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Teacher Success

Chad Ostrowski, Jeff Gargas and Rae Hughart – The Teach Better Team

Chad Ostrowski, Jeff Gargas and Rae Hughart – The Teach Better Team
About the Teach Better Team

The TEACH BETTER team (@teachbetterteam) imagines a world where every educator is connected, supported, and inspired to be BETTER every day; so that all learners can discover and develop their passions to positively impact our communities. BUT – how do we get there?

Not every educator is in the right mental space to learn. While we continue to juggle new elements of the profession, daily tasks, managing student needs & navigating a work-life balance, being a lifelong learner can find itself on the backburner.

The Teach Better Team has been built on best practice instructional pillars, but without a growth mindset, Professional Development is like throwing spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks.

It is our belief that the first step toward being better, every day, begins with carrying a mindset focused on being open-minded to small steps. 

Connect with the Teach Better Team: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Teach Better Website

Teach Better Conference

Administrator Mastermind

Teach Better Store

Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell

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 beyond excited to bring you today’s interview. It’s a conversation that happened about a month and a half ago, and the topics we discussed still are fresh in my mind, due to the power at which they were explained by today’s three guests. This is one of the first times I’ve had three people on with me, having a four person conversation on the podcast, and it’s an amazing, amazing conversation.


Sam Demma (01:08):
Today we’re talking with the Teach Better team. You can find out more about them on teach, better.com. All of their work aligns very deeply with my philosophy of small consistent actions; that small incremental changes make huge differences and improvements. Yeah, right. he whole idea is not to be perfect, but to be better. And that’s really the DNA throughout their entire company who, which was founded the CEO by Chad. Chad and Jeff; those are the two gentlemen that co-founded the initiative. And we also are joined by Ray, their CMO, and they all have very diverse experiences, and share a ton of phenomenal information that I know will help you as an educator. So buckle up and enjoy this interview. I will see you on the other side. Chad Ray, Jeff, welcome to the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show. I know we are in different places, geographically in the world. It’s so cool that zoom can connect us and I know all three of you are huge champions for technology and education. I wanna give each of you though, a opportunity to introduce yourself, however you’d wanna be introduced, and share a little bit behind the reason why you’re so passionate about the work you do in education and Chad you can kick it off, followed by Ray, and then Jeff.


The Teach Better Team (02:24):
Absolutely. I’m Chad Ostrowski, I’m the CEO and the co-founder of the teach better team. And I have the pleasure of working with schools, districts, and teachers across the country to not only spread mastery learning and student-centered best practices, but working with these two amazing colleagues to just grow the awareness of what best practices in, education can do. I think what gets me the most exciting is seeing the impact of our work. Whether that’s a teacher overcoming a stressful year or situation, or having the best success they’ve ever had, or a student who’s never been successful in a classroom, finding that success and being able to thrive when they’ve never done so before. And I think that’s at the core of a lot of what we do; its just finding that spark and inspiring, not only the learners in the classrooms, but the teachers and the administrators in the schools, in the districts we get to work with here on the Teach Better team.


Sam Demma (03:23):
Love that.


The Teach Better Team (03:24):
Yeah. Gosh, how do you follow that? This is bad. You win. No, Hey everyone. My name’s Ray. I am the CMO of the teach better team, and I’m also full-time sixth grade math teacher. So I love having kind of the role of working with students by day and teachers by night and on the weekends and all, some are long cuz that’s what we do here in the teach, better family. I, I, I think this answer like changes depending on the day and the week, because the teach better team continues to be such a safe space for educators that has this family mentality, but also allows educators to kinda walk in and gain value however they need at that point in time. So I think my favorite element that’s really fueling my excitement, not only to work with students and to work with educators and leaders really stems from the desire of building a community and a family, which I’m gonna get into today. So I, I love that you had us all on, we don’t normally get to do podcasts altogether, so this is gonna be a fun conversation. Awesome.


The Teach Better Team (04:28):
Yeah. This is kind of fun. You know, we, we don’t always get to do podcasts together, but Ray doesn’t even mention, like we do podcasts together literally all the time, but she doesn’t even list that into things that she does. So I’ll, I’ll list it for us. Right. I’m so I’m Jeff Garas, I’m the COO and co-founder of the teach better team. And I’m Ray’s co-host on is how she prefers me to say that on the teach, better talk podcast as well. I get to do that.


The Teach Better Team (04:51):
Glad I’m glad, you know, your place, Beth, my post,


The Teach Better Team (04:55):
I am your co-host. And I, I think I’m just the guy who tricked these two in a whole bunch of other amazing and educators somehow let me continue to work with them. So I, I second everything they say, I think for me, it’s the word family has become such a big thing, big piece of what we do. And that’s probably my favorite part. You know, Chad mentioned about our impact in classrooms and in school districts, but for me too, it’s this impact of the people we get to work with that work with our team that are okay at the door team and all, everything like that. It’s just, it’s awesome.


Sam Demma (05:25):
I love that. It’s amazing. And I’m so happy to have all of you here on the show right now. When I think about mastery, my mind immediately jumps to Malcolm Gladwell and the book he wrote outliers that talks about the 10,000 hour rule, you know, you know, put 10,000 hours in. And I see that all three of you are super passionate about this idea of, as you said, Chad, at the, at the beginning of this podcast, mastery based learning, like what is that like, take, take me, take us through what that is. And maybe all three of you can chime in. And why are you so passionate about making sure that schools adopt this concept in their teaching strategies and styles?


The Teach Better Team (06:01):
I’m gonna, I’m just gonna put the quarter in Chad real quick, as we say, let him know for a


The Teach Better Team (06:05):
Minute, feel free to take the quarter out if needed too. So just for, as this goes forward,


The Teach Better Team (06:11):
Contr pop with believe there is no like emergency stop button. It’s just


The Teach Better Team (06:15):
So in its simplest form, I like to equate the term mastery with student readiness to move forward. Got it. I think one of the biggest crimes in education is a teacher-centered idea of what instruction needs to be, where the teacher is driving the pace, the content, the choice in how everything is occurring in the classroom and just sort of dragging students along. And I think this is what traditional education basically was for a really long time. And in some cases still is I think mastery learning is a Keystone and a core component in moving classrooms to being more student-centric. So at its core mastery learning focuses on students moving at their own pace when they are ready to move on from one topic or one a activity to the next, as opposed to, you know, if I’m in a classroom and student a didn’t understand the lesson from Monday yet, I, I asked them to understand the, a lesson on Tuesday when they have no prior knowledge or understanding yet I am now putting that student in an inequitable disadvantage in that classroom.


The Teach Better Team (07:28):
So I think mastery learning creates a level playing field for every single student in the classroom to not only grow and learn at their own pace, whether that’s quicker than their peers, but also get the, the help that they need and deserve in their learning environment. Mm and I also think mastery learning at its core fully supports these other best practices that we know work in education, things like differentiation, backwards, design, universal design for learning, even embedding things like PB and inquiry based learning and community connections in the classroom can be supported via mastery learning. So I don’t like to say that mastery learning’s the only thing we do because I think it’s the start of the conversation that we have to have in education that then branches into in completely kind of including all of those student centered best practices that focus on what the student needs, where they’re at and how do we move them to the next step.


The Teach Better Team (08:28):
I do have to add, I, when I originally connected with Chad, I mean, Chad, your passion for mastery learning has like been there from the beginning. And when we originally connected and you told me about this concept over a Google meet, I believe I was like, yeah, that sounds good. But I hadn’t seen it actually done in a classroom. And at the time I was working in, you know, a classroom that we were 94% low income, and I had all these other hurdles I was working with. And to be honest, Sam, my passion was so much more focused on student engagement. How am I gonna get students in the building? How am I going to use neon colors and fun activities to ensure that they’re enjoying learning? And what I found right or wrong is that master learning from me was this missing piece that I needed as an educator to actually then do all the other things I wanted to do better.


The Teach Better Team (09:23):
And so it’s so comical now looking at mastery learning and, and actually getting the luxury of working with educators, right with the teach better team, because as you articulated wonderfully, Chad, it really is kind of that fundamental concrete base that then we can build everything off of educators right now are struggling to keep students engaged. We feel like we’re trying to outshine YouTube and you know, do everything better. And, and I think the reality is is that we can do all these elements better in education. If we start with that core value of truly meeting this where they’re at. So honestly the concept of master learning changed my life for the better and definitely my trajectory of, you know, success as an educator.


Sam Demma (10:05):
That’s awesome. Love that. Jeff, anything to chime in here?


The Teach Better Team (10:11):
No, I mean, they summed it up really, really well. I think for, for me, you know, I’m, I’m not pretty much the only, I think the only one there’s maybe like one or two of us on the team that aren’t classroom teachers got it. So it’s been, you know, different journey for me, but one of the biggest things that’s hit me when early on when Chad and I were traveling all over visiting schools and stuff like that. And I was just learning so much about what was going on and why I was having impact. Just thinking back to like when I was in school, when I did pretty well in school, like I, you know, in, from a good home, I’m in a good area. Like I was, I was gonna be all right, like kind of a thing. But I look back at that if had I been challenged properly because they were actually assessing where I was actually at and where I was actually, what I was actually learning or not learning and gaining or not gaining what I, what my experience would’ve been like and had I would, I been able to, I don’t, I don’t saying like, oh, I could go back and hopefully I would’ve achieved more or anything like that, but would I been ha in a better spot, better position to, to learn and grow as a person than versus what it actually did was took me a long time to kind of like figure out my life afterwards.


The Teach Better Team (11:11):
And a lot of that, I just look back at how that is and think through all the kids that have gone through that system that didn’t have the extra setup that I had in a sense of coming from a good family and a good, a good home and a good, you know, I had a, I had a good starting point better than most. And I, if, if, if I would’ve had that, if other kids don’t have that they’re even further behind. And so that’s where my passion behind is going. Like, what could that have done for me? And even more than that, the kids that didn’t even have the things that I had, how can we change that for future kids? But


Sam Demma (11:41):
You gave me a perfect segue into the question I was writing down while all three of you were speaking, which is what does this mean for assessment in the classroom? Is there, is there a way that mastery learning approaches assessments differently? Because I can tell you personally that growing up, I, I wholeheartedly attached my entire self worth as a human being, to my ability to have an a plus or a 95% average on my tests and report cards and coming from a European family, I’ll be honest. It felt like it, it felt like if I didn’t bring that home, there was issues and problems. When in reality, I could have a 95% average not understand the concepts, just be memorizing things and not really engaged with the learning. Right. And Jeff, as you point yourself, there, it’s a common thing that happens with all of us. Yep. And I know all three of you have your mics, your mics on muted, ready to jump in. So please tell me how mastery learning and the grid method approaches assessment differently.


The Teach Better Team (12:37):
I just wanna jump in and see if Chad’s having dejavu, cuz him and I had like an hour and a half long conversation about assessment yesterday. So Chad, I’m gonna let you take this one, but I have to remind you like this is not actually dejavu. This is a new conversation we can just,


The Teach Better Team (12:54):
Yeah. So I actually, I love this question because assessment is such a core aspect of where a student is at so we can grow them. But I think in a traditional sense, we usually look at assessments and we say, it’s a quiz, it’s a test. And, and it’s just like this autopsy, right? This is what you know, and we’re gonna move on regardless of how well you did. I think mastery learning changes the assessment culture. And we start to look at assessment as snapshots of where a student is on their larger aspect and their growth as a learner. One of my favorite ways to think about assessment is that that’s where the student is today. It’s not where they have to stay forever. And I think mastery learning really articulates that well, and it embodies things like retakes standards, aligned assessment, formative assessment practices.


The Teach Better Team (13:51):
So it makes assessment a natural part of, of learning as opposed to these high stakes really stressful environments. So instead of assessment becoming this super stressful high stakes, oh my gosh, I hope I do really well situation it’s Hey, Sam prove what you know right now. So I know how to help you further. And I think that’s a huge cultural or shift that mastery learning helps occur in classrooms. I think it also helps align instruction and assessment. With a lot of the schools in classrooms, we work with a district will come and say, we need to do we need to reestablish our assessments. And I go, well, have we talked about instruction at, because if those two things don’t talk to one another, that’s a really big problem. So a lot of mastery learning comes in the planning process in the backwards design process, which ensures that the learning that’s occurring, the growth that’s supposed to happen.


The Teach Better Team (14:51):
And the measurement tool that you’re using to establish that growth are all connected and all work together. And then the most important thing is the idea that the assessment is not the last step. It’s the first step in identifying where the students at with grid method classrooms. We have a saying F a I L fail stands for first attempt in learning failure should be the first step in the learning process where you’re identifying gaps in needs so that you, as the educator can take next steps to fill those gaps and move the student forward.


The Teach Better Team (15:26):
Wow. I know rays gonna jump in. I just wanna touch on like, Chad, you already kind of wrapped this up, but you said the word like autopsy, right? So your assessment, it’s not, it shouldn’t be the looking back at what happened before. It’s utilizing that to see what do, what happens next? What do we do next? What do we take them from there? And Ray’s gonna say it a whole lot better than I did.


The Teach Better Team (15:45):
No. You know, I actually, I don’t wanna take us down like a rabbit hole here, but it’s interesting Sam, when you ask your question and Chad, as you in, into your explanation, I’m separating the concept of mastery learning is a phenomenal instructional practice we should have in our classrooms. Me personally, though, when I was trying to figure out how to achieve it, it came into the, I mean, Chad, you brought it up like the grid method, which is that mastery framework that we get to do. We’re fortunate enough to do a lot of work in, and for me, that’s what I needed because when I think of formative summative assessment or any sort of evaluation of student understanding, it comes down to the fact that never in my career never have. I seen educators having more conversations with students than I do right now. And how valuable is it that when I was in school, back in the day assessment was this high stakes test.


The Teach Better Team (16:34):
And that was the only time that you were really, even if it was a one way communication, you were communicating what you know, whereas now not only in my own classroom, but in classrooms that we get to work with, educators are having one-on-one or small group conversations with their students every single day. And to me, that that is so much more of an example of authentic assessment. Because if I have an administrator walk in on a random Tuesday, I can tell them exactly where their student is at, you know, and, and they might all be in 24 different spots for 24 different students. But because we’re giving teachers the gift of time able to actually have those authentic conversations. So that assessment becomes a valuable use of their classroom time. Does that make sense?


Sam Demma (17:21):
Yeah. A hundred percent Chad go for


The Teach Better Team (17:23):
It. I also think Ray’s hitting on a really core benefit of mastery learning that it expands the definition of what assessment can be. Yeah, right. So instead of it having to be blanks on a worksheet or bubbles on a, on a, on an, an a Scantron test or something like that, it can now be any form of demonstration of mastery. And so I think that’s a, a, a core component that mastery learning helps support is the, the broadening of the idea that we can assess mastery authentically and in more ways than we traditionally thought were possible. And that a student can demonstrate that mastery, however, is comfortable and close enough to their ability, their current ability level. And it means the same, whether it’s a Scantron test or a, a five second conversation like Ray Ray’s talking about. And I think that’s a really powerful thing for a teacher to embody in the classroom.


Sam Demma (18:19):
My mind immediately jumps to that picture of a bunch of different animals, an elephant a monkey. And there’s a goldfish and, oh, judge the goldfish by its ability to, you know, to climb a tree, it will limit its whole life believing it to failure. And I think, you know, what you’re getting at here is the idea that yeah, assessment isn’t binary and using this mastery learning approach, you know, allows the different animals to be tested in their unique capacities, to see if within their skillsets, are they learning as much as they can and maximizing their ability?


The Teach Better Team (18:53):
Well, and for the teacher to be able to evaluate the type of animal they’re, they’re working with, like how many times have we all sat stood in front of a classroom of 34 and said, Ooh, I can’t wait to figure out the inner workings of every single student that are all gonna be different. Oh yeah. And then in an hour, they’re all gonna rotate and I get a whole other group of group of kids. So that time is really valuable.


Sam Demma (19:16):
Love that. Awesome. It it’s, and it’s not about being perfect. Right. it’s not about being perfect. It’s about being better, right? It’s about 1% improvement. It’s about being a little bit better today. A little bit better tomorrow. It’s about complaining better, right there. There’s so many things that you guys talk about in your books in past podcasts. And I love this idea that we don’t have to arrive tomorrow because that’s unrealistic and mastery does take time. But if we do improve, you know, small, consistent actions as I would say my teacher would inspired me when I was in grade 12, it leads to a massive change. So at the heart of what you, you, why do you believe, you know, being 1% better than you are right now is really what we’re going for and working towards with all the work that each of you are doing.


The Teach Better Team (20:03):
That’s a good, that’s a good, solid que I think, I think you really just said it cuz to be perfect or where we want to be, or hit a goal tomorrow as a unrealistic, unless we set really, really low goals. Right? Mm. But to be 1% better, tomorrow is something we can accomplish. And if we’re trying to be 1%, that doesn’t mean we can’t be 10% doesn’t mean we won’t be 20%. Right. But, but to understand that it, it doesn’t need to be, and it’s the scale like across all the animals, right? It’s going to be a whole bunch of different percentages based on that individual animal, that student, that person, whatever they need at the time and what they’re working on and the level of the, the number of, of, of hours, it’s going to take them specifically to hit that master or whatever it is. So to understand that, like, it doesn’t have to be this, it can be more, but it doesn’t have to be it just as long as we’re moving forward, we’re moving forward and we’re getting towards what a mastery is for each individual person and student. Nice. That’s how I view it.


The Teach Better Team (21:01):
I also think sort of like that teach better mindset that we talk about better today and better tomorrow. And that constant search for that 1% better, that constant search for better also broadens the scope of what is possible on an, on a given day, because you can be better at something on the worst day you you’re having in a week. You can be, you can be better at something on the worst year you’re having as a teacher. So by not going, you need to be a perfect educator tomorrow. Cause you’re probably, that’s never going to happen. There’s no such thing as a perfect educator. Yeah. I’m not a perfect educator. I’ve never worked with a perfect educator cuz it’s not something that can actually exist. She’s


The Teach Better Team (21:43):
Right there, Chad.


The Teach Better Team (21:44):
But if we, except for Ray possibly but definitely


The Teach Better Team (21:49):
Not perfect friends. I hate to tell you, but


The Teach Better Team (21:51):
I, I, I think the better mindset gives access to improvement and it gives the freedom of an individual regardless of how their day, year, month or career is going to be better to what can I do better? And it might not be better at instruction. It might be better at forming relationships. It might be smiling at a student instead of giving them a mean look, and that might be how you’re better. Cause in, you know, at the Genesis of the teach better team, I was at the lowest point in my entire career. And it was those little moments of finding something I could be better at that eventually built up to massive instructional changes, massive personal changes, massive relational changes. And it’s not about that. It’s about the 1% every day because we can all at least commit to that. But it’s about the, the culminating event change in progress that occurs when it’s 1% every day, cuz you’re also gonna have 5% days when you’re, you’re also gonna have 20% days and 3% days. But as long as you can have 1% every day, you’re always gonna be moving forward. And the culmination of that is something that’s truly been amazing to watch educators and schools and districts we work with go through and that, and that’s such a driving force behind the family and the work that we do every single day.


The Teach Better Team (23:21):
I think theres a piece of this like that, you know, so you can have, we can have 5% days, you can also have negative 5% days. Right. But I think if you’re focused on being better versus trying to be perfect or trying be exactly here all the time, you can have a bad day and come back the next day and go, wow, it’s a lot easier to be better today because yesterday I wasn’t so great, but I’m still moving forward. Right? I’m still growing versus now I’m further and further and further away from this probably unrealistic goal that I set for myself in the first place.


Sam Demma (23:48):
Love that. And Ray alluded to this earlier for you, the listener, if you, if you didn’t catch it, she was talk. She said, you know, we have to strive to be better than YouTube. That’s actually the title of her latest TEDx talk. So make sure you check it out on YouTube. It’s awesome. Ray, what does that mean? What does it mean to be better in YouTube? And, and why did you title your talk that,


The Teach Better Team (24:07):
You know, it’s so funny guys. We, you know, if you guys go to teach bear.com, you’re gonna see oodles and oodles and oodles of content and there’s more and more and more being published every single day. And when you apply to a part of a Ted experience, it has to be original content. And there’s so many things that I believe and that I would love to continue to share with the world. But one of the things that really hit home during COVID, as, as every educator, as I said in my, in my Ted talk was kind of thrown to the wolves and we had to figure it out on the fly and we saw incredible problem solving and, and, and incredible characteristics, you know, shine in the people that we were working with. I really struggled working with educators that were trying to compete with resources that were already good and in existence for us already.


The Teach Better Team (24:58):
Hmm. So when I was trying to craft up my message and I definitely wanted mastery learning to be a focus. I wanted my own personal learning journey to be, to be shared. One of the key takeaways I wanted educators to recognize is that, you know, teachers are masters at inspiring their students. They’re incredible facilitators of discussion and they’re more than simply being a content delivery system, right. They can do so much more in the classroom. So this title of better than YouTube was really this, this blunt statement of teachers have to acknowledge and celebrate that they are better than a stagnant video. Mm. And so rather than compete and make 1500 YouTube clips this year or compete and say, how am I going to add enough to my mini, to my mini lesson? You know, as a YouTube edited clip might do instead let’s partner with these incredible tools that we have access to and give ourselves the time to do what we do best, which is interact with students and foster discussions. So it was a really, really incredible project to work on. I’m so thrilled. It’s out


Sam Demma (26:07):
Love that. It’s awesome. And it’s, it’s so plainly obvious that all three of you have this burning passion for the work that you do. And I’m really curious to know how the heck do you balance teaching Chad and Ray and you know, Jeff, you can touch on this too. I know you’re not a classroom teacher, but I’m sure you’re balancing a ton of different things right now. How do you balance that with the work you’re doing and not get burnt out because I’m sure we can all agree that reaching out to teachers and educators right now and saying, Hey, we’d love to chat with you or, Hey, we have some ideas. The response you’re getting is that their hair is on fire. You know, like you just, you can’t can’t talk right now. How do you personally balance your own time to make it all work?


The Teach Better Team (26:46):
Yeah. Sam, I have to tell you that, you know, we have an incredible amount of educators that, that work with us to share the teach better mindset, right? Yes. I mean, if you look at the teach better team, there’s not only 22 plus people that are on the team, but then we have a huge collection of educators on our speakers network. We have guest bloggers, we have podcasters. We have people who help us design courses in the teach better academy. I mean, we really have built a network that we label our family and almost all of them, 99% of them are classroom teachers. And the reason that is, is because we, that classroom teachers are, are incredible, you know, or they’re working in schools as administrative leaders. But we’re better when we surround ourselves with good people. And so it’s not about, you know, that it’s not hard working two jobs, right?


The Teach Better Team (27:38):
Like, you know, right. For example, right now I’m physically in the classroom as a classroom teacher and also in with the teach better team. But it really is about trying to support educators holistically. And one of the elements that we all need is to be around positive solutions, seeking people who challenge us to be our best selves. And so whether it’s the, the struggle of keeping a calendar so that we can be hustling or all the time as effectively as possible or anything in between, you know I, I’m gonna let Jeff touch on this next, but one of the best things that Jeff Garas said to me very early on as I probably was feeling like my hair was on fire, you know, working multiple jobs is this phrase that he doesn’t like of when you get a job you love, you never work a day in your life. And he was like, it’s not true, Ray. It’s not true. When you get a job, you love, you work harder than you’ve ever worked before, but you love it. And I cannot emphasize that enough. We are constantly working probably in an unhealthy manner. We may not be the best people to go to for self care, but, but God, I love it. Jeff, don’t you love it.


The Teach Better Team (28:49):
I, I do. I agree with everything she just said. And, and I just, I just want to add, like, you know, you talked about the Sam, you mentioned teachers with, well, Ray kind of mentioned too with, you know, my hair’s on fire. I’m crazy. Right. Especially this year, it’s always like that, but even more so this past year, and Ray mentioned all the content, everything we’re creating, all the support pieces and all the resources we create. I think for us, a big piece is one, this kind of two pieces is one. We want teachers just to know that like, that we’re creating these things and we’re building these things even when your hair’s on fire. So when you’re ready for it, it’s here, right. It’s here for you to come. And it’s for us. Consistency has always been really, really important so that they know that we’re here.


The Teach Better Team (29:26):
Like, you know that your family’s there. The other piece is when a teacher says my hair is on fire. We like to say, okay, great. What’s causing the fire and what can we do to help you put it out? And then maybe try to put some pieces in place to make sure that it doesn’t catch fire again. Right? So we like, we wanna help teachers understand that we, you know, really mentioned the good people that we’re part of that we like to be part of that and be that family of, okay, if your hair’s on fire, we can help you put it out. We can help you prevent that. But, or if not, we can just be here when you’re ready. Right. When you’re ready to come up from, from, for air, from being underwater all year, we, we’re still creating these resources. We’re still building these things for you. We’re still creating this community for you. We’re still here for you. And I think that is, is a key piece to what we do and what we believe.


Sam Demma (30:10):
I’m gonna jump in just for one second and then pass it back over to rate, because I just thought of this. And it was kind of funny. I was gonna say, you know, if someone’s hair’s on fire and they don’t want help now you can tell them that they can come back in five months when they’re bald and you can give ’em a wig, right?


The Teach Better Team (30:24):
Exactly. If that’s what they need, then that’s that’s. And that’s what it is, right. That we we’ve. I say it all the time that like we’ve built everything with our, our, our company, by listening to the, our company, telling us what it needs to grow and our community about what they need us to do within our capacity of being able to do stuff for them. And that’s why, what we create and how we build and what we build is based around that.


Sam Demma (30:48):
Awesome. Love it.


The Teach Better Team (30:50):
No, I think Jeff said it wonderfully. I, the only thing I was gonna add in, you know, it’s so funny in terms of being around whenever someone needs something we launched in 2020 and administrative master remind, which is truly just a zoom call that happens twice on Tuesdays, every single week to create a safe space for administrative leaders, right. Educational leaders to talk shop, and kind of share their grievances and problem solve and hopefully take away resources. And it’s so funny because every single time someone joins, they’re like, Ugh, I of that. If I’m busy, I don’t have to be in this meeting, but the moment I need something, I know the meeting exists for me to like connect with my people. And I find that while that might be a good example of that, I, I really enjoy seeing that kind of holistically across multiple different capacities of things that the team tries to do to be accessible.


Sam Demma (31:43):
Brilliant.


The Teach Better Team (31:44):
And I, and I think they’re both hitting on something that we’ve built this company on, which is authentically and holistically help first. Mm. Right. Like if, if we’re helping educators, we win and they win and everyone can feel good about that. Yeah. and there are other aspects of our business of course, but one of the things I think has helped us over the last hair on fire craziness of 2020 has been, we made a purposeful shift to try to provide as much help as humanly possible when all of this started, you know, I think it was March of 2020 when everything shut it down. And we said, you have two options here, right? Like you can help, or you can do other things that aren’t necessarily helping. And, and we made the purposeful to authentically reach out to every single teacher. We knew every single school we work with in our entire network and family and in, in audience and just offer authentic help.


The Teach Better Team (32:48):
Mm. But that has been something as both of them have articulated very well. Jeff and Ray that I think has driven a lot of the work that we do on a daily basis and teach better team, whether it’s helping a school or a, a partner district we wanna help them before we do anything else and make sure that whatever we’re providing them is making, helping them meet their goals in their mission. And I think that’s like the, the lifeblood of everything we do. And I think that drives a lot of the work and decisions we make on a day to day basis.


Sam Demma (33:23):
I love that. I believe that as humans, we’re also shaped by significant emotional experiences and one that I know rings true to you, Chad is get the hell outta my classroom. And I’m really curious to know what does that mean to you? Can you share, you know, that story as if we’re on an elevator and, and you have 30 seconds to pitch it.


The Teach Better Team (33:46):
Yeah. I think every teacher can relate to that moment. I, I visually remember that moment where, how much, how long was the time? Just, I


The Teach Better Team (33:56):
Was just, I, Ray and I were connecting there cause I was laughing at the eye. Any of that, Sam thought you were gonna do this in 30 seconds.


The Teach Better Team (34:02):
No, listen. That was a, that was a visceral moment for me as a teacher where my students had become the enemy of myself as an educator. And I had become every single aspect of the teacher. I never wanted to be got it. I don’t think any, any teacher ever enters the class and their first year or their fifth year or their 20th year seeing students as the enemy. But that was a moment where it was me versus them. And I was in hundred percent survival mode. Yeah. And that was the moment I realized something had to change and I couldn’t change everything overnight, but I could do something better the next day. And I could do a lot of these changes and start thinking about my instruction differently. So that moment you know, and I do articulate that moment quite a bit when I’m talking about some of the changes that, that, that we embody, I’m gonna teach better team for classrooms, but that was a catalyst that allowed all of the other changes that eventually become the creation of the grid method, which we now get to share with schools and districts, the creation of the teach better team, which now has an expansive availability of resources that are helping students and educators across the country and beyond.


The Teach Better Team (35:17):
So that’s that moment, I think, resonates with every teacher in a, a room when I’m speaking and sharing that story. Every teacher has that moment where they feel like they’ve lost that spark. They’ve lost that passion and they never wanted to be here. So you have two choices, you just lay down and give up or you get better the next day. Mm I’m glad that I was able to get better the next day, which has now brought myself and, and to teach better team into fruition and in the ability to help others and increase our impact on a daily basis. That was way longer than 15 seconds. So


Sam Demma (35:56):
That’s totally okay. On the idea of challenges, because sometimes dealing with students can feel like a challenge. What do you think are some of the biggest challenges that exist in education right now? And what do you think the opportunities are on the other side of those challenges? Because solving them leads to some sort of opportunity. And I’m curious to know anyone can jump in here first.


The Teach Better Team (36:20):
I, I, I think the last year has demonstrated the amount of inequity that already existed in the educational world. I think the inequities that showed up due to lack of internet service due to home life of S students due to living situations due to you know, demographic stability or financial instability of, of families and students and, and everything that goes along with all of that. I think we’ve known for a really long time that those are problems in education, but because that we were, because we were bringing students into our classrooms and we could say sometimes falsely that because we were providing a space that we knew was safe and, and, and, and supportive that it was okay. It didn’t matter about these outside things because we could create this safe space, this sheltered space it was known that those things were problems and that in all the research, if you ever look at it fully supports that there’s a distinct difference between socioeconomic status and success for of a student and, and other aspects that are cultural in nature and things like that.


The Teach Better Team (37:34):
So I think what this did is it put all of that under a microscope. Mm. And it allow, and it forced us as educators, regardless of your role teacher, classroom aid, principal, superintendent. It forced us to address those needs and confront those needs in a way that was somewhat uncomfortable, probably, but that, it just really forced us to just realize that this is real. This is something our students are dealing with, and this is something that we cannot wait to address it needs to be addressed now. So I think from an instructional standpoint, I know we’ve helped a lot of schools address some of these things, utilizing mastery learning and giving them tools and ways to make the instructional prep is in the classroom, more equitable from a pedagogical standpoint and an instructional standpoint. But I also think it, it was a really great conversation starter of just because the kids are back in the classroom doesn’t mean all these other things are now gone. Cause we know they exist now. Like the elephant is in the room and we can see it. Now, the sheet has been lifted and it’s right there in the corner and we have to address it. And I think the biggest crime and the biggest worry I have is that we want to go back to what was, as opposed to going back to back, going back to an improved instructional setting so that every student can thrive and succeed in their classrooms.


Sam Demma (39:02):
Awesome. Yeah. That was a phenomenal answer. Anything to add Ray or Jeff?


The Teach Better Team (39:09):
You know, I think Chad like hit the nail on the head in terms of a huge fear that we all have, that we are all driving to be on the solution seeking side of, right. I mean, this is a, a necessary conversation. I think a, a smaller element, but one that is really in my face as we continue to host live videos, you know, taking questions from educators and, you know, like doing professional development opportunities. And, you know, I hear this in my own school that I working with my colleagues is this concept of the fact that educators have been filling their toolbox with, with, with resources over the past year and a half because of COVID right. We’ve all learned 15 new tech tools. We’ve all tried a hundred new strategies. And I think an, an additional layer here that I’d love to continue to challenge educators to seek support on is now becoming educated and better understanding when we go into a more familiar school system, when, you know, we’re all back in the classroom and masks may or may not be worn.


The Teach Better Team (40:08):
And we, you know, we all kind of transition, how are you gonna strategically best understand what’s in your toolbox and when, and how to implement them as effectively as possible goal. So, you know, obviously there’s a thousand problems with education. We’re all just doing our best to find the solution. But as you, as an educator are listening to this, I’d love to challenge each and every one of you, whether you are most passionate about a huge, huge problem in education that you wanna find a solution towards, or you just have something really small that you wanna take on to find solution for. There’s plenty of problems. So pick one and let’s all work together to try and find the right answer right away.


Sam Demma (40:43):
Love it. Awesome.


The Teach Better Team (40:46):
Jeff, I don’t know. I, I, I’m gonna, I’ll add just a little bit, it’s a separate problem and it might open up another can of worms. I’m not sure, but for, for me, one of the ones, and this has been a thing that we’ve noticed. I know Chad and Ray new being in this system, but that I learned very quickly after we got started in this is that I think a huge challenge that educators face and have to work within and are trying to change. And we’re seeing a lot of it is that we are trying to educate kids within a system that moves a half inch every 50 years and prepare them for a world that moves six miles every 30 seconds. And I don’t know if that actually adds up to what it is, but this very slow moving machine of the world of education and holding on to how it was and what it was and what worked for us.


The Teach Better Team (41:33):
And we’re trying to prepare kids for a future that is moving so fast right now. If you think about like technology growth over the last, just three years, and then you look at 10 years and you think about the fact that like, when I, you know, I’m not that old, but like when I was in elementary school, like the internet, wasn’t a thing yet. And now it’s literally the real world. Like it’s just this. And, and I think that’s a huge, that’s a much bigger problem, more of a systemic problem and everything like that, that we, that we have to address. But I think that’s a huge challenge that we continue to face. And I think that goes into, you know, we, we learned all these new tools and resources that we had to because we had to live in like this new world for the last year. And if we forget about that new world that we lived in, that is the world that our kids are growing up and whether we like it or not, that’s gonna cause us to just continue to be in this slow moving machine, trying to prepare kids for a machine that they can’t even catch. That’s one of my biggest worries.


The Teach Better Team (42:29):
Can we clarify Sam for all the educators listening, who can’t see us as we’re, you know, on, on having this conversation, Jeff is ancient in case any of you are wondering So old. So


The Teach Better Team (42:41):
I won’t, I won’t lie to you today. I, I went to the eye doctor and he said this like three times, he said, well, you know, yeah, with this, that blah, blah, blah. And you, you know, you’re getting really close to that, that age. And I’m like, what age doc? Whoa, that age. I’m like, what age? He’s talking about 40. I’m almost, I’m not, I’m close. That’s funny. That’s still not that old compared to Ray it’s old, Chad, it’s not as


The Teach Better Team (43:04):
Old. It’s like really far away from me. Thank God.


The Teach Better Team (43:08):
There was something earlier you were talking about like bubble sheets or whatever Scantrons. And I’m looking at Sam going, I don’t know Sam ever had to do Scantron


The Teach Better Team (43:15):
Sam. We know Scantrons.


Sam Demma (43:16):
I know Scantrons. I know Scantrons. When, when you, when you accidentally think question one is question two, when you write the whole


Speaker 5 (43:23):
Thing, every


Sam Demma (43:24):
Single question comes back wrong. And your teacher’s like, you got a F and I’m like, what?


The Teach Better Team (43:29):
Oh, wait, teach. If you just shift those up one. It’s actually all right. Yeah. Yeah. It’s,


Sam Demma (43:33):
That’s funny. No, that’s awesome. This has been a phenomenal conversation and you know, Jeff, your, your last question there about the system could take us on another whole hour long journey. I want to wrap this up on a final note and then we’ll give you an opportunity to share where everyone can connect with you. I want you to imagine you could go back in time and Jeff, you’re gonna have to travel the farthest because you’re the most ancient. But if you could, if you could go back in time and speak to your younger self having the knowledge that you have about education today, understanding that there’s still more to learn, of course. And you’re trying to learn more every single day, but if you could go back, you know, 20 years or to the first day you started teaching, if that applies to you, what would you tell your younger self? What advice would you give your younger self before getting into this work?


The Teach Better Team (44:29):
I think that’s a really, really challenging question. I do to say the first thing that came to mind for me, if I was to go back to my first year of teaching and give a piece of advice, it would really come down to something along the lines of you’re gonna grow faster than you thought. So just keep on tracking like every educator, whether they’re learning to be an educator at a university level, they’re in the classroom right now in the trenches, or they’re 30 years in is constantly finding hurdles and, and things that are stopping them. And we’re constantly brainstorming the next solution to the next problem. And I find that that can be extremely defeating. It can rock your confide. And so many times, I, I mean, I still have these moments so many times I sit back at the end of the day and I’m like, did I, did I do good work today?


The Teach Better Team (45:19):
Did, did I accomplish anything that I actually was trying to do? And I think the reality is is that when you surround yourself with people who are striving to be better, right, striving to grow, then you are, are able to look back. Whether it be look back at the day, look back at the week, look back at the year or an entire career and say, holy cow, we we’ve accomplished a ton and it’s not because I figured it out myself, but it’s because I surrounded myself with people who helped me figure it out. And so I think that would’ve been the biggest piece of advice I needed, cuz I was so nervous every day that I was gonna mess up a kid. And I think the reality is is that if you’re constantly carrying that mindset of growth, you’re always gonna be doing good work regardless of, you know, to what extent that actually is for that day.


Speaker 6 (46:09):
Love it.


The Teach Better Team (46:11):
I think I could piggyback on what race said actually. Cause I’m glad she went first actually for this question. I, I, I think something I used to see, I used to see instruction as a very transactional thing. I used to say a lesson or an experience either went perfect or I messed it up and it was very just like, I, I had to be perfect. Everything had to go perfect or it didn’t go good. It didn’t go well. And then I messed it up. Hmm. And I think as I evolved as an educator, when I look back on that, as I stopped shifting towards my performance in my sort of delivery of like a lesson and more the experience in the learning that was happening in my classroom, moving from more teacher-centered thoughts to more student-centered thoughts. I think that is something I wish I would’ve known earlier and focused on earlier.


The Teach Better Team (47:09):
And I also think, you know, as we kind of approach going back to this normal, I think a lot of teachers need to, to be reminded that it’s not about a kid being broken or behind it’s about focusing on growth, not gaps, right? So it’s about meeting kids where they are. And as long as we are growing them, we’re doing our job and we’re winning because if we look at education, as we made it, we, we failed or we passed based on some arbitrary thing that the system created or the grade level the kids supposed to be at. We’re gonna fail a lot more than we succeed. If we look at ourselves and at the educational system and go, listen, if we meet every kid where they’re at and grow them from there, we’re gonna be okay, regardless of if they’re five grade levels behind or one grade level behind, because a grade level’s an arbitrary understanding of where a kid’s supposed to be anywhere. If in education at its foundation, we just meet kids where they’re at and grow them in an engaging environment that’s safe and supportive and lets them thrive as themselves, as individuals, we will win. And that’s, I think the long term game in realiz, it I’ve had now that I wish I had when I was younger.


Sam Demma (48:33):
That is so powerful. And, and you mentioned the idea of focusing on the growth instead of the gaps and that hits home with me from an athletic background. There’s a awesome book. Titled I, I believe it’s catch them while they’re good. And it’s this idea that instead of giving feedback on someone’s you know, negative result, look for someone who did a great job and highlight what made that example. Great. So you let the other students save face or the other athletes save face and they still can say, oh, that’s what I’m aspiring towards. You know? Jeff ancient, Jeff, what, what, what advice would you give yourself


The Teach Better Team (49:11):
The time I had to go further back? No, I think I, I, this kind of touch, I kind of connects with both of those. I think the thing that I would tell my younger self is that you’re probably going to lose more than you win, but you’re gonna learn either way. Mm. And I had put similar to how Chad had put so much on, did the, his lesson go well or not? I put so much on what I was trying to be in that moment. And when that thing or that person that I thought I was supposed to be, or that was the only thing I was supposed to do, didn’t work. It just, it crushed me and destroyed me. And when it was after why I figured out that, that wasn’t what was important. It was the reasons behind why you were trying to do things and what you were trying to build and what you were trying to accomplish and trying to chase happiness that became more important. And we do it all the time where we learn from all my failures in the right when Chad and I started as a whole lot was let’s look back and see all the businesses that Jeff messed up and see if we can avoid those things. And so I think it’s, it’s similar. Like what Ray said is like, you’re gonna, you’re gonna learn and grow so much from all these times that you think it might have been a failure, but it’s really just an opportunity to learn.


The Teach Better Team (50:17):
Yep. I do just wanna put on record. We do pick on Jeff a lot, but I’m really proud since usually we pick on Chad and


The Teach Better Team (50:24):
I think it’s, I was gonna say, like, I


The Teach Better Team (50:26):
Think it’s crazy. Speak on Jeff today.


The Teach Better Team (50:28):
Can I pick on Chad one last time? No, I was gonna say that I thought what he was telling his younger self was brilliant, but I’m pretty sure his younger self would’ve walked away about halfway through. Cause it took so long. Like there’s this old guy talking about I’m out of here. That’s I know if I’m talking younger me, I gotta be like a couple words and done because I would’ve just been so


Sam Demma (50:46):
Awesome, amazing. This has been such a phenomenal conversation. Thank you. All three of you for, for taking the time to chat about this. I think what’s so inspiring for me as an interviewer and someone who’s listening and I’m sure is as inspiring for you, the person listening as well, is that everything we talked about, it’s like, it all comes back to that idea. That it’s about being student centric, which, and this is how we started this podcast, right? Everything we talked about is about being student centric. You know, filling more tools in your toolbox is so you can help your students, right? Figuring out what tools you need to use so you can help your students; making more equitable school systems is about helping the students. Like I love that through our entire conversation, the values of your, your work and your company came through in every answer you gave. And it just shows to go. It goes to show how much focus you have for the work you’re doing, how much passion and love you have for it. So keep doing amazing work. Where maybe one of you can share very quickly, where can the person listening, find you, where can they check out your program, buy your books, watch your videos, get in touch, or even make fun of Jeff.


The Teach Better Team (51:53):
Yeah, absolutely. Guys. There’s a lot of places that you can go and make fun of Jeff Gargas. So here, let me give you them all. No, to be honest, like we all are on social media. We’re all active. You can find us on Twitter, Instagram, boxer, Facebook, everywhere between, but it’s not about connecting with us. Right. We love when we connect with new people. I mean, geez, last night we were all on Twitter, connecting with new friends for an hour during a, you know, a Twitter chat, but it’s really about connecting with everyone else, all these other educators doing incredible work around the globe. So definitely go check out @teachbetterteam that is over on Twitter, Instagram, like I said everywhere. And you can also see all those details at teachbetter.com. But you know, we hope you connect with us and everyone that is a part of the teach better team, but there are so many incredible educators connected to us in small and large ways, doing really, really good work that we hope


The Teach Better Team (52:47):
it’s just the beginning of all the dots that you, you are collecting to continue to foster the type of life you wanna live. You know, as Sam, I think you said it perfectly, that we really believe in having that student centered mindset, but we also believe that it should exist without the expense of a teacher. We want you as a teacher to be supported and then hopefully have incredible experiences with students, but it really does begin with making sure that you are your best self as well. So let us help if we can. And if not, then we hope to connect with you in the future as we celebrate all the stuff that you guys are doing.


Sam Demma (53:22):
Amazing. Awesome. Chad, Jeff, thank you so much. Chad, Jeff and Ray, and the whole team who is not on the call. Thank you again for the work you’re doing. Thank you for showing up today and, and sharing some of your wisdom and some of the work that you’re doing in education that’s changing lives. I look forward to staying in touch and, and watching all the great work you guys do.


The Teach Better Team (53:42):
Thank you, Sam. Thanks for the work that you are doing. We appreciate you, man. Yeah. Appreciate it.


Sam Demma (53:46):
And there you have it. Another amazing guest, an amazing interview on the High Performing Educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review so other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show; f you want meet the guest on today’s episode, if you wanna meet any of the guests that we have interviewed, consider going to www.highperformingeducator.com and signing up to join the exclusive network. You’ll have access to networking events throughout 2021 and other special opportunities. And I promise I will not fill your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with the Teach Better Team

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

Nicole Philp – Consultant, Ministry of Education

Nicole Philp - Consultant, Ministry of Education
About Nicole Philp

Regardless of whether she is teaching ‘Outdoor School’ students how to sleep in a quinzhee during a frigid Saskatchewan winter or working at a desk developing curriculum for the Ministry of Education, Nicole Philp (@Nicole-Philp) believes educators are in the “business of building people.”

The awards Nicole has won for her work with kids and the community are testament to the success she has had in the people-building business. Through coaching kids in sports, advising them on student leadership councils, volunteering with them in their community, paddling with them on the mighty Churchill, and yes, even teaching them in the classroom, Nicole has realized that the critical element to working with kids is building relationships.

Connect with Nicole: Email | Twitter | Facebook

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Churchill river canoe trip

Saskatchewan Student Leadership Conference

Ministry of Education – Government of Saskatchewan

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 Nicole Philp. Regardless of whether she is teaching outdoor school students, how to sleep in a quinzhee during a Frid, Saskatchewan, winter, or working at a desk development curriculum for the ministry of education, Nicole believes educators are in the business of building people.


Sam Demma (01:02):
The awards Nicole has won for her work with kids and community are testament to the success she has had in the people building business. Through coaching kids in sports, advising them on student leadership councils, volunteering with them in their community, paddling with them on the mighty Churchill, and yes, even teaching them in the classroom, Nicole has realized that the critical elements to working with kids is building relationships.


Sam Demma (01:26):
I hope you enjoy this people building conversation with Nicole Philp, and I will see you on the other side… Nicole, 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 more about the work you do with the educators who might be tuning in today?


Nicole Philp (01:45):
Sure. First of all, thank you, Sam. I think what you’re doing with these podcasts is an amazing opportunity for us as teachers to listen into each other’s stories. I think, I think that we learn the best when we learn from each other. And, and so this is just such a, an insightful way of, of sharing people’s stories. So thank you for facilitating all of these and, and for the, the invitation to join you today. A little bit about me, I guess I, I hail from small town, she Saskatchewan with in a community of about 1500 people. I’ve had some great experiences in education over the years, including teaching at a large urban high school of 2000 kids teaching an outdoor school program where I got to travel the province with a Hardy group of great 11 kids who were willing to camp and every kind of weather condition imaginable from hot sun to rain, to snowing and building their snow cleans in January. And, and most recently working in my own community and teaching in a, in a small town of 200 kids in the school. And and I’m now working in a position with the ministry of education in Saskatchewan. So I have a huge passion for education. I’ve been very blessed in my life to have all sorts of different educational experiences and just love working with kids. So that’s a, that’s a bit about me


Sam Demma (03:02):
And, and growing up in your, your own small town, did you have dreams and ambitions to become a teacher or like, you know, as a kid yourself, how did you stumble upon getting into education? How did you choose that path?


Nicole Philp (03:16):
Yeah, funny question. So my mom would tell you that it was just always what I was going to be when I was a kid. I would line my stuffed animals up on the couch and have a little chalkboard, and I would teach my little stuffed animals because my brothers refused to sit and listen to me. So I think teaching and, and working with kids is just kind of always been in my blood. I I’ve always wanted to do it. I, I can’t imagine really doing anything else. I had an older brother who was determined that rather than waste my good marks as he saw it on being a teacher, I should go and do something that would make me a pile of money and rich, and he would live off my coattails and, and that just didn’t interest me. I, I really only ever wanted to be in a school.


Sam Demma (04:00):
Hmm. That’s amazing. And did you have educators along the journey that confirmed your own desire and told you, Hey, Nicole, you know, when you, when you grow up, you should consider getting into teaching.


Nicole Philp (04:12):
Yeah. Yeah, yeah. And that’s, that’s a great question. I actually have kind of, I see him as a mentor. He was my middle years math teacher. And as an adult now, he is still a volunteer in the community. He has probably more provincial titles as a coach for hockey and baseball and, or softball and, and different sports than anyone I’ve ever met. And, and he’s just become kind of a mentor to me. And, and I bring him up not only an answer to your, but also because he’s kind of coined a phrase for me that I always have in the back of my head. And he talks about teaching and coaching as being in the business of building people. Mm-Hmm. And I just, I love that phrase because it encounters exactly what I think our role is. Educators is yes. We’re there to teach curriculum. Yes. We’re there to you, you know, help kids kind of get through the academic part of life. But if we can even a tiny bit contribute to building the people that they’re becoming and, and the people that they’re gonna be to contribute to our society, then gosh, what a humbling experience for us is teachers to be a part of that. So, yeah. So, so certainly I, I have a mentor that I definitely think of and answer to that question. And, and that’s why building people…


Sam Demma (05:28):
And how do you think you build people in the classroom? Like I, I’m curious to, if you could go back to when you were a student, did you have any teachers as well during that time that, you know, poured into you that had a big impact on your self belief, your confidence or your own just, you know, journey through school as a kid mm-hmm and if so, like what did they do for you that made an impact and a difference that allowed you to build yourself as a kid in their class?


Nicole Philp (05:54):
Well, I think building people can only happen if you first build relationships. I don’t think that you can start creating any kind of development unless you first have that foundation of trust and, and a relationship with the kids that you’re working with, or, or as a kid with the teacher that you’re, that you’re working with in the classroom. And so I, I really think that that is the foundation of all of it that you have to make yourself vulnerable too, as an educator, in order for kids to see that you’re real, you’re authentic, you are in a sense, one of them still learning and growing on this, on this journey. And, and I think that making yourself real and authentic and vulnerable with kids helps them trust you in a sense and helps kind of build that beginning, found that will then flourish and grow into something where we can start that work on, on building people.


Nicole Philp (06:44):
And that was certainly the case for me. I, I had several teachers that I would say I recognized as, as just being real with us as students and, and understood them to be someone that existed outside of the classroom too, and in their lives and that they were willing to share their time with us and, and do some volunteer work with us and teach us about serving and giving of ourselves beyond the classroom. All of those things definitely contributed to my trust of them which was then a great modeling experience for me to take when I became a teacher and, and recognized that if I wanted to build those relationships and begin working on that building people business that my mentor talks about I needed to do the same and, and make myself vulnerable and authentic with kids.


Sam Demma (07:30):
I love that. And what do you think like vulnerability looks like in the classroom as a teacher? Is it like, you know, sharing when you’re, when you’re going through good time and bad times, or like, how do you show up vulnerably as an educator?


Nicole Philp (07:43):
Yeah, and easier for some than others, for sure. And I, and I think it also looks different for some than others. For me, it’s, it’s absolutely that it’s sharing with kids. What’s kind of going on. If I’m having a rough day, I, I certainly don’t mind letting them know, and yet I will also do my best, never to let that impede what’s going on in the classroom. Right. But I think kids need to know and understand that that it’s okay to have those Fs and downs and, and work through them and talk about them and, and experience them, not just kind of box it in. There are certainly lots of kids sitting in our classroom that are going through things that we never know about because they don’t talk about it. And, and nor will they, unless they recognize that it’s okay to do so. And it’s, and it’s a safe place and a trusting place to do that. So yeah, just kind of being willing to be outside of your, your comfort zone and, and share stuff, kids, and, and ensure that then it becomes a safe place for them to share it with you.


Sam Demma (08:45):
That’s awesome. So take me back to yourself, you know, you finish high school, you got teachers, I’m assuming teachers college. So after teachers college, what did the path look like for you throughout education? Like bring me through the various roles you worked and also where you started and where you are now.


Nicole Philp (09:04):
Sure. Yeah. So I graduated a bit early, so I ended up looking for a position right after Christmas, when, when I was done university. And I was fortunate enough to, to land a physician at the, the biggest high school in Saskatchewan. So, like I said, I’m from a town of 1500 people, and I was walking into my first day of work in a school that had over 2000 kids in it. So to say I was overwhelmed and feeling a little bit out of my league is to put it lightly. I remember just like I knew one way to get to my classroom and that building from my car. And I would only take that one way through the same hallway, same doors until I was confident enough in myself to get lost in the maze of hallways of such a large school.


Nicole Philp (09:52):
But what an experience, because as a first year teacher, I was surrounded by, at that time I was teaching just math and I was surrounded by about 12 other math teachers. So all of that experience and, and knowledge and wisdom to learn from and build on was just phenomenal for my kind of professional development. And then while I was at that school it became kind of known that I had this passion for the outdoors and passion for adventures and that kind of thing. So I got invited to co-teach an outdoor school program which I alluded to before. And so we had 11 grade 11 students that would apply for it from kind of all over the division. And and we would count from September till till January. And they would learn math as we were pedaling a Churchill, and they would learn English and we’d read poetry.


Nicole Philp (10:40):
We’re sitting around the fire somewhere down in grassland, national parks, Saskatchewan. And, you know, it was just in terms of place based learning and, and inquiry kind of learning. It was the most incredible experience for those kids and for myself. And then, and then from there, I, and ended up getting, you know, pregnant with my first child and I couldn’t be on the road like that. So I applied for a position in my own small town, so I wouldn’t be commuting and I wouldn’t be traveling. And, and I was very fortunate to get it and spent the next 10 years just teaching in my community, which I, I can’t speak enough about that. I just being able to work with the kids in your community and, and the biggest piece for me during that experience has been making the connections between school and community I’m


Nicole Philp (11:27):
So such a believer, I guess, in, in the phrase that it not only takes a village to raise a child as the old saying goes, but I think it takes a village to educate one. And so during my time teaching in my community, I, I made every effort I possibly could think of to either bring the community into the school so that my kids were learning from people who are, who are better than me. People who know more and people who can speak to different things in, in a way that I can’t, and then also taking the kids out into the community in that reciprocal relationship and, and teaching them about what does the community I offer and, and who is doing the work that makes this community such a great place. And having them learn about about the different people and the amount of work that goes into creating this sense of community. So, for me, it was working in my own community was really about that opportunity to build relationships between the school and the community.


Sam Demma (12:22):
That’s amazing. And did you grow up with a passion for the outdoors, or is that something you developed when you started teaching?


Nicole Philp (12:30):
Yeah, yeah. A bit of both. So, I mean, I’m a true farm kid. I grew up riding in grain trucks with my parents when I was little and, and certainly, you know, working with cattle and horses and all that kind of stuff, and definitely a, a true farm kid who spent most of my time outside. And when I wasn’t working on the farm, I was building forts in the Bush. So that kind of thing. But in terms of like these survivalistic type of camping experiences, I had a, a friend whose family did this every year and they invited me on my first Churchill river canoe trip when I was about 15 years old and never looked back. That was always, always my thing. So yeah, it, to be able to incorporate that into my teaching and, and to teach while something that I’m so passionate about. I mean, it’s just a huge highlight of my career, so yeah, definitely, definitely a lifelong passion for sure.


Sam Demma (13:23):
And, you know, at some point you also started getting heavily involved in student activities and student leadership. What, what, when did that happen for you and what kind of pushed you in that direction?


Nicole Philp (13:35):
So, I mean, it started for me when I was in high school myself and I was fortunate enough to be part of a, a very active student council and we attended all sorts of provincial leadership conferences. So it was for me, just kind of a no brainer that as soon as I became a teacher, I would definitely get involved in that kind of leadership activity counsels and that kind of thing. And so I did right away when I started at, at this large urban high school in, in prince Albert and had some great mentors to learn from in terms of how to be an advisor of a, of a large student council. And then brought that experience when I came to, came to she and came to teach my own community. And, and certainly this is where that kind of sense of community and student leadership kind of relationship building with community really flourished.


Nicole Philp (14:26):
The community has just been so embracing of everything that the student leadership council ever wanted to attempt or, or try or do in terms of eat hockey tournaments, to having a mud pit where the kids just like get down and dirty into this mud pit and wrestling. And it’s just a blast to yeah, to hosting a relay for life. We had this amazing group of kids that decided they were going to, they were gonna do their own relay for life in Shere which is normally done just in large centers. And they raised over $14,000 the first year they did it in a, in a community of 1500 kids. It’s, it’s pretty incredible. So it’s just a Testament to how embracing this community is of the work that the kids are trying to do. And again, it just goes back to that sense of relationships, right. And, and seeing that the kids are serving and are, are wanting to serve this community they just, yeah. Support that wholeheartedly, which is an incredible.


Sam Demma (15:25):
That’s so cool. And doing the relay for life in such a small town and having such a large impact is a test meant to how a small group of kids or a small group of people in general can really make a difference, which is like, yeah, such an awesome story. And then how did things transition? I know you, you moved and started working with the ministry of education as well. What did that transition look like and what does the work you’re doing now kind of, how does it differ from what you were doing previously into schools?


Nicole Philp (15:53):
Yeah, that’s a, that’s a tough one to answer for me in a sense that this was not a job change that I was looking for. I was loving the work that I was doing in my community and in my school and, and with the kids that I was teaching and working with. So it was not an easy decision for me, but I received a phone call in the summer of 2019 with an offer for this subcontinent position, with the ministry to do some work around the province with school community councils. And after a lot of soul searching and a lot of conversations with my family, we decided, you know what, let’s, let’s give this a try. So I, I took that opportunity and, and wow, what experience I got to travel to 27 different school divisions in the province and meet with their parents and community members and people who are just so invested in education and wanting the best for their kids.


Nicole Philp (16:45):
Mm. And so to listen to those conversations and to hear the different points of view and different perspectives from small towns to urban centers and the different needs and the different challenges people are facing that was just such an incredible experience for me, that I certainly don’t regret making that decision. And now the work I’m doing is just giving me such a, a wider view of education in general. I, you know, I’ve worked urban and I’ve worked in rural and I’ve worked in this outdoor school program, but to see education kind of from that provincial level and from a, a different perspective and see the work that kind of goes on behind the scenes has also been incredible. I do see myself going back to the classroom. I desperately miss kids. Mm-Hmm, , I often have a group of kids around my kitchen table, actually, whether they’re coming for math help or just coming for lunch, cuz we wanna have a catch up visit or, or whatever it might be. We’re currently actually planning a Halloween activity. So yeah, I just, I miss kids, I miss working with kids and, and I know that that’s really where I need to get back to, but this has been just kind of a, a really neat break in the career and a different experience to, to build myself as a, an educator when I go back.


Sam Demma (17:57):
That gives you more holistic viewpoint or perspective.


Nicole Philp (18:00):
Right. It really does. Yeah.


Sam Demma (18:02):
Yeah. That’s awesome. That’s so cool. And if you could travel back in time and speak to on year one of teaching, knowing what you know now and having a different perspective, like what advice would you give your younger self or any of the educators listening who might be in their first few years of teaching?


Nicole Philp (18:21):
I think I would tell myself you can’t do it all. Hmm. And, and so I’m, I’m one of those type a personalities. And I like when I have a, a plan or a vision, I like to make sure that it’s all done and it’s all done. Right. and, and yet there’s so many negative repercussions for that. Kids, you, you, you build people a lot, a lot better if you allow them to do the work and if you allow them to make the mistakes and if you allow them to grow from all of that. And so when I first started in student leadership and started doing some of those activity planning events and, and that kind of thing, I would try to always kind of have my thumb on all of the different components and make sure that everything was being done.


Nicole Philp (19:00):
And, and and as an organizer, you need to do that to some extent, there’s, there’s no doubt about it. You don’t really want your kids to fail, but but yeah, I re remember there were things that I would do and I would just try and make sure that I was kind of covering all of it. And, and so that’s definitely something that I would have, I would like to tell myself now let it go because kids can do amazing things and, and you need to trust them. And yeah, you need to let them learn from, from the different things that happen when they’re playing, learning these kinds of events and, and involved with community and, and they’re all great learning experiences.


Sam Demma (19:36):
Love that. That’s great. Last piece of advice. Nicole, thank you so much for taking some time outta your data. Come on the show and share your perspectives and your stories. If there is an educator listening, who’s feeling inspired or intrigued in any way, what would be the best way for them reach out to you and get in touch for a conversation?


Nicole Philp (19:55):
Hmm. Great question. I’m on Facebook looking me up on Facebook. Can you shoot me an email or a text? I love to love to chat with other educators and, and learn from them. Like I said, that’s what I’ve thoroughly enjoyed about your podcast. I’ve just gotten so many ideas and chatted, so many notes to on as I’ve listened to different people and their experiences and what they’ve done with kids and where they’ve, their imagination has taken them. So yeah, this is just such a, a neat opportunity for all of us.


Sam Demma (20:22):
Awesome. I’ll put your email in the show notes so people can find it if they’re interested in shooting you a note. But yeah. Thank you again so much. This has been great. We’ll stay in touch and keep up it work.


Nicole Philp (20:32):
Fantastic. Thanks Sam. And likewise, have a great day.


Sam Demma (20:36):
And there you have it. Another amazing guest, an amazing interview on the high performing educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review. So other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show. If you wanna meet the guest on today’s episode, if you wanna meet any of the guests that we have interviewed, consider going to www.highperformingeducator.com and signing up to join the exclusive network, you’ll have access to networking events throughout 2021 and other special opportunities. And I promise I will not fill your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Nicole

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.

Paola Di Fonzo – Chaplain All Saints Catholic Secondary School

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

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

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

Connect with Paola: Email | Linkedin

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

All Saints Catholic School website

BA in Christianity and Culture at the University of Toronto

Masters of Theological Studies at Regis College, University of Toronto

Meditation Basics

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):
Do you want access to all the past guests on this show? Do you want to network with like-minded individuals and meet other high performing educators from around the world? If so, go to www.highperformingeducator.com. Sign up to join the exclusive network and you’ll get access to live virtual networking events and other special opportunities that will come out throughout 2021. I promise you I will not fill your inbox. you might get one email a month. If that sounds interesting, go to www.highperformingeducator.com. Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s guest is my good friend, Paola, Paola Di Fonzo is the chaplain at All Saints Secondary School. She just recently got her masters degree. So she’s still pursuing education, even while she’s teaching. She is a powerhouse. I had the opportunity to work with her last year with her entire school, doing keynotes for all four grades.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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