Student Success

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

Mike 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.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Mike

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.

Tom D’Amico – Director of Education with the Ottawa Catholic School Board

Tom D’Amico - Director of Education with the Ottawa Catholic School Board
About Tom D’Amico

Tom D’Amico (@TDOttawa) is the Director of Education with the Ottawa Catholic School Board. He has over 31 years of experience in education and has had many roles including as a teacher, school administrator and as Superintendent of Human Resources and Superintendent of Learning Technologies and as the Associate Director of Education.

An award-winning educator he has been recognized with the Prime Minister’s Award for teaching excellence and with Canada’s Outstanding Principal award. As a Superintendent he received the EXL award to recognize excellence among members of the superintendency.

He has presented across Canada on the topics of educational technology and leadership in the 21st Century. Tom is the Canadian co-lead for New Pedagogies for Deep Learning (NPDL), a global partnership of over 1500 schools across 12 countries focused on practices to develop deep learning and the development of global competencies.

In addition to his educational qualifications, he holds an Osgoode certificate in education law; a workplace mental health leadership certificate, diversity and inclusive management certificate, an executive certificate in conflict management with a focus on alternative dispute resolution, and safe schools certification.

Tom is an off-ice official with the NHL and prior to his career in education was the general manager of Ottawa’s professional soccer team, The Ottawa Intrepid, and also spent time as the general manager of Malkam Cross-Cultural Training, a provider of cross-cultural communication, diversity and employment equity training.

“I believe in the empowerment of youth and their ability to make our world a better place, especially through the use of social learning and technology in a connected global society”.

Connect with Tom: Email | Twitter | Linkedin

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

New Pedagogies for Deep Learning

Trauma-Informed Teaching

Ottawa Catholic School Board

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):
Welcome back to another episode of the high-performing educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest is Tom D’Amico. Tom is the director of education with the Ottawa Catholic school board. He has over 31 years of experience in education and has had many roles including being a teacher school administrator, a superintendent of human resources and superintendent of learning technology.

Sam Demma (01:02):
An award-winning educator, he has been recognized with the prime minister’s award for teaching excellence and with Canada’s outstanding principal award, as a superintendent, he received the EXL award to recognize excellence among members of the superintendent. He has presented across Canada on the topic of educational technology and leadership in the 21st century. Tom is the Canadian co-lead for new pedagogies for deep learning NPDL, a global partnership of over 1,500 schools across 12 countries, focused on practices to develop deep learning and the development of global competencies. Tom has a wide breadth of information and knowledge when it comes to education. I really hope you enjoy this interview and conversation with Tom this morning. He truly believes in the empowerment of youth and their ability to make our world a better place, especially through the use of social learning and technology in a connected global society. I’ll see you on the other side.

Sam Demma (02:04):
Tom, welcome to the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show. Why don’t you start here by introducing yourself to the audience?

Tom D’Amico (02:15):
Happy to join you, Sam. Thanks for the invitation. I’m Tom D’Amico. I’m the director of education here in the Ottawa Catholic school board. And this is my 31st year in education within Ottawa.

Sam Demma (02:26):
And did you from a young age, think you were gonna get into education or what was your childhood dreams and how did that progress you to where you are now?

Tom D’Amico (02:33):
Yeah, that’s a, that’s a great question because I, both, my parents were teachers, so when I was growing up, the last thing I ever wanted to do was become a teacher I saw how they worked every night and every Sunday and I, my passion was soccer. So my, my goal all along was to play professional soccer and that’s what I wanted to do. So I played a high level in high school and then went to McMaster university for, to take Phy-ed. And I, I ended up playing soccer for four years, but my last year I ended up with a serious knee injury. So I had to, to change my plans and I, I realized I could no longer have that dream. So I had a backup plan and my backup plan was I went, went on, did a master’s of, sorry, masters of sports administration at OTAU and the Canadian soccer league, the CSL was just really getting going around that time.

Tom D’Amico (03:27):
And I ended up working with the team and then I was offered the job as their general manager. So it was a new dream and it was exciting and I was I was enjoying it, but then you also have to look at life. And the time I just was just got married, the league was not financially stable. Neither was the team. So I needed another backup plan. And cause my passion was sports and PHED I, when did I did my teachers college teachers, teachers college at Ottawa U and ended up leaving the team and becoming a, and just as aside I found out that my passions actually changed again and it wasn’t PHY ed. And where I found that I really enjoyed working with youth the most was with computers. And this was back in the late eighties and early nineties. And I saw how excited students were with technology and what it could do for them. And I ended up going back and taking some more courses and resulted in me becoming a business department, head and computer teacher. And from there I’ve moved throughout the board into different positions, every vice principal, principal, superintendent, associate director, and now director. So long story. But the answer to your question was, no, I did not dream of being a teacher. And in the end it was the right, right role for me to become an educator.

Sam Demma (04:45):
So bring me back to the day you’re on the field. I believe it was in Windsor. You, you know, you, you, you had an injury, you busted up the back of your knee and after that how did you decide teaching? Because like, that seems like that’s what you, you got into, you went back and finished your master’s of education like, or, sorry. No, you did your, you did a master’s you did a, master’s not in education, in soccer at sport administration.

Tom D’Amico (05:11):

Sam Demma (05:11):

Tom D’Amico (05:13):
So, in my last year, because I, I really, you know, I needed, you never know if your professional sports is gonna work out for you. Yeah. It doesn’t mean you get rid of that dream. So when I did blow up my knee completely, it was a posture, Cru lateral collateral, ligament, and meniscus all went at the same time. So I actually went into shock on the field ended up in the hospital. They couldn’t do surgery right away cuz of the swelling, but eventually they, they did the surgery. So as I’m recovering, I’m thinking, my dream is dead. What am I gonna do? And I would say, although it wasn’t diagnosed, I was very depressed because your dream is just pulled from you in a, in a split second. So I had to reground myself and I liked learning and I, I knew I was interested in sports.

Tom D’Amico (05:56):
I loved coaching. I loved working with youth. So I, I changed that direction and ended up working in professional sports as I mentioned. But then when I looked at thinking, all right, professional sports might not work out. Cause the auto Intrepid were not very stable at the time. And the league wasn’t stable. I knew I liked working with youth. I knew I liked learning. And I had parents obviously in the past that have been educators. So that was my natural go-to. And that’s where I ended up going into, into teaching. It still allowed me to be a coach to coach soccer, to run soccer camps. I just couldn’t play at a high level anymore. But at when I entered that, that new door opened, I found all kinds of new opportunities.

Sam Demma (06:38):
Awesome. And what about coaching? Do you enjoy? It sounds like you’ve yeah. Enjoy in both the player experience, but also the coaching experience.

Tom D’Amico (06:47):
Yeah. And, and I, I coach both boys and girls at the time for, for club and then in, in high school itself very different. So with the with the guys team at, at high school, you know, many of them were not wanting to learn. They felt they were peaked and they knew everything. And at the time with the girls teams, it was really about the passion of learning that they wanted to learn how to get better in different skill sets. So that might’ve just been my experience of that school. So I don’t wanna general on gender. But that was my experience and the camps, because the camps I was doing for younger kids I, I found that I had some skills in being able to make it fun and enjoyable. So whether it was working with Tim bit soccer, which is, you know, the four and five year olds and bringing water balloons into the, the practices, just do whatever I could to engage them.

Tom D’Amico (07:40):
But with the goal of helping them develop their own skillsets and passions. So it didn’t matter to me that it was recreational or highly competitive. It was that people were getting out, they were doing what they enjoyed and I had an opportunity to help them with that. So that, that would be where I received some enjoyment from the coach side. The competitive side was still there. So when you, in Ontario, your goal was to get to offset, which you know, we had some success getting to the provincial levels. So that competitive thing side never went away. But I think I had learned that you need to have that balance. It’s not, not everyone is gonna go on and play at university or play professional and they don’t have to be that doesn’t need to be their goal. It could be just fitness, but it also could just be fitting in and socializing.

Tom D’Amico (08:27):
And as a teacher, I really learned that early on that if you could learn the passions of your students and find ways of engaging them, they’re gonna be more successful. And as a teacher, you all have less challenges because the behavioral problems are there. When there’s a relationship mm-hmm behavioral problems tend to come when there isn’t a relationship and they may not have a, an interest in your particular subject at all. So how do you relate to, to kids especially teenagers that don’t wanna be in your subject and the way to do that is find what their interests are and find ways of modifying the curriculum to match their interests.

Sam Demma (09:01):
That’s a great point. I was gonna say, you know, similar to your experience on the soccer field, having a team that’s open-minded and wants to learn is makes it a lot more enjoyable as a coach. And I would probably argue the same as someone in a classroom. You want kids that, you know, want learn and you hit it on the nail by saying, you know, you have to be invested in their interests for them to care about what you’re saying at the front of the classroom. What does that actually look like in a classroom? How do you ensure that you, that you do that as a teacher?

Tom D’Amico (09:28):
Well, I have not been in the class for a long time. So things have certainly certainly changed since I was last lost as a, a classroom teacher. So I certainly don’t espouse to have the talents that many of our new teachers have, but what it looked for me at the time, it was going out if I knew, for example, for sports, if it was a student in my class that was on the volleyball team and there was a game I would be there in the gym to watch them play, to cheer them on. So I was showing interest in, in their excitement and their passion. If it was a student that was in the, the band or in the drama, I made sure that I was there. I would ask them about it early in every class I taught. I always tried to find out as much as I could from, you know, whether it was interviews or just writing opportunities.

Tom D’Amico (10:07):
And I could find out that, you know, someone was caring for their grandmother and the grandmother had moved into their home and was ill and asking them, I saw not, not in front of everyone, but just say, you know, I appreciate you sharing that. How’s your grandmother doing? So you’re showing interest in the person first and the subject second. And to me, that’s what makes some of our teachers, the best they can be is not because they’re passionate about their subject. But they’re passionate about the students and helping students to be the best they can be. And recognizing that sometimes students are, are having a rough day and you need to accept that. And you, you need to, whether you’re bending rules or you’re just pausing them for some point sometimes because a student is late for class, the last thing they need is to be sent down to the office.

Tom D’Amico (10:55):
What they need is someone to know why they’re late or so maybe if they’re not willing to share, right, right. At that time, have a teacher, an educator that knows there’s so much going on in their life. That goes beyond what I’m teaching in this class, subject wise. And I need to respect that and they may not be ready to share with me but find the opportunity to ask them. So, you know, often I, I, I rarely gave detentions as a teacher, but if someone did something that was completely inappropriate, inappropriate, you needed to have a detention. I would never send it down to the office for, for things like that. I would say, okay, you’re gonna meet with me at lunch. That’s your consequence. And at lunch, we’d have a chance to talk. We could, whether it was one on one, or it was in small groups or was using the academics.

Tom D’Amico (11:40):
If I had a duty, I would ask them, come and walk with me. I did the same thing. When I became a vice principal or principal, I would often have people have their consequences doing cleanup in the yard, but I was out there with them and we would do it together. And when you’re doing it together, you have that opportunity to connect and to have discussions and let people know that, you know, they’re human, they make mistakes, we all make mistakes. And sometimes there’s consequences for the mistakes, but it’s the behavior that’s being trying. We’re trying to change, not, not saying to a person that they’re not worthy of being there. So I think all of those are pH fee that goes into what makes people strong.

Sam Demma (12:15):
Educators and walking beside the student, you know, during those moments shows them that you do care about them, as opposed to them being out there by themselves. You know, potentially thinking my school is against me and no one wants to see me succeed. It’s like, oh, you know, we care about you as a person and your development. And, you know, I’m willing to, to walk with you to show you how much I care. I think that’s a really good point when you have the time to do so. You know, you, you did the masters in sports administration, then the masters of education. And then what did your journey look like in education? So tell me more about your first role and how it evolved to where you are now.

Tom D’Amico (12:50):
Yeah, my, my first job in teaching was really interesting. One if as the I, I still remember the principal that hired me and this is, this things have changed now. I’m not sure you’d be able to do this anymore, but , I was teaching at the time in Ontario was called basic math. So grade 10 math, I was teaching pH ed. I was teaching grade 12 economics. I was teaching grade 13 religion. Oh, wow. I a section of adult ed. And then I had one extra course I needed to teach. And he called me into his office. And he said, for your last course, you have a choice. You can teach Spanish or you can teach computer programming. And I looked at him, I said, John, I, I don’t know anything about computers and I don’t teach Spanish and he, he responded by looking in the eyes and saying, Tom, I don’t think you heard my I’m giving you a choice, which of these two do you want ?

Tom D’Amico (13:38):
And I said, well, I guess I have a little interest in computers. So I’ll take computers. So that was in August and school started in September. And what he did was he gave me one book. So there was one book on it was called Wacom Pascal at the time. And I had to read that book to try and fit, figure out how to teach programming grade 10 Pascal. And as I said, I never would’ve picked that on my own, but because he had given that opportunity to me, it, it really changed my career path because I found out I had a passion for computers and technology. And I found out most of my students had the same and were no, no behavioral problems because they were so engaged and motivated to be on the computers. And there was instant rewards from any of them because they would be doing something.

Tom D’Amico (14:24):
And then if you, you, you see the results right away, cuz the computer, whatever you’ve programmed, they could see it work. So it was, it was really interesting. And I went on and took some more courses and ended up really changing away from my degree, which was phys ed and geography. And instead of teaching PHS, ed and geography, moving towards business courses like entrepreneurship at time, which brand new, which we started, I started the first multimedia computer course in Ontario. It was a pilot project. We wrote to the ministry at the time, the cost of a a scanner was about $3,000. The, we had, I think, three computers that had sound cards. And so we had dial up connections for the internet. And what we did was we created what we called the multimedia. So it was project based learning a bit ahead of its time and the multimedia manner.

Tom D’Amico (15:15):
Everyone had different tasks. We had managers, we had staff that would students that would become experts in sound. Some would become experts in videos. And then we looked for real life projects because technology was so new in 1990, you know, what could we do with this? How could we help companies how we helped small businesses? So we were doing real real life projects while learning the material. And I remember contacting the government, the federal government. So I saw a grant opportunity and it was probably 1991. And they were offering money to the, anyone that was interested in helping to digitize real Canadian artifacts. So I contacted them and they said, I said, I’d love to get my students involved. And the response was, we hadn’t thought of students, but that’s a great idea. And the project they gave us two amazing projects.

Tom D’Amico (16:03):
One was digitizing the books of remembrance. So the books of remembrance showing Canadian shoulders that had died, sit sits on parliament hill in house of near the house of commons. And one page at a time was being turned. So you had to be there on that day to see a relative’s name in the book. Wow. And they trusted us and our students to get the proper equipment. And we digitized it page by page and put it online in, in early nineties so that anyone could see their relatives names in the book. So the students that worked on that, you knew they weren’t doing it for a mark. You know, they were doing it to make a difference. And the second project they gave us was digitizing RTO hall. So looking at what happens with the governor general, and I took a group of students in the summer, a small group, they got to meet the governor general.

Tom D’Amico (16:52):
They got picture is they got the back behind the scenes tour and they had so much pride in all their, all of their work. So those were some early things in my career that I really saw the advantages of technology and what students could do with their passions. So my roots from there was I, I had been tapped on the shoulder by some other leaders to say, you should consider adminis. I loved teaching. I didn’t wanna leave teaching, but I took the courses just in case I wanted to open those doors later on. And sure enough, once I had taken the two courses, there’s a principals part one and a principals part two course. I was offered opportunity. I had to lead the school and go to another school as a vice principal. And I loved that role because as a vice principal, some people think the vice principle is both the disciplinarian.

Tom D’Amico (17:40):
And I think of a vice principle approaches. That is their job. It’s not gonna be a very fulfilling role. Yeah. If all you’re doing is chasing kids for skipping class and dealing with kids that were smoking on property, et cetera. But I viewed it as a chance to build relationships and help students that sometimes people call ’em at risk. I, I would call ’em students that need the most support. Mm. So the ones that need the most support are the ones that I had an opportunity now, regardless of who their teachers were to try and help them. And I wasn’t always successful and I made mistakes. But for many, I, I would think that I hoped that I was able to help them make some better decisions. And when they made wrong decisions, whether it was a suspension or detention, make them feel that when they were back, you have another shot, keep going.

Tom D’Amico (18:24):
You know, you turn that page. You’re not gonna be painted with a brush that you’re, you’re a bad person. You’ve made mistakes. So that was my experience as a VP. And then I had the opportunity for a principal. And as a principal, you delegate a lot of the tasks to your VP. So I, I think you have even more opportunity to shape culture as a principal. Mm. So as a principal, you can really delegate some of the day to day managerial tasks and you have a lot of time to work on leadership. So I loved being a principal, both in a couple, several schools. I was a principal at, I left the board at one point, I was doing the continuing education department, ed and ESL. And I left to become a general manager of Malcolm cross-cultural training. So it was just because I had that entrepreneurial spirit and the business side, I took a leave of absence from the board and started working from Malcolm.

Tom D’Amico (19:18):
And it was fabulous because you were going into companies, helping them with their equity. Again, the timing, this is 2001. So we’re looking at different society 20 years ago. And when the tragedy on September 11th hit, all of a sudden our services were in so much demand because companies needed people to come in to help people learn how to get along and not be fearful of people from other cultures. So I had to make the decision whether to buy into the company and make that a new career change or go back to education because I was on a one year leave of absence. Mm. And what I missed was the community. So I, I did let the owner know that I appreciated the opportunity and I was choosing to go back to the board. So I went back to the school board and give up that business side because I missed just dealing with people so much not having to deal about money and setting contracts and all, all of those areas.

Tom D’Amico (20:16):
So I came back and became a principal at a downtown school in Ottawa and backed a lot of high school, which I, I loved. I was there for six years, which is wonderful because you get to see students coming in. We were a seven to 12 school. So I got to see students coming in grade seven and then see them grad like grade 12. And you can see how much people changed from, you know, 11 to 12 year old to a 17 year old. Mm. And then from there a lot of these were tapping on shoulders. So I always took the courses I needed to be available if I decided to do something else, but I, I never left a job because I didn’t like it. I’ve always loved every job I’ve had. But one of the things, the next step, if you’re looking at a hierarchy is a superintendent and our board auto Catholic operates in a very flat model.

Tom D’Amico (21:02):
So although there are different positions, we really always have believe that leadership can be with or without a title, and everyone has a role to play. But I took the courses I needed because to become a superintendent, you have to do your supervisory officer qualification programs. So I, I did take those and sure enough, an opportunity came and technology and I applied and was successful, but it’s not just technology that portfolio. I also had the equity portfolio. I had the data portfolio, the, the computers, I had families at schools. So I got to work with, with principals. And I, I learned more skills in that, in those areas. And then there was an opportunity to switch into human resources. So I, I moved into superintendent of human resources and, and again, you’re, you’re dealing with good and bad, right? So there’s some good things or some bad things that happen.

Tom D’Amico (21:51):
We, we, at the time probably about 4,500 employees now we’re up to 6,000 employees. So you’re looking at little city, so good and bad things will, will happen. But I think as a leader, as an educator, you need to anticipate that there will be bad days and bad things happen, but then move on it from them and not get your judgment clouded by when you’re stuck with a bad thing, move on to all the good things you can do. And then the structure in our board was we have an associate director that all the superintendents report to, and then the director. So I ended up becoming the associate director for five years. And then two years ago, I switched the roles to director when one of my mentors said, Denise, Andre retired as director. And I was easy, easily easy for me to move into her position. All of us have different styles. So you’re never trying to be the leader that you’re replacing, but you’re trying to build on what they had built before you, so that’s been my my journey. Wow.

Sam Demma (22:46):
What a diverse experience. It’s, it’s really cool to hear all the different positions you’ve worked in and what you learn from each of them, and also how you think they impact the school and the community. And like you’re saying, the mini city that is a board, a board of education where do you think your beliefs, values and principles come from, you know, as an educator, because what you shared with me at each of those steps, your beliefs and values and how, although there’s bad things, you know, you want to focus on the good, and, you know, when you, you know, you had principles in the way that you dealt with students, like where did you, where did you get all those insights and principles and values from?

Tom D’Amico (23:24):
Yeah, everyone is different. Sam was I’m sure. You know, but I, I would say for me, it started in my house with my, in my, both my parents, I, I grew, grew up in a, a Catholic household with two Catholic educators. So I obviously saw them model. And I think I was taught at a young age that, although we didn’t, we were, I would say middle class, we never went without food or had some of the challenges that I know many youth have in our city. But we didn’t have a lot. So, you know, both my parents were when they were both teaching teaching, didn’t pay a lot back in the seventies and when I was growing up but we had what we needed. And I think I learned the value of hard from them. I learned the value of sharing, what you have when you do have enough that you help others.

Tom D’Amico (24:11):
So I would say it came largely from my parents and from my faith, but then my own experiences in my schools. I I’ve always believed that it’s a sort of a silly saying, but experience comes from experience, not from age . So when I was growing up, you know, a lot of times you could see people. And even though as a young educator, some of the students are always waiting to leave. They’re waiting for the next year. You know, you’re in grade eight, I’m gonna wait till I’m in high school in grade nine grade nine, you think, well, I’m just a, a, a rookie in grade nine. I’ll wait until I get into grade 10 before I take a leadership role. And then in grade 10, you think, well, I’m gonna be a senior in grade 11, and then you wait to grade 12 and by then you’ve missed four years or opportunity to lead.

Tom D’Amico (24:53):
So I’ve always believed that that anyone can lead at any time at any age. And the role of the adults is to remove some of those barriers and to help people with resources. So even as an educator, as a principal, I may not always be dealing with students. It could be staff, but I think those values are there. That don’t be so quick to say no to a, to a creative idea instead look at, well, what are the, not just the pros and cons, but what can I do to help them to see what can be done? And is the timing, the issue? Is it the resort to the issues, but always look at what we can do with, with youth, you know, we, we had someone that wanted to start a belly dance club. So I remember as a principal thinking, is this a joke?

Tom D’Amico (25:37):
Am I being set up? And when I looked into it, no, this was someone that, that’s what they did in the community. And they were good at it. And they wanted a way to let their peers know that this is what they could do. So brought than saying, no, you can’t, because this is gonna be problematic. It’s find a teacher supervisor. If you can find a teacher, supervisor, we’ll support where you need to get it going. I think it only lasted for a year or two, but for that student, it, it made a difference. So that’s where I would say that what’s what shaped and formed me as well as some fabulous mentors. I always look to mentors and leaders and ask them questions, looked at what can I learn from them? But I’ve never tried to replicate a leader. As I said, I’ve always tried to build on those skills.

Tom D’Amico (26:19):
And I think that’s another area where some people experience some, some failures is they see someone really strong or a great idea at one school and they try and replicate that person’s skillset or that idea instead of how do I iterate it, how do I take what’s working there and now apply it to my context. And certainly with equity, it’s so important to look at the cultural backgrounds of our students before taking an idea and saying, well, this is working at this school. If I need to look at that school and say, yeah, it’s working. And it’s a, you know, far majority Italian background, as opposed to another school, far majority Filipino background. I need to understand who I’m supporting and then recognize within that you have also other subcultures and different areas to look at. So that would be my my experience growing

Sam Demma (27:09):
Up. Oh, that’s awesome. I appreciate you sharing. I have to ask too, cuz you mentioned computers and you know, the board having three of them and how expensive they were. And my dad used to tell me growing up that they’d use these things called floppy disks. Do you remember, do you remember this?

Tom D’Amico (27:24):
I could bet your dad on that because even before floppy discs I actually did take a course in, in high school when I was in grade 10 or 11 and it, it happened to be computer programming. So although I said, I didn’t have any background, I took one course. And the way it worked to Sam was we had these bubble. So we had to program, we had these cards that had ones and zeros and you had to fill ’em in by pencil to write your program. They would then get mailed to the university of Waterloo and they would send it back about a week later and let you know where the errors were. So it was just unbelievable how awful that process was. Wow. and then yes, I started my first computer had a tape drive, so it wasn’t even a floppy disc.

Tom D’Amico (28:10):
It was a tape drive. And then from that, there were different sizes of floppy discs. So I’ve experienced all of those up to today’s. I, I try and stay as current as I can with the technologies, but they, they certainly have gone through lots of iterations and I member even records. So record records. I had a record in my garage and my daughters are both adults now, but at one point she saw this record in the garage and she said, dad were the CD ROMs ever big at your, in your age? had to explain to her, it wasn’t a CD rom it was a, a record for a record player. So that’s, funny’s a fun activity taking some of those items and give them to young children now and say, what do you think this

Sam Demma (28:48):
Is? I heard old cell phones used to be massive too. carrying around a brick. But

Tom D’Amico (28:53):
Yes, we had a staff member at my, at my first job as a teacher in, in 1990. He had a brief case that he carried around with them and in the briefcase was the cell phone. Wow. Cause he had a part-time job in the construction industry. And so when we would be on break in the staff room, he would take out this phone, which was literally you know, probably 10 to 15 times today’s phones. Look, it looked like a really large walkie talkie. Yeah. And that was one of the first cell phones that I ever saw and saw someone using. So we we’d come a long way.

Sam Demma (29:25):
So if you could travel will not back to the future, but back to the past and you know, speak to yourself in your first year of education, both the experience that you’ve gone through and the wisdom you’ve gleaned now, like what advice would you give your younger self walking into that classroom?

Tom D’Amico (29:43):
That, that’s a great question. And not having thought of that one prior to right now, the two things that come to mind one of them is letting myself know that there’s going to be bad days, but there’s gonna be way more good days. And that would be at my, my earlier advice. But I think early in my teaching career, it was so hard with teaching six different subjects that I wasn’t prepped for. There weren’t all the resources that we have now today. And every night staying up so late just thinking, you know, how am I ever gonna keep up? So that would be one piece of advice I would give myself, just know there’s gonna be bad days and expect it. And then you can move on. There’s gonna be way more good days. That would, that would be one key piece of advice.

Tom D’Amico (30:29):
And I guess the other piece I would give now is knowing that you can, you’ll never be able to accomplish everything, whether it’s teaching or it’s leading. So you have to know when to stop and when to say no to take care of yourself. So that, that reflects wellbeing. So, you know, if you’re, whether it’s marking as a teacher or it’s working on the perfect assignment, a lot of these are lessons learned during the pandemic. But I think my message to a younger self would’ve been don’t aim for perfection aim to do your best and sometimes doing your best. You means not doing everything could be missing deadlines. It could mean not having the best perfect assignment like something that might take two hours only spending an hour, an hour and a half and leaving that half hour for you for your own wellness and wellbeing. That would be my advice because there’s a lot of workaholics in, in teaching and a lot of type a personalities and that’s not necessarily healthy. And it’s, it shouldn’t be a badge of honor to say that you work till midnight, seven days a week. Mm. And the badge of honor would be, I, I worked to get enough done to be appropriate and support all my students, but also to dedicate time to myself and my family. I, I think that’s a shift that we need to continue to see.

Sam Demma (31:45):
I love that. And what do you think are some of the opportunities and some of the challenges that exist in education today as well? I know, you know, it’s changed a lot over the years and I think every year offers a new learning but yeah. What do you think are some of the, both the challenges and opportunities

Tom D’Amico (32:02):
Re reflecting that I’m doing the podcast with you during the pandemic. I mean, that obviously brings the challenges right away challenges during the pandemic have been huge because people are coming into schools with fear and having experienced trauma. And I think one of those challenges is that sometimes we just focus in the last two years, the pandemic being the physical, if you don’t catch COVID, you’re all good, but that’s not reality that people are afraid. They’re afraid they’re gonna catch COVID, they’re afraid they’re going to either lose their life. Or even if they’re not worried about they’re gonna catch it and spread it to someone else like, but so we have to have the opportunity there is for trauma-informed teaching and trauma-informed teaching needs, focusing on relationships. So I think that’s a real positive that’s come out of a pandemic and the people have seen the need to support one another, whether it’s student or staff, but also to have check-ins to check-ins to see how are you doing?

Tom D’Amico (32:57):
And it goes back to what I said about 1990s which really worked for me, was getting to know people first in subject second, we’ve had to intentionally do that during the pandemic to make sure are you okay? Are you, you know, is your family getting food? Do you have internet? Do you need a device before we can worry about teaching? The other challenge I’ll highlight and it’s, it’s a good one. And being called to task in this, in our current world, in society with the injustice of equity. So I, I, I use poverty as one example, but we’ve certainly seen anti-Asian racism. We’ve seen anti-black racism. We’ve seen challenges for members of the LG T. There’s so many unjust situations right now that we have to do better. And we have to recognize we just finished national truth and reconciliation day yesterday in orange shirt day.

Tom D’Amico (33:50):
That’s a sad chapter of our country, but we have to recognize it and learn from it and make things better. So those are the opportunities that as we recognize the problems, we can make them better. I’ll, I’ll give an example from our board. And I’m just taking one piece of equity. It could be many different areas of equity. So we have students that are, are black in our schools and our high schools, and what we’ve created are black student associations, so that they have more of a voice and they can look for what change are needed. And that’s a great opportunity to create those groups for, for equity seeking groups, but also to give ’em a voice. And so what I did as director was I said, I want to take one student from each of these black student associations and create an advisory committee so they can meet with me as director.

Tom D’Amico (34:37):
And we meet about every six weeks and they can tell me what’s going well. And what’s going well in our schools. And then being in a, in a privileged position of leadership and having some power, I’m able to try and implement some changes for the changes coming because of them. So they’re identifying things. We will have another black student association form, I think November 18th, this, this current school year. And I took part last year. I, I just listened. I, I was there and students led everything and they shared some terrible stories. So when they share stories of someone using the N word and how it made them feel, or seeing an educator that didn’t react when that was done, or didn’t know how to react having someone you know, read to kill a Mockingbird, you know, things that we can change structurally that we just hadn’t done.

Tom D’Amico (35:24):
So I think those are challenges, but they’re great opportunities. Black lives matter movement that can be really difficult in a school, or it can be empowering. So we need to find ways to do things appropriately and to empower youth so that they see that they can make changes, cuz they can make changes. We had a school, not all of our Catholic schools in Ottawa have dress code. Only four. I believe of the 15 have not dress code. They all have dress code, but they have uniforms. So two examples one of our schools they went the principal and they said, we wanna do something more for black lives matter. And we’ve designed a t-shirt and we wanna sell the t-shirt and the principal was completely giving them power by saying, I think that’s Agus idea. And what if we make that shirt be allowed as part of the uniform?

Tom D’Amico (36:12):
So people don’t have to just wear the school uniform that can also wear that and, and what a great activity. It, it raised money and the money went to a graduate of nut school who was raising money for a program. I believe it was in Uganda starting a, a sports program there. So it was just one thing after another, that was really positive out of their, these students generating that idea. Another example would be the group that met with me saying, you know, we have a bad policy in our board that students can’t wear bandanas. And it, it really reiterates inappropriate conclusions that a student wearing a bandana is part of a gang. And it’s an outdated concept that we just never changed. And it doesn’t reflect the fact that there needs to be some culture awareness that some headgear should be allowed in schools.

Tom D’Amico (37:02):
Yes. You could say a baseball cap is not gonna be allowed cause we’ve seen that as honor respect, but there are other headgear that is culturally appropriate. So we changed our policy because of those students. And now each school is going back and they’re implementing it and they’ll have some challenges because some people will push it to limits because that’s something teenagers do. And, and we need to expect them to push the limits and find what a reasonable solution or balance is. So those are challenges that have resulted in new opportunities and I feel are resulting in, in a better school board, overall, a more educated staff and a more educated group of leaders. As, as we continue to look at a, do we improve equity and how do we learn we’re on the same journey together. It sounds

Sam Demma (37:43):
Like a very student-centric view that you and your colleagues in the school board has, which is awesome. It’s cool to hear the different challenges, but also the equal seat of opportunity in each of them and how the, how those things are being brought to life in the schools. If another educator is listening and is at all inspired by this convers or enjoy to laugh about old technology and wants to reach out what would be the best way for them to, you know, shoot you a message what would be the best way for them to reach out?

Tom D’Amico (38:10):
So if it’s an educator, I would say Twitter (@TDOttawa). I know I have not reached the platform I need to be on for our students. So I should be on TikTok and Instagram. our school board is I’m not, but it’s on my learning path to, it just keeps changing. But I know for students they are there and I work with our students and for them, I have to teach them how to use email so that they can email me. But that’s the other path, certainly just do a search for our school board, Tom D’Amico, co-director of education that can email me Director@ocsb.ca. I will respond to every email I receive usually within 24 hours. That’s my, my time to get back to people and on, on Twitter, because it’s such a fabulous way for educators to share what they’re doing.

Tom D’Amico (38:58):
I’m always on Twitter just to lurk to see what their people are doing and to respond. We have 83 schools, so it’s not possible for me to get 83 schools, but in 30 minutes, as long as they’ve used common hashtags, I can see what’s happening right across our board. And then recognizing not everyone’s on Twitter. We have to also find other ways to, to be there in person when we can. And for our, for our students, I do know that our, we have a student Senate that our associate director meets with and I try and make those meetings when I can they’re on Instagram. So they will share all as much as they can. The great successes at their stories with other student, Senate leaders and student council co-presidents so they can borrow ideas and then modify them to make them work at their schools.

Sam Demma (39:43):
Awesome. That’s amazing. I love the hashtag idea too. Tom, thank you so much for taking some time outta your day to come on the show here today. I really appreciate it. It’s been an honor chatting with you about your philosophies, values and journey throughout education. Keep up the great work and we’ll talk soon.

Tom D’Amico (39:58):
Yep. Perfect. Thanks Sam. Really appreciate it. Take care.

Sam Demma (40:02):
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 for. 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 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 Tom

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.

Tina Edwards – President of the Saskatchewan Association of Student Council Advisors

Tina Edwards - President of the Saskatchewan Association of Student Council Advisors
About Tina Edwards

Tina Edwards has been an educator in Saskatchewan for the past 27 years, but still considers herself a rookie in the education game. Student leadership has been a passion of hers since she entered the teaching profession in 1994.

Two highlights of her career are hosting the Saskatchewan Student Leadership Conference in 2012 and again in 2019. Projects like these prove that students can accomplish anything if they are willing to work hard and work together as a team.

Tina believes that every person has the ability to be a leader, as long as they are willing to work on being a good human first. After that, anything is possible!

Connect with Tina: Email | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Saskatchewan Association of Student Council Advisors

Winton High School

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):
Welcome back to another episode of the high performing educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker Sam Demma. Today’s special guest was referred by a past guest and her name is Tina Edwards. Tina has been an educator in Saskatchewan for the past 27 years, but still considers herself a rookie in the education game. Student leadership has been a passion of hers since she entered the teaching profession in 1994. Two highlights of her career are hosting the Saskatchewan student leadership conference in 2012 and again, in 2019. Projects like these prove that students can accomplish anything if they’re willing to work hard and work together as a team. Tina believes that every person has the ability to be a leader as long as they’re to work on being a good human first after that, anything is possible. I hope you enjoy this amazing conversation with Tina Edwards and we’ll see you on the other side.

Sam Demma (01:32):
Tina, welcome to the high performing educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here today. You are highly recommended by not one but two past guests. Why don’t you start by yourself?

Tina Edwards (01:44):
Oh my goodness. The pressure you’re putting on me. So earlier, my name is Tina Edwards and I’m a teacher at Winston high school in Saskatchewan. I’m also the president of SASCA, which is our student leadership in Saskatchewan and yeah, that’s kind of me!

Sam Demma (02:05):
When in your journey, did you get involved in student leadership and what prompted you to move in that direction and get more, more engaged?

Tina Edwards (02:14):
Well, I, I was a student leader when I was in high school myself, so that’s kind of where my journey started. And I just, as I got into the teaching, that opportunity opened itself to me and I began taking students to leadership conferences and 20, some years later the opportunity came up that I decided let’s try and host the conference, which is a huge undertaking. Did that in 2012. And when you are hosting, you automatically go onto the SASA executive and then they just couldn’t get rid of me. And I stayed and eventually became president and hosted the conference a second time.

Sam Demma (02:55):
Ah, that’s amazing. And let’s go back for a second to you as the student leader in high school. Yeah. So if you could think back what as a student prompted you to get involved as a student leader, did you have a teacher who tap you on the shoulder or how did that journey look like?

Tina Edwards (03:12):
Well, I grew up in a small town and, and when I say small town, I’m saying under 200 people, oh wow. I, and it really just became that every project we did in that town, it needed everybody to, to make it happen. And so I grew up just watching and participating and knowing that you needed to be an active member in whatever the project ahead of you was. So that’s kind of where it started. And then I think I just had some really strong leadership skills and I wasn’t really afraid to take action. So it just kind of flowed naturally for me. And it, nobody really told me, I just thought, Hey, why can’t I, so why can’t I be a student leader? And I couldn’t come up with a good reason. So there we go.

Sam Demma (03:59):
That’s awesome. And do you still remember the teachers that were overlooking student leadership and student council back when you were in high school?

Tina Edwards (04:06):
Yeah, definitely. I do. And, and I guess I always kind of looked up to them and, and allowed them to show me what it was like to be a leader, but not necessarily being in charge and working with other people. And I really kind of admired that.

Sam Demma (04:24):
Oh, that’s awesome. And let’s continue down the journey. So you finished high school and did you know at that age that you wanted to get into teaching or how did you navigate the career search for yourself?

Tina Edwards (04:34):
Yeah, I didn’t really have a choice. It teaching career found me and I, I always coached, I taught swimming lessons. I babysat, it just was a calling and, and it, there was just no question about it. I was going to be a teacher and I had to work really hard to get into university for my first year. Cuz at that time the marks were really high to get in and I just worked hard and kept going. And that was a really easy decision for me.

Sam Demma (05:04):
Well, tell me more. Did you have like teachers tapping you on your shoulder saying, you know, Tina you’d be a great educator. Did your parents work in teaching or Nope. How did it, how did it exactly find you?

Tina Edwards (05:15):
You know, it just, I grew up wanting to be a teacher and I loved kids and I always found ways to engage in, in working with kids, whether it was volunteering or summer jobs working in a living in a small town of 200 people. You just, everybody was family and that’s, that’s what I knew I wanted.

Sam Demma (05:39):
That’s amazing. And you mentioned coaching a little as well, was four, it’s a big part of your own childhood.

Tina Edwards (05:45):
Yeah, definitely. In a small town there isn’t much to do other than the sports that happened to be in that season at that time. And, and you know what, I was never a great athlete. I, I just really enjoyed the team aspect and being part of a team and I was just happy to be there and do my part. Hmm that’s awesome. And the coach, the coaching just kind of evolved and it’s coaching and leading was never something I had to work really hard at. It just, it just felt natural for me.

Sam Demma (06:17):
And do you think coaching and leading a group are two very similar things like whether or not you’re teaching a sport, you know, working as the, you know, president of SASCA is probably similar to coaching a team in some way, shape or form. Is there a lot of similarities between the two?

Tina Edwards (06:32):
Well, I always say I’m lucky because when I think when you coach a sports team, you’re given some, some opportunities or some, some times where you have to make some really hard decisions where you’re not gonna make everybody happy. And I feel in the, in the job I have and all the, the positions I’ve had, I, I’ve never had to make somebody unhappy. Mm I’m. Just there to be a cheerleader and, and get us working towards a common goal. And, and I selfishly really appreciate that. I get to live in my happy land. Mm . I don’t have to make any game day decisions.

Sam Demma (07:09):
Yeah, I okay. Yeah. So there is one stark difference. Everyone’s happy. yeah. Yeah. That’s awesome. That’s so cool. And so start teaching or you go to teachers college, it’s a tough first year. You work through that. What did your first job in education look like? Let’s go back there for a second.

Tina Edwards (07:27):
Well, my first job was actually in another small town of Combs where actually I do live right now. Nice. I, I just took a, a maternity leave for just a few months there and I knew it was coming to an end. And so then I took a job. I was in Carlisle for two years, which was about a four hour drive away. So that was really great. It got me definitely out of my comfort zone, met some new people, really had time to figure out what I wanted my teaching career to look like. And I dove right into the community there right away. And of course, such great positive connections were made. And, and then it was just straight on from there. And then I knew I was wanting, I was going to be getting married and eventually took me a few years, but I made my way back closer to where I was getting married and where I actually live now. And now I’m in Watchers high school, Winston high school in Watchers. And this has been my 22nd year in this school.

Sam Demma (08:32):
That’s awesome. And education has had many, you know, turns and twists. And I would say most of them happened over the two and a half years. what, what are some of the challenges that the school has been faced with over the past two years? And you know, how have you strive to kind of overcome those things as a community?

Tina Edwards (08:52):
Well, our, our school really prides ourself in being a family. First, we talk about the Wildcat family and, and usually when, when people say we’re a Wildcat family, they might think we’re talking about sports. And really it is sports is a piece of it, but it is just a piece of it. We work really hard in our school to make sure everybody feels connected. We started something called wild cap pride, where all the students are divided into color groups, mixed within different grades. And we do projects every couple, couple times a month and where we get the whole group family together, a whole school together and just work together on as a team at, and we do projects like we’ll play outdoor games. We might volunteer in the community. And so when COVID hit our family, we talk about isolation and that’s what our family had to do. We, we had to break apart. We, we could no longer get together as a whole, a whole family. And, and that was really hard on us. Mm.

Sam Demma (09:59):
Yeah. And I, I couldn’t imagine, it seems like every school I talked to has had a similar, but sometimes different experiences based on location. Was your school closed down? How long did you have to isolate or did the school ever close?

Tina Edwards (10:13):
Yeah, we, we closed from may until, or sorry, March until June of 2020. Yep. And then we, where we were online a little bit in there, but that it definitely was optional for students. Mm. So it was really hard. We were trying to engage people. We were trying to get connected with our students and some didn’t wanna be you connected with, and some, maybe couldn’t be connected with cuz where they were living rural. They didn’t, their families maybe didn’t have internet connections. So it was just, it, it was a tough time cuz we were trying to make it seem normal and it, it just wasn’t.

Sam Demma (10:52):
And you were also juggling SASA at the same time. So how did that yeah. Adjust or pivot or change, you know, based on the situation, you know.

Tina Edwards (11:01):
Really ironically our school hosted the last leadership conference in, in 2019 in September, 2019. And had we known what was to come? I, I don’t know, like we were able to host it. We were so very lucky. We had to province with us. We had a thousand leaders in our town of about 2000 people. Wow. they’re

Sam Demma (11:25):
All bill it out into like different, oh,

Tina Edwards (11:27):
Bill it out. Yeah. It, it was a great experience, but we did had no idea what was coming down a few months later. So then juggling Saska was really hard because what do we do? What do we do with this poor host community Goll lake that is supposed to be hosting in, in 2021 and, or I guess it’d be 2020. Do we, do we try to make it go? Do we cancel it? What do we do with the money that they’re out? It, it was, there was just no answers. We had to really struggle hard.

Sam Demma (12:00):
Yeah. That’s a tough situation. Did did, did the conference go on in 2020? Was it postponed or yeah,

Tina Edwards (12:08):
We actually gave them the option. They could postpone it, they could cancel it. They chose to cancel it just given the group of students that they were kind of framing the conference around would then have been graduated. So and they were, they were fairly far in their planning, but money wise, they weren’t too terribly invested. Mm. So we, we supported them in counseling it and trying to just make things balance out at the end and, and call it a year. And then Melfort was, had the next host bid host and they ended up canceling theirs as well. They were just really hadn’t even really started their, their planning. So it, it, it was okay. The problem we have now though, is how do we pick this up again? Yeah. How, when, who, how, where, and that’s what we’re struggling with right now. Mm.

Sam Demma (13:06):
So future planning is currently happening. Some, some in some way, shape or form

Tina Edwards (13:11):
well and, or no planning. We, yeah, we just don’t. I mean, how does a school take upon this venture when you don’t know what tomorrow’s gonna look like? Right. And, and it takes a good solid two to three years to plan a conference like this. Yeah. So I, I have some fear that I’m not sure when the next one is going to happen.

Sam Demma (13:31):
What does the planning look like? Like give some insight into people, people listening to what a thousand person conference building and the homes in your community, the what kind of planning looks like for something like that oh,

Tina Edwards (13:43):
The planning itself. Oh my goodness. I don’t wanna scare anybody off, but it is, it is, it is so much work, but it is so rewarding at the same time. Yeah, it , I don’t even know where to begin, but yeah, it, it is, it is a lot of work, but it is, it is great to see those kids coming together and planning and, and, you know, if I always tell the students, you can’t write a marathon tomorrow, you can’t think about up that marathon. You gotta break it down into little pieces. And, and that’s what we really did. And, you know, we got our group, our planning group together. We got our community behind us, started thinking about what we wanted our conference to look like. What, what things did we wanna give to our attendees? What what are the date? What are the activities? And just broke it down into little chunks. And before you knew it, the three years of planning was over and it was go time.

Sam Demma (14:45):
I was telling you before the interview started, that, you know, I felt that when COVID initially hit, it seemed like all the emphasis and support was being placed on the students and PE you know, educators getting supported as well. But maybe it was a little more behind the scenes. And I’m curious to know, what do you think the struggles and challenges were for educators during that time, and even now coming out of it? Maybe some of the things you experienced personally, but saw your peers going through as well.

Tina Edwards (15:11):
Yeah, our, I don’t think the average teacher goes into teaching for the academic part of it only. Yep. We, we are here cuz we like, we like kids, we like, we like their energy. We like seeing what they’re capable of. And that was really difficult to see everything come to a halt and, and not being E even able to interact with the kids. Like we used to be able to last year we were in cohorts, we were all in different times and schedules and breaks and noon hours. And we literally did not see each other. And, and that was lonely. And, and you just, you’re on a little bit of an island.

Sam Demma (15:53):
Mm. And did, does SASCA also support staff or is it solely towards the student?

Tina Edwards (15:59):
It, it is advisors. Yeah. It, it is geared towards advisors. Our, our main, our main purpose though, is supporting advisors in leading and leadership in, within their schools. So we did do an online conference for students and advisors last year. I, I think we’re, we’re getting to the point though, where everybody’s had enough of online, everything like, we it’s, it’s hard to stay engaged and, and have students just stare at a computer all the time. And so we’re actually in the middle of planning, what this year’s gonna look like for SASCO we’re, we’re hanging on, we’re trying to keep our membership strong. We’re trying to offer different activities, but it’s, it’s hard.

Sam Demma (16:44):
Yeah, no, I hear you. If you, if you do something virtual, just make sure there’s some, there’s some music and dancing. Yeah.

Tina Edwards (16:53):
Our conference last year was really good. Nice. And I think the people who attended it were, were really appreciative of having that opportunity. I just don’t know if we can do it two years in a row and, and still engage the people that we’re trying to engage. So we’re really struggling on where we go from here and what it looks like, and, and it’s important. And we don’t wanna say, all right, we’re not gonna do anything for the next three years. That would be terrible if all these years of leadership conference and the memories kind of go on, go forgotten. And, and that’s what I’m trying to work hard at right now is making sure SASA and student leader stays at the front, even though we can’t do a lot of, of those typical activities.

Sam Demma (17:40):
Yeah. I think it’s an important conversation to have and start having. And it’s cool to hear that you are having it. I think that extracurriculars student leadership clubs, all of those things just add such a huge student experience to yeah. Everyone in your school, you know? Yeah.

Tina Edwards (17:55):
And students, they don’t come to school for the academics. Yeah. There’s a small majority that, that do, but I would say the most people come here for the other things, the other activities and, and , you know, the kids have been doing so well that last year they had everything canceled. Mm. And we were able to focus more on academics and they just, they did what we needed them to do. And there, there was no pity parties. We were just moving on. And so appreciative of what kids are able to do and how resilient they can be.

Sam Demma (18:31):
If, if, I guess if education was like a three course meal, academics would be like the appetizer or the dessert and oh, a

Tina Edwards (18:37):
Hundred percent. Absolutely. Yeah. And yeah, it’s just, it’s just hard cuz we know that a lot of students are struggling either in their home life or in their peer circle and or their academics. And we try to help students as a whole, not just as one part. So we’re really trying hard to connect all of those pieces and COVID is not helping us.

Sam Demma (19:02):
And why do you think student leadership and you know, everything else aside from academics is a school in a school is so important because there might be someone out there who’s not fully bought into the idea that, you know, student leadership can change a kid’s life or extracurriculars can help them build skills. They would never build elsewhere. Like why do you think student leadership and extracurriculars are important?

Tina Edwards (19:23):
Well, you know, when you look at academics, not everybody’s an academic student, they could work. So, so very hard and still never improve their academics. That can be said as well with athletics. Mm-Hmm , some students are not athletic. They could work every day and still not improve. Their athleticism student leader is about being a good human. And I really believe that everybody can be a good human. And so it’s so something that everybody can achieve and it makes a, it’s a, a fair playing ground and everybody can feel like they have an important part. And, and like I said, at the beginning, it’s like, I’m coaching a team, but I never have to make any hard decisions. Yeah. Or it’s happy

Sam Demma (20:11):
Land. Yeah. No disappointing decisions.

Tina Edwards (20:14):
Yeah, absolutely. We’re just here to make everybody’s day. Just a little bit better.

Sam Demma (20:18):
Love that. I love that. And I wanna ask you, so if, if like, if you could try and pinpoint things that teachers did for you growing up that made you happy as a student, that if you can remember, like, what do you think some of those things are that teachers can do to make their students feel good about themselves to help students realize their own potential? Because another educator might be listening and wanting to have a similar impact on their own kids.

Tina Edwards (20:45):
I just think I remember teachers who would know my name and I, they didn’t actually teach me or I, I was in a larger school and, and I just thought, you know, there’s taking a moment to say hello to me, I’m the only person with this name. They are, they’re connecting with me. And I just always thought that was really special. and I, I remember too going on sports trips and thinking this teacher is spending the whole weekend with me instead of at home with their own family. And I knew, and I knew that was something that I wanted to be able to do for other students.

Sam Demma (21:24):
I love that. So the investment of time, and also, so the personal relationship to a point where, you know, teachers go out of their way to remember your name or even like know personal things about you.

Tina Edwards (21:35):
Yeah. Yeah. And, and that’s, that can go such a long way in, in a student’s life. And, and that’s what I really miss the most about COVID is when students are in my, in my classroom, in our school, I kind of have my eyes on them. I know I can see when they’re struggling. I can see when somebody hasn’t eaten a very good breakfast. I can see when somebody’s had a fight at home. I can see when somebody’s struggling academically. But when I had to stay at home, I had no idea what, how my students were doing like really doing, I could, would tell maybe academically how they were doing, but all of those things that I worry about, and I wanna connect with students, I was completely removed from that. And I, I struggled with that.

Sam Demma (22:19):
And I would argue, you know, back to the name example as well, remembering people that remembered your name. I think it just applies to being, like you said, a good human people appreciate when you can address them by their name. I’ve been at the grocery store and I’ll say, hi, and address the person behind the cash by their name. And they’ll look up and be confused and say, do I know you, are you

Tina Edwards (22:42):
Shock me? yeah.

Sam Demma (22:44):
I’m like, no, I just, I just used your name. It’s on your name tag there. And you know, then they end up, you know, bursting out the biggest smile and you end up having a good two minute conversation before you put your groceries in your box and leave. Yeah. And I think when you take interest in other people, it just builds good relationships. Right?

Tina Edwards (23:01):
Absolutely. And, and what, what, just imagine what you can do once you’ve connected with somebody, once you’ve, you’ve been able to have a, a one on one conversation with them, the rest of their day, you just, you don’t know what’s gonna come after that.

Sam Demma (23:16):
Yeah. And you also never know what someone’s carrying, which is why I think kindness is so important, you know, just because you can’t see, it doesn’t mean they aren’t carrying it. And that’s something I always try and remind myself because yeah, we, we, you know, you only see them in the school building and now with COVID, you know, like you’re saying you don’t even see them in the school building, so it’s even, you know, even more important to be you.

Tina Edwards (23:35):
Luckily for us, the COVID like COVID is still here obviously, but we, we have been able to have our extracurricular activities within our school and our clubs. We can have, we, we are cohorted, but not quite as much as we were last year or as strictly, we’ve been able to do some outside whole group activities while mask. So this year’s already better than all of last year put together.

Sam Demma (24:04):
Yeah. Ah, you’re right. That’s and it’s good to see the positives too. even if they’re in a smaller.

Tina Edwards (24:10):
And that’s what, like I said to the, the students last year, we’re not having a pity party here this year. It’s, it’s, it’s different, but we’re gonna make the best of it. And, and through leadership, we, we did bingo virtually we, we did some trivia contests virtually. We did, we did our pep rallies virtually. We, we still wanted to make it, you know, those activities part of our, our school year. Although, you know, they’re not the same this year. We’re already noticing that people have a little bit more of a pep in their step. Mm. They can still have their football games. They can still go to their volleyball tournaments. There’s been a little, so some hiccups along the way, maybe a, a tournament has had to be canceled or a football game, but we’re just moving on. We don’t have time to sit and dwell in the, the negatives, no

Sam Demma (24:56):
Pity party focusing on the positives. Those are two great, no pity partying, no two great phrases and pieces of advice. I’m gonna ask you to put your thinking hat on for a second. And if you could like travel back in time you know, back to the future, but back to the past, actually. Yeah. Yeah. And you could speak to first year, Tina, when you just started teaching, but with all the wisdom and experience that you have now, like if you could walk into your own classroom, you know, that first city that you taught in that was really small, and you could walk into your own C and speak to yourself and give yourself some advice. What are a couple things that you would share?

Tina Edwards (25:32):
Well, I know for sure, I would not focus so much on the academics. Mm. Of course, when you’re coming out of university and you have your teaching degree and you’ve done your student teaching, that’s what it was about. It was about academics and I I’m a teacher and this is what I’m going to teach. Yep. And it really didn’t take me long to realize that there’s so much more to teaching than just the academics. And so I think if I could give myself a little bit of advice, I would just say, let’s not worry about that. Let’s, let’s focus on just the students themselves, the P the academic piece. We’ll talk about that a little bit later. I love, but of course, as a new teacher, you thought it was all about academics.

Sam Demma (26:15):
Yeah. And, and what does focusing on the student look like in the classroom? Is it making time for them to share their stories or like, what do you, what do you think that other time looks like?

Tina Edwards (26:24):
Yeah, just, just connecting and really appreciating where some of these students are coming from. I didn’t know what their home lives were like, and I didn’t even stop to even think about it. I just thought, okay, everybody’s coming into my classroom at the same level. And it, it really didn’t take me too long to realize that yeah, you know what, this is not quite the case. Mm. They’re not coming with the same skillset as the person may be sitting next to them.

Sam Demma (26:52):
Yeah. It’s a really smart reminder. That’s a good piece of advice to share with you, younger self. Awesome. Tina, thank you so much for coming on the show. If an educator listening and feels inspired or just wants to reach out and chat, what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you?

Tina Edwards (27:09):
My email is probably the best way at work. It’s tina.edwards@horizonsd.ca. And it’s funny cuz when, when you said that if somebody would wanna reach out, I often think, you know, I’m in my 27th year of teaching, but what do I really know? I wonder like what would somebody ask me? I don’t really know, but yeah. I I’m here. I’ll do my best.

Sam Demma (27:35):
That’s called the curse of knowledge. yeah,

Tina Edwards (27:38):
Yeah. Maybe.

Sam Demma (27:39):
But again, Tina, thank you so much for coming on the show. It’s been awesome conversation. Keep up with the great work with school and SASA and I look forward to seeing whatever happens with the conferences and events.

Tina Edwards (27:51):
yeah. I think our, our paths are good across again, Sam.

Sam Demma (27:54):
Awesome. I’ll talk to you soon, Tina.

Tina Edwards (27:56):
Okay. Take care.

Sam Demma (27:58):
And there you have it. Another amazing guest, an amazing interview on the high performing educator podcast asked 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.highperforming.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 Tina

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.

Pat Riddlesprigger – Athletic Manager at the Fresno Unified School District

Pat Riddlesprigger, Athletic Manager at the Fresno Unified School District
About Pat Riddlesprigger

Pat Riddlesprigger (@PRiddlesprigger) was born and raised in Fresno, California. The youngest of 2 boys, he is a product of the Central Valley. Pat has spent the majority of his personal and professional life attending or employed by Fresno Unified, the third-largest school district in California.

After graduating from Hoover High School in 1988, Pat accepted a full athletic scholarship to California State University, Fresno to play basketball. Appreciating the opportunity to play for his hometown team, he took complete advantage of the pursuit of higher education and walked away with BS in Business Administration. He would continue his education further- receiving his teaching credential and administrative credential through CSU Fresno and his Master’s in Educational Technology through Fresno Pacific University.

Over 2 decades, Pat has been in the educational profession as a teacher, department chair, coach, and athletic director. As the athletic director, he served as league president, league representative and board of managers representative. Each stop along the way has prepared him for his current position as the Athletic Manager for Fresno Unified School District within the Student Engagement Department. As the Athletic Manager, as well as, a member of the Student Engagement Team, Pat provides support to teachers/coaches, site administration, and the Fresno Unified community to ensure that our students engage in the arts, activities, and athletics.

Pat believes in order to be successful in life, you must possess the following characteristics:

Desire: oneself having a strong longing for a certain action;
Dedication: oneself committed to a certain course of action;
Determination: oneself focused on that action;
Sacrifice: oneself willing to give up something for the sake of that action.

He has modelled and demonstrated these characteristics throughout his lifetime. Pat is married to his high school sweetheart Cathy and has 3 daughters- Mariah, Makayla, and Maya and three grandchildren- Zaveah, Liam, and Maverick.

Connect with Pat: Email | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

California CBEST test

Fresno Unified School District

Small, Consistent Actions TEDx Talk

Dion Sanders (VIDEO: Purpose for Practice)

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 Pat Riddlesprigger. Pat Riddlesprigger is the athletic manager of the Fresno unified school district. He also runs the goals-2-team athletics department, and what you will very quickly notice in today’s interview is that Pat uses sport as a way to transform young people’s lives.

Sam Demma (01:07):
Being an athlete growing up, he was a former Fresno State basketball player himself, Pat knows what it means to pursue an athletic dream, but he also knows how important it is to ensure that these students, whether they become professional athletes or not become holistic global citizens – good-hearted human beings. And you will see in Pat’s perspectives in his ideas and his personal experiences and insights that he shares in today’s interview, that he holds that the center of all he does. I hope you enjoy this amazing conversation with pat and I will see you on the other side.

Sam Demma (01:46):
Pat, 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 the audience?

Pat Riddlesprigger (01:56):
Hey, good afternoon, everyone. My name is Pat Riddlesprigger. I am the athletic manager here in Fresno unified. I’ve been in education for approximately 20 plus years in some form or capacity, starting from coaching to teaching, to athletic directed to athletic administration. So it’s been a journey has been, has been fun and I think I’ve learned quite a bit along with that, that role.

Sam Demma (02:23):
It’s amazing. And what got you into athletics? The position of being an athletic director. Were you always the athletic director, did you start out as a teacher? Tell me more about your journey in education.

Pat Riddlesprigger (02:35):
Yeah. Yeah, it’s funny because you know, sports have always been a huge portion of my life. I started off playing in high school was fortunate enough to earn the scholarship here at the local college Fresno state played basketball there. And then I continued on, so, so, you know, I always knew I wanted to have something to do with athletics. Just didn’t know what it was. When I got my degree, got my major moves, still searching, trying to find out exactly where, what I wanted to do. So, you know, you, you always go back and seeking that advice. So, you know, I knock on my mom’s door and they say, you know what? I just don’t know exactly what I want to do just yet. And they know she kind of pushed me to go back and to take the California CBEST test.

Pat Riddlesprigger (03:27):
And I went back and I took it. And, and then at that moment, I, I started my journey of actually getting my teaching credential and the world of education. So it was, it was an interesting, I guess it was about a three-year window when I was doing all of this still working in my previous job, still doing and still doing my student teaching here seeing if I like this, even if I didn’t like it. And it was, it was interesting. It was it was, it was a lot but I, think I, truly made the right decision to become a teacher. And then once I started teaching, I always knew I enjoyed the game and the one that did the coach and my first teaching job, I also got a coaching position with it. And next thing I know I started one day at one high school.

Pat Riddlesprigger (04:18):
My third day, I was at a new high school and I was the head coach of a program. And then I just kept on parlaying from that. I went from coaching basketball to actually now what was it about eight years later becoming the athletic director stayed in that position at that particular site for about six, seven years. And then then this position opened up. So, you know, along the way you kept on trying to further my own education putting in a little bit more keys on my key ring so I can open up some doors. And when the time came available and lo and behold, the right door opened up and I had the right key. So I was able to get this position as athletic manager.

Sam Demma (05:03):
It’s funny when you mentioned your own experience as a basketball player, you know, back in high school and college, I noticed that there it is, again, I noticed a big smile on your face. Tell me, bring me back there for a second. What did sports mean to you growing up and tell me the pivotal role play in your development?

Pat Riddlesprigger (05:20):
You know sports was always a way that you can go out there and you can let those and relax and play and, and, and do something that you’re passionate about. I mean, it was something I was introduced to with the boys and girls club a long time ago stayed with me. I found out that I was pretty good at it. I was fortunate enough, like I said, to earn a scholarship. And it brings back some of the fondest memories. You know, sometimes I may not even remember my fourth grade teach it, but I do remember my, my sixth grade coach who was my teacher. So, so those things are the things that I knew, what brought a smile to my face and a smile to my heart. So I wanted to actually try to do that. And later on in my life, I just didn’t know exactly when and how I was going to do it until you have that, that conversation with your parents. But it was it’s, it’s the best time. I mean, high school athletics. I mean, it’s a true, true time when kids can go out there and have fun. Ms. Probably the last time that they will chop probably play. Cause there’s only a select few that get opportunity to continue on. It’s only get to go out there and enjoy and try and try something new. I mean, sports are a really life-changing and they can provide you a lot of discipline that you, you apply at the Roger your entire life.

Sam Demma (06:43):
I couldn’t agree more. I was actually a soccer player growing up and my coach has actually didn’t even want me to play for my high school. Cause I thought I might get injured or hurt. But yeah, sports so pivotal in my own journey. You, you mentioned remembering your, your grade six teacher who is also your coach. Why do you think you remembered him aside from of course, because you love basketball and he enabled you to play. But why do you think you stuck out in your mind? Do you think that coaching allows you to build deeper relationships with students or

Pat Riddlesprigger (07:14):
I think it’s that connection without a doubt. I think that connection that you established at an early age besides a classroom, I mean, we establish a relationship inside the classroom but I think it was outside the classroom where he, I got to meet him on a different level. He got to meet me on a different level. We both share something in common that we liked. We both enjoy the process as far as this is where you were when I first met you. This is where I, I, I see you when that halfway during the season, this is where I see you at the end of the season. And I think that was the connection that we we had. And it was just one of those things that just, you know, it was, it was fun. And I think that that was each one of my coaches along the way, not to mention that also he was probably the first male teacher that I had that, that I had actually up until that point.

Pat Riddlesprigger (08:08):
So, so keep moving forward. I mean, coaches and it’s kind of ironic coaches made the connection I met with all my coaches. Actually, I think was, were greater than, than the teachers that I had at certain times. I remember a lot of my teachers, but majority of all my coaches, cause we spend, I mean the classroom, you may, if you’re not on the black schedule, you may spend maybe 54 minutes in the class average class time. But in practice you may spend two hours to three hours during that time. So I think you’re going to build a stronger connection in that time.

Sam Demma (08:45):
I couldn’t agree more. And you also mentioned you know, when you were growing up and playing sports, you know, your teacher had a big impact on you, are teachers and coaches, sorry, you coach had a big impact on you. Are there coaches that you still stay in touch with to this day?

Pat Riddlesprigger (09:02):
You know what I have several my former high school coaches, I still speak to ’em. We still reach out, still seek advice. I’m fortunate enough to actually play and play in the same school district. And now work in the same school districts and passing out. I will see him are a hair. Mar if I have a question I can always know I can reach out to him. But it’s just one of those things. I mean, I think that is the, the, the human connection. I may not be able to come back and talk about the quadratic equation, but I can come back and talk about the time that, you know, I didn’t hustle. And he had to remind me what hustling meant, but that was one of those things. I mean, it’s just a different form of connection and it, it is always been an add on that is one thing about athletics, right? There is instinct correction still. If we had that connection, if I don’t do something right, that coach can sit there, take a time out, correct. That behavior and correct that action. And then we can put it in, put it in place. Okay. Yeah, you got it. Or no, you didn’t and we can keep on doing it, but it’s, it’s just an unbelievable feeling that and be connected with a coach or a teacher. And that inspires you to be much more than what you’re capable of being at that time.

Sam Demma (10:13):
I agree. It’s it’s unlike any other relationship you build, you like look out to that person, not only for athletic advice, but sometimes you feel so comfortable. You ask them about personal things, right. Forget coach, you know, forget coach Carter, you got coach riddles, Springer. That’s awesome. So, okay. So you’re you knew from a young age that you wanted to coach, or was that something that as you progress through your journey, as a teacher, people started tapping you on the shoulder and saying, you know, you should start coaching basketball.

Pat Riddlesprigger (10:46):
You know what? I, I didn’t know. I knew I enjoyed athletics. I know I enjoy playing sports no matter what it was. Basketball was just the one that I landed on. I enjoy playing all sports at an early age, try soccer. Wasn’t as good you know, as you do that one early on the foot foot coordination and the head that or the foot, and then that head coordination wasn’t quite there yet. But I got started in there, played basketball, played a little bit of football, but basketball is what I landed on. Tried baseball, but football and did track. Once again, basketball was the one I landed on. And then during that whole entire time, I, I enjoyed it. I enjoyed it. I enjoyed, I enjoyed every part of it. The practices, the games just every part of it. But it did not necessarily know I wanted to be a coach.

Pat Riddlesprigger (11:37):
I knew I wanted to stay around athletics. I just didn’t know in what capacity. And I just once I finished playing college ball still had an opportunity to stay around it and, and coach some, some kids I started that actually got actually I got hooked on coaching. When I was in, in high school. Our high school coach used to have a a developmental league for all our neighborhood kids. And, you know, back then you get to teach them the drills, walk them through. We had the little ramps and they would, they would come out there and play. God kinda kinda got the field bill of it, then left it for awhile. Then when I was finished, I contacted my high school coach and asked, Hey, do you need some help? I still want to, I still enjoy the game. So want to be around it. And next thing you know, coach coached high school ball, coached a new ball. It’s, it’s been a blast.

Sam Demma (12:38):
How do you think we know you’re good. How do you think we make connections with kids? So that they feel like it’s a safe enough space to share things that they might want to talk to you about not only as coaches, but also as educators.

Pat Riddlesprigger (12:51):
You know what I think that’s the most important part. I always use that. I had a phrase. If you can’t connect you, can’t correct. If you can not can make a connection with a kid, I can care less. I can care less. What, what subject or what sports you’re trying to teach them. They’re not going to sit there and get it. So you have the, you have to do your best to, to get, get to know that individual, not only on a professional, but on a personal level, find out what they like to do short conversations and build that trust between the two. And then I think, I think at that point there’ll be willing to do anything or listen to something that you have to say or whether it’s a player, whether it’s a quadratic equation. I mean, you have to be able to connect with kids. I think kids learn from people that they enjoy being around. So if they don’t enjoy being around or don’t enjoy your conversation or don’t enjoy you, they’re not gonna, they’re not gonna sit there and learn or take that information in the way it could be taken in.

Sam Demma (13:55):
And how did coaches and teachers growing up create that safe space for you? Like if you had to pinpoint a couple of things you think past coaches did, or even mentors that you had what do you think they did that made that space safe for you to share and open up and talk in conversation?

Pat Riddlesprigger (14:10):
They took time. I think time is always one of those things you can never get back. And I think by them giving up their time by them opening up their door say during the lunch, Hey coach, I’m having a such and such a problem. And given their ear just to listen time listening and making themselves available. I think those are all key Greenies that, that actually build that trust and build that relationship. That, that connection that can be a life-changing. I was extremely enough to have a lot, a lot of coaches and a lot of teachers in my life that, that did everything. I mean, they, they gave their time, they gave their, their attention. They gave their advice and, and it kind of worked out pretty well for my stuff. So i’m extremely blessed in that part.

Sam Demma (15:11):
And right now specifically is one of those maybe not specifically right now, but over the past two years has been one of those moments in history where a lot of student athletes have been disappointed. I’m not sure what to do with their life because they attached her whole self worth to this game of soccer or to this game of basketball and football. I’ve remembered myself, you know, growing up. It was, so it was so clear that that was my entire life, that my email address was soccer, Sam 99, you know, at hotmail.com. And you probably see this with a bunch of athletes. You know, how do you kid walks into your dressing room and says, coach, what are we doing? We can’t even play right now. We can’t even practice is everything we’ve done a waste. How do you, how do you navigate that conversation these days?

Pat Riddlesprigger (16:02):
This is a very loaded, tough question. How do you, it just depends on, I guess it depends on the kid or the student that’s coming in. I mean, once again, I said, get open and having the open door policy and then listening, I think, by listening to their frustrations, cause I know how I feel and now I will be frustrated if I was in a position, but at least giving them the time and the ear that allow them to vent and have that conversation. And then just ask some probing questions along the way. So I don’t know. I mean, I understand that stuff. So what are we doing in order? Cause we’re going to come out of this eventually. What are we doing in order to when we come out of it, what are you doing? Or what are we doing in order to get better?

Pat Riddlesprigger (16:44):
We not, we may not be able to play games right now, but we can improve our game in order to play. And just keep on talking. I mean, I think we just, at this point in time in situations like this it gives you ample opportunity once again, to make that connection with the kids. I mean, it may not be in person. It may be on a situation like this where it’s zoom and we just have a, you know what, let’s come to a meeting and let’s just have a conversation. Let’s talk a check-in how, how are you guys doing? How are you doing? How can we, how can I help support you at this time? Is it something that can help with you when your, your family is as something that I can help with you? Pers, are there some other battles?

Pat Riddlesprigger (17:31):
I think it’s just, I mean, every obstacle gives you an opportunity to work on something else. I think you can’t use it as a roadblock. You just use it as a speed bump and you just find a way to make a way out of nothing. I don’t know if there’s a clear, cut answer. I don’t know if there’s and I’ve thought about this quite often. I don’t know if there’s a I know there’s not a handbook. Cause if there was, I think everybody would be having the handbook and going to that specific plan on the handbook they get over this. I think you just have to feel your way out. No, no, your kids are no, your students had that conversation with them. Let them know that you are here as a resource a friend a person that they can count on and then go from there. I think that would go a long way with them.

Sam Demma (18:26):
I think you’re right. And the reason I ask the question is because there might be some educators or guidance counselors who don’t have an athletic background. So can’t really relate to the situation, but have kids walking into the room saying I’m an athlete. It’s my whole life. I was going to go pro I was going to go D one, you know what? Now? And those teachers don’t really know what to say. You know? It is a tough situation. I saw a really awesome motivational little clip on social media from Deon Sanders. I don’t know. Maybe, maybe you saw it. It came out recently and he was saying, you gotta have a purpose for practice. You know, I showed up every day and he said, my purpose was to be the best and that drove me. Right. And I think something that’s so important is okay, we can’t play as a team right now, but what’s, what’s your purpose for training? Well, cause I want to get better. Well then how can we keep doing that? And like you said, kinda asking problem questions and going down that path with the, with the athlete and hearing them out and their frustrations and seeing where you can help. I think it’s so important to listen.

Pat Riddlesprigger (19:25):
And I th I, I think a lot of individuals want to want to want to play one, to go to division one, but then again, are we putting the work into it? So, so a kid like that who says basketball is their life or football or soccer, whatever the sport may be is a life. Okay, what are we doing then if this is your life, and you want to pursue this at a professional level, what are we doing right now in order to recycle later on? I mean, this may be a little roadblock you’re eventually going to continue. You’ve mentioned going to get opportunity to play. You’re going to get the opportunity to do all that, but what are we doing to, to improve ourselves? Not only physically, but mentally. I mean, a lot of individuals are gifted physically. I think the ones that separate themselves from one another, as the ones that are from here on a so-so, therefore you have to take care of your body. You have to take care of your mind and your spirit to make sure everything’s all aligned. And I think you should be all right.

Sam Demma (20:26):
No, you’re is a great point. It’s so true. It’s so true. And it doesn’t only apply to athletic dreams, applies to everything you want to do in life. Whether you’re a kid who plays a sport or an educator who wants to move up from being coached to athletic director, you have to start with the angle in mind and kind of reverse engineer that thing back and then embrace reality. And the reality could be, you’re not doing, or you’re not doing what you need to, or the reality is you’re doing it, but maybe you could do more, right?

Pat Riddlesprigger (20:53):
Yeah. Everybody can get 1% better each day.

Sam Demma (20:56):
I call it a small, consistent actions.

Pat Riddlesprigger (21:01):
That’s awesome. I like that small, consistent action. I’m going to, to hold on one second. I have to write that one down.

Sam Demma (21:06):
I’ll send you some resources after I’ll send you some resources after this. I it’s actually a TEDx talk. Yeah, we’ll talk after, and I have some things I wanna share with you, but yeah, this has been a great conversation. I know educators are listening and hopefully they’re bridging the gap between coaching and how they can use some coaching ideas with their students. You mentioned correction, I think is really interesting. It seems like athletes are sometimes on the field, more open to correction and they are when they’re in the classroom or, or when they’re in other areas of their life. How do you effectively, in your opinion, as a coach, correct somebody without embarrassing them? You know what I mean?

Pat Riddlesprigger (21:46):
I think once again, we talk about that connection. So if I have a connection with a student, if we can see eye to eye, I don’t think anything that I say will embarrass them because we can sit here and we can talk about, okay, you did this particular thing wrong. So how can we fix this to move forward? They, tint is never to embarrass to any kid or any student whatsoever is they, they tend to, is to make sure that you’ve got the proper steps. Even if you’re learning once again, a math equation, learning the proper steps in order to get to the end result. So what can we do to make sure we, we, we get there what we want get to the end, like we should. And that’s just having that conversation. I mean, once again, it’s not saying, oh, stop, you did it wrong.

Pat Riddlesprigger (22:36):
It’s Hey, what can we do better? Or where did we miss and have them do the, self-reflection have them sit there and think about it. Okay. Yeah, this is what I did wrong. Okay. So how can we improve it? Or how can we get better? And I think it’s, it falls back on the onus, putting it back on the kid, give them a question. Okay. What did you notice? Was that correct? Or could you have done this better? Have them sit there and think about it, do some self reflection and then point them in a direction or guide them in the direction. Let me put it that way. That could improve the work that they’re putting up.

Sam Demma (23:12):
I love that idea of just asking questions instead of pointing out things, right? Yes. That’s such a hard thing to remember when you’re in an emotional situation and you’re amped up, but I think it’s so important because it, it almost helps the student, even if it’s not a sporting situation, clarify their own thinking. Right. by asking them all these different questions ah, I like it. I’m not thinking to myself, I can ask other people more important questions or impactful questions.

Pat Riddlesprigger (23:45):
I think, I think we can always get the answers in that I remember in the class at in the classroom, always sitting here saying, why should I give the answers when I think that the way to the actual answer is in questioning the kid? And how did you get there if you have someone? I mean, I’m not going to give you the answer. The answer is there. So, but how do we get to get into the answer? Is can I ask you a more in depth question to make you make a pivot in order to get to the, the answer you need to, and I, and just stay with them on that subject. I mean, we’ll pivot, we’ll pivot as much as we possibly be used in the basketball analogy, we’ll make as many pivots as we need to in order to get to the, to the answer. But I’m not, I, I tried not to provide an answer. I tried to provide a question that would actually lead to the answer

Sam Demma (24:37):
As long as you don’t pivot it for more than 24 seconds. Right. Exactly. That’s amazing. That’s awesome. Awesome. Well, pat, this has been a great conversation about questions, coaching life teaching. I thank you so much for spending some time on the podcast and sharing some of your own philosophies and ideas. If another educator is in their first year of education, it feels a little bit lost. I’m going to ask you a tough question to wrap up here.

Pat Riddlesprigger (25:06):
I think these are all kind of tough, haha.

Sam Demma (25:09):
If you could kinda take your, you know, you think, I think you said 20 plus years of experience in teaching, kind of bundle it up and then, you know, travel back in time and walk into the first classroom you ever taught in and kind of hand this bundle of wisdom to your younger self, knowing what you know now, what would the piece of advice be that you’d hand to your younger self?

Pat Riddlesprigger (25:30):
You know what I’m be okay with with learning along the way with your students? Don’t be, don’t think that you have to know everything right then, and there be a constant learner girl, as they grow. There’s a lot of things I was telling myself use your resources of mentor teachers. They’re more often lean on support ask as many questions of your kids that you possibly can get to know them. I mean, it’s, it’s so much in such a godly. I mean, there’s a lot that you learned in this world of education. I don’t know if you can wrap it up in just one little complete sentence, but I think the biggest thing is be a constant learner lean on on the support that you, that you you have learned to walk alongside your students not in front of them.

Pat Riddlesprigger (26:38):
To me, this is a position where we’re servant servant leadership, where we’re actually there, they sit there and help these kids become productive citizens. So and don’t be afraid to fail at the end of the day. I mean, I think it’s, it’s one of those things that every, every day, a new lesson that you’re trying to teach us a new lesson, that you’re also learning. There’s going to be some of those hit and miss miss lessons take the good as well as the bad and just try to build off of it, of that.

Sam Demma (27:12):
Awesome. And if another educator is listening and love, the conversation wants to reach out, maybe ask you a question, what would be the best way for them to get in touch?

Pat Riddlesprigger (27:23):
My first name pat, then I put the period in between pat and my last name Riddlesprigger. Pat.Riddlesprigger@fresnounified.org. Hopefully you can see my name on there cause it’s long. Okay, good.

Sam Demma (27:38):
Yeah. There’ll be able to see that. Also put the email in the show notes of the podcast. Pat again, thank you so much. This has been a great conversation. Really appreciate you making the time. Keep up the great work and we’ll talk soon.

Pat Riddlesprigger (27:50):
Yes, sir.

Sam Demma (27:52):
And there you have it, another amazing guest and amazing interview on the high-performing educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review. So other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show. If you want to meet the guest on today’s episode, if you want to 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 feel your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Pat

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.

Lesleigh Dye – Proud Director of the District School Board Ontario North East

Lesleigh Dye - Director of School Board Ontario North East
About Lesleigh Dye

Lesleigh Dye (@LesleighDye) was the Superintendent of Schools for Rainbow District School Board since 2006. She has been responsible for many portfolios from kindergarten program, to Indigenous education, Equity and Inclusive Education, adult education and leadership.

Prior to her work with the Rainbow School Board, Dye served as Principal and Vice-Principal of schools in Toronto and Ottawa.

With the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board, she oversaw the implementation of the Student Success Initiative in literacy, numeracy and pathways. She also was involved with implementing expert panel reports aimed at improving student success.

With the Toronto District School Board, Dye served as the Central Coordinating Principal for literacy from kindergarten to grade 12.

She has a Master of Education from the Ontario Institute of Studies in Education, a Bachelor of Education from Memorial University and a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) from Carleton University. She also has a Certificat de français from Université de Grenoble.

Today, Lesleigh is the Proud Director of the District School Board Ontario North East. She is passionate about learning and teaching and the success of all students, in particular, those who identify as Indigenous.

Connect with Lesleigh: Email | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

JACK chapters (mental health clubs)

District School Board Ontario North East

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):
Welcome back to another episode of the high-performing educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today we have a very special guest on the podcast. Her name is Leslie Dye. Leslie is the proud director of the district school board Ontario Northeast. She has worked as a teacher principal system, principal and SO in various boards, such as the Toronto district school board, the Ottawa Carlton district school board, and the rainbow district school board.

Sam Demma (01:04):
Leslie is passionate about learning and teaching and ensuring success of all students. In particular, those who identify as indigenous. She enrolled as a PhD candidate at Trenton university. She has her master’s of education from the Ontario Institute of studies in education. She has a bachelor’s of education from Memorial university and a bachelor’s of arts honors from Carleton university. She has done so many different roles in different school boards and I think you’ll take away a lot from her experience that she shares on the podcast here this morning. I’ll see you on the other side. Enjoy.

Sam Demma (01:45):
Leslie. Welcome to the high-performing educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show. Please start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit about your story.

Lesleigh Dye (01:54):
Good morning, Sam. I am the proud director in district school, board, Ontario, Northeast. We have almost 7,000 students and we span from Temagami to Hurston everywhere in between 25,000 square kilometers.

Sam Demma (02:09):
That’s amazing. And what brought you to where you are now share a little bit of your own story and journey through, you know, elementary school, high school university, and then getting into teaching?

Lesleigh Dye (02:22):
I would say my story probably really started in my elementary years of learning. And so as a student in west Vancouver, they were very focused at that time on experiential learning. I am the type of learner who needs direct instruction. And so I, with about half of my classmates in grade four, the teacher Mr. Dean found that half of us could not decode. And so that really influenced me as, as a learner thinking that, that I wasn’t, I couldn’t greed, I wasn’t a good learner. Fast forward in high school, started high school in British Columbia, moved to Ottawa in grade 10, found that move pretty hard. Fortunately, I met my best friend in kind of mid-September, but those first couple of weeks no one talked to me, which I found fascinating that staff wouldn’t say hello in the hallways to me, students wouldn’t say hello in the hallway to me.

Lesleigh Dye (03:19):
And then I grew up in a home where it was an expectation that I would go to university. I’m very privileged that way. Went back to Vancouver, finished my first degree in Ottawa had the incredible honor of living in France for a year to learn French came back to Canada and went to Newfoundland and incredible province and didn’t teachers’ college. And then started my very first teaching job in Toronto. Moved from Toronto to Ottawa. As a principal system, principal came back to Toronto. I became a superintendent in the rainbow board, which is Sudbury did that for about 12 years and then moved up to the new, learn new Liskeard Timmins area. And I had just started my PhD.

Sam Demma (04:07):
And what is your PhD in congratulations by the way.

Lesleigh Dye (04:11):
Thank you. I’m I’m engaged in interdisciplinary studies. I really wanted to branch out beyond education. And on my research question that hasn’t been honed yet is the relationship between collective efficacy. So that notion that by working together, we can make a difference for students and student achievement, particularly students who identify as indigenous.

Sam Demma (04:37):
That’s awesome. That’s so cool. And when you reflect back on your own journey to where you are now, did you have educators and teachers in your life that, you know, nudged you towards getting a job in this vocation? Or did you just know from a young age that you wanted to do this your whole life?

Lesleigh Dye (04:55):
So from a young age, I knew that I loved working with children. So I babysat at a very young age. I lifeguarded, I taught swimming. I was always involved with students. I think it’s probably my aunt, my auntie Pam, who in my primary grades. She, I would say she taught me to read and just knowing that she changed my life. I, that really was a motivator for me.

Sam Demma (05:22):
Hmm. That’s amazing. And you mentioned grade 10 when you first moved to Ottawa, I believe you said it was a little bit difficult. Take me back there for a moment. Like, what was it like being the new student in a new school? What was that experience like for you and how are you trying to avoid that for other students and you know, your school board now?

Lesleigh Dye (05:45):
Yeah, I have to say Sam, I found it brutal. And, and I, I mean, you can see me because we’re on video. I come with a lot of privilege. I’m white, I’m female, I’m, I’m fairly social. And so I’d never been in a, in a situation where for an entire day walking into a building. So my home, my father was the only one that wanted to move to Ottawa. So it was not a happy home in terms of, okay, here we are. No one talking to me for an entire day, except a teacher, perhaps to say, Leslie, sit down or Leslie, put your hand up and actually walking home from school, crying, thinking what, like, I, this, this can’t possibly be what high school is going to be for me. And so if I fast forward, many years later, as a teacher, as a vice principal, principal superintendent now as a director, what I’m in our schools, I say hi to everyone, every single person, I, I say, good morning. If I know the student has Korean heritage, I say, watch if it’s French immersion, I say bowl shool, and really try to just acknowledge everyone. And so that really comes from my, my grade 10 experience.

Sam Demma (07:03):
Oh, that’s awesome. That sometimes fascinates me how our own past issues turn into our inspirations so that someone else doesn’t have to go through the same experience. And it sounds like that was very similar to your own experiences and stories. What are some of the challenges that you’re currently faced with now in education? I know, you know, in front of all of us as the global pandemic, which has been a huge one, but what are some of the challenges you’ve been currently faced with and striving to overcome as a school board?

Lesleigh Dye (07:33):
I would say there are probably two, one, which has really been emphasized during the pandemic and the other one, I would say, not as much. So first of all, the mental health and wellness of our students and our staff that has always been something that we as a senior team have been aware of and are putting supports in place. Some of our students found themselves and some staff to some of our students found themselves in really challenging situations when our schools were closed physically. And we are trying to make sure that we have the supports in place for them, as well as for our staff. One of the things we put in place last year was our employee and family assistance program. So that staff have access not only for themselves but for their child or for their partner or their spouse. The other big struggle for us in DSP. One is that we have a very low graduation rate and we know, and we are working really hard, our staff, our teachers, they’re incredible. We just need to make sure that we are using all the current research in what supports students the best to move forward because we can’t be working harder. We have to figure out a way to work smarter.

Sam Demma (08:55):
That’s a really good point. I think especially because of virtual learning, it was probably challenging for a lot more students and then getting the motivation to come back in class and be social. Again, must be a little bit challenging. What are some, you mentioned one program that, you know, you ran for your staff and students, which is awesome. What are some of the other programs that you heard of schools bringing in that may have been successful in the past couple of years?

Lesleigh Dye (09:22):
So there’s a couple of things that our schools have done particularly around supporting mental health and wellbeing for students. And in many of our high schools, we have Jack chapters and that their focus is to support as you probably know, to support mental health and wellbeing. And then our students Senate with our student trustees last year for the first time ever, we’ve only, this is just your four for us, for our Senate. They in the spring put together a virtual conference, totally student-led for their classmates. And it was all about mental health and wellbeing. And the feedback from that conference from students and from staff has been incredible. I’m so proud of our student trustees for putting that all together during virtual.

Sam Demma (10:11):
That’s amazing. And so would that have been a board-wide event or was that something you did for every single school?

Lesleigh Dye (10:19):
It was for all our students grade seven to 12, and students have a choice whether or not they participated and staff had a choice. So we had a, we have a boat about 3000 secondary students. And I would say at the end of the day, we had about a thousand participate in at least one session. Oh, wow.

Sam Demma (10:37):
That’s so cool. And it run over a couple of days or was that a day long event?

Lesleigh Dye (10:42):
It was a day-long because it was the very first conference and very first virtual conference. They bred four different sessions just for one day. They felt that was enough.

Sam Demma (10:53):
That’s awesome. Oh, that’s so cool to hear, especially that it was student-led. That’s let’s give those students a round of applause. That’s awesome. Leslie, when you think back to yourself in your first year of education what are some of the pieces of advice and wisdom that you might know now that you wish you could have transferred back?

Lesleigh Dye (11:18):
That’s a great question, Sam. I often think of my first year of teaching and think, oh boy, I wish I knew. Then what I know. I think that, so I had the privilege of working with the city of York. It was king middle school, grade seven, eight, and I had a grade seven class and there was a student Jay. And every time I said, kill and Eglington, if you know the Toronto area, every time I gave the students a choice in what they would create, he always tied it back to his, where he had come from Korea. And at the time I thought, oh, that’s interesting. I didn’t appreciate in my very first year, how important cultural identity and, and country of origin. And so fast forward, about 10 years, I had the enormous privilege of being a principal at CHOC foreign public school. So we had 400 students, all the students were black except for one student.

Lesleigh Dye (12:25):
But in that group of students who are black, 50% were Somalian in terms of heritage, 25% were Trinidadi and 25% were Jamaican. And what I really learned and I, I already kind of knew, but I really learned the difference between the history and the experiences of those groups of students. So on the surface, they look like they might be similar and yet making sure as an educator that I understand and appreciate background heritage, and I would use that same example now, living in Northern Ontario in the last board where I served, we had 11 nations all over [inaudible] identity. And they were always very careful to say to me, Leslie, yes, we are on Anishinaabe land, but we are different than that nation down the road. And I really, I really understood, I know I have so much more learning to do, but that is front and center for me.

Sam Demma (13:26):
As do we all right. I think the learning is never-ending. That’s so cool that you take the time to learn those things about the different cultural heritages of the students in the school. Because even when I think back to my experiences in high school, the teachers that made the biggest impact were the ones that got to know us personally, like on a deep, deep level, and could understand our motivations and our inspirations and where we came from and where we aspire to go. So that’s a really interesting and, and, you know, cool piece of advice. You’re also someone who has done so many different roles in education. What inspires you and motivates you every day to keep going and reach higher. Right. see what you, you know, went from the principal, the superintendent to director of education. Now you’re working on a PhD. What, what keeps you going Leslie? Is it like five coffees a day?

Lesleigh Dye (14:17):
It is students. It is hearing their stories. I can remember, oh gosh, this is about 10 years ago. A student had the equity portfolio and a student had made LGBT bracelets. They’re very colourful. And he was, I think he was in grade eight at one of our schools. And I had said to the teacher, could you please let them know? I’d like to buy some. And so I bought some and I, I put it on my wrist and I sent the photo back to the teacher and she said to me, that was probably in may. And that student said, I can’t believe that Ms. DI’s wearing my bracelet. Like, I, I can’t believe that I’m going to keep coming to school till the end of the school year or even Jamal last year, our student trustee, who at the very beginning and our first board meeting, he said, miss, I, I’m not speaking. I’m terrified. I said, that’s fine. We, we want you here. And you know, you and I can have conversations later, too. He graduated from high school, he’s off to university. He’s now in his own nation. He has one of the elected position to represent youth. And he said to me, you know, I wouldn’t have never would have had the confidence to put my name forward for that position in my nation, if it hadn’t been for being a student trustee. So it is totally our students that keep making.

Sam Demma (15:39):
That’s amazing. And how do you encourage a kid to break out of that shell and get involved? Is it just as simple as tapping them on the shoulder and telling them you believe in them, or what does that process look like of helping them realize their own potential?

Lesleigh Dye (15:52):
I think it goes back to exactly what you said earlier. It’s getting to know the students. And so with Jamal knowing I know before his first student Senate meeting, he had said, you know, I’m, I’m really, I’m not feeling very comfortable about this. I think, you know, we could practice that. I have that portfolio. We, we could practice what you’re going to say ahead of time. He sent me the most beautiful, beautiful Christmas card with his family. And so I’m like, who’s, who’s in the photo. I said, I didn’t know you had so many brothers and sisters. And so he described them to me. I, I think it, and of course I’m not having that relationship with all 7,000 students because we have a thousand staff. And so when all our staff have those relationships with a few students that every single student knows that we care about,

Sam Demma (16:42):
That’s amazing. That’s such a good ratio of student to teacher, by the way, I guess that’s one of the benefits of not a small school board, but maybe slightly smaller.

Lesleigh Dye (16:54):
We would be smaller on the Ontario context. We’re on the smaller side and that thousand staff, those are our custodians, our educational, our indigenous student advisors, who all play such a key role in serving our students.

Sam Demma (17:07):
Amazing. That’s awesome. This has been a very great conversation, Leslie, thank you so much for taking the time to share a little bit about your own experiences in education. What are some of the challenges you’re faced with and how you’re overcoming them as well as some of the programs that your school has run that have worked out in the past where do you hope education will be five or 10 years from now? And this is a difficult question and, and one that I’m putting you on the spot, but I’m curious to know what your future, what you’re hoping it to look like.

Lesleigh Dye (17:39):
If I look at the one, my hope, my absolute dream is that we have every single student graduating or getting an Ontario certificate and following their positive feature story. And I know we can do it. We will definitely be in a much better place five years from now, 10 years from now honouring the important traits that some of our students are thinking, oh, that’s not for me. And yet it’s such an incredible pathway. And so I really, I know that each student through the hard work of our staff we’ll get there. We’re not there yet, but we will get there.

Sam Demma (18:19):
I love it. Awesome. Leslie, thank you again so much for coming on the show. If another educator is listening and has been inspired and maybe wants to reach out and ask a question or have a conversation, what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you?

Lesleigh Dye (18:33):
I would say the best way is through Twitter, through a private message. And so that’s @LesleighDye. I’m on Twitter probably once a day. I love to learn from colleagues and so would really be excited to meet new people.

Sam Demma (18:50):
Awesome. Again, Leslie, thank you so much. Keep up the great work and we’ll talk to you soon.

Lesleigh Dye (18:56):
Have a great day

Sam Demma (18:57):
And there you have it. Another amazing guest and amazing interview on the high-performing educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review. So other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show. If you want to meet the guest on today’s episode, if you want to 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 feel your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Lesleigh

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.

Matt Sanders – Experiential Lead Learner at the Lambton Kent District School Board

Matt Sanders, Experiential Lead Learner Lambton Kent DSB
About Matt Sanders

Matt Sanders (@mr_sanders78) is currently the Leader of Experiential Learning for the Lambton Kent District School Board.  In his role, he creates engaging experiences for students to participate in, reflect upon and then apply insights in meaningful ways. 

Matt has been an elementary teacher for 10+ years, passionately searching for ways to incorporate technology and creativity into every lesson!  Here are the resources he mentioned: 

Connect with Matt: Email | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Matt’s Suite of Reflection Strategies (FREE)

Chris St. Amman (Another Experiential Lead Learner)

The Reticular Activating System Explained

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 educators podcast. This is your host and youth speaker Sam Demma. Today’s guest is Matt Sanders. Matt is currently the leader of experiential learning for the Lambton Kent district school board. In his role, he creates engaging experiences for students to participate in, reflect upon, and then apply insights in very meaningful ways. He’s been an elementary teacher for 10 plus years, and he passionately searches for ways to incorporate technology and creativity into every single lesson he delivers.

Sam Demma (01:08):
Not only that, but this teacher, Matt, this high performing educator has a Rolodex of resources that you can find in the link of the episode here today, if you check the show notes, you can click on his personal website. He has a ton of free resources and virtual events, virtual activities that you can do with your class. I think you’ll find it very useful without further ado. Let’s jump into the interview, Matt, thank you so much for coming on the high-performing educator podcast. It is a huge pleasure to have you on the show. 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.

Matt Sanders (01:46):
Sam, thanks for having me on, I do appreciate you asking me to come on. I’m again, as you said, my name’s Matt Sanders I’m the experiential experiential learning coordinator for our board. I work with young people. I’ve been an elementary teacher for a long, long time previous to that. And to be honest, like the reason why I got into this gig is because I love working with young people. Like more than anything no offense to the adults I work with today. But to be honest with you, they’re the coolest and awesome as clientele there is. So just like all that for those that maybe don’t know what an experience learning coordinator would be, basically I’m engaging community partners in schools, in planning. So I’m bringing community partners. We have looking at student and school needs and then, then trying to create opportunities for kids. I think you and I have listened to a bunch of your podcasts by the way, absolutely loved your session on homework extension. And actually I had a couple of conversations recently where I was able to kind of like structure the negotiations with perspective, taking at the core because of that podcast. So and I think you and I have similar hearts and I think that in itself is the reason why we’re doing what we’re doing.

Sam Demma (03:00):
Yeah, absolutely love that. And I’m glad you got some takeaways from the negotiation episode. Definitely don’t share it with your, with your kids because they will, they’ll get more out of you than they should. But what point in your journey did you know, I’m going to work in education because you know, having a big heart and being of service and wanting to help others can land you in a job in so many different areas, how did you end up being, you know, an employee and a person working in education?

Matt Sanders (03:32):
No, it’s funny, Sam. I, a lot of my days I spend working with kids on career and pathway planning. So having conversations with kids on what things make you awesome, what things do you love? What things make you excited? What skills do you have and how can we leverage those things into a future career for you so that you wake up every morning? And you’re like, I am just totally geeked up to go to work. I am so excited because I love what I’m doing. I remember when I was, I want to say like grade seven grade eight, my grandma and my grandpa lived next door to me, our house. And we’d walk over there and we visit hang out and play cards and whatever. And I remember going there when I was in grade seven and I said to, I was in their house and I looked at the, the table and there was a reader’s digest magazine.

Matt Sanders (04:18):
And for those who don’t know what that is, I mean, it’s a, it’s an old school. It’s still around town, but it was definitely something that she had in her house regularly. And I remember looking at the cover of it and it said 10 Canadian teachers and the impact that they make on their kids top 10 Canadian teachers or whatever. And I remember looking at my grandma at that point and saying, I want to be in this magazine one day. And I mean, that was, and so coming back to my first part of this answer I knew at that point I wanted to be a teacher and here I am, and I’m always telling my students, like I know a lot of students will say, well, I’m just only 12. Like it’s not going to impact me. I can, I can dream, but like, it’s not gonna actually happen that way. Well, it did happen that way for me. And if you have a goal and you set forth, you know, planning and thinking and reflecting on that and then push yourself towards that, anybody can do anything you want to.

Sam Demma (05:14):
Yeah, I agree. I agree.

Matt Sanders (05:16):
So I should also say Sam that I think that, and I should say that the human aspect of education, I mean, I love curriculum and I love teaching and I love the knowledge piece, but I think the human aspect of education also really driven, drove me into that. It’s like teaching the life skills, it’s inspiring change and growth in young people. It’s having them think about their future and what their pathway might look like going forward. Looking at passions and interests and seeing how that can be a lightning rod to future success and fulfillment. So it’s all that stuff that makes me love my job.

Matt Sanders (05:59):
I have not.

Sam Demma (05:49):
That’s awesome. Have you ever played the yellow car game with your kids when every time you see a yellow car, they punch you on the shoulder when you’re

Sam Demma (05:59):
Okay. It’s similar to, you know, punch buggy, no punch back. When you see a Volkswagen, you know, punched by a young the highway and when you start playing those games and you look for the car, you realize that you start seeing them more often. It’s like when you start looking for something, it shows up more. And I, I started getting curious because I’m a big advocate for what you mentioned about, you know, dreaming and creating a vision for yourself and setting goals. And I came across this research about the reticular activating system, which is a part of your brain that basically filters through your conscious and subconscious thoughts. So you might have 2 million subconscious thoughts a day, but if your RAs system knows that you’re looking specifically for yellow cars, when it notices a yellow car, it makes that a conscious thought and you’re there for aware of it. And so there is a science behind what you just mentioned and why maybe you ended up in teaching because of your vision back when you read the reader’s digest magazine. So I think that’s awesome. You know,

Matt Sanders (07:01):
I never heard that research before either. That’s awesome.

Sam Demma (07:03):
I’ll send it to you afterwards. But when I’m sure when you got in education and you first started things have changed, you’ve learned a lot you’re not working in a different role. You started as an elementary teacher. What are some of the learnings you have, you know, in this industry that you could share with other educators and maybe it’s things that have worked very well for you or things that have been challenges and you’re still working on figuring them out.

Matt Sanders (07:33):
Yeah. Yeah. I’ll just, I just want to say this, cause I just thought of this and I, it is something that I think is worth mentioning to all young people or did educators that are listening. My dad’s a pretty like wise dude. And I listened carefully when he talks because he’s got valuable things to say. And I remember him saying one day to me about, you know, there are not many people that are lucky enough to go to work and are able to change the world. And I think that’s one of those things where, you know, getting an education, that’s something I feel like I’m able to do. And that’s, I mean, that’s pretty cool challenges as far as COVID are interesting. Cause I think as an experiential learning coordinator, we really do want kids to manipulate with their surroundings and fix things and move things and be creative in their thinking.

Matt Sanders (08:17):
And as well as to reflect on their learning from that, that process of experiencing whatever it is they’re experiencing. I think the absence of experiential learning in schools today is what is making school so challenging. So it’s, it’s missing that togetherness and that collaboration and kids are bottled up kind of working independently and it just doesn’t make for a good learning environment, I guess. It’s so it’s, it’s that challenge that teachers have kind of had to grab hold of and, and work towards making it a positive change. You know, one thing as far as COVID goes, cause I guess I’m going down that pathway right now. There are obviously no silver linings around a worldwide pandemic, but as far as education goes this process of coming back to school through a pandemic has really made educators at least to myself.

Matt Sanders (09:17):
And I would think most educators reflect on every aspect of education and drill down to the core of everything about school and critically think about best practices. So it’s like saying goodbye to that like mindset of we’ve always done it that way, and this is why we’re going to do it. And actually saying like, is this best? I’ll give you a really quick example of my own reflections and my own learnings through this process. I used to send, you know, 40 kids to an event on a bus and I’d get a $600 bill for that bus and I’d go, okay, that was an awesome day for those 40, well, we can’t do that now because of COVID. And so now I’m realizing that the 600 I could have spent on the bus, I can have a community partner come in and work with all 600 kids at that school for the exact same price. So it’s just like stuff like that where we like, no, there’s no silver lining because of this pandemic, but we are probably going to grow and change for the better on the other side in education, at least I think

Sam Demma (10:23):
That’s so true. And not to mention the amount of unique ideas that will come out of this time period, that will be used far after the pandemic ends. You’re someone who actually has a fricking Rolodex of ideas, the website you sent me, can you shed a little bit of light on the bank of resources and what inspired you to create that and where are there educators can get access to it?

Matt Sanders (10:49):
Yeah. So it’s interesting. I mean, we’ve presented that. So a colleague of mine from a different board and I his name is Chris St. Amman. He’s an amazing dude like the best. And he’s also an experiential learning coordinator in Ontario. And we were getting a lot of questions from teachers as far as ref. So we were really pushing reflection and I think all of your, anybody that’s listening to this right now, like make reflection a part of your everyday look at don’t dwell on your mistakes. Like that’s not what we’re looking for, but really like that reflection piece and developing our reflective mindset can help us decide to be optimistic in certain situations. It can help us control all the situations we come through because we’ve been there before and remember thinking through it, it’s that process of like setting goals, taking action and reflecting on those actions and then like doing it again and just everyday growing, I listened to your podcast the other day, Sam, about pain and like bringing on the, and I’m like, that’s in a way that like mistakes are that right?

Matt Sanders (11:57):
The mistakes we make, we can grow from as long as we think through those mistakes. So anyways, back to that, so people were reaching out, we were pushing reflection and people reaching out asking about strategies to get kids reflecting. So not just saying like, yo go reflect, but like legit, like what can we do? What can that look like? So Chris and I started developing basically a bank of strategies and that turned into like essentially a labor of love for helping people digitally. And so we developed this enormous kind of resource it’s called the suite of reflective strategies. Maybe I can send you the link later, but it’s a Bitly it’s bit, bit dot a bit dot L Y backslash reflection strategies. And it’s like, it’s got so many things in it. I was thinking though, Sam, about your audience, if it was young people listening, what could they get from that?

Matt Sanders (12:55):
I do tweet every day, what I call, I call them like five days of reflection or something. And I tweet out a question every day through my Twitter it’s Mr. Underscore Sanders seven, eight. And so I tweet out every day at reflection question and those are in there as well. I call that chatterbox, but it’s basically a box of resources for people to think. So reflection, questions for discussion thought and growth. So I’ll give you a real quick example of what one of those might look like. Yesterday I just pulled it up three things I’d like to change immediately. And three things I’d keep exactly the same as they are now. So just like it could be dinner table conversation with mom and dad. It could be like, I’m going to think about this before I go to bed. For teachers that could be like, throw it up on a screen and have a conversation as a class or like journal about it. Whatever. So anyways, so that reflection resource is, you know, it’s gotten really big. My favorite moment of the summer was I logged on and there was like 45 people on it all at once in August at one time. And I was like my, like my happiest part of school-related summer. So it was pretty cool.

Sam Demma (14:08):
That’s awesome. So cool. That’s amazing. And I’ve dug through those resources a little bit, so I can assure any teacher listening or student it’s worth the time to check them out. If you’re a student, share it with your educators. If you’re an educator, share it with each other. There’s a lot of great information in there, you know, without, without experimentation, there’s no failure without failure. There is no pain without no failure and pain. There’s no reflection and learning. I think all learning is experiential. Meaning you try something, you fail, you learn, you iterate, you try again. A lot of educators have been telling me the state of education is like, you know, thinking and then throw spaghetti against the wall and seeing if it sticks. And I’m curious to know what have you, what have you thrown on the wall? What have you tried that has stuck so far and on the other end, what has not worked out and what have you learned from it that might be valuable for other educators?

Matt Sanders (15:09):
So I, I think it’s interesting. So this whole process as, as really we’ve tried a lot of things there’s I mean, there are things that you try and education or you want to have happen and then they just can’t work out whether it’s, you know, funding or whatever. But I will say you know, one thing I’ve really learned is that best practices in education, whether you’re teaching face to face or virtual are absolutely the same. It’s, it’s building relationships. It’s encouraging students to use their voice. It’s providing engaging content for kids. It’s connecting content to real life and showing students why it’s meaningful to them. It’s honestly, my favorite thing in the world is allowing students to be experts, finding situations where students can be the experts and lead like every day. So it’s stuff like that. Like I know you try stuff and you like, oh, this, this is, I hope this really works out and it doesn’t, but I always come back to those like that, that idea of give kids a voice, allow them to see themselves in their own learning, allow them to be experts and take, you know, positive, make positive change.

Matt Sanders (16:22):
You know, I will say I was reflecting on this the other day. Cause I, you know, I love young people and I think they’re all amazing. And one thing that gives me a lot of hope going forward about our world in general is our young people. It’s such an, it’s so inspiring. Like when you turn on the news and you look at, you know, people protesting injustices in our time, it’s typically not 60 year olds that you see standing outside, you know, it’s, it’s our young people, it’s their drive to make a difference in the world and be a catalyst for worldwide change. It’s them pushing equity and inclusion and acceptance. I have a five-year-old at home and she has autism and I couldn’t be happier that she’s growing up in this time when we are just so we’re getting better at being inclusive as a society. I want to say, at least from my own experience within our schools. So you know that, I mean, that’s in general, that’s, that’s where I’m at right now with, with all of that.

Sam Demma (17:30):
That’s awesome. I love it, man. I absolutely love it. And in fact, I had a teacher Mike loud foot who inspired me to try and be the change I want to see in the world by teaching this simple lesson that a small, consistent action can make a massive change. And that led to a whole thing about picking up garbage, but it’s so true. It’s, it’s the wisdom of people like yourself who pass it on to youth who then go out there and want to make a difference. And I think that’s just like, it’s such a beautiful process to witness and to watch a young person make an impact and then stand in their belief in themselves after saying, wow, I did do something that I thought maybe before wouldn’t have been possible that has a huge impact on others. So I think that’s amazing in your experience as an educator, you know, teaching young people, mentoring young people because a teacher is not just a content facilitator.

Sam Demma (18:22):
Sometimes you take on the role of a second parent or a guidance counselor or a coach or a mentor. Have you had any experiences where you’ve seen a student transform and maybe you had a huge change in their self-esteem in their life, in their direction and you can change their name if it’s a very serious story. And the reason I’m asking you to share this is because another educator might be listening, forgetting why they actually got into education. That’d be burnt out listening to this and a story about transformation might remind them why they actually started.

Matt Sanders (18:57):
Yeah, I think, you know, I’ve got, you know, dozens and dozens of situations where I’ve seen enormous change. You know, I, I mean most educators, if they’re building relationships and really deeply diving into those relationships and showing kids that they care, you’re going to see positive change, no matter what, you know, it’s the, it’s the teachers and I am sorry. It’s, it’s my own teachers. What I was a kid I’m not going to, I don’t want to critique teachers in the world today, but it was my own teachers that thought the way to get through to others, other students was to punish them or to yell at them or tell them to put their head down on the table, like kids today, students today, adults today don’t want to do what they’re told. If they’re being told it in a negative or rude or disrespectful way.

Matt Sanders (19:48):
Like we all want to just get along. And sometimes kids reach out in a negative way and behave in a negative way because of just wanting attention, wanting love, wanting to be respected. And so, you know, I, as, as far as you know, situations right now you know, in my role right now, I’m not teaching all the time with kids, but I say that I always really pushed. Like we talked about already in this conversation today, we’re always really pushed students to think about their mistakes, to have a growth mindset, to reflect, to make decisions based on those reflections. And I, and I also, you know, always gave every bit of myself to my students. And I think I always, I mean, I shouldn’t say I sound like I’m bragging a little bit, but I definitely always saw positive change in my students because of the relationships that I built.

Matt Sanders (20:44):
And I think for any educator that’s out there today, you know, I’ve heard a couple of times and not educators on my board. I remember when I was in teacher’s college, I remember a teacher saying to me, don’t smile until December and that’s the way you get through to your kids. And I was like, that is still not the way it goes, man. And because of the relationships and you know, I’ll stay in at recess and help you with this and I’ll stay after school. If you need support and I’ll coach basketball and I will give you love every day. And I will tell you that I care deeply for you and I want what’s best for you. And that’s the way I’m going to teach every day. That’s the process that I’ve always had success, even with the kid. That’s like, you know, we’re that kids are gonna have a real struggle. It’s going to, he’s going to be taking people off task and it’s going to be a challenge every day. I was like, no, just, just show them. You love them and that you care and that you want what’s best for them. And they’ll be your best friend. Yeah.

Sam Demma (21:39):
So true. Everyone’s human needs are the same, whether it’s an adult, an 80 year old man or a 10 year old kid in a classroom. So that’s a great philosophy to live by and teach by. If, if another educator has been inspired by anything we’ve talked about today and wants to reach out bounce ideas around, have a conversation with you, what would be the best way for them to do so?

Matt Sanders (22:01):
Great. I would love, love, love, love to connect with any other educator. That’s interested probably either through Twitter, Twitter’s easiest. Mr_Sanders78. Check the reflective resource. I’m not making a dime off of it. It’s all a labor of love and it’s all a drive to make a change in the world. And that’s bit.ly/Reflectionstrategies check it out. I mean, my emails on that as well. If somebody is looking to connect with me or have questions about that resource itself, happy to have a conversation and students that you, if you’re listening right now, you know, don’t give up on yourself ever, you know, be the best you can be reflect the great overachieve smile. Think positively. Here’s a story for you, Sam, before we sign off. Totally. This is a perfect example of me saying to myself, I will think about things in a positive light.

Matt Sanders (23:02):
Two weeks ago I dropped my phone at a gas station, brand new iPhone fell out of my car. I think that’s what happened to it. I spent like three hours trying to find it. Couldn’t find it. It was gone. I called, I used the like find my app, all the things. And I was like, I left it for the night. I’m like, well, I probably won’t ever see it again. Like I’m just going to have to move on. And by the next day I had actually got myself to realize that maybe it was a sign that I needed to put down my phone more often. And I was going to get out of my old iPhone seven. I had a crack in it and I was going to be just fine. And I had completely moved on and it was just me saying to myself, you know, it’s, it is what it is.

Matt Sanders (23:43):
You gotta be more careful. I learned from that. I need to be more careful with my stuff and that maybe it was a sign I needed to just like, not be so technol, technologically inclined. And and then five days later somebody had found it on the road and called me and said, I’ve been looking for you for four days. We tried everything and they messaged my wife through Facebook to get it back to goodness lady inside them. She found on the side of the road. So like I had completely moved on. I had changed over my, until my old iPhone seven and I was totally good with it. But it’s an example of like that like mindset, like just it’ll be okay. Just push. So anyways, that’s just a funny story.

Sam Demma (24:26):
On the other side, seeing the good in people, right? Like that lady looks for you for five days. That is less.

Matt Sanders (24:33):
And then she ended up, she just found somebody had texted me and sorry, my wife had texted me and then her, she saw the name and then looked up my wife’s name on Facebook to find to message her, to see if she knew me. So. Cool. Incredible. Yeah.

Sam Demma (24:52):
Yeah. Selfless, selfless lady. That’s awesome. All right. Perfect. Well, thanks so much for coming on the show, Matt, it’s been a huge, huge pleasure. We’ll definitely stay in touch and I look forward to continuing watching your labor of love and all the positive impact your work has and all your teachers from your school have in your board on all the students you guys would like that look after. Thank you. So, and there you have it. Another amazing guest and amazing interview on the high-performing educator podcast. As always, if you enjoyed these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review. So other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show. If you want to meet the guest on today’s episode, if you want to meet any of the guests that we have interviewed, consider going to www dot high-performing educator.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 feel your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

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Dulcie Belchior-Demedeiros – Principal of Student Success at the Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board

Dulcie Belchior
About Dulcie Belchior-Demedeiros

Dulcie Belchior (@MsDBelchior) has been in education for the past 20 years. She is currently the Principal of Student Success, Learning to 18 and Secondary Program at the Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board where she is able to share her passion for instructional leadership, teacher development and student success. Wife, mother, educator, and bookworm!

Connect with Dulcie: Email | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Specialist High Skills Major Programs

Principal’s Qualification Courses

The Edwin Platform

Bee-Bot Programmable Robot

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:02):
Dulcie, welcome to the high-performing educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here today. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit behind what brought you to where you are in education today?

Dulcie Belchior (00:14):
Sure. Thank you for having me, Sam. So my name is Dulcie Belchior. I’m currently the principal of student success learning to 18 and secondary program at Dufferin-Peel Catholic district school board. And how I got here. Wow. That’s very complicated. I think sometimes when you talk to teachers in terms of how they, you know, they decide on their vocation, it’s kind of a twisty, twisty, turny path, and there’s so many different things that happened in their life that, you know, make them reflect on the fact that, you know, you know, I can, I can do this type of job. I can work with kids. I can be a teacher and for me, I think it, it did start early. And I think if you ask a lot of teachers and starts early, when you’re a small child, when I was four years old going into JK, I grew up in a family that spoke Portuguese.

Dulcie Belchior (01:16):
So I went to school, basically. I was born in Canada. I was born in Toronto, but I only spoke Portuguese. So I basically entered school as an ELL student. And what happened from there is I did, was able to learn the English language quickly. And so in JK, I became a mentor for the other ELL students by the end of the year, trying to teach them to speaking with, Hey, you say this, do this. This is how you say that. So I think I remember that experience even though I was very young because I think it was very important to how I became a teacher. And so it started very early there, I think in elementary school too. I was that student that kids could go to for help. So if you didn’t want to go, you know, some kids don’t want to ask the teacher, they want to ask a friend or student.

Dulcie Belchior (02:11):
So I was that kind of go-to student, but they knew that if you went to Dulcey, you weren’t going to get the answer. That’s not what you went to Dawson. I was like, I’m not going to give you the answer. I will show you how to do this. For me. That’s very important. I think as a teacher, as a person, you know, that old saying where if you teach a person to fish, you know, they will be able to survive their entire life. You don’t just give them a fish. And so even in elementary school, I, I would show them how to do it. This is how you do the math problem, for example. And I think that was, you know, that helped them more than just giving them an answer and them walking away. So I think that’s another as to, you know, my reflection as, so I can be a teacher.

Dulcie Belchior (03:03):
I, I think that’s a good vocation for me in grade seven and eight, I helped in the JK class, you know, yours do that volunteer work in, in junior kindergarten class. When I was in university, I took a bachelor of science. But throughout university, I, you know, I was able to be lucky enough to teach international language program. So I taught elementary school kids, Portuguese. So I was doing that, not as a teacher, but as a late person, teaching them the language working for Dufferin-Peel at the time. And and I am a student of deaf from as well. I know a lot of teachers go back to the board that they were a student at and that’s the same with me. So I’m a different field graduate and very proud of that. And also in university at that time, they still had emergency supply teachers.

Dulcie Belchior (03:53):
So I was doing that throughout university, even though I was taking my bachelor of science. And after graduating with a bachelor of science, then you decide, okay, well, what can I do with the bachelor of science? What, or where am I going to go? So I had my eyes set on probably maybe pharmacy. I did work at shopper’s drug Mart in the pharmacy as an assistant pharmacy assistant for my whole entire high school career in university career. So again, you know, you’re doing something, you know, you can do it, you fall into that. Maybe I’ll be a pharmacist. So that was a choice that, you know, and in life sometimes you have disappointments and that was a disappointment because I was never able to get into the program. So I did apply then to nursing and I applied to teaching. So I did have a choice then between teaching and nursing.

Dulcie Belchior (04:52):
And that’s, I think, you know, where you get to that point where you really truly have to reflect, this is my future. One of my best stat. And I think both of those careers, their careers, where you can help people in different ways, but you can help people. So I, you know, there was a lot of conversations with family, with my fiance. Who’s now my husband with some teachers. And I did decide that teaching was probably the best vocation for me. And so with all of that that long journey, I went into the bachelor of education program at York university. So that is my complicated story of how I got into teaching.

Sam Demma (05:34):
Oh, that’s not such an awesome story. I’ve never had someone tell me about mentoring other students in JK. So that’s such a cool, like origin for the story. Thank you so much for sharing. No problem. Like what happened after university? So you go into your bachelor’s at York, did you return directly to Dufferin-Peel and what different positions did you work in before getting into student success? Right.

Dulcie Belchior (05:57):
So after I graduated from New York with my bachelor of education, I was lucky enough to get a position as a teacher at Jefferson Peele. So I started my career teaching grade seven and eight at a school which no longer exists in the board. So it was near the airport in Mississauga, and it was actually called our lady of the airways, which I think is such a beautiful name for a school. But that school sends closed down. So I taught grade seven and eight for two years, and I was teaching science as well. So I was doing some rotation science because I was lucky enough to have that background. So that was an opportunity to share my talent and my joy, because I love science with the students there. So I did that for two years and in those two years, I decided to apply for the master’s program at Boise.

Dulcie Belchior (06:53):
So I started doing that part-time within the first two years of me starting teaching. So I got my master’s a couple of years later, curriculum teaching, learning department and specialized in teacher development. So I started that in my first couple of years of teaching. After that, I I applied for a position at St. Francis Xavier secondary school in Mississauga. So I was successful with the interview. So I became a high school teacher teaching science, which I love. So I was able to teach chemistry, biology grade nine and 10 science. And I was also trained to teach in the international baccalaureate program there. So I taught biology with the students there. So I got a lot of different types of experience there as well. I was able to help support the student council there cause I love student council because I was the president of student council at father Michael Gates when I was a high school student.

Dulcie Belchior (07:57):
So I thought, you know, I think that’s something that I can help students with. So I supported them there as well after teaching at St. Francis Xavier for many years, I decided it was time for a change time for another challenge. So I started taking my principal’s qualification courses and I got my PQP part one and part two. And I went into the interviews for a vice principal position at the board and was successful. And my first position as a vice principal was at St. Margaritaville secondary school in Brampton. So I worked there for approximately four years, and then I was a vice principal at father Michael Gates. The school that I actually graduated high school from, which was a little weird sometimes, sometimes going back as a VP within some of the teachers who were still there, but it was a great experience. So I was a VP there for years. Then I became a principal and I was a principal at St. A Dustin secondary school in Brampton for one year. And from there, I became the, my current time in the current position. Now the principal student success learning to 18 and secondary program. So that’s how, again, I found myself where I am to.

Sam Demma (09:18):
That’s awesome. What does the role entail? You know, student success and secondary programs, you know, certain educators are sitting might not be familiar with it, especially if they’re outside of Canada. So what does it, what does it entail? What does it look like and why are you passionate about it? What do you think student success means?

Dulcie Belchior (09:38):
I’m passionate about student success because my model, or, you know, what motivates me is that I want to inspire a love of learning in every student. Students need to see themselves in the learning. They need to see themselves be successful in the learning and our jobs. As teachers, as educators, is to provide the environment where they will be successful, not where they can meet, where they will be successful. And I think having this position at a system level really helps me help the principals, the administrators in the schools, and helps the teachers in the schools as well to provide professional development, to provide resources, to provide critical and culturally responsive resources for schools that will have students be able to number one, see themselves in the learning and number two, be successful at that learning. So again, that student success encompasses a lot of things that are in campuses, programs like, oh, yeah.

Dulcie Belchior (10:45):
Program programs like SHSM and even programs where students who may not have been successful in the past, I may have left school without graduating can come back and we invite them back to finish and to graduate and to get that opportunity to do that at a time in their life where they’re ready to do that. So I think there’s so many layers to this job where it it’s exciting. It’s exciting. And it’s a job where you can show people that teaching is not just filling a bucket full of knowledge. And here you go, that’s your knowledge, okay. It’s igniting a flame in students and in teachers and in all educators where everyone loves to learn, they see themselves as learners, they see themselves being successful and they can move forward and do what they are passionate about. So they have an opportunity to actually see what they’re passionate about, to experience things, different things so that they can make choices for their future, which is the most important thing.

Sam Demma (11:54):
I love that. And where did your passion for student success come from? Was it originally something that you wanted to explore and try, or did you know that it was something you were, you know, extremely passionate about?

Dulcie Belchior (12:07):
It’s something I’ve always been extremely passionate about. And as you know, when I became an administrator was an opportunity to become that instructional leader for teachers. And so when I started having that opportunity to pass on this passion, I guess, for students success for, you know, instructional leadership for assessment, for evaluation, for rich tasks, just doing a lot of great teaching whenever I had the opportunity to share that with others, I took it. And I think now in this position, it’s, it’s just a perfect place where I’d love to share different experiences, different resources, different opportunities, different types of professional development so that our educators can, you know, we’ll be able to ignite that flame in all of our students.

Sam Demma (13:05):
I love that. That’s awesome. That’s so cool. And what do you think right now are some of the challenges that we’re faced with in education and on the other coin, also some of the opportunities that these challenges may be bringing to us and, you know, a very difficult scenario.

Dulcie Belchior (13:23):
Well, I think, you know, let’s talk about the elephant in the room, which is COVID-19. And I think that’s been a huge challenge in education, especially since we’ve had to pivot sometimes on a daily basis and where educators have had to really, really change their mindset on what teaching and learning looks like. And students have had to change their mindset on what learning looks like. And, you know, going into a digital type, only learning has really pushed everyone to a new level. We really have been forced to become 21st century learners. And I think that is an opportunity in itself. So it is a great positive where we’ve learned how we can leverage digital technology as a wonderful tool to help students learn because that’s how they learn. That’s how they interact. That’s how they socialize. So it’s something they’re familiar with, which helps them be successful.

Dulcie Belchior (14:29):
Now, I don’t think that it should become the only thing that’s not what teaching and learning is about, but it is a wonderful tool that we can leverage in our classrooms. And I think so that’s been a challenge in itself, and I think it’s also an opportunity for the future. I think coming back in September, some of the challenges are going to be that, you know, students and staff, even though, and we’ve heard this before, we’ve all been in the same storm of COVID-19. People have been traveling through this storm in different vessels, different boats, sometimes a dinghy, sometimes a piece of driftwood. And now they’re coming back and we’re all going to be interacting with each other and we need to be kind, we need to be compassionate. We need to listen, and we need to understand that everyone is coming from a different place.

Dulcie Belchior (15:26):
So we are, we cannot, we cannot come back into our classrooms and expect everyone to be at the same level of learning at the same level of knowledge, at the same level of mental health and wellbeing, we are going to all be in different places. And I think so we have to come back with that understanding. And I think that’s the most important thing is to go slow, move slowly, listen, talk to students, get to know your learners, who’s in your classroom and what are the needs of every student in your classroom. We’re not going to go forward until we know what the needs of all of these students are because they’re all going to be different. And I think we have to change our mindset. We can’t think about it as a deficit. So, you know, the knowledge that they don’t bring in now because of COVID, that’s a deficit.

Dulcie Belchior (16:18):
No, we have to look at it as what are they coming in with and how can we move them forward? So how will we move them forward from where they’re at? So it’s not a deficit model, it’s a model of where are you at? We’re going to move you forward from there and we’re going to move everyone forward. And we’re going to use the best of our abilities to do that, but we have to do that with kindness and we have to do that with patients. And we have to know that it’s not going to happen in a day and it’s going to take a long time and that’s okay. That’s okay. Because we need to ensure that our students in our classrooms are healthy and that their well-being is taken care of and also our educators. Okay.

Sam Demma (17:06):
That’s amazing. The, you know, the cool thing, I think about student successes, that you have an opportunity to really impact a young person and not to not to say that, you know, every educator doesn’t have that opportunity. They all do, but when you’re focused solely on the success of the students, it’s, it’s a cool opportunity to make a big difference. Have you, you know, over the past couple of years being able to see the impact of some of the programs on the students directly and maybe you can share a story of one in particular that sticks out in your mind, and if it’s a serious individual, you can just change their name or just use Bob or something. Yeah.

Dulcie Belchior (17:45):
And, and in general, you’re right. It’s a great opportunity to see success and to see successes everywhere in the board. So it’s not just, you know, in one school it’s, if you have a, a program that you introduce, it’s how this supports a larger group of students or educators. So some of the things that we have done through program, number one, it has been we introduced the Edwin platform in our board for elementary students. So for grade seven and eight students, and what this platform did was actually provide students with one-on-one technology. So every student gets a laptop, a Chromebook, and the amazing things that I have been able to see, the amazing presentations, the research projects, just everything that’s coming out of the ability to change the mindset of learning and having students able to work together in a different way. And to have that one-to-one technology as a tool, it’s also helped the teachers change their mindset in how they teach in the classroom.

Dulcie Belchior (18:59):
And this was introduced before COVID. And I think that it benefited when we went into COVID with students already being kind of immersed in this type of learning. So it changes the way that they learn. It changes the way that they can present their ideas. You can do so many rich tasks using technology when students have it one on one. So I think that’s been great. And you see it, I see it in a large capacity, right? And students in general, families in general teachers saying how wonderful it is to have these things in their classrooms and how it has opened their minds to so many different ways of teaching and the different things that students can do. Students in JK, for example, coding, using the computers, we introduced a lot of different types of coding resources. And we, for example, the Bee-Bots, so it’s a little B that junior kindergarten students can actually code to move around a carpet or a floor.

Dulcie Belchior (20:15):
And they are learning coding at four years old, five years old. And that’s just, it’s amazing. So when you see videos that teacher’s tweaked videos, that teachers send us of their students working together in groups using these, Bee-Bots knowing that number one, they’re having fun. You can see that they’re having fun. Number two, they love to do it. And they’re learning a new language. This is a completely new language, and they’re learning it at four years old. It’s just amazing to that happening. So that was another thing that we did. I think another important thing in program that we’ve worked on is ensuring that, you know, we’re working on getting co culturally responsive and relevant resources into our secondary classrooms and our elementary libraries as well. But especially into our English classes, getting books where students can feel like they’re being represented, like they’re being reflected in the learning different characters relevant topics.

Dulcie Belchior (21:25):
And, you know, the letters that we have received from different students who were asked, here’s a book, let’s read it as a class. Give us your feedback on the book. What do you think, do you think students in your grade will like this book? Do you think it’s culturally responsive? Do you think it’s relevant to your generation right now? And the letters that I received from students saying, wow, thank you for actually asking that question. Thank you for having students involved in what we’re going to learn. You know, thank you for asking us, is this relevant to me as a student? And so again, I come back to that listening, understanding, knowing where kids are and, and asking the questions, you know, is this good for you? Will this help you learn? Will this help you love learning? Will this help you be successful? And I think that’s one of the biggest things that we’ve worked on that I find has been very rewarding. And we’re still working on that. It’s a large project obviously, and, you know, it takes time, but we’re working on it. So I think that’s been wonderful.

Sam Demma (22:37):
That’s amazing. And if you could go back in time and speak to your younger self, like, you know, first year teaching, but what the advice and knowledge you have now, what advice would you give to your younger self?

Dulcie Belchior (22:50):
I think when you’re when you’re a new teacher, and I think back when I was a new teacher, it’s almost like you’re in survival mode and you, you think, oh, I just got to get through all of this information. I just have to teach, you know, I have to ensure that everything in this book is done and the kids get it and they all understand it. And it’s all good and done. So if I’ve covered it, I’m good. I think the advice that I will give is to take it slow, to take that time, to talk to every student, to get to know every student. So get to know what they love, what they’re interested in, how they learn, what they like to learn. What’s their favorite subjects and base your whole year. Everything based on that, because you can teach whatever. It doesn’t matter what you teach, but if you are not connecting with your students, they will not learn.

Dulcie Belchior (23:48):
They will not learn. So I think taking that extra time, cause I know time is always an issue and it is time is always an issue for everyone in every career. But that is so important that time that you take initially with those students will make a difference for the rest of the year and for years to come, they’ll come back. And I think that’s the one thing that students will come back and say is you took the time to know me so that I could be successful. So that’s the advice I give to any new teacher.

Sam Demma (24:21):
Love that. Awesome. They’ll see. Thank you so much for sharing some of your stories, philosophies, perspectives. If another educator is listening right now and wants to reach out to you and bounce some ideas around, talk about cool programs, what would be the best way to get in touch?

Dulcie Belchior (24:36):
Well, they can get in touch with me on Twitter. So it’s at @MsDBelchior, or they can email me at dulcie.belchior@dpcdsb.org.

Sam Demma (24:55):
Keep up the amazing work. Thank you so much for coming on the show. Best of luck with the next school year.

Dulcie Belchior (25:02):
Thanks so much, Sam. Have a great day.

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