Student Success

Paola Di Fonzo – Chaplain All Saints Catholic Secondary School

Paola Di Fonzo - Chaplain All Saints Catholic Secondary School
About Paola Di Fonzo

Paola has over 10 years of work and volunteer experience in youth and adult faith formation in both the Catholic parish and Catholic school settings. Currently, she is the Chaplain at the All Saints Catholic Secondary School.

She recently finished her Masters in Theology at the University of Toronto.  

Connect with Paola: Email | Linkedin

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

All Saints Catholic School website

BA in Christianity and Culture at the University of Toronto

Masters of Theological Studies at Regis College, University of Toronto

Meditation Basics

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):
Do you want access to all the past guests on this show? Do you want to network with like-minded individuals and meet other high performing educators from around the world? If so, go to www.highperformingeducator.com. Sign up to join the exclusive network and you’ll get access to live virtual networking events and other special opportunities that will come out throughout 2021. I promise you I will not fill your inbox. you might get one email a month. If that sounds interesting, go to www.highperformingeducator.com. Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s guest is my good friend, Paola, Paola Di Fonzo is the chaplain at All Saints Secondary School. She just recently got her masters degree. So she’s still pursuing education, even while she’s teaching. She is a powerhouse. I had the opportunity to work with her last year with her entire school, doing keynotes for all four grades.

Sam Demma (01:06):
And this year I got to work with her again, to do a SHSM certification, a specialist high skills major with her with, with her students on public speaking, it went really, really well. It was awesome. This year she’s also responsible for OYAP, the Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Programs coordinating that and SHSM programs, so she has a lot in her hands. Here’s my good friend, Paola. Paola thank you so much for coming on the High Performing Educators podcast. It’s a pleasure to see you again, virtually not in person this time. Can you share with the audience who you are, how you got into the work you’re doing with young people today and yeah, I think that’d be a great way to kick this off.

Paola Di Fonzo (01:46):
Yeah, absolutely. Thanks for having me, Sam. So my name is Paula Di Fonzo. I’m a chaplain out here on the east end with the Durham catholic school board and I’ve been here for about, I think it’s like two and a half years now. Before that I spent the last decade, the last 10 years, which sounds crazy, because I’m still such a baby. I’m still so young, but I started right after I graduated high school working in like churches, parish settings, and developing youth programs for young people. So I’ve been sort of doing this sort of faith formation work with young people for the last decade. And, and yeah, that’s, that’s what I do. And the reason really I got into this kind of work is because during those formative years for me, probably starting in grade five till well into high school, I had such a wonderful group of adults who took care of me and cared for me on that deeper level.

Paola Di Fonzo (02:43):
Like I played sports and I was in the musicals and I was on student council and I did that sort of stuff, but it was this one particular community that cared about me on a spiritual level that, that held me up throughout those major years where things get really tough and you’re changing so much and the world seems to evolve so quickly. And it was that group that really sustained me during that time. And, and the reason that I think that I’ve been successful and I don’t mean that in an academic or a career way, but just as a human being, it was that group that really held me up and all, all I wanted to do was do that for other people. Mm-Hmm and I didn’t know that at the time, I didn’t know that it was a career opportunity.

Paola Di Fonzo (03:26):
I always thought I, I get a job as a teacher. Not that that’s a, a bad job, but I thought I’ll do that and then on my evenings and weekends, I’ll work in this faith formation setting and I’ll work with young people and guide them in that way. And then as I grew up and started to branch out a network, I realized, oh, like I could get paid for this. This could be my livelihood. I would love that. So that’s what I did. I pursued it. I, you know, I studied Christianity and philosophy and my undergrad, I did my masters in this and, and here we are and I’m loving it. I’m really happy.

Sam Demma (03:58):
That’s awesome. I know you completed your masters recently, so congratulations again. Thank you. Going back to that group for a second, that really uplifted you through high school. What was it that they did for you that made a huge impact because whether you realize it or not, you kind of describe the current state of the world being that it’s changing and evolving and have a constant support, or I guess someone looking over your shoulder could have a huge impact. So I’m curious to know if you could boil down, you know, from that group, you know, what did they do that just made such a massive impact for you as a young person?

Paola Di Fonzo (04:33):
That’s a great question. And it’s hard to really reduce it to one thing, but the word that immediately came to mind for me was relationship. They, we built real relationship. It wasn’t, you know, you come and you listen to this message and you go home. It was a family so much so that you couldn’t wait until Friday night came along because you knew you were spending your weekend with these people. And it felt like a home you felt like that need for belonging was truly fulfilled them getting to know you getting to know like the deepest parts of you and still like loving you and caring for you through that is transformative. And, and I can only hope to replicate that in the roles that I’m in, but it’s really grounded in that relationship building. I think that’s what it was for me. If I could reduce it to one thing that was the major part.

Sam Demma (05:20):
That was awesome. And the way they, I guess, built those relationships was just asking questions. And like you said, getting to know you on a deeper level and you know, during COVID, that’s a huge challenge. I know usually you you’re in an office and the student walks right in and has a conversation with you. The state of the, the world in education right now is totally different. And I’m just curious to know, as you take in that big breath, what are, what are some of the challenges that have been presented? And I’m sure they’re very similar to everyone who’s listening. So you’re not alone here. I’m just curious to know what it looks like in your world.

Paola Di Fonzo (05:55):
Yeah. Like it’s exactly what you just said. I mean, as I was preparing some thoughts for our conversation today, I kept going back to that. The biggest challenge for me and my role right now is how limited we are in building relationship, real, authentic connection. Isn’t really happening virtually. Like that’s the one thing that I haven’t been able to translate to the virtual platform. I, I can’t have, you know, like the students would come in before and after school on lunches, we’d just hang like, it’s not, yeah. They certainly came in to, you know, seek guidance and some counseling and, you know, to pray together, we did that, but for sure, we’re the beauty lies more so than in any other.

Paola Di Fonzo (06:39):
I think interaction is like those casual Hangouts where we’re just chilling. Like we’re just being real with each other. We’re being human with each other and we get to know each other in that real way and that’s just not happening. And I, I haven’t been able to translate that again to the virtual platform just yet. So that’s been, that’s been a challenge that it’s something that I miss terribly. That’s something that without it makes my job really hard, really, really hard because there’s no relationship of trust being built and relationship of vulnerability being built. So how do we, how do we journey together in the faith without those things, right? How do we journey together as human beings, without connection and trust and vulnerability that can really only be established with human connection. Like we need to be around people and that’s been the hardest part I feel. Hmm.

Sam Demma (07:29):
Yeah. The reason I ask is because there’s a lot of educators listening who might have some great ideas and if they do at the end, we’ll share your email address for you. Two can connect, having been power in conversations and just bounce different ideas around on the other end of a challenge is I would say hope and overcoming it, which is obviously a great feeling during these difficult times. What sustains your personal hope? What keeps you hopeful? Although there’s lots of challenges and, and turbulent times right now.

Paola Di Fonzo (08:03):
Yeah. I, as difficult as it’s been, and as exhausted as I feel, I don’t feel like I’ve lost hope. Hmm. And that’s a major blessing. I’m so happy for that because as soon as you lose hope, like you’re in trouble, right. Things can get really, really dreadful. But for me, I’ve, I’ve really enjoyed the opportunity to get back to basics mm-hmm and what I mean by that is like reflect. So we can’t my role as chaplain, right? So some of the big things I would coordinate in our school are, are large scale school masses. That’s not happening. Our grade retreats not happening. Anyway, we gather for liturgy together not happening. So I have had to really reinvent the wheel here and ask myself, all right, what are the basic human needs that I can cater to? Mm-Hmm what can I do to really see, like going back to like the most primitive needs of human beings, right?

Paola Di Fonzo (08:57):
The need for rest, especially during this high emotion time, the need for community, the need for belonging. Like how can I cater to that? And just the opportunity to, to just strip away all the layers, you know, sometimes you can just build up so much around the base needs of a human being and we start to layer up just so it make it look like we’re doing something good or you know, it makes it look good to other people like, look how much I’m accomplishing all of that’s out the window. And we’re just, we’re down to the most basic needs of our, of human beings of our students and stuff. And that’s sort of been exciting. It’s so terrifying, but so exciting to have the opportunity to do that because I think it’s a gift to have that opportunity. And it’s gonna change the game from here on out. It’s gonna change how we do things going forward. It’s given us an opportunity to stop retreat, reflect and kind of come back stronger. And that’s, what’s giving me hope, knowing that we we’re learning a lot right now, we’re gonna learn a lot about ourselves, our communities, and how to do things better. And that’s exciting. That’s

Sam Demma (10:01):
Exciting. Yeah. That’s what you just explained is how I’ve even felt during this time, because I made the rash decision before even watching the social develop. I meant to take a year off social media and it’s been over a month and a half now. And that to me was the whole like, Hey, look what I’m doing. And Hey, let’s, you know, keep in touch and Hey, check out my life and there’s positives and negatives to social media. But, but you’re totally right in terms of, you know, the state of education right now, it’s, it’s going back to those basic needs. How are you reinforcing those things? Are you make, are you just ensuring students are getting enough rest by encouraging them to or what does that look like for you as a, as a teacher and an educator?

Paola Di Fonzo (10:44):
Yeah. So in a very PR I, I knew that’s what I wanted to do with my time. At least in the first few months of transitioning back to school, it it’s looks very different. It’s not transitioning back to what we know school to be. It’s, it’s a totally different world, but I knew that I didn’t wanna do anything that would just be for the sake of doing them. Like I don’t operate like that. Right. nothing showy and nothing, you know, I just wanted to make sure I was caring for the person at the most basic level. And so what it’s and I’ll explain maybe one of the, the things we’re are trying to do around here, but I’ve developed something called tee time and meditation on the field. Mm-Hmm so classes sign up one class at a time and I do two slots a day in the morning.

Paola Di Fonzo (11:28):
And because they’re only here for a couple hours in the morning, right. Our students, and we go outside and we sit on the field, they’re six feet apart. So it’s a mask break. And I have, I have cookies with, for them. And we chill under the sun and we do some breathing exercises, some meditation, some stretching, and like, that’s it. And like, that’s just upping our self care game. And that’s really the, the extent of my connection with the students. But by the end of that hour together, they are just so relaxed. Some of them are asleep, which is like, I give them that permission. I’m like, I’m not gonna get offended, listen to your body. And mind here, allow yourself to just rest. And that has been so great, so fruitful, but we’re getting back to, to the basics, right. They just need time to check in with some deeper parts of them that maybe they don’t have the opportunity to, or even know how to, without some guidance. So those tee times have been a gift for, for me, for sure. And I hope for the students and staff and we’ve been doing that pretty much every day since mid-September, it’s

Sam Demma (12:30):
Been good. You must feel like a monk by now two hours a,

Paola Di Fonzo (12:33):
Well, that’s what someone says to me. They’re like, wow, you get to meditate for two hours every morning. And I’m like, you know what? I’m not really meditating. Like I’m guiding them in it. So I’m so like, okay, what’s next? And I’m in my head. So I’m really not relaxed when I do it. But but I hope they are. That’s the whole point.

Sam Demma (12:49):
That’s awesome. That’s so cool. Is there any common questions that come up that you use as prompts to have them reflect during that stuff?

Paola Di Fonzo (12:57):
Great question. It the whole time is really just them listening to their bodies and their minds. So I say to them, I always give them this. Disclaimer. I say, no matter what I demonstrate up here, whether it’s a type of breathing exercise or it’s a stretch that we’re doing, or, you know, I encourage you to lie down for the meditate, no matter what I demonstrate or model at the front of the space, if your body or your mind is saying, I’m not into that today, I don’t really want to, or I don’t feel comfortable or it hurts, listen to your body and give yourself the freedom to adjust, modify, or sit that one out and, and give yourself what you need. And that’s really, the only prompt for the morning is I just want you to learn to listen to yourself. And that’s not just for that hour.

Paola Di Fonzo (13:38):
It’s hopefully a skill that you take with you for the rest of your life. Like, I’m learning that I’m getting to the end of my twenties now, but like spend a lot of time listening to so many other things. So many other voices, so many other opinions, so many other, you know, expectations and, you know, social media is a whole other thing, but we don’t listen to what we need sometimes. Right. And so that’s really what I, I ground the whole exercise in learn to listen to yourself. Do you need to practice this breathing? Probably like, we, we all need some deep breaths every so often, but give yourself what you need. And I think that’s, I think that’s the message that we need right now as we transition back to school and figure it all out. Yeah.

Sam Demma (14:22):
So true. And sometimes an educator just needs a reminder that the work they’re doing is really important and it has a huge impact. It makes a huge difference. A lot of the educators that I’ve spoken to tell me that they have a file on their desk, they call it different name, but sometimes it’s called the bad day file. And it’s filled with all the notes that students sent them over the years or have written to them. And I’m curious to know, if you have a story of a student who has you have witnessed become, you know, become transformed into a, into a better version of themselves and maybe had a big breakthrough through school because of the work that you do and that your school does. And the reason I’m asking you to share is because another educator might be listening is a little burnt out, is forgetting why they got into education. and the impact you have, you can have in this, in this, in this work is tremendous. And you can change the student’s name if it’s a very personal story. But when I ask you that, is there any student or story that comes to mind?

Paola Di Fonzo (15:26):
There’s there’s names bouncing around in my head. But I’ll say this one thing about the work we do as chaplains and educators, and is we plant a lot of seeds. Mm. And sometimes we don’t get to see the fruit. Mm. Right. And so, like, I’m sure maybe some educators out there are like, I can’t even think of a name of a person who I’ve seen change because of my influence. And that can be so disheartening and you lose motivation, you lose hope. But something I was always told in this role was you just plant the seed. Right. And that might bloom in an hour, a day, five years three decades, who knows. Right. But it doesn’t mean that your impact wasn’t wasn’t relevant, wasn’t important. You plant the seeds and, and it’ll be watered, you know, and, and you might not see the fruits of it, but it doesn’t mean that you’re, that you’re any less effective as an educator, as a chaplain.

Paola Di Fonzo (16:30):
So that’s something I hold onto. Like, can you a specific example of students who, you know, their lives are transformed cuz of my influence? I don’t know. Like, I don’t know. I don’t, I don’t even think that way sometimes. Like I don’t, I just hope that God’s doing something in their heart. Right. And I’m just here going, God loves you, you know? Right. In my role as chaplain, it’s very faith focused. So I just, I just plant that seed and I hope that it’s being watered down the road, but I love that. That’s that’s I think how I would respond to that.

Sam Demma (16:59):
Okay, cool. I love that. That’s a great, that’s a great way to look at it. And planting the seed is just as important as re you know, sewing the fruit. In fact, you can’t have one without the other. So I think that’s a brilliant way to look at it. Amazing. And if there’s an educator listening, who’s in their first year of teaching and they’re like, what the heck did I sign up for? This is very different than what I expected it to be. You know, what advice would you have for them? Think back to when you just got into teaching what advice do you wish you had someone tell you, or maybe they did tell you it and you think it’d be wise to share it with someone listening. Who’s also getting into this role,

Paola Di Fonzo (17:36):
Give it time, give it time. Like in the first I’m still so new at this. So I like, I feel kind of silly giving, sharing some wisdom, but if there was anything, like if there is anything I could have heard in the first few years of this kind of work, it’s, it’s gonna feel like a whirlwind of emotion and chaos in the beginning, and you’re gonna be so busy and tired and maybe unmotivated. Can you hear that? That’s okay. It’s okay. Oh, they’re even calling me. Perfect. So , we’ll wrap up here. Iming. No problem. No, it’s no, it’s not a big deal. I think it could be easy to quit the game because you’re so tired and you’re like, I don’t want this. I didn’t sign up for being this overworked and maybe feeling unmotivated because you’re not again, seeing those fruits from the seeds that you’re planting.

Paola Di Fonzo (18:35):
And it could be really easy to walk away, but over the years, as you, you know, you grow and you, you develop as a person. And as an educator and as a chaplain and whatever it is it gets easier and you start to maybe see those fruits and to just trust that you have gifts to offer, like we all do. Every single person on this planet is put here for a reason. And we have something to offer the world. It’s just discovering what that is. What are our gifts? What are our desires and how can we give that to the world? And we all, we all have that purpose. So that’s what I would say.

Sam Demma (19:09):
And if there’s, someone who wants to reach out and bounce ideas around or have a conversation, like I mentioned earlier, what would be the best way for someone to get in touch with you?

Paola Di Fonzo (19:18):
They can certainly reach out through my board email. Okay. So I don’t know if you wanna put that into the description or anything, but it’s paola.fraietta@dcdsb.ca.

Sam Demma (19:32):
All right. Perfect, Paola, thank you so much for taking some time to come on the show here and chat. I really appreciate it.

Paola Di Fonzo (19:37):
Thanks Sam. It was my pleasure.

Sam Demma (19:39):
And there you have it. Another amazing guest, an amazing interview on the High Performing Educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review so other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show. If you wanna meet the guest on today’s episode, if you wanna meet any of the guests that we have interviewed, consider going to www.highperformingeducator.com and signing up to join the exclusive network, you’ll have access to networking events throughout 2021 and other special opportunities. And I promise, I will not fill your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Paola Di Fonzo

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.

Nicole Haire – BC Program Head Hayat Universal School Qatar

Nicole Haire - BC Program Head Hayat Universal School Qatar
About Nicole Haire

Nicole Haire (@NicoleHaire) is a powerhouse educator.  She worked in Canada for most of her career, but for the past five years in Qatar as the BC Program Head at the Hayat Universal School.  She has hosted the Canadian Student Leadership Conference and is a nerd for self-development books and literature.  Enjoy this interview.

Connect with Nicole: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Hayat Universal School Qatar Website

Canadian Student Leadership Conference (CSLC)

Activities that Teach

University of Toronto Education Programs

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):
Do you want access to all the past guests on this show? Do you want to network with like-minded individuals and meet other high performing educators from around the world? If so, go to www.highperformingeducator.com. Sign up to join the exclusive network and you’ll get access to live virtual networking events and other special opportunities that will come out throughout 2021. I promise you I will not fill your inbox. you might get one email a month. If that sounds interesting, go to www.highperformingeducator.com. Welcome back to another episode of the high performing educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker Sam Demma. Today’s guest is someone with an insane amount of energy. She geeks out on self-improvement books, just as much as I do. And she’s someone that knows everybody in this space of student leadership and, and student advisory. Nicole Haire is the British Columbia, the B C head of all the grade 8-12 students at Hyatt Universal School (HUBS), which is in Qatar.

Sam Demma (01:10):
She’s been in Qatar, I believe for the past five years and she’s doing amazing work, like absolutely phenomenal work. Previously, she’s hosted a CSLC, the Canadian student leadership conference at a school. She’s, she’s been around. She knows everyone in this industry. She’s someone that you should know if you don’t and she’s someone that has a lot of wisdom to share. I hope you enjoy today’s episode. Nicole, thank you so much for coming on the high performing educator podcast. It’s a huge pleasure to have you on this show. Why don’t you start by telling everyone on listening, where you’re tuning in from and how you got into the work that you’re doing with young people today?

Nicole Haire (01:49):
Well, thank you, Sam. What a privilege to be with you. I’m tuning in from Doha, QAR in the middle east, which about six years ago, I had no idea that that was a place or where it was, but it’s attached to Saudi Arabia right next to the United Arab Emirates near a lot of people know Dubai, but Doha is a city of about 3 million people and it’s beautiful here. We’re actually hosting. We, we, because I live here now are hosting FIFA in 2022. So the whole place is under construction. There’s this go bigger, go home in Doha. So I work at a, a BC offshore school. I was a Principal in prince Edward island for Ooh, a lot of years, 25, 26 years. Single mom with three kids in University and I felt like I needed a challenge and an adventure and this opportunity fell into my lap and

Nicole Haire (02:45):
I decided to take a leap of faith and come to the sandbox. And I came for two years. And after a year and a half, when I had to make the decision, whether I would go back to Canada just yet, I wasn’t finished learning what I need to learn here so it’s been quite an adventure. I’ve done lots of traveling, but my students, my, my teachers are from mostly Canada, but also UK, South Africa. So lots of diversity and the students themselves are 98% Qatari nationals, which is unusual for an international school here. Usually they’re mixed, but our school is mostly kids from here. So it’s, I’ve learned so much and not really speaking fluent Arabic yet, but , I, I know the, I know the school where’s like Halas, like that’s enough and yallah get going. You’re late. They’re like, oh, Miss.Nicole, you speak Arabic. No, no, I just school, I speak

Sam Demma (03:40):
School. that’s so awesome. Tell me more about how this opportunity fell in your lap. I think, you know, especially in student leadership, we can talk about seizing opportunities, but the opportunities typically come when the students ready or prepared to take advantage of them. And I, I want a little more context on how this fell into your lap.

Nicole Haire (03:58):
That is so so true and it’s, it’s not that I hadn’t had, you know, little voices talking to me prior to that, but I wasn’t, I wasn’t ready to listen. And to be honest, as a single mom, I was working three jobs. I was a principal for all week long. I was a waitress on the weekends. I was teaching at the university and I was just going solid I all the time. I was also heavily involved with student leadership at my school and at the national level. And I just, I, I was passing myself on the highway. I was just running, running, running all the time. And one night I was driving home from the restaurant where I was waitressing at like two in the morning, cuz we, we closed late and I fell asleep at the wheel and I went off the, to the side of the road.

Nicole Haire (04:43):
I fell asleep and I almost hit a post wow. In a country road in prince Edward island. And I went home and I, I just thought I I’m out of control. Like I, I have to get a handle on this. And, and to be honest, I know everyone has different faith, but I wasn’t in a faithful place at the time. And I just said, I prayed. And I said, you gotta show me the way. And I put my name into a search agency and I had an opportunity to go to Toronto to a job fair. And I met the people from my school and because I had this leadership background and because they were building a high school and they wanted somebody experience with that, they offered me a job within like two months. My household, I had a job in Qatar.

Nicole Haire (05:27):
Nobody knew where Qatar was including me. I blindly went and everything inside of me just told me it was the right move and I needed to take the risk. I needed to take a leap of faith and I did. And it has just been in the best decision I’ve ever made in my life and, and was a one time in my life where I truly knew what I was doing was exactly right. So I think going with your, your gut instinct, whether you call it your gut instinct, your gut instinct, like I think we know when we’re doing the right thing for us mm-hmm and just to get over the fear is the biggest thing like to take, to take that leap of faith means to put the fear aside and just, and just trust and, and go for it. And that was what I did and it’s been the best. So,

Sam Demma (06:10):
Wow. That’s such an amazing story. You see, if I ask a simple question, we get a whole nother layer. So the decision and the move, and I absolutely love that. That’s that’s, that’s the truth. Yeah. I love it. And you know, you mentioned earlier that you were you’re super involved in student leadership. Mm-Hmm how has that translated into your role now in Qatar? Are you still striving to do things on campus? And where did that passion stem from to get involved in student leadership and be the president of C S a and, and really champion the leadership activities in Canada?

Nicole Haire (06:46):
Wow. Well, I, well, I laugh cuz I always say I’m a Leo , that’s part of my problem. nice. Yeah. Born in July, but also just as a, as a child growing up, like I, we can all trace our leadership roots back, you know, and I was the girl guide and in girl guides, I had leaders who saw the potential in me and I wasn’t right away a leader. You know, I had, I had adults in my life, take me aside and say, I think you have this skill. I think, I think we’re gonna put you in a position to practice. And they corrected me and they guided me guide ha ha girl guides. But you know, I got to, when I got into school, I was just always a, a person who was an extrovert and wanted to, I wanted to be happy and I wanted school to be happy.

Nicole Haire (07:30):
And so I was in student council and I, I did all those things. And then as a teacher, I think you, you kind of paid the, you know, so people did that for me. So I started being a student council advisor at my school in Toronto where I started my career. And then again, when I moved back to prince Edward island and then one day a friend of mine said, we’re going to take some kids to the Canadian student leadership conference. It’s in Sacville Nova Scotia, 2001 let’s just go. And I’m just, I think that’s part of my personality is I’m usually the one that jumps on the bus and says, where are we going? You know, it’s kinda like get on a plane to Qatar. Where am I going? You know? And I, I just always, I like that adventure and that, that sense of fun.

Nicole Haire (08:14):
And so we took kids to see SLC 2001 in the Sacville and it was right after nine 11, it was the whole thing was just serendipitous. But we got there and we had no idea. We got off the bus and everyone was screaming and our kids were just like, Deering the headlights. Like, what is this place? And by, by the middle of that conference oh no, actually it was the first night when they say, you know, soon. So see whatever first year and you know, Yorkton, Saskatchewan and the Saskatchewan kid scream. So I’m saying to prince Edward island, get ready, get ready. We’re gonna, they’re gonna say PEI and we’re gonna scream. And they didn’t say PEI. They said every province except PEI. So I turned to Dave Conlin and I said, why didn’t they say PEI? And he said, PEI is the only province that hasn’t hosted.

Nicole Haire (09:03):
And I said, well, that’s unacceptable. We’re gonna host. So in 2008, they put me in the board and I was a director for PEI and in 2008, my, my school hosted the first CSLC in, in, in prince Rhode Island. Nice. And it was fabulous. And just, just memory will never forget. And a team building experience as a school that will never forget. Because when you have to bring a thousand people from across Canada to your school for five days, the best part was the ability because my mother in charge of billing with a friend of mine and, you know, a small town Summerside PEs 15,000 people, we had 45 extra families that didn’t get to host billets because everybody wanted to be part of it. And it was such a, yeah, it was such a feel good week. And so that, that kind of thing, like just seeing of people benefit from you know, just seeing them become leaders.

Nicole Haire (10:00):
I think that that’s why I love being a principal. It’s, it’s not about me being the leader. It’s, it’s finding leadership in my staff and empowering them and kind of working yourself out of a job. The best thing you can do as a leader is work yourself out of a job because every, everybody around you is, is doing their part and, and their body in, you know, so I think they’re all kind of different transferable skills. Some of the things I did in grow guides, I used in my school in, in Qatar, but when I got here, the school was not a high school and the oldest grade was grade nine. Mm. Were gender segregated as our community here is Muslim. And the boys and girls after grade from grade four on, they separate into boys classes and girls classes. So I came in kind of naive to that whole culture and religious tradition.

Nicole Haire (10:51):
And, and I decided I would bring the boys and girls together to train for student leadership my a first month here. And they tried it and then they both came, both sides, came to me and said, please, please don’t do that to us again. That’s not how we do things. and I realized that I, it was a good lesson for me because rather than coming into a place and imposing my view of what I thought things should be. I had to come in and, and be quiet and observe and be respectful and get feedback and find other ways to do some of the things that I wanted to do. So one one thing we’ve done when I was in my school in PEI, we dismantled student council because we found the same 20 kids were doing everything. They were, they were fundraising, they were spiriting.

Nicole Haire (11:40):
They were, you know, doing everything and exhausted. And about three teachers as their advisors were also exhausted. And student council runs from August to July. I don’t care what anybody says. It might take a couple of weeks off in July, but you’re all the time. So we dismantled our student council into into councils, like the ministry here, here. I did it. I brought the idea here and our students do it here as well. So here we have the ministry of sport. Nice. The ministry of the interior is the got government ministry of activities is student activities, ministry of finance. They all wanna be in that ministry of global citizenship because here in Qatar, they have ministries and ministry of the interior is actually the government. And we had just a boom of kids because some people do wanna be just finance. They don’t wanna rah and cheer and march in the parade, or do philanthropic things.

Nicole Haire (12:37):
They just want to count the money. And they wanna put that on their CV as going to university to study accounting say, and some kids are spear kids, and some kids are philanthropists and some kids are sport kids. And so each ministry has a mandate and we had 20 plus teachers involved and about 200 kids. And they had never had student leadership at the school because the school was never a high school. So they decided to, we didn’t have recycling in Qatar when I got here and our kids by their initiative came up with the reusable, like the wa water bottle stations. And they did a whole proposal and got the school to put in the water fountains so that the kids can use wow. And they banned, they banned plastic water bottles from the school. Nice. Like, and so kids are kids, you know, and that’s, that’s what I found when I came here, I was like, okay. So they may dress differently. They may have a religion. And that’s different than mine, which is often more, more like it than different from it. As we have more conversation with one another, but just kids or kids and they still love to lead and they want to have great schools and they’re excited about life and they care about this planet and they care about one another. And I just, potato potato, I just felt like I was home when I got here. You know? So I, I stayed because of the kids. Yeah.

Sam Demma (14:03):
That’s so cool. Mm-Hmm you mentioned over 20 teachers help with it and have participated. There’s other people I’ve spoken to on the podcast and outside of the podcast who sometimes tell me that these positions of student leadership or student council sometimes go vacant, cuz someone doesn’t wanna step up. How were you able to get 20 teachers interested, involved, and excited to help with this work?

Nicole Haire (14:29):
I think you have to be contagious. And I’m not saying that the people that struggle to get help are not contagious because I think people are exhausted right now. Mm-Hmm , especially in this time, like we haven’t launched our student ministry because everybody’s online and now we’re starting to, we’ve all got our legs under us. And it’s like, okay, let’s get student assemblies running virtually let’s, you know, there’s ways around a mountain, but you have to have energy to create energy. And when you’re running on low with your battery and everybody’s just in survival mode, because there’s so much new learning and teachers are learning technology while they’re trying to deliver curriculum and they’re trying to, you know, sleep. And it’s been D to try to do the proactive things, but it’s kind of like when you’re tired and you don’t exercise because you’re tired and then you eat potato chips because you’re tired.

Nicole Haire (15:21):
And then you exercise cause you’re tired. And it’s like a, a vortex of doom. I find that if you do the push and you get people rolling, the energy feeds the energy. And I think we, we were, it’s new also. There’s a little bit of a novelty attached to it here because we haven’t done it before. So people jumped in and were, were willing to get involved. And maybe I think in some schools, traditionally at home, the one person would be kind of tagged as you’re student advise, you know, the student council advisor and, and you’re stuck. It’s like a life sentence. And and other people might think, oh, that’s what they do. And there’s no room for me. And what I’ve always found with leadership is you have to sometimes ask, if you put out a, an email and say, anybody wanna be involved, you’re not going, you’re gonna get of crickets.

Nicole Haire (16:12):
Nobody’s gonna answer that. But when I’ve walked up to specific people and said, I’m just gonna tell you what I see in you. I see this, you know, trade in you. I think you have a lot to offer. Would you be interested? People are usually like really you see that in me because quite often they don’t see it in themselves and they would kind of like to, but they don’t really see themselves that way. And once they’re invited and once they get a chance to get their feet into it and, and the kids are, the kids are the energy. I mean, you can’t be in student leadership and not stay young for the rest of your life. You know, you go, you go to those leadership conferences and you just come back. Like the world is, is perfect. You know, you only took three kids with you and there’s always the crash, the crash that comes with, they go back to school and they’re like, ha, then the whole school’s like, , it’s always a bit of a downer. But then they, then they bounce back and they do great things. And it’s the same way that I think kids get other kids involved. It’s what adults do with adults, you know? And, and half the time it just takes an invitation.

Sam Demma (17:19):
Yeah. I love, I love that. Cause I think it applies to inviting anyone to do anything. Especially if you appeal to people’s your belief in their people’s abilities, especially like you mentioned when they don’t see it in themselves. Yeah. Have

Nicole Haire (17:33):
You, and to off and offer them support, I think is the other big thing mm-hmm , you know, like to just say to somebody, okay, you’re gonna do student council and take off and leave them with that big piece of, you know, the work to do. I think the, the scaffolding is important too. It’s sort of like a coaching mentorship gradual release, you know, you walk with them for a while and then they take off and do wonderful things without you. And that’s what I mean by working yourself out of a job.

Sam Demma (17:58):
Yeah, no, I like that. And it’s passing the Baton on really. You’re just sure.

Nicole Haire (18:03):
And building capacity, building capacity is huge.

Sam Demma (18:06):
You know, it’s like the relay the 4, 4, 100, you don’t just slap the Baton in their hand and just stop. It’s like you guys both run together and you slap it and then you slow down and they speed up.

Nicole Haire (18:15):
That’s an excellent analogy.

Sam Demma (18:17):
For sure. Yeah. And you know, this work is very transformative and sometimes you don’t see the transformation that a student or a teacher might have when being invited into student leadership. But I’m certain that over the years you’ve seen students change and transform and incredible, you know, you might be listening right now thinking that, you know, this year is different and you’re burnt out and you know, an educator listening might think, you know, they might, they might be thinking, what the heck did I get into if this is their first year teaching Uhhuh yeah. And a story of transformation might just be the thing they need to hear to remind them that this is really important work. And if it’s a serious transformational story that comes to mind you can change the name for privacy reasons, but I’m curious that you have any stories of transformation that you think are worth sharing with other educators to inspire them and remind the, then why they started teaching

Nicole Haire (19:12):
For, for teachers transforming or students,

Sam Demma (19:15):
Maybe one of each .

Nicole Haire (19:17):
Okay. Well, I can, I can tell a story about a teacher that was a first year teacher, I won’t say in which country. But that person came in sort of dear in the headlights, very, very fresh, very green and in a very challenging, you know, situation and was sort of thinking that she had to have it all figured out. You know, there’s some sort of false sense of, I don’t know what they teach you in teachers college, that if you show any, any weakness or any need or you know, need for support in your first year that you’re not gonna get your contract, or I don’t know what, but I never in my life have seen anybody start something new and not need that support. So I just keep, always saying to people, it’s smart. People who ask for help, like, don’t, don’t just take it on and try to do it by yourself.

Nicole Haire (20:07):
Let us know. And finally, she came to me in tears one day and she was just like, it much, I can’t handle, I’m gonna quit. I’m done. And I, we just sat down, we had a coffee and I told her the things that I saw that were strong and the things that I was willing to help her with. And I went into her classroom and I, I was in her classroom once a day for maybe two weeks and eventually still started extracting myself and she left her school because she was going to further her education go do her masters. And when she left, she was probably one of the strongest young teachers that I had. And she wouldn’t have said that about herself in the first year. And I think, I think we need to be kind to ourselves. Like I always say this to my children when they start, you know, talking badly, I’m always like, no, no, don’t talk about my daughter that way.

Nicole Haire (21:00):
Or don’t talk, you know, don’t say those things about my daughter to yourself. And, and I’ll just say, you know, you should treat your yourself and give yourself the same advice and the same cut yourself the same slack that you would your best friend, because you need to be your best friend. I think the biggest piece for teachers is to find some allies like Steven Covey says, you know, access your allies. And we’re not, we we’re in a very isolating profession in the sense that we surrounded by people all day. We have 150 kids on our rosters, but we go into our little silos and quite often we work in isolation. There isn’t great time for collaboration, you know, to get together, to talk things out. And I think it’s really important to carve time outta your day, to sit in this staff room, but only sit next to positive people.

Nicole Haire (21:50):
I’m sorry, I I’m, I everybody’s valuable, but if I only have 10 minutes to sit in the staff room, I’m gonna sit by someone who’s gonna feed my soul, not suck me dry. You know? So you have to be very strategic about who you talk to. And not just because not just likeminded people. I, I’m not saying not to open your mind a different points of view or, but some people are, are just negative because they’re negative. And you know, you can say a prayer for them and wish them the best, but you don’t have to allow them to steal your joy. And I always say, nobody gets to rent space in your head without your permission. So, you know, everything that happens, I choose how I react to it. I choose whether or not it ruins my day. I everything’s on a Richter scale of one to 10.

Nicole Haire (22:35):
I ask myself, is this a two or a 10? Quite often, it’s a one mm-hmm and just get on with it. You know? So I think we have to be patient with ourselves that our career is it’s a marathon, not a sprint. And the teacher I am today was not the teacher. I was in my third year when I thought I knew everything. Mm-Hmm I was just smart enough to be dangerous. Mm-Hmm so I think, you know, it’s possible to, to learn and grow if you open your mind and your heart and you just be kind to others and to yourself as far as students to transforming, oh my God, like, that’s why I do the work I do. I it’s like caterpillars and butterflies. And, you know, I think the biggest thing that I see with the students, both here and at home is a generation of kids that have been protected from struggle or are afraid of struggle.

Nicole Haire (23:29):
And I always tell the story and I’m sure you’ve heard it of, you know, the moth and the cocoon and the little girl comes by and she sees this moth and it’s struggling. And she takes the screwdriver and pops it open and the moth falls out and dies. And when her grandfather says, you know, what did you do? She said, I tried to help him. And the grandfather said, you know what? It’s in the struggle that it learns how to fly. Mm. And you know, so I have a student right now, who’s struggling. And we zoom once a week for 45 minutes and he just wants to talk. He just wants to talk about the things that he thinks about. And, and I, I see his struggle, but it’s good struggle, you know? And, and I think we’re afraid of this struggle. We think I don’t wanna be sad.

Nicole Haire (24:13):
I don’t wanna be challenged. I don’t wanna be disappointed. I don’t want to grieve. I don’t want to feel these things, but it’s through working through the feelings of these things that we build our strength, so that the next thing that comes, we’re ready for it. And I’ve seen students that thought that they were, you know, victimized by everything, around them, terrible things in their lives and, and realized that inside of them was this strength and this, you know, capacity to be happy to, to move through things and around things. I always say there’s many ways around a mountain. Like you, we don’t just have to keep slamming into the mountain. Like we can go off road, we can blow it up. We can, dig a whole under it. We can, you know, there’s, there’s always a way through. But I think it’s okay to embrace the struggle. Like I, I, it’s not supposed to be easy all the time. There’s gonna be happy days and sad days. And, and when I see a, a student learn that lesson and, and just embrace their journey, that’s when I know they’re gonna be okay.

Sam Demma (25:21):
I love that. So that’s awesome. And you mentioned a lot of educators right now are working silos, and that’s the whole reason I started this, this project, this podcast, and the hope that I’m so happy to hear this. Yeah. And, you know, you shared so much great ideas and advice, even just the simple ministries idea of someone’s listening and wants to turn their student council into many governmental divide and conquer. Yeah. I think it’s a really unique idea.

Nicole Haire (25:49):
Yeah. And, and I think everybody’s willing, nobody really wants to take on except for crazy people. Like the people I know love want to say that they’re gonna take on the whole student council. I mean, that’s a big job and, and only crazy people like Dave Conlan and marking Lynn that, you know, those people do stuff with joy. But if you said to, like we did at home the lady that was usually used to counting the money for the student council is like, would you like to be the advisor for the finance council? She said, absolutely. I can do that. You know, and somebody else was like, well, I have an interest in sports. I have no interest in, you know, running student activities, but we could do Dodge ball at lunch and, and do healthy living stuff. And it’s like, but then those people became the advisor for that council.

Nicole Haire (26:39):
Mm. And all of a sudden I had all these leaders in my school and they weren’t leaders before they didn’t have the opportunity to practice being leaders. And they just had their little poss of people and they, you know, so each, each just to finish that, what that is each council here, we have ministries, we have prime ministers here, there, we had presidents. So funny, I’m in no sense with prime ministers and in Canada, I had presidents. But anyway, we had a president’s council here. It’s called the prime minister’s council. And so each it’s sort of the nights of the round table. So each council has a prime minister, has a leader. And it’s chosen by the people who work with him and her. And they come once a month around the table. So this is how it would work. There would be like a, a student activity week coming up like Qatar national week, we celebrate the birth of Qatar.

Nicole Haire (27:34):
And the, the activities council would say, we wanna have like an activity every day. And the sports people would say, we’ll take one of the days. We’ll do Dodge ball teachers against do, okay. That’s done. The finance people will say, does anybody need to buy anything for this? You need supplies. You need money. They’ll do a proposal. And they’ll tell them how much money they can have. The communications ministry will say, do you need like announcements, posters? What are we gonna do with that piece? And the global citizenship kids say, you know, we should have a food drive. And at our school be like, we have a dance and everybody brings food and we do something and, you know, hunger for whatever. And it just, they just collaborate. Mm-Hmm , and it’s like a, it’s like a network and it’s so cool. And they support one another and they all have a different piece, but together they’re a whole student body ministry of the interior is the voice of the school, the elected council that deals with policy and meets with the PRI meets with the principal once a month to talk about student issues.

Nicole Haire (28:34):
And they’re the student voice. So if something happens at the school, it’s the prime minister of the interior who speaks on behalf of the students because he’s elected by the students or she is.

Sam Demma (28:44):
That’s so awesome. I love that. Yeah. Very cool. It’s like a mini society in the school. Yeah.

Nicole Haire (28:50):
It’s and, and everybody’s invested, right? So the more kids who are involved, the more it’s just like everything. Like, if you wanna do something, you say, you have to do this. I may or may not. Mm-Hmm , but if you get me involved and I’m part of co-creating what’s happening, and I have invested interest in it, when an activity happens, our kids are like, get involved because this is something that I’m passionate about and I’m excited about, and, and it’s contagious. It just, yeah. And you, you start with things that kids are interested in and over time they just, they start to realize it’s the culture of their school. And that’s what they want. A, a good school culture.

Sam Demma (29:29):
Nice. Yeah. And for all the keen educators listening, the keeners, I know you mentioned Steven Covey, I’m curious to know what are some books or resources that you’ve really enjoyed that have helped with your own personal development that you think another educator might, might fancy , you

Nicole Haire (29:46):
Know, I, well, and to be honest, I’ve read all the, you know, the Gladwell and all these types of books. But for me, the, the books that I have used, and I’m not doing this as a pitch to make money for anybody, but the Canadian student leader association has resources. Dave Conlin has been overseeing that they have books that I’ve used in my classroom called ones called activities that teach. And what I loved about them was we would have fun day Fridays, and you would just open the book and it would be like an activity. It tells you how many minutes it’s gonna take, what you’re materials are, how to run it, what the debrief questions are. My kids used to just my students, like when I was a teacher, they’d be like, is that fun day, Friday? , you know, like we would always do these leadership activities.

Nicole Haire (30:32):
And then we had climate days at school where we brought together a hundred kids and did sort of breaking down the walls, kind of fill void style stuff. Which completely completely changed the culture of our school, getting kids, talking to kids, they didn’t usually talk to. And just understanding that everybody has a story and it’s hard to hate someone whose story, you know, and you know, so that wealth of resources, I took those books. And when I got over here, I couldn’t carry them all. Also then I ordered them and Dave shipped them over and we’ve been using them here, spirit activities and just, you know, kind of fundamental values type leadership activities that are fun. But at the end of it, you go, whoa, I didn’t know. I just learned something. You know, kids, kids are having fun. They don’t know what’s happening until you hit them with the message. And then they never forget it. It’s, it’s sneaky, sneak attack

Sam Demma (31:27):
but it works,

Nicole Haire (31:29):
But it works. And those resources are fabulous. I’ll, I’ll be honest. I’ve used those the most.

Sam Demma (31:34):
Okay, awesome. I’ll make sure to link those in the show notes as well. And if anyone wants to get outta their silo and visit another farm, maybe talk to you a little bit and connect and have a conversation.

Nicole Haire (31:45):
Yes, absolutely. And I mean, we zoom like to me, we are, we’re blessed in a way this whole COVID thing has been, you can look at it one of two ways you can look at it as the, you know, the disaster that everybody talks about. Well, I wish it would get back to normal. I hope it never goes back to normal. I hope we go back to what we were before, because I think this COVID this big stop and think that we have had where it’s like everybody go to your room and stop and think . Yeah. Seriously, it gives, it’s given us an opportunity to reflect on what’s important in our lives about our own personal health and wellbeing. About, you know, I, in the COVID time where we were completely online, I started walking again. I started eating healthy. I was sleeping more there, you know, it was different stress, but there were other stresses that weren’t there anymore.

Nicole Haire (32:39):
My kids and I started zooming every Sunday. Nice. And I’ve been here for five years. We had never zoomed all of us together. Now we have religiously every Sunday, got it. We have family time and we zoom them to catch up my sisters. So we are in silos, but we’re in silos by choice. There’s there no excuse for us to be in silos. And I would love to talk to anybody that wants to talk. So, you know, I’m, I’m a few hours ahead of you right now. It’s almost 11, o’clock my time. But we, we seem to be able to make connections. And I, I keep in touch all the time through zoom and WhatsApp and we’ve, we’ve got all this technology and it’s like nuclear energy. It can be a weapon or a tool. And if we start using, I think the tools at our fingertips to stay connected instead of to keep us separate we have a hope of , you know, it’s like everybody together.

Nicole Haire (33:35):
I always say to my team at school sticks in a bundle or unbreakable, it’s like a Kenyon proverb. It’s like, you can’t break a bundle of sticks. You can break individual sticks, but you can’t break as if we’re a bundle. And I see it over and over every time someone’s, we keep in touch with each other, we’re checking in, you know, there’s perpetual chocolate in my office. People have places that they can go one other person a day just to check you in on you and say, they see you. I think having mentors is very important. And just, just to say hi, just to know that, you know, if I didn’t show up today, somebody would call my house and see where I was. you know, so it’s, that’s awesome. It’s about relationships. I think that’s, if we have those relationships, we have, we have hope.

Sam Demma (34:19):
That’s awesome. I, and if someone does wanna reach you and build a relationship what would be the best way for them to do so? Is there an email that’s best or?

Nicole Haire (34:27):
Or, yeah, sure. Yeah. I it’s it’s easy for me. It’s hairenicole2@gmail.com and it’s H A I R E like hair on your head with an E, but yeah, they can just email me and then if they wanna chat further, we can and chat or share resources or share stories, whatever. But I think I think people should, I mean, I’m not saying don’t contact me, but I think people haven’t even tapped into the resources that are right beside them. Yeah. The teacher next door. I always, in my notes, I give a challenge each week to my staff and a quote of the week and the challenge this week was go find somebody, spend 10 minutes with them and ask them how they are. And just reach out to that teacher next door. And we don’t know what they’re going through, you know, and, and you’d be surprised sometimes you have things in common with people that you think you don’t. Take 10 minutes to talk. Yeah.

Sam Demma (35:22):
Love that. That’s awesome. Well, thank you, Nicole so much for coming on here. So much positive energy, and I know everyone listening can feel it as well. I really do appreciate it, and I wish you all the best and I’ll, I’ll definitely keep in touch. And I, you know, one day maybe I can come to Qatar and say, hello.

Nicole Haire (35:38):
But I would, I would pay to work with you, Sam. I’m really, I have to say that when I meet young people, that just, you can, when you say you see potential, I’m just sitting here going, I’m gonna keep track of Sam, cause someday I’m gonna say I talked to him in 2020, but I think you’re a phenomenal person and congratulations for the work you’re doing. Thank you. I appreciate it. You’re most welcome.

Sam Demma (36:02):
I’ll talk soon, Nicole. Okay. And there you have it. Another amazing guest, an amazing interview on the high performing educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review so other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show. If you wanna meet the guest on today’s episode, if you wanna meet any of the guests that we have interviewed, consider going to www.highperformingeducator.com and signing up to join the exclusive network. You’ll have access to networking events throughout 2021 and other special opportunities. And I promise I will not fill your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Nichole Haire

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.

Christa Ray – Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program (OYAP) Coordinator at the Algonquin Lakeshore Catholic District School Board (ALCDSB)

Christa Ray - Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Coordinator at ALCDSB
About Christa Ray

Christa is passionate not only about teaching & guiding the next generation but also intently interested in anything related to sustainability and the environment. She is also an Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Coordinator(OYAP) at the ALCDSB. Her career path has been very rewarding so far and she always looks forward to the lifelong learning afforded by having a job in the education sector! 

Connect with Christa: Email | Linkedin

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Resources Mentioned

Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program

Queens University Bachelor of Education Degree

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):
Do you want access to all the past guests on this show? Do you want to network with like-minded individuals and meet other high performing educators from around the world? If so, go to www.highperformingeducator.com, sign up to join the exclusive network and you’ll get access to live virtual networking events and other special opportunities that will come out throughout 2021. I promise you I will not fill your inbox. you might get one email a month. If that sounds interesting, go to www.highperformingeducator.com. Welcome back to another episode of the high performing educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker Sam Demma. Today’s guest is Christa Ray. Christa is the Ontario youth apprenticeship coordinator at the ALCDSB, the Algonquin Lakeshore Catholic District School Board. She’s passionate, not only about teaching and guiding the next generation, but also interested in anything related to sustainability and the environment.

Sam Demma (01:01):
Her career path has been very rewarding so far, and she’s always looking forward to the lifelong learning afforded by having a job in the education sector. I hope you enjoy today’s interview as much as I enjoy doing it and I’ll see you on the other side. Christa, thank you so much for coming on the high performing educator podcast. It’s a huge pleasure to have you on the show. Why don’t you start by sharing with the audience a little bit about who you are and how you got into the work you’re doing with young people today?

Christa Ray (01:27):
Sure. Thanks Sam. It’s it’s great to be here with you today. I, I’ve been in education for about 17 years now. I started at the high school that I actually graduated from and initially I was a geography teacher among a few other things, and then I jumped into guidance shortly after my career started. So I was a guidance counselor for about 10 years and then I decided to take a leap of faith and I left the school that I loved and a job that I loved and I came to the board office. And now for the last three years I’ve been working with five high schools and a couple of college, local colleges. And for the first two years, I worked with student success teachers mainly. And this year starting in September, I have a new role called the OYAP(Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program) coordinator. So those that’s rounded out the last three years of my career.

Sam Demma (02:20):
Awesome. And what made you take, tell me more about what made you take the leap of faith. Why did you make that decision? Was there anything behind that?

Christa Ray (02:30):
Oh, that’s a good question. I, I loved what I was doing in the high school and I was coaching and I was doing a few clubs, but I was getting tired and I had needed a change of scenery and had young children at home. And so I thought I would try a different venue. And it was very nerve wracking, actually. I, I didn’t, you know, normally people change jobs when they don’t like something, but I was leaving something that I really liked to the unknown. And so it, it turned out it’s been really great for not just myself. And I’ve learned probably more in the last three years than I have in the, in the full 17 years that I’ve been teaching. So it’s, it’s been a good, a good move for me.

Sam Demma (03:16):
Oh, that’s awesome. And at what point in your own career journey, did you know, I wanna work in education. Was this something you knew from a young age? Did you stumble upon it? Did someone kind of guide you in that direction? Or how did you come to that decision that you wanted to work in schools?

Christa Ray (03:31):
You know, my sister and I always had a little Blackboard in our house growing up and we would always play school as I’m sure a lot of people do. So that was a something that we just enjoyed. But I don’t think it was really until my third or fourth year of university that I had confirmed with myself that I wanted to get into education. And my main driver was was geography actually, because I had an amazing geography teacher in high school who really propelled me into not, not the world of teaching, but the world of geography. Thanks and sustainability. And I mean, I know you have your pick waste initiative. Those, those were all things that I really wanted to to talk about with students. And I felt that the, maybe the biggest way I could have an impact on the world would be to spread my love for the environment with kids. So that’s why I mainly got into it and I didn’t foresee myself getting into guidance, but that just sort of fell into my lap. And I love that just as much so.

Sam Demma (04:29):
Oh, that’s awesome. And I’m sure the first 10, 15 years are a lot different than what school looks like specifically this year. as you exhale that’s right. I’m curious. What, what is different? I mean, what, what are the challenges that you’ve been currently faced with? I know you you’ve put put in a slightly different role this year, but what are the challenges specifically that your school board is facing?

Christa Ray (04:54):
Being the OYAP coordinator? I really rely heavily on hands on activities with students you know, bill building things and talking about the trades and the importance of tools. And so that’s probably my personal big, biggest challenge would be not being able to do the traditional activities with students. We generally try and work with our two local colleges, as I mentioned earlier, and we get students bused into the colleges to see the programs there. We’re not allowed to be busing students. So we are really having to think outside the box and do some alternative planning. And I have been going into schools and I’ve been doing like smaller presentations because I’m still allowed to travel into schools. But I find even just a small thing would be students wearing masks and myself wearing a mask while I present. It’s very unusual for teachers to see a room full of masks in front of you. And you don’t really necessarily get I mean, I’m only in a classroom for an hour at a time doing my presentation. So I feel like I don’t get to know the students very well, especially when they’re have their faces half covered.

Sam Demma (06:11):
No, that’s so true. yeah. It’s so, so true. I, I know they come out with these masks and now called mingle mask, which is like a, it’s like a clear visor. Okay. But then it has other problems, like it’s not close to the nose. It’s like, it’s a whole disaster , but it might be too early to ask, but someone described to me education, like throwing spaghetti on the wall and seeing what sticks. And I’m curious to know if there’s anything that your school board has done or tried that has stuck so far. Maybe there’s maybe one little nugget or one thing you might share about teaching online or something the schools have tried.

Christa Ray (06:49):
Yeah, I, I feel like our school is still forging ahead with some plans we have to downscale it a little bit and because we can’t get together in large groups due to COVID we are targeting a smaller classroom type activities. So for example, there’s an activity that we’re going to be doing in December, just building a birdhouse with some grade seven, eight students. Oh, cool. And hopefully they’ll be able to, to put that together. It prefab kit actually from one of our local colleges and we’ll take those out and then students can build them and maybe wrap them up and put them under the Christmas tree as gifts. Nice. And and that’ll tie in nicely with when I have my OAP presentation and where I, you know, cuz my job this year is to promote the trades with students.

Christa Ray (07:37):
And oftentimes college and university pathways are really well spoken about in school with guidance counselors, but sometimes the apprenticeship doesn’t doesn’t get highlighted the way it should. So that’s one thing that I feel even though we’re not be allowed to have 300 kids in a room at a time building a bird house, we can still have 20 or 25 building. Yeah. And, and you know, we might have to sanitize things a little more frequently than we normally would, but it’s just one of those challenges that we will, we will overcome.

Sam Demma (08:10):
That’s awesome. I love that. Mm-Hmm and I wanna go back to your geography teacher for a second. What made that teacher really impactful for you? I’m sure the content was great and, and they taught it really well, but there was probably some other characteristics that made this teacher really impactful for you personally. Is there any traits that stick out when you think about this teacher that you think made it such an impactful class?

Christa Ray (08:32):
Yeah, actually as you’re asking that question, I just got goosebumps because he was pretty amazing and I still work with him. Oh fun. Because the irony is he was my geography teacher. I went away for five years. Got my geography degree, came back to the same high school and he was still teaching. Nice. So I was his student and his colleague and I just saw him the other day, but he, I don’t know, he just made learning really fun because he was a storyteller. Mm. He had a story for almost anything and everything, any of our lessons, he, he had done a lot of traveling and I just thought that that was really really interesting. And he was very passionate. Even when he talked about things, places that he had never traveled, he, he made you feel like you were there anyway.

Christa Ray (09:19):
Mm. And so I just felt like you know, that was something that he really instilled in us was to become knowledgeable global citizens. Even though, even if you’re not traveling, you can still do a lot of research. And obviously the worldwide web is really good for checking out initiatives across across the world. And I tried to do that with my students as well. You know, we talked about some of the people that really make a difference. I mean, I was so interested to read a little bit more about your pick waste initiative that you did with your friend and you know, that it’s just two high school students picking up trash. It seems insignificant, but when you get a, when you get a bit of a following, especially now with social media, mm-hmm, you find out that you can really make a difference really fast. Yeah.

Sam Demma (10:08):
So, so small actions compounded over time. Right? Small, consistent actions. exactly. Yeah. That’s awesome. And you know, your teacher had a huge impact on you. I’m sure there’s so many stories that you’ve seen of students transforming due to education. And I’m curious to know if any story that you know of, whether it’s a student that you had, or it’s a student that you’ve heard of that had a huge transformation due to the support and care of a teacher. And the reason I ask is because there might be an educator listening right now, who’s a little bit burnt out who is maybe on the edge of even getting out of this calling and, and getting into a new job or career because they’re totally stressed out, but those stories are transformation might remind them why it’s extremely important and why the work they’re doing is so necessary and needed now more than ever. And if it’s a serious story, feel free to totally change the name to John DOE or whatever. You’d like . And anyways, yeah. Does any story come to mind?

Christa Ray (11:09):
Oh, I have a few. But one in particular that really sticks out in my mind was a student that came to our high school. He was a, a grade 12 student at the time. He came from Toronto to a small town in Beville to finish up his high school diploma. And when he came to my class, he was a grade 12 student in my grade nine geography class, cuz he had failed geography a few years prior and I’d never had a Stu an old, older student in my class and I was a little worried, but I realized really soon that he became he was kind of like a role model for the younger students. So even though the everybody else was in grade nine and he was in grade 12 and about a foot taller than everybody I, I realized that he was a really good resource for me to have.

Christa Ray (11:58):
And I mean, as a guidance counselor, I could see his transcript and I knew that it wasn’t very shiny. He hadn’t been doing really well. Due to many circumstances his life in Toronto was very difficult and not to get into too many details. He, he was trying to make his life better for himself. Hence the reason why he had moved to Bellville. And so when he came I, I think my biggest mistake was kind of pre-judging him, mm-hmm , you know, this is, this is gonna be a student where I’m really gonna have a lot of troubles and I actually didn’t at all. So near the end of his grade 12 year when he had accumulated his geography credit, which is a prerequisite to graduate in Ontario. Yeah. And he had accumulated other credits. He, he, I was so proud of him and I think he was proud of himself.

Christa Ray (12:52):
And I, I told him specifically that I don’t know what I would’ve done without him because he was a good motivator. He always had his homework done. When other students didn’t, he would sit with them and ex like, say, you know, I, I like to help you, which baffled my mind because I thought that he would just stick to himself, but he literally was a, like an older role model for the students. And he helped a few other students get through my class as well. It was like having a peer helper. Yeah. Actually, and I he went on to do welding at a college program. That’s and I’ve since lost track of him. I, I always wonder what he’s up to, but I don’t know. He, he is definitely one story that sticks out in my mind and I will remember him for as long as I live, actually.

Sam Demma (13:42):
That’s awesome. That’s such a beautiful story. And maybe this podcast is a reason to try and reach out and figure out what he’s up to these days. And if, you know, if you’re listening to this, remember that these stories are not far in between that, I think so much transformation happens inside schools or even outside the school walls with conversations because you, as an educator, you take on the role of parent. Sometimes you take on the role of teacher. Sometimes you take on the role of coach. It’s like, you’re so many things to these young minds and you can have such a huge impact. And it sometimes transforms students lives, which is pretty cool. Anyways, this has been really, really awesome. If you could travel back in time and speak to your younger self, when you were just starting teaching with all the wisdom you have now, what advice would you, would you share when you were just starting?

Christa Ray (14:36):
Hmm. I think, well, I mean, you learn more and more each year. So even though I’ve been teaching for quite some time I would tell my younger self that you’re, you’re basically on a journey. You’re not gonna know all of the answers. You’re not gonna have it all figured out in your first fifth or even 10th year of teaching. And as we all are very aware of this year has thrown everybody for a loop and we’ve had to change our teaching style significantly, especially earlier in the spring when we went to remote learning. But I just think that teachers need to not be so hard on themselves. Mm. They need to you know they need to take care of themselves so that they can take care of their classrooms. Yeah. And you might not be able to get it all done in a day.

Christa Ray (15:28):
So try not to be too overworked because I know a lot of teachers and myself included, we bring our work home with us. We try to make things as good as we can make them. And sometimes we can’t have perfection a hundred percent of the time. And I think that’s probably the biggest piece of advice I’d give people is you know, doing a good job is okay. You don’t need to do an awesome job every day because it can get very tiring. And so just do as best as you can do. And that’s good enough.

Sam Demma (15:59):
I love that. That’s great advice. And I think it applies in all areas of life. Like if you’re tr if you’re trying to be perfect, 24 7, you’re gonna burn out fast. And then instead of being great each day, you’re gonna be poor on a couple of them now, because you’re not actually able to physically perform and show up for your kids. Correct.

Christa Ray (16:18):
We, we talk a lot about, sorry to interrupt. Like, we talk a lot about mental health with students mm-hmm , but we really should also focus a mental health with teachers because I know a in particular this year, a lot of teachers are feeling very strapped. Our, our schooling system right now is in an Okta master system. So yeah. Credits are being accumulated at a very rapid pace in 23 days. And that’s, it, it’s a very different reality from what we’ve been experiencing in the past. And so I think teachers need to get sleep. They need to eat. Right. they need to do something fun on the weekend yeah. To re-energize their batteries.

Sam Demma (16:59):
So, yeah, I think it’s true. Almost like a teacher retreat or something

Christa Ray (17:03):
If yes, that’s right.

Sam Demma (17:04):
Yeah. That’s awesome. Cool. Well, Christa, thank you so much for taking some time and to come on the show, I really appreciate you sharing some stories and ideas. If another educator listening wants to reach out, have a conversation, what would be the best way for them to do so?

Christa Ray (17:18):
Well, they can email me. My email is raychris@alcdsb.on.ca. And if they want to email me, I can, I can do what I can to help.

Sam Demma (17:34):
Okay. Awesome. Thank you so much. Again, I look forward to staying in touch and watching all the cool things you do with the school board.

Christa Ray (17:40):
Oh, thank you so much for having me on. I appreciate it.

Sam Demma (17:43):
And there you have it. Another amazing guest, an amazing interview on the high performing educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review. So other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show. If you wanna meet the guest on today’s episode, if you wanna meet any of the guests that we have interviewed, consider going to www.highperformingeducator.com and signing up to join the exclusive network. You’ll have access to networking events throughout 2021 and other special opportunities. And I promise, I will not fill your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Christa Ray

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.

Sara Daddario – English Teacher and Director of Student Activities at Kennedy High School

Sara Daddario - English Teacher and Director of Student Activities at Kennedy High School
About Sara Daddario

Sara Daddario is a teacher in Southern California who believes that all students can achieve if they know that they are seen, supported, and have a voice. She has been working with teens for 15 years teaching resilience, success maintenance and integrity through the subjects of English and Student Leadership. 

When she was little she told her parents she wanted to be a Jedi when she grew up, and figures that teaching is just about as close as you can get to that.

The Force is strong with her. 

Connect with Sara: Email | Linkedin

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Dr. Ellen Caldwell (Sara’s University Professor)

Anaheim Union High School District

TikTok Challenges

“These Kids are Killing me” (Tumblr) Blog

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):
Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator Podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s guest is Sara Daddario. Sara is a teacher in Southern California who believes that all students can achieve if they know that they are seen, supported and have a voice. She has been working with teens for 15 years, teaching resilience, success maintenance, and integrity through the subjects of English and student leadership. When she was little, she told her parents, she wanted to be a Jedi when she grew up and figures that teaching is just about as close as you can get to that. The force is strong with her. I hope you enjoy this conversation with Sara and I will see you on the other side.

Sam Demma (00:47):
Sara. Welcome to the high-performing educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here today. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself to some of the educators that are tuning in?

Sara Daddario (00:56):
Okay. Hi my name is Sara Daddario. I have been an English teacher and activity director for 14 years in Southern California. And I’ve, I think in those capacities, I’ve taught every grade level between seven and 11, for some reason, 12th grade still evades me. I get to teach seniors in my leadership class, but they won’t give me a senior English class. But you know, careers are long stuff. We’ll get there eventually. I’m sure.

Sam Demma (01:25):
That’s awesome. And did you know growing up from a young age that you wanted to become a teacher?

Sara Daddario (01:31):
No. and if you had told me at any age that I was gonna be a teacher, I would’ve told you, you were insane. I probably would’ve screamed profanity at you and laughed in your face. It was something that I came to way later in life and I’m, I’m so glad I think as a teacher, you really have to know who you are to be effective. And I think that not knowing that this was what I wanted to do, kind of gave me time to figure out who I was and the world, and I didn’t come to teach until I was almost 30. And I’m so glad because I had so much life experience to bring in with me.

Sam Demma (02:11):
How did you come to teach? What does, what did the journey look like?

Sara Daddario (02:17):
Okay. So when I started college straight out of high school, I’m first generation college graduate in my family. And the only reason I really signed up for college was because my friends and I found out we could get out of our senior econ class. If we went on the field trip to the junior college and while we were there, they immediately registered us. So really it was a, a planned, a ditch class that , but I I’m a musician, I’ve been a musician my whole life. So I a was like, oh, I’ll be a music major. And then I always kind of kept an English class in my back pocket and was like, oh, I took, you know, 12 music classes, but, and this one English class, cuz it’s easy for me. And I sort of kept going down that path and I realized sort of at the end, when it was time to transfer to a university like, oh, I don’t actually enjoy the study of music, but I really like English at the same time.

Sara Daddario (03:09):
I don’t know what I thought I was gonna do with it. And I was just like, I’m transferring as an English major. Still didn’t have a plan to be a teacher, but was doing a lot of volunt with teenagers. And it was funny. I went to the, I went to the university guidance counselor and was like, I don’t know what to do with my life. Like, I’m gonna get a degree in English. I don’t know, law writing. And she’s like, you have years of volunteer experience with teenagers, have you considered teaching? And I was like, oh, that’s a thing I should maybe think about and there was no going back for me. It was obviously the right path. The second I started doing it and started doing my pre-service hours in my credential program, I was like, oh, this is what I wanna do. And I tell my students, like when you’re doing the thing that you’re meant to do that saying like, you never feel do what you love and you’ll never work a day. And you, if like I get up at five o’clock every day, it has to be something I love to get up at five mm-hmm. like, I like sleep a lot, but I like teaching more. So that’s how I got here.

Sam Demma (04:08):
That’s that’s so cool. And do you still set aside time to explore your musical passions?

Sara Daddario (04:15):
Oh yeah, I do. Like just like hop. I mean really mostly at this point it’s probably far too many concerts on school nights that I, you know, shouldn’t be doing, but absolutely. You know, wh when there’s time, those are things that we love to do.

Sam Demma (04:30):
That’s awesome. And so aside from your guidance counselor, who seems like they really pushed you in this direction, or at least opened up your mindset to this op this option, did you have other teachers or people in your life that after you started talking about teaching kind of nudged you in that direction and what did they do for you?

Sara Daddario (04:47):
I have some teachers that that I a hundred percent credit for me being here and they’re they’ve happened at all times in my life. So I remember my 11th grade English teacher, Irene Matthews, who is now my neighbor, she’s long retired and she lives down the street for me. Nice. I see ire her out, doing her walk every day but she was the first teacher that I had that actually told me I was kind of a rotten kid. I was really in trouble a lot. I was not motivated. I was motivated by social things and not my school things. And she was the first teacher that said, Hey, you’re pretty good at writing. And you have a really good kind of grasp of reading. I think this class is something you can enjoy. And so from that moment, I sort of someone recognized that I was more than just a body in a chair and I had become like, oh, I have a gift for this.

Sara Daddario (05:40):
I should start trying and put an effort. And college is an English major. I had a professor who passed away a few years ago Dr. Ellen Caldwell. And she was just a teacher that I, if I ever could describe what I try to embody in the classroom. It’s this woman, it’s like an absolute acceptance of meeting your students where, where they’re at, but holding them to such a high standard and believing that they can get there no matter like it, with the right supports they can get there. And I didn’t even know when she was my professor that I wanted to be a teacher, but when I kind of decided I was gonna go into a credential program, I approached her about writing my my recommendation letters. And she said, this is absolutely the thing you should be doing. You were born for this, you’re helping other people in class.

Sara Daddario (06:30):
Like this is your path. And I was like, it is okay. And then just, I got so, so lucky at the beginning of my career. A and I don’t know, and some of these are people I still work with today cuz I still work in the same district I was hired into eventually. I mean, initially there was a lady that worked on the teaching staff, at least Bikeman at my school, first school I hired into and she I’d like teacher burnout is real because you’re new and because you’re good, they’re gonna ask you to do 500 things. I’m gonna protect you for your first two years and not get you on committees and I’m gonna get your feet under you. The person who was the district curriculum specialist was my mentor. I had administrators that were super encouraging and really fostered kind of personal connection with your colleagues and your students.

Sara Daddario (07:22):
And it’s almost, education’s kind of gone away from that kind of mentoring. In the last, I would say probably six or seven years, but having that foundation has allowed me to see like I should be that for other people. So I’m always reaching out to new teachers and giving them PEPs. And I know don’t wanna commit to being on this committee. But they’re the people that really kept me in it and having other teachers that I was colleagues with to look up to that I could just wander into their classroom and just observe and come away better is the best gift I have been given in my career. So I really think I was super lucky to just have all these amazing people that fall in my path.

Sam Demma (08:02):
That sounds like the perfect scenario, you know, like kinda it yeah. Like having great veteran teachers, having awesome mentors that walk up to you and are like, I’m about to protect you for these first two years. Like that’s, that’s like a gaurdian angel kind of thing, you know? Yeah. So you say that things have kind of shifted away from that in the past six, seven years. What, what do you mean by that?

Sara Daddario (08:27):
I think I see a lot of kind of trends in education. You know, I, I came into my career at the end of the nickel bee era when standardized testing was everything. Mm. And now we still have standardized testing, although it happens less frequently. And their kind of high stake testing happened fewer times in a student’s career. But, but definitely like there’s a lot of demand on a teacher now to perform more, to do more that teachers are not doing enough. And it’s funny, I think during COVID I don’t think there’s a teacher on the planet that felt like they were doing enough when we were all home because there’s nothing you can like there was, we could do. And we knew where those shortcomings were and we knew that those need and need conversations in the classroom with students that motivate them every day is the thing that keeps us go, keeps us going.

Sara Daddario (09:25):
But everyone is looking for like right now in education, there’s such a push for two things that I see. One and like student mental health supports, which is huge. Like students are screaming for it. Districts like mine are pretty progressive about getting students the support that they need and having recess resources for them. But but there are some that are just like it’s a family problem. That’s not our problem. And teachers who are struggling to help students kind of get to a point where they feel like they can seek out those supports or where their classrooms are safe spaces, where they can say this is happening in my life and it’s not okay. So that is a huge, it’s a huge thing that impacts us because whether a teacher is willing to accept the responsibility or not for a, a child’s wellbeing, that responsibility is still there.

Sara Daddario (10:19):
And especially for the, you know, at whatever your site is 54 minutes that you have them in the room, you have a responsibility to that child, whether you’re willing to accept it or not. Mm. And when you are a teacher who students share their stories with and share your lives with that becomes exhausting and crippling because there’s, your hands are tied so much. Yeah. but the other is the push for students to really, I mean, I teach high school and I see more and more now for students to sort of bridge that gap between high school and their adult life and make those transitions so much earlier. My district has many partnerships with like we have one with Google, we have one with Tesla and we have these pathways for students to, which are amazing opportunities. The campus I work, I work on has an artificial intelligence program that is, can make a pathway into a career and artificial intelligence.

Sara Daddario (11:15):
But when there’s that kind of pro pressure there’s, there also comes from the students. They don’t get that opportunity to be a kid and to just be a kid sitting in the stands at a football game with their friends on a Friday night. And so finding a way to bridge those gaps between the demands of sort of the world and the requests of the future on these students, and then allow them that last little bit of their adolescence that they get is, is a thing that’s really hard on us. I sit in my leadership class and I talk to them about, I have kids in here that are melting down because they, they don’t know what they wanna do for the next 60 years at 17. And they feel like their entire life is a failure because they don’t have that figured out and having the tools to have those conversations is hard. And that’s definitely a huge change from when I started my career and students were like, yep. Gonna go to college, I’ll figure it out. Like, and now they’re just live.

Sam Demma (12:13):
Yeah. You’re speaking to my younger self. I’m only 22, but I at 13 moved to a different country to pursue a dream and a goal. And then at 17 took a fifth year of high school and stayed back and then took a gap year and then went to university and then dropped outta university. Like I thought I was making your path. Yeah. I thought I was making all the wrong choices. Right. I think those conversations are so important. How do you, how do you think you’ve effectively tried to navigate those conversations so far in your classrooms? Like how do you have those discussions?

Sara Daddario (12:40):
I have an analogy I use with my kids all the time and, and they’re hysterical. I say, there’s a party on Friday night. How can you get there? And they’ll shout out a million answers. Like I’ll take the bus, I’ll walk, I’ll ride a skateboard, I’ll have a friend, I’ll call an Uber. And they come up with a, like, I love, I love the ones that are like, I’m gonna ask the pizza delivery guy to pick me up on his way, or I’m gonna hire sled dogs. Yeah. And I say, okay, all these ways that you get to the party, do they take the same amount of time? And they say no. And I said, right, it’s the same with college and the rest of your life. You’re on your own timeline. And you’re on own path. How you get there is doesn’t matter.

Sara Daddario (13:17):
Doesn’t matter how long it takes. You doesn’t matter how you get there. What matters is that at the end of the day, you’re happy with the choices you made and you get somewhere. And I think being a person who really struggled kind of just out of high school to know what I wanted to do, and everybody just kind of said, figure it out. I didn’t have mentors or th or people like that. But a, and being able to say to them, like I didn’t become a teacher until I was almost 30. Like, and I’m glad because I needed to figure out that that was the right thing for me is a, is an easy into for the kid. Who’s like all my friends, sorry, lunch, just standard. So that’s the bill. you know, all my friends know where they’re going and I have no idea what I’m going, what I wanna do with my life. And I tell them, you know, you’re gonna get to college and all your friends are going to realize that a business major, wasn’t what they really wanted to do. And they’re gonna change their major and start from scratch, or they’re gonna figure out that college wasn’t for them. And there were these other options, or they’re gonna find something that makes them amazingly happy and they’re gonna get out of their bus and they’re gonna hop in a car and go to their party. And it just matters that they get there.

Sam Demma (14:23):
I love that. That’s such a cool analogy. Did you hear that somewhere or did you just kind of come up with it?

Sara Daddario (14:29):
No it was just lots of years of talking to students.

Sara Daddario (14:33):
There you go. That’s Sara’s wisdom. There’s a lot of ways to get to the party. Just get there.

Sam Demma (14:38):
Did you have to navigate that as a child? Did you know, did you have no way to the party and you just started calling the pizza person?

Sara Daddario (14:45):
Kinda I was a child that grew up with a pretty significant amount of trauma. I have my mom was a single mom. I have, fortunately, I have four parents, which is great. You know, my parents divorced and remarried, but when I was in high school and I was navigating that they were sort of sorting out their own lives. As adults now, it has been nothing but character building. Like I said, I have the great, the best relationship with all of my parents, but at the time I grew up in a different time and, you know, parents weren’t as focused on their kids in the eighties and the early nineties as they are now. So I didn’t really have anybody to help me figure that out. I had a counselor in high school who, this is maybe my favorite, favorite thing about career.

Sara Daddario (15:31):
I should have mentioned her as a mentor earlier, but she was a brand new counselor, my senior year of high school. And I got myself into a situation in high school where they weren’t entirely sure I was going to finish. And thankfully I overcame the, the struggle that I was going through and finished very high in my class did very well, but that counselor kind of never gave up on me and said, you know, you’re, where are you gonna go to college? You gotta go to college. What’s your plan? And I was like, I don’t know, I’ll go on the field trip. You know, like I mentioned, and then it was about my third year of teaching because in education there’s always budget cuts and shuffling. And I got moved to a, a junior high site and it was that same counselor.

Sara Daddario (16:12):
It was for last year of her career as a counselor. And I got to be her colleague. Wow. and so she really like made such a huge impact and, and you got, I got to kind of see the scope of her life and what I was doing, but she was that person for me that said like, you know, she was the one with the pep talk that said, and I, of course at 17 was like, okay, lady, whatever. . But to be able to kind of reconnect with her as an adult and look her in the face and say, no, I’m here because of you and your life has your career has directly affected mine. And now here we are together is a pretty cool thing.

Sam Demma (16:49):
And not only does those experiences occur with colleagues and teachers that taught you, but I’m assuming that now it also happens with you and your former students, right?

Sara Daddario (16:58):
Yes. Yeah. And you know what, thank God for social media, because I know we see so many negative things on social media, but I think we gotta, I I’m, I’m making an argument with my district right now that because of these TikTok challenges that are happening that are so negative , they’re like we wanna challenge kids to do a weekend on social media. And I’m like, why don’t we challenge ’em to do something positive with it instead. Yeah. But because of social media, I’m still connected to so many students that I’ve taught. I’ve been invited to their weddings, I’ve held their babies. And I don’t feel like I’ve been a teacher that long. I don’t feel that old, but I am. And so I’m waiting, I know some time in the next few years I’ll get the first, oh, you were my mom’s teacher. And that I hear about that from colleagues and that’s what I’m waiting for. So

Sam Demma (17:42):
That’s so awesome. Yeah, that sounds great. And I’ve talked to other educators and they’ve told me they have a, a rainy day file on their desk where they keep all the thank you notes from past kids. Is that true?

Sara Daddario (17:52):
Yes, that’s true. I had a really, really great administrator my first year teaching, who said, keep an envelope in your desk, put all that stuff in there. And if a couple years goes by and you haven’t put anything in the envelope, maybe think about retiring. So we all have it. And we all, it’s great. Sometimes you pull out and you have a good cry and sometimes you pull it out and you go, I have no idea who this kid is anymore, but all right. I thought I made an impact. sometimes you pull it out. And, and the ones that I love the most are the ones with the kid that is the biggest pain in the butt. That is never absent. That is the reason you grind your teeth at night. You know, the one that makes you question every choice you’ve ever had, and that you would never name your child. That, because that name is forever ruined because of this child. I have notes from those kids. Yeah. And those are the things, or I have work from those kids, cuz that’s a good reminder. Like if I could got, if I could get that student to be successful, then I need to keep doing this.

Sam Demma (18:50):
Amazing. And you know, because there’s a lot of negativity going on right now in the world. I’m curious to know if one of those stories of transformation kind of sticks out in your mind. Maybe there’s one kid you can remember or think of and something that happened. And if it’s a very serious story as well, you can change their name. You know, we can call them Bob or something, but curious.

Sara Daddario (19:10):
Yeah. There’s tons of them. Oh my gosh. I have so many I think, okay. So I, I don’t wanna get political in this, but I always, when my students are frustrated with something, like my district has a very strict dress code policy that the students can argue is gender bias. I, I kind of take a, you can complain about it or you can do something about it. Mm. So I had this student, he was a freshman. I had him about six years ago. I’m going to change his name to Michael. Nice. And we’re gonna refer to the student as Michael. So he’s graduated now and gone on with his life. But when I had this student as a freshman, he was really impossible to connect with. And that’s the thing that I strive to do in my classroom. I tell my students on the first day, I, if you don’t like English, that’s okay.

Sara Daddario (20:06):
Like if you hate reading, if you’ve been fake reading your whole life, or if you have never written a paper, if you are very familiar with the spark notes website for every assignment you’ve ever been given that’s okay. But you’re gonna know in this room that someone sees you and knows what you’re doing and is connected with you. And no matter what I did, I could not connect with this student. And the behaviors were escalating and we did data dives into family history. We had meetings and, and meetings and I couldn’t connect with the student no matter what I did. And then the election happened the first election when president Trump was elected to office and the next day this student came in and was visibly shaken up. And I said, I said, just off the cuff, like, Hey Michael, I know you don’t trust me, but will, you know, if you wanna talk about something I’m here for you.

Sara Daddario (20:59):
I know I’m not the person you connect with, but talk to someone. And he held back after class and it was because my class was right before lunch for him. And if a student wants to stay in at lunch, like of their own free will is pretty serious because nothing is going to make a high school child miss lunch. So he said, can I talk to you? And I was like, sure. And I sat down and he said, you know, I feel lost right now. I feel scared. I feel afraid, but I feel like I have to do something about it. This student then became the biggest proponent of student voter registration, student education. He’d be out there at lunch, telling people I don’t care who you vote for. I don’t care where your politics are. I don’t care if you agree with me, if you wanna sit down and talk about it, we can talk about it.

Sara Daddario (21:41):
But I care that you do something because not enough people are doing something and to get to see that student really struggle and then take action and become like this amazing student who was participating in youth in government day for the local city. And has gone on to study politics in college because this was a moment. And all I did, he did not wanna connect with me at all. But when he was, he knew my room was a safe space and I would guide him to help take the action he needed and he took it. And that, that is one of the biggest things for me, because it’s so affected his life. I have students that have come out in my class with, you know, and, and students have changed their gender identity. Students who have been the Vic victims of bullying have confronted their bullies in my classroom and to watch them become whole and go out and live these amazing lives. And knowing that my room was the safe space, where that happened is absolutely the reason to show up every day.

Sam Demma (22:44):
How is that safe space created? I’m like, I would assume that every educator listening is like, I want my kids to know that they can come to me when they’re scared. You know, what, what do you think allows your students to have that level of trust with you?

Sara Daddario (22:56):
Okay. So I think it’s a bunch of things. I believe really strongly in the say, do ratio. And so when I go over that with my students, and that’s what percentage of what you say you’re going to do, do you actually do? And I live that every day with my students. If I say, I’m going to come find you in another class to check up, to see you’re okay, I’m gonna do that. I’m a child of divorce and thank God. My dad said repeatedly as a kid, like to us, when we were kids, if I say, I’m gonna be there, I’m gonna be there. And that was a value that, that was kind of instilled in us. You’re worth is the most important thing that you have, and it reflects your character. Two, the other one comes from my mom and my mom, my mom, when she, she, my mom passed away a few years ago, but she was a lady who her entire philosophy in life was you love people as hard as you can.

Sara Daddario (23:49):
And when they are difficult and they push you away, you love them harder. whether you like it or not. And if you are struggling with loving somebody, then that’s your problem and you need to get better at it. so I think that’s another thing that I really kind of use with my students. They are loved and accepted in my classroom. It doesn’t matter how awful they are that day. And certainly we have those days. But they know when they come back in the next day, they get a fresh start every day. So keeping your word, creating a space where a student knows they’re seen and valued and safe and creating a space, a community where they really know each other. Hmm. I utilize social contracts in my classroom. So my students, my students create the environment they want to be in.

Sara Daddario (24:32):
Which if I, I, it’s funny, I’m in my boardroom and there’s two doors and the, this quote is on one, but the social contracts on the other one, and I can’t like turn for you to see it. That’s okay. They come up with the most amazing things and they sit in groups and they have discuss about what do we want this room to be like for us? So they create their own environment. And all I do is I hold them to it. And I say, no, we said, we were gonna do this. Are we doing that? And do we need to change that? So giving student voice in your classroom, giving them choice and supporting them unconditionally, knowing that they’re not gonna hold a grudge with them is kind of the best way to create that space and giving them a fresh start every time they need it. I don’t know what I’m doing every day. I can’t imagine a 14 year old knows or is in control of their emotions every day. Yeah. Oh, and I teach , I should tell you this. I teach freshman English, but I teach it to RSP students in English learners. So I have the toughest population on our campus at the you age. Like, and I I’m their favorite class. Like, so if I can do it, anybody can do it. yeah.

Sam Demma (25:33):
I love that. That’s so cool. That’s such like a, and you probably feel so fulfilled cuz you’re doing such meaningful work, you know, every educator should.

Sara Daddario (25:41):
Feel fulfilled. I feel tired.

Sam Demma (25:44):

Sara Daddario (25:46):
But I feel

Sam Demma (25:48):
Well, maybe you gotta stop doing those after-school concerts, Sara. Totally joking. But oh, this has been awesome. If you could go back in time and give your first year yourself in education as a teacher, one or two pieces of advice, knowing what you know now, what would you tell your younger self?

Sara Daddario (26:07):
Get involved with something you love on campus? I work with the student leadership program and I, my third year teaching another amazing teacher mentor, Alan Carter said, Hey, I want you to come advise this class, cuz I think it’s the right fit for you. And I’ve been working in student activities ever since because that, for me, I love teaching all students, but getting out of bed and making an impact to my campus through my student activities program is the reason I get outta bed, my leadership kids like that time that we’re spending, setting up an assembly or a rally building balloons. And I get to watch them kind of put on this creative, amazing event and they’re goofy and they’re silly with each other. Like I live for that. Yeah. Because I get to see their work pay off. And if I would’ve, it’s not something I would’ve ever thought of being involved in.

Sara Daddario (26:58):
If this other person didn’t say you need to have something in your day, besides teaching, besides grading, besides parent phone calls, like find something you love, even if it’s advising a club, that’s one of your hobbies. Something that you have in common with students, find a way to put that in your Workday because that’s your break. That’s your Oasis in the middle of the day. And then the only other piece of advice I would give is remember that parents so rarely hear positive things about their kids, especially the really difficult kids and try and find something positive to share with their families because they wanna hear good news sometimes too.

Sam Demma (27:36):
Love that. That’s such a good piece of, I actually never heard the second one before on the show, so that’s awesome. that was fresh. Well, nice. There you go. If someone wants to reach out to you ask a question or just get in touch and it’s another educator listening, what would be the best way for them to do so?

Sara Daddario (27:51):
Email (daddario_s@auhsd.us) and I will make sure that you have my email so that you can attach it somewhere. Cuz my last name is very long and complicated it Italian’s gotta love. Yeah. So but email’s the best way to get to me and it may take me a couple of days to get to you because I’m an activities director and we’re in homecoming season. So the emails are long. But I will, I will answer your question. I’ll try to help. I also write a teacher blog on Tumblr. If you’re on Tumblr, the last social like Tumblr will be the last social media standing after everyone dies. So find “these kids are killing me” is the name of my tum bug. So you’re welcome to come to find me there and we can talk about PD.

Sam Demma (28:36):
That’s awesome. Sara, thank you so much. I know no one can see the video, but I’m surprised you didn’t use your hands like this the whole time.

Sara Daddario (28:43):
I’m keeping ’em below the screen.

Sam Demma (28:46):
That’s awesome. But thank you so much. This has been great. Keep up the awesome work and we’ll talk soon.

Sara Daddario (28:52):
Thank you.

Sam Demma (28:53):
And there you have it. Another amazing guest, an amazing interview on the high performing educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review. So other educators yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show. If you wanna meet the guest on today’s episode, if you wanna meet any of the guests that we have interviewed, consider going to www.highperformingeducator.com and signing up to join the exclusive network. You’ll have access to networking events throughout 2 20 21 and other special opportunities. And I promise I will not fill your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Sara

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

Dr. Seth Goldsweig – Vice Principal at The Leo Baeck Day School and PhD in Educational Leadership

Dr. Seth Goldsweig - Vice Principal at The Leo Baeck Day School and PhD in Educational Leadership
About Seth Goldsweig

Dr. Seth Goldsweig(@SGoldsweig) is the vice principal at The Leo Baeck Day School in Toronto. He has been in formal education for 17 years. His PhD is in educational leadership and believes that education is a tool to help students find their voice and change the world.

Connect with Seth: Email | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Leo Baek Day School Website


Easy Baking Recipes for Kids

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):
Do you want access to all the past guests on this show? Do you want to network with like-minded individuals and meet other high performing educators from around the world? If so, go to www.highperformingeducator.com. Sign up to join the exclusive network and you’ll get access to live virtual networking events and other special opportunities that will come out throughout 2021. I promise you I will not fill your inbox. you might get one email a month. If that sounds interesting. Go to www.highperformingeducator.com. Welcome back to another episode of the high performing educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker Sam Demma. Today’s guest is Dr. Seth Goldsweig. He is the vice principal of the Leo Baeck day school in Toronto. I had the pleasure of speaking in front of his entire student body last year before COVID 19. And it is my absolute pleasure to bring him back on the show here for you today.

Sam Demma (00:59):
He has been in formal education for 17 years, has a PhD in education leadership, and thinks that education is a tool, a very strong tool to help help students find their voice and change the world. The other day, he sent me an email telling me that one of his students at his school is working on building the reactor that’s in the middle of iron man’s chest, and he’s supporting this kid on his venture to learn about technology and bring this project together. And I’m sure in this interview, you will hear Dr. Seth’s energy just shine through in his responses. I hope you enjoy this, I’ll see you on the other side. Seth, thank you so much for coming on the high performing educators podcast. It’s a, it’s a pleasure to have you.

Dr.Seth Goldsweig (01:42):
You it’s a pleasure to be here. Thank you.

Sam Demma (01:45):
Can you share with the audience who you are and what got you into the work you do with young people today?

Dr.Seth Goldsweig (01:52):
Sure. My name is Seth gold. So I’m the vice principal at the Leo Baeck day school in Toronto. And I’ve been, this is my, I think 11th year as a vice principal. I started a school before, now is my eighth year at this school. And I’ve been in education for I think, 17 or 18 years. What got me into it. I mean, many things. Certainly, I love that feeling when when you see a kid starting to feel really good about him or herself and know you played a part in that, it’s just, it, it, it makes you feel warm all over. It’s just a really special feeling. You know, you had a part in, in someone’s success. There’s a selfish reason. I think kids are our future and and I’m only gonna be in this business until, until I retire and I wanna make sure we’re in, we’re in good shape for the future.

Dr.Seth Goldsweig (02:44):
So I, you know, I wanna make sure that they’re set up to succeed and then I think the most important one though Sam, is that kids are amazing. Can I tell you a short story about something that happened to me today? Absolutely. I hear that a student we’ll call him Ben. Ben is looking for me, right? Dr. G Dr. Goldsweig. Ben needs you. Okay. So I like, he’s not in my waiting for me in my office. I go, finally, I find him outside Ben, you know, what’s going on? Oh, I had to ask you something. I made a pinata for my friend; it’s her birthday. And I wanted to know if I could hang up my pinata and so she could hit it. So here I’m worried, like there’s some big, like major thing going on. He had a fight or he’s upset about something stress, but no it’s cuz he had made a pinata for his friend and they wanted to to set it up. It was her birthday, I think, hours making the pinata. It was, you know, it’s things like that, that happened every day that you’re surprised by their creativity and what they do. And it just, it makes it really special.

Sam Demma (03:44):
How do you cultivate a school culture where kids decide to make pinatas and ask you to help them and hang it up? I think that’s a very unique culture you’ve built. And I’m curious to know if you think there’s any specific traits of students that you’ve encouraged in them to have them doing things like that.

Dr.Seth Goldsweig (04:05):
I think it, listen, it all starts with the teachers. You know, if it’s happening in the classroom, that’s happening elsewhere to try to, you have to cultivate a, a love of experimentation and learning and, and inquiry. And, and if you are interested in what the kids have to share, then I think they’re gonna keep sharing. There, there’s a study that shows about creativity and the most creative people are kids in SK and then every year we get less and less and less creative. And and they did this by asking about paper clips, how many different things can you do with a paper clip? Mm. And adults will come up with a few things, you know, I can put paper in it. Maybe I can use it to like, hang my keys or something. Kids start asking, well, what color can it be?

Dr.Seth Goldsweig (04:51):
What’s it made out of, can it be different sizes? Can it, and so, so if you, if you use the kids imagination as a model and you just keep keep encouraging it, then I think you end up with a, a school culture that does that the other day, a kid comes up to me that Mr. Gold or Dr. Goldstein, I’m trying to figure out how to build an arc reactor from Ironman. And so he showed me, had this this whole diagram and he’s trying to figure out the technology for reactor every day. He says he gets a little closer. He shows me the updates and my job’s simple. I just have to listen and say, that’s amazing. Keep going. I can’t wait to hear the updates. So I think if you just show an interest in the kids, they’re gonna, they’re gonna thrive.

Sam Demma (05:35):
That’s awesome. And times are different right now with COVID we’ve been presented with unique challenges. What are some challenges that you’ve been faced with as a school that you’ve overcome and maybe even a mistake or two that you’ve made that you’ve learned from that you think is valuable to share?

Dr.Seth Goldsweig (05:52):
The the challenges are numerous. The mistakes are numerous and learning is numerous. You know, one of the, one of the challenges community is really big at my school. And we, we were very lucky for, for many, many years that you could physically come into contact with people and community physically, whether it’s having a school barbecue or, or having a new parent breakfast all of these things that, that make community possible. And so now we find ourselves in a situation where we still wanna build community, but everyone has to be physically separate. And so we’ve had to get creative in how we do that. So some of it is doing things online. Some of it is, you know, for our new parent breakfast, we had a as online zoom, but we still, we, we wanted the breakfast to be part of it.

Dr.Seth Goldsweig (06:38):
So when they dropped their kids off at school, we gave them boxed breakfast as a way of saying, you know, sit down, eat when we have our, our our orientation. Let’s try it, let’s try and make it special. You know buddies, we have a whole buddy program where big, our older kids are with our younger kids, which is really, I think, an important part of our school, that kids, when they go into grade four and they they suddenly become up till grade three, they’re the little buddies. And then at grade four, they become the big buddies. It’s a big, important moment for them. And how do you do that when you can’t have kids come into contact with each other? So we’re trying new things, we’re trying a pen pal system, or we might do an introduction over zoom, and then they start perhaps creating a, a Padlet together, which is an online program.

Dr.Seth Goldsweig (07:22):
So we have to look at it at new ways. You know, I think another challenge is we have some kids who are learning in class and some kids who are learning at home and how do you meet the needs of everyone at the same time the teacher are finding it very it’s time. It’s really hard to be there for, for so many different people. And I think so part of it is trying things and as I said, failing miserably, and I think that’s an important part of the learning process. Part of it is just getting used to the routine. And part of it is sort of giving teachers the space to, to know that I support them and that , you know, I can only ask you to try as hard as you can. I can’t ask more than that. And so if if they’re trying things and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, you know, hopefully they know that that that I, I, I support them.

Dr.Seth Goldsweig (08:12):
And as long as we just keep trying to, to meet everyone’s needs the best of our ability, then we’ll, we’ll get there. It’s not the same as being in person. But, but there’s a, a certain understanding the times are different. So there’s a flexibility that, that comes on, you know, and I think the, the other piece is, is the things that make school amazing outside of the classroom mm. Where it’s clubs, sports teams, field trips and, and those rethinking how we’re doing them. So we, we thought figured out a way to do student council. So that’s gonna come back. Some of our field trips now are virtual field trips. There’s a definite loss. You know, we have kids in grade eight who are, you know, ready to be the stars of the basketball team or the hockey team. And, and it’s a loss for them that, that they’re not able to do that. And, and so some things we don’t have answers for, we’ve not yet figured out how to create a basketball team to compete against other schools. But we’ll, we’ll keep working at it.

Sam Demma (09:04):
I had a conversation with another educator who said, maybe this year, we just do e-sport tournaments and play against other schools on PlayStation or Xbox. And I thought it was a pretty unique idea, but it, it takes out the physical aspect of it. And a kid who may have been dedicated to basketball’s whole life. Maybe I didn’t play video games, and isn’t a good online eSports gamer, but so many unique ideas. You have kids hanging pinatas and building iron man suits. What, what can you share in terms of a story? I’m sure you have dozens over the years. What, what can you share of a story where a student has been impacted by something you’ve done in the school? And maybe it’s totally changed their life and education. Oftentimes we don’t even know the impact we’re having until 10, 15 years down the line. And they write us this letter that we keep in a folder on our desk. Have you had a story like that of a student and you can change their name for the purpose of this podcast? The reason I’m asking you to share is because an educator might be listening, who’s a little burnt out and lacking hope. And I think it’s those stories that remind us why education is so important.

Dr.Seth Goldsweig (10:14):
So I had a unique opportunity. I’ve been out of the classroom for 10 years mm-hmm and last year we had a need for for some, for some teachers. So I went back into the classroom and I was speaking specifically when we went online. So from April, till the end of the year, I was teaching grade four classroom. So on top of it being the highlight of my day I got to connect with the students in, in in a different way that you don’t get to as an administrator, as an administrator, you’re sort of over, you know, you’re trying to oversee the whole school and making sure everyone’s safe and happy, but you don’t develop those personal relationships that you do if you’re the classroom teacher. So along the way we read, you know, I’ll share sort of a general thing, I think about the class, but then some feedback a student even gave to me that, that I think I didn’t even realize it had an impact.

Dr.Seth Goldsweig (11:02):
Hmm. So in terms of the overall students, you know, I, I, I want my kids to be creative and, and explore, and we had read a story and they had to show the ups and downs of the main character in a way that, that worked for them. So one of them is into baking and he created, created a sheet of brownies and then showed the ups and downs to the icing that he did on, on the brownies that he took pictures and presented. It was amazing. Another one we, we, we played around with a program called Flipgrid. And so she made a video where she did like spoken monologue. I, I gave 10 minutes as the time limit for the video and that wasn’t enough time. So she had to do two videos where she went through the whole story just spoken model.

Dr.Seth Goldsweig (11:45):
It was incredible. Other students, you know, created posters and, and other students like created these Lego cities to show what they did and they spent hours and hours on it. And so, you know, I hope that for all of my students, you know, I was able to help them find a love and education and, and finding their own voice in these projects and, and feeling that they put in their time and express themselves in the way that that that sort of meant to them. Now, I also had a policy where you, if students didn’t do great on the first try, I would give feedback and say, you know, here’s, here’s what I think you need to do to make it better. If you wanna do that, I’ll, I’ll take a look and give you a new grade. And I had one student who kept on doing that and she would say, you know, thanks.

Dr.Seth Goldsweig (12:27):
I really appreciate that. And, and this and that, and, and she would always take the work and the feedback and then send it back to me. And at the end of the year, she wrote me a letter and just said, you know I really appreciated the fact that you gave me a chance to do stuff second time and, and make it better. Mm. I felt like I learned and grew. And and that made, I don’t know, it made school better for me. So it’s not like an amazing life changing story, Sam, but, you know, I think that little thing kind of made my day. I didn’t even realize that that had an impact on her. And here she’s telling me that that one little policy I had was, was a very impactful experience for at.

Sam Demma (13:02):
School, small, consistent actions make the biggest changes. Right.

Dr.Seth Goldsweig (13:07):
Oh, I heard you say that. Absolutely.

Sam Demma (13:10):
That’s, that’s awesome. And when it comes to you know, bringing people in, you’ve been teaching now at the vice principal level for 11 years, how do you decide what specific types of messages to bring into your school, whether it’s in person or virtually you, you’re obviously very specific with the, the, the messages that you put in front of a young mind. So I’m curious to know there might be an educator listening who wants to understand that a little bit better, and maybe you have some insight to share?

Dr.Seth Goldsweig (13:39):
Well, in terms of messages that we bring. I guess, you know, we, it’s never something I decide on my own. We, we haven’t seen I would say one message that keeps coming back in terms of this current COVID time is we’ve been so overwhelmed by the resilience of the kids, the the commitment of the teachers and the appreciation of the parents. Mm. And so, you know, that that is a message that I want out there, you know, loud and, and clear like it, you know, there’s always, there’s always some issue here and there that we have to work through, but all in all, like the kids are just so happy to be back. They like every kid I’ve asked, do you like it better here with all the protocol for COVID or do you prefer to be at home, online learning every kid I speak to says that I’d rather be here wearing a mask so much better.

Dr.Seth Goldsweig (14:27):
Teachers come to me every day and say, can I try this? Can I try that this didn’t work. So let you know, maybe this will be better. They want it to be a good experience for the kids. They really wanna do everything they can to help make the, the experience better for the kids and, and the parents. I get emails on a daily basis that, that say we are beyond impressed with how hard you guys are working to try and make this possible. And so, you know, the appreciation also goes a long way. They’re in a way they’re sort of our clients, right. We’re trying to make them happy and give ’em a program that I am at a private school. So we’re trying to make a program that they feel good about that they’re happy about. So I, I guess that’s the main COVID message, again, the resilience of the kids, the commitment of the teachers and the appreciation of the parents.

Dr.Seth Goldsweig (15:14):
But then other messages, it has, it’s the same, whether it’s COVID or not, I mean, be a good person, be kind explore the world learn from differences. Have an open mind, have a growth mindset. Like the, these are all things that are common. Like we just want our kids in many, I, I, I say to teachers often, we’re trying to teach ourselves out of a job, right. We know we’ve done well. If we can set the stage where kids are, have the tools to learn on their own and that we’re on their side, maybe to guide them, but that really they’re driving the learning. And that takes a long to get there, but that that’s really our goal is to give kids the tools to, to learn.

Sam Demma (15:55):
Awesome. And if you could go back in time to your first year in education, but still know everything that you know now what pieces of advice would you share with yourself? There’s a bunch of educators listening who may just be getting into education, and this is their, or first year teaching. And they’re thinking to themselves, what the heck did I sign up for? what can you share with them through the years of, of, of accumulated wisdom through teaching?

Dr.Seth Goldsweig (16:24):
So if if you’re, if you see this as a job, you’re not in the right profession, mm-hmm, , it’s more than a job teaching the, the commitment you, you don’t go home, leave it behind you. And I’ve been reminded of that every day of my career. Mm-Hmm so that’s something that I, I would keep in mind and just, it would reinforce in me saying, well, you know, you’re doing the right thing, cuz you, you feel good about what you’re doing. Relationships, relationships, relationships, relationships, that is the most important thing in teaching have a in good curriculum is great. Having a cool technology that you use is great, but if you don’t have a relationship with the students, then it’s gonna be really hard to teach. And so that, that, that, that is sort of the, the main thing that, that drives everything else that I do.

Dr.Seth Goldsweig (17:09):
So how do you do that? You gotta get to know the kids, you gotta ask and learn new things about them. And I keep asking them questions about it. So that is certainly something I would, I would remind myself as a, as a new year teacher who has the wisdom of someone who’s been teaching for a long time. And then, you know, the final thing is every day is different. Mm. Every day is different. And that sometimes the different is great and sometimes the different is, is brutal. But you know, if one day’s bad then, well, probably the next day is gonna be great. And so just a, a reminder that you never, if you feel stuck, you know, you’re not gonna be stuck forever.

Sam Demma (17:45):
Yeah. You went as an educator, you’re the main character in that story that you shared in grade four and you’re gonna have ups and downs. Right. And that’s a good thing to remind yourself of often, Seth, this has been awesome. Thank you so much for taking the time to chat. If another educator is listening, wants to reach out to you, bounce some ideas around what is the best way for them to do so.

Dr.Seth Goldsweig (18:08):
What I, what do I do? Do I give you my email? Do I tell you the school that I’m at? Whatever, whatever works. My email is sgoldsweig@leobaeck.ca I’d have be, you know, more than joy to bounce ideas. That’s that that’s education, right? We keep, we keep learning from one another. And so the more ideas we have, the, the more positive we can do. Awesome.

Sam Demma (18:39):
I look forward to hearing about the finished iron man suit and more birthday parties in your school. Keep up the great work and we’ll talk soon.

Dr.Seth Goldsweig (18:46):
Okay. Thanks, Sam, take care.

Sam Demma (18:48):
Awesome. And there you have it. Another amazing guest, an amazing interview on the high performing educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review so other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show. If you wanna meet the guest on today’s episode, if you wanna meet any of the guests that we have interviewed, consider going to www.highperformingeducator.com and signing up to join the exclusive network, you’ll have access to networking events throughout 2021 and other special opportunities. And I promise, I will not fill your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Dr.Seth Goldsweig

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

Scott Mclnnis – Leadership Teacher and Teacher Librarian at Selkirk Secondary School

Scott Mclnnis - Leadership Teacher and Teacher Librarian at Selkirk Secondary School
About Scott Mclnnis

Scott Mclnnis is the Leadership Teacher and Teacher Librarian at Selkirk Secondary School.  Scott is passionate about helping students appreciate the fulfillment in helping themselves and their community at large.  When Scott is not in the classroom you can find him outdoors, moving his body and doing something physical.  

Connect with Scott: Email

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Selkirk Secondary School

Adam Grant (Author and Thinker)

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):
Welcome back to another episode of the high performing educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s guest is Scott Mclnnis. Scott is the leadership and teacher librarian at Selkirk Secondary School. He is passionate about helping students appreciate the fulfillment in helping themselves and their community. Scott reached out about doing some programs with his leadership class and school community. We built a great relationship and it was an honor and a privilege to interview him today on the podcast. I hope you enjoy our conversation. Scott, welcome to the high performing educator. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here today. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself for the educators who are tuning in?

Scott Mclnnis (00:50):
Sure. Sam, thanks again for the invitation thrilled to be here. I, have enjoyed meeting you and having discussions about what you do for kids in schools and yeah, just thrilled to little bit more about with you about that today. So yeah, my name is Scott Mclnnis. I teach at Selkirk secondary school in Kimberly, British Columbia. I teach at grade 10, 11 and 12 combined leadership class. And I’m also the teacher librarian here. So I deal a lot with grade 12 careers, getting them prepped for university academic study blocks independent study courses, things like that. So a bit of a mixed bag. Yeah.

Sam Demma (01:30):
And what, what got you into education? Tell me a little bit more about your own childhood growing up, going to school and what led you down this path?

Scott Mclnnis (01:38):
Sure. Sure. it’s probably my earliest memory of being drawn into education was I, I I got involved in ski instructing when I, when I was living in my hometown in Ontario, just outside of Peterborough. And I remember I was, I was 15 years old and, and after getting my, my level one certification, they kind of thrown me to the Wolf, the, with sort of 15 or 16, four year old kids. And, you know, having just to come up with personal strategies of how to manage those kids, keep them busy, keep them safe, all that stuff. I, I just, I realized that, you know, not only that we could, we could also have a great time. I just, I, I kind of knew back then that I had a bit of a knack perhaps for with, with kids specifically.

Scott Mclnnis (02:29):
I, you know, after that, I, I, you know, admittedly was kind of a lost late teen and early 20 person. I went to university hoping to become a, an airline pilot but you know con enough nine 11 happened kind of the first week of, of my schooling. And so I went, you know, a couple years at university, not really knowing what I wanna do, studying history and other humanities courses that I was interested in and yeah, finished my degree. I had all my roommates and my friends were enrolled in an education program at that time. So they were kind of, they had their plans set and were moving forward to becoming teachers where I really didn’t have a plan. You know, I, I finished my undergraduate degree at ni university in north bay, Ontario. I, and I, I worked for a little bit kind of, kind of worked you know, more in the trades just kind of as a laborer and, and, and sort of just, you know, passing time, I guess, so to speak, trying to figure out where my niche was in life.

Scott Mclnnis (03:33):
And then I, I took an opportunity and kind of through caution the wind and, and decided to go to South Korea to teach English. I had a couple of friends over in Asia that were teaching and said, it was a great time. It was, you know, adventurous, you made good money. So I thought, you know I’ll give it a try. And I went over there working in an elementary school. They had a big influx at the time the government of South Korea was implementing having a native speaker and every public in the country. So yeah, I took a full advantage of that and just had a wonderful experience. You know, some of the best memories of my life are, are over in South Korea. I stayed there for two years. Really got my feet wet as an educator.

Scott Mclnnis (04:14):
Yeah. I came back, took my education degree again at Ning. And following that, I, I moved from Ontario here to British Columbia, again, sort of the same idea, sort of following a, a job opportunity at a small independent school here in Kimberly where I was teaching music and general studies to sort of kindergarten to grade six. An opportunity came shortly thereafter to become an administrator. So I was principal to school know by the time I was in my early thirties there which was again an incredible experience as an educator. And then I just decided to you know, sort of spread my wings a little bit and ventured into the public system where I became high school educator. So you know, at the secondary level, I’ve only been here for sort of three, four years, but I really love the love, the experience. I feel like it’s a different kind of energy. I didn’t have so much Gusto, I suppose, for you know, putting on snow pants and tightening boots and things as I did for sort of the intellectual challenges that, that high school afforded. I just, I just found it was sort of a change for me personally, that I needed. So yeah, I’m really happy. I made that choice. And here we are today.

Sam Demma (05:22):
Do you remember any of the, the Korean you learned while you were there?

Scott Mclnnis (05:25):
You know what, that’s such a good question. And there’s a, a great gentleman here. That’s a business owner in Kimberly that’s Korean, and I’ve been trying to speak a little bit more with him, cuz it was, you know, this is 12 years ago and I can still read and write, okay. It’s a very, it’s a kind of language that makes a lot a sense to read and write it. It’s very fanatic. But my speaking, I did admittedly kind of lose it and I’ve, I’ve been trying to practice with this gentleman, just gentleman young which has been a ton of fun. He, he get a, he gets a kick outta me, so yeah, trying to, trying to get back into it cause I really, I really don’t wanna abandon it. Totally. So no, that’s been a fun process as well. That’s awesome.

Sam Demma (06:04):
That’s so cool. Yeah. And you’ve, you’ve done so many different roles in schools, you know, not only different roles, but different locations, Ontario, BC, Korea. What do you enjoy the most about the teaching profession? Like what keeps you hopeful and motivated and inspired to show up every day and continue doing what you’re doing?

Scott Mclnnis (06:24):
You know what, I, that’s such a great question. I ask myself that a lot and I think it changes you know, it has evolved as I’ve become you know developed my career I suppose, but you know, now it’s definitely trying to help kids to make a difference and to, to, you know, set kids, especially kids that are vulnerable onto the right path in life and, and trying not to have them slip under the cracks a little bit. You know, that’s, that’s how I spend the majority of my time is going into my way to make sure that you know, I know that those kids have a tough home life or you know, they just have had bad breaks in life or they don’t have all the opportunities that most of the other kids have. I try to put forth as much energy as I can into helping them succeed.

Scott Mclnnis (07:12):
And for me that that’s the ultimate passion and enjoyment I get is, is helping other people you know, before I think it was, you know, as a younger man in my late twenties, it was more, you know, setting myself up for a career, maybe making money, buying a house. It was, it was more personal development in my, you know, just sort of setting myself up in general life where now is it’s, it’s all about the enjoyment of helping others. That’s where I find, you know, the meaning and passion of the whole thing. And I hope that continues until the, the day I retire.

Sam Demma (07:44):
Yeah, that’s awesome. And that kind of makes sense as to why you teach leadership as well. Right.

Scott Mclnnis (07:49):
It does. Yeah, it does. And it’s, you know, in the leadership class, there’s, it’s a mixed bag of everybody. You know I do get a lot of vulnerable of students in there that try to learn maybe some, some life skills. So it’s, it’s really important to me that they they’re heard and they’re given some opportunity to get out in the community, do some good things, cuz then they can also hear that passion that I’m talking about. Right. Helping other people they, they feel that sense of pride too. So, yeah.

Sam Demma (08:17):
And when did you start teaching leadership in your career journey and what actually kind of pushed you in that direction to take it on?

Scott Mclnnis (08:25):
Sure. Yeah. It, it wasn’t so much of a I guess a choice per se. It was part of the contract that I accepted here at SU secondary. Yes. And I just, I just found, it was one of those things that was meant to be when I got here. It was the vice principal at the time was teaching. There was only seven or eight kids and we were working outta the library. There, it was a new program at the, at the high school here. So there wasn’t, we were still developing the structure and the curriculum and all that stuff and I’ve, I’ve taken it and run with it. And now we’re, you know, full at 30 kids with a waiting list, full semesters and it’s, it’s really taken off. So yeah, I’ve, I’ve only been doing it now. This would be my fourth year with a co every year’s changed, especially because of COVID, it’s been kind of, you know, retooling how I do things, but I think it’s been great for me and, and, and for the kids to have, you know, some of them in grade 12, it’s their third time taking leadership and to, to try and develop a course that meets everybody’s needs, whether it’s your first time or your third time, I think has been a great challenge for me.

Scott Mclnnis (09:24):
So, yeah,

Sam Demma (09:26):
That’s awesome. And this will sound like a silly question but I think it’s important to ask, you know, for other educators listening, who don’t maybe even have a leadership class in the, or school or mm-hmm, have never been involved in leadership activities. Why do you think leadership is important? Like why do you think the class and the curriculum is important for the students that sit in your, in your class?

Scott Mclnnis (09:45):
Such a, a great question, Sam, and I think, you know, it’s not a program that’s offered at every school. I know in our district locally here, I’m the only one really that does it at this high school because it is, it is pretty demanding. So it’s, you know from a teacher’s perspective, there’s a lot of out of the timetable stuff that’s required. So I think it’s extremely important because it, I get kids out in the community sort of their, their summative project, so to speak their, their final exam is a community action project, or they’ll go out in small groups and, and, and have a a can drive for the food bank or they’ll volunteer at the youth center, or they will support the junior hockey team during home games, or just all these little different pieces that actually, you know, when we look at the, excuse me, some of the leadership theory that we learned throughout the semester, they really get to, to get their hands dirty and, and explore some of that in more detail.

Scott Mclnnis (10:40):
So yeah, for me, I think the importance of getting out there and, and understanding the importance of being involved in community is the biggest aspect of that course that I think kids can take away from it because it is a lifelong thing. You know, one, you, you understand that again, helping people in your community is an extremely valuable and important and fulfilling role that never leaves you. So I, I just think it’s really important for kids to learn that at a young age and hopefully they can pass that on to their families one day or in whatever other avenue they’re, they’re pursuing, because I do, I do know that they feel it important once they actually do it.

Sam Demma (11:19):
Yeah. And then it’s their job to make it cool. Right.

Scott Mclnnis (11:22):
Yeah,xactly. Everything in between is just about having some fun. Right. you know, just kind of the goal-setting piece and really understanding who they are as a person. I, I, I think, and, and, and, you know, definitely pushing people inside of their comfort zone. I get so many students in my classes who are like, I, you know, day one, they are just so nervous to get up in front of the other class and give a speech or a, a short presentation. And that’s, that’s pretty much all we do, you know, for our, our, our assignments in class is you teach kids about something that you’re passionate about or you know, we’ll look at some different examples of inspiring leadership from around the world. And, and so to see those kids that, that go from, you know, I can’t do this to, that’s not so bad. I can, now I can do this. Anytime I think is, is really cool for them to witness as well for their personal development.

Sam Demma (12:11):
Yeah. That’s so true. And I’m sure, or even you as a teacher probably had moments just like your students where you thought, holy crap, I don’t know if I can do that. And you probably had examples of other people, whether it’s mentors or, you know, veteran teachers, you know, kind of take you under your wing. And I’m curious to know if you had mentors along your educational journey. And if so, you know, do you remember some of their names and what they did for you that had an impact?

Scott Mclnnis (12:34):
I do. I actually, it’s funny cuz probably, I don’t know, a month and a half ago, I, I actually got in touch with one of my mentors. He was my high school PHED slash health education teacher and also my basketball coach. And I reached out to him, he’s still teaching at the high school I went to and he’s actually retiring this year. And just, just to get in touch with him again and, and just say, you know, hello, stop in how much I appreciated. You know, his, his passion spilling over into me. Like he taught he really more than anybody taught me how to be a man and how to be respond for my decisions and how to again, take responsibility over things. That for me, that’s the one that really stuck out early in my life. Again, I was, I was not the best student.

Scott Mclnnis (13:26):
You know, I wasn’t always doing the right thing or making the right choices. And he was one of those guys that just pulled me aside and said, smart enough, you got all the tools it’s time to use. ’em Like, you know enough’s enough kind of thing, but in a, in a very kind and gentle and, and supportive way. Mm. So yeah, Craig ne he’s, he’s the man out in Peterborough, Ontario at Thomas, a Stewart secondary he’s, he’s the guy that really sort of set me on a path for growing up more than anything else. But you know, as I got into the profession later when I started at again, the small independent school here in Kimberly, the founder, one of the founders at school Ursula, Solado, she, she was just so passionate about serving the community and serving kids that, that, that really just it, although maybe I didn’t realize it at the time, that’s also what I was all about.

Scott Mclnnis (14:19):
And I think she was just able to bring that outta me. She was so supportive, you know, there was times in my first you know, month as a teacher, I wanted to quit. I just found the planning so hard in the marking and was I doing the right thing, you know, having really tough days. And, and she was the one that was just like, yeah, just press on. Like, it gets easier every day. You’re in the right business. You’re good at what you do. And, and so, yeah, I’ll never forget her love and support especially early in my career. Sort of as a full-time educator, it was really, really important for me to have that. So yeah, those two for sure, really stick out in my mind and I’ll, I’ll never forget you know, the things they said and did for me along the way. Cause I, I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for them, for sure.

Sam Demma (15:06):
Shout out to Craig and Ursula yeah, you got it. That’s awesome. I think we also learn not only from other people, but from our own experiences. I think that’s one of the biggest Wells of learning we can pull from. And I’m curious to know what learnings you’ve had. Maybe there are some road bumps along your, you know, teaching journey or things that have happened in class or outside of class and you reflected on it and, and realized something that you might think could be beneficial to another educator.

Scott Mclnnis (15:34):
Yeah. I think, you know what it’s, especially when people are getting started you know, it’s, it can be, it can be a challenge in this business early on. I think it, you have to have the confidence in yourself to believe that you’ve made the right decision, you know, sort of for hopefully the rest of your career. Yeah. And I know like teachers have a, have quite a high burnout rate, but I think it’s, it’s that sticktuitiveness that you know, is, is extremely important for young educators. I know for me, it was, you know, I always had the message growing up, whether from my parents or from even the two mentors that I mentioned that, you know, what, when, when the tough, when the going gets cut, tough, the tough get going, sort of thing, you know, you can’t just fold and, and, and quit, cuz that’ll be your go to all the time when things get hard, you know, you have to face that and overcome challenges because you learn from it and you grow as a person that makes it tougher.

Scott Mclnnis (16:28):
And you know, I’ve had just lots of stories that like the at growing up where, you know, life wasn’t necessarily easy. But instead of just saying, you know, throwing my hands up saying I quit, it’s it’s press on. And I think, you know, even the decision to, to, you know, in my early twenties of packing up and going to, to South Korea, I mean that wasn’t, that wasn’t easy to, to be on your own and to haven’t make really, really hard to decisions on your own. You know, that’s what I try and, and instill upon the generation of kids these days is, you know, what, you have to try your best to have the good decisions, maybe outweigh the ones that you reflect on and think you had of, you know, you could have done better when it, when the times are tough. So yeah, I think, I think more than anything, it’s just, it’s just to be resilient, you know? And especially, I know it’s, I know kids have a tough time these days with, you know, a lot of different things that I know I didn’t necessarily have as an influence in my life. There’s a lot of different social pressures and anxieties and things out there. But I think if we can build resiliency in kids at an early age, then it’ll really help them moving forward.

Sam Demma (17:39):
So, awesome. I love that. And I couldn’t agree more, I think, yeah, COVID was a, an example of trying to build resiliency, right. We were all going through the same situation, definitely in different boats, as someone else told me, you know, some people had yachts and others had little dinky boats with no paddles. Right, totally. You know, the situation was similar. And the fact that we were all faced with a challenge and we had to figure out a way to overcome it. And I think that although it’s been so difficult for students, it’s actually building the resilience with than them. And I think it’ll make their futures a lot easier. for it. I think they’ll be a lot resilient, more resilient in their, in their future career choices and also their own other difficulties that might come up in their life. I’m curious to know if you could go back to year one and kind of impart some advice on, you know, year one, education, Scott what advice would you give you younger self?

Scott Mclnnis (18:31):
Oh boy, that’s a really good question. I think, I think to take advantage of opportunities that are, that are presented, you know and, and to give, to make sure that you’re doing self care, you know what I mean? Like, as, as a, and just to clarify, Sam, you’re asking as a first year educator, you’re asking what’s, what’s what I go back and tell myself. Yeah. So yeah,

Sam Demma (18:52):
First year, first couple years.

Scott Mclnnis (18:54):
Yeah, definitely. It’s number one is save all your stuff you don’t ever think that any resources that you’ll, you know, never use again, won’t be helpful cuz they are. And, and number two is just make sure that you have time for yourself, right? Like we, we always do talk about that, that you know, you can’t be at your best self unless you’re feeling, you know, the best that you can. Mm. And I think, again, it’s, it’s a tough job in the first couple of years, you have to make sure that you, you know, when it, the time rolls around that you put things away and go home and, and do something that you enjoy because again, it can be overwhelming at times and, and, and some of the demands can be quite the pressure cooker, but it’s, it’s, you know, for me, I, I don’t think I did a great job of that.

Scott Mclnnis (19:39):
And it was you know I think it did have some impacts just on, on, you know, personal relationships and maybe a little bit of my personal health, but you know, after hearing that from, from more seasoned educators, like, you know, it’s got you just, you gotta, you gotta shutter down man, and, and take some time and, and, you know, make sure you’re skiing on the weekends or, you know, whatever it is to, to take that time for yourself. Cause it clears your head and there’s, there’s, there’s, you know, no question about it, that it, it works. So I think if I could change something, it would just be that, you know, take a little more time for myself and, and things would’ve worked out just fine also, and not be so sort of stressed about doing the best job all the time. Cause there’s a lot of factors that are outta, outta your control as an educator as well. And no matter how well you plan for a day, it’s not gonna work the way you thought. So yeah, just make sure you’re at the top of your mental game, I think more than anything by pursuing your passions, for sure.

Sam Demma (20:32):
I love that. I think there was a quote I saw by Adam Grant and someone’s auto email responder that said play is not a, excuse me, , that’s cute. The auto responder said play is not something that should be an after the fact thing that you use when you have time play is actually something that exists. It should exist on your to-do list. And I’ve read that quote. And I was like, whoa, that’s so true because we actually put ourself into an amazing mental state when we are enjoying life and you’re gonna do better work when you’re enjoying things. right.

Scott Mclnnis (21:08):
Totally just, you know, I agree with you, Sam, not only should it be on your list, but it should be near the top. I mean, it’s, you know we are better when we’re, when we’re happy and when we’re, you know, fulfilled doing the things we want. So no question about that. Ah, I love

Sam Demma (21:22):
It. I love it. Scott, this has been a great conversation. If an educator’s listening feels a little inspired or wants to ask a question or figure out how they could grow just as nice a beard as yours although no one can see it right now. What would be the best way for an educator to get in touch with you and reach out?

Scott Mclnnis (21:37):
Yeah, sure. Email me anytime. My school email is Scott.McInnis@sd6.bc.ca. That’s my school email reach out. I’d love to hear from anybody, especially those teaching leadership, share some resources with you. Yeah, just have a general chat. It’d be always nice to, to develop those networks. So yeah, anytime.

Sam Demma (22:02):
Awesome. Scott, thank you so much. Great chatting with you on the show and keep up the great work.

Scott Mclnnis (22:07):
Appreciate it Sam. Thanks again for the chat.

Sam Demma (22:10):
And there you have it. Another amazing guest, an amazing interview on the high performing educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review. So other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show. If you wanna meet the guest on today’s episode, if you wanna meet any of the guests that we have interviewed, consider going to www.highperformingeducator.com and signing up to join the exclusive network, you’ll have access to networking events throughout 2021 and other special opportunities. And I promise I will not fill your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Scott

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.

Heather McCaig – President of Alberta Association of Student’s Councils and Advisors (AASCA) & Student Leadership Advisor

Heather McCaig - President of AASCA & Student Leadership Advisor
About Heather McCaig

Lead by example, treat each other better than you expect to be treated, and live life to the fullest!  These are mottos that she lives by. She has taught at Crescent Heights High School since 1999.  Leadership,  Social Studies and teaching English Language learners are her passions.  She is a teacher with a big heart and is heavily involved in Student Council, SADD and Key Club at school.

She believes very strongly in helping others and that half of teaching is actually the relationships that you can build with your students. Her door is always open, and students know that they always have an ear to listen to them and a mentor to ask questions to. She has been a member of the Alberta Student Leadership Association since 2005, becoming the President a couple of years ago.

Outside of school Ms.McCaig(@Heavendawn) is an avid motorcycle rider who puts on about 10,000 km every summer when she’s not working.  She also enjoys world travel and has taken four trips to Africa.  

Connect with Melissa: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Crescent Heights High School School Website

Alberta Association of Student Councils and Advisors

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):
Welcome back to another episode of the high performing educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s guest is Heather McKay. She is a social studies teacher and leadership advisor, and she loves leading by example, treating others better than you expect to be treated and she lives that motto to the fullest. She teaches at Crescent Heights high school since the year I was born in 1999. She does amazing work in leadership and in social studies, has a huge heart, as I’m sure you’ll hear through the audio in this episode. She believes very strongly that helping others is a way to teach and that relationships are super important to build with your students. Her door is always open and students know they always have an ear. If they want to chat with her, have some mentorship or ask questions. She also is an avid motorcycle rider.

Sam Demma (00:56):
She puts about 10,000 kilometers in every single summer and she loves traveling and will be taking her fourth trip to Africa this summer. Didn’t actually ask her about that on the episode, but if you do reach out, consider bringing it up and on top of all of this, she is also the president of AASCA, A A S C A, the Alberta Association of Student Councils and Advisors. She’s doing amazing work and I can’t wait to share a little bit of her wisdom, insight, and passion with you in this episode. I hope you enjoy this. I’ll see you on the other side, Heather, thank you so much for coming on the high performing educators podcast. It’s a pleasure to have you just getting over Thanksgiving weekend. I’m glad you had a great time socially distant. Can you tell a little bit about who you are to our audience and why you got into the work you do with young people today?

Heather McCaig (01:45):
Sure. I am a teacher at Cresent Heights High School in medicine hat, Alberta, Canada. And I am also part of AASCA, which is the Alberta Leadership Association for leadership teachers in the province. And I have been doing high school leadership type things since I was in high school. And it just kind of continued throughout my career in various ways. And I have always just wanted to be with kids and help kids out. So I’ve really loved my job.

Sam Demma (02:15):
Where did this passion come from? Did you know in high school and when you were just a student that one day you would be in the positions you are today, or was there someone who pushed you into this direction?

Heather McCaig (02:26):
Not entirely. I’ve, I’ve been extremely blessed with li with amazing parents. And my mom was a teacher as well, and I watched her be involved in a lot of things with her students and with her professional association and that kind of thing. So they may have had a 10 year plan for me. I’m not sure, but I definitely have followed in, in her footsteps and, and all the educators that were around her. Right. I got to watch them and how they worked with kids and the impact they had on people’s lives. And I just decided that if, if I can make somebody else’s life better, that’s something I wanna do.

Sam Demma (02:59):
That’s awesome. And you mentioned you had great parents, I’m sure you had great educators as well. Is there a standout educator that you can think of back when you were in high school that had a huge impact on you? And if there was maybe one or two, if there wasn’t a standout one, can you think about different characteristics that educate, have that make a huge impact on young people and just share those things with the audiences, a reminder to, you know, what we can do right now during this crazy time to make young people feel appreciated and valued?

Heather McCaig (03:29):
Well, I think I was very lucky in having a number of people that I connected with in high school. Yeah. They, they went beyond the classroom, right? They were not just here’s your homework. See you later. And they didn’t care about you as a human being. They always felt that they always made me feel like they cared about me on a deeper level, on a personal level. And if I had a problem, you know, or I looked like, I, I wasn’t happy that day. They actually came and said, Hey, what’s going on? You know, that kind of thing. So I believe it’s those relationship piece. And throughout my, my whole, you know, education, I can think of my grade one teacher who did that, Mrs. Reinhardt, she was amazing. And I still remember things in her classroom because of that. And my grade three teacher, she was a scuba diver and we connected cuz I always wanted to, you know, go swim with turtles and, you know, moving up through, through the grades, there was a always somebody, but it was always that personal relationship piece. So that’s something that I’ve always strived to do with my students is make sure I know what’s going on with them. You know, I help them if I can help them and just be there as a, as a human to lean on not just the educator, as a person in their world, somebody that they can come to if they need it. And I think that really makes a difference in education.

Sam Demma (04:42):
Tell me more about how you strive to do that. Is it just asking questions? Is it like how do you ensure that you get to know your students on a personal level?

Heather McCaig (04:52):
Well, I, I try to pay attention to changes in demeanor even, right? So if I have a kid who comes in and normally for four days in a row, they’re super happy be, and then they look totally bummed out. I’ll take ’em outside and say, Hey, you know, you, you don’t seem like you’re happy self today, are you okay? Is everything fine? Mm. And or if you have a kid that you see crying, you know, you go whisper in their ear. You may not wanna talk to me now, but I’m here. If you need me, you know, feel free to go take a quick little walk, come back at yourself together. Know, but I’m here. If you need me, it’s just those little nuances, right. To let them know, I am somebody willing to talk to you and I’m here. If you need me without pushing them. Right. And, and I think even when you have classes that some of us do on occasion that are high numbered, that kind of thing, you can still make those little tiny nuances and, and they will come to you if they need to talk to you, they will at least know that you’re there. And it does make that difference to them.

Sam Demma (05:49):
I’m sure over the years you embodying that teaching philosophy of being a shoulder to lean on, not just an educator has had a huge impact on the lives of if not hundreds, thousands of students that have gone through your classes and through your leadership. I’m sure you have, as many other educators do a, a bad file folder on your desk, filled with all the notes. that students give you over the years. Can you think of a story that you might want to share? And if it serious story, you can change the name for privacy reasons. Yep. That will display the impact that, you know, living that teaching philosophy had on this young person, just to inspire other educators about the work that you’re doing, why it’s so important and now more than ever needed.

Heather McCaig (06:31):
Well, well, I, this, this spring, actually, I had one of my kids who sort of disappeared during COVID. Cause when, when they, the kids all went home, of course you only had contact on the computer and you could only have contact if they showed up. Yeah. So we couldn’t find this kid. We had no idea where he went and it was his grad year. He needed, you know, 20 credits to graduate. So I looked at in his file and I got his phone number and that didn’t work and I got his address. So I went to his house and knocked on the door and this guy comes up and he didn’t know who this kid was, but he was a grandpa with dementia. So that, that was understandable. And then his dad came around the corner and said, well, this was my step kid.

Heather McCaig (07:15):
They moved out, you know, you go to the gas station, turn left, go three blocks turn. Right. And it’s in the apartment building and you knock on the window. Hmm. So I’m like, okay, so no address, no phone number. Nope. Just talk, knock on the front window of the apartment building. I’m like, okay, so let’s try this. So I go driving and I find an apartment building sort of in the right location. And then I thought, okay, well, I’ve left messages at this number before. And I got a hold of mom once, like a year ago. So I tried again and just out of sheer luck, she answered the phone and I just said, Hey, I think I’m at your house. This is your kid’s teacher. And I really need to talk to him. Would he be home? And she’s like, oh, well, yeah. So she, she arranged for me to get to the right window.

Heather McCaig (08:02):
And I literally banged on the window and got this kid up outta bed in one 30 in the afternoon. And he came up to the front door and he was like, oh my God, Ms. Mckay. And I’m like, Hey, I said, we have some schoolwork to talk about. So many visits later and, and you know, doing homework via the front steps and me standing on the lawn and, and that kind of thing, that kid graduated in the spring. Wow. So, and, and if, if, you know, if I hadn’t have gone that extra mile, he may not have come back to school at all. He was aging out and, you know, he was, had all these other issues, but I mean, that’s one thing that will always stand in my memory.

Sam Demma (08:43):
Hmm. What, what gives you the hope to, to do something like that? What gives you the motivation to do, to take that extra mile and go that extra step? Even during a crazy time? Like COVID?

Heather McCaig (08:53):
Well, I’ve, I’ve always believed that living in Canada and north America and having the life that I’ve had, I’m truly blessed. Mm. So, you know, I know my kids don’t all have that home life. I know, like I have parents that have been together for 65 years. Yeah. So, you know, even a split home can have a huge impact on families no matter how hard they try to keep their kids protected. So if I can, if I can give back any little bit to somebody, to me, that’s huge. If I can have them realize how lucky they are to be where they live and grow up and be here in north America and have the schooling that they have and that kind of thing, they will end up being better people for understand that gratitude piece. Yeah. Because having traveled around the world and watched little kids take water out of a ditch that I know they’re going home to drink, I, I have a greater understanding now of what that actually means to live here. Mm. So I really try and pass that on to my kids.

Sam Demma (09:52):
And the principle of going the extra mile can be applied and everything that we do. I’m curious to know during COVID, have you had any mistakes that you’ve made that you’ve learned from, or great successes that you might wanna share with other educators? And this can be from the perspective of a teacher or also the president of the Alberta leadership student association. And the reason I’m asking is because right now, all educators are learning from throwing spaghetti against the wall and seeing what sticks, and maybe you found some things that have fallen or stuck, and it would be awesome for you to share Can you hear me, Heather?

Heather McCaig (10:38):
I you’re very digital. We have been attempting things from are you, no,

Sam Demma (10:51):
I’m good. I can hear you now. Can you hear me?

Heather McCaig (10:55):
Oh, you there? Okay. Okay. All right. Yeah, you’re moving again. Perfect. You paused in a really great pose though. okay. So I think we have been trying really hard to find unique ways to do things and reach out to our membership. So we’ve, we’ve our, our leadership team at ASCA have been starting a coffee shop where people can get together and talk. We’ve had members in Calgary that have done some brainstorming to try and find unique things that can be done online. And we’re in the process of trying to build that kind of a resource for our membership so that they have, you know, go to things that they can still do. A couple of the things that we have been attempting just locally is we’re trying to do things that we did in person, but through technology.

Heather McCaig (11:49):
So right now we’re writing stories with seniors with dementia, but we have people at the nursing home that are adults with computers and then kids in the classroom. And we’re still trying to run those programs and we’re trying to mentor young people. So we have great ones with computers and high school kids with computers, and they’re trying to talk back and forth. So it’s, it’s doing what we do, but doing it in ways that we have to right now. And there’s lessons every single second when we’re trying to set up those programs that make them happen. So we’re trying those, you know, a variety of different things to make things work.

Sam Demma (12:25):
That’s awesome. Tell me a little bit more about the, the work you’re doing with seniors with dementia. I would love to hear more. Maybe it’s something that another school could take on if they’re curious and want to get involved?

Heather McCaig (12:37):
For sure. Well, we have always had programs with seniors. So students typically have gone to seniors homes and done different things with the senior citizens. So we have a, a secondary program here in the city that works with seniors homes. So they reached out to, and they have some adults that can go to the seniors home. So the adults are there working with the seniors and then our students are in class and they look at pictures and then they write stories about the, the pictures to help keep the seniors minds kind of sharp and that kind of thing. And then they collaborate on, on writing these stories. So, you know, it could be done in any senior’s home. Realistically, you just have to get the, the pieces together to make it work. And it’s been very successful. The kids are loving it. The seniors are quite enjoying the students. And the stories that are coming out are extremely interesting. And and we’re doing it on a weekly basis right now. So it’s very cool.

Sam Demma (13:35):
I know there’s an increasing need for this sort of a thing. Funny enough that you mentioned seniors at one 30 T I’m actually speaking to a senior’s home in Ajax over the phone. So I got how you said, reached out to someone from the community center. And he said, Hey, Sam, you know, we have a bunch of teenagers who are teenagers. We have a bunch of seniors who are tech challenged, and they don’t have zoom, but we do, you know, teleconferencing, would you be opposed to doing a speech? And I was like, okay. Yeah, but how am I gonna do it? He said, through your cell phone I was like, yeah. Okay. Yeah, we can, we can make this happen. And because they can’t, you know, connect with their family, I think any, any small way to get in touch with them can be a huge impact.

Sam Demma (14:16):
And that could be a cool initiative for any school listening to take on. If you don’t already do things with the seniors in your community. For sure. My, my question to you, there might be a, there might be an educator listening, who is burnt out right now, who needs some words of inspiration who needs a little bit of wisdom from a veteran like yourself? What pieces of advice could you share with them? Maybe it’s an educator who’s in their first year of teaching or an educator who’s been teaching for a long time, but just lost a little bit of their passion.

Heather McCaig (14:46):
For sure. I think all of us are feeling that right now. And I think it’s super important that we continue to reach out to networks of people that can support us, because if you’re sitting there and you’re, your brain is empty and you don’t have any go-to ideas sending that quick little email saying, Hey, do you have anything that you could help me with on blah, blah, blah. And then those of us that are out there in that network, recipro, Kate, it means so much because it can get us over that hump. And we need to remember that we have to be kind to ourselves right now. Every little thing that we do makes a difference. And even if we’re not performing up to where we’re normally consider our standard, we’re still doing the best jobs that we can because this is hitting people way harder in of mental health and isolation and all those other kinds of things, financial burdens, way worse than we ever could imagine. So it’s really, really important that we be kind to ourselves and, and look at gratitude every day, look at caring ourselves every day, doing self care and really reaching out and, and teams and networks where we can support each other, because that’s how we’re gonna get through this.

Sam Demma (15:56):
Hmm. And if any educator listening wants to reach out to you, Heather and bounce some ideas around, or have a conversation, what would be the best way for them to do so?

Heather McCaig (16:05):
They’re more than welcome to email me or call me. So my email address is my name. So heather.mccaig@sd76.ab.ca. And my phone number is (403) 528-0562. And I’m more than happy to share anything and everything I can with people and talk to them. And, and I love helping other people. So, and I can always get great ideas from them too. So it is a win-win.

Sam Demma (16:33):
Always a win-win Heather, thank you so much for taking some of your time to share your insights, wisdom, and stories on the high performing educator podcast. It’s been a pleasure chatting with you.

Heather McCaig (16:43):
You too. Thank you so much.

Sam Demma (16:45):
I almost cried listening back to this episode. And when Heather broke down the impactful and inspired story that she shared about the student in her class, who needed just a little push, just a little more attention, just a little more belief, just a little more, and I hope it inspired you as well. I hope you took some notes. I hope you feel energized and are reminded why it’s so important to go the extra mile and do what we need to do to take care of ourselves and our students, cause they are our future. And if you did enjoy this, please consider leaving a rating and review. It would help more people just like you. More educators find this content and benefit from it. And if you are someone who has inspiring stories to share in education or innovative ideas, please send us an email at info@samdemma.com so we can get you on the show as well. Anyways, I’ll see you on the next episode. Talk soon.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Melissa Wright

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.

John Dennison – Student Success Teacher at Corner Brook Regional High School

John Dennison - Student Success Teacher at Corner Brook Regional High
About John Dennison

John(@Jnosinned) is an experienced Special Education Teacher and Student Success Teacher, at Corner Brook Regional High in Corner Brook, Newfoundland, with a demonstrated history of working with Student Leadership in Newfoundland and nationally with the Canadian Student Leadership Association.

John is a graduate from Memorial University of Newfoundland with bachelors and Masters degrees in Education. He is also skilled in Nonprofit Organizations, Coaching, Facilitation, Management, public speaking and Social Media.

John is a very proud father of his son Tyler, a business graduate, working in Corner Brook, and his daughter Andressa who is currently teaching in Alberta. John is retiring from his current position at the end of this current school year, and is looking forward to the unwritten adventures that await him and his wife Katherine in the future.

Connect with John: Email | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Cornerbrook Regional High School Website

Canadian Student Leadership Conference

Memorial University of Newfoundland Programs

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):
Of the high performing educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s guest is all the way from Newfoundland and Labrador. He is the student success teacher at Cornerbrook Regional High Western school district. He manages dozens of students who might need just a little additional support, or that might be learning in a slightly different way. Today’s guest John Denson has made a huge impact on students within his region. And what makes his story so inspiring is that the work he’s doing for these young people is very similar to the work that he had and support he had back when he was a student going through a very traumatic time in his own life. You’ll hear his humor, his, his jokes. They’re, they’re pretty good. You’ll also hear his dog barking a little bit. In this episode, it’s a very authentic down to earth interview, and I’m super excited to bring it to you today. John has a heart of gold and you’ll hear about it in this episode. Hope you enjoy this, I’ll see you on the other side. Okay, John, thank you so much for coming onto the high performing educators podcast. Tell the audience where you’re from, the little island that you’re from, that you’re super passionate about. You just told me about, please also explain who you all are and how you got into the work that you’re doing and have done over the past 30 years, almost congratulations in education

John Dennison (01:30):
So, okay, so I’m, I’m like I said to you, I’m, I’m honored to be included in this program again, I’m not quite sure how how I got chosen, but it’s certainly an honor to be included in this wonderful podcast with you. I’m from a little tiny island called Twillingate, off the Northeast coast of Newfoundland. Also known by Readers Digest, pegged it as the iceberg capital of the world, believe it or not. And of course, Newfoundland is the tiny little island off the Northeast coast of North America, half an hour ahead of everybody else, which can sometimes cause glitches when you’re doing podcast interviews, apparently . But anyway, I’m a student success teacher in Corner Brook on the west coast of Newfoundland. And I’ve been engaged with this program for about 10 years now.

John Dennison (02:21):
I’m a special education teacher but this program is designed to work with students who are at risk for whatever reason of not being successful in school. So it’s my task to motivate and try to get them through school with whatever means it takes whatever we can do to support them, their families, whatever, to get them through high school. As compared to who, you know, my special education teacher background, who is who we have the students assigned to us based on exceptionalities, those kinds of things. These, the students I work with now are just students that for whatever reason are not getting through school and are at risk and not being successful all in living through the cracks. But in the meantime, I was introduced 13 years ago, this, this September to the Canadian student leadership conference, just by being asked to tag along as a, a van driver to take some students to St.

John Dennison (03:13):
John’s to a national conference. And and I got hooked, I got hooked line and sinker by as a Newfoundland expression by the whole philosophy of student leadership through council school spirit you know, the motivational pieces of, of watching and motivating students go beyond what they ever thought they were capable of. And as myself as a teacher seeing at this conference you know, motivational speakers like mine, who, who knew that they, their engagement in school was more than just textbooks and notes and, and assignments and tests and quizzes, that there was a bigger role for us all to play in the life of the school and through motivating our students to, to go above and beyond. So, you know, I came back from that conference, totally pumped and, and fueled up, ready to go. I watched my students the same that year as well as my teacher comrade room in Austin, who, who was there with me.

John Dennison (04:18):
And anyway, I kind of like quietly evolved into taking over the student council from my friend Ruben to the point that became, you know, my second passion along with the students that I worked with. And, and we were fortunate enough in 2011, myself and Ruben to host our own student leadership national conference here in Cornerbrook. And and again, that just fueled us and our staff F at the time. And and you know, it’s just been wonderful experience. And, you know, it’s, it’s something that has certainly made the last 13 years of my career a much more enjoyable component and, and aspect to, to being the teacher that I guess I never really knew I was, but found a, that I could be all through student leadership and student engagement and all these wonderful things.

Sam Demma (05:06):
It’s so cool. They say that the teacher learns the most, right. And you know, you’re at the same time, you’re also the student. And it sounds like you embody that philosophy, which I think is so important, you know, remind ourselves that, you know, even though we’re teaching, we’re still growing. And I think that’s a, a beautiful mindset to have, especially during a difficult time you’ve been doing this on the cusp for 30 years. that’s yeah. 10 years older than I’ve been alive.

John Dennison (05:33):
I’m yeah. Fortunately you can’t see the gray in my beard because this is all on this is just an audio version, but yeah. But yeah, I still look like I’m like 19 years old, to be honest, my voice sounds a little more mature, but no, just kidding. You got anyway. Yeah. 30 years.

Sam Demma (05:50):
Yeah. You got the energy of a young person. And that’s a huge compliment

John Dennison (05:55):
well, thank you. It is only Wednesday though. so talk to me Friday.

Sam Demma (06:02):
Depends when people tune in, but you’re so right. What keeps you going 30 years? What keeps you motivated and hopeful and inspired?

John Dennison (06:11):
It’s funny. I, I, I, I don’t wanna talk about myself a lot. I, I, I left high school. I was 16 when I graduated from high school, believe it or not, because my birthday is at the end of December. Mm. And when I left high school, my dad passed away when I was 12. And, and quite, quite ultimately I became lost soul as well. And I know now looking back that I was depressed, I was getting had marks, and I was wishing I was getting higher marks with all my good friends sitting around the back of the class with me kind of thing. And somehow, and, and I won’t get into the whole story, but I stumbled into education. And you know, I landed myself in this position and then all these different pieces of puzzle came together that, that put me in the opportunity to work with students who were me ultimately, you know, like I, I, I, when I did my special education degree, I had the goal to to diagnose myself as a gifted underachiever.

John Dennison (07:10):
And I think that’s probably a lot more common than what we realize is that, you know, there are a lot of gifted underachievers out there who just need somehow to see the light. And I guess, through a number of different things that came away, I landed in a perfect job for me. And it’s, it’s just fueled me to reach out to those people that need reach, to be reached out to, and you know, like even today, and, you know, in, in my 29th and so many months, year, I met a young fellow today, two young fellows today, actually, who are down and out, and they’ve got their issues at home and they’re struggling to get through school. I had the conversation with them about me. I reflected back to me who would, you know, my situation, which is too many years ago, for me to even tell you, you know, and, and they connected and I managed to connect with them.

John Dennison (07:59):
So those connections are really the opportunity each day. So I can’t wait to go to school again tomorrow just to see if he came back and they came back. And if they’re there and if they’re not trying to figure out what I can do to, to bring them back, you know, and, and I’ve realized over the years, one of the most important lessons I’ve learned, I think is a teacher is a that I can’t win them all. I can’t win all the battles. It, it takes more than me wanting it. It has to be, the student has to want it. Somehow. I have to instill it in their heart. That it’s one that an education of being successful has to be one of their top three priorities. It has to be beyond getting the drugs and the hits. And, and sometimes it has to be number four, getting fed for that day or whatever the case may be. So you know, it’s just, it’s just that fuel and that passion is still in there. And I don’t think it’ll ever leave me. When I do retire, I’ll find something to help somebody somewhere, you know, just kind of build to me. And again, that’ll lose back to my parents and all those kinds of things, but that’s amazing. It’s just, it’s just an important thing. My dog’s barking in the background. I think she wants to come in, but anyway, that’s okay.

Sam Demma (09:12):

John Dennison (09:13):
I was gonna, I could go on a complete, other tangent on how a Labrador retriever has changed my life and view perspectives on everything too, but

Sam Demma (09:20):
We can talk dogs for sure. I love that. You mentioned, could

John Dennison (09:25):
We, well, I’ll just throw this at you very quick. I’ve had two Labrador retrievers and they’ve taught no matter who shows up at our front door. And this is something that I try to take in perspective, no matter who shows up in my front door, and you could be colored, you could be wearing a turbine. You could be a police officer. You could be looking for food for the food bag, my dog, my Labrador retrievers each and every one of em have always just want to be there. Friends. If you just wanna pet, they wanna lie down. I’ll let you rub their belly. And it really doesn’t matter what color you are, what gender you are, what, what, you know, what, what LGBTQ status you are or who you are that you are welcome to them for a rub on their belly or a pat on their head. And it’s just kind of like something that I’ve watched and realized that yeah, that makes a lot of sense to me. Thank you, Molly. Thank you, candy. So I love that.

Sam Demma (10:17):
That’s so cool. Anyway, that’s awesome. There you, do. You still have them both.

John Dennison (10:21):
Actually candy passed away, but now I have Malia chocolate lab and I have Marley who’s a little Heese, which in, interestingly enough, I brought back to Newfoundland from CSLC 2009. Wow. In Cochran, Alberta, they both flew down on the plane with me. So they’re my CSLC dogs. Yeah.

Sam Demma (10:38):
So they’re just ingrained in leadership as much as you are. yeah.

John Dennison (10:42):
Yeah. Cool. Yep. It’s is they they’ve taught us a lot. Molly’s chocolate lab, the little Heese is still only 15 pounds. And I’ve learned some things about bullying. Interestingly enough, from the dogs and, and size does matter when it comes to nature. And in some respect bullying, because my chocolate lab will just push the little white dog out of the way, and she’s gonna get, you know, the treat first or whatever. And her little white dog just has to succumb to that. So there’s, I’ve talked about this to some of the kids and, and, you know, like my, my white dog has just accepted it, but still has kept the big chocolate lab as being his best friend. You know? So there’s like, there’s a way to accept, like you’re not really being bullied necessary and it’s not so much the order of size in the species. It’s just kind of like coming to grip, you know, you’re not all gonna be in first place. And, you know, sometimes you have good to make way for the big guy that’s bumbling by first and those kinds of things. Yeah, no, that’s fine. I dunno, sidetrack, you can delete that part if you want to.

Sam Demma (11:50):
Nah, I wanna leave it in the, the authentic stories make this thing so relatable and interesting and you need, especially to your own life.

John Dennison (11:56):
And, and I don’t know if it’s a, it’s like an answer for anybody who’s being bullied, but I think its just, you just realize, you know, this stuff goes on in nature and I’m sure that, you know, in our woods right now and it’s moose hunting season inland that a big gold moose is gonna make with the, the, the pretty female moose over the smaller bull moose just because he is bigger and that’s the way nature works and yeah, you’re right. But in nature sometimes that’s the way things play out anyway. Yeah. Maybe we overthink things too much. Maybe I spent too much time wondering about my chocolate lab pushing my little white thing away from the tree bowl anyway.

Sam Demma (12:33):
That’s okay. I love it. Can you, I know you food for lots of food for thought you would definitely have, you know, dozens, if not dozens, hundreds, if not hundreds, thousands of stories of young people who have come across your classroom, come across your experience, who have had an impact on, do you mind sharing a story and it could be a story that’s you deeply and you can change the student’s name in the sake of privacy. But the reason I want, I want you to share the story is because an educator might be listening. Maybe this is their first year in education and things are so different where they’re living and they’re getting the whole wrong view of what an educator can do for a young person’s life and the impact they can have. Yeah. And, and inspiring story about impacting and changing a young person’s life will remind them by the work they’re getting into is needed now more than ever and really important. Do you have any stories that come to mind?

John Dennison (13:27):
Yeah. And again, it’s hard because , it’s people aren’t naturally, well, I shouldn’t say people because I, I guess Donald Trump is sorry Donald, I threw that out there, but it, but it’s hard to, it’s hard to, I guess, talk about my successes without, you know, trying to become the all end all, but yeah, but anyway, I’ll, I’ll share a couple of stories. I know one of the very first and, and the two stories I can think of that really popped in my head are we have time for two, of course of, I guess if I don’t ramble one has to do with my student success position and the other has to do with my role as a leadership teacher, I guess, and, and student council advisor. I, I remember one of the first students I ever had way back in 2000 leadership role just sort of showed up at our, our high school.

John Dennison (14:20):
Cause I also help early school leaders. We call them now back in the day there were dropouts, but the early school lever term is the nice friendly term for a student who dropped outta school. But this is a student who, this was a young girl who left the high school. And at the time when she left high school, she was babysitting for a local owner and, and she kind of just walked out of school and started a babysitting for, for this particular family. And as when she reached 19, he kind of offered her a job as a bartender or, or his wife did or whatever. And, and she kind of like, she kind of did both things. She was so she was doing making money and stuff and she was content. Anyway, she came knocking on our door one, one September because she was gonna apply to go back to school, to do her early childhood education in training to kind of like open a daycare or, or work at a daycare because she en enjoyed the babysitting and wanted to get outta the bar business because who doesn’t wanna get outta the bar business.

John Dennison (15:22):
Anyway, she realized when she came in that she’d never graduated of all these years, there was probably three years after high school that she thought she had graduated. She was missing one in, in English. Now in, in Newfoundland, we have a general graduation and we have academic and there’s an honors graduation. And she was tr she was looking to graduate generally, which is kinda like, which will get you into community college and an opportunity to upgrade if you wanted to go to university. So anyway, long story short, she ended up doing an English course with kind of online because back then I did have some courses that were not, not virtual, quite like today’s virtual, but there were courses that she could do from home online with a couple of textbooks and email me assignments. So she didn’t have to come into the building to continue working at home.

John Dennison (16:07):
And, and we could, you know, establish that re teacher, student relationship. She was successful. She graduated and she’s now, you know, a proud mom, she’s gotta open her own daycare and been super successful. And, and she always knocks on my door at Christmas time and, and brings me something. A lot of, lot of people know me will appreciate the fact that nine times outta 10, it’s a liquor store give. But anyway you know, and it’s not about the gift, but it’s the fact that she comes in and she has that smile on her face, the same smile that she had the day that I told her. Sure, we can fix this and this is how we’re gonna do it and you’re gonna be fine. You know, it’s just, it’s, it’s just amazing to think back that you know of myself and, you know, wishing that I had somebody who could have reached out to me like that and provided me that opportunity, cuz I was 2% away from getting into university when I left high school.

John Dennison (17:05):
And you know, it took me three years to convince Memorial university to take me. And if I just had somebody at that, that that to go to bat for me and help me figure out how to get those two percents, you know, and anyway, I’m over it now doesn’t sound like it, but I’m over it so anyway, that that’s that, but those are the aspects. Those are the, those are the, the pieces of the puzzle that really help. And, and there’s been quite a few, like you said, there’s, there’s, there’s been well almost 10 years now of, of working with students that, you know, were down and out and needed a little extra something. But, but for the, the teacher that may be listening that’s that, you know, is also got, I am in a unique position cuz the teacher is listening is also worried, most likely worried about, you know, the government exams, the final exams, tests and scores admit wanting, you know, how the overall percentage is for their class.

John Dennison (18:03):
I’m in a very unique position in the sense that I really get to know I’m paid, get to know at, you know, sure. Maybe 80, 90 kids a year, but, but I held them and find out what makes them tick and really be able to, you know, use a priv, whatever it takes to get them up after a and up running or whatever the case may be to start making right decisions and some, some support in making some good choices, those kinds of things. So I get that. I’m unique in that, but I think just connecting with students is so, so, so important and being able to identify a little bit of who they are and what they are and find out where they want to go and, you know, instill on their, and that even if it is a biology or a science or a math or an English class, you’re teaching them, making them somehow connect those little steps and you know, that they’re making in those classes and doing those assignments leads to the bigger steps and the bigger picture that, that whatever their future is that they want.

John Dennison (19:08):
And it’s mind boggling to me to think that so many of the kids in high school right now, the careers aren’t even invented at this point that they’ll be doing, I haven’t got my head around that, but I see it because I’ve the 30 years I’ve taught, we’ve gone from having two or three computers in a school to everybody has a phone now. And everybody has the technology that, that, that 30 years ago we never thought we’d have. And I often think back too about, you know, if I could show my dad who died in 78, I remember he was big on this calculator. He had, that had memory. He bought that summer and an old Polaroid SX, 70 camera that, that, that spit out picture right in front of him. If he could see the photography that a cell phone, the technology in a cell phone and what things are now, I mean, it’s just mindboggling to think what’s happened in my lifetime.

John Dennison (19:59):
You know, the, so anyway, another bit you can cut out if you feel the need later on. The story I have is from a student council, president of mine who who’s got a very special place in my heart. She, her mother passed away. She found her mother dead on her kitchen floor. When she was in grade nine, I think it was, it was the year before we hosted our national conference. And she came to our school as a grade 10 student just after losing her mom, put her, I encouraged her to get involved with student council only because I knew, I knew a little bit of her family. I knew who she had been, not I’d known her, her sisters before. And I knew that she had a spark in her just because of her mom really, and having known her family, that she was to any student council that I was part of and, you know, lock story short.

John Dennison (21:00):
She, she did get involved. She became the president in her grade 12 year and, and she led like many, I’ve had some really strong leaders. She definitely was one of the top, you know, three to five for sure. Went on to become a, a nursing student at Dalhousie has just finished a road scholarship at Oxford and has just been accepted. I hope Micah hope you don’t hear this cause I might get it wrong. I think Berkeley in California to start med school. So she’s a nurse, she’s got a PhD in psychology and she’s off the med school in California and this girl she’s done Ted talks. She, she organized a charity in her mother’s name under the, the cancer society after biking across the province and then hosting, I think it was the equivalent of 10 marathons in 10 days. She organized a charity in her mom’s name that provides money for the transportation of families to be with their family member who’s receiving treatment in St.

John Dennison (22:11):
John’s or in Halifax. She’s got two chapters when she opened it in. She opened the chapter as well in, in a, in Nova Scotia. And she’s just a phenomenal young lady. She always you know, pays homage to me as being a contributor in that which I’m, you know, humbled by because, you know, I just, I really just did what I did for her, what I tried to do for all my students. And that’s just chat and say hello and find out what ticks and help support them and point them in whatever direction it is they wanna go and they need help to find. So that’s kind of, so anyway, it’s, it’s every, every student isn’t a opportunity and every student has something to offer and every student needs an adult in their life and they may already have it, but they also need a teacher just to say, good morning to them in the morning and goodbye to them in the afternoon.

John Dennison (23:06):
And we’ll see you tomorrow more kind of thing. And I think little bits and pieces are important and I don’t stand in the entrance of the building every day and, you know, greet everybody. I don’t, you know, go outta my way to say hello to everybody. But if I’m in the hall and I see people, then I will make sure that they feel if they look uncomfortable or whatever, that, that they’re happy to be there. And you know, if they don’t need me, they’re not going to hear from me. But if, if I get a vibe that maybe they need to say hello, or how are you doing? Is everything okay? Then they’re gonna hear that too. And I think just, you know, making that extra connection besides assigning tests and quizzes and assignments and those kinds of things, but yeah, it was good. It’s a big task. It’s a tall order. It’s huge, but very rewarding.

Sam Demma (23:52):
I was, I was gonna ask you, how do we make young people feel cared for and how do we make them feel appreciated? Is it by those small gestures? Like if there’s a teacher listening right now,

John Dennison (24:03):
It can be, it can be everything. I think from a wink to a smile, wink works well these days with COVID mass on the go knows if it smiles. But, and then of course it is 2020. A wink can be misinterpreted, but usually if it’s coming from a 55 or old bald man, that’s a teacher in your school is probably okay. anyway, it’s, I’ve gotten away with it anyway. But it’s usually followed up with some conversation. But I think it can be anything from, you know the breakfast club, making sure students, you know, just walking through and just connecting, just saying, hello, just how are things going? What are you doing? What can I, you know, it’s just a, a welcome mat. It’s just, I mean, I don’t, I’m not, I don’t take all the advice for my Labrador retriever.

John Dennison (24:55):
I don’t roll around on the floor, expecting people to Rob and tickle my belly, but somehow, you know, my dog could do that. And that, that somehow makes a connection. So it’s just figuring out what to do, then lie down and roll and ask people to pick your tickle, your belly, that that makes them connected somehow. You know another instance that just happened today, for example, a young girl who I knew, I know she ran for student council last year. Didn’t get on, she didn’t get elected. And I just happened to see her today. And we had our meetings today of, of, for our, any students interested in running. And I said to her, I said, you didn’t, you didn’t, you didn’t come to our meeting today. Are you not interested in running for student council this year? And she said, well, no. She said, I struggled with it a little bit last year.

John Dennison (25:43):
And you know, she said, I didn’t get elected and I was kind of, and that kind of stuff. And I said, okay. I said, I totally get that. I said, you know, there’s my daughter ran. She didn’t get elected. And she, she really was uncomfortable with the whole student council thing for a while. But I said, if you stop and think about it, look at you right now. You’re a year older. You’re, you’re more mature. You’re alive. You’re doing well in school. You seem happy cuz every time I see you have a smile on your face. So it wasn’t really that bad you got over it. You’re a little bit stronger for it. Believe it or not. You went through adversity and you’re still smiling and you’re able to talk to me about it. So I would be more than happy to see you throw your hat in the ring again, listen, you remember, you’ve got nothing to lose next year, this time we could potentially be having the same conversation.

John Dennison (26:31):
Sure. You didn’t make it, but you stuck your neck out there and you tried and you gave it your best shot. So if you’re, you know, I just said, if you’re not really interested and it’s not something you want this year don’t bother. But if you think you’ve still got something to offer, well, give it a shot. And don’t forget. We also have two positions on each grade level that are teacher nominee positions. So maybe, you know, you could come and ask a teacher to nominate you and you could be part of the council that way. So anyway, five story short that was at lunch and sometimes you’re wrote the afternoon. She came and sat in the chair next to my desk and she said, you’ve got me thinking about it and she might just run. But anyway, my fingers are crossed. I better not say it secretly for her to run.

John Dennison (27:13):
Oh darn I can’t, I can’t be too supportive. Anyway. I just hope that she runs and we will. Let’s just say, if she’ll be more than welcome if she wins, how does that sound anyway? That’s awesome. It’s you know, it’s just, it’s just making those connections, you know, remembering a face from last year, remembering seeing somebody down and asking them how they are or just, you know, having the opportunity to reach out awesome. Again, it’s, it’s, they’re all different. You know, the, the government tends to, and this is advice for teachers. The government tends to come now with blanket policies that expect every round student to fit in a square hole. And it just doesn’t work in education. We’re a gray science education is a gray science and one size does not fit all. And as a matter of fact, one of the sizes looks really stupid on some. So, you know, it’s, it’s just the, it is. But if we can get the best out of each of them, that’s all we can ask for, but we don’t get paid. We get paid to set up the trough for success, but we don’t get paid for pushing their heads down in the water or in the, so we just gotta roll with that. And every second Thursday we get paid. So there’s that bonus. Yeah.

Sam Demma (28:27):
True. That’s awesome. John, look, I could talk to you for hours on hours. There’s so much wisdom, so many stories to share. I’m sure we’ll do a part two and a part three. If there’s an educator listening right now, who’s thinking, you know, I just got into, this is my first year. This isn’t what I signed up for. This seems crazy. What was advice? Do you wanna end this episode sharing with them?

John Dennison (28:50):
Oh, it’s crazy. No doubt. It’s crazy. Hang on for the ride of your life. It’s interesting because my daughter, I love her she’s high school trained, but she’s in year two of teaching primary elementary in Alberta and she you know, she’s struggling this year. She taught out grade three last year and like I said, she’s high school trained. And this year she’s teaching grade four, so a second lot of curriculum. So I, I know we’ve talked and she’s struggling a little bit with the whole idea of am I cut out to be a teacher? And you know, the reality is you’re not everybody is. I remember I love this little Tibit my mom at my wedding. She, she stood up at the microphone. This was the, this was the year actually I had just started teaching. I had six months in and she said there were two reasons that she knew of that I became a teacher and one was July and the other was August and, and, you know, looking back, there’s nothing wrong with those summer vacations.

John Dennison (29:49):
But I think it’s like everything. It’s like every career I’ve been so fortunate that I’ve gotten this gone to work every morning with a smile on my face. And I’ve left with a smile on my face the last day of the summer before each day of school in September, I have trouble falling asleep because it’s, it’s more about, it’s not anxiety. It’s more about and maybe it’s anxious, but it’s more an excited, anxious about what we’re gonna do. Who am I gonna face? Who the new kids are, you know? And if you can get that passion for your teaching career somehow and real every, we have the opportunity to influence thousands of students in our careers, but the reality is if we do it right, we’re influencing generations upon generat upon generations. Because if I did my job right, 30 years ago, then those parents now something I said or something I entrenched deeply inside them is influencing their kids and so on and so forth.

John Dennison (31:01):
And that’s some something that, that I know it sounds awfully conceded or perhaps a little, you know, top heavy. But if we do our jobs, right, we’re not just teaching them how to go on to university and do better in sciences or English or math or become doctors or lawyers. We’re in, we’re influencing them and how to be become good strong members of society. And I also believe that it takes welders. It takes pipefiters. It takes Walmart greeters, Tim Horton’s workers, doctors, and lawyers, and politicians to change the world and to do good things in the world. It’s not just the high end. It’s, it’s all, it’s all perspective. It’s every student in the building has an opportunity and has just needs a catalyst and just needs to realize that their potential is huge. And we’ve seen that was some of the, you know, some of the protests worldwide, that it’s a shame that some of the incidents that have happened have the result has had to have been protests and those kinds of things.

John Dennison (32:17):
But, but you know, there’s definitely voices out there. There are definitely voices that we need to hear. And a lot of them are young voices. So anyway, because I I’ve always felt it a bit cliche to say that you are the next generation, you, your generation can change the world, whereas they can’t. Yeah. And we’re starting to see that in 20, 20, 20, 21, because hopefully because my, my generation, you know, has helped them in instill that in them, hopefully. True. So anyway, your job next, putting all the pressure on, and you’re doing your part, you’re doing your part, but yeah, no, we can definitely do another part down the road. Well, actually comfortable than I thought.

Sam Demma (32:59):
You’re, you’re a pro. This seems awesome. If anyone wants to reach out to you and talk about some of the stories or just connect, maybe it’s another educator from a different province. What’s the best way for them to get in touch?

John Dennison (33:09):
With you? So I, I’m not a huge fan of Facebook only because I found that it just became too much of what the randomness people do in their day. That that really, I don’t have time to pull around with. I’m on Twitter @Jnosinned, which is Dennison backwards. That was something I maybe we’ll save that story for another time. It’s a good story. It’s something that, that young teachers could do with their with their students sometime for entertainment. Is all about putting your name backwards anyway @Jnosinned. But if you look for John Dennison, I think you’ll find me. My email, school email is johndennison@nlesd.ca ,newfound Labrador English school district cell phone. Now won’t go there. school phone school phone is (709) 634-5828.

John Dennison (34:12):
Cool. they want meal find Google’s amazing that way. Yeah. But definitely reach out. I certainly don’t don’t mind sharing anything, you know, if there’s any future employers out there, by the way I may be looking for, Hey here, I never thought about this before. , here’s, here’s an opportunity to have me come to your school and work for a living or somewhere else. I’ve noted actually that the prison system in Hawaii apparently hires retired teachers to come and work. So the idea of moving from the iceberg capital, the world to probably the volcano capital of the world is kind of appealing, but anyway, we’ll see, but there’s anyway, it suits the, maybe you’ve heard enough for me today.

Sam Demma (34:59):
No, man, I can’t get enough. I’m loving is one of my favorite conversations, but we will, we will wrap it up there and I’m gonna thank you, John, for taking some time to chat and I’ll have you on again soon. This has been a pleasure.

John Dennison (35:11):
Ah, no sweat. I’m I’m here. I’m here. Maybe we’ll start doing a monthly report from the rock

Sam Demma (35:18):
I’m so I’m so down.

John Dennison (35:19):
Cool. And when Dave, when Dave con listens to this and I’m sure my good friend, Dave will listen there will be no screeching involved, Dave, and I don’t think we’ll be doing a, a pod screech in either. So unless, unless Sam, unless you get lots of requests, maybe we could do an after 10?

Sam Demma (35:37):
I’m I’m open to it. love it, John. All right. Thank you so much. Okay. Take care of my friend, such an impactful interview. So many amazing stories. John has so much wisdom to share so much positive energy. I really hope that I can go and meet him soon in person after COVID passes. I think we’d have amazing conversations and I encourage you to reach out to him as well. He would probably love to hear from you. In fact, I’m sure he would absolutely love to hear from you. And I would, I would love for, for you to connect with him. If you did enjoy this, please take two seconds to consider leaving a rating and review. It’ll help more educators, just like you find this content and benefit from it. And if you are someone who has ideas and inspiring stories in education, shoot us an email at info@samdemma.com so we can get you on the show as well. Anyways, I’ll see you on the next episode. Talk soon.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with John Dennison

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.

Brian Dunn – Chaplain at St. Francis Xaiver C.S.S

Brian Dunn - Chaplain at St. Francis Xaiver C.S.S
About Brian Dunn

Brian Dunn has been a Chaplaincy Leader for the Halton Catholic District School Board for 16 years and currently serves at St. Francis Xavier Catholic Secondary School in Milton. As a proud graduate of St. Michael’s College (University of Toronto) Master of Catholic Leadership degree, he continues his passion and vision of Catholic Leadership within his school community by coordinating retreats and the student government, The Knights Council, that encourages all students and staff to get involved in leadership.

Brian provides opportunities for his staff and students to become leaders that reflect the call of Jesus in the Gospel to become Students of Service (S.O.S.) ‘to accept, include and serve with love’ by presenting a Catholic worldview that encourages them to see the world through the eyes of faith. “

“In our S.O.S. Knights Council it is imperative that all students and staff work as equal partners with our Best Buddies, Safe Schools, Media/Tech Crew, Grade Reps, Social Justice and HCDSB Student Senators making our priority to hear the voices of those who are the most vulnerable in our school and the local community.”

Brian also hosts a morning broadcast on Youtube to pray for the needs of our school community, the world and to share school initiatives.

Brian’s passion for music, both secular and religious can be heard as he entertains with his band Descendants of Dunn.

As well, Brian also enjoys his solo performances where he will even write a song – Singing Telegram – for any special occasion to celebrate! He is the proud father of two boys Jacob and Jamie and has been married to his wife Carey for 16 years. Brian lives by the family motto passed down from his father ‘keep the faith, and a sense of humour and God will look after the rest.’

Connect with Brian: Email | Instagram | Linkedin |

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Masters of Catholic Leadership degree

Brian’s morning broadcast

St. Francis Xavier Catholic Secondary School

Stream Yard Software

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):
Welcome back to another episode of the high performing educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker Sam Demma. Today’s guest is my good friend and Chaplin Brian Dunn. I had the pleasure of working with him in September at his school St. Francis of Xavier to do the opening keynote speech for his grade nines. It was phenomenal. And he is someone I look up to. He is someone who is always looking for new ways to engage and impact his students. You can even see it on this episode as he plays in music during the intro and outro, but I’m not gonna ruin it for you. Anyways, I hope you enjoy this episode. Make sure you take notes and reach out to Brian. He’s a wonderful human being. I’ll see you on the other side, Brian, welcome to the high performing educator podcast. It is an absolute pleasure to have you on here. Why don’t you start by sharing a little bit about yourself and how you got into the work you do with young people today?

Brian Dunn (00:50):
Well, Sam, I gotta tell you before we begin, I, I have to say one of the ways I got involved with young people was through what I’m about to do right now. And it goes like this. I got a smile on my face. Now I got four walls around me. I got the sun in the sky, all the waters around me. Oh, you know? Yeah. I went down. Sometimes I lose. I’ve been better, but I’ll never bruise. It’s not so bad. And I say, wait, Hey, Hey, it’s just an ordinary day. And it’s all your stay at the end of the day. You just have to say it’s alright. Cause I got a smile on my face and I got four walls around me.

Sam Demma (02:00):
Ooh, everyone. Please give Brian a huge round of applause from your cars all around wherever you’re sitting, wherever you’re listening. that’s awesome. Brian, how to say

Brian Dunn (02:12):
That Anthem for me. I started when I started in ministry I worked for the the CYO, the Catholic youth organization in Hamilton. And that song just come out by great big sea. And I was looking for sort of like an inspirational something to help me keep perspective. And a friend of mine said, you know what? This is like, this is a great song. And then we learned it and I’ve sort of used it as my Anthem. Since that day to get involved with young people the power of music with young is everything. It’s, it’s just, it’s incredible and not only for them, but for for me to be able to develop a relationship in terms of, you know, journeying with them through, through music and through motivation. And sometimes it gives us words that we cannot say.

Brian Dunn (03:01):
So in, in that song, you know, obviously it’s just these ordinary days and it it’s similar to what you’ve talked to our students about already Sam and the small actions small, consistent actions. It’s like in these every ordinary days. How do we, how do we go? And especially in COVID all these times every day, it’s like, oh my gosh, goodbye for these kids sitting there looking at they got the mass on and they’re, you know, just told just sort of scared to, to even move or answer a question or, or do whatever. But we have to say, all right, in this ordinariness in sort of things that it feels like everything’s happening, you know just mundane. How do we make these ordinary days extraordinary? And I think music is a key obviously moving forward with with all the different things that are happening in the world, we need to step out of our comfort zones to help others.

Brian Dunn (04:03):
And music is a, is a great way to do that. So yeah. So I’m really excited to be here you know, share a little bit of maybe some of the stuff that I’ve done at this school. This has been, this has been my this is the school St. Francis savior, Catholic secondary. We just renamed our school. We were Jean Banay for the first six years. So we’re in the process of reestablishing and redefining who we are as a school community. Mm-Hmm and it’s not changing what it was. It’s just reminding people, the foundation of who we are and the foundation that we are truly built on faith and the action, faith and action, basically in our motto. That’s awesome. So, yeah, so I don’t know. I don’t know how I’ll let you, do you want me to continue on with that topic or I don’t know. What are you feeling today?

Sam Demma (05:00):
Yeah, I mean, I wanna to know, I’m curious to know at what point in your journey as a teacher or as a, as a person, did you decide ministry is the thing for me and I wanna play music. And was there defining moments or, you know, another educator in your life who pushed you down that path? I’m, I’m curious to know more.

Brian Dunn (05:18):
Yeah, I mean, for me everything starts with family. You know, we growing up I grew up in Anne caster, Ontario, and my parents were very involved in St. Anne’s parish in Anne caster. And we were always our house was always sort of the hub of I, I I’m the youngest of seven. So being the baby, I had all these brothers and sisters that would bring home their girlfriends and boyfriend. And I sometimes didn’t know who my parents were all the time at . But it was a house that we really celebrated. So every weekend we would, you know, make sure that we had the priest over and celebrate. And faith to us was inter interlock with music and family mm-hmm . So faith, music, and family was like a big deal for us.

Brian Dunn (06:07):
So I, I kind of grew up that way. And so when, you know, starting to think about what I wanted to do for my life I always had positive role models in faith. That surrounded me always encouragement from my parish priests at my at my parish my parents many people would come to me like take time out and say, you know what? We started a youth group at our church and, and then people would say, you know what, you’re doing a, you’re doing a great job. This is, you know, you were always validated by others that when you stepped outta your comfort zone, people were like, yeah, man, like you’re doing a good job. Keep going. And people don’t realize the impact that, that has, especially on a young person that’s, you know, in a, in an age where, you know, probably having faith was not the coolest thing.

Brian Dunn (06:58):
You know, in terms of being popular, but it was important that the people you looked up to said, good job. You know, just those little words of encouragement helped. So after starting a youth group called a generation acts, you know what I invited all of my friends, I invited, I knew people that didn’t believe in God, people that were whatever they’re big smokers, whatever, like a, anybody, I was just like, guys, come out to this youth group. Like, you know, we don’t have to, you don’t have to talk about too much, but this is, you know, we would like to try to do some stuff for my church and do some volunteer, work in the community and make sure that we’re serving and helping others. And you know, what, we had ended up getting good 15 for 20 my friends together. And, and just starting, just starting to say, you know what, church begins with us.

Brian Dunn (07:44):
It begins with, it begins with who we are as leaders, and you can’t rely on other people to say, oh, come up with this idea or this idea, you know what, just come up with the idea and do it. I know you have done that too at the, you know, a lot of the things that you’ve done, Sam and you know, mean starting with the, the whole picking up trash thing. And, you know, it’s, it’s gotta be something that idea is started, but it’s also someone did someone tell you that you were doing a good job? That was a teacher? My parents. Exactly. Yeah. Like those supports that were, that were there. So from there again, like God opens doors, you Don know another person said, you know what? You would be good in chaplaincy. I didn’t even know didn’t I had one at my, at my school, but he was a brother.

Brian Dunn (08:28):
Like he was an ordained sort of ordained brother. And I’m like, you know, what am I, I, I’m just sort of like a, just like a regular guy. Well, how could I be a chaplain? And as I learned that the fact that we can to actually take courses and similar and get fully trained and educated as a chaplaincy leader and ended up getting my masters in Catholic leadership, which was something I’m that degree that master’s program was just sort of being developed as I was taking it. Nice. And, you know, it’s just, God opens doors, but you gotta take the steps. Right. Mm-hmm and the people encouraging you along the way. Just so, so important. I think also working when I worked at the sea, I O I was involved with world youth days. Okay. And world youth day, 2002 was in Toronto.

Brian Dunn (09:20):
And we played a major role in hosting people from different countries and seeing the church alive in so many ways. In Toronto, we had, we hosted pro a couple hundred people from around the world, in our diocese and the Hamilton diocese. And we were in charge of different locations and different things. So it was cool to see faith alive in those people and know that our church is universal. So other people, you know, other leaders from around the world really it’s that, that gathering. And then 2005 was Germany. We actually went to Germany, brought a delegation from Hamilton and again, an amazing when you’re being hosted across the world, you know and, and you still feel connected as a sort of that as a church, as young people who are, who are being motivated to serve our Lord.

Brian Dunn (10:12):
It’s, it’s amazing, amazing again, D people along the way, saying you’re doing a good job, you’re going the right way. Things, you know, and also your prayer life. It’s like, okay, God’s giving you those opening doors through people. And that led me to into chaplaincy where I was asked of a, fill a role for for Halton through my involvement with worldview. They saw a lot of the things that, you know, we were able to establish leadership that way, and they liked that vision. And 17 years later, I’m here at St. Francis Xavier secondary school. That’s awesome. So that’s a, yeah, it’s pretty, pretty amazing along the way.

Sam Demma (10:53):
But yeah, that’s awesome. Brian, during these times, and they’re challenging times for everyone in education, how do we continue to encourage kids and give them that tap on the shoulder? You, you mentioned earlier about, you know, trying to integrate creative ideas right now in the schools. Is there anything that’s worked out that’s been a great success or that you’ve realized maybe you we’ve shipped away the you fat and realize what’s most important about school and what’s most important about building relationships? What are some realizations or challenges you’ve you come across due to COVID?

Brian Dunn (11:28):
I think, you know, what, the challenges that we all face we have to make sure that our students know that we’re facing them as well. Don’t gloss over things and say, you know, oh, you know, well, this is, this is working so good. And, you know, it’s making me feel good. And the kids are like, what the, you know I mean, I have a son that’s in grade nine now. I’ve worked all my life, so that to build young Catholic leaders, to give opportunities for kids. And then my kid gets to grade nine and he can’t do anything. It’s like, Ugh. So it’s like, man, come on God. Like, this is, this was, I was so excited. You know, he was involved in elementary, but I’m saying, okay, so this is a challenge. This is something we are facing and we’re sort of facing together.

Brian Dunn (12:16):
But we’re going through it together. And we’re saying, listen, one day at a time, we’re gonna face this, but how can we use this as an opportunity? So I had my son come in and he was doing some filming. So we did some filming at the school for our mentees. We have a great mentorship program here at St. Francis Xavier, where the grade elevens are mentoring the grade nines. So I got ’em to come in and, and play a grade nine student asking questions, who to go to in the school. And we decided to come together to make a YouTube channel for our school, which is on our website. So we invite anybody to go to St. Xavier, Milton website and check out our YouTube channel. Right now it’s called the Knights council report where we’re reporting on all the school events.

Brian Dunn (13:05):
So it’s kind of cool, but again, what are ways, what are opportunities? What things can we do? And obviously you media, just like you’re doing Sam is the most important thing that we can do to get students involved. Whether they’re in cohort, a cohort B or cohort C everybody tunes in at 8:20 every morning for the night’s council report, where we do our morning prayer, we pray for people in our school community, especially those who are struggling or have just lost, loved ones, but we also celebrate the same of the day. And we pray as a school community. And then we move on to our Knight’s council report, where we talking about how we live out that faith through the different activities in our school. So, you know, using media is, is a big deal, but I think working together, like I know I have the opportunity to work with my son, but now we have a team of tons of students from each of those cohorts.

Brian Dunn (14:09):
So maybe not tons. So we have about, you know, 10:10 every morning that come in to run a report, they’re socially distanced. Everybody comes in, you know, do the things that they have to do, but sees the opportunity to put on a great show every morning. And so if, if there are leaders out there that want to know a little bit more about what it is to put on a show like that, I’d be happy to happy to, to help I’m learning as well. We, we fortunately have a great teacher here. Who’s running the I C T Chi. Who’s also involved with our Knight’s council. And he is helping sort of set up all this technical stuff as well. So again, you have that adult in your life that can help you through it, but the students you know, is providing opportunities for them to step out of their comfort zone, to to come up with something new.

Sam Demma (15:01):
That’s amazing. And because we’re listening audio and you’re listening audio, you obviously don’t see Brian, but he has a professional microphone set up in front of him and he was playing his guitar for, and I promise you, he taught me a couple things about tech and I’m 21 years old.

Brian Dunn (15:16):
There’s, I’m a little older than 21. We won’t mention. Yeah.

Sam Demma (15:22):
But maybe you can outline very, basically the pieces of software you used to run that live show because you live, stream it on YouTube and it’s, it’s a pretty cool production. Like, what are the pieces of software involved if someone else was curious? Yeah,

Brian Dunn (15:36):
Well, the technical initially when COVID hit I had to sort of go right from my downstairs and the darkness of my downstairs, because we were all at home, right. It so was like, how are we gonna reach, what the heck are we gonna do here? So I looked around around, and I use stream yard streamy yard as just a basic tool to it’s a free software for that they use. They obviously would want you to pay money if you want to go and keep using it for long periods of time, just like zoom and different things. But stream yard is actually a very good if you just have yourself and you need to get your message out there it’s fairly easy to set up and it is you can actually it has the sort of software loaded into the program already.

Brian Dunn (16:27):
So if you wanted to put your announcements, it will scroll across the bottom or cool. If you want to have your, a, a name tag at the bottom left, it’ll have those as well. So it’s, it’s good for if, you know if you need just a, if you don’t have a team, I’m fortunate. I have a, I have an I C T I have AHI students here and also an awesome nights council that everybody steps up to learn. But if you don’t have that, that would be your go-to. Now the show that we run in the morning, and I’ll have to guide you to to Mr. Kova, who is who’s running, the technical aspects of the show. Just like, you know, any other show, there’s a director, there’s the switcher, there’s the, we have about six screens that are going on and we can now go live on location.

Brian Dunn (17:10):
Like our remembrance day, we’re gonna go live on location and do like, you know maybe we’ll go to the Sanita in Milton and you know, it’s, it’s just, it’s, it’s really cool. It’s like, well, we’re outside, we’re following the rules and we’re doing everything that we can do. So yeah, if you wanted specifics to make up like a huge production then I I’ll, I’ll guide you just you can just email me and I can guide did a to co backs, but if you’re willing to be on camera and you’re willing to just do that, I would refer you to streamy yard just to to do basic streaming. And then the actual YouTube channel in itself is through your Gmail. If you have a Gmail account, just make one and then just go right through your YouTube, your own YouTube account.

Sam Demma (17:58):
That’s awesome. There’s a lot of educators listening as well, who, you know, are hesitant to do events this year. You know, it’s very confusing. You don’t, they don’t, we don’t know what’s going on. Here’s someone who’s put on an event. I was lucky enough and UN honored to speak at it. What would you say to other schools and other educators who think that, you know, we shouldn’t do any events this year, do you think it was a positive experience for your students? Should, should schools still strive to do some sort of events? What are your thoughts and opinions on that?

Brian Dunn (18:27):
Oh my goodness. Well, I think it starts, yeah, I, I think, oh my goodness. I can’t believe this. Oh my goodness. Yes, of course you should be putting on events. It’s, you know, we we’ve built and I know everyone else feels frustrated. I think in terms of you’ve built up all these events, especially schools that have been around forever traditions and, and you know, we’ve always focused on liturgical year for us chaplains and certain things that we’ve sort of built up. And there’s certain expectations to come to school and say, Nope, sorry, like we’re, you know, we, we, we can’t do anything, you know, everything shut down. That’s, that’s just wrong. It’s just, how do we adapt? Are we, how are we people that adapt? And as people of faith we, we have always been taught to adapt to the signs of the times.

Brian Dunn (19:19):
That’s our call. As Christians as Catholics. We, we look at the signs of the times and react. He’s like Jesus did when he was around. And the answers are not always with us. Actually, the answers are never really with us. They come through the holy spirit, working through our students, our staff, using the gifts and talents of our students and staff and our administration and, and coming together as a team to say, how are we going to face this together? As a school community if people are working in silos, it never works. But once we sort of extend it and say, okay, listen, we’re gonna do a show. It’s gonna concentrate on everything that the school is doing. It’s gonna focus on us coming together, but also there’s gonna be a virtual conference coming up and we’re going to, to have different speakers and Sam’s gonna be one of our speakers.

Brian Dunn (20:15):
And Mr. Dunn’s gonna be one of our speakers, and we’re gonna pull in a graduate student that’s sitting in you know, doing the same thing from home because they can’t go to to their university that they’re in. And we’re also gonna call in another Catholic leader in the community to see how they’re, you know, facing it. And we’ll, we’re just gonna have a, a short question answer, period. And you know, there, if, if you dare to dream, it, it can happen. It’s just getting those people in place that can help it move forward. So don’t stop, don’t stop believe don’t stop believing that it can happen. Right. I think people are too quick to say, ah, I can never, we are, are you really, are you serious? And, and that’s where we say Uhuh, like the holy spirit is bigger than anything that we can ever do. So that’s when we sit and whether whatever way we pray, whatever way we gotta figure out our vision and purpose, we say, God, if it is your will, it will happen. And please bring the people to me that we need. And if it’s not your will it, ain’t gonna, it’s not gonna happen. This isn’t gonna happen. That’s okay. And then you move to the next thing and, you know, we, listen, you see the spirit working and yeah, it’s, it’s, it’s amazing.

Sam Demma (21:31):
And what has been the student response to the events you guys have put on so far? Because I know like one big worries that the students aren’t gonna get as much out of it, have the students expressed interest that they like it. They want to keep doing stuff like that, or have they, have they said, you know, was good, but we don’t really wanna do again. well,

Brian Dunn (21:48):
The, from the mentorship the being mentors right now, it’s really important because they are connecting with the grade nines and any type of motivation that they can get. That’s targeting a specific group of people doing a specific purpose. Of course. I think for the mentors, you know, hearing your talk, hearing a little bit of leadership from the Knight’s council report having a mentorship minute where now that’s a part of the show right now our Knight’s council report where they they’re doing a mentorship minute, how can we help our grade nine? So they’re gonna do tips. They’re gonna do you know, just maybe some body mind and spirit things to help them, you know, just to know that we there’s someone that cares about you in our community. And, and that’s important as well. So yeah, I think they are wanting it.

Brian Dunn (22:44):
I’ve had many requests for the students to become hosts on the show. Everybody wants to be a . Everybody wants to be a stop yeah, no, but which is okay, which is good. I mean, it’s like, you wanna be, so we have so if you’re trying to organize, now, who’s gonna host the show and if you’re gonna have the joke of the day and you know, what do you bring? Like, you know, it’s like the church, what do you bring to the table? And you are called, we’re all called to the table table of the Lord. So it’s, it’s, it’s, it’s, it’s what gifts and talents do you bring as, as followers of Christ? So, yeah, it’s and even if you’re, and even in our school, it’s in particular, we’re very multicultural multi-faced school. So in whatever way that you follow that call from God that personal, all that you have, am I giving you that opportunity to do it? And I think within our school’s foundation to accept, to include and to serve, we, we do that. We, we provide an opportunity for every student to be a student of service with love, and that’s their talent. Yeah. If that’s their talent, then Hey, come on in. Yeah, come on in or sign up for one of our six different, you know, subgroups that we have that you have interest in. And they all have to do with serving either our community in school or outside community.

Sam Demma (24:02):
Amazing. No, I love that so much. That’s, that’s great. You know, it, it’s good to just spread awareness and let everyone know, you know, this stuff is still possible. You might have to just get really creative this year. You might fall on your face a few times, throw speed against the wall. And some of it not stick.

Brian Dunn (24:16):
But oh yeah. Oh, it it’s been, yeah. The, this morning it was chaotic, you know, things don’t work, you have to put up the, they have a technical difficult screen or whatever, you know, like it’s just like, we, we all wish we could throw that screen up when we’re making our three mistakes per day, I think isn’t it three mistakes per day. You’re supposed to make. I’m pretty sure something like that. I make way more than that. That’s for sure. Yeah. But no, it’s, it’s amazing to feel part of a team. Again, it’s a team aspect and people coming together for a common purpose that we’re missing in this, you know, it’s, you know, every day we sort of are hearing these down things about pandemic and how we’re not doing things and not doing things. It’s like, all right, stop. We’ll cut the things we’re not doing, but we will do all, all offense, I think all offense and no defense that, so that was what Mr. Mr. Kovas who’s running the Knights council report. He said, we’re doing all offense and no defense. So that’s pretty cool.

Sam Demma (25:14):
I love that. And if there’s other, you know, there are other educators listening who right now might be feeling a little bit burnt out. And I would say one, this has been a great interview. No one has actually sang live before. So they better be feeling better just because of your music . And in the case that they’re still a little burnt out. If you could, you know, take the wisdom you’ve accumulated over the past 18 or 17 years teaching in this, in this work, in this calling what pieces of advice, knowing what, you know now could you give to other educators who are, you know, willing right now? I just need some words of advice from her friend.

Brian Dunn (25:50):
I would say like exactly what my, my dad has always, and my family’s always taught me. Mm. Is truly to keep the faith and a sense of humor. And God will look after the rest and for all of the us his seven children and all, I have 27 nieces and nephews from all my brothers and sisters and stuff. Oh. We’ve always said that keeping the faith in a sense of humor, no matter what’s going on in the world is important. So to be able to laugh every day, find things that that make you laugh. And usually it comes from humility and being able to laugh at yourself. yeah, because honestly it is that it’s so freeing to be able to think you don’t have the answers. I don’t have the answers in my job as chaplain. I, I deal with a lot of sad things.

Brian Dunn (26:48):
A lot of the time in terms of bereavement or different things that we’re praying for in our community and counseling kids are not necessarily sort of pastoral counseling for kids that are going through stuff and working together. Sometimes in that we, you have to have a perspective of faith and a sense of humor and give those things over to God that we can’t handle. Hmm. We, this virus, we can’t handle it. You know, we, we, we have to just do what we’re told, but we can give our frustrations. We can give all of those things that are making us unhappy over to God. And that’s the, the victory of the cross is the fact that we don’t have to deal with it. God has conquered fear. God has conquered death. We are good. He’s already fought that fight. Our job is to let the holy spirit work through us now so that we can bring that hope to others.

Brian Dunn (27:40):
And unless we have the hope, we are not giving it to others. So we pray every day for that hope. I pray every day that the spirit can work through me and work through everyone that I touch. Every day in terms of Knight’s council report, what’s going out our, our, our, our Knight’s council and itself. And just coming up with ideas that will hopefully resonate with our students here at StFX and the staff as well in supporting them. So, yeah. Oh, look, someone’s calling right now. I love that. that’s OK. That’s awesome. Maybe it’s God calling maybe it’s God calling you.

Sam Demma (28:21):
If, if an educator listening wants to reach out, just have a conversation with you, bounce ideas around, share some hopeful energy, what would be the best way for them to do so?

Brian Dunn (28:31):
I would love to hear from anyone. Yeah. . I’d love to hear from anyone, especially the person that’s calling me on the phone right now. they really want to talk to me. It’s like the 12th ring. Yeah, if you could just, you could email me I work for the Halton catholic district school board, and I think it’s dunnb@hcdsb.org. It’s probably the best way. That’s my work email and it’s St. Francis Xavier school in Milton. So we also on our website just check that out. And you can also check out the Knight’s council report, which is on there as well. If you are looking for some ideas and I’d be happy to help anybody that was thinking of just doing something a little different and we can also brainstorm, I’m sure you could teach me a few things as well.

Sam Demma (29:16):
Cool. And I’m gonna put you on the spot here. Do you wanna close this off of the song? Yes, I do. All right, let’s go for it

Brian Dunn (29:25):
Now, this song I’m just gonna end with I picked ordinary day at the beginning, but I don’t know how much time we have or whatever, but this song is it’s brought me through a really cool journey. A journey of faith. I talked a little bit about, you know, what called me to serve others but also throughout my life when I was a lot younger, I was, I was sick with Crohn’s disease and went through many surgeries, many surgeries that sort of built up sort of my physical and spiritual life after that. So this was a song that we sang all the way through it that sort of helped keep perspective. So it goes like this, Laughing, all that easy. I can testify too. There it’s been up and down and round and round to get to where I’m at. You could see how I live in this old car ride drive. Well, you probably wonder and even wonder why even wanna stay alive, but gimme one more shot. I’ll give it all. I got, let me open my eyes to a new sunrise upbringing. Give me one more chance. I’ll learn the day dance hum is five to be alive. Gimme one more day.

Brian Dunn (31:08):
There’s a little verse of it. That’s by Alabama. And the whole song goes on to continue to say, Hey, we all get one more shot every day we wake up. And when we have the grace of God with us, we act with, for faith and love and sense of humor. Keep the faith in a sense of humor. What else can we do? That’s it. We gotta keep moving and hopefully, hopefully been a little bit of inspiration to your listeners and feel free to, yeah. Feel free to contact me at any time.

Sam Demma (31:38):
Brian, thanks so much for coming on the show, playing some music, sharing some stories. It’s been a great conversation. I really appreciate it. Okay. This is crazy. We’re coming back on for one quick second, because we figured out why Brian’s phone was ringing 12 times during the episode. And I wanted him to share real quick.

Brian Dunn (31:54):
Okay. So here, like here’s me thinking I’m really super important. Eh, it’s ah, you know, it’s like the backbones go on. I’m gonna have to go do something. And then I’m like, okay, we’ll just let it go. And then our amazing custodial staff come over because last week I had mentioned, I don’t even know what did I say? I think it was something like, oh, it’d be great if you know I don’t know, I got a coffee, whatever. I, I was hard being sarcastic. Of course they were listening to me and after, and they, they call me down and they had this, beautiful Starbucks coffee that’s right in front of me. That was just a, just a, just a little thing that totally just made my day after babbling on for, for Sam’s podcast. But you know what amazing. It’s just amazing. When people just are stepping out of their comfort zone, just helping, helping their, their, their chaplain here. But we have such a great community and I’m just so so blessed and you know what? The coffee doesn’t hurt either. Man, this is amazing. Amazing. Thank you guys. I love you. Love you guys.

Sam Demma (33:00):
Cool. And there you have it. The full interview with my good friend, Brian Dunn, if you didn’t take anything away from this episode, I hope you at least enjoyed the music during the intro and the outro. He’s a very talented person. If you wanna reach out, please do. He’d love to hear from you. And as always, if you’re learning something from the these episodes and you’re loving the content, please consider leaving a rating and review so that more high performing educators, just like you find this show and can benefit from it. And if you yourself have inspiring ideas or insightful stories that you’d like to share, shoot us an email at info@samdemma.com and we’ll get you on the show anyways. I’ll see you on the next episode talk soon. Okay.

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Mike Loudfoot – Former Educator with over 30 years of experience.

Mike Loudfoot - Former educator with over 30 years of experience.
About Mike Loudfoot

Simply put, Mike Loudfoot is the teacher that changed my life as a high school student and young man. When I think about my experience as a student, it was teachers like Mike that made it worthwhile. He saw through my identity as an athlete and made personal connections with every student in his classroom.

His passion in our class rubbed off on me and helped me overcome one of the toughest personal periods of my high school experience. Hundreds of graduates from our high school quote Loudfoot as their favourite and most impactful teacher. In this episode, we dive a little deeper into his personal principles and values when it comes to education and life.

Connect with Mike: Email

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Tom and Huck (movie)

Paul’s Road to Damascus Conversion Story Summary

Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP)

William Wilberforce (abolitionist)

Slavery by Another Name (documentary)

Cornel West – American philosopher

Speech for Mike
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. This interview today with Michael Loudfoot has to be one of my favorites. Simply put, Mike was the teacher in high school who made the largest impact on me. He was the educator who made a personal connection and was so passionate about his material that passion rubbed off on all the students in his classroom.

Sam Demma (01:05):
He was one of the teachers I had who built personal relationships with every single student and saw me not only as Sam, the soccer player, but more importantly as Sam, the human being. When I think back to high school, Mike is the educator and teacher in my experience that made it worthwhile, that made a massive impact. That forced me to stay curious. That encouraged me to stay curious. And I’m so glad that I was able to sit down with Mike on today’s interview and dive a little deeper into his personal principles and values. When it comes to education in life, he was an educator for over 30 years, years did so much philanthropic work while he was in school as a teacher. And now also outside of school. Anyway, I hope you enjoy this interview with Mike Loudfoot, and I will see you on the other side.

Sam Demma (01:54):
Mike welcome to the high performing educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here today. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself off to educators who might be listening?

Mike Loudfoot (02:05):
Well, I taught for 31 years at St. Mary and in Pickering and I retired recently about three years ago and I, I missed the teaching. I loved teaching kids and young adults and I don’t miss all the other things with teaching the marking and all the other things that go along with that. But I, I do miss teaching. I’ve always been a pursuer of knowledge and that what a great venue teaching was for that.

Sam Demma (02:39):
Where did that desire begin for you not only to teach, but also to continue pursuing knowledge and information?

Mike Loudfoot (02:47):
Well, I, I, I think that the, the issue if, if someone’s thinking about going into teaching, I mean, it’s a tough road, a hole right now, but things change, but I think that you, you have to have a curiosity about about everything. And I think without curiosity, I don’t think you, you make a very good teacher because you being cur curious pushes you forward. And because you’re curious, you you’re, you enjoy your work. And if you’re curious and you enjoy your work, that will transpire into the classroom. So that’s really the issue is that teachers by their very nature need to want to find out about things, right? They, you can’t get stale. I, I mean, I, I re even my last year I was researching right up to the end. Right. Because it it’s just a, it’s a passion. Right. It’s and that’s real and, and not a passion as a, as a cliche. Yeah. A passion as in this is what is a big part of, of your identity, right? Not that teaching was a big part of my identity. I’m, I’m fine not teaching, but the while you’re teaching or while you’re doing a job, same as now, I’ve done other, I’m doing other things. Right. So whatever you’re trying to do, you should try and, and master that while you’re doing it. Right.

Sam Demma (04:18):
Yeah. Well, where, where curiosity come from? Like did, were you just a curious person growing up, or at some point in your own journey, did you start really exploring things?

Mike Loudfoot (04:28):
I grew up pretty poor. But but my parents, I mean, I, I never lacked for food or clothing or anything, but we had, there was nothing, there was no extra money or anything. So I was essentially feral. And it was a time period where you didn’t lock your doors and, you know, you left in the morning and as long as you came back for supper, things were good. So, so I was able to, to explore things, right. And I, I, I attune my, my early childhood to sort of H Tom Sawyer and Huck fin existence. I was, I was camping and fishing and hunting and exploring and riding my bicycle. And I had a group of other there there’s, there could be another issue is, is that your peer, you, you, you tend to, you know, travel with the peer group there like you, right.

Mike Loudfoot (05:22):
Mm. So, you know, we were all sort of didn’t, didn’t do well in school. No, I might add, didn’t have time for school, which was kind of interesting. So the, the, the, what I got out of a lot of it was the formal regimented education system that exists to day and was even more in existence when I went through was not something that I was going to bring to the classroom, because I didn’t like it. So, I mean, obviously if I don’t like it, why would they like it? So so that’s sort of the curiosity and a little unconventional teaching mixed up with some curiosity. And that’s, that’s sort of where I ended up where I was on it, but it, but it, but it took years, right. It wasn’t it wasn’t a, all of a sudden I had an epiphany and it, it was trial and error over as we’ve talked about many times, it’s, you know, small, incremental changes over, it took 30 years, right.

Mike Loudfoot (06:24):
To, to develop a, I, I think that probably, if you are trying to make an impact with the kids and enjoy your teaching profession I think it takes five years to learn how to sort of manage a classroom so you can get some teaching done. I think it’s even harder now. I think it takes about five more years to learn the material at some basic level. And then after that, then it’s a constant refinement, right. And by the time you get to 20, 20 years, you’re start to get into the realm of, if you haven’t figured it out and haven’t mastered it, you’re not going to, it probably wasn’t, wasn’t a profession that you should have picked.

Sam Demma (07:06):
So, so what you’re saying is, you know, you, weren’t on the road to Damascus and then got struck by some lightning. Figured it out.

Mike Loudfoot (07:14):
There was no road to Damascus. There was a long fall. And, and it wasn’t, it wasn’t always,uyou know, I’m going to do this. There was times when it was like, what am I, what in the well, world of sports am I doing here? Right. Yeah. Like, this is,uI I’m gonna, I had other options I I’d done. Oh, there’s the other thing I’d done. Lots of other things too. And I think that’s important for teachers that they don’t go. They try not to go directly from teachers college, into teaching. I, I,uI was a, an army officer. UI,uso I had traveled all across Canada. UI had a pilot’s license. UI worked on the railway for three years. I traveled across Canada doing well, Ontario anyway. And,uI owned a farm. I owned several small businesses. So by the time I had got to teaching, I had lots of life experiences that I think,uyou know, helped me understand some of the, where some of the kids were coming from. Cause not every kid’s coming from this same spot. Right.

Sam Demma (08:21):
Yeah. Oh, I like that. And you mentioned that growing up, you know, you didn’t have you and your buddies didn’t have time for school and not so much because you didn’t have the time, but because you didn’t like it. Can you tell me more about, you know, the system that used to exist and the elements of it that still exists now that you think need to be changed?

Mike Loudfoot (08:37):
Yeah. well, the, the issue you, I think to a certain extent is I dunno that the system has, it isn’t as regimented as it was when I was, when I went through it. There’s no doubt about that. I’m not, as you know, I, I, wasn’t a big proponent of showing up on time, as long as you got there. And, you know, if you’re in sort of a uniform and long as you didn’t talk, well, I was trying to teach, I really, you could eat in the classroom. So I wasn’t all concerned about those small things. Whereas when I went to school, those small things where, where where’s as important as the, the topic. But the, I think the, the issue is, is that unfortunately, because of the way the, the EDU the post secondary education system works and the, the, the debt load that the poor kids are under they, they don’t get the full benefit of their education.

Mike Loudfoot (09:43):
They, they have other worries, which, which I didn’t have other worries of. I mean, we were poor, but I got massive OSAP grants. Right. So it was a structural thing. So I didn’t have a, a financial issue you, in terms of, you know, how am I gonna pay off my student debt when I finished, I didn’t have any student debt. So and I think that by not having that student debt, I was able to concentrate on my studies mm-hmm and make myself a better teacher. So when I arrived, I had already a, a good, solid background of the subject matter that I was going to teach, rather than just getting there. And then, well, where’s the textbook, right. And then just teaching out the textbook. I mean, most of the time the textbooks are not correct anyway. And, and if you’re gonna use, that’s gonna be your main teaching mechanism, it’s gonna run, you know, it’s gonna get scaled pretty quick.

Mike Loudfoot (10:41):
So, so that, that, you know, I grew up in a different time period. So it was a different, different way of, of getting to the end point. But so having said that, I mean, what I’m asked, what I’m saying is that you’re, you’re actually going to have to change structural systems in, in the education system to make it so that you don’t leave any child behind. So it doesn’t just become a cliche. Right. Because it’s simply a cliche right now, so, yeah. But got it. I encourage your readers or your readers, your your viewers, if they’re interested in, in alternative method, it’s teaching. If they look up Finland’s method Finland finish contrary to, to, you know, urban legend it isn’t Singapore and, and Hong Kong and Taiwan, and all them end up first in international studies. Sometimes they do, but more often not it’s Finland and it get reported much because of the way the fins set up their education system.

Mike Loudfoot (11:41):
But just to give you an idea of how important it is, they, they don’t degrade their teachers the way our society does. So one of the problems nowadays is like, when I went into teaching, there were teachers that, oh my goodness, that I think back to some of the teachers that, that mentored me, there’s another thing too, you know, I didn’t mention, cause it wasn’t all me that’s for sure. They were just fantastic teachers and and they went into teaching because it was an honorable profession and they could support a middle class family and they weren’t destroyed in the media. And so nowadays it’s in a lot of cases, it becomes a secondary job or a default job. Right. It wasn’t for me. But I think that’s so in Finland teachers you have to have a master’s degree, but they’re, they’re treated like at the same levels as a doctor.

Mike Loudfoot (12:31):
Mm. There’s two teachers in each classroom and then classes are limited to 20. And I mean, I’ve had experience with finished kids. My, my kids played hockey and we had finished kids stay over at our place. And I mean, their, their maturity level compared to my kids are pretty, pretty mature. And the other Canadian hockey kids were, there was no comparison. They, they, and they could speak three or four languages. So, wow. How is it that they can speak three or four languages and know more about the world than our kids do well, that that’s, so that’s where the curiosity comes in. Right. When you see something, you don’t understand something, you say, well, maybe that to be researched. And and so I would encourage them to, to research the, some really good videos on YouTube videos on Phil’s education system.

Sam Demma (13:25):
Well, that’s awesome. Thanks so much for sharing that. I’ll, I’ll definitely drop a link in the show notes of the episode where people can check it out. And now you’ve made me curious to go check it out as well, because I wanna speak for images

Mike Loudfoot (13:35):
Well, I mean, who wouldn’t. Right. So I can’t, but you know, that’s part of spending your, your youth as a Tom Sawyer, H fin and not studying. Right.

Sam Demma (13:45):
Yep. That, that makes sense.

Mike Loudfoot (13:46):
I’ve never met anybody that ever said to me, you know, in, in the, whatever are hundreds or thousands of parent teacher interviews or kids that have returned, not one person has said to me, you know, I wish I had worked less hard in high school. Mm. Not one everyone says, you know, I, I should have, I should have given it a better effort. So yeah. Maybe there’s some truth in that. So

Sam Demma (14:07):
Very true. So,uyou know, you were someone who left a huge impact on people in the same Mary school. And I, I believe there’s still people, like I had someone reach out to me, I think maybe 10, 15 weeks ago saying, Hey, do you have Mike Loudfoot contact information, saw a post. He put on Facebook. I like to reach out to him and, you know, tell him,uhow much he had an impact on me. And it was like a 40 year old man.

Mike Loudfoot (14:34):
Young man, who’s a 40 year old man. He actually came out to the farm. He, we, we had a little nice little chat on the, on the front porch, so that’s awesome. Yeah. And he’s doing fantastic and looked happy and he’s, he’s a teacher in Toronto and yeah, it was a great, so thanks for that. That was a great that was a, a nice little nugget to get through the week. It was, was wonderful to, to, to talk with him.

Sam Demma (14:59):
So that’s so cool. He’s probably, I’m probably aging him. I don’t know if he’s 40, but , he was, he’s getting up there. Yeah.

Mike Loudfoot (15:07):
I, I think he’s, I think he said he was 38, so, okay,

Sam Demma (15:10):
Nice. But yeah, it, it it’s like, it seems like you’ve built throughout your time teaching dozens of really deep relationships. And I’m curious to know what your perspective is on how educators can build deeper relationships in the classroom and how you did it as a teacher as well.

Mike Loudfoot (15:27):
Well one of the things that, that I, I, I did do which I think was, was critical, was I used to sit in on the classes of senior teachers. So what I would do is, so as in all things you know, groups of people talk, right. So I would, I would, I would listen to the kids talk and, and, you know, can’t stand going to that one’s class, or really love that one’s class. Well, the ones that they really loved, I asked permission if I could sit in on their classes. So during if I had a a spare and I, I didn’t have any marking, I did the marking at home or whatever it was, I would go and sit in on their class. So my, my learning curve went, oh, so that’s how you deal with kids. Oh, so that’s how, so it’s a learned behavior, right?

Mike Loudfoot (16:20):
So I’d almo I had basically on my own stumbled into a mentor system. Right. But it was a, it was a real mentor system. So I sat in on, on I can think of three incredible master teachers and and, and, and just sat back and listened to them. I didn’t, I didn’t interfere. I didn’t, you know, I just sat and listened to them and I, and observed how they, they handled their class, how they taught their lessons, how they did this. And, and then afterwards, because I’d shown an interest and there’s the curiosity part. Again, they were, they, they, they would sit down with me and say, well, this is why I did this. And this is why I handled this. And so actually I was getting mentored while I was working. Right. I was doing it on my own accord. I didn’t do it because someone told me to do it.

Mike Loudfoot (17:08):
Right. So I think that had a huge impact on, on how you, yeah. You know, you know, someone’s got 25 years experience in, or, you know, getting close to 30, cuz these people were towards the end of their careers. And I had five years and well, what’s there not to learn. Right. I mean, you, I remember one guy was just incredible. And some of your, some of your yours would know Mr. Fo Jim fo. And I learned so much from him sitting in on his class. And and there was another thing too, is, was the system was a different system too, in the sense that he was a department head and, and he had an administrative spare. So he would actually go around to to your class if you asked him to and sit in on your class and evaluate you, but not, not as a, you know, not as a punishment, but as a you asked and I’m gonna try and help you along here.

Mike Loudfoot (18:14):
So I think those, I think those things really, really helped me develop a rapport. I call it a withitness you, you just tag go luck had it, right. You Ian go luck. He had, you knew the teachers that had it, you would go into their classroom. I, I, I mean, I, I went into go luck’s classroom a couple times or more than a couple times. And I’d just sit in the back and listen to em, because it was a pleasure to listen to, right. There was something learned, being learned there and you would go and, you know, you know, you’d go into other classes and I mean, teachers are like, anything else. There’s good doctors and bad doctors. There’s good, real estate agents and bad real estate agents. They’re all, all the same. And you’d go into other classrooms. And you could tell that there wasn’t a lot of learning taking place there. Right. So, and there was no curiosity. They were just going through the motions of learning. Well, I didn’t wanna be like that. That’s all that makes a really long day. My, my days just flew by like, yeah, yeah. The day, just once, once your feet hit the ground, you were running to the end and it was a good day.

Sam Demma (19:24):
So, you know, speaking of being curious, not only were you curious in the material and curious, and because me a better teacher, but I think you showed equal amounts of curiosity towards the kids that are in your class and how that showed up. How I remember it as one of your students was like, you would teach a lesson and then you would stop at the end and say, Hey, kaon because you wanna be a fashion designer. This, this lesson for you means X and Hey Sam, because you’re an athlete, this for you could mean X and you would kinda like take the material and personalize it to the students. I’m curious to know more about that. And, and when did you start doing that in your teaching practice and, and why?

Mike Loudfoot (20:03):
Well, again, I, I noticed it with the peer teachers that I had. Right. That that’s the way they operated. Yeah, you, you have to, you have to know your audience in the same way. When, when you do presentations, right. You’re doing presentations to an elementary school. You can’t do the same methodology as you’re going to do to a business group. If you’re doing it to a business group, right. One size doesn’t fit all. And the other thing that I learned probably, oh, I don’t know, about 10 years in. I don’t remember exactly, but anyway, I was teaching history and I had, I had some black kids in the class and some Filipino kids in class and afterwards they said, is there any, any other history besides white history? And I said what are you talking about? And they said, well, there’s gotta be more history than just white history.

Mike Loudfoot (21:00):
Cause this doesn’t speak to me at all. Yeah. Kind of ticked off, you know, I had really thrown lot into this and I went home. I started thinking about it and the more I thought more, I thought, you know what, they’re right. So it’s not a white world. Sorry, tell you that. It’s run by white people currently in a lot of places, but it’s not a white world. And so there, there is a massive, so that, that was the, that was the, so it’s the questions that get asked. Well, what does that kid mean? That, that it’s you know, this, this, history’s not speaking to me, what does that mean? Well, maybe you better look into it Loudfoot. So I did, I started looking into it and, and, and I don’t that you remember, but, you know, I, I taught you know, if it was a Filipino class, if there’s a lot of Filipino kids in there, I taught Spanish American, the warns, you know, the Spanish American war the Philippines, if there was black kids, there’s a lot of black or some black kids in the class didn’t even whether it was one.

Mike Loudfoot (22:10):
Yep. You know, you gotta hit that kid. So, you know, I, I spent you know, I don’t really, whether you remember, but you know the abolishment of slavery and William yeah. William Wilberforce, and then you bring it right up to date cuz it’s, you know, that’s in the past. And then, you know, there was a great documentary called slavery by another name. Right. Which brings you sort of up to where we are now. And that’s all you can do. You can just sort of, you’re like a farmer you’re sort of throwing the feed out and the ones that want to eat will eat and you try and make the feed as tasty as possible. And the ones that don’t well is just not their to, so, so you have to you have to know your audience and and that, that was one of the great things about teaching at St.

Mike Loudfoot (22:58):
Mary, was it wasn’t you know, it wasn’t a white, only school and it, well, it, it was in terms of most of the curriculum, but there was, there was to expand that curriculum. And so I tried right. For, for the limited abilities that I had. I, I don’t believe in boutique liberalism. I’ll give you a perfect example. So, you know, the other day they had the truth in reconciliation commission or the day, right. Which is fantastic. I, that’s not the boutique liberalism and everybody’s to wear orange. Well, all that’s going on. The federal, government’s still trying to block, you know, payments to Aboriginal children that were abuse under the foster care system. I, I mean, I don’t even know how you, you can even go in front of a, a microphone and say tomorrow is the truth and reconciliation day. And then this thing is in the news.

Mike Loudfoot (24:02):
Yeah. It’s again, it’s boutique liberalism where I’m looking through the window and, and nothing’s really getting done. So I, I think that, that, so to that end one of the things I really tried to concentrate on in my own learning was learning, learning economics. And because without learning, without the a foundation of economics, you’re not gonna cause much change in the sense of, of like structural change. I mean, you cause small incremental changes, which are important, but if you want massive change to happen, you have to get, you have to have an informed population and, and, you know, simple things like, you know, just questions, like where does money come from? Right. How does debt work? Right. And so and then there’s, so if you just took the question of debt, for example, you know, how does debt, because that’s the big concern about everybody nowadays, student debt, like student debt’s off the charts, it it’s ridiculous.

Mike Loudfoot (24:59):
And you know, so how do, how do places like Germany and Sweden and Switzerland, Hey, you don’t have pay anything except there’s a small registration fee and here what they’re making kids pay and the states seem worse. So the question then becomes what’s debt. And you know, what is, what is money well that in order to answer that you have to awful lot of research. So that’s the, so the curiosity kicks in and then you have to prepare yourself, prepare your own back. And then when she prepare your own background, by doing your own research, then you have to figure out a methodology to impart that information to the students so that it becomes meaningful. Right. So, and then what should happen is, and this is the other thing where the society drops, the ball is, is the there’s no mentorship. So because it, because all systems that exist are only concerned about self maintenance that are concerned about making the system necessarily better.

Mike Loudfoot (25:59):
So like, like the Senate or, you know, the last election that we had, right. Doesn’t matter really who you vote for. It’s, I’ll just give you concept, just so like, I, I get a lot of people cuz I’m retired now and I have time to talk to ’em and they drop by to buy, you know, wood or whatever. And they’re their, their main concern is always money in debt. So, and I, I always say to them, there’s lots of money and they, they look at me like, what are you talking about? Right. And I said, and I tell them, but the problem is, is that it’s out of contact. It takes a long time to build up to the, so they understand ring I’m,

Mike Loudfoot (26:44):
You know, they’re prob they’ll probably call back. But anyway so like for example, the, so the debts, you know, the, the federal debts about 700 billion. So that’s from the beginning of time, right? From 1867 till now. Well the banks just banks by themselves, the top five, they have like almost 7 trillion assets. Yeah. There’s no money. All kinds of money. Yeah. Right. So to put that in perspective, you have 700 billion in debt, total debt, historically in federal government and you got 7,000 billion in assets yeah. So I think we could probably fix it if we wanted to, but in order to understand that you have to have an informed population. Right. So, so think little things like that. Cool.

Sam Demma (27:41):
And you know, I think you’re also a teacher that believed I don’t wanna say, do overs all the time, but I remember there was even essays that I handed in as a student where, you know, you would hand them out to the class and at the top it would say like, come to my desk or you put like a circle of like, talk to me, like I brought my essay over and you’re like, Sam, I think this is great, but I think you can do better. You know, wanna try, add a couple things here, there, and, and then come submit it to me again. Like, you’re you like, you know, where did that philosophy come from? And I think it helped me learn more as a student personally, but I’m curious to know where, where that started from for you and why you implemented that in your classes. Yeah.

Mike Loudfoot (28:21):
Well, most of the time when you, if the teacher doesn’t take an interest in what the student’s doing at some level, the student, certainly isn’t now just think about it just for a second. I’m making you generally well, in some courses you had, there was a prescribed essay format that you’d do, but mine, I sort of laughed it up to you what you wanted to do. So that was that’s. The first thing is the, the student should be able to pick generally with, within a certain parameters, something that they’re interested in. So again, if you’re interested in fashion, you should look at maybe the world fashion industry, right? So that something that you’re, you’re gonna do down the road, but so first off, if, if you make the, you, you allow the student to, to become interested by allowing them to pick generally their own topic, but it’s not without guardrails because when you’re 17 years old, you’re, you’re not very well informed.

Mike Loudfoot (29:22):
So that’s where an older person’s supposed to help you along. And that’s where, that’s what it, that’s what it is. An older person helps you along. Right? And so the older people in the school helped me along. So why shouldn’t I return the favor as we, as we walk through this lesson together, as we walk through this course together, right? We’re on this course, I’m not gonna use the word journey, cuz it just, that gets weird, but we’re on this course to try and arrive at some sort of understanding of the world that we live in. Right. So if I’m not interested in helping you in that journey, because language is extremely important and words are extremely important. I mean, we’re getting a lot of Orwellian language now in, in things that you know, where they, they twist the words to mean something else. Right?

Mike Loudfoot (30:18):
So if you’re not well versed in language and, and it try terms of language also, so language and writing go hand in hand, if you’re not good at that, there’s a lot of pitfalls. Forget the essay. There’s a lot of pitfalls that are going to trap you later on in life because you didn’t work your way through it. You were fooled by the profit G. That was, that was generated for you. Right? I mean, so take the, take the, the American pullout in Afghanistan, for example, look at the language, that’s surrounds that right about how many Americans lost their lives and how much money they spent. Very little knowledge and very little language about how many Afghans lost their lives. Yeah. And, and how many Afghan women lost their lives. If we’re talking about that and, and correspondingly, if we’re going to talk about Afghan women in the rights of Afghan women, what about the rights of American women?

Mike Loudfoot (31:30):
Right. So, you know, the, there, whether you’re four or against abortion that needs to be looked into, right. And, and the other thing that, that needs to be looked into, which isn’t as politicized is how on women in the United States are still only making 70 cents for every dollar and a man makes. Mm. So if we’re gonna start talking about those sorts of things, you need a very broad understanding of language and writing and, and all those things that go along with us. So it’s extremely important and tool, it’s a life tool that, you know, you carry through, you free the rest of your life. So, so that’s why I spent so much time on, on language. Right? Cause that’s the problem with another problem with our society is that because,uwe commodify everything. Everything has a, a financial attachment to it. We don’t value things that, you know, that, that we used to like music and art and, and literature.

Mike Loudfoot (32:35):
So well, how’s it going to make me any, any money? Well, when you, when you talk like that, as Cornell West said, you know, I don’t even know anything about Cornell west, but if you ever get a chance to listen to him again and shout out for Cornell west he said, well, what do we do? Well, rich kids get taught and everybody else gets tested. Mm. Right. So that’s sort of where we’re at now. So rich kids, the 1%, the 10%, whatever you want to slice it, they get taught to, to recreate the system and use the same language that their fathers and their mothers used and the rest of us get tested. So right. You get standardized tests. So we don’t learn how the system works. And so, and it’s not a difficult system to understand once you start to investigate it, but it takes an awful lot of work to, to begin that process.

Sam Demma (33:30):
Mm. Yeah. It makes sense. It makes a lot of sense. And, you know, I remember even the format of your class and the format of your teaching was very much geared towards writing and language because we would come into the classroom, you know, you would stand up, make some funny banjo noises.

Mike Loudfoot (33:50):
Yeah. We’re gonna, we’re gonna edit that out. You know? Yeah. They may wanna look up the movie deliverance, but anyway,

Sam Demma (33:58):
Okay. You know, you, you crack the couple of jokes and then, you know, without hesitation, you would jump into lecture and you would spend that hour, hour, 20 minutes. I can’t remember how long the classes even were, but you would just spend the time talking and teaching and like, you know, lecturing on a certain part of history. And the whole time you would just say, take notes. And like, you know, the whole, the whole class would fly by. I’d have like four pages of notes written. My hand was hurting and I was like, holy cow, there’s just so much writing. And I think it was the thickest binder I had in high school, but it was filled all with interesting things that made me very curious about history that made me wanna read more books and learn more about what you spoke of. And I’ll never forget the first day of class when you know, you, I think you literally said to everyone, I don’t want you to believe anything. I tell you if something makes you curious, you know, go by yourself and, you know, verify the facts. And yeah. I can see how you play such a big emphasis on writing and, and reading. And it rubbed off on me now. I love reading and I read books all the time and I think it rubbed off on a, a lot of other young people. How do we encourage those skills in youth? Is it through the way we teach or,

Mike Loudfoot (35:06):
Well, you’re doing it right now. Right? So now it’s it’s everybody’s job to, to, to do that. And and so the more people that we have encouraging other people to do that, then, then good things happen. We can’t depend on, on institutions to do things the way, the way things change are institutions are maintaining at best. That’s all they do. The way we change things is, is by you doing what you’re doing right now. So how many people will listen to this and say, you know, maybe I should find a book that I’m interested. It doesn’t even have to be a book nowadays. There’s so many books on YouTube and audio that you can just listen to stories. I mean, you can have it in the background while you’re doing something else. So this is the, this is the, the, you know, the paradox, the irony of our times is we have all this information available to us and, and, and our society’s getting it is getting more polarized and, and poor because we are not, we’re, we’re being distracted by the, by the, you know, the electric, like I used to say the electronic pollution hallucinations that are in front of us.

Mike Loudfoot (36:28):
Right. Mm-hmm, , you know, you look up things that are kind of important, like, you know, the debt ceiling or something like that. Cause the Americans are, you know, to find out about it is, and the views got, you know, I’m making this up cause it’s 700 views. And then you look out dog chasing its own tail. It’s got 7 million views. Yeah. I mean, and, and, and I, I like being entertained. Right. I, I enjoy a good joke and all that, but that shouldn’t be your go to, right. That should be something that you do as a, as a minor distraction to, you know, to, to, to bring some, some, some I don’t know, some levity to the situation. Right. But that’s, that’s where we’re at is, is we, we, we don’t incur, I mean, kids can’t even write cursive anymore. Not, not that maybe they need to, I don’t know.

Mike Loudfoot (37:26):
Maybe the technology is, is enough now that you can type, but there needs to be, I know there’s, there’s, there’s book clubs and things, but I libraries are struggling. Right. It’s maybe we’re moving into another zeitgeist. Right. But, and if we are, then, then we’re going to have to find out another way of, of getting through to the next generation so that they don’t become even more captivated by, I call this techno futilism that the, I think that’s where we’re moving to now where everything is, is essentially owned by somebody else. So this, this space that we’re in right now is owned by somebody. So it’s, it’s, we’re renting it. I think when you, I sit on the porch sometimes, and I think about my own kids who, you know, they don’t own a house, they don’t own a car. They, they have student debt.

Mike Loudfoot (38:30):
What we’ve done is the futilism part is, is the renting part, right? So the techno futilism is the, is the technology that, that they’re using to monitor us, to make money off of us, to influence our choices. That’s the techno part. And then the futilism part is simply a Ranier society where everybody’s renting everything. So just like futilism, you didn’t really own anything. You, you, you lived and you rented on the landowners estate, your crops, you worked for ’em, you, you know, you, you had to ask permission to go anywhere. I think that’s where we’re sort of at, if you think about your peer group for a second, and I don’t know your, your peer group, but do they own their own car? Do they lease it?

Sam Demma (39:16):
Most lease.

Mike Loudfoot (39:17):
Yeah. And in order to drive it, you have to have in insurance. Yep. Right. Well, that’s another rent, right. And if you do own a house, then you have to pay,uyou know, a mortgage that’s another rent. And then the insurance on the house is another rent. And if you rent a house, will obviously that’s a rent and your phone is rented and your internet connection is rented. So what actually do you actually own? Right. So those are sorts of questions that as thinking, you know, citizens, we, we need to ask ourselves, is this the direction that we want society to go in? Right. But again, that’s,uthose are structural changes that are, that require massive amounts of work to change. So, so I don’t have the answer to it, but I am aware of it, but

Sam Demma (40:07):
Yeah, that’s the first step, right. Consciousness. Yeah. Aware of it. There’s no conversation at all.

Mike Loudfoot (40:11):
Oh, well, and you have to have a background to have a conversation, right? Yeah. At some, or at least a curiosity to ask a question or two, so yeah. Yeah. So, and that’s, the other thing is too always ask lots of questions. So, so as a teacher, as a person, just, you know sometimes it’s best not to talk so much about yourself, but ask a lot of questions, the other person. Right. So, yeah. Yeah. I was, I always asked you guys questions about what you were gonna do, you know, what you were gonna do in your life and what was happening and yeah. Cause you should be interested in other human beings. That’s right.

Sam Demma (40:49):
Hopefully you are, especially as an educator.

Mike Loudfoot (40:54):
Yeah. Well,

Sam Demma (40:57):
If you could go back you taught for 31 years, you said.

Mike Loudfoot (41:01):
Yeah. Well, I, I, I taught for 30 years and then I student taught for one year. So nice.

Sam Demma (41:08):
So if you could go back, you know, travel back in time and walk into your first class, you know, what advice would you give your younger educator self?

Mike Loudfoot (41:19):
Oh, well I was a disaster my first year. Like, it was, you know, so well, first off,uwell the problem with first year teachers is,uthey’re all they’re doing is trying to keep their head above water. Yeah. I, it was you you’re working, I don’t know, 60 hours a week just to keep ahead of the kids. You’re exhausted. So I think that’s where the finished model would come into play. So they have two teachers in each classroom. And so you paired with a senior teacher, so they would help you, you know, your learning curve would go through the roof. Right. And you’re limited, they limit their classes to 40 kids to 40 that’s our system to 20 kids. Right. So there’s no, no classes are bigger than 20 kids. So you have 20 kids, two highly qualified teachers. And then,uthey have a support staff too, so yeah.

Mike Loudfoot (42:19):
Yeah. So that’s what I would, my stupid phones going off again. Okay. So the, I, I don’t know what you do for your first year, your first year is simply right. You don’t have time to do to do anything, so it just survive and then learn some things. And then, and, and then in the summertime, when you, when you get a breath, then sit back and try. And there’s the other thing too, is we had time in June, you years ago to, I used to redo all my lessons. Mm. It didn’t work. So I kept a chart of my lessons, which one? Yeah. I even did that from the first year. That was probably because of, I was in the military, but I would keep a chart and say, well, that was a disaster. And I would write down in my, my daily teaching book, I’d write down.

Mike Loudfoot (43:12):
That was a disaster you’re you? You’re an idiot or whatever. Right. It’s just, what were you thinking? Right. and,uso that we’re gonna change that lesson for sure. So I think it’s just time in, it’s just,utime in, and you, you have to change the structure so nice because, because yeah, it is your first year teaching, but it’s one of the, is that group of kids whole chunk of time for learning, you can’t just wing it. Right. Just because you’re new, what are you new? Uyou, you know, you you’re basically sacrificing those kids cause it’s a first year teacher. Right. So that could be fixed by, by implementing that, that mentor system, but that would cost more money. So we’re back to that, but there’s lots, again, there’s lots of money. It’s just that, you know,uare you gonna have a who who’s going, who’s going to, who’s gonna control the economic prosperity. Is it going to be,uthe risk rich that control it? Or is it going to be the citizens that control it? Well, I think it should be the citizens, but I know that’s crazy talk.

Sam Demma (44:27):
I feel like I’m, I feel like I’m back in your class. Yeah.

Mike Loudfoot (44:30):
I’m not, I haven’t changed that much. I’ve gotten older looking, but I, you know, I’m still what I am.

Sam Demma (44:35):
When, when you ran over there to turn off your phone, the first time, just outta curiosity, is that phone, is that phone with a cord stuck to the wall?

Mike Loudfoot (44:42):
Well, I have two phones, so the first one was the landline and and the other one was my cell phone that went off. Nice.

Sam Demma (44:50):
That’s funny. Awesome. That’s funny. Yeah.

Mike Loudfoot (44:54):
Well the landline, right? So when everything goes bad, I still got landline. , That’s awesome.

Sam Demma (45:01):
Mike, if, if an educator’s listening and, you know, feels inspired by this at all, or curious, and might have a question for you, if you do have the time, what would be the best way for them to reach out and shoot you a question?

Mike Loudfoot (45:12):
Slap down a hundred dollars. No thank you. Get one in, had to get one in before the end. Um, they can contact me at mikeloudfoot@hotmail.com. And, I don’t mind having to chat.

Sam Demma (45:34):
Awesome. All right, Mike, thank you so much for taking some time to chat on the show and share some of your experience and philosophies really appreciate it. Keep up the great work in retirement and if it’s if it’s even if you can even call it that and yeah. Well, we’ll, we’ll talk soon.

Mike Loudfoot (45:52):
Thanks Sam. Thanks for having me and, and God bless.

Sam Demma (45:55):
And there you have it. Another amazing guest, an amazing interview on the high performing educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review. So other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of this show. If you want to meet the guest on today’s episode, if you wanna meet any of the guests that we have interviewed, consider going to www.highperformingeducator.com and signing up to join the exclusive network, you’ll have access to networking events throughout 2021 and other special opportunities. And I promise I will not fill your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

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