit for one, just focus on the, that’s just an meditation and that one, all the stuff that was in your head just stays to the side for a bit. So there are many ways and into meditation, so I won’t won’t it here to you’re in town.

Sam Demma (24:56):

Cool. If you could travel back in time with the experience and all the opportunities that you’ve been exposed to throughout your entire career and tap James on the shoulder in his first year of teaching, knowing what now, what advice would you impart on your younger self? Not because you wanna change anything about your journey, but because you think it may have been helpful to hear that when you were just starting.

James Trodden (25:29):

Yeah, yeah. Such a good question. To admire them, I think what every young teacher, I think what needed to hear and remember. And if at time during my career I struggled, it’s this key thing. And that is what we do matters. What we do. I talk about this and I want you to think about with all the superhero movies and all that, there’s always a question, what superpower do you want? Do you wanna run or have amazing endurance or you know, fly? I think that teachers don’t recognize that what they do matters. And what they do is they take that child in front of’em and they span out the timeline of their entire life, that child’s life, and they change the course of their history. So when you look at that little kid who’s struggling to read, you can do stuff in that moment that matters. And when they’re a 30 year old reading a book,

James Trodden (26:35):

That’s

James Trodden (26:35):

A pretty darn good superpower to affect history into the future. So it matters. What would I tell myself? Keep going. What you’re doing matters.

Sam Demma (26:47):

That sounds like a really good snapshot of a future movie that Marvel should be working on creating <laugh> like a superhero teacher that can see 25 years in the future and watch live the impact of their actions in their classroom. And every day they have a new experience with a new kid and see how it plays out in 25 years. <laugh>

James Trodden (27:13):

I mean, there’s a bit of faith involved in that, but that’s what a teacher does. It’s sharing half their lunch because a kid’s hungry and at the dark point of that kid’s life, they remember, Oh my goodness, my teacher Sam fed me and someone actually cared about me. The tough part is we don’t always see the years into the future, but there is no doubt that that is a superpower beyond comparison.

Sam Demma (27:39):

Oh, I love the analogy. If an educator is listening to this, feels inspired, curious about something that you mentioned or wants to bounce some ideas around or ask a question, what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you?

James Trodden (27:55):

You know what? Email’s always the best ’cause we’re moving, right? So I think my email is my work email, james.trodden@btps.ca. That’s for Buffalo Trail Public Schools. So james.trodden@btps.ca

Sam Demma (28:19):

Thank you so much for making the time.

James Trodden (28:21):

A hold of pick on him. He’ll give it to you.

Sam Demma (28:23):

Yeah, yeah. Reach out to me whenever and I will spam James’s inbox with all of your requests. There you go. And James, again, thank you so much for taking the time to

James Trodden (28:34):

Well, I’ll slow down. Slow down a second, Sam. I know it’s close to your bedtime and

Sam Demma (28:38):

<laugh>,

James Trodden (28:39):

But you know what? You don’t get out this a couple of things. You’re talking to teachers, so there’s gonna be some homework step two. So we’ll start with a question for you. You’re doing this podcast about educators, high performance educators. Yeah. Why would you choose in your life at your age, why are you choosing to put your energies towards this?

Sam Demma (29:04):

Yeah, great question. When I was in my senior year, I had a very clear picture built in my mind of what my life was gonna look like. <laugh>. My jersey was number 10 and it read demo and everyone in my school knew me as soccer Sam. That was also the start of my Hotmail email address that I carried with me through life until the end of high school. And I was very serious about it, not only from the athletic perspective, but also the academic aspect of my life as well. And when things came crashing down after two major knee injuries and two surgeries that I wasn’t prepared for, I lost a full ride. Soccer scholarship mentally felt like I lost my identity. And it was interactions that I had with Mr. Loud Foot. My grade 12 world issues teacher who is now retired, who initially just saw me as the quote Jock <laugh>, who was passing through his class to move on to his next athletic pursuit with kindness.

Sam Demma (30:13):

Of course his words really changed my trajectory and more importantly, my perspective of my own potential. I always thought subconsciously that without soccer, Sam was worthless as a person and didn’t have much else to provide because for 17 years, that’s all I did, 24/7 and every decision I made hinged around that identity. He was one of the first people outside of my parents and my family who I always would expect them to share these things with me. But hearing it from someone outside the household really made it made an impact. And he taught me that soccer was just one game in life, but life is filled with thousands of games. And the same emotions that I got from sport, I could get from so many other pursuits. And for him it was pursuits that had a positive impact on others. So why did I start the podcast?

Sam Demma (31:08):

This is a full circle moment when Covid hit, some of the educators that I knew about in my life were extremely burnt out. I would read their posts on Twitter, I would talk to them. I stayed in touch with a lot of the teachers that made an impact on me. I still actually every once in a while sit on Mr. L’s porch in front of his farm and we have a one two hour conversation. And I thought educators are really struggling right now just as much as students and students are being placed at the forefront of the support. But we’re all human beings and we all need support. Maybe I can somehow build a network where all these educators can get introduced to people that normally they might not have access to. And if they’re intrigued by something they say or share, it gives them a unique excuse to reach out and make a new relationship, share a resource, build a connection. And so it started with the educators in my life who I personally knew and very quickly just grew to people that I wouldn’t have a chance to talk to otherwise. And the hope that it would help build a stronger network and just share resources all with the hope that again a teacher might remember their purpose, why they started in the first place, and hopefully make another difference on a kid just like me in their grade 12 world issues class who is going through a difficult time.

James Trodden (32:30):

Yeah. Well thank you for sharing that. Think when you look at all the things and what should new teachers know, it’s that story and that story’s told a thousand times. Like Mr. Loud sees into the future, <laugh> your future and is able to impact it. And so think just about pieces. I think that’s what teachers have remember, is that story Homework time. You’re ready? Yeah. So you mentioned the Power Now by Eckley. Yeah. And you mentioned the opening story there. Have you read The Alchemist by Pu?

Sam Demma (33:05):

I don’t carry rocks in my pocket, but I love the story <laugh>.

James Trodden (33:11):

So it’s the same story that Eck tells. Right. And then the next one, have you read The New Earth by

Sam Demma (33:18):

The New Earth? I have not.

James Trodden (33:21):

So the power now is good. The new Earth totally is <affirmative>. There’s homework. I’ll be check, I’ll be checking.

Sam Demma (33:30):

I’ll it soon. Stay tuned.

James Trodden (33:34):

Anyway, I appreciate your time. Know it’s late in the night for you’re tired, but that’s good. You’re alive. That’s

Sam Demma (33:41):

Good. No, I appreciate your time, James. Thanks so much for making this possible and keep up the great work that you’re doing and we’ll talk soon.

James Trodden (33:50):

Thanks Sam. You will.

Sam Demma (33:53):

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

Join the Educator Network & Connect with James Trodden

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.

Donald Mulligan – Principal at Kensington Intermediate Senior High School and President of the Prince Edward Island Association of School Administrators

About Donald Mulligan

Donald Mulligan (@donaldmulligan2) is principal at Kensington Intermediate Senior High School. He previously work as Principal at Kinkora Regional High School and Amherst Cove Consolidated School. Donald is currently the President of the Prince Edward Island Association of School Administrators and Vice-President of the Canadian Association of Principals. He also serves as the Chair of PEI  Teachers’ Federation Group Insurance Committee.

Donald believes in making K.I.S.H. a safe and welcoming school for all students and staff. He coaches the senior women’s soccer team and enjoys supervising school activities. Donald has been part of the creating and instructing the PEI Administrative Leadership Program. This program is required for teachers who are interested in becoming administrators here on P.E.I. He is proud watching his students grow and mature to become productive members of society.

Donald realizes that it is only through the efforts of great teachers and a strong administrative team can schools become successful.

Connect with Donald: Email | Instagram | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Kensington Intermediate Senior High School

Kinkora Regional High School

Amherst Cove Consolidated School

Prince Edward Island Association of School Administrators

Canadian Association of Principals

PEI Administrative Leadership Program

Prince Edward Island Teachers’ Federation Special Associations

Leadership Through the Ages: A Collection of Favorite Quotations by Rudy Giuliani

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:55):

Hey, welcome back to the show.

Sam Demma (00:56):

Today’s special guest is Donald Mulligan. Donald is Principal at Kensington Intermediate Senior High School. He previously worked as Principal at Kenkora Regional High School and Amherst Cove Consolidated School. Donald is currently the President of the Prince Edward Island Association of School Administrators and Vice President of the Canadian Association of Principals. He also serves as the chair of the PEI Teachers Federation Group Insurance Committee. Donald believes in making KISH safe and welcoming school for all students and staff. He coaches the senior woman’s soccer team and enjoys supervising school activities. Donald has been part of the creating and instructing of the PEI Administrative Leadership Program. This program is required for teachers who are interested in becoming administrators on the island of PEI. Donald is proud watching his students grow and mature to become productive members of society and he realizes that it is only through the efforts of great teachers and a strong administrative team that schools can become successful. I hope you enjoyed this conversation with Donald and I will see you on the other side. Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today we have a very special guest. His name is Donald Milligan. Donald, please start by introducing yourself.

Donald Mulligan (02:20):

Well, I’m Donald Mulligan and I’m Principal right now Kensington and Intermediate Senior High here in Prince Edward Island. This is my 10th year here and I’ve previously been at four other schools. Three as Principal over my career. So I still coach, still coach, a girl’s soccer team. I’ve coached many of the sports and enjoy being involved with student life. So yeah, that’s it in a nutshell.

Sam Demma (02:45):

When did you realize growing up as a young person, that one day you wanted to work in education?

Donald Mulligan (02:52):

It took me a while. I grew up on a family firm potato firm and as years went along I realized I was really much better dealing with the staff and the employees than I was actually fixing the equipment and operating the equipment. So probably when I was in university, because I went to agriculture college for a bit and then I came back, took a bachelor of Arts, realized I enjoyed writing and took, got my ba, b e d decided to become a teacher. And in hindsight, I shouldn’t been shocked because my mom was a teacher for 35 years and I have an aunt that was a teacher for 35 years. So that’s in the family genes for sure. My sister’s a teacher but it wasn’t something I planned to do my whole life. And even at that point I was taking courses after university and I was amazed when I would take courses with a couple of guys or friends of mine from the first year teacher. They wanted to become an administrator and that was not something I had planned on either. It just sort of evolved as time went on.

Sam Demma (04:01):

Oh, that’s awesome. Did you realize when you were going through university okay, this is the path I’m pursuing was there a defining moment? Did your parents sit you down and Donald, you should be a teacher <laugh>?

Donald Mulligan (04:17):

No. Well, as I mentioned, I went to agriculture college, but I get there for two weeks. I was taking chemistry and biology and calculus and physics and I realized pretty early on that two weeks that I don’t think I’m gonna be overly successful in these courses. So I get out when I could still get my money back. So what happened was though I went home and I firmed that fall. And so it was interesting because I enjoyed working on the firm, but we got to operate the tractors. The harvest is sort of a fun time when you’re harvesting the potatoes cuz you’re in tractors and trucks and it’s good. But after that it was into a warehouse. So I worked at the neighbors from 8:00 AM to five at PM every day. And then many days our own family farm wheat graded in the evenings from six 30 to nine 30.

Donald Mulligan (05:10):

So I went days without seeing the sun. So it was like, I don’t see this being a career for me right now. So that few months when I took a semester off at that point in those few months, it’s like, okay, I think I need to go in a different direction. And then the next semester I took an education 1 0 1 or something along those lines and we had to do a little practicum. So an hour in the classroom a week and when I still remember some of the kids that I was in with that. So that one course was the one that really hooked me. It’s like, okay, I enjoy the kids and I sort of feel I’m good at it.

Sam Demma (05:46):

That’s awesome. You mentioned you still coach. Is coaching a big part of your life? When did you start coaching athletics?

Donald Mulligan (05:55):

When I started my career, well, I couldn’t get a job, ironically, yeah, head of university, I had a job, I worked as an employment counselor with Canadian Mental Health Association. Oh cool. And I really enjoyed that, helping individuals mental illness get back into the workforce. But it was a tough time to get a teaching job in our province. So I had many interviews and the first position that I could get was at the alternative education program. So I worked there for four years and I really enjoyed it. But to answer your question my first year in the regular system when I got the school called Somerset Elementary in my community, I helped coach the soccer team. So I helped coach that for a couple years with a friend who grew up my commu in our community. He was a volunteer, I learned some tricks from him. And then I started coaching on my own. So that was probably 1999. And I’d been coaching guys soccer and then girls soccer. Once my daughter started coming through the system, I switched over and coached the girls. And I, I’m still doing it to this day, but I’m lucky because I’ve always had great people with me that can look after the practices when I can’t get outta the school to go to practice after school during the day. But I’m more of a game coach now. The teachers here to tease me kinda

Sam Demma (07:15):

Shows up when it matters

Donald Mulligan (07:16):

<laugh>. Exactly. But when my kids were growing up, same as many adults. I coached them in soccer, I coached them in baseball. I’ve coached hockey. So just whoever needed to coach, I enjoy doing that and I feel that keeps me young.

Sam Demma (07:33):

That’s awesome. You mentioned that some of your buddies who were also in education at the time wanted and had this ambition and goal to become administrators right away and you know, weren’t dead set on that you just wanted to enjoy the journey and see where it takes you. What did your journey actually look like? What was your first role in education outside of the mental health job that you just mentioned to me in a formal school setting? What was your first role and take me through the journey that brought you to where you are right now.

Donald Mulligan (08:04):

Well, we did alternative education and it was only with junior high students and we were an off campus, an offsite building. And our classroom was in part of an old hanger at the CFB summer side where we were housed. And so doing that, there was 24 kids and two teachers. And so we essentially were our own administrators as well. We had to decide what the discipline was going to be. We had decide the rules or regulations, how to get kids to buy in. So right from my first year, there was a lot of administrivia that we had to do and we also had to learn that you need a backbone if you’re gonna survive doing that particular job. And then when I moved to my first school, I was only there a year when our vice principal left and I applied, ended up getting that job and been in administration ever since. I think I was a VP for five years at that particular school with a colleague who’s still a principal in the system now. She’s still someone that I work with. We’re on committees together still. And our neighboring school down the road, Amherst Cove Consolidated, had an opening as a principal and I decided I’m ready to take the leap. And so that was 18 years ago I think now. So took the leap down the road and it worked out pretty well.

Sam Demma (09:36):

That’s awesome. You mentioned that you’re on some committees. What does your involvement look like when you’re not in the principal’s office? <laugh>?

Donald Mulligan (09:47):

Well one of my mom, as I said, was a teacher and her best friend growing up became the, as a teacher as well. And Joyce Mcar, she taught me and she’s a great teacher, great person. She became the president of the P E I Teachers Federation just in my first couple of years. So I had a bit of an at the Teacher’s Federation, so she nominated me for took one, the pension committee, which is a little ironic when you’re in your first year or two of schooling, they’d be on the pension committee. But it was a foot in the door and I really learned the value of meeting people and from different parts of the island on these committees. I also you know, learn a great deal about our pension. And then eventually that led to being involved in other committees negotiating committee with the government doing that, you need to memorize basically the memorandum of agreement that we have and that helps you immensely as an administrator if you know all of the memorandum of agreement, what we can all do and what we should not be doing.

Donald Mulligan (10:56):

So that helped. And presently I’m president of the group Insurance trustees, so we look after our group insurance for all the teachers from Prince Edward Island. So I have that. And so that’s through our union. But then as part of the administrator’s association, I’ve been on the Canadian Association of Principals for the last four years. My term’s just about up here in a couple weeks time. So I’ve been vice president of the Canadian Association Principal. So I look after the CAP Journal. It’s lots of articles mid three times a year in that. And so my term is President’s, p e i, School of Association of School Administrators. And as part of that we’re hosting the Canadian Association of Principals Conference. Nice. So we have a big conference coming down the road here in May of 2023. So I’m with KJ White, so we’re actually looking for some keynote speakers for that right now and some speakers for the conference. So I’ve been pretty involved, but it’s been a great learning experience and it’s a great way to meet people throughout your province.

Sam Demma (12:10):

That’s awesome. It sounds like you’ve been very involved <laugh> in many different ways, which is great. You mentioned your mom’s best friend was a great teacher who also taught you, I’m curious to know, what do you think makes a great teacher? What is it that a great teacher does in the life of a young person that from your perspective growing up, your mom’s friend obviously had an impact on you. What do you think that she did that made you believe she made a big impact?

Donald Mulligan (12:39):

For me, I think the biggest thing is they have to show that they care In education, we have to show the students that we care about them and that we want to help them. We want to teach them, but we want them to be good down good people as well. And as an administrator, I think it’s exactly same with the staff that I’m dealing with. I have to show them that I care and follow through ’em in those steps that I do care and support them. So in my role now, I support teachers, support students, and I feel the way we show them that we care is doing the extra things. Because I personally, I can’t remember too many life changing moments in the classroom. I hate to say that, but I do remember lots of memories of extracurricular activities and sports teams and groups that I’ve been on over the years that have made a change in my life. So I think if we show we care, kids are gonna learn.

Sam Demma (13:37):

How do you show that you care? Is it through listening, getting to know the students on a personal level? Yeah, I’m just curious.

Donald Mulligan (13:47):

Well, for me, throughout my career, I’ve always tried to do outdoor duty in the morning. So I greet kids coming in off of the bus. I’m a pretty laid back guy though, so I’m not high fiving and fist pumping everybody. But I make my point of saying hello, trying to say their name, everybody coming in, ask them how the sport event went the night before. Or try and make some connection with kids every day in the morning before 8 25. Our school starts early, so they get off the bus between 8 25, 8 0 5, and 8 25. So touch base with the kids. And I touch base with teachers too, cuz you see many of them walking in at that during that time. So that’s one way and another way, as any administrator I’m in and of the classes trying to ask them how they’re getting along, what do they need help with?

Donald Mulligan (14:40):

But the student council, I’m meeting with them saying, How can we be better? What can the school do to make things better? What are some of your opinions? And we’ve had students on representatives of our district advisory councils that we’ve had in PEI the last few years. So they’re offering information that hopefully make positive changes in the school as well. But as we already talked about, you really make connections when you either teach them A or B, you’re volunteering and you’re working with them after school. So when you’re giving up your own time, you show them that you really do care. And so I find that’s the key as well. I still teach 25% of the day, so those kids that I teach, I really get to know those kids on a personal level. So by the time they get through grade 10, I’ve pretty much had half of the school pretty much that I’ve taught. So that makes an enormous difference I feel, for me anyway.

Sam Demma (15:36):

So you teach right now? Actually

Donald Mulligan (15:38):

At one 15 here I’m gonna be going, I’m teaching for the first time, math four two K. So this has been a learning curve this semester for me as well. But it’s been great. I mean, I’ve been learning, September was a learning curve for me for sure, but I feel I’m fine in my groove and I think the students that I have are starting to enjoy it as well. I’ve always been an English guy, but the last year I hired a teacher from the Department of Education who is an all star. She’s a superstar. Nice. She created the program that I was teaching, so it was pretty hard for me to continue teaching it when she created it. So she requested, can I take this course style? And I said, certainly you can have it because she’s a rockstar and we’re lucky to have her.

Sam Demma (16:24):

That’s awesome. I haven’t met many administrators that also teach. Is that something that’s common in PEI or is it something that you are trying to do because it’s something that you love?

Donald Mulligan (16:38):

Well, I’ve always been in midsize schools. We have today 357 kids in our school, so it’s not a huge school. So we we’re given an allocation to make our schedule work nice. And I find it certainly for some years it’s only manageable if I’m teaching and some years depending on how it looks like it’s a benefit if I’m teaching. But I’ve always taught, so I’m gonna keep on teaching because it’s usually the best 75 minutes of my day because I get to interact with the kids and the only thing I have to do is teach for that 75 minutes. So it’s awesome.

Sam Demma (17:14):

That’s amazing. I heard one time someone told me the best administrators are the ones that don’t wanna leave the classroom and the best superintendents are those that don’t wanna leave the school building. And it’s really cool that you’ve taught every single year, even though you’re in administration. I think that’s really unique and yeah, it’s really cool. I would’ve loved to have my principal teach me a class <laugh>.

Donald Mulligan (17:39):

Well Sam, it’s difficult to go and have a meeting and go over learning strategies or talking. I mean, we had the big three for a few years learning strategy. So if I can’t tell ’em and share what I’m doing in my classroom, it’s hard for them to take me seriously when I’m standing in front of the school or the staff, I feel personally and I’m able to do that because I’m not a huge school so I can do that. So I feel like it gives me a little more street cred that they know I’m in it with them. The same last year, my geography 4 21 class, we had 32 kids. So nobody was claim complaining about having too many kids in their classroom when they knew I had more than they had. So in some ways it makes it easier.

Sam Demma (18:23):

Your boots are on the ground, you’re planting the seeds with them in the farm <laugh>. So when you think about all the different transformations that you’ve seen happen in the lives of students, and one of the reasons educators get into education is because they wanna make a positive difference. And I feel like if you’ve been in the industry or the industry’s wrong word about the, you’ve been in the vocation long enough, you’ve seen certain students come through it, maybe struggling and then had some sort of personal transformation because of a caring adult or because of the way their teacher taught them. I’m curious if there are any stories that come to mind of students that you’ve worked with who were really struggling and had a breakthrough or a transformation.

Donald Mulligan (19:12):

Well, we have lots of students probably over the years that have had that.

Donald Mulligan (19:21):

I think probably there’s one kid in particular that I was thinking about and I taught him in our Bridging English program, which you may call a general English program. We have a bridging program that allows them to go to a academic if they’re, they’re successful student in there who he was with us for the full six years, we’re seven to 12 schools. So again, we’re unique and we’re the only one in the province that’s just seven to 12. He struggled in junior high. We actually referred him to the alternative education program in junior high and he come back and I taught him each year of high school and school really wasn’t for him, but through many of our programs like the English program. But the co-op program especially helped him so much cuz he got to a business in our community and the employer really took him under his wing.

Donald Mulligan (20:17):

And so he offered him, he was successful, the kid was a great worker, great worker, and he was a great kid. He just needed someone to give him a little bit of a chance. And then this employer did, and he hired him for the summer that particular summer. And he came back to school and got his grade 12. But he is more engaged because he could see he had a goal in mind then. And now he graduated from us still working with the same company. And he would be a real success story I think for all of us in the school that were involved while working with him.

Sam Demma (20:51):

That sounds like a phenomenal story. And is he working now? Is he graduating? He’s moved on.

Donald Mulligan (20:58):

He graduated probably three years ago now. And yeah, he’s been working full time with this company now. They put steel roofs on, so after the hurricane he’s working video. He’ll be working time solid for the next couple years

Sam Demma (21:09):

<laugh>. Awesome. Very cool. When you think about your experiences in education, all the different places, yeah, you’ve worked to the different roles. If you could travel back in time, tap Donald on the shoulder in his first year of teaching, not because you would change anything about your path, but if you could go back in time, tap yourself on the shoulder and give yourself some advice, what would you say to your younger self?

Donald Mulligan (21:37):

Yeah, that’s a difficult question. I guess when I think about that, I think about my first year that I was here at Kensington. So I was pretty well into my career when I came here nine years ago. And I already had eight years experience as a principal. But when I came here, what maybe took me back a little bit is that the first couple schools I went to, I felt the teachers appreciated just my leadership style. They appreciated that I supported them, but at the same time also made people accountable because we all have to teach to the outcomes, we have to follow the pacing guides. And I did that in my class and I expected others to do that. And when I came here this school’s in a little, I dunno if disarray would be the right thing, but the principal here got dismissed, which has never really happened that I can remember.

Donald Mulligan (22:34):

And so there was some controversy before I came and I came in assuming that everyone would appreciate having my form of leadership. And I learned over time that I really had to work. It took me a couple years to really get people to buy in because what I learned is some people, I guess all of us enjoy doing what you wanna do and instead of what you’re supposed to do. And when I started putting pressure on that, we all had to follow the curriculum, follow the outcomes, we all had to row in the same direction and it didn’t take quite as easily as I thought it would. And I think I probably could did a better job relating to the folks that weren’t on board at that particular time. And it was probably just more listening, maybe a little more talk. I felt that time I was doing enough, but you can really never communicate enough. And I think I learned that I needed to listen to their side and I probably needed to do a little more homework on what went on before I stepped in the door here because there was a lot of, well, I don’t know what the best word, but there was still some controversy and some friction among staff at that time. So there’s a lot of healing that had to go on and probably more communication should’ve happened. So that’s probably what I would say

Sam Demma (23:59):

To communicate more, to do a little bit more research before entering a new space. Listen, I think listening’s a big one. Sometimes we listen in an effort to respond right away instead of trying to understand <laugh> what the person’s saying. Right,

Donald Mulligan (24:18):

Exactly. It’s difficult to, because as an administrator, we all have so many things to do each and every day, but we have to remember that the teacher comes through our door. They probably worked up the courage for probably days. For some of them, it’d be days and maybe more that they came to us with a problem and they wanna be heard and usually they have the correct answer. They just need someone to listen to them, encouraging them, encourag them and reinforcing them that they’re doing the right thing.

Sam Demma (24:50):

Yeah. Oh, that’s so great. Well, throughout your whole journey have there been any resources groups committees, books, courses, anything at all that you found really helpful in your own professional development as a teacher? And that again, could also be conferences and things of this nature, but is there anything that you’ve returned to that’s given you a lot of insight into how to teach or just building your own professional practice?

Donald Mulligan (25:20):

Well, I think the same with any administrator. We all have mentors, we all have role models. And I have a couple that a lot of their courses, a lot of their leadership style I tried to take a little bit from, and in our system, we were very lucky. We had the gentleman by the name of Doug McDougal and Doug was just so positive. He was positive with all of us, but he all always made us accountable. So I remember my very first year as principal before I started, after I got hired, he said, We’re gonna talk in September and I wanna know, we’re gonna talk about the leadership books that you’ve read over the summer. And it was like, Oh, okay. Leadership books over the summer. So he gave me my homework assignment in a gentle way. And for that first year we talked about how the school was going, but b, more importantly what I was learning from the readings that I did.

Donald Mulligan (26:17):

And so one of the books that I read was from Rudy Juliana. He was mayor of New York at the time. Nice. And when he became mayor, New York was not a safe city to be in. And so one of the things that sort stuck with me was they started cleaning up graffiti as soon as it happened. And over time, graffiti stopped being a thing. But more importantly, or just as importantly, they started enforcing all of the laws. So jaywalking, which is a pretty minuscule offense I guess. But they really cracked down on that. And what they learned was many of the people at Jaywalk and they started to ticket them, also had many other offenses they were, and they were wanted some of them. So just by following through on all of the little tiny things, they were able to manage the get a hold of quite a few of the people that were causing the city to not be safe and make it a better city and cleaner city and a safe city.

Donald Mulligan (27:25):

And it, New York City’s amazing. We were down five years ago and my wife and I got off the subway and people could tell we weren’t sure we were going and we had four or five people offer to help us and put us in the right direction. We couldn’t have felt any safer or welcome than we were. So he did a good job. And so from that, I took, okay, in school I’m gonna focus on the little things as well. And we did, we started doing a discipline system back and we enforced the rules that we had set each and every day. And by doing that, we really didn’t have too many of the big issues. Very rarely, if ever, would you have a fight in the schools because we enforce the little things. So that stuck with me for sure. And one of the other things like that, Doug McDougal, Doug always was writing a positive note, thank you. Note he was giving a teachers giving it to administrators. So that’s something that not just me, but my whole peer group that grew up together, we all do that because we know it made us feel good. So we wanna make our staff feel appreciated as well. So we write little notes, put our teacher’s mailbox or give them them personally, and it makes you feel good when you win the classroom and see them up on a bulletin board on the wall so they feel appreciated as well.

Sam Demma (28:48):

That’s awesome. It sounds like Doug’s made an impact on you. Do you stay in touch? Is he still someone that you chat with?

Donald Mulligan (28:56):

Well he made an impact on a lot of us. And actually we just said an administrator’s retreat this past Thursday and Friday, and they unveiled a memorial award because unfortunately a couple years ago during Covid Doug had a sudden heart attack and passed away. So yeah, it was a tragedy for all of us, but now we still remembering I am and there’s going to be an award in his memory. But even when he did retire, I’d call him, I’d text him and get some advice from him or give him a hard time and go to Toronto Maple Leafs because he’s a huge Leaf fan.

Sam Demma (29:35):

<laugh>. Hey, me too. <laugh>.

Donald Mulligan (29:38):

Sorry to hear

Sam Demma (29:38):

That. Does that mean we’re not friends? No more <laugh>.

Donald Mulligan (29:41):

We can be good. That’s awesome. I’m a Montreal Canadians fan. I don’t know if you can see, I got some paraphernalia behind me here a little bit, but it’s gonna be a couple painful years for us, so I can’t really say too much right now, but I like the journey we’re on anyway.

Sam Demma (29:56):

It can’t be any worse than the Toronto Maple Leafs, so enjoy <laugh>. That’s awesome. Well, thanks for sharing that story about Doug. I love the analogy with the graffiti. That’s a great way to position the importance of the little things, not only in school but also in life. I think once you let one thing slip, it’s a lot easier for 10 other things to slip. But if you crack down on all the small things, you can manage the big things as well. If someone wants to reach out to you, ask you a question, send you an email about this conversation, what would be the best way for them to get in touch?

Donald Mulligan (30:31):

Well, my email address is damulligan@edu.pe.ca. Or you can just go to our school website and our email contact lists are there as well at Kensington intermediate Senior High.

Sam Demma (30:47):

Awesome. Donald, thank you so much for taking the time to call on the podcast. I really appreciate it. Keep up the amazing work and I’ll see you in a few weeks.

Donald Mulligan (30:54):

Thanks, Sam. Can’t wait to see you. Take care. Best of luck.

Sam Demma (30:59):

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

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Donald Mulligan

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.

Jennifer Bradbury – Executive Director of the Taco Bell Foundation

Jennifer Bradbury - Executive Director of the Taco Bell Foundation
About Jennifer Bradbury

Jennifer (Jen) Bradbury is the Executive Director of the Taco Bell Foundation. Jen studied Sociology and Anthropology at UCLA and followed it up with an MBA at the UC Irvine Paul Merage School of Business. She worked in events right after college and, from there, managed the Anaheim Ducks Foundation working with the owners, players and their families on charity work in Southern California. She then moved to Oakley and worked specifically on running their global cause marketing efforts. She produced charity events tied to sporting events.

Jen began her Taco Bell career in 2016 as the Senior Manager, Marketing & Business Development. She then worked her way up to Director, Strategic Development and was then promoted to the Executive Director of the Taco Bell Foundation in 2021. In her position, she oversees the daily management of the Taco Bell Foundation as well as Taco Bell’s philanthropic efforts.

Connect with Jennifer: Email | Linkedin

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Sociology at UCLA

Anthropology at UCLA

Masters of Business Administration (MBA) at the UC Irvine Paul Merage School of Business

Anaheim Ducks Foundation

Oakley

Taco Bell Foundation

Live Mas Scholarship Renewal Program – Taco Bell Foundation

Ambition Accelerator – Taco Bell Foundation

Summer of Inspiration – Taco Bell Foundation

Taco Bell RoundUp Program

Boys and Girls Club of America

Junior Achievement Worldwide

Ashoka

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:55):

Today’s guest is Jennifer Bradbury.

Sam Demma (00:59):

Jen Bradbury is the Executive Director of the Taco Bell Foundation. Jen studied sociology and anthropology at UCLA and followed it up with an MBA at the Uc Irvine Paul Merage School of Business. She worked in events right after college, and from there managed the Anaheim Ducks Foundation, working with the owners, players, and their families on charity work in Southern California. She then moved to Oakley and worked specifically on running their global cause marketing efforts. She produced charity events tied to sporting events. Jen began her Taco Bell career in 2016 as the Senior Manager, Marketing & Business Development. She then worked her way up to Director, Strategic Development and was then promoted to the Executive Director of the Taco Bell Foundation in 2021. In her position, she oversees the daily management of the Taco Bell Foundation as well as Taco Bell’s philanthropic efforts. I hope you enjoy this exciting conversation with Jen and I will see you on the other side. Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today we have a very special guest. Her name is Jennifer Bradbury. Jen, please start by introducing yourself.

Jennifer Bradbury (02:12):

Hi Sam. I’m so excited to be here with you today. Thanks for having me. I’m Jennifer Bradbury. I’m the Executive Director of the Taco Bell Foundation and we do a lot of amazing work with young people today, and we’re really trying to inspire the next generation of leaders and break down barriers to their education. So I’m excited to chat.

Sam Demma (02:32):

Let’s talk about it. I mean, <laugh>, tell me about when you got involved with the foundation, because I know it’s not your first philanthropic effort. tell me when you got involved with them and what initially even inspired your desire to be in a position to try and make a positive impact.

Jennifer Bradbury (02:49):

Yeah, Okay. Well, that, that’s a lot to unpack <laugh>. So let’s, let’s get started. I have been at Taco Bell for almost seven years now, but I have been doing corporate philanthropy for almost my entire career. It was something I fell into when I was out of undergrad. I did my undergrad at ucla. I majored in sociology and anthropology. really broad. Didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do even coming out of undergrad, but I started working in sports entertainment. and that after a couple of years of working on events at our arena here in Southern California, I pivoted just because of an opportunity really to do community relations with the Anaheim Ducks Hockey Club. So I helped start the foundation that the Anaheim Ducks ran. Nice. And we worked with tons of nonprofits across Southern California. We worked very closely with our players wives to help, help do good in the community.

Sam Demma (03:53):

Yes. we worked very closely with our players. So that’s really where I got my start in this work. It I went to business school at uc, Irvine while I was there, and I quickly moved over to Oakley, which is sunglass company. They are they’re a division of Leica based in Italy, but with Oakley, they had a nonprofit called One Site, and we delivered global vision care to underserved communities across the world. And then we did really cool charity activations with global sporting events. So it was, it was fun. It was interesting. I was in my late twenties and I got to travel the world. It was really all I ever thought a job could be until Taco Bell came along and I thought, Wow, this, this just keeps getting better and better. So the thing about Taco Bell and the Taco Bell Foundation is when we talk about our why and why we want to do work and why we go to work every day.

Sam Demma (04:49):

Cause it’d be easy to sometimes just not wanna do that. Right. Yeah. My why is I love connecting people. I think connecting people together is one of the coolest things. I think if I could build strategies and connect people, which is what I do at Taco Bell, I’d be very happy. And I am very happy. So here we, here we’re. but yeah, it took me a while to figure that out and the fact that some corporate philanthropy, which is really the feel good side of business, and when your business is successful, it allows you to do it in a really cool, meaningful way. It’s just, it’s such a win. I just, I feel so lucky to wake up and do what I do every day.

Sam Demma (05:28):

There’s so many programs running the Talk Bell Foundation that have a huge impact on youth and young people. what are some of the programs you’re really passionate about and sometimes involved in where you get to see young people Yeah. flourishing and making an impact?

Jennifer Bradbury (05:45):

Yeah. So we, we actually run three different programs at Taco Bell, at the Taco Bell Foundation. but I have to do a quick shout out to how we get to really run those programs. So if you go to Taco Bell and you’re asked to round up, please say yes because I’m about to tell you about three of the amazing programs. It helps, I have to tell you change. I like to say change changes lives. We have an average donation of about 46 cents, and that has turned into millions and millions of dollars. So our first program I wanna tell you about is our Mont Scholarship. And we are giving, we’ve given away more than $30 million to young people through scholarship support. And we call ’em be beyond the money resources as well. This year we’re going to give away, or next year in 2023, Sam, we’re gonna give away 10 million that’s gone.

Jennifer Bradbury (06:36):

So it’s growing so fast you’ve gotten to meet some of our scholars, but Lima Scholarship is really a program. young people receive between five and $25,000 in funding. It’s renewable for up to four years. So up to a hundred thousand dollars paying for school is really great. A lot of people need that help. so we asked students to tell us in a two minute video what they’re uniquely passionate about and how they’re gonna use it to make a difference in the world. The money’s awesome, like I said. But what I really love is our beyond the money resources. So we run conferences, we have an online portal, we set up mentorship opportunities, You need help writing your resume, or you wanna find a group of like-minded peers. We connect our young people with all of that. So we have about 1900 students in our program. Now,

Sam Demma (07:26):

Some of the most amazing young people I’ve met, they’re, they’re so talented. I think what’s really unique and awesome about the program is that it also supports the individuals who might be taking pathways that are not classified as the typical paths that you might take following post-secondary or during post-secondary. And as someone who has taken a very artistic path path, myself, I really resonate with that idea and think it’s so important.

Jennifer Bradbury (07:51):

A hundred percent. We love students that are going to trade school, two year school trade, vocational, pursuing the arts, whatever passion you have, and if it’s something that’s gonna make this world a somewhat better place, we wanna hear about it.

Sam Demma (08:08):

That’s awesome. So that’s one of three. I’m already getting excited. Tell me about the other thing. Okay,

Jennifer Bradbury (08:12):

<laugh>. So then we have our we called our community grants program. So we were in our 30th year as the Taco Bell Foundation. This year we gave away over 7 million to 400 nonprofits, but we’re gonna more than double that in 2023. And we’re gonna be giving away 15 million to nonprofits across the country that are supporting young people, get their education and break down barriers that they face in getting that education. So it’s organizations like Boys and Girls Clubs of America, City Year Junior Achievement College advising Core, and many, many more. There’s so many incredible non-profits that help young people today pursue their passions and get their education. So that’s our committee grants program. Nice. And then this year we’ve launched a pilot program called Ambition Accelerator. This is in partnership with Ashoka, which is one of the leading change making organizations in youth change making organizations in the world.

Jennifer Bradbury (09:12):

They are working with us to find, we call it Shark Tank for good <laugh>, but basically it’s stemmed out of Lima’s scholarship too. So a lot of our students are graduating, They have really cool, unique passions. They’re starting nonprofits and social enterprises, and we wanna be able to fund them and invest in them. So we have we opened an application period earlier this year for young people to apply through a video telling us what, what business are they starting, what nonprofit are they starting, and what funding do they need? So we now, next week, have 20 teams coming to Taco Bell headquarters to do a pitch competition meet all sorts of people to help them along their path, whether it’s with their business plan or public speaking, and tell us about their ideas and win money. So we’re looking forward to really taking our investing in young people to the next level.

Sam Demma (10:13):

Are, are you gonna be sitting on the judges’ panel being like, Here’s 10,000 <laugh>.

Jennifer Bradbury (10:17):

Right. I, I can have, like, I dunno if anyone, a few people know who Oprah is anymore, but I feel like I get my Oprah moments where I’m like, You get 10,000 and you get 10,000 <laugh>.

Sam Demma (10:28):

What, what keeps you personally excited about this work every single day? I’m sure there’s some difficult moments, but what is continuously driving you and motivating you?

Jennifer Bradbury (10:38):

Yeah, again, I think it’s just re it’s this next generation. Our, this is a hard, this is a hard world we’re all living in. I don’t think any day goes by that people don’t, aren’t stressed by something that’s happening in the world. It’s, it’s constant and it’s, it can be very overwhelming, but I’m really excited about this generation coming up. I think they have such a unique opportunity and so many tools and resources that I didn’t have, my parents didn’t have, my grandparents didn’t have. And I just want them to be set up for success and to be able to fix some of these crazy problems we’re dealing with. whether it’s issues with climate or issues with mental, mental health. You know, there’s just so many things they can, they can fix for us and fix for them. So I, that is what gets me excited is that there’s hope.

Sam Demma (11:34):

I love it. One thing that a lot of young people often tell me is, I don’t know what I wanna do with my life. And they, they struggle with, you know, figuring out the career they wanna get into. And I wanna backtrack for just a second, cuz you mentioned that after, you know, ucla, you, you kind of stumbled into the, the role you were in when you were going through school. Did you have this idea in your mind that you were gonna work in philanthropy and, you know, be working with the Taco Bell right now? And if no what do you think in terms of the actions you took is responsible for kind of bringing you to where you are today?

Jennifer Bradbury (12:10):

Oh, I love this question, Sam. I know is the answer. I did not think this is what I was gonna do. I didn’t even know this was a job, to be honest. and I think that’s what’s really amazing about what a lot of young people are going to be doing. Those jobs don’t exist right now. You’re really preparing yourself for a job that you don’t even know what it is today, and in 20 years it’s going to be a job. So you have to try new things. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, that’s my number one. I tried all sorts of things. I thought I wanted to be a news anchor. So I went and did an internship with our local CBS affiliate. I thought I wanted to be a talent agent. So I got an internship with a talent agency. Nice. I thought I wanted to potentially do something in retail.

Jennifer Bradbury (12:52):

So I went and worked at a local retail store. So you have to try different things, Try ’em on, It’s the time to try on Right. And see what you like doing. And then you have to be open. You really have to just be open to try to trying those things. and then when opportunities come, you have to not only be open to trying ’em, but you have to be okay failing. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. Because if we’re not failing, we didn’t try hard enough. We didn’t, we didn’t push the boundary far enough. We didn’t, we didn’t reach high enough because failing is, failing is actually what happens when you try hard and you’re gonna fail. Not everything’s gonna work, it just doesn’t. But when you fail and you fail fast and you’ve learn from it, you’re gonna be so much better the next time around.

Jennifer Bradbury (13:40):

So I just think it’s, it’s you, you’ve gotta be, be open to new things, being willing to fail, fail fast, and move on, and looking for connections and people, people to, to talk to and, and, because you just don’t know what’s out there. So yeah, I didn’t, I didn’t know this was what I was gonna be doing. If someone had told my younger self this was it, I would’ve been like, That’s a thing. <laugh>, that’s a job. but I’m happy I’m doing it. I’ve, I’m really, Taco Bell did a, a job series not that long ago, called, or a couple years ago I guess now, called Best Job in the World. Nice. When I did it, I was like, Yeah, well, no one else can do this anymore. Cause I actually have it. <laugh>.

Sam Demma (14:25):

That’s amazing. One of my favorite musicians, rappers has a quote and he says, You know, I saw all my failures is Stepping Stones. And he released like 94 songs that caught no one’s attention before releasing a debut album that took the world by storm. And I really resonate with that idea that if we’re not failing, we’re really not pushing hard enough. And all of our mistakes, all of our failures, if we reflect on them, can be these amazing learning moments. And I’m curious, when you think about the times in your journey where you reached really high and pushed really hard and learn something through a failure or a mistake are there any stories like that, that come to mind of challenging moments that you think you learn from that other people who work with youth or who are reaching big could benefit from hearing?

Jennifer Bradbury (15:20):

I, I think you can ask anyone that works at the Taco Bell Foundation. I, I talk about this constantly. If we’re not failing, we, like you said, we haven’t tried hard enough. Yeah. So yes, I fail all the time. I think there’s things that are missteps or things we could have done differently regularly, but there’s amazing things that come out of that. So, you know, just talking about Roundup and where we are with Roundup and how we raise money to run the really cool programs that we put on at the Taco Bell Foundation, you’re not that long ago pre pandemic, we were raising five, five to $7 million in our restaurants each year, which is great. That’s, there’s something wrong with that. That’s a, that’s a lot of money to raise and give back. But fast forward to this year, we’re, because we try do things because we were willing to fail and not have it work. We’re gonna go from raising five, $5 million a year to raising more than $30 million this year. Damn. But that wouldn’t have happened if we kept doing the same thing that we had been doing. Right. You don’t, you don’t get different results doing the same things, so you have to try new things. I think that’s, so everyone could take that away.

Sam Demma (16:31):

Love that.

Jennifer Bradbury (16:32):

It, we’re all better off.

Sam Demma (16:34):

What we don’t have to dive deep into strategy, but from a, from a big picture, what changed that you think really enabled that much growth? That’s almost like six times as much <laugh>.

Jennifer Bradbury (16:46):

Yeah, it’s insane growth. It’s really, it’s really crazy. I mean, and that’s even just year over year is we, were, we raised $18 million last year, so it’s almost, it’s almost doubled. I, to be really candid, I was really sick of how we were fundraising. I was bored with it. I knew if I was bored with it, I knew our franchisees were bored with it. I knew our team members and our restaurants were bored with it. I knew our customers were bored with it. So I didn’t wanna do it anymore. It wasn’t not fun. Like, that’s the other thing is you gotta be having fun. We get one shot at this life, and if we’re not having fun doing it, what, what’s the point? And like, I use fun loosely, right? I’m using some air quotes here. What everything can’t be fun at every minute because yeah, life is hard and it takes work, but we’ve gotta have outlets that allow us to have fun and enjoy stuff. Because life is short, life is precious, and we’ve got to, we, we get one chance of doing it. So I was not having fun doing it, and I knew everyone else wasn’t. And so we had to try new, new things. And I honestly think to some extent, if you’re trying, you’re trying new things, you’re pushing yourself, you’re taking a risk, you’re having fun while you’re doing it, those are starting the, those are a lot of recipes or a lot of ingredients to put together a really good recipe. So

Sam Demma (18:07):

It’s so true. I think that is such a good reminder. Boredom could be a signal for change. You know, if, if you’re starting to feel bored about the things you’re doing, it’s not okay to just continue doing them. <laugh>, you gotta reflect on why. And, you know, maybe start charting a new path or pursuing something else, or changing the whole system and making it more enjoyable and having fun in the process. it’s such a good, Yeah, it’s such a good way to put it. And I appreciate you sharing that. I think a lot of educators over the past couple of years have probably struggled with burnout as well. And I’m curious to know, how do you personally fill up your cup so that you can show up every single day and give so much and manage so many different things? Like what is Jennifer Bradbury’s self care routine look like?

Jennifer Bradbury (18:58):

<laugh>, I, I feel like it should be better than it really is, to be honest. I think that’s somewhat something that everyone, like I was saying, we’re all struggling these days. I think that’s something that I probably struggle with too. But I, a big part of, of my self care routine is who I surround myself with. Nice. I’m an incredible husband. I have two amazing, they’re technically my step kids, but they’re my kids. and then I have a awesome dog. Nice. I have great siblings, I have fantastic parents. So I really feel like I’m so lucky with who I get to surround myself with and spend my free time with. I reading, I like to read all sorts of things. getting a good walk in I think is really good for clearing the mind. And then the other thing I’d add is I, which is I’ve not had with the pandemic as much as I had before, but traveling, I think being able to be fortunate enough to experience other cultures and other countries and other cities is just such a wonderful experience. And that really fills my bucket when I get a chance to do that.

Sam Demma (20:07):

I love that. Well, what kind of dog do you have?

Jennifer Bradbury (20:10):

I have a golden retriever. He is a English cream and he’s two years old in two days.

Sam Demma (20:17):

Awesome. Very cool. Well, happy early birthday dog.

Jennifer Bradbury (20:20):

<laugh>. Happy early birthday to Cabo.

Sam Demma (20:22):

Love it. Oh, nice. that’s so cool. I think when things get difficult we can’t lean on ourselves. We have to lean on each other. So it sounds like you have a really great support system which is amazing. And I would assume that your colleagues at work, probably also when things get difficult, are super supportive and, you know, help you along the journey as well. I’m curious in education, you know, an educator will hear about the impact that their program or their class is having on a kid. Do you also hear about the stories of how programs are impacting certain individuals with the Taco Bell Foundation programs? And if so, is there any specific stories, maybe one or two that come to mind that you often think of when you might be feeling burnt out to remind yourself why this work is so important?

Jennifer Bradbury (21:12):

Sam, I don’t have, you don’t have enough time for me to go through all the stories that I have of young people that are just incredible. Like I, you know, you said we, you got to meet a number of them, A number of our Lima scholars, they are, they, they’re the reason our world is gonna be okay and it, things are going to get better and gonna work out because of these young people. We all need to invest in them. We all need to build them up and give them the tools and resources they need to, to make this world better. One of the coolest stories that is happening at this moment is we have a Lima Scholar who was one of our original scholarship recipients. Okay. Back when we started the program about seven years ago. His name’s Jonathan. He was in, he’s into filmmaking.

Jennifer Bradbury (21:58):

Nice. He did a really cool listen, your video does not have to be good that you submit for our scholarship, like talk, talk to your phone. But he did do a pretty amazing application video. We ended up filming a, a mini little docu series with him about his journey and about what he was pursuing. He graduated, he got his master’s degree. Fast forward now, he is actually filming content for us to use in term to promote the scholarship and the work we’re doing at the Taco Bell Foundation. So talk about his journey coming for full circle. It’s just, it’s so inspiring to see. so I’ve been able to support him when he was, you know, 18 and starting to, to right now he’s, he’s running his company and building his business and we’re using him as one of our production efforts. So it’s so cool. Oh,

Sam Demma (22:56):

So cool. What a cool full circle moment. Yeah. And I, I’m sure there’s so many other young people who have such amazing stories and journeys. I met a few animators, I’ve reme, if I remember it correctly, and there was a lot of artists. There’s a lot of people Yes. That’s super interested in technology and, and tech. what are the different types of interests of students that apply for the scholarship? Like give us a quick example.

Jennifer Bradbury (23:20):

Yeah. Oh, Sam, you say an interest. We have someone, So one of our young people, she is developing a you know, obviously there’s a crisis with bees. Yeah. Right. In this world, we’re, we’re running out of bees. There’s not enough bees to, for the, for food. So I’m gonna butcher how she sheen should be on here telling you her spiel. That’s okay. But she’s so cool. She’s developed this very easy kit to basically start a beehive in your backyard. And so it’s so cool. It’s so simple to make. She has the such a cool sales pitch for how she, she does it. but she’s helping the honey bee population. Like, ah, she can have a passion for bees. So we have students who are of passion for food insecurity for cooking. You know, you could be on, on one, one side of the spectrum and the other having to do with food. We have people that are in the medical field, We have people that are in the teach. We have lots of teachers. it’s a huge group of, of people that are applying for our scholarship. Everything in between. So whatever you are passionate about, demonstrate that. And how are you making a difference? Listen, there’s, we have a duct tape artist.

Sam Demma (24:42):

Wow. <laugh>. Yeah.

Jennifer Bradbury (24:45):

So everything goes.

Sam Demma (24:47):

Okay, cool. I, I was super inspired. The event that I attended was the, or spoke at was the summer of inspiration. for people wondering what is it like to be on the ground? That one was virtual, but I’m sure you’ve done events in person as well. What is it like to be on the ground at a Taco Bell Foundation event

Jennifer Bradbury (25:05):

When the, our young people, it’s very humbling because as we’ve said, they’re all ridiculously smart and cool. so you, it just was, I’m like, Wow, I just, this is so cool to be, you leave, you leave. So talk about a bucket filling moment. Your bucket is filled after being at a Taco Bell foundation event, and we do it in a Taco Bell way. So it’s really fun. there’s really cool speakers. There’s lots swag, we love ourselves, Taco Bell t-shirts and hats and bags and all of that stuff. There’s lots of good music. We have all sorts of performers performing and good food. Obviously the taco truck always makes the parents so

Sam Demma (25:49):

Very cool. That’s awesome. I, if you could, we’ve talked a lot about the foundation Yeah. As a whole in your career. If you could bundle up all of your experiences, travel back in time, and speak to yourself when you were just starting your first role in philanthropy knowing what you know now and with the experiences you, you have, what would you tell your younger self in the form of advice? Not because you would change anything about your path, but because you think it would be helpful to hear at the start of that journey.

Jennifer Bradbury (26:18):

Yeah. I don’t know that my younger self would’ve listened knowing how stubborn I am, but I wish he would’ve known to believe in herself more and to have confidence that like, she’s got this, She’s got it. And don’t let people try and take you from your path. Don’t let you know, drown that. Drown the haters out, Right. Because you have to have confidence in yourself. You have to believe in it yourself. You have to advocate for yourself. You have to be your biggest cheerleader. I think that’s stuff I probably knew to some extent back then, but I didn’t know it the way I know it now. And it would’ve probably made things a little easier to have known it. So,

Sam Demma (27:03):

Love that. Thank you so much for sharing. It’s been an honour and pleasure chatting with you on the podcast. Thank you for sharing, you know, your experiences and good luck with the Ambition Accelerator event. By the time this airs, it may have already happened with thousands of dollars being given away on the project, so I’m so excited about it. if someone wants to get in touch with the Taco Bell Foundation, ask a question, or even reach out to you, what would be the most efficient way for them to send a message?

Jennifer Bradbury (27:29):

Yeah, so if you wanna chat with me, I’m on LinkedIn, feel free to connect. And then we have a, our website is taco bell foundation.org. You can learn all about our programs, you can get our Live Mont Scholarship application when Ambition Accelerator opens. Again, you can find it there. So check us out online.

Sam Demma (27:46):

Awesome. Jen, thank you so much. I so appreciate the time and energy. Keep up with the great work.

Jennifer Bradbury (27:52):

This was so fun. Thank you.

Sam Demma (27:53):

You’re welcome. You’re welcome. And we’ll talk soon.

Jennifer Bradbury (27:55):

Okay, sounds good.

Sam Demma (27:58):

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

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Jennifer Bradbury

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.

Vickie Morgado – Elementary Guidance Experiential Learning Teacher

Vickie Morgado - Elementary Guidance Experiential Learning Teacher
About Vickie Morgado

Vickie (@vickiemorgado1) has been an elementary educator in Ontario, Canada, for over 20 years. She has taught multiple grades and is currently an EGELT (Elementary Guidance Experiential Learning Teacher). Vickie believes in empowering her students to take charge of their learning to create positive change in the world, becoming agents of change.

She holds a Master of Education in Curriculum Studies and has presented throughout southern Ontario at various conferences, including BIT and Connect and internationally at ISTE. Vickie is a Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert (MIEE), Global Mentor, Nearpod PioNear, Global Goals Ambassador, National Geographic Certified Educator and Micro:bit Champion.

Connect with Vickie: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Master of Education, Curriculum Studies – Brock University

English BA – York University

Connect Conference

ISTE

Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert (MIEE)

Global Mentor

Nearpod PioNear

Global Goals Ambassadors – United Nations Association

National Geographic Educator Certification

Micro:bit Champion

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:56):

Today’s special guest is Vickie Morgado.

Sam Demma (00:59):

Vickie has been an elementary educator in Ontario, Canada for over 20 years. She has taught multiple grades and is currently an EGELT (Elementary Guidance experiential learning teacher). Vickie believes in empowering her students to take charge of their learning to create positive change in the world, becoming agents of change. She holds a Masters of Education and Curriculum studies and is presented throughout Southern Ontario at various conferences, including BITand Connect, as well as internationally at ISTE. Vickie is a Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert (MIEE), Global Mentor, Nearpod PioNear, Global Goals Ambassador, National Geographic Certified Educator and Micro:bit Champion. I hope you enjoy this conversation with Vickiw and I will see you on the other side. Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator Podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today we are joined by a very special guest. Her name is Vickiw Morgado. Vickie, please start by introducing yourself.

Vickie Morgado (02:00):

Hi everybody. My name is Vickie Morgado. This is my, I think, 22nd, 21st year in education. I’m currently a elementary guidance experiential learning teacher. I support 11 schools working more with middle, middle school students, and I’m really excited to be here.

Sam Demma (02:21):

When did you realize growing up as a student yourself that you wanted to work in education?

Vickie Morgado (02:28):

 I think I was, early on I was kind of that kid that would like, organize all the games and you know, I see get everybody <laugh> doing something fun. But then in high school I was, I was this woman instructor and I really, really loved that. And then I volunteered in an elementary school around York University when I was there and I applied to the concurrent program and I didn’t get in the first year, but I applied again and I got in and and it’s been awesome. It, it just felt very natural. It’s definitely my vocation, it’s my calling. So it’s challenging. Every day is very different, but it’s a very fulfilling career. so it’s definitely, I think what I was meant to do.

Sam Demma (03:12):

It sounds like you’re working at the systems level overlooking lots of different schools. Would you call it the systems level or

Vickie Morgado (03:19):

Yeah, it’s, you know mm-hmm. <affirmative>? No, that’s a really good question. So what I love about it is I’m in classrooms every day teaching. Okay. But I get to do fun stuff every day. so the kids really look forward to it and I put a lot of thought and passion into the different activities that I’m working with. So they can range from, you know, like with my grade eight, I’m picking courses and talking about all the opportunities beyond high school, not just in high school, but helping them transition. But then I do a lot of work with technology and coding and STEM and trying to promote that with young women especially. so, but I’m really there to support teachers and, and just like our students or teachers are at all different levels. so I’m really there as, you know, I’m just trying to make learning fun ignite a passion and just be there to support not just our, our our our students, but our educators in learning and learn alongside them. So it’s, it’s, I love it. It’s, it’s a great, it’s been the best job that I’ve ever had in the 21 years, so I love it.

Sam Demma (04:18):

Within the 21 years, what are the different roles you’ve played in education? Tell me about some of the different responsibilities and positions if we were to use a sports analogy.

Vickie Morgado (04:29):

<laugh>. Yeah. No, I, I definitely have done a lot of different things. I like moving around and I love challenging myself. So I started off teaching like grade six junior grades. I moved into intermediate and took my intermediate qualifications. Then I got tired of that. So I went down to primary taught primary. I was a technology coach for about six months or so. so I was supporting PRI elementary and secondary, so that was awesome. And then went back to the classroom and now I’m doing this and like, I’m sure I’ll do something else in a couple years <laugh>. Cause that’s the way I rule. I like to keep learning and keep challenging myself and trying new things. So

Sam Demma (05:07):

You mentioned that every day in the current role you’re in is very fun and you’re very intentional about the games you choose to play and the activities. What are some of the things you’ve done recently that you think students really enjoyed or staff really enjoyed and you had a lot of fun facilitating

Vickie Morgado (05:24):

<laugh>? So right now I’ve been, I have one more school to work with. I’m doing a breakout edu. So it’s an escape room style activity. so it’s having the students kind of solve puzzles and they’re related to like graduation and high school credits and what you need, but also digital citizenship and also you know art, like, you know, basically questions to do with teamwork. And it’s just it’s just been great and they love it. and I love, like every experience is totally different. Every team is different. And I just love seeing how they interact and get frustrated and move beyond that and kind of learn. And then we consolidate that at the end and we talk about like, what went well, who could give a shout out to on your team, what did you see working well and relate that to like, you know, you’re gonna be in teams no matter what you do in life, and you know, what worked well and what didn’t and get them thinking about that and how to choose groups and looking for, you know, when you choose a group, I always say you want, you know, people with different strengths.

Vickie Morgado (06:22):

You don’t wanna pick everybody that’s like you. so, and how to navigate challenges and how to speak up when you don’t agree. And so I, it’s been, it’s been a really positive experience. So yeah, it’s been fun watching.

Sam Demma (06:34):

That sounds amazing. Where do you, where do you gather ideas from? I’m, I’m assuming some of them come from your own thinking, but is there a way or is there like a place you also gain inspiration from?

Vickie Morgado (06:47):

 absolutely. So I’ve been really lucky and I, I go to a lot of conferences. I talk to a lot of educators on social not just in my like, you know, school board, but like in other parts of the world. I see. I just saw something cool on Twitter that I saw somebody doing with coding and he’s in another board and I was like, messaged Tim Sep privately was like, I love this. I wanna bring this to my classes. Can we like talk and meet? and so we’re gonna meet on you know, teams or whatnot virtually, and he’s gonna kind of walk me through what he did. So I’m really big on like, you, the learning isn’t just in your walls of your school. Like there’s amazing educators out there doing amazing things globally. and when I was a classroom teacher, I used to co-teach with them.

Vickie Morgado (07:34):

So like in grade two we had this really cool, like solid to liquid to gas experiment where you feel like a balloon up with water and you know, so, and then, you know, becomes a snowman and you watch it through the states of matter. But to make it cooler, I was paired up with a class in Texas and we throughout the day we’re like messaging and tweeting and sharing like our snowman’s melting faster. And so Atlanta, we’ve done, we’ve done a lot of stuff like that. And, and that’s really helped me keep motivated through my career, but also kept me learning and also kept me growing and being able to really stay on top of my game and try new things. Cause students will get bored of, you know, the breakout and then you need something else to engage them. So yeah.

Sam Demma (08:16):

You mentioned you were a technology coach at one point. I also noticed you have a beautiful headset on that sounds amazing. So you must love technology to some degree, <laugh>. yeah. What was your experience like through the pandemic and how did your teaching style have to change as a result?

Vickie Morgado (08:34):

<laugh>? So that’s a really good question because prior to the pandemic Yeah, I, I’m, I’m a big person with tech. Like I, okay. I go to huge tech conferences, I present at tech conferences. So when the pandemic hit, I wasn’t afraid. I was like, this is my forte. Yeah. However, it was too much tech and I started to hate technology <laugh>, and that’s when I realized, I used to talk about this pre pandemic, but creating that digital balance with students was so important. And I got to a point where I literally wanted to throw my computer across the room and smash it into a million pieces. And I think we all felt that like, as wonderful as technology is it doesn’t replace that, you know, face to face contact, that connection. and while it was awesome that we had the tools, it most definitely cannot replace, you know, you know, being with people, no matter what anybody says, it really cannot. And so for me, it taught me to create more balance with technology and made me passionate about that. So in getting outside and, and just, you know, doing other things. So

Sam Demma (09:37):

You mentioned conferences. Is there any conference you are a regular at that you are like, Oh, this one’s happening again this year? Or are there any conferences that have occurred in the past that really equipped you with new tools and ideas and amazing connections that you think are really informed you of some new ideas?

Vickie Morgado (09:57):

There’s a lot of great conferences. I’ve been really lucky and I’ve gone to like, STA science conference and reading for the love of it is awesome for literacy. if you are into technology you know, Canada has the Connect conference in the Bring It Together conference. But you know, the Disney World, I guess, of technology for me has been isti, which is the International Society for Technology Educators. And I think I went back in 2015 for the first time, and it was pretty cool cause I actually ended up presenting with somebody that I had never met in person. We put in a proposal together and we kind of met there and we kind of presented together. We put everything virtually. And back then, this was pre pandemic. It, I, it was, we were doing some really cool things. Okay. But when I went there, I was like, literally there’s like 10,000 people there.

Vickie Morgado (10:47):

It’s like absolute like big huge conference. And there was all these people that I’d seen again online, but I actually got to talk to them in person. And so the sessions were amazing and all that, but it was just being able to connect with people. And when I saw what was going on on an international level, more North American, but definitely international and saw students from all over the world, I was like, Wow, I need to step up my game. Like this is, this is awesome. So I’ve tried to go back to that because to me that’s always been sort of the big, the big one for technology. But yeah, any, any, there’s some fabulous educational conferences out there and they’re a great way to just keep you learning. So,

Sam Demma (11:25):

Yeah. Are there any tech tools that although the pandemic has passed you continue to use now that you find extremely valuable in your classroom or with your students?

Vickie Morgado (11:36):

 yeah, there’s, there’s a lot of them. it depends what I’m doing. So definitely like video conferencing is huge. you know, just to stay in touch with like, educators that I work with internationally. But near Pod is awesome. I’ve worked with them since they came and I was looking for something that was like, you could do cross platform and Nearpod. I mean, it was, it was amazing during the pandemic because especially with middle school students, you often don’t know if they’re listening or if they’re on like Discord or doing something else <laugh>. So you can like ask a question and you can see who’s doing what and also you can share out their answers. And it’s anonymous. So where you’ll get like the same four students that talk, you get 30 responses. And so there’s a lot of power in that.

Vickie Morgado (12:26):

 yeah, that, that one is, has always been my one of my go-tos for sure. but if we’re talking like creation apps, there’s so many great ones out there right now we’re using, We video, we’re having a film festival that we’re working on, and the students are going to be creating their own movies that we just started. Yes, we did this last year. And so we, video is works well on, you know, Chrome browser and it’s just our students have Chromebooks, so that one is huge. but like, there’s so many amazing products out there that depending on what you’re doing, lend themselves really nicely to student voice and differentiation and all the things that we’re supposed to be doing as educators. So

Sam Demma (13:07):

One of the resources that I think are most valuable are other people. And I’m sure there, there’s other people in your life as well who have played an impact on you, maybe in the role of mentorship or colleagues who you lean on when things get difficult and they lean on you, vice versa. When you think about the mentors in your life, is there anyone that comes to mind that you think really helped you develop as a teacher, as an educator? Or was it a collection of individuals?

Vickie Morgado (13:34):

Definitely a collection. Like I had a really great elementary school experience where they valued my ethnicity and that they brought that into the, the schooling system. I had teachers that made me love learning that made me feel like I belonged, I was important. and that love early on, I think carried on to later in life. And then even in university, I had so many great people, like even my practicum leader my last year who was there for me. you know, there’s, there’s, there’s it, it always seems like when you need somebody, there’s somebody there for different reasons that kind of pushes you along. So there’s so many. And of course, like the team I work on now, there’s 14 of us. they’re amazing. My partner that I work with is amazing on my team and she just takes my list, like my ideas and I’ll take her ideas and I think we make them come out better. and what I love about Connie is that when we met she was like, you know, I just to warn you, my ideas are like really big. They’re out there and you gotta bring me down. And I thought, I said to her, We are in big trouble because

Sam Demma (14:47):

I didn’t say this. I’m

Vickie Morgado (14:48):

The same way. We’re gonna, like, we’re gonna have so much, much work on our hands and so many, cuz you know, it’s like, well, like I have an idea and then it ups it, it just keeps going and going. And I love being on teams like that where people are, you know, collaborators and they’re hard working and they push you and they question you. I think they just challenge you to become that much better every day. And, and that’s like I’ve been fortunate. Those have been the mentors and the people that, you know, keep me going. So yeah.

Sam Demma (15:14):

The idea of questioning ideas, is that something that happens often? Like you challenge each other?

Vickie Morgado (15:20):

 you know, it depends. Like I think in education sometimes we’re, but maybe elementary a little more than secondary, we try and we’re like really polite with each other. We don’t wanna step on each other’s toes. But I keep telling students, especially with the equity work that I’m doing, that we need to be okay to say the wrong things and challenge each other and know how to dis. And I think that’s a skill we had to teach more is teach kids how to disagree with each other in respectful ways. because especially on social, there seems to be more of this like silo happening where it’s like you’re just listening to everybody that believes everything you’re saying. And it’s like, these people are, you know, they’re way out there. But like, if we don’t actually listen to each other, nothing’s gonna change. you don’t have to agree with other people, but let’s have a dialogue and a discussion as opposed to just behaving each other, which is what I’m seeing on social a lot, especially when it comes to politics.

Vickie Morgado (16:12):

<laugh>. Yeah. So, you know, I want my students to be like, it’s okay to challenge me. And I’ve had students say that and I say that like, I’m gonna get it wrong. you know, one of the best lessons I did was critical literacy lesson where and I got this idea from a conference. There’s this website about the Pacific what is it? there’s this, this basically it’s a fake animal that they, we claim, oh, it’s a, a octopus that lives in a, in a Christmas tree, basically a trick <laugh>. And I told the kids that I was really passionate about saving this animal. And you know, I was looking for fundraising, you know, and we were gonna write a letter to their parents to ask for donations. And like, nobody really questioned me. I mean, they’re grade three and I get that and I’m in a position of authority, but yeah, like, doesn’t it kind of sound ridiculous that there’s an octopus in a Christmas tree? Like, and then after some of them were like, Well, I didn’t wanna be mean to you. And I’m like, But it’s not being mean. It’s asking questions. Right? Yeah. So we, you know, trying to teach them to like, and I get that traditionally the education system has not been like that, but I think we do need to to, and they need to advocate for themselves, right? so yeah, it, it, I think that’s a skill we should be teaching more.

Sam Demma (17:25):

That’s a phenomenal idea and concept. <laugh>, I think it could be used at older ages too. <laugh> to a degree.

Vickie Morgado (17:32):

Yeah. Like spot the fake news. Like I’ll get stuff from friends and not, or relatives and I’ll be like and then I have to like check it out cuz it like looks, the image looks legit, but then when you look it up and there’s different websites that will tell you and you trace the image, it’s fake. And then I have to come back and say, well that isn’t true. Right? So especially now, I think that’s really important to teach students like how to tell between fake and real. Right.

Sam Demma (17:58):

Yeah. That’s awesome. So how does you, how do you balance your day to day if you’re teaching in the classroom, but then also supporting other schools? Like how does it actually work?

Vickie Morgado (18:08):

 so basically you have to be very, very organized. Okay, <laugh>. it’s all about relationship building. Like, here’s this person coming into your room. I’m not there to judge you. I’m there to work with you. and get where people are at and what they need. So you can’t come in with like your own agenda. You have to really get to know the students and get to know the teacher. It’s all about relationship building, getting that trust going and you know, hooking them. So my first lesson was outside with the students doing cooperative games and I hooked a lot of them because they, they were like, this was so much fun, when are you coming back? Right? So you know, and sometimes it’s, you know, during pandemic it was being there for people, listening to people you know, doing what they needed in that moment to support them. So no it is a pretty good balance. I love it cuz every day is different and there’s so many different students and teachers and administrators and people that I work with that it’s it’s, it’s really exciting every day and every school is very different and so it’s, yeah, it’s, it’s, but organization for sure. and yeah, just trying to create that balance for sure is important.

Sam Demma (19:27):

Do you use Google Calendar and have like, color coded events on it? <laugh>

Vickie Morgado (19:33):

 actually, so me and my colleague we just use a doc cuz we’ll talk to each other and tell each other where we’re at. But I do, it’s funny, I have like my Google calendar, but I have my home family calendar still on like old school paper. Yeah. So it depends like, yeah, like for my personal stuff I use my Google calendar and then but yeah, definitely I have a combo of, I’m a kind of, I I’m kind of a hybrid digital and paper pencil. I still like writing

Sam Demma (20:00):

<laugh>. I’m with you. I’m with

Vickie Morgado (20:01):

You. Yeah. Okay. <laugh>

Sam Demma (20:02):

That, that’s awesome. okay. This, this is so unique. I think your role is one that is so important and different from a lot of the past guests that I’ve spoken to, which is why I was so excited to chat with you today. when you think about your experiences in education, can you recall a story where you may have met a student or a young person who was struggling and through education was transformed and how to breakthrough or really got over a struggle they were faced with? And the reason I ask is because I think a lot of educators get into this work because at the core they really just wanna make a positive impact in the lives of young people. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And I’m wondering if a story comes to mind and you know, if it, if there isn’t one specific one, that’s okay too, but if you have one, I would love to hear it.

Vickie Morgado (20:52):

There’s so many and it, what’s neat is in my role, because there are so many students sometimes, and I live in the areas that I work in, Yeah. People will stop me and talk to me and I honestly don’t remember their names. <laugh>. Yeah. Cause there’s so many of them. But one time I was at this red light and there was a police car next to me and I was like, Oh man, what did I do? And I, the, the police officers like waving at me. So I rolled down my window, I’m like, hello? And it was one of my students that I had taught in grade seven and I, I was like, Oh my God. I’m like, you know, you always kind of worry sometimes about some students and you’re like, ugh, like am I doing enough or, and we’re such a small part of their lives, right? Like, because really every year we get different groups of students are gonna have the teachers. but it was so nice to see, he’s like, Yeah, I became a police officer and then we joked and like, so you’re not gonna gimme a ticket

Sam Demma (21:48):

<laugh>.

Vickie Morgado (21:48):

And you know, it was really nice to see like where they’ve, they’ve gone and I’ve heard a lot of stories because I move around sometimes I don’t get as many people like, you know, you know, like I don’t see people coming back cuz I’ll move on, but I’ll be out and about and then people will stop me and then my kids are always like, How do you know everybody? And I’m like, I don’t know who that was necessarily <laugh>, but, and you know, like they’ll say something and I’ll be like, I don’t even remember saying that. Like, you sure that was me? So you never quite know how, what little tiny interactions. And when I think about even the teachers that I have an effect on me. It’s like the little tiny comments sometimes it’s not this big grandiose thing, but just that little like, you know, that that person believed in.

Vickie Morgado (22:32):

You know, that that person like had your back. That makes all the difference. and when I look at my journey, that’s true. Like I said, there was somebody, you know, it wasn’t this big person that made a difference, but like my kindergarten teacher, she let me play piano in front of the class. I felt like a leader. I felt empowered. My grade seven teacher, like made like learning so much fun and really made like English fun. And I went to on to be, become an English major because like I loved and I saw that literacy was everywhere and I loved reading. So like all along there’s been these little journeys and now I think actually the kids are my greatest teachers because if you really stop and listen to, you wanna talk about mentors, these students are phenomenal. And you know, they are, they can be your, everybody has something to teach you. I truly believe that if you’re willing to just like listen and just be open to learning from them and you know that, that is true, I think of all students regardless of their abilities and needs. Like they’re, I think we’re all here to kind of teach each each other something. So

Sam Demma (23:35):

If you could teach yourself something by taking all the experiences you’ve had in education, traveling back, I think you said 21 years or 22 years, and tapping Vicki on the shoulder in her first year teaching, what would you have relayed in terms of advice to your younger self when you were just starting to get into this work? Not because you would’ve changed anything about your journey or the way it unfolded, but because you think it would’ve been beneficial to hear at the start of the whole career.

Vickie Morgado (24:07):

 it’s funny, I, I work, I do do a lot of presentations. I work with faculty students and you know, it’s, it’s like running a marathon almost. And I have run a marathon so I can tell you it’s not always fun, <laugh>,

Vickie Morgado (24:20):

I did it once and I’ll never do it again and I finish it. But you know, there’s times where you’re gonna wanna quit and, but you’ve done the training and you just gotta like keep going. there’s those people on the side cheering you on when you’re running a marathon that are strangers, <laugh> and you’re like, Thank God <laugh>. Cause you just wanna quit. But you hear that, that stranger and you, they’re like, and they can see your name and, and just hearing it gives you that little edge. And so find those. I think it was Fred Rogers said, Find the helpers, find the people stay inspired. Don’t let the politics drag you down. you’re more than enough. You’ve got this, you’re gonna mess up. be compassionate towards yourself and you know, you know, know that you’re trying your best, but the system isn’t perfect.

Vickie Morgado (25:08):

And always advocate for the the students that the system is, you know, the underserved in the system. That should be your goal. And you know, the relationships and, and those students are important. Yes, curriculum’s important, but the end of the day it’s about, you know, making those students love learning, recognize their awesomeness and their people and you know, they’re at a stage in their journey that they, they just need somebody that believes in them. And you know, you can’t, you know, the other thing I would say is you never know what’s going on in a student’s life. So don’t assume anything and try to really listen, listen with an open heart and you know, recognize the privilege that you have in your job and the power that you have.

Sam Demma (25:54):

Such an awesome, insightful answer. Thank you so much for that, and for sharing some of your ideas, the resources you found helpful, a little bit about your journey and education. If an educator is listening to this and wants to reach out, have a conversation, bounce some ideas around, what would be the best way for them to reach out and get in touch with you?

Vickie Morgado (26:11):

Definitely on Twitter, ’causeI’m a little addicted. <laugh>. Ok. yeah, social is great. You can also, I am on Instagram, but it’s more like, that’s more for fun. So yeah, probably Twitter would be the best place to find me, and it’s @vickiemorgato1 My name was taken <laugh>, so I had to add a one.

Sam Demma (26:31):

I was like, are you the only.

Vickie Morgado (26:33):

<laugh>? Yeah, no, there was somebody from Brazil with my name at the time, so I had to add a one. So. Nice.

Sam Demma (26:38):

Yeah. Okay. Awesome. Thank you Morgato. Thank you so much for coming on the podcast. I appreciate it. Keep up the amazing work you’re doing and we’ll talk soon.

Vickie Morgado (26:47):

Thanks. Thanks so much, Sam.

Sam Demma (26:49):

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

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Vickie Morgado

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.

Sheri Lowrie – Communications and Events Coordinator at the University of Windsor

Sheri Lowrie - Communications and Events Coordinator at the University of Windsor
About Sheri Lowrie

Sheri Lowrie (@sherilowrie) is currently a Communications & Events Coordinator at the University of Windsor. In March of 2022, Sheri received the Windsor Proud Award, which recognizes an individual who continuously demonstrates they are Windsor Proud and an excellent community ambassador. She has worked at the University of Windsor for 20 years and enjoyed different roles, from Program Administration to Academic Advising and Recruitment.

She is incredibly passionate about the students, building valuable relationships, making an impact in the lives of young people and being a part of a student’s journey. Sheri finds herself busy in her community by sitting on different boards and committees, coordinating events, and running for the municipal election in her town. She plays hockey and, since the pandemic, found a new love for golf. Sheri believes in personal growth and development and tries to show up each day as her best version. She wants everyone in education, from students to faculty and staff, to know that all they can control are their attitude and effort and knowing that will help them tackle anything.

Connect with Sheri: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

University of Windsor

Employee Recognition Awards – University of Windsor

What does an Academic Advisor do? – University of Windsor

Bachelor of Arts (BA), English – University of Windsor

Bachelor of Arts (BA), Communication, Media & Film – University of Windsor

Bachelor of Arts (BA), Sociology – University of Windsor

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:55):

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

Sam Demma (00:59):

This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest is Sheri Lowrie. Sheri Lowrie is currently a Communications & Events Coordinator at the University of Windsor. In March of 2022, Sheri received the Windsor Proud Award, which recognizes an individual who continuously demonstrates they are Windsor Proud and an excellent community ambassador. She has held a career at the University of Windsor for 20 years and enjoyed different roles, from Program Administration to Academic Advising and Recruitment. She is incredibly passionate about the students, building valuable relationships, making an impact in the lives of young people and being a part of a student’s journey. Sheri finds herself busy in her community by sitting on different boards and committees, coordinating events, and is currently running for a municipal election in her town. She plays hockey and, since the pandemic, found a new love for golf. Sheri believes in personal growth and development and tries to show up each day as the best version of herself. She wants everyone in education, from students to faculty and staff, to know that all they can control are their attitude and effort and knowing that will help them tackle anything. I hope you enjoy this conversation with Sheri, and I will see you on the other side. Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today we have a very special guest, Sheri Lowrie. Sheri, welcome to the show. Please start by introducing yourself.

Sheri Lowrie (02:28):

Thanks so much for having me. It’s really exciting. I’ve, this is actually my first podcast, so I’m excited to, excited to that you invited me on and be able to just ,to chat. So just a little bit about me. I graduated from the University of Windsor in 2004 with my Bachelor of Arts in English literature and language. And I minored in communications in media film and in sociology. And then I started working for the University right away and, but then also got to go travel around and live in New Zealand and visit Australia and backpack Europe as well, before I really settled into my career at the university. And then, you know, flash forward 20, you know, so years later, still here, still enjoying my career, but have also endeavored on running for municipal election in my municipality of Kingsville. So that’s gonna, you know, come to a close next week. So by the time this airs, maybe we will have, have a result. We’ll see what happens. But that’s a little bit about me, married, two kids, and just really living the dream.

Sam Demma (03:43):

You mentioned travels through New Zealand, some parts of Europe. Was that a part of you trying to figure out what you wanted to do, or tell me more about those travels and how they informed the choice you made to get into education full-time?

Sheri Lowrie (03:55):

Yeah, of course. Cause you know, I, all, everything is part of our story. So I think that having that experience really helped shape who I was gonna become. And cuz it was, it was early on, you know, after graduation. So I had finished school, got a job with university right away as, as a contract recruiter where I got to travel Ontario. So then I got this bug of being able to travel and being able to travel independently as a, a young woman. And so then as that contract was kind of coming to an end, I was like, Well, what do I do now? Like, let’s go see the world and really like open up my, my eyes to what’s out there. So New Zealand felt safe for me and safe for my parents as well to, you know, let me kind of go off and explore it.

Sheri Lowrie (04:42):

It was at a time where internet was becoming more relevant. There were internet cafes back then, and so I knew I could check in with my parents every few days and it was being away that made me realize that Canada was home. So I didn’t know exactly what my future held, but I knew that that that year in New Zealand and traveling around and living in a van. but you know, working along the way as well, it made me know that, you know, Canada was where I wanted to at least settle down but still experience all these fun travel things while I could. So I returned back and then I did another recruitment contract traveling Ontario again. And then that’s when I went out and packed Europe after that. And then it was after the Europe experience that I, I settled in and, and really focused on my career at that point in time. So being in the mid twenties by then and wanting to look to start to to buy a house. So it just got all that travel out of me that I felt confident in being able to go and figure out what my journey at the University of Windsor was gonna be in my career.

Sam Demma (05:55):

So after the traveling recruitment, what was your first, I guess, official full-time position and what are the different roles you’ve worked since?

Sheri Lowrie (06:04):

Okay, so when I first came back, so my first full-time job at the university would be in recruitment as well. So I covered a maternity leave in the beginning of my career was a little bit of maternity leaves. And I think a lot of young people these days, they do see that contract work and you, you need to look at it as really valuable because you’re getting that experience, it’s building your skill set, it’s really shaping your resume. So that first full-time job was a student recruitment officer where I was aligned with the faculty of arts, Humanities and social sciences and that was my home faculty. So I absolutely loved that position. from there, you know, I moved around the university, I went into university advancement or university campaign, so that’s fundraising. So I was a development officer there and got to find out what it was like to ask alumni to give back.

Sheri Lowrie (07:02):

And you know, we have as staff and faculty and alumni, that’s how we support our university in our own ways, whether through student scholarships or you know, capital projects. So I got to do a lot of interesting work around campaigns and fundraising. Then I moved over into the Center of Professional and Executive Education where I became a program administrator. And so then this got to, let me see that, that whole full circle of a prospect student, whether international or domestic. And then coming into university what their experience was gonna feel like as, as the person that’s administering administrating their program and then bringing them through to graduation and on to becoming an alumni where then that fundraising circles back. Now, did you have this great experience? Do you wanna give back to your, your university? So in the program in Min I did a lot of grad programs, so working with master’s programs in several of our faculties and even some partnerships with our, our social work program in the Toronto area as well.

Sheri Lowrie (08:10):

 from there I went over to academic advising, which was one of my career goals early on was I really felt that, you know, like Aunt Sherry or cousin Sherry or how I could like help out students in their academic journey. I loved course planning. I love figuring out a timetable and how to piece that together and helping a student get to figure out a degree audit so they can get to the end and make sure they’ve taken all the right courses. So I had a couple years in academic advising and then I went back over into student recruitment and now I am in I’m doing a, a temporary small mat leave cover for student communications and events for the, the Office of Student Experience. So even though I’ve been at the University of Windsor for 20 years, I’ve got to have really good opportunities inside of it through different roles.

Sam Demma (09:06):

 it sounds like you’ve really done a ton of different things, which is so unique and it gives you a unique perspective when you approach whatever role you’re currently gonna be working in. You sound like you were very passionate about the academic advising which is why I kind of had a follow up question for you. I’m sure it’s a conversation you’ve had before and so many other educators have it. Student walks into your office and they’re like, Aunt Sherry I have no idea what the heck I wanna do with my life. Like what, what is the practice that you would put forward? What would you say when a student walk in the office confused, overwhelmed with that sort of response?

Sheri Lowrie (09:48):

Yes, such a, such a typical day in my office, <laugh> academic advising for sure. And it usually, like you have those students that know exactly what they wanted to do and they’ve known it forever and that’s where they’re going. But 50% of of students change their major. They change their mind. They really have no idea. And what I really want students to know is that you don’t have to know right now. And even, even now, I’ve had several different jobs at the university, like your career can go in so many different ways. And so when that student walks in is like, what do I do? Then it’s, let’s try and unpack what are you passionate about mm-hmm. <affirmative>, like what lights you on fire? Like what do you wanna study? What do you wanna read more about? Like, let’s not think about the job, let’s just think about what is this four years going to look like that you are going to be excited about it.

Sheri Lowrie (10:45):

So that way when you graduate, it’s, it’s, the degrees are just backing you up. It just says that you had what it took to go through four years and develop the skills that an employer is looking for. So let’s not care that you’re gonna become a probation officer at the Windsor Detention Center. We don’t know that you’re gonna become that, but we care about your criminology course. If that’s what’s making you excited is that you wanna learn about crime and society and, and drugs and policing and all of this, then let’s study that and we’ll worry about getting that job after. So I also would always recommend students go to career advising too. Cause those are experts in that field. So I’m really good to help them with their courses and that degree audit. But I also think that it’s worth a lot of value to go take a career test and to see like what different things are out there. And at the end of the day when I look at my little kids, I’m like, you know, so many of the jobs that are gonna be there for them don’t exist yet. Mm. So not having to know and have it all figured out but for those that do have it figured out, good for you and follow that dream and go for it.

Sam Demma (11:58):

What keeps you hopeful to show up to work every single day and put your best foot forward? There’s obviously the great moments, the very smooth conversations, and on the other end there’s obviously the overwhelming aspect of work sometimes with so many projects being thrown on your plate with deadlines that seem way too short, <laugh>. what keeps you motivated and hopeful to show up, be your best self and do your best work?

Sheri Lowrie (12:26):

That is absolutely amazing question. I think I was actually given an award this year for the Windsor Proud Award. And, and I think that that is something that it’s, that’s what keeps me going. I really had an amazing time in my university undergrad experience. So like my professors were great, I changed my major, but it was seamless. I had no idea what I wanted to do, but my experience was really good. Like I loved being a student and so even though I didn’t know what I’d wanna do, I knew that I wanted to be in education and I, so I didn’t know what it looked like. I didn’t know who I was gonna become, but I knew that, that I wanted to work for the university. And then once I got a job there, then it just kind of snowballed after that, that now here I was working for.

Sheri Lowrie (13:26):

So some people will say I was lucky, right? I got a job right out of school. but I also think that took a lot of hard work and effort and it is that hard work and effort that still keeps me going. Like I wanna be proud of the work that I do. I want to be proud of where I work and what my university represent. I don’t understand how anybody who could graduate from anywhere and then go out and speak negatively of that institution because all that’s gonna do is devalue your own education. Yeah. So I, I’m the one that’s out there praising good word, like wins are proud. It was a good school, it was a great experience for me. It’s where I wanna show up and go to work every day. cuz I know I am valued as well and I know at the end of the day the students, they’re my customers and I want to provide them with a great customer experience.

Sheri Lowrie (14:20):

And when they come back and they send that one little positive note and I put it into my Happy Smiles folder that just says, okay, I helped that student, whether it was at the beginning of their journey and they were 17 and didn’t know what to, how to, how to apply and I helped them, or it was throughout their program or as an alum, whatever it was, how if I had an impact and they took the time to thank me, then that keeps me going too because I know that I’m making a difference in people’s lives and you know, just trying to have them have a good interaction with me, feel good about myself. The only thing I can control is my attitude and my effort. And so how I show up every single day as the best version of myself. So I think just being a good person is, is what keeps me going.

Sam Demma (15:07):

I love that the only two things I control is my attitude and my effort. I feel like if we carried those sentences around with us when things weren’t working out too well, it would really empower us to try and change our perspectives and continue to put our best foot forward despite external circumstances we can’t control. speaking of which, there have been many <laugh> what were some of the challenges that you inter faced during Covid and more specifically you and how did you and the team strive to overcome some of those challenges?

Sheri Lowrie (15:43):

It was definitely a time that we’ll all remember, right? Like that this is something that we’ve lived through together and so much research will be done in years to come to look back on the experience that we had. So when, when it, when we first shut down and we came home at that time I had six year old and a three year old. So to pivot to online learning for my kids, but also have to do my job and then have how do I then at the time as a recruiter, so how do we then, I would’ve been out in high schools. I would’ve been driving, I would’ve been going around visiting students face to face interaction all the time. And I was amazed that within one week we put an entire recruitment platform online, we established our virtual coffee chat, which then became, I found even more valuable for a student because if I’m standing in a hallway of a high school or in a gym or an auditorium or a cafeteria, you know, students can just walk right by and they can, in the back of their mind they’re like, Yeah, I saw Windsor in my school today.

Sheri Lowrie (16:54):

 but they didn’t have to come talk to me. Whereas if a student books a coffee chat with me online, they’re coming with actual questions, wanting to have a conversation, they’re in their comfort zone because they’re wherever they’re comfortable having that chat. And it’s one on one, it’s me and that family. And I think that was one of a, a true blessing that came out of Covid. And then at the same time, that challenge of having to do my kids at the same time, well a lot of students. So I would work seven in the morning till 10 in the morning and then I would teach my kids all day and then I would work seven at night until 10 at night when students were online and wanted to talk to me. So it was definitely challenging for sure, and it made me see that I probably did have a calling to be a teacher.

Sheri Lowrie (17:44):

I really enjoyed teaching my kids. but no regrets there at all. but it also made that flexibility of life and work life balance and we can do our jobs in a different way and we don’t have to be afraid of it. And we can have change even though it’s scary and we can pivot as much as I hate that word and how, which we had to use it. but there was, there’s definitely a lot of challenges. But, and I’m excited as a hybrid that we have now where I can still use this beautiful virtual background to have a coffee chat <laugh> but be doing it from, from home and being on campus and having that interaction and the face to face again, but still being able to get that balance. So I think Covid actually did some really good things for us.

Sam Demma (18:33):

That’s a virtual background. <laugh>, don’t give away the secret. <laugh>

Sheri Lowrie (18:38):

<laugh>. It’s funny cuz in the winter someone will be like, Oh, it’s so nice there. And I’m like, Yeah, there’s no snow at all. <laugh>,

Sam Demma (18:47):

You mentioned you’re Happy smiles folder out of the notes and messages that you keep stashed away in that folder, are there any stories of impact of students being really transformed or sharing their gratitude for your help that stick out in your mind that you return to often when you’re not feeling the best? And the reason I ask is because I think stories of student transformation remind other people in education why this work is so important and re-energize their personal wise. Do do any stories come to mind that you wanna share?

Sheri Lowrie (19:27):

Yeah, actually there’s one that she, she, it’s really in my bag right now that’s cool. <laugh>, It was a car, like a card and like handwritten. She had come, I had seen her in her high school or however the initial interaction was. Virtual coffee chat, I don’t remember. But I started that recruitment process with her and then, you know, she visited campus. Most important thing to do is visit your campuses that you’re thinking about going to. And so she came, like, she put in all this effort of trying to figure out where she wanted to go. Her mom and her came for the tour. I sat down with them, I mapped out what some stuff would look like, you know, like just a really good conversation station, stayed in touch throughout the next part of the cycle where you’re now converting and becoming, like choosing which one you wanna go to.

Sheri Lowrie (20:19):

And you know, just reaching out, doing my normal thing. And she then decided not to go to Windsor, which is fine. She would’ve been a student from the gta. So Windsor is a little bit of a hike, but she took the time to send me a card and so just addressed it to the universe, like my name and the university ones address. And so it had to go through the process of distribution to find its way to my desk. And then in this card just saying how even though she didn’t pick Windsor, that I still made an impact on her to want to go to school. And that it was the interactions with me, just Windsor felt too far and that maybe it was in her future, but that she needed to start closer to home. But without what she had with me, she doesn’t know if she would’ve went to school or if she would’ve chose college or taken a year off or done something else.

Sheri Lowrie (21:11):

And so it’s, it’s cards like that and moments like that that I’m like, I impacted that person’s life in that moment without even knowing it. And that’s, I think what’s, what’s so important and why you go to those, those folders to just reread those messages to say, yeah, like this is why I do what I do, because people really appreciate it and sometimes it’s confidence that they need or they just need to know that they, they can go to school and just relieve some of that anxiety for students. so that’s one story of, of several that, that I, I remember recently of someone just reaching out and I was, the fact that it was a card and handwritten just blew my mind.

Sam Demma (21:58):

<laugh>, you’re probably more familiar with opening bills and opening handwritten letters, which makes that even more special. Yeah. When you think about all your experiences in education, I would assume that most of the impact you’ve created in the life, in the lives of students who have come through your offices, who have worked with you was the result of building a strong relationship. And I’m curious from your perspective, how do you build a relationship with a student as a caring adult?

Sheri Lowrie (22:32):

Yeah, that’s a great question too. And it’s so true. Like everything, you know, everything is a relationships like people, people are people. And it is a, it definitely is about building those relationships. I think for me is I’m very, I love, I want to be an active listener and a lot of students just need to be heard. And so when, you know, I’m first meeting a student and I’m gonna use a student that I met when I was in academic advising, and he came in and he had failed out two universities and he basically was like, I want you to give me a chance. I can, I can do this. These are the reasons that I didn’t do well before, but I need somebody to believe in me and I promise you I’ll go to law school one day. And I was like, you know what, what do I have to lose?

Sheri Lowrie (23:27):

All I have to do right now is believe in you. And so I work with registrar’s office, we accept and admit this student, and then I say, You need to come back and see me every semester because I wanted him to know that I do care and I want to see that you, like, I’m gonna challenge you to be true to this word that you’ve said that you are going to make this the time that it works. And he came back every single semester and with his A’s and showed me that he had done it and he also had that value in me that somebody was there that believed in him. And so like that’s how that relationship was built was on like, respect, challenge, honesty belief, and then just genuine care, right? And then I got to see him graduate and he did go on to law school.

Sheri Lowrie (24:22):

And so, and I hope that he remains someone that stays in touch for forever, right? Like it’s, it’s amazing when you can see a student all the way to graduation and all they wanna do is introduce you to their parents or have a picture with you at graduation because you are someone that they feel that they had a relationship with. And what one of my actual dream jobs possibly is being able to be that person that is with them from recruitment till the end and that they felt like, yes, like I had that, that girl in my life and she helped the whole way through and she always cared. And so I, I value the relationships that I have been able to build. And mind you, not every single relationship wants to stay with you the whole time. So, but for those that that do want that relationship back, I think any employee at a university or college or they, that, that student has to matter. It has to be the number one reason that they, they go to work because those are our customers and those are the ones that are our future. So it’s just so important to give them such a great experience

Sam Demma (25:35):

On behalf of all the families and students you’ve helped who haven’t told you how big of an impact you had on them. Thank you very much. You know, you’re, you’re changing lives and doing great work right now, so keep it up. if you could take all your experience in education, bundle it up, travel back in time, tap Sherry on the shoulder, her first day working a full-time job in this industry or vocation I should say. What advice would you give your young, your younger self, Not because you would change your path at all, but because you thought it might be helpful to hear this as some advice as you embark on this journey in education.

Sheri Lowrie (26:16):

And this is probably so true with so many things of just, you know, what you learn in your twenties versus your thirties and now in my early forties to be able to look back to that, that 2020 year old self, 22, you know, fresh outta school, trying to get a full-time job. And I think it’s just like work hard. Like that’s if you work hard, you will prove yourself. You have new try things, try new opportunities. Don’t be afraid. Just put yourself out there. And at the end of the day, I think personal development and growth is so important. And I wish I would’ve started to invest in myself in my twenties instead of just work as like, just prove, prove proof to everybody else. I think if I would’ve taken some time on that personal development instead of in my forties would have made that much more of an impact. So I want those 20 year olds definitely great work ethic, work hard, prove yourself, but remember you in this whole grand scheme of life and finding out who you are and taking the time to work on yourself.

Sam Demma (27:48):

Beautiful. Sherie, thank you so much for coming on the podcast. You wrapped it up so nicely. If a young educator or any educator is listening and wants to reach out to you, ask a question, start a conversation, what would be the most efficient way for them to get in touch?

Sheri Lowrie (28:03):

I would, I definitely would welcome that. Probably the easiest is by my email, so sherio@uwindsor.ca

Sam Demma (28:15):

All right. Cheerio, my friend <laugh>, thanks for coming on the show. This was awesome and keep up the great work.

Sheri Lowrie (28:22):

You as well. You are doing some great things in this world, so I appreciate it and give you gratitude as well.

Sam Demma (28:29):

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

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Sheri Lowrie

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.

Amy Andrew – Education Assistant at Red Deer Catholic and Red Deer Public School Divisions

Amy Andrew - Education Assistant at Red Deer Catholic and Red Deer Public School Divisions
About Amy Andrew

Amy Andrew was born and raised in Red Deer, Alberta. At the age of 18, she became an Education Assistant working both for Red Deer Catholic and Red Deer Public School Divisions. After a decade of working in schools with various age groups, she has returned to finish her education program.

Amy grew up with the challenge of epilepsy and a learning disability. Despite these challenges, she has been able to overcome many obstacles, and because of this, she knows what it’s like to be in the student’s shoes who struggle. She wants all students to be able to believe in themselves and know that a disability doesn’t mean it’s the end. It just means you got to work a little bit harder.

Connect with Amy: Email

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Red Deer Public Schools Divisions

Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools

The Power of Vulnerability by Brené Brown

Dr. Jody Carrington Books

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 (00:56):

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

Sam Demma (01:00):

This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest is Amy Andrew. Amy was born and raised in Red Deer, Alberta. At the age of 18, she became an Education Assistant, working both in the Red Deer Catholic and Red Deer Public School divisions. After a decade of working in schools with various age groups, she has returned to finish her education program. Amy grew up with the challenge of epilepsy and a learning disability. Despite these challenges, she has been able to overcome many obstacles, and because of this, she knows what it’s like to be in the student’s shoes that struggle. She wants all students to be able to believe in themselves and know that a disability doesn’t mean it’s the end, it just means that you have to work a little bit harder. I hope you enjoy this amazing conversation with Amy Andrew, and I will see you on the other side. Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today we have a very special guest. Her name is Amy Andrew. Amy, welcome to the show. Please start by introducing yourself.

Amy Andrew (02:06):

Hi. Well thank you for having me. My name is Amy Andrew. I’m an Education Assistant for the Red Deer Public School Division, and I work in a middle school currently.

Sam Demma (02:18):

When did you realize you wanted to work in education with kids in, within schools?

Amy Andrew (02:26):

 I, well, first off, I struggled with school myself. I have a coding issue in math. I have a learning disability when it comes to reading, writing, comprehension, all basically all of it. <laugh>, <laugh>. so for when I was in school, it was not enjoyable. It was a really difficult time for me. I struggled. I was frustrated constantly, but I also was very social. So I was able to kind of advocate for myself and see what works for me. So when it came to picking a career or finding something I wanted to do I thought, well, being an education assistant allows me to show these kids what I’ve learned throughout my life. And I genuinely understand how difficult school is because that is me. I, I still am that kid that struggles, but I have great coping styles and great skills that I’ve had to learn throughout the years that I try to pass on to them.

Sam Demma (03:29):

Ah, that’s so amazing. it must be really rewarding to help students who might be going through difficult situations. Being that, you know, you had similar experiences when you were growing up. how do you kind of help a student, or what are some of those skills or coping tech techniques that you could share? Because I’m sure not every, you know, person that works with young people has a toolkit that they say like, Hey, you know, this might work for this student. They might not have an idea of what they could share. So I’m curious to know, like what are some of the things that you would share with a student who might be struggling right now?

Amy Andrew (04:02):

Yeah, absolutely. well first off, when it comes to reading a lot of the time kids will have trouble understanding what they’ve read, the comprehension component of it. So what I always say is, what if you just took all the pressure off reading the proper words? What if you just listen to it? Hmm. Can you, do you understand what’s being read to you when it’s just, you just have to focus on listening? And most of the time kids do. So that’s my first part is like, forget trying to struggle through reading the big words. Let’s listen to the book. And I do that in college too. Like I’m currently halfway through my education degree. Again, it’s taking me a little bit longer cuz it’s a little bit more difficult for me. That’s ok. But all my textbooks, all my literature I have to read is an audio version because I have to keep busy.

Amy Andrew (04:53):

But then I can also still listen to my books and understand what I need to do for the course. So I say that to kids, I said, Let’s listen to books. the second one is always voice to text. Kids find it very hard to write. They don’t know how to form sentence structures. A lot of the time it’s this texting style of writing and that’s totally fine. But when it comes to writing essays, they’re gonna need to know how to do that. So I say, get your phone out, get a Google Doc open and walk around and talk, talk to your phone. Just get it out what you need to say. And then we’re gonna go back and we’re gonna edit it so it sounds proper, like a proper English essay rather than, so hey girlfriend. So <laugh>. But a lot of times kids don’t even know where to start with it.

Amy Andrew (05:39):

So I’m like, just talk, tell me what you’re thinking and then we’ll go in and add quotes and then we’ll go in and, and put the commas where it needs to be. And so that’s, that would be my second one. And my math skills is, and this is different and not a lot of people know this, but when I look at numbers, I see dots. So if I see a three, I see 1, 2, 3 down in a linear line. Hmm. Because a lot of the time when you were li when I was little, I didn’t like counting on my hands. I was really obvious I was struggling and I didn’t want people to see I was struggling or making tallies on my paper. So I started counting the points on each number that I had to add or multiply or divide. So I try to teach kids that skill so that way I’m like, you’re struggling and that’s okay, but if you don’t want people to know or if you’re trying to mask it a little bit, let me show you how I used to do it. So those would be like my three big heavy hitters of what I try to help kids with. But yeah.

Sam Demma (06:43):

That’s awesome. I was gonna say, I think it’s so cool that you also listen to audio books. I think it’s actually more effective sometimes to listen anyway. so you’re definitely onto something with that. do you listen to your books while you work out in the gym?

Amy Andrew (06:59):

<laugh>? Actually all the time. I listen to books when I’m cleaning. I listen to books while I work out when I walk. Oh. All the time. And you know what, I get stuff done and I actually think I’m absorbing the information better because I’m busy. Nice. So yeah.

Sam Demma (07:13):

Cool. Aside from your own parents who work in education, did you have who must be a big support in your life, do you ha did you have any educators growing up who played a significant role in your own, like personal and professional development? And if so, who are those people and what did they do for you that you think made a big impact?

Amy Andrew (07:33):

 okay. Well funny enough, on my 25th first birthday I ended up writing to each 25 different people in my life. That event changed my life. And most of them were teachers. And so I did reach out to a lot of them at that time. But a few that come to my mind right away is one Justin Ffl, he was my grade five teacher for social studies. And that was the first time in my life I ever felt intelligent. And I think you need to have that with like, you need to have that early on in your education. You need to feel like, okay, I can, I can actually do this. Like this is me, I can do this. Because then that excites you to learn and motivates you to keep going rather than constant failure. After failure after failure, then you get so discouraged. So he was the first teacher and I remember it was our first nation’s buffalo parts of the body unit and I got 81% and I was like, Whoa,

Sam Demma (08:35):

<laugh>.

Amy Andrew (08:36):

It was just so awesome for me. And that was how I left elementary school. So going into middle school, I was like, Okay, I can do this, I can do this. I’m, I’m smart, it’s gonna be harder, but I’m smart so I can do this. And then I think the next one would be Sherry Schultz ski. So what she was was my math teacher in high school twice <laugh>. So I had her twice. I went in every lunch hour and was like, I don’t get it. I know you explained it <laugh>, but I don’t get it <laugh>. I just give that woman so much grace for sitting with me almost every lunch hour in grade 10 and 11 to help me with my math homework because I was just struggling. But that’s, that’s the other thing. Kids don’t wanna go and ask for help. But the thing is, these teachers, that’s their job. They want to help they, and you build a connection with a student when you sit down and work one on one and then they’re there for you to help kind of give you little boost need on the days where you’re not doing so great. So I always encourage kids, I’m like, go in, get help. Also, you get to stay inside when it’s cold out. Bonus <laugh>. So yeah, those would be the two teachers I can think of right now that we’re really impactful in my life.

Sam Demma (09:53):

That’s so cool. I think the self-belief piece is so important because whether or not a student remembers the curriculum you taught them in class or the specific lessons you shared, if you help a young person believe in themselves, that will be an applicable skill that they’ll carry with them no matter what task is in front of them for the rest of their life. You know, if they believe they can figure out the math problem, even though it’s very difficult, they’re gonna believe they can figure out other challenging things in their future outside of the classroom walls. So I think the, the self-belief piece is, has been a huge part of my life and the educators who have made a big difference on me as well. So thank you so much for sharing. yeah. Do you stay in touch with them or are some of them aside from sending them letters on your birthday <laugh>?

Amy Andrew (10:39):

I do. Well, being in the education system now I’m in the public and I grew up in the Catholic division, but I will see them at schools and it’s, or out walking, I’ll see Mrs. Schultz, the walking. I’m like, there’s just, it’s just that is, they inspired me to be that person for someone else. And I think that’s the cool part of built being a teacher. Your legacy is endless because not only are you inspiring people and you don’t even know who you’re inspiring or who you’re connecting with or who you like, who you are impacting, It’s who you are as a person. And that is what’s impacting other people to go out and be that for someone else. And so I think that’s the coolest part about teaching is like, you don’t even know until later and you’re like, Oh, okay. Cool.

Sam Demma (11:28):

<laugh>. It’s so true. It sounds like the teachers you mentioned build relationships with you. You mentioned that, you know, when you’d stay after school and ask for a help, you’d build these really tight relationships and then they’d push you when you needed a little bit of a push. How do you think you build a relationship with young people as a someone who works with them?

Amy Andrew (11:49):

I personally, I think this might be my strongest asset because I find a lot of people, a lot of adults talk to kids and teens. they talk almost down to them sometimes. And when these kids are growing up in such an adult environment, unfortunately that’s just how it is. Yeah. So instead of harping on them and disciplining them, I often approach with what’s going on. Mm. Because let’s talk like adults cuz you wanna be treated like an adult. I I wanna be treated like an adult, so let’s talk, figure this out to move forward. Cause that’s how we deal with things in real life. We don’t fight, we don’t argue, we don’t discipline. We have a conversation. So that’s how I approach everything with the kids I work with or the teens I work with. And, and that is when you find common interest or common ground, while I’m struggling with, I hate math.

Amy Andrew (12:44):

Math is the worst class. Literally same. I actually literally same. I get it. But like I had to do it. You gotta do it. So let’s figure out how we can get this figured out together. Cause you, you know what, And I always say, and I’m always honest, I’m like, you know what, you might not ever love this ever. And that is fine, but you’re gonna need to know some skills to get through life. And if you know some skills, you’re gonna be okay. But if you’re gonna shut that door and not listen to what anyone has to say, it’s gonna be hard. So you pick your path, you can learn a little bit, make it easy, shut the door and it’s over.

Sam Demma (13:22):

So

Amy Andrew (13:24):

It’s kind of choices, it’s kind of, it’s just giving them the respect and the ground to tell you what they need to say and then re re rooting or rewiring how they see it and how they think about it.

Sam Demma (13:36):

Hmm. I love that perspective. I feel like your age helps as well. You probably like Yeah. You know, one of the more relatable people in their lives, <laugh> which is, which is really cool. tell me about a story where you saw a student who maybe was struggling a little bit and through their interactions with yourself and other members in the school community, they were able to kind of chart themselves on a slightly different path or almost like transform. And I know you’ve only been in education for a little bit, so it’s new. but if there are any stories like that of students that come to mind, please feel free to share them. I I think one of the thing teachers, and not just teachers, but anyone who impacts and influences youth, like love being reminded of is the impact that their actions can have on a young mind. Especially when they might be feeling a little bit burnt out because that’s typically the main reason why they got into the work in the first place. so I’m just curious, like, do you have any of those stories or like, do any of them come to mind?

Amy Andrew (14:37):

Yeah, I would say the most life changing one for me is I started with a student who was no longer allowed to be in a building with other kids. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, he was a danger to himself and to other people. So I, I started working with this individual at their house and to go from working in a house, I mean, here’s the other thing. It takes time and I think that’s what teachers forget sometimes is it does, it’s not an overnight fix. It’s not even like a next year fix. They might even be outta your building before you see any type of change in this student. Mm. But know what you’re doing in the moment with them is worth something. And so rather than going halfway in, you need to go all in with that kid because a lot of the time kids need you to need to see that you show up day after day for them.

Amy Andrew (15:31):

Because a lot of the time people give up on them and that is why they act the way they act. So when you don’t feel like being there and putting up with the garbage that you’re getting from that kid that day, you still gotta, you still gotta be there fully. But, so that was with this student I worked with, it was four years. Four years. We went from an hour a day working together and not allowed, not a lot of curricular activity. It was a lot of play-based learning, which was difficult for me because you often think too, Oh, I need them to be at a certain point, but that’s not where they’re at right now. You need to meet them where they’re at in order to move them forward. And that’s hard for people to understand because when a kid has a disability like autism, let’s say their, their moment, like where they’re at now is where they’re at now.

Amy Andrew (16:22):

Even though they might have been able to do something months ago, that doesn’t mean that’s where they’re at today. So you need to always meet the kid at where they’re at now. And so with this student, we went from an hour today, hour a day working on non-curricular activity to, he’s in high school this year without an ea. He’s full, full-time school <laugh>. Yeah. It was a very, they always said to me too, his parents and they’re like, You’ve changed our kids’ life. And I’m like, you’ve changed minds. Like this kid has taught me so much about being patient, being understanding, Oh, I’m gonna get emotional. Oh my gosh. It’s, but that’s how powerful, It’s like you don’t always see it. You don’t always take a step back and go, Huh. Yeah, I might have, I might have changed that kid’s life, but he, he changed mine just as much. So, Yeah. And then you feel, you feel hopeful that you got to see this progress, you got to see this happen in someone’s life. And, and maybe I could do that again. Maybe I could do that for someone else. Yeah. So it inspires you to keep going.

Sam Demma (17:25):

I was gonna ask like, what keeps you motivated and hopeful on the days where maybe you don’t have those warm, fuzzy feelings in your chest and you’re not remembering the impact that you’ve created, but only see the obstacles standing in your path.

Amy Andrew (17:42):

 yeah. I, I struggled with that for a little bit too because obviously not every day is sunshine, roses, <laugh>. you work at a middle, middle school, not,

Amy Andrew (17:52):

But I often have to leave everything at the door. Right. Cause if I’m not taking care of myself, I can’t give fully back to these kids. Yeah. And so if I have a bad day and it’s not going well, I always, and almost to a fault. But it’s ingrained to me every day is a fresh day regardless of what happened the previous day. And so that is how I try to live in our schools. And even when there’s been a violent outburst, I’ve always had this role for myself. If I was not mentally in the right state to be going back the next day, I would, because again, I wanted to show this child or this person, no matter what I’m showing up because I wanna show to you that I’m not giving up no matter how hard you’re pushing me out. Cause that is not who I am. I’m not giving up on you. So I would always make a role. You cannot take the next day as a sick day, but you could maybe take the following day,

Sam Demma (18:53):

<laugh>

Amy Andrew (18:56):

Nice. Cause they

Sam Demma (18:57):

Dunno anything. Yeah. But

Amy Andrew (18:59):

Right. But now what motivates me is just, you know what, knowing that there’s always going to be someone that needs you. Yeah. There’s always going to, and it doesn’t have to be a kid you’re working with directly. It could be the kid you say hi to in the hallway. Cause I’ve had kids say that to me, but it’s you yesterday. Like, I literally say hi to you once it’s <laugh>. So, but you never know who’s looking forward to seeing you at the school. So to show up for even the ones you don’t think about that, that’s you’re there for them present too.

Sam Demma (19:30):

Mm. How do you make sure that you take care of yourself so that you can pour into others? Like what are some of your self care habits or things that you try and do to make sure you can be your full self at work?

Amy Andrew (19:45):

Well, I do kickboxing, so I know I can fight them. I’m just kidding. I’m just kidding.

Sam Demma (19:48):

<laugh> damn. They’re only, they’re only in middle school. Amy realize <laugh>,

Amy Andrew (19:53):

They’re feisty. Oh yeah, they’re feisty. no, I, I work out a lot. I weightlift, I do kickboxing, I do Pilates. I mean, I’ve grown up in a very active household, so it’s like inevitable. but I’m also a big time swimmer, so I swim open water and I love, love swimming open water because it’s this wide open space. Anything can happen. You’re going everywhere. And nowhere <laugh> it’s just, it’s, it’s such an exhilarating feeling being out in the open water. So that is what I love to do personally and everything just kind of fades away when I’m working out. Yeah,

Sam Demma (20:32):

That’s good. Do you watch your mom’s YouTube videos too?

Amy Andrew (20:35):

I sometimes, I mean, I basically helped her with all of them. So <laugh>.

Sam Demma (20:40):

That’s awesome. Cool. have you found any resources helpful throughout your own journey? Whether that be like videos, books, podcasts even like other people? I know you obviously mentioned teachers that had an impact on you when you were a kid, but what about like, right now in terms of like professional development?

Amy Andrew (21:01):

 yeah, I, we do PD sessions with the school. but I really do love listening to being vulnerable. bene brown every nice, I feel like every educator talks

Sam Demma (21:15):

About,

Amy Andrew (21:16):

But I, I listen to her books. I listen to Dr. Jodi Carrington stuff and I, I like, I like real genuine people who bring their personal experiences to their studies and inspire people that way. I like, I like the authentic people, you know, authenticity.

Sam Demma (21:37):

Okay, cool. Nice. Love it. if you could, how long have you been in working in classrooms now?

Amy Andrew (21:45):

This will be nine years.

Sam Demma (21:49):

Okay. If you could like, bundle up all your experiences working in classrooms with kids travel back nine years and <laugh> and talk to your younger self, but with the experience and all the wisdom you have now, what advice would you give Amy nine years ago when she was stepping into her first classroom to help out?

Amy Andrew (22:11):

Oh a kid will swear at you and you will be okay. No kidding. <laugh> <laugh> to not put such high expectations on how the day should go, because I found that that is what I did at the beginning. And I was disappointed because things don’t always go as planned, especially in a school, but you also need to leave your pride at the door. If something doesn’t go right, it’s not on you. You did everything you could, You’re still doing everything you can, you’re showing up. But not every day is going to be perfect. And that is okay. And I think that was something I had to learn throughout my years is I felt like it was my fault or I wasn’t doing everything I should have been doing or yeah. I just, I, I was disappointed with myself and how things turned out, but when you take that away, breathe and approach every day with just, it’s going to be a great day. We’re gonna try our best. We’re gonna small wins, small little victories. You gotta look for something good and everything, everything these kids do because even if it’s picking up their pencil without stabbing the person beside them <laugh>, that’s a win. Yeah.

Sam Demma (23:28):

That’s awesome. I love that. I I was thinking back to when you mentioned how you’re also working on your bachelor’s right now while you’re working in the classroom and you, you kind of were saying how it’s taken you a little long. And there was an educator that I spoke to one time, her name was Sarah, and she shared this analogy with me and it was like really powerful and I just wanna share it with you real quick. And everyone else who’s listening, she was like, No, imagine that you were going to your friend’s house party. Like think about all the ways that you could get to the party. And she’s like, you know, you could take an Uber, you could ask your parents to drive you, you could ride a bike, you could walk there, you could skateboard, you could try and hit your vibe with the pizza delivery person.

Sam Demma (24:08):

 you could go on a scooter, you could chart a helicopter if you have some money <laugh>. but like, there’s so many different ways to get to the party. and you will arrive. But like every single option takes a different amount of travel time, effort, and energy. And if you keep your eyes focused on the final destination and forget about the fact that your timeline might look different than everybody else, and that you’re ju you know, you’re gonna arrive and you’re gonna do what it takes, it’s like you kind of stop worrying about, you know, the, the length of the journey and more so the final destination. And I feel like for a certain educators especially they might have an idea in their mind of like exactly what they wanna do and where they want to be and maybe they’re not getting there as quickly as possible. And that could be like a new position or a new school. and so just remember like you will arrive at the party. Everyone will, it just takes different times. <laugh> Yeah. And

Amy Andrew (25:02):

You emotional. Oh my gosh, you’re so right though. It’s, it is a journey for everyone. Everyone’s got different timing, but I always believe in divine timing. There is a reason. Yeah. I did not go into education right away, like as a teacher, it’s, I went in as an EA to gain this experience and this knowledge and a different outlook. And two, when I have a classroom, someday I will value my ea. So, so, so, so, so much. Yeah. Because I truly believe some of the most incredible women and or not women, people in our education world are education assistants. They’re like these superheroes HEROs about Yeah, they really are. They go above and beyond you. You don’t always see what they’re doing behind the scenes, but they are huge reasons. Some of these kids are so successful in our buildings is the EEAs are going outside of what they should be doing and doing work outside of the classroom at home on their own time. It’s amazing.

Sam Demma (26:03):

I just gotta give you a round of applause cuz you’re one of them. <laugh>. Yeah.

Amy Andrew (26:09):

Keep,

Sam Demma (26:10):

Keep up, keep up the great work. It’s so great to chat with you a little bit about some of your ideas around education, some of your beliefs around how to build relationships, with young people and hear some of the stories of people who played a big role in your own personal development and life. If someone’s listening to this, wants to reach out, ask you a question, start a conversation, what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you?

Amy Andrew (26:34):

They can contact me on my work email, which is amy.andrew@reddeerpublicschools.ca.

Sam Demma (26:47):

Okay. Awesome. Amy, thank you so much. Keep up with the great work.

Amy Andrew (26:50):

Thank you. You’re doing amazing too. Thank you so much for what you do and inspiring people everywhere. It’s awesome.

Sam Demma (26:56):

Appreciate it. Appreciate it. And yeah, we’ll talk soon.

Amy Andrew (27:00):

Sounds good, thanks.

Sam Demma (27:03):

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

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Amy Andrew

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

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

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

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

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

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

Connect with Dave: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Lowell School

Green Acres School

HOBY (Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership)

HOBY Canada

University of Guelph

University of Western Ontario

What is a Writer’s Workshop?

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):

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

Sam Demma (00:59):

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

Sam Demma (01:59):

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

Dave Levi (03:03):

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

Sam Demma (03:12):

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

Dave Levi (03:16):

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

Dave Levi (04:00):

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

Sam Demma (05:01):

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

Dave Levi (05:12):

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

Dave Levi (06:02):

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

Sam Demma (06:52):

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

Dave Levi (07:29):

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

Dave Levi (08:11):

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

Sam Demma (09:13):

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

Dave Levi (09:24):

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

Sam Demma (09:45):

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

Dave Levi (09:57):

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

Sam Demma (10:58):

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

Dave Levi (11:17):

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

Dave Levi (12:06):

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

Sam Demma (12:44):

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

Dave Levi (13:13):

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

Dave Levi (13:58):

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

Dave Levi (14:43):

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

Dave Levi (15:29):

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

Dave Levi (16:04):

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

Dave Levi (16:54):

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

Dave Levi (17:40):

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

Dave Levi (18:29):

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

Sam Demma (19:31):

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

Dave Levi (19:52):

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

Sam Demma (20:01):

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

Dave Levi (20:06):

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

Sam Demma (20:45):

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

Dave Levi (21:16):

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

Sam Demma (21:34):

At the whole school

Dave Levi (21:35):

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

Dave Levi (22:19):

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

Sam Demma (23:08):

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

Dave Levi (23:17):

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

Dave Levi (23:58):

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

Sam Demma (25:03):

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

Dave Levi (25:21):

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

Dave Levi (26:11):

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

Dave Levi (26:53):

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

Sam Demma (27:32):

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

Dave Levi (28:08):

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

Dave Levi (29:03):

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

Sam Demma (30:04):

Gotcha.

Dave Levi (30:05):

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

Sam Demma (30:17):

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

Dave Levi (30:50):

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

Sam Demma (31:29):

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

Dave Levi (31:41):

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

Sam Demma (32:08):

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

Dave Levi (32:15):

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

Sam Demma (32:19):

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

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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.