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student wellness

Michelina Battaglini – Principal at Cardinal Ambrozic Catholic Secondary School

Michelina Battaglini - Principal at Cardinal Ambrozic Catholic Secondary School
About Michelina Battaglini

Michelina Battaglini (@BATTAGLINI_dpc), is the Principal at Cardinal Ambrozic C.S.S. in Brampton. She is a recipient of Principal of the Year Award 2015 presented by the Catholic Principal’s Council of Ontario. Michelina started her educational career in 1997 at St. Francis Xavier C.S.S. and then moved to Loyola C.S.S. as Department Head of Science before she moved into her role as vice-principal at Cardinal Leger S.S. in 2008. 

Michelina then moved back to Loyola as vice-principal before becoming principal at St. Michael C.S.S. in Bolton in 2015 and has now been at Cardinal Ambrozic for 2.5 years. She cares for and works with ALL students in the school. She enjoys all aspects of the secondary school experience, including student leadership, extra-curricular clubs, school-based productions and athletics. 

She participates in many extra-curricular events and always joins the instrumental concert band when they are performing for their school community. Michelina believes that many hands make for light work, so if we all come together in our schools to provide a multitude of opportunities for our students. The sky is the limit!! We are here to ensure our students graduate from high school as well-rounded individuals who are:

  • discerning believers
  • effective communicators
  • self-directed, responsible, life-long learners
  • collaborative contributors
  • effective, creative and holistic thinkers
  • caring family members
  • responsible citizens

Student and staff wellness is a passion as she continues to work to find balance and fulfillment in her own life.

Connect with Michelina: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Cardinal Ambrozic C.S.S

Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board

Catholic Principal’s Council of Ontario

Being A Good Listener – The School of Life

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (01:02):
Welcome back to another episode of the high performing educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today we are joined by a very special guest. Her name is Michelina Battaglini. Michelina is the Principal at Cardinal Ambrozic Catholic Secondary School in Brampton. She’s a recipient of the Principal of the year award in 2015 presented by the Catholic principal’s council of Ontario. Michelina started her educational career in 1997 St. Francis Xavier, and then moved to Loyola as department head of science before she moved into her role as Vice Principal at Cardinal Ledger Secondary School in 2008. Michelina then moved back to Loyola as Vice Principal before she became Principal at St. Michael and Bolton in 2015, and has since been at Cardinal Ambrozic for two and a half years. She cares and works with all students in the school. She enjoys all aspects of the secondary school experience; including student leadership, extracurricular clubs, school-based productions, and athletics.


Sam Demma (01:57):
She participates in many extracurricular events and always joins the instrumental concert band when they are performing for their school community. Michelina believes that many hands make for light work so if we all come together in our schools to provide a multitude of opportunities for our students, the sky is the limit. She’s here with her staff to ensure that students graduate from high school as well-rounded individuals who are discerning believers, effective communicators, collaborative contributors, reflective, creative, and holistic thinkers, caring family members, and responsible citizens. Student and staff wellness is a passion of hers as she continues to work to find balance and fulfillment in her own life. I hope you enjoy this conversation with Michelina, I will see you on the other side. Michelina, welcome to the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on this show. Please start by introducing yourself.


Michelina Battaglini (02:49):
So my name’s Michelina Battaglini and I’m a Principal at Cardinal Ambrozic Catholic Secondary School, which is part of the Duffern-Peel Catholic District School Board.


Sam Demma (03:00):
When did you realize that education was gonna be your career? And when did you make the decision that you were gonna pursue this path?


Michelina Battaglini (03:10):
So I guess I realized more so when I was doing my master’s degree in biochemistry at 12, and I was teaching me undergrad science students in the lab. Many of them started saying, well, why don’t you go into teaching? Cause you’re a great teacher. And I said, well, no, my, my goal was to try to get my PhD in biochemistry and then pursue probably like research. But then if you ask my family or friends of when I was younger, supposedly I don’t seem to recall this as well, but maybe, maybe I do. And I’m just trying to lie right now. In the summertime we would actually, I would actually make all the kids in the neighborhood go to school in my garage. And so I would make them homework and all of that kinda stuff. But so I think I put that aside and then I had other aspirations, but then, you know, being with the young students in university and just hearing how, you know, they wanted someone who could explain things the way I was doing it. So then that is what triggered me to get into education.


Sam Demma (04:11):
Awesome. And along the journey, did you have educators in your life who tapped you on the shoulder, gave you advice, helped you along the way? Did you have educators who guided you or said you should consider teaching


Michelina Battaglini (04:30):
Teaching directly? No, that I don’t recall. I mean, I have a few educators that really had an impact on me and I think that’s, those are the ones that then allowed me to pursue that I did like going into sciences wanting to like pursue a higher education. But education, like going into teaching teaching, that was those young kids that I was their teacher, like their lab supervisor that they, they were the ones that really pushed me. So it’s kids and that’s what my life is great students. So


Sam Demma (05:06):
Tell me more about the teachers who had a big impact on you when you were a student. And tell me a little bit about what they did for you.


Michelina Battaglini (05:14):
Okay. So I guess the first one was my music teacher in grade eight, who grade seven, eight, who really said that I had an CLU for music. And so I started then to pursue music and played a few instruments and especially in high school and then high school, my biology teacher was quite influential for me so that science and, but also my music teacher, so that music science thing was there. And then university, my undergraduate professor in biochemistry is what a passion I had for biochem. And then that led me to do my computer.


Sam Demma (05:54):
Awesome. When you finished your, your education that you were required to start teaching, what did your path look like from that point forward?


Michelina Battaglini (06:07):
So when I finished teacher’s college and of course I went to teachers college and I was a little older than most of the people there. Right. Cause I had been my master’s degree. So my goal was to get into the science field biology, chemistry. And then that summer I took one course for computer science qualification and that’s what landed me a job. Cause there were no computer science teachers out there. And so I had a lot of learning to do over the summer cause I had to learn how to program and teach that. So yeah, that’s what I ended up doing. That’s what got me, my job as a science teacher, then I became, then I moved into the sciences. And then I ended up in administration.


Sam Demma (06:46):
Tell me a little bit about what it’s like being a principal. It sounds like you’ve done various roles for someone listening who doesn’t really know what the life of a principal is. Like, how would you explain it or give the behind the scenes?


Michelina Battaglini (07:04):
Well it’s really like, everything stops with me. Right? So you know, you’re in charge of, you wanted to put it like a business, like you have all of these different employees, let’s say different levels. So you have your students, you have staff and your staff that’s up into seven different groups, right? Like, so you have secretaries, historians, teachers, educational workers, et cetera. So as a principal, you’re always willing to try to ensure that, you know, children are being educated the best possible way you’re providing all of those opportunities for them order to ensure success so that they can continue in those secondary. So as a principal, there’s a lot on our shoulders I guess. But it’s, it’s rewarding and it’s energizing cause of the, of the people that we serve, which are the young students and being in high school which is very different, right. There’s people that prefer elementary over, but I just love the energy that then. So yeah. I don’t know. I guess that I would say that’s what sums up being a principal, everything just stops with me and I have to make all those decisions. And when I go home at night, I don’t wanna make one decision at all. And it’s like, everybody else can make the decisions I’m done for the day.


Sam Demma (08:21):
Go home. And people are like, what’s for dinner. Yeah.


Michelina Battaglini (08:23):
And it’s like, no,


Sam Demma (08:24):
I don’t know. I somebody else. Yeah.


Michelina Battaglini (08:26):
You tell me and I’ll make it, but


Sam Demma (08:28):
That’s awesome. You got into administration how far into your career and what would you say? You mentioned that the students were rewarding. What would you say are some of the rewarding aspects of, of being a teacher and working in administration?


Michelina Battaglini (08:46):
So I guess so being in the classroom and when you have students in there who are eager to learn or always trying to do their best, I think that is so rewarding. Right. I to see how kids want to please another person, but in the same time learn is just, I dunno, it’s, it’s magical for me, I guess if you wanna use that word. And just their eagerness. So like what, and being a high school teacher, when you transition from that grade 10 to 11 years and being a chemistry teacher, which I love doing the grade 11 chemistry course was one that a lot of kids have a hard time wrapping their heads. Right. And because of the concept that you’re teaching, but it was just, it was so wonderful to see when it child finally understood what we were talking about.


Michelina Battaglini (09:38):
It was almost like this sense of clarity came upon them when you’re in the classroom. You’re like, wow, you’re like miss now I get it. Mm. And so just knowing that they get it, and then they have this sense of comfort, whatever that, that definitely working. So I started teaching, loved the teaching part, but then there were people in, in the school who obviously saw something more in me. So they started encouraging me to move forward, becoming an administrator. So, but in the interim I was taking on like schoolwide initiative where I was in charge of student council like the new teacher. And then, you know, my team of teacher between six of us, we had a, I mean, they came up with amazing things that year, you know, they were also part of rewriting the constitution for the school, which was then from other schools. And then from there I took my courses. I administrator, I was a vice principal and I was happy to be a vice principal, but people were like, you know, you should be a principal. So I’ve always had a lot positive encouragement. And then even from like teachers and other adults, and I think that’s, what’s yeah. Gotten to where I am right now, their, their belief in me. Cause sometimes I think on, do I, can I do it? So is, is


Sam Demma (10:58):
Mentioned making lots of decisions. I’m certain, there are some days where you have to make decisions that are extremely difficult on those days. What keeps you hopeful and motivated?


Michelina Battaglini (11:15):
Ultimately it’s my, when I make any decision is what’s best with this. So what I think is the best thing for kids. Sometimes some people don’t think it is because for them it looks like it’s more work. Right. and so if I always keep that at the center of my decision, I don’t, I don’t waiver from that. And as long as I have points to defend why I’m, I’m making that decision. Even though people try to challenge me on some of my decisions, they do see where I’m coming from. And, and I mean, you know, I don’t always just make a decision and not consult with people. I do speak to my vice principal or I’ll speak to other teachers right up to an area that I’m not fully familiar with. But those hard decision days where, you know, you’re gonna have people that aren’t gonna be happy. Ultimately it’s, what’s best for kids and that’s for me then not just, that’s the reason why I make that decision and I go ahead with them, no matter how hard it’s gonna be, I will


Sam Demma (12:14):
Keep calm and carry on.


Michelina Battaglini (12:16):
Yes, exactly. Gee, I wonder where you saw that.


Sam Demma (12:22):
That’s amazing. I think that’s a really solid piece of advice. Keeping the students wellbeing at the center of your decisions, you kind of can’t go wrong. No. What do you, you, what do you think reflecting on your experience in administration have been some of the programs you brought in the school, things that you have done that have had a positive impact on school, community students that you are really proud of and that you and your team are proud of?


Michelina Battaglini (12:52):
So I know so in my previous school where I was a principal I think some of the most important students in a school and the way our school is from different feelers, we have our special needs classes that are part of the school and some school boards, we have segregated schools, but integrated and, and also those students are integrated into classes, but I feel it’s important to have integrated into the entire of the school. And I think there’s a lot of learning that goes on working with those students, not just for adults, but even for other kids. So at my last school and I had a great staff as well, I, I pushed forward that I integrated those students and everything. So if there was a presentation, they were part of it and were, was beautiful to see from there was that they then took on schoolwide initiatives, right.


Michelina Battaglini (13:41):
Where they ran things that all the other students participated in. But then students during their day, like regular students couldn’t leave the school during, couldn’t leave the school that day, if they didn’t go up to seeing their students in that session. And for me, that’s like just that, that empathy towards those individuals. And then when events would come up, we would see our, you know, students in mainstream actually coming out to invite these students to participate. So when we were at semi formal at one one year they, you know, the student, the students in the special needs programs attended. And so they would get up and dance, but at one point then all the other kids and to dance. And so it was, it’s just that whole students brings or and I think that that was very forceful because it just sort of became part of the norm. Right. We would never exclude them. They’re always part of everything we do. And they actually lead a lot of things. So that for me, was an important for kids to realize that we all have something to contribute in, in society. We just have different ways of doing it, but we have to acknowledge and appreciate all that. That was one for sure that


Sam Demma (15:07):
I love that. Thank you so much for sharing that story. It’s feel good one for sure. That’s amazing. If you could take the experiences you’ve had in education, bundle them all up, travel back in time to when you were just starting top yourself on the shoulder and say, Hey, Lina, this is what you needed to hear when you were just beginning knowing what you know now, like what advice would you have gave or given to your younger self?


Michelina Battaglini (15:38):
Slow down, listen and be flexible. Because when I think back when I was a teacher, when I first came in in science, of course, I’m very sort of geared towards one way. You know, for me a mark was a mark, it was a mark. And I, I wasn’t as flexible in my, you know, working with a student or, I mean, I was always compassionate that I offered extra help. But for me was, if this is what you showed me, then that’s what the final mark is. But then once you get into administration where I even worked in the special education department became, so everyone learns differently. And I think as educators, that’s one of our biggest faults is that we go into it cause we love it. But we neglect to remember that not everybody learns like this. And so even though we try to teach the way we love, not everybody loves to learn that way. And so going back to my younger self would be more open, listen to the kids you know, asking what they want and, and, and education is really changing in that group right now. But yeah, I think that’s it. Yeah. Slow down, listen, and, and just, and be flexible because every kid starts at a different level and any level of progress is progress. Right. So, yeah. That’s it.


Sam Demma (17:00):
Describe a little more why you mentioned listening, how has listening played a huge impact on bringing you to where you are today?


Michelina Battaglini (17:11):
Let’s see. Well, I think sometimes we, especially, even in the business of our jobs, we, we think one way and then we just keep on going, right. That’s the right way to do it. But when you actually stop and listen to others, people have good ideas that you need to take into account when you’re making decisions. And, and as an administrator, I mean, you know, I say, yes, the buck starts with me, but I have to listen to a of people before I make that decision. And I think you hear a lot, not just from the words of saying, but just on their actions. And I think that helps form the decisions you make or the direction you take from certain things. So yeah, that listening piece is, is definitely important. And it helps you in every day, not just in school, but like dealing with other people as well. I don’t think we listen that I think we make judgment and, and come up with answers. We want them to say, or we convince them to say, but really listen to someone. Cause everything that everything people say has a message and it might not be the words they’re using. It’s something else.


Sam Demma (18:19):
Once somebody told me, you have two years in one mouth, so you should, you should listen twice as much as you speak.


Michelina Battaglini (18:24):
Exactly. And, and it’s so true. You should have used that line too. I forgot about that, but it’s true. I


Sam Demma (18:30):
Well, being Italian, I laughed because I thought this is not true in my culture.


Michelina Battaglini (18:35):
No, that’s my culture too. No, no one actually listens. Everyone just talks. And we know that, right. When you’re in a room, you can’t hear anything except one voice over another or


Sam Demma (18:45):
Yeah, but I couldn’t agree more. It’s so true, listening is so important; not only for administrators and teachers, but for communication with anybody you have to understand where someone’s coming from to have any form of a relationship. If, if someone listens to this, wants to reach out, ask you a question, bounce some ideas around, what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you?


Michelina Battaglini (19:10):
So, because I’m still working right now, that seems to be the email that I, I check the most. ‘Cause the other ones, you know, they pile up and it’s like, delete, delete, delete. So yeah, it’s my work email, which is


Sam Demma (19:26):
Awesome. Michelina, thank you so much for taking some time this afternoon to come on the show. I really appreciate it. You up the great work and we’ll talk soon.


Michelina Battaglini (19:34):
Perfect. Thank you.


Sam Demma (19:37):
I believe that educators deserve way more recognition, which is why I’ve created the High Performing Educator awards. In 2022, 20 educator recipients will be shortlisted. Each of whom will be featured in local press, invited to record an episode on the podcast, and spotlighted on our platform. In addition, the one handpicked winner will be presented with an engraved plaque by myself. I will fly to the winner’s city to present this to them and ask that they participate in a quick photo shoot and interview on location. The coolest part; nominations are open right now and they close October 1st, 2022. So please take a moment to apply or nominate someone you know or work with that deserves this recognition. You can do so by going to www.highperformingeducator.com/award; we can never recognize educators enough.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Michelina Battaglini

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.

Joyce Sunada – Wellness Speaker, Coach and Facilitator

Joyce Sunada – Wellness Speaker, Coach and Facilitator
About Joyce Sunada

Joyce Sunada (@JoyceSunada) has over 30 years of experience as an educator. During that time she was a teacher, an administrator and provincial leader who helped create and support healthy school communities. 

During the pandemic, Joyce stepped away from presenting workshops for a few months to identify what was truly important to her. This allowed her to establish the Joyful Collective, a collaborative group of women who work together to positively impact the wellness of educators through virtual workshops. And this time away also provided an opportunity to create sustainable lifestyle practices so she can better walk her talk and support others.  

If Joyce could give educators only one piece of advice she’d say, “Take time for your wellness, so you won’t be forced to take time for your illness.”  

Connect with Joyce: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Joyful Endeavours

Joyful Collective

Joyful Reflections Blog

Canadian Association of Professional Speakers (CAPS)

Lethbridge College – Broadcast Programming and Production

Mount Royal University – Integrative Health Coach Extension Certificate

University of Lethbridge – Bachelors of Education

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):
Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. I’m super excited about today’s interview. I am having a conversation with my good friend, Joyce Sunada. Joyce has over 30 years of experience as an educator and during that time she was a teacher, an administrator, and provincial leader who helped create and support healthy school communities.


Sam Demma (01:00):
During the pandemic, Joyce stepped away from presenting workshops for a few months to identify what was truly important to her. This allowed her to establish the joyful collective; a collaborative group of women who work together to positively impact the wellness of educators through virtual workshops. And this time away has provided an opportunity to create sustainable lifestyle practices so she can better walk and she can better walk her talk and support others. If Joyce could give educators one piece of advice, she would say take time for your wellness so you won’t be forced to take time for your illness. Professional bio aside, Joyce is a wonderful human being. She happens to be a colleague of mine at the Canadian Association of Professional Speakers and that’s how we crossed paths. And I’m so grateful we had a chance to chat. So here’s the interview with Joyce, I will see you on the other side. Joyce, welcome to the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show. We’ve crossed paths many times, although you know, just recently at CAPS Calgary’s event we made a more deeper connection and I’m so glad we did. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit behind why you’re so passionate about the work you do today?


Joyce Sunada (02:12):
Well, thank you so much for having me Sam and I just wanna back up and say, you know, us reconnecting at the Calgary CAPS session was really cool. Like just you sharing your story and you being you; that’s an inspiration for me and I believe in inspiration for young people as well as educators. So first of all, thank you. Alright, so a little bit about me, as a kid, I have five, there’s six kids in my family, and as we were growing up, I’m a middle child. And I remember we had the wooden desks and I would always play teacher. It’s like, okay, you know, the little, little ones line up, do the work. I think I really enjoyed doing check marks. You know, it’s like, okay, this is great. And so I actually out of high school, I went into broadcasting and did a couple, I have a diploma in radio arts and thought I wanted to be a radio announcer and after much consideration and some late night news work, I decided to go into education.


Joyce Sunada (03:12):
Mm. I always, I would watch movies that, you know, where the teacher would the underdogs and bring them to life and make everybody successful. And I just loved that. And so that was my dream is how could I reach out and touch students in a way that could empower them to be the best version of themselves or to reach higher than they anticipated? So my journey went from rural Alberta, one who split up to Calgary teaching health and physical education, which is really my passion some classroom teaching. And then at a point I decided to become an administrator and I just dived full in. And at the same time, our three daughters were growing up in, you know, junior high and high school and I burned myself out. Mm. And so it caused me to take a step back and go, you know, what, what, you know, what am I doing?


Joyce Sunada (04:10):
And I believe in hindsight, like hindsight is 2020. You can take that from us, elderly people, Sam is I really just feel that in the place, I wasn’t a hundred percent sure I wanted to be an administrator. Like I love the hands on with the students. And that’s where, you know, I, I got my juice from, but I think I just gave so much. And I tried to please, so many people almost altering myself. I had this vision of what an administrator I thought should be. And so it didn’t fit with who I was now. I know I could be who I am and be an administrator, whoever, whatever I wanna be after the burnout. I, I was sent on a medical leave, which lasted over a year. And during that time had a chance to, you know, ground regroup reassess. And so then I would it back teaching part-time elementary F ed again, my sweet spot.


Joyce Sunada (05:05):
And so was part-time. Mm. Upon getting better, I was approached or had an interview with a provincial organization here in Alberta ever active schools and got a full-time position as a, I guess it’s like a provincial consultant. And then I got an to teach teachers about how to teach. And that was really exciting because now it’s actually probably the first time I really understood the curriculum because now I had to teach the curriculum who are gonna teach it. So it’s interesting how we learn what we most need to, we teach what we most need to learn. And after being with that organization for about four or five years, I started to feel that same kind of trepidation or, you know, the anxiety came back. And, and so I consciously made a decision to leave. I gave a year’s notice, took some coaching courses and then really started to get into the, the professional speaking.


Joyce Sunada (06:04):
When I joined caps, the Canadian association of professional speakers and learned how to build a business and become a better speaker. And the impetus for that was to help educators realize that it’s no important for them to take care of their own wellness because, you know, healthy educators help to educate healthy students. Yes. And we know from research that healthy students are better learners. And if we can ensure that the teachers, the assistants, the administrators, the students, that everybody is healthy, then we have a better impact on our future generations. So that’s where I am right now. I’m about to be a grandma. And so it’s exciting to go, okay, what will that world look like for him? And, and how can I support people to again, create that better future for our little guys,


Sam Demma (06:53):
First of all round applause for the future grandma moment. I’m curious to know, like, what does healthy look like? Does this, is there, like, how can we define healthy? Is it a certain amount of exercise that they should be doing? Is it taking care of mental health? Like, what does that look like?


Joyce Sunada (07:16):
That’s an excellent question, Sam, and I’m just gonna kind of dig in and go, I believe being healthy is being able to really live the life that you desire so that you’re able to move the way that you want so that your, your mental focus and your mental capacity is healthy. That you have a bigger belief than yourself. Some sort of spirituality doesn’t matter what it is, but for me, if we can take a look at all aspects of our life and I’ve just narrowed it down to those three and go, okay, I’m feeling good about who I am and how I’m showing up in the world. So it’s, it’s not a prescription. And when we talk about how much exercise and how much this and that I’ve, I’ve experienced and experimented life is an experiment and different stages. Like I love how, you know, at a time you were that high level soccer player and, and that’s what you, you loved. And that’s, that’s what you, my girls were high level soccer players too, which is so cool. And so at that time, you know, you require more activity. Maybe you need to more work on your mental game in order to get to that higher level that you want. So for me being held, I think at the core is really loving yourself too. Mm. And I know that that has been a journey for me. Yeah. And I’m going to venture to say that it’s a journey for a lot of people.


Sam Demma (08:48):
Yeah. I agree. I agree. And in that journey, you also discovered cycling. Is that something that you enjoy?


Joyce Sunada (08:55):
Cycling?


Sam Demma (08:56):
Yeah. am I correcting that?


Joyce Sunada (08:59):
I do. I do cycle outside. I mean, I’m not passionate about it. Yeah. And I do cycle, but


Sam Demma (09:05):
Okay.


Joyce Sunada (09:05):
I like to experiment. I like to do different activities and I like to, I like to dance too. There’s not much opportunity to dance, dance, you know, at dances. Yeah. But just, I I’m finding joy in moving and just for the sake of moving one of my colleagues, Doug, glad out of Edmonton, he says, you know, kids, don’t go up to the playground and go, I’m gonna do the monkey bars to improve my upper body strengths. And I’m gonna race you to increase my you know, my lung capacity. They do it cuz they love it. Fun, fun. It’s joyful.


Sam Demma (09:37):
It’s like, it’s a reminder to get back to being a child a little bit. Right. Yeah. When we bury all those things under responsibilities and expectations. I’m curious though, so someone comes to you as an educator, completely burnt out. What is the first thing you, you kind of teach them or help them with or ask I’m, I’m assuming it’s a bunch of questions, but like what would, what would you do with them? At the beginning,


Joyce Sunada (10:02):
Listen, the first and foremost is, is to really listen cause that’s their reality. And I remember being in that burnt out stage and it didn’t matter what anybody said there was just dark. Yeah. And so first of all, to wholehearted, listen, and then just watch, you know, where listen, where do they want to go? And how can I walk beside them? And everybody’s journey is different. And some of it might be the burnout often is not necessarily a direct result of the teaching. I I’m kind of going out on a limb, but burnout in my experience is more that there’s a lot going on and I’m making a circle with my hand because I do have them fill out a wellness wheel to just go, what areas of your life are kind of crashing down. So it might be spiritual or physical or financial or relational.


Joyce Sunada (11:01):
Right. And so we have to take a look at what they feel is kind of the weak spot and then go, okay, how can we step into that? Mm. And really focusing on, at some point when they’re ready is how can they love themselves? You know, we have, we all have really good friends. You, you talk about your good friends in, in your golfing adventures, in your podcast. And there are things that you would not say to your good friends that we say to ourselves. Mm. You know, maybe we did 50 great lessons and one was, you know, a disaster. And it’s like how that it was so stupid or what, you know, we go off on ourselves when I taught at the university of Calgary, some of my students would be like, like they were so afraid to make a mistake. Mm. And so I reassured them, you know, whether the lesson is awesome or whether the lesson lesson is, you know, a disaster you’re successful because you’ve learned something. Yeah. You’ve learned, this is great. And it’s like, this is how can I improve? Mm. And so back to the original question is just, is really listening, tuning into what they need and walking with them to where they wanna go.


Sam Demma (12:14):
Hmm. And you just brought up a great point, you know, and I think that every human being defines success differently. Right. And you know, sometimes we define success based on end results. Some other people define success based on what their capabilities are, what they’re doing in any given moment. How do you define success now? And if you could think back to when you were an educator and maybe even burnt out, how did you define success then? And are there shifts in those definitions?


Joyce Sunada (12:43):
Absolutely. Shifts. So I’ll just tell you a funny story. So I, I knew I was kind of going down. I had left administration and I was teaching grade five. And so I took the 30 kids out. We were gonna draw clouds for art. Nice. Now the purpose of drawing, the clouds for me was so I could go and lay on mother earth and just chill out cause I needed some TLC. Yeah. And so I tell the story, as I got 30 kids out, they had squiggles on their paper and they got, I got 30 kids back in that was success. Yeah. And people were like, oh my gosh, I can’t believe you did that. I can’t believe I did that. So, you know, in those lowest points, maybe success looks drastically different. Mm. Yeah. And, and with regards to success, we don’t always know.


Joyce Sunada (13:29):
I taught a one, two split here in Calgary. Oh my goodness. Probably to 20, some years ago, over 20, some years ago. And the kids live in my neighborhood and I happened to meet up with a mom one day we crossed paths and she was so grateful that I had her son because that was the early stages of identifying ADHD. And so I learned, you know, what his challenge as were, and I applied some of the skills to the whole class and it seemed like a lot of the children thrived. And so I didn’t know that was successful until 20 years later, but I would consider that a mark of success.


Sam Demma (14:09):
Got it.


Joyce Sunada (14:10):
Now success is, it’s really about owning who I am and, and I guess loving who I am and when I do a presentation or I, I coach people, it’s just knowing that I’ve done the best that I can do. And other people will have the experience that they have. And I, I can’t control that. So if I can go away and go, okay, you know, I, I did my research. I’ve prepared as best I can and put forward who I really am and then walk away. Not easy, not easy all the time. Yeah. But that would be my, my new definition of success and just that ability to live, how I really want to live and do I every day, absolutely not. You know, there’s days where I drag myself outta bed. And then there’s other days like today, I’m gonna talk to Sam. I better get, you know, I workout in and everything ready. Okay. Here we go. So, yeah.


Sam Demma (15:06):
Yeah. I I’m with you. I, I think that every person has those days. And if you don’t say it verbally, you’re lying. So it’s it’s true. I’m curious your coaching and your work has obviously shifted due to COVID and it’s definitely different navigating a world virtually than it is in person. Like, do you have any wellness tips or tricks for, you know, balancing life and work? It all feels like it’s one and the same. Like you, you leave your kitchen and you go to your office and it’s in the same, you just switch seats. Like it’s it’s kinda, it’s kind of bizarre a little bit, you know,


Joyce Sunada (15:44):
It is, well, you’ll notice I put on my bright pink top. Yep. Just for you, cuz this is an important meeting, right? Yeah. So little pieces like that separating, you know, work from home is like, this is my designated office and I do, I’ve got, you know, I’ve got some makeup on and I’ve got, you know, work clothes on during the day. I make sure that I get outside at least for a short time, I do have a, a small dog. And so if it’s a slow walk with my dog or it is a longer walk with a neighbor to make sure that there is some outside time and then too I’ve started if I it’s uncomfortable sitting for me for a long time. And so sometimes I will just go take my novel lay on my bed. It’s a, it’s just like, okay, so my body can totally relax, read a novel, you know, set a timer, maybe 15, 20 minutes. And that’s like, okay, back at, if there’s something else that I, I need to accomplish that day.


Sam Demma (16:44):
Hmm. Yeah. I love that. And you know, there’s numerous studies that show that walking for just 20 minutes a day reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease. And I think those are pretty convincing odds to take a short walk. So yeah, I love that. I think that those are all so important and you’re, you know, thank you for, for dressing up and showing up professionally. I appreciate you’re making me feel flattered. It’s it’s cool. So what does work for you look like now, are you doing a lot of presentations virtually if they’re educators listening to this thinking, man, my teachers are extremely burnt out. My staff are beyond exhausted. What does your work look like? For those you know, clients who might be interested maybe listening to this right now?


Joyce Sunada (17:30):
My work has morphed Sam. I came off of, well, okay. My work has morphed. I actually, before COVID hit was considering kind of maybe retiring, you know? Mm. And so when March, you know, everything fell off the plate, probably like a lot of things did for you. Yeah. and I did have a couple sessions in the spring, April, and then in the fall, educators were really trying to figure out, okay, what’s next? So, Nope. We don’t wanna hear from anybody at this time. And then November started to pick up. And so I actually reached out to a group of other wellness. I’ll call them wellness educators. Yes. So we created what we call a joyful collective, the joyful collective, one of the, one of the gals, she named it, the joyful collective. And so what we do is we come together, put our expertise together and offer that to schools or school divisions or jurisdictions the, that want to know more about how to be well.


Joyce Sunada (18:31):
And the, the really fun thing is that there are, I think the four out of the six of us are practicing educators nice. And the other two women, they help to support of course, with, you know, research and you know, tried and true strategies. So it looks more like a collaboration so that we can better support and serve the clients. And because I’m about to be at grandma. And right now my mom’s having some health issues that I’m supporting her with is I’m trying to walk my talk and go, this is what’s important right now. There’s a fear that, oh my gosh, you know, everything will dry up and go away. And people will forget about me and I’m trusting. I’m gonna feed trust instead of fear here that it’s gonna unfold, how it needs to. And so maybe it’s a, maybe it’s a bit of a break. Maybe I come back stronger in this moment, Sam, I really am not too sure, but I’m open to the possibilities.


Sam Demma (19:33):
I love it. And I love that you said you’re feeding trust because it is an option. And yeah, that’s something that is sometimes hard to realize, especially when you’re going through a tough situation, that we still have a choice. Right. you know, people always say it’s hard to see the frame when you’re in the picture. And I think that’s true specifically now more than ever as we all face various challenges and problems. This has been a fun conversation. Joyce, I really appreciate you sharing your stories and coming on the show. If someone wants to get in touch with you and maybe even just have a conversation, what would be the best way for them to get in touch and do so.


Joyce Sunada (20:11):
It would be to email me jklmsunada@shaw.ca.


Sam Demma (20:29):
Awesome. Joyce, thank you so much. This has been fun. Keep up the great work and I’ll talk to you soon.


Joyce Sunada (20:34):
Thank you so much Sam for having me. All the best with your work too.


Sam Demma (20:38):
And there you have it. Another amazing guest, an amazing interview on the High Performing Educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review so other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show; if you want meet the guest on today’s episode, if you wanna meet any of the guests that we have interviewed, consider going to www.highperformingeducator.com and signing up to join the exclusive network, you’ll have access to networking events throughout 2021 and other special opportunities. And I promise I will not fill your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Joyce Sunada

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.

Tomy Valookaran – Chaplain at St. Mary C.S.S

Tomy Valookaran – Chaplain at St. Mary C.S.S
About Tomy Valookaran

Tomy (@tvalookaran) is the founder of bridges for solidarity. This is a business enterprise operating on social enterprise principles to bring together the poor in developing countries and the youth in Ontario high schools to work together to help create a global community of caring and mutual help. 

Tomy is also the Chaplain at St. Mary C.S.S, the high school from which I graduated.  Over the course of his career, Tomy has worked alongside other educators to coordinate one of the largest student clubs in the province called “Retreat Leaders.”  

Connect with Tomy: Email | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

St Mary Catholic Secondary School Website

Retreat Leaders Leadership Program

St Mary Catholic Secondary School: Alliance for Compassion

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):
Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s guest on the show is a Chaplain; he’s a Chaplain that was at my high school. He was the Chaplain at the high school that I grew up at, that I graduated from; St. Mary Catholic secondary school in my hometown Pickering. He is someone who lives out this idea of serving others every single day, whether it’s with students, with his fellow colleagues and teachers, or for disadvantaged peoples and poor people around the world.


Sam Demma (01:11):
He’s the founder of something known as the bridges for solidarity. It’s a business enterprise operating on social enterprise principles to bring together the poor and developing countries and the youth in Ontario high schools to work together, to help create a global community of caring and mutual help. He worked closely with dozens of teachers from the high school I grew up at, to over this man of 20 years, donate over a million pounds of food to local food shelters. He runs and organizes one of the largest school clubs catered around service and mentorship for other young people. He calls it the retreat leader program. It’s a phenomenal program, phenomenal opportunity. My head was so deeply sunken in soccer when I was in high school that I didn’t get involved as much as I wish I could have, but he shares how he runs this on today’s episode and if you’re looking for ideas Tommy is definitely someone you should chat with. He will, he will give you a ton of ideas and he’s always looking for ways to help. So enjoy today’s interview, and I will see you on the other side. Tommy, thank you so much for coming on the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on this show. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit of the journey that got you into working with young people today?


Tomy Valookaran (02:32):
Well my name is Tommy Valookaran, and this is my 35th year of chaplaincy in general. I spent three years in a hospital chaplaincy before I came to high school working with young people. So my journey is is like, it takes like couple of books to write, but to put it just shortly, I was born and brought up in India. I was born to a family of seven brothers and two sisters and we just had a one bedroom house where we lived and we were pretty poor; so I can remember being hungry many times. And when I looked around as a, as a young person growing up like 10, 11, 12, I was always very angry at the society. You know, I could see all the injustices which are happening. Then I looked to our, our church and I became an altar boy.


Tomy Valookaran (03:36):
And the church was very involved in people’s lives there. So I, I felt, you know, this is something I could do with the together, with the help of others to improve things for everybody. And I was at a, in grade 10. I clearly remember there was a, I couldn’t go to a Christian school because we had no money. So we went to a, a Hindu school, which was free run by the government. And they, they had a guest speaker, a, a priest Salian priest who came in, he did sort of like a small assembly and he talked about how he’s making a difference in so many people’s lives. So he was asking for volunteers and I jumped in and they took us to a, a three day retreat. And one thing I remember is they fed that so well.


Tomy Valookaran (04:27):
And, and I, I bought right into it. Anybody who gave me food I’m good. Yeah. So that, that memory always stayed with me. And, and that made me passionate about social justice. So I went through priesthood through that. I spent 12 years in different seminaries and I was a few months away from ordination and we did, I did a retreat where, you know, it got, it became very clear to me that God is calling me to be a lay person doing the same work over must. Most priests do. And that’s how I got into chaplaincy and sisters of St. Joseph hired me from in Hamilton. I was a chaplain at the St Joseph’s hospital. And one of the wise nuns who was mentoring me she sort of suggested that I have a lot of gifts which will be useful for young people.


Tomy Valookaran (05:23):
And I’m a second Vatican council person, and I’m very passionate about all the changes, which has happened in the church. And so she sort of nudged me to apply and I applied to Durham and, and different people, and Durham called me for an interview. And we were like 25 people being, I, it for two, two positions and I got hired and I was very shocked with that hiring. So that’s how so the, it sort of organic how it came to young people. Then I started listening and you know, my passion has always been the passion of Jesus. Mm. And, and I spent a lot of time trying to understand the doctrinal teachings versus the real Jesus who was born in Palestine and some of the struggles he went through. And I realized, you know the God, he tried to reveal through his work was a, a God who is passionate for justice, a God who Christ when his people or anybody suffers because God created, everybody doesn’t matter what religion or no religion.


Tomy Valookaran (06:35):
So when they suffer, God suffers. And and Jesus really felt that passion. And he passed that on to a few people and those few people became a movement. Yeah. And I used that. So my experiences made me, first of all, very inclusive in my chaplaincy that everybody’s welcome no matter what, especially those who are struggling, especially those are marginalized. And well, my ministry is iCal because I grew up with Hindus and Muslims equally. So especially in a high school, there are Hindus and Muslims and buds. And I know they feel very much at home in my ministry. And I’ve always made it a point to let everybody who works with me know we preach God always, but we use words only when absolutely necessary through our actions. And, and that’s what St. Francis of ASIS preached. Yeah. Yeah.


Tomy Valookaran (07:44):
So, so the, the ministry I do is modeled after the ministry of Jesus, especially in the early church. And we build communities, small communities and not within the large school. So right now we have we eight color groups, we call them color families. And they are all led by two or three core leaders whom we have selected and trained, and they meet every week with their family and make it a safe space for everybody. And out of which comes all the other initiatives we do. So, so our retreat of the community, I was, I was explaining to a couple of kids who asked me what retreat leader was all about during the interview. So, so I tell them, listen, this is not another student group you are joining, or you wanna join. Yeah. This is a movement you a movement, which has changed the lives of so many people, a movement where so many before you have given so much to build it up the way it is.


Tomy Valookaran (08:49):
So right now it’s your turn to take it to the next level. And, and so we always try to go below the radar. We don’t like to show off too much attract too much attention. So people, everyone feels safe. Right. Nice. And so, well, Esterday like T I met with four great 11 students who are already retreat leaders, and they wanted to study a women’s group. And that’s our next initiative here. That’ll be our ninth initiative, nice coming out of our retreat leadership. So they want to focus on intersection of feminism, nice and amplify the voices of especially black and indigenous and people of color voices in feminism.


Sam Demma (09:44):
I like that.


Tomy Valookaran (09:44):
No, I believe, I believe when God, when, when we adults give their platform a safe platform where young people can express themselves and are given support. So they shine. They really shine.


Sam Demma (10:01):
I agree. I, I,


Tomy Valookaran (10:04):
Yeah, go ahead.


Sam Demma (10:05):
No, I was gonna say, I totally agree. And I have a follow up question, but continue. I don’t want you to lose your thought.


Tomy Valookaran (10:13):
Oh, okay. Well, Mr. Mora who is one of who worked with me as a team member asked me if I could suggest a speaker for their LGBTQ group. So I suggested one of our outstanding alumni. And so I was talking to her about it. And then, and then what she said was just incredible. She said, sir, your group saved my life.


Sam Demma (10:43):
Mm.


Tomy Valookaran (10:45):
So we, we have that Alliance for compassion, LGBTQ safe group, which we run out of our chapel every Friday and just incredible how kids feel so safe and come every Friday at four 30 to five 30. And then


Sam Demma (11:03):
That’s awesome.


Tomy Valookaran (11:04):
So this is about you know, life. Yeah. You know, creating safe spaces where people feel safe, and that is the heart of Christianity. You know, it’s not about everything else that you, there is a famous saying. The Budha said the hand, that points to the moon is not the moon. So the, the, the sacraments going to church, they’re all the hands that point to God. They are not God. So a lot of people get stuck in the, in the, and, and I missed, missed the whole point. So


Sam Demma (11:43):
That’s a great perspective shift. I, I, I have to ask two questions. The first is, you said you were mentored by a nun, a very wise nun and do nuns sleep. And I’m asking because I was at a summer camp one time and, and the, you know, the nuns seem like they’re up at like three in the morning. And just, just outta curiosity, what do you think?


Tomy Valookaran (12:08):
Yeah, there are there are different types of nuns religious group. Yeah. Some are very active. They call it active condemn. So they, they are action oriented and some nuns just stay indoors and pray for everybody do counseling. So my sister is a nun of saying, you know, Francis commissioners of Mary and I have two aunts who are nuns. So yeah. NA had a big influence on my life.


Sam Demma (12:37):
Yeah. That’s awesome. So cool. And you know, the educator that’s listening to this right now is, is probably wondering how are you able to get so many students from the school involved, you know, the program, their treat leading program has, I think you, you said roughly over 120 students right now, and that’s a massive accomplishment where, you know, most student clubs and it’s not a club, it’s a movement, but, but where most, you know, typical student clubs would have 30 kids. Maybe if they’re lucky, you know, that many students involved your retreat leading and core program is, is, is, is blown up. And I’m curious to know what is it that makes so many students want to participate and get involved and, and help


Tomy Valookaran (13:22):
Because well, we, we do have a big history, like going back 10, 15 years, we have been building slowly, right? Yep. So their brothers, their sisters, older sisters recommend many parents know the work we do. So parents recommend kids to, to join because they see the change in their own children. Mm. Once they become part of a movement as opposed to ING your ego, like, so the, the way we train is we, we really give them opportunity to we, we call it graced history. So, so we give them the tools to go through their life five year cycles, zero to five, five to 10, 10 to 15, 15 to 17, whatever. And they have to write down the significant events or people they have had who had either a positive or a negative influence on them.


Tomy Valookaran (14:28):
Mm. And then we created safe space where they share that with each other. Mm. And, and once, once people see that, you know, everybody has burdens, they’re carrying and they really mold and become a real community. It’s almost like a family. And then, and that is what attracts people to join, to become part of that. You know, all of us are seeking, you know, to belong to something more than bigger than us. Yeah. And, and know that’s, that’s the God part in us wanting to connect with the God part in everybody else and thereby create what Jesus called the kingdom of God, where everyone, everyone is valued and appreciated and affirmed, especially those who are marginalized.


Sam Demma (15:23):
I love that. That’s awesome. And I would, I would only, as I would only assume that this year it’s been a little more challenging or a little bit difficult, but it sounds like from our previous conversation that it’s still moving forward and proceeding, and you still had an overwhelming amount of students interested. What, what looks different this year than previous years, and how have you been able to kind of adjust


Tomy Valookaran (15:47):
Well, well, this year it takes much more effort.


Sam Demma (15:53):
Yeah.


Tomy Valookaran (15:54):
From, from the team’s part. Cause you know, it, it’s not just about me. It’s about you know, there are many teachers who are very passionate about what we do. And, and so when you build a team, then, you know, when, when we come to a crisis, so one of the first things I, I got all my leaders together and what I said, including teachers, and what I said was, you know, the word for crisis in Chinese is means two things. It’s danger opportunity. So when it, when a crisis comes media, everybody looks at the danger like coronavirus and everybody looked at the danger, but there were so many hidden opportunities in there. Mm. And so we started focusing on the opportunities and then we had the George Floyd thing happened. And, and so we got all our black students together on zoom every, every week.


Tomy Valookaran (17:02):
And like we would be doing like two, three hour zoom meetings in the evening because there was so much hurt. We had to process. And then we brought in guest speakers and, and help them to heal. And once they felt they were comfortable, then they start going out into the community and, and, and start connecting with others who are hurt. So, you know, that’s typically how God works. You know, if you look at the history of God, you know, it’s when crisis has come, those are opportu for God, really to show up. Right. And so we do a, we have, we have done a lot of creative things like kids, we put together a black history assembly, like no, before no one has before done that. And, and kids loved it because it’s our own kids who shared their experiences. Oh, wow. Of being black and, and experiencing racism and how they managed to survive still. And then many kids were crying during the was ritual assembly. We Preap it and we asked every teacher to it. And so that would’ve never happened if it wasn’t on zoom and recorded. And, and


Sam Demma (18:21):
That’s awesome. And I was gonna ask you, you know, you just shed lay on one of them, but what are some of those opportunities that you think it came out of the challenges and changes that came along with COVID 19? I, I would assume that presentation doing the, the zoom was one way, because everyone had a chance to speak and share, and, and it was prerecorded. So you could re-watch it as opposed to a live thing. But yeah, you would know better than I, what were some of the opportunities that came along with?


Tomy Valookaran (18:51):
Well we learned so much new technologies.


Sam Demma (18:57):
Yep.


Tomy Valookaran (18:58):
Well, I personally was forced to learn much more than kids, but because we had so much youth involvement in our leadership, they took over that side and they, they started teaching us how to do some of this stuff. So and care youth are very good at technology, you know looking from far to like a faith perspective, you know, what I see happening when you look at the digital technology, digital revolution, which happened like 20, 30 years ago, that was in preparation, God was preparing the earth to deal with crises like coronavirus. Now, can you imagine if we didn’t have the digital platform, holy, how we will deal with


Sam Demma (19:46):
It? I don’t know.


Tomy Valookaran (19:48):
Yeah. A lot of people don’t think that way. Right. But you know, really that God has been preparing with or pushing out all these new technologies, you know, from the east east end philosophy that they have a theory that you know, deep inside the earth lies all the, all what we need. And when the time is right, certain things, resources get pushed out and, and that’s how the earth survives. Right. Hmm. And when you look at oil, when you look at, you know, going back, you can clearly see certain technologies and certain resources being intentionally pushed out so that we, as a humanity can, can serve. Right.


Sam Demma (20:34):
And even when you look at activism, like, you know, everyday people expressing their concerns and having their voices heard wouldn’t be as possible if we didn’t have social media or, or the internet, you know.


Tomy Valookaran (20:49):
No, no, no. The climate movement, the black lives matter movement. These are powerful tools if used well to build the kingdom of God.


Sam Demma (21:01):
Yeah. Totally agree. I think that’s a great distinction to make in terms of your program this year and not just yours, but all the teachers who are involved, what are some of the initiatives that have gone on so far? I know you talked about the, the black history month, this Emily, I’m curious, like, what are other, some of the other things that have gone on? And yeah,


Tomy Valookaran (21:20):
We, we have a domestic outreach group. Nice. And this, usually we do Christmas outreach. So, you know, you remember when you were at St. Mary, it’s a big but this year we couldn’t collect things, right? Yeah. So, but we still had the families we sponsored. So kids went creative and they went with gift cards only. And and, and cash donations online. Nice. And I was just astounded like we initially kids only said, you know, let’s just put $10. People who want donate. I said, no, let’s put 10, 25 and 50, so people can choose. And we got so many people donating.


Sam Demma (22:06):
Yeah.


Tomy Valookaran (22:07):
And one of our alumni gave us $5,000.


Sam Demma (22:10):
Wow.


Tomy Valookaran (22:11):
Because he has a business which has been successful during the coronavirus. Wow. And so we raised more money than normally we would. So we were able to give, I think about a hundred dollars gift cards per person, per family.


Sam Demma (22:31):
Wow.


Tomy Valookaran (22:33):
Yeah.


Sam Demma (22:33):
That’s awesome. And the food drive has historically also been something that you and a lot of teachers worked on for years this year, I guess it’s not possible or how’s


Tomy Valookaran (22:44):
No, no, no. We are doing again gift cards, cards, cash. Oh. So we, so they’re preparing for our Easter food drive already. Got it. And we also, that group is connected with the bleed, the north, the organization, which which supports menstrual products, menstrual education. Oh, cool. So we also collected a lot of menstrual products to be given to that organization and, and they send it to some of the original communities or indigenous communities. And, and so we did that, then we have the international outreach group. They focus on international issues and they’re right now planning, excuse me, a, a hour fast from social media.


Sam Demma (23:34):
Nice


Tomy Valookaran (23:35):
Coming up in may. And they’re also planning a multicultural night, virtual in may. Nice. And, and the other group we have is best buddies. They focus on make out, making sure our our special education students are looked after. And so they have a group. They plan things that support them. Another group we have is indigenous F and M I group. They focus on highlight, educating our community on indigenous issues.


Sam Demma (24:09):
Nice.


Tomy Valookaran (24:11):
Then we have a large group called safe and caring. So they focus on mental wellness and they are right now working. We just had a two week mental wellness week at, at our school where they highlighted how to get help if you need. And they have even created a website. So all these groups have Instagrams to, to follow. Okay. Then the other big group what am I missing among the nine. Okay.


Sam Demma (24:40):
That’s okay. Yeah. So there there’s does it’s. Yeah. It sounds like there’s, all of these groups are umbrella under the retreat leading program. Yes. Okay. So they come for weekly touch points altogether, monthly touch points, or how does it look like from the retreat?


Tomy Valookaran (24:57):
Well, the initiative groups is open to the whole school.


Sam Demma (25:02):
Got it.


Tomy Valookaran (25:03):
So, but it is run by retreat leaders.


Sam Demma (25:05):
Okay. Understand.


Tomy Valookaran (25:07):
And, and so what happened? They meet once a week.


Sam Demma (25:10):
Okay.


Tomy Valookaran (25:11):
So each day we have at least one or two groups meeting for planning their activities. And these meetings are not just for planning either because one of the other big needs during this quarantine is isolation.


Sam Demma (25:27):
Yeah.


Tomy Valookaran (25:27):
And people feeling lonely. Right? Yeah. So, so as soon as we come together, we do what we call processs and thoughts, you know, what’s going on. What’s good. Nice. know what’s hurting you. And, and then, you know, people connect the, you know, I look at all these initiatives that tools to build intimate communities. Yeah. And out of those communities come miracles.


Sam Demma (25:56):
And


Tomy Valookaran (25:57):
So we, yeah. We have an Alliance for compassion. I spoke about the LGBTQ group. Yeah. And we have eco


Sam Demma (26:04):
Okay.


Tomy Valookaran (26:04):
Eco is pretty they, they were involved and you know, Fridays for future, we even took a bus lot of kids, city, Queens park against, against all the bus school board. Well, they want, they don’t want you to do stuff like that. Yeah. But kids loved it. And, and, and because they felt they were, they had a voice. Right? Yeah. Yeah. Those are most of the groups I think I covered.


Sam Demma (26:38):
Yeah, no, no, no worries. And if we miss any, I can link them in the show notes of the episode as well. Just to make sure they have some recognition. How do you, how do you think as an educator, we make students feel valued, seen, heard, and appreciated without being like face to face physically, is it, is it just by giving them the chance to speak? Like, you’ve obviously you, you and a bunch of other teachers that run these programs have created those intimate communities. Is it the kids themselves interacting that makes them feel safer? Or what is it exactly that gives them that feeling of safety and community?


Tomy Valookaran (27:15):
First of all you know my advice to teachers who help run these things that you don’t run it it’s, it’s kids who run it. Yep. And then it’s kids who set the agenda and it’s kids who lead discussions. And we only get involved only if, for, we feel something is hurting somebody and, and otherwise, you know, they’re all student run. And so there’ll be a, a teacher present one or two teachers with with them, but that’s just to support. And, and I feel, you know, once you provide a safe environment where kids feel that they can speak and not be judge, mm. Then they tend to open up.


Sam Demma (28:08):
And how do you create that safe space? Is it by ensuring that when something happens, you address it, is it by setting rules or,


Tomy Valookaran (28:17):
Yeah. Yeah. Well, initially we, we talk about what are some of the, you know, we come as a group and then create certain rules for ourselves so that each of us feels safe.


Sam Demma (28:29):
Got it.


Tomy Valookaran (28:30):
Okay. So they come up with suggestions and we keep the, as our as our safe space. So everybody needs to follow those. Cool. So, so one of the one the, we expect people to contribute. Yep. So, but you have the ability to Surpas, but the expectation is you’re going be actively participating.


Sam Demma (28:54):
Nice. Oh, very cool. That makes a lot of sense. Amazing. And I want to ask you a personal question. So in your own educational journey, when you were up and going through school, did you have teachers in your life that had a huge impact on you that, that inspired you to work with youth? Or why do you think that your ministry took you towards working with young people in education?


Tomy Valookaran (29:24):
I, I really have no answer for that because it sort of evolved.


Sam Demma (29:30):
Okay.


Tomy Valookaran (29:31):
In fact if I have had any positive most of my experiences with educators have been pretty negative. And, and so I always want to go go the other way. Like, I’ve been expelled from a couple of institutions. Got it. Because of my activism. And, and, and so it, that the anger, which I grew up with against injustice is, you know, was healed and transformed by my connection with the, with the real Jesus Christ. Mm. Like, you know, a lot of people think Christ Jesus, Jesus, last name. No, that Jesus last name was something different. Mm. And so, so when you understand what Jesus Christ me means, then you start getting a feeling that, you know, if Jesus was the son of God, so are we, that’s the message of Jesus was like, we are all children of the same God. And, and, and once we get that, then we get empowered just like, Jesus, God.


Tomy Valookaran (30:41):
And, and that’s why we call, you know, the resurrected Jesus becomes us. Yeah. When we are passionate about the kingdom of God. So the work Sam you are doing is very similar. So you might think it’s your, well, it’s your two. But my experience tells me, no, we don’t choose. You know, it’s like, we are provided like, you know, we are lead. Yeah. You know, it’s like the Eastern philosophers. They say, you know, many times we think we are the dancers and, and artist, the person leading us. Mm. But they say, that’s not true. It’s. We are the dance itself, the God dancing through. Mm. And, and that’s the doctrine incarnation, right? Yeah. A lot of people don’t get it. Jesus never wanted to be worshiped. Jesus wanted to be followed. Mm. You know, just clearly said, you know, follow me, follow my teachings. That’s how you worship me. So, so I’m not I’m not very like a churchy churchy person. Yeah. But you know, I support churches when, what they do inspires people to create a caring, compassionate world. Yeah. And if they are inspiring them to be judgemental, you know, to divide people as versus them, then that’s not true. Authentic religion. Yeah. That’s brainwashed.


Sam Demma (32:25):
Yeah. Yeah. I think I love how you open this conversation, talking about, you know, the church is one of the hands that points to God, right? Yeah. And if it, if that’s something that helps you personally get closer to that, then, you know, go there and that’s great. And I love that philosophy. I want to bring this to a close I wanna respect your time. I know we’re a little overtime here, so I apologize. If you could go back and speak to younger Tommy, when you, when you did your first year of teaching at St. Mary and chaplaincy, you know, knowing what you know now and realizing that you know, you’ve learned things throughout the past. I don’t know how 20, how many years have you been at St. Mary now?


Tomy Valookaran (33:11):
I’ll St. Mary since 90, 99, 21


Sam Demma (33:15):
Years. So, you know, in the 21 or 22 years give, take if you could go back and speak to yourself when you just started, what advice would you give that might help you along the way?


Tomy Valookaran (33:29):
My advice would be Tommy relax. No, there is, there are other unseen grace is working with you because you are working for a cost greater than yourself. It’s not about you. And so, yeah, I wish he would, he, would’ve relaxed a little more. Got it. Because I’m much more relaxed now. And then, then big things happen, right? Yeah. People are attracted to you and you carry some, they, they, they connect with your passion because they have the same passion, otherwise they wouldn’t connect. Right. So, and, and we know from our experience that we all have a passion to make our world better than we, we know. So that’s God working through us to no, that’s what we call the journey to, to heaven. Right. And Jesus mission was to bring heaven to earth. Mm. And no, that’s the journey we are in.


Sam Demma (34:34):
Yeah. I love that. Awesome. This has been a phenomenal conversation. I feel inspired. Oh. If another educator is listening to this and is inspired, or just wants to have a conversation with you, like what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you? And if it’s, if it’s by email, go ahead and spell it out, just so they just, so they.


Tomy Valookaran (34:54):
Okay, email would be the, the best way, because I check my email. I have to cause a lot of kids communicate with me. So it’s Tomy.Valookaran@dcdsb.ca.


Sam Demma (35:16):
Perfect. Tommy, thank you so much for sharing some of your thoughts and advice and wisdom today on the podcast. I, I really appreciate it.


Tomy Valookaran (35:25):
Well I’m so proud of seeing you Sam, as an alumni of St. Mary we are always speaking highly of you and, and we hope to have you back again once the opportunity arises. Maybe we will see if we can come and talk to our, our leadership once I put it together for the next year’s leadership.


Sam Demma (35:48):
Yeah, for sure. No, I appreciate that.


Tomy Valookaran (35:51):
Sounds good. Okay, Sam.


Sam Demma (35:52):
And there you have it. Another amazing guest, an amazing interview on the High Performing Educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review so other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show; f you want meet the guest on today’s episode, if you wanna meet any of the guests that we have interviewed, consider going to www.highperformingeducator.com and signing up to join the exclusive network, you’ll have access to networking events throughout 2021 and other special opportunities. And I promise I will not fill your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

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