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

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

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

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

Connect with Sheri: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

University of Windsor

Employee Recognition Awards – University of Windsor

What does an Academic Advisor do? – University of Windsor

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

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

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

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:55):

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

Sam Demma (00:59):

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

Sheri Lowrie (02:28):

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

Sam Demma (03:43):

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

Sheri Lowrie (03:55):

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

Sheri Lowrie (04:42):

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

Sam Demma (05:55):

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

Sheri Lowrie (06:04):

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

Sheri Lowrie (07:02):

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

Sheri Lowrie (08:10):

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

Sam Demma (09:06):

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

Sheri Lowrie (09:48):

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

Sheri Lowrie (10:45):

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

Sam Demma (11:58):

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

Sheri Lowrie (12:26):

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

Sheri Lowrie (13:26):

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

Sheri Lowrie (14:20):

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

Sam Demma (15:07):

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

Sheri Lowrie (15:43):

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

Sheri Lowrie (16:54):

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

Sheri Lowrie (17:44):

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

Sam Demma (18:33):

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

Sheri Lowrie (18:38):

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

Sam Demma (18:47):

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

Sheri Lowrie (19:27):

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

Sheri Lowrie (20:19):

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

Sheri Lowrie (21:11):

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

Sam Demma (21:58):

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

Sheri Lowrie (22:32):

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

Sheri Lowrie (23:27):

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

Sheri Lowrie (24:22):

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

Sam Demma (25:35):

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

Sheri Lowrie (26:16):

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

Sam Demma (27:48):

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

Sheri Lowrie (28:03):

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

Sam Demma (28:15):

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

Sheri Lowrie (28:22):

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

Sam Demma (28:29):

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

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Sheri Lowrie

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

Dr. Sunaina Sharma – Program Leader at the Halton District School Board & Practicum Advisor at Brock University

Dr. Sunaina Sharma - Program Leader at the Halton District School Board and Practicum Advisor at Brock University
About Dr. Sunaina Sharma

Dr. Sunaina Sharma (@DrSunainaSharma) is an in-school program leader and secondary teacher with over twenty years of experience teaching with the Halton District School Board in Burlington, ON. She strives to put the learner’s needs at the forefront of all program planning, classroom teaching, and professional learning so that students participate in authentic and relevant knowledge construction.

Her doctoral research centred on understanding how to leverage digital technology in the classroom so that it supports student engagement. In her current role as an instructor and practicum advisor at a Bachelor of Education program, she uses her knowledge, skills and experience to guide future educators.

Connect with Sunaina: Email | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Halton District School Board – HDSB

Bachelor of Education – Brock University

Dr. Susaina Sharma’s Personal Website

Google Workplace

Ted.com

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. Today we have a very special guest. Her name is Dr. Sunaina Sharma. Dr. Sunaina Sharma is an in-school program leader and secondary teacher with over 20 years experience teaching with the Halton District School Board in Burlington, Ontario. She strives to put the learners needs at the forefront of all program planning, classroom teaching, and professional learning, so that students are participating in authentic and relevant knowledge construction. Her doctoral research is centered on understanding how to leverage digital technologies in the classroom so that it supports student engagement. In her current role as an instructor and practicum advisor at Brock University at a Bachelor of Education program, she is using her knowledge, skills, and experience to guide future educators. I hope you enjoy this conversation with Dr. Sunania Sharma and I will see you on the other side. Welcome back to another episode on the High Performing Educator Podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. And today we are joined with a very special guest, Dr. Sunaina Sharma. Dr. Sunaina Sharma actually uses one of my TED talks in her classroom, <laugh> which prompted her to reach out, and I’m so excited to have her on the show here today. Please start by introducing yourself.

Dr. Sunaina Sharma (02:18):

Hi, I’m Sunaina Sharma and I have been an educator for over 20 years, and despite all the challenges, it is still my passion.

Sam Demma (02:30):

What made it your passion over, or I guess 20 years ago, what started this journey for you?

Dr. Sunaina Sharma (02:36):

It’s an interesting story because I never intended to become a teacher. My path was set. I was going to go to law school and I was going to be a family lawyer. upon graduating with my Bachelor of Arts degree, I walked down the street from where I lived to the local high school and asked if anyone needed a volunteer because I graduated and I wanted to have more experience working with youth. And an English teacher at that school, Mo leaking, said, Oh, I’d love to have you join my class. My grade elevens are writing essays and they could use some help. So I started by going in twice a week. And what Mr. Leaking did with his students in that classroom was magic. His students were excitedly engaged and I wanted to be a magician like him. So I actually rescinded my acceptance to law school and set up on the path to attain my Bachelor of education.

Sam Demma (03:34):

You mentioned Mr. Leaking was a magician of sorts. What exactly did you witness in his class that got you so excited about doing something similar with your own group of students?

Dr. Sunaina Sharma (03:47):

So what he was doing with his students in his classroom was completely different from what I experienced in high school. My high school experience wasn’t very positive and I just remember copying notes and wrote memorization and weekly quizzes and monthly tests. And what he was doing was there was such an energy and excitement in the classroom. There was so much noise and movement, but it was all very planned and calculated. So if you looked through the window of his classroom, it looked chaotic, but it was all like organized chaos. It was so much fun to be in that room. I went from volunteering twice a week to four or five times a week. I just wanted to be in that room.

Sam Demma (04:31):

Oh, that’s so awesome. And what took you from that room to where you are today? Tell me a little bit about your journey through education.

Dr. Sunaina Sharma (04:39):

Okay. So I completed my Bachelor of Education in 2001 and immediately got hired by the Halton District School Board at the school that I volunteered at No Way <laugh>. So that, that opportunity allowed me to build connections, real connections with students, but also other educators in the building. So I ended up working for that school until it closed in 2018. And that school was amalgamated into the school that I am currently at, which is mm, Robinson in Burlington. Nice. And I’ve been at that, I’ve been at that school for four years along the way. I do love learning and figuring out how to be a better teacher. That’s always at the root of all of my learning and experiences that I seek out. So along the way, I ended up attaining my master’s degree, my master’s of education, and then I thought I was done, but then I wasn’t and ended up completing my PhD in 2018. So I have my PhD in education. Nice. So with that opportunity, it’s allowed me, I am a department head or program leader in my school. It’s allowed me to not only inspire and engage the people I work with, but it’s also allowed me to work in a Bachelor of education program in mentoring and guiding our future teachers,

Sam Demma (06:03):

Which is such an important role. I think teachers when performing very well and making genuine connections with their classrooms have a very big impact on the future being the kids that are gonna be running the future and being a part of it. I think back to an educator I had in my life who, like Mr. Leaking for you created an environment that all the students in his class wanted to be in. you know, over the past couple of years things have been quite different and a little bit challenging. I’m curious in your roles, what are some of the challenges you’re faced with right now and, and kind of how are you coming, coming, getting out of or getting over some of those things?

Dr. Sunaina Sharma (06:43):

Yeah, definitely the current challenges that students are struggling in the classroom after two years of disruptive learning, they do have gaps. And as such, when they encounter difficulty, they get frustrated and the outcome is they’re giving up, they’re struggling to persevere, to overcome the challenges and the obstacles.

Sam Demma (07:03):

Gotcha. H how as as an educator do you kind of support or help a student get over that or get through it? <laugh>

Dr. Sunaina Sharma (07:12):

It’s, it’s offering care and support. We always have to remember that our students are children. Mm. Although they like to present themselves as adults, they are children and we as educators are in a position to teach them we need to reestablish or reteach them. That learning involves failing. Mm. Somehow they’ve learned along the way that failing is bad or wrong and that’s where the unlearning needs to come. And we really need to reinforce that failing is part of learning and they have to fail forward.

Sam Demma (07:46):

I love that. I think back to soccer, growing up as an athlete, our coach would always sit us down after a terrible performance and instead of scolding us, would provide us with the opportunity to chat about it with all of our teammates to try and identify what went wrong and what we could learn from so that, you know, in the future, similar situations wouldn’t unfold again. And it felt like he helped us look at failure as a stepping stone rather than a, you know, an a dead end. So I think that’s a really important lesson to share with young people. what gives you hope? What keeps you motivated and inspired to show up to work every single day and put your best foot forward?

Dr. Sunaina Sharma (08:25):

Students and my colleagues give me hope. Students since 2020 actually have gone through four different modes of learning and they continue to still come to school every day and try their best and engage My colleagues give me hope because they’re always reflecting and learning. My department does not have the course binder that we keep reusing every semester or every year. We’re constantly revisiting our courses to make them better. Our courses never remain static. And the fact that my colleagues are willing to put in the work every summer to make the courses better for the upcoming year is inspiring.

Sam Demma (09:06):

I love that. you mentioned thinking about failure not as a challenge, but it’s something to learn from. I’m curious, among your own journey, if there are certain mistakes you’ve made or certain situations that have happened in your career that you’ve learned from that you think are worth sharing with other educators who might be listening?

Dr. Sunaina Sharma (09:25):

Yeah, that’s a great question cuz it actually is gonna allow me to talk about my PhD research. I used to think technology engages students and over the years I would encounter various professional development opportunities that introduced me to new technology and that would peak my interest. And I would go home and spend the whole evening planning this amazing lesson for the next day. And the next day as the students would walk into class, I would be excited because I thought I had this amazing lesson planned. And on a number of occasions there was detachment, disinterest, and complete disengagement. The students were not compelled with this lesson that I spent hours the night before planning. So that would have to result in me going to my teacher’s toolbox to just come up with something different for the day. But this happened a number of times and it led me to want to explore the relationship between digital technology and student engagement.

Dr. Sunaina Sharma (10:28):

I have seen the power of technology to engage students who have previously been disengaged, but I’ve also seen that sometimes they, the technology itself is what causes them to disconnect. So that actually is what inspired my PhD research because I couldn’t figure out why does technology work sometimes and why doesn’t it work other times? And I learned it’s not the technology that actually engages them, it’s what the technology allows them to do. It’s the outcome. Mm. So if the technology allows students to collaborate, connect, and construct their own knowledge, then it will engage them. So if you’re using technology in a different way than you should dump the use of the technology.

Sam Demma (11:16):

Tell me more about some of the tech tools that you have come across in your journey that you often go back to and consistently use because you think they allow students and teachers to have those three types of interactions.

Dr. Sunaina Sharma (11:32):

It’s nothing new. Often I think as teachers we’re looking for the new thing, but it’s often going back to the tools that we have and using them in a different way. Hmm. So for example if you attempt to have a class discussion, you’re always gonna have these few students that are participating in the class discussion. Often all your other students in the classroom have a lot to say, but for whatever reason they’re not raising their hands. Sometimes they just need more time to process to articulate their ideas or they feel like they’re being dominated by this other strong voices in the classroom. So one thing that I do is I’ll have a class discussion on a Google doc. We all use Google Docs, but to suddenly use a Google Doc for a class discussion allows students to carefully read each other’s thoughts process and then thoughtfully share their ideas. When I post a Google Doc as a class discussion, I will typically get 100% participation on that Google Doc. So again, it’s not a brand new tech tool, it’s using the tools that we already have at our fingertips in a different way so that students are able to collaborate and connect and construct their own knowledge.

Sam Demma (12:47):

And if working in groups, each of the groups could have a different color font selected so you could very quickly and live see the edits happening on the document, which is really, really awesome. I think that’s a, that’s so cool that you use Google Docs. I had never have used in a classroom Google Docs live with my classmates and my teacher. I think that’s a really cool idea. So thanks for sharing. you know, we talked a little bit about the learning around technology. what are some things that keep you motivated personally outside of technology? Cuz it seems like it’s a big part of your career. <laugh>,

Dr. Sunaina Sharma (13:29):

The people who I surround myself with are always the ones that are motivating me. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, we all have our days where it’s just, it’s not a good day, but suddenly you’ll enter a building and the people around you inspire you. I think educators are incredible people and we are resilient and never give up and that’s what we want to inspire in our students. I’m always working to try and build that self-efficacy and capacity in other educators around me. And this year I’ve actually received a great opportunity. I’m actually on a leave from my teaching position for one year. So I can take on this opportunity as a instructor and practicum advisor in a Bachelor of education program. That way I’m working with our future educators to motivate and inspire them. And it’s really interesting. I entered the program to motivate and inspire them and it has been so motivating for me to see our future educators. They are lifelong learners, they are dedicated to making school positive and they’re dedicated to making positive change in the schools.

Sam Demma (14:43):

Hmm. That must be a pretty cool experience working with the future educators of tomorrow. Right now. I’m curious maybe this, you’ve been in that role for a short period of time so it won’t be as applicable, but tell me about a story or a situation where a program that you ran or maybe you in a program you were a part of had a big impact on a student, whether that’s an educator as a student or an actual student in a high school or middle school.

Dr. Sunaina Sharma (15:11):

Yeah. I’ll tell you about our English program at our high school and then I can kind of share a little nugget of information on how that impacted my Bachelor of education program. Sure. But I don’t have a single story cuz how do you capture an amazing program? In, in one story, while I’ll give you a little snapshot, our entire English program focuses on the overarching umbrella of equity. So in our Grade 10 program, our students choose a graphic novel from a selection of nine. And one of the students chose to read a graphic novel and she said, I’ve never read a book for school that had a Muslim character. She’s wearing a hijab. And for me that was impactful because she saw herself in something that she was reading for school. our English program in grade 11 has students identifying what they see as a problem that is impacting equity or is creating an equity.

Dr. Sunaina Sharma (16:12):

And they work to identify a solution and try to inspire a larger audience through media to tackle that problem. And that allowed, so one of the grade 11 students actually took on a project to advocate for change. It took her to our school principal, it took her to the parent council, it took her, took her to our school board, and the result was change. she advocated for menstrual products in all hdsp bathrooms regardless of the fact that they were male bathrooms or female bathrooms. And now Htsp has implemented that across the board and that came from a grade 11 students English project.

Sam Demma (16:53):

Wow. So

Dr. Sunaina Sharma (16:55):

The impact of our program is that students are seeing themselves, seeing our community, seeing their global world, and they’re inspired to use their voice for positive change. So I was sharing a little bit of our program with my Bachelor of Education program students and one of my students started to get emotional. So I, I went over and said, Is everything okay? Cuz regardless of the fact that they’re adults, they’re still my students. Yeah. And they’re all humans. And she said, and she began to share a hurtful comment that a teacher had made about her eyes because she’s of Asian descent. And she said, What you are doing in your school with your English program is what I want to do, and now I realize it can be done. Mm. So I think the, when students see themselves in the curriculum, it is so powerful not only for those students, but for us as educators to see that positive impact.

Sam Demma (17:58):

Those nine books, it sounds like, you know, those resources had a big impact on that one student who saw herself in the material shared. I’m wondering for your own personal and professional development, if you have come across any resources throughout your own learning journey that you found really helpful. And this could also be peers but if there’s any books or courses or videos or people you follow that you found helpful what are some of those things?

Dr. Sunaina Sharma (18:30):

I don’t like to say this is the golden title. Yeah. This is the Golden Book. As I mentioned, we’re constantly changing our program. We’re on a four year cycle, so every four years we kind of revisit and say, Okay, is this outdated? Should we keep this or should we remove it? So I’m reluctant to name a title, but the news, we’re constantly using the news and having students look at the news. It’s so important. They’re aware of what’s happening in our world. We like to live in this little, I call it the Burlington bubble, but we need to be aware of what’s going on around us. The news is a great resource for me. Also, Ted, that’s how I stumbled across your TED Talk. We use your TED Talk. I think Ted Talk is the platform that we’re trying to create in our students. We want our students to know that their voice matters. Sometimes they say, Why does anyone wanna hear about this? And you go to TED Talk and you hear these amazing pitches or speeches or presentations on topics that you would think maybe wouldn’t have a large audience, but they do. So TED Talk and the news for me are great resources and tools, also documentaries. Hmm.

Sam Demma (19:49):

Awesome. I love that. I, I would love for you to send me <laugh> outside of this podcast, a list of awesome documentaries for my own pleasure watching <laugh>. So please do. is there anything that you would share or say to an educator right now who is feeling a little bit burnt out, a little uninspired and needing not a full pep talk, but maybe some words of advice? and if that person walked into your office at Brock and told you that, what would you kind of share with them?

Dr. Sunaina Sharma (20:22):

I would tell them to just take a deep breath and you’re not the only one. Lots of fe people are feeling burnt out and tired. with the ch with the changes in our students and their own self-efficacy they are needing our care and support more so than before the pandemic. I would continue to affirm to them that they are amazing and they’re great. Keep doing your best. If you are doing your best, that’s what matters. And if you’re feeling like you need some support, you really need to count on the people around you. Everyone’s a team and we’re all working together. That’s the case in my department, in the school that I work at, but also in the Bachelor of Education program with the other instructors in the cohort. We’re always leaning on each other for care and support. So I would tell that burnt out teacher, you’re doing great. Take a deep breath. Is there anything that people around you can help support you through?

Sam Demma (21:28):

Mm. Love that. That’s awesome. Well keep up the amazing work that you’re doing with educators. If another educator is listening to this and wants to reach out and ask you a question or share resources or have a conversation, what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you?

Dr. Sunaina Sharma (21:44):

The best way to find me is on twitter. I think twitter is such a great way to connect with others from around the world to engage in professional dialogue.

Sam Demma (21:53):

Awesome. What would your Twitter handle be?

Dr. Sunaina Sharma (21:56):

@drsunainasharma

Sam Demma (21:58):

Okay. Awesome. Sunaina thank you so much for making the time to come on the podcast here today. I really appreciate it. Keep up the amazing work and we’ll talk to you soon.

Dr. Sunaina Sharma (22:06):

Thank you so much Sam.

Sam Demma (22:08):

Hey, it’s Sam again. I hope you enjoyed that amazing conversation on the High Performing Educator podcast. If you or someone, you know, deserves some extra recognition and appreciation for the work they do in education, please consider applying or nominating them for the high performing educator awards. Go to www.highperformingeducator.com/award. You can also find the link in the show notes. I’m super excited to spotlight and feature 20 people in 2022. And I’m hoping you, or someone you know, can be one of those educators. I’ll talk to you on the next episode, all the best.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Dr. Sunaina Sharma

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

John (João) Linhares – Vice Principal at St.André Bessette Catholic School in Ajax, Ontario

John (João) Linhares - Vice Principal at St.André Bessette Catholic School in Ajax, Ontario
About John Linhares

John Linhares (@MrJLinhares), is the Vice Principal at St André Bessette Catholic School in Ajax, Ontario. John started his journey in Education in the year 2000 after graduating from York University’s Concurrent Education Program and has been privileged to work with the Toronto Catholic District School Board as well as in the Durham Catholic District School Board over the last 22 years. His journey as a Vice Principal came during the pandemic, as he felt the need to support the DCDSB’s virtual school which was home to over 3600 students.

John truly believes in an inclusive model for education, and strives to get to know each one of his students’ and their God-given special gifts and talents. He is passionate about effective use of technology and 21st Century learning in the classroom to help engage students today and prepare them for their future. He also is passionate about the arts as a vehicle to help students reach their full potential in the learning process and to express themselves to help define their individuality through creativity. He is a life-long learner who is always willing to listen and explore obstacles from an out-of-the-box perspective.

Connect with John: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

St André Bessette Catholic School

York University – Concurrent Education Program

Toronto Catholic District School Board – TCDSB

Durham Catholic District School Board – DCDSB

DCDSB virtual school

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:57):

Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator Podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest is someone that I see walking around my block almost every single week. His name is John Linhares. John is the vice principal at John (João) Linhares – Vice Principal at St.André Bessette Catholic School in Ajax, Ontario. John started his journey in education the year 2000 after graduating from York University’s Concurrent Education program and has been privileged to work with the Toronto Catholic District School Board, as well as the Durham Catholic District School Board over the last 22 years. His journey as a Vice Principal came during the pandemic, as he felt the need to support the Durham Catholic District School Board’s Virtual school, which was home to over 3,600 students. John truly believes in an inclusive model for education and strives to get to know each one of his students and their God-given special gifts and talents.

Sam Demma (01:50):

He is passionate about effective use of technology and 21st century learning in the classroom to help engage students today, and prepare them for their future. He also is passionate about the arts as a vehicle to help students reach their full potential in the learning process and to express themselves to help define their individuality through creativity. He is a lifelong learner who is always willing to listen and explore obstacles from an out of the box perspective. I hope you enjoy this conversation with John, and I will see you on the other side. Today, we have a very special guest. I actually see him a couple times a week while walking around the block. <laugh>. His name is John Linhares. John, please feel free to introduce yourself.

John Linhares (02:33):

Hey Sam. Thanks so much. Yeah, I feel like we should be walking right now, actually. Cause Yeah, we’re always like crossing past, like crossing ships here. I’m John Linhares and I’m super excited to, to be here with you. I’ve seen you in person in your inspirational conversations and your inspirational presentations with our schools. You know, I’ve been following you as well the last couple of years, and I just was very happy to take on this, this little invite to come in on your show for a bit.

Sam Demma (03:00):

So you’re in education, what do you do? How did you get into it?

John Linhares (03:05):

So, yeah, so it’s it’s been a pretty long, like I’m not kind of, I was that kid who grew up basically knowing that I wanted be a teacher okay. And I would wind up my toys and all that. I pretend, and I was an only child, so the creativity had to come out. And yeah, so I know I, so from a young age I wanted to do that and started teaching in 2000. So it’s been essentially 22 years. And I love it. Obviously I do love it. The pandemic kicked in and another passion, the minus technology. So when the pandemic kicked in, we were all went virtual Yeah. Class. When virtual, I just felt this urge to be like, Listen, I need to help out more. At the time I was kind of in a small bubble of classes and could only help out a few people, I guess.

John Linhares (03:49):

And were reaching out to a few people to help them out. So that kind of inspired me to wanna help more people. And so I reached out to some people at the boards, listened, You guys need help with, with, you know, getting people on board with their classes and helping out. Like, what are we gonna do in the situation? you know, let me know. So that’s how I, I got on board with that. And as luck would take it, you know, the next step into my career was becoming a vice principal. And just led me to this path to being a vice principal. And the first school that I was a vice principal at was the German Catholic virtual elementary school. First of its kind created or we were announced of it, ironically, the morning of my interview come vice principal <laugh>.

John Linhares (04:33):

So I’m like listening to this like broadcast by the director and a few principals and superintendents and you know, I’m like waiting. Cause they, they, you know, I had my interview, let’s say at 10 30 and they said, Listen, your might be late. They’ve got this, you know, this big ment they’re making out to the whole board. So I’m like, Gary, no worries, I’ll just listen in. And then once that’s done, then I’ll pop on the zoom. It’s all good. And I remember hearing about this virtual school, I’m like, That’s it. That’s where I, to me, and went into my interview and saying, You know what, at the end of it, I just made a pitch for it. And yeah, I have to say three years later I’m still with the virtual program here with German Catholic. And it’s been quite the journey for sure.

Sam Demma (05:13):

What are some of the things about working with the virtual school that you absolutely love? I think over the past couple of years people have realized how important technology is, but before that may have resented it a little bit and always, or, you know, preferred the in person learning, which has both have pros and cons, but what are some of the things that you love about the virtual school?

John Linhares (05:35):

A hundred percent. Like I think that you’ve nailed it there. That there are, again, I think for me, I’ve always loved technology and I’ve always embraced it and I’ve always helped a lot my colleagues who don’t feel comfortable with it. Right? Like there’s a bit of a fear out there when it comes to it. And so just helping out my colleagues in that sense and new my students to move through those things is really key. Yeah. but with the ver the thing that, that I love the most is that when I get passionate about is when I hear kind of people kind of dismiss it and that it is not a viable option. And I have to disagree with that wholeheartedly, especially after seeing some of our kids. Listen, it’s not for everybody, a hundred percent. It is not for everyone. you know, we know that being in person with people and all that is definitely a great place to be.

John Linhares (06:19):

However, for some of our students, they do struggle in person. Like they have a hard time going to class every day. They have to put on a big front to be there for whatever reason, be on anxiety, be it social anxiety, be it just having a hard time reading people sometimes. Yeah. So just the overall, like too much noise going on or just too much business going on, you know what I mean? So for them, they’re succeeding in virtual and that in that reason alone I feel very passionate about it, that it does work for a lot of a few of our kids. not for everyone. Definitely for those kids that they do well and they succeed in, Yeah, I think we have to provide the best that we can for them. A hundred percent.

Sam Demma (07:02):

Where did your passion or love for technology come from? Did you grow up playing Atari in nta? I did. I

John Linhares (07:10):

<laugh> I saw it all summer actually. That little like little joy signal that Yeah, a hundred percent. No, I, I’m actually not a massive gamer, to be honest with you. Yeah. but I think just the creative side, I am very creative. I, I’m a bit of an artist and I think just dabbling into that creative side of things. sorry, my email will probably continue dinging as we do this. Okay. All good. It’s it’s it’s just something that I always kind of tapped into enjoyed. I just like the creative process of the technology side of it. And then I remember years ago, God, it’s really 2004 I got involved in this program in schools and it was about differentiating. So that is that, you know, we don’t, when we teach, we look at the kid and like what their talents are and what they’re about.

John Linhares (07:51):

And it’s, think of the same assignment to everybody. For an example, you may have a choice of assignments so that, you know, if you are artistic, you can tap into this assignment. If you’re more of a writing type person, you can tap into that. If you’re more of an oral person, you can go and tap into that and create a presentation on this, Right? There’s no need to have everybody doing the exact same thing. So from that project that I did there was some ministry funding for smart boards, which I’m sure you probably noticed Smart board is, but for South <inaudible>. And that is basically something that, gosh, that was like what almost 20 years ago wasn’t very heard of, but something that started coming out because it was helping, again, a few students in the classroom to engage in their classroom, Right? Get to a little more shy kid who may have you know, some issues with their writing.

John Linhares (08:36):

They were actually able to communicate their learning through the smart board in the classroom. So it became a little bit of a project. And I remember the school I was at, nobody had a smart board at the time. We were one of the first primary, or the first elementary classes to try and out. And by the time I left that school, three years later, every single classroom had a smart board. Yeah. So all these kids were engaging and just like, excited about it and just really, again, igniting, reignited about their learning, which was awesome. And then I went from another school and the same process happened. I got there no smart boards. I’m like, that’s not happening. I, I’m by my own or you guys are, find the funding for it. And sure enough, they’re like, Oh, no, we’ll support you. Right. And so, yeah, so I got a smart board and then again, five years later, every classroom had one in that school. So it’s, it, it’s your motto, Basical, that you bring on your mantra, right? Like it’s small things. Yeah. Small. Its in actions, it’s small, consistent even like little projects, little things that carry on. Right. So

Sam Demma (09:34):

Yeah, big time. You peak my interest when you mentioned you’re a little bit of an artist, you can take out the little bit of a part and tell me a little bit about the artist side of John <laugh>.

John Linhares (09:43):

Oh gosh. Yeah. So the artist side of John is like, I know I totally self-taught. I just always loved drawing, you know, doodling, that kind of stuff. Yeah. And, and then just explored it more as I grew, grew older and had my own time to explore different genres and that kind of stuff. I love going to art galleries and, and going to like installations. Like we’ve launched all that Toronto and all that kind of stuff. I see. and then that, that actually led me to working at All Saints Catholic school, which about five years ago now, six years ago opened up our first arts and media program which was very exciting. Cuz again, there are other boards that have art specific schools and our board did not. It was a lot, It was an air that was lacking and I was super excited to get on board with that. And was the grades the grade eight teacher there, one of the grade eight teachers there, but also teaching the visual arts to our grades seven and eight students. So that year, the few years that I was there, definitely a highlight in my career because it was you know, marrying my two passions of, well, three passions of teaching technology and also art. So was great.

Sam Demma (10:49):

It’s, it’s such a unique perspective and story because I think sometimes certain people veer students away from artistic pursuits because they might not be quote, realistic. and I’m curious to know your perspective, like when you see that in a student that they have a passion for an artistic field and you know, one day I wanna work full, you know, full time in, in an artistic industry. How do you kind of guide them or what, what do you share with them when they tell you that?

John Linhares (11:20):

Yeah, for sure. That’s like, I think compared to like several things, I think for myself, like I always wanted to be a teacher. Yeah. But I also thought, okay, I don’t wanna have just one path, right? You don’t wanna down any doors like that. So I always say like, try to keep as, as many doors open as possible and I’m, and I’m listening with kids, right? I’m not gonna be like, Yeah, no, you can be the best artist, you can be the next van goal. Like, listen man famous after they were dead, that’s not gonna help goal <laugh>. So that’s just the truth, right? So like, yeah, I do tell them absolutely keep going at it. And, and for some of these kids might get here some great programs that you should look into, be it the arts that we have, be it, you know, going to OK ad looking at term whatever, right?

John Linhares (11:58):

There’s ways that you can pursue that. But I always say there’s almost like a plan A and plan B, right? The arts are something that you can do that fuel your soul and you know, you can do it on the side or you can do it in conjunction with another job or another passion of yours, right? So just dealing with both of those, I think it’s the same about kind of conversation. We’re talking about an athlete, right? Like you have a kid, fantastic athlete in school and absolutely don wanna crush everybody’s dream, right? Like, yes, you can do this, absolutely, but at the end of the day, don’t close any doors. So what else you have? And you can try and aim for both or keep both going concurrently. Absolutely. Yeah.

Sam Demma (12:33):

Yeah. No, that’s great advice. what keeps you motivated personally to get up out bed every single day and keep doing the work you’re doing?

John Linhares (12:42):

Yeah, I think I honestly today’s rule teachers day, so I’m gonna say again big shout out to all the teachers out there. They I’m back in there. Yeah. You know, it’s, and I know that, you know, there’s a lot of a lot of stuff going on in education as always, but the impact and when any of us look back to our lives and how we raised and and our lives, there’s always the one or two teachers that really impact us. And they’re the ones that guide us along our path and, and help us along. And cuz we we’re parents, like for the most part of the day when we’re with these people more than we are with our families on home, right? So and sometimes you click really well with, with people with a teacher and sometimes it does work, right?

John Linhares (13:26):

But at the end of the day, there’s always that one or two that you’re going to make that connection with. And so that to me is honestly what keeps me going. It’s those connections with the students. and the beauty of it now, like now that I’ve been in it, is now my 22nd, 23rd year in education, you know, this, looking back, some of these kids that I had when I first started teaching we’re still in contact with each other. They’ve now got families, they’re now grown up. They pursued their dreams and, and their goals and I know they’ll come over for dinner, we’ll meet up somewhere for, for coffee. And it’s, it’s just neat to see these adults now, right? Like they’re not kids forever. They grow up and they, they become these amazing human beings who are doing good in our planet. That’s the most rewarding part. Like, that’s the thing. Like who am I gonna go out today and perhaps put a smile on their face that I’m gonna make their day go a little better today? Mm. That’s what motivat Yeah, for sure.

Sam Demma (14:18):

You mentioned because of World Teachers Day, how important the role of educators are and how most people have those one or two educators that make a really big difference on their development as a child, as a young person. When you think back to when you were in school, can you identify any of those teachers that had a big impact on you? and if so, like what did they do for you that you think made such a big impact?

John Linhares (14:46):

I was asked to reflect on this this morning cause I was watching a TV show in the morning, my morning TV show. I got night to get about five o’clock. Five o’clock is my time to get up, have my quiet time with a family at home. You know, it’s just nice to have that time to not be talking to anyone and not be stopping problem. Just sit there with my coffee and leave me alone with nothing <laugh>. Right. And so the TV show was watch this morning though, my morning TV show. They, they were talking about this, reflecting on that as well. And I couldn’t pitch for it. One or two people, to be honest with you. I had a series of tea of teachers that I, I think I can go back and I can name all of them and I can name probably one way that they did impact me, Right?

John Linhares (15:19):

Or they helped me along or somehow saw in me something that they felt they needed to be bring to bring out. So that I can’t say, but I can. So the one conversation that stood out to it was actually a teacher, a young teacher my first or second year. And I was chatting with an older teacher who was near retirement and she nailed it. And she said to me, and she’s like, Listen, the main thing about our profession or anything in life is that you just have to remember this. And I said, Okay, I’m listening all yours. She said, It doesn’t matter what you do for me, it’s how you make me feel. Mm.

John Linhares (15:55):

How you make me feel. I go with that statement and, and my, that statement is in the back of my mind, I have to say every hour of my day. Mm. And it was like a three second conversation that we had outside one day and it was after school. And that just stuck with me. And I’m like, you’re so ranked, it doesn’t matter. Like I can do whatever actions that I want to right. Or whatever. But at the end of the day, it’s that feeling like how when I meet someone, when I’m leaving someone, how am I letting them feel about themselves at that moment, right? Like, how leaving them, are they feeling better about themselves? Are they feeling like that they have a smile on their face? Do they feel better than they were five minutes ago? That’s what I’m going towards to be honest with you. And I mean, sometimes I fail and sometimes I, I do okay. But that statement just stuck in me, Sam. Like that’s just something that I totally hold near and near to my heart and, and as a human being, I feel it’s very important to totally describe to you.

Sam Demma (16:46):

Yeah, the educator who changed my life made me feel like there was hope when I felt like there was none, not, it wasn’t even about his curriculum <laugh>, although his, his teachings were great, but it was how I left his semester feeling about myself and what was possible for me that I really remember and sticks with me to this day. So I think that is so true and you’re absolutely right. Not only in education, but regarding whatever you choose to do. All of our interactions hopefully leave other people feeling better about themselves and feeling hopeful and all that, all that good fuzzy feelings in the chest, <laugh>

John Linhares (17:25):

People, right? Just that, that validating of people, like just with the pandemic there seemed like those walks, right? Like people were walking around street before that it’s rare that somebody would just sit and talk Right. Or even make contact with each other. Now when people walk by each other, they actually make icon and say hey, or a hi or how’s it going? Right? Like it’s something that I feel I think is interesting and it’s changed with the pandemic. I think people have gotten more that human side actually has come out a lot more, whereas before the people were getting a little too cold and just not validating each other. Right. So, and that teacher that you’re taught, speaking of, I’m pretty sure the same one that you referred to in your story. Yeah. married there. I, I unfortunately did not have the privilege of having that teacher struggle. He was around when I was there. but I remember my friends who did have him. Nice. Same thing. So yeah, definitely again, those teachers had that impact, right? Like how you making me feel? Yeah,

Sam Demma (18:17):

Yeah, yeah. So your first job in education, take me back, like give us a little bit of the snapshot of where you started to where you are now.

John Linhares (18:27):

Oh wow. So I started teaching, gosh, it was funny. My buddy and I had decided at that time back in 2019 99, 2000, there was a ton of teaching jobs like time. Okay. Like there wasn’t like the winter period here, there was not a lot of teaching jobs for the longest time. and now we’re back into, there are a few, there’s a lot of jobs out there, but at the time there was lots of jobs. So my buddy and I were like, listen, we’re listening to like, we wanna enjoy life. We wanna take the first couple years, let’s just supply teach cuz supply teaching, we’re gonna get some income but we’re gonna be able to travel. Yeah. So we travel more, right? Because then teach is a great gig going wrong, but if you’re a traveler, you’re kind of stuck cuz you can only go March break when they jack up the prices or summer when they jack up the prices not, but it’s a reality, right?

John Linhares (19:13):

Yeah. So my buddy traveling like know in February or whatever, Oh that’s a great deal. Like great have fun, right? <laugh> so we’re supply change so that we can rack and limit of money. Yeah. Pay the s right. And then we have no warnings like pay the Cardinals and then Jet just go right. And both of us got calls from principles that we respected a lot and just before the long weekend Ashley Ladale on weekend and they were like, yeah, offering us both jobs and unbeknowns to each other. We both accepting and then we were kind like, shoot, how are you supposed to tell me? You know, tell my buddy now I’m totally bail on him. And then like, yeah, I was like, like that man, I had to take this job. I was like, got me too. Like what <laugh> job?

John Linhares(19:55):

And I was great, well here we go. So took on these jobs. My first job was JK in the morning and grade five in the afternoon. Okay. Why accepted it? I still at this day was like, I don’t know who, who would take that. Like it’s just crazy. but it gave me a great perspective in the sense of like just, just kids in general. Like yeah. You know, these three and four year olds coming into the room screaming and crying first in the morning cuz they were new to school. And then I go upstairs and there was these grade fives to, I was told the year before had sent off several teachers <laugh> on leaves cuz they they were not the easiest class to deal with. So I had to go up there and be like, you know, a little more a little different than it was downstairs, the jks.

John Linhares (20:35):

Anyway, so that was a great four years that I did that actually. But I still look back to look back like, man, we should have done the supply teaching. We just should have traveled like crazy cuz we couldn’t have done it, but we didn’t. but I have to say I still have kids from that kindergarten class and that great flag class that I still talk to today. And again, they’re grown up and, and doing some great things in this world. So, so that was pretty cool. And yes, I was in Toronto Catholic and then taught that for a few years and then I moved on to getting closer to home and then I moved to Ger Ger Catholic in 2005. So that was a good job. Yeah.

Sam Demma (21:10):

When you think about student impact and stories of students who’ve been transformed or have built new skills as a result of education, maybe there’s a student you can think of who was really struggling and then had a breakthrough and made a very positive turn. Are there any stories that come to mind that you’d be willing to share? And I, I ask it because I think that’s one of the cornerstone reasons why people get into education for the impact you can have on young people. And sometimes when an educator’s feeling burnt out, they forget about those stories. They forget about that side of the job. so I’m hoping you can maybe share one if, if if you have one that comes to mind.

John Linhares (21:54):

Yeah, I got you’re saying this like, I’ve got a few that are running through my mind. Cause like I I’m for the underdog. Like I, I have to say that, you know, as a teacher looking out for that kid, there’s you know, we only sound like in the summer where about to start, it was last week of August. People are kind of in buzzing around getting their rooms ready for September and there’s an energy in the school. Everyone’s excited for the new year and oftentimes the teacher, you know, and and with the greatest of place days will come, Hey, I hear you got so and so, you know, just, you know, last year they were struggling with this and I stopped them and I’m like, listen, I appreciate it. we’re gonna just, this a new chapter, I’m gonna see how things vote and then if I need to like consult with you about maybe some strategies that worked for you last year, I know who to come talk to.

John Linhares (22:38):

But ultimately I don’t, I’m in my head like I don’t want to hear what happened last year. Yeah. Because it’s a new chapter, man, it’s a new year. We don’t know who this kid is right now. so I had several of those like I can think of off the top of my head you know, kids who were probably struggling with let’s say like maybe it’s ADHD and just could not fit into the mold of school, Right. Could not sit still at school because you know, that teacher wants them to be sitting in their desk. And I’m like, that you wanna stand, stand, go ahead <laugh> you. Yeah, I see your moving around a lot and you’re at the front of the class, let’s move here to the back. Yeah. You’re more comfortable back there if you need to get up, buddy, go, go nuts.

John Linhares (23:15):

Right? Yeah. Like your college not bothering other people around you. Just do what you gotta do. Right. And that I think again is that valuing where people are coming from and making them feel validated, right? So that, you know, I think some, for some people just they have a harder time just fitting into the mold of what school system is, right? So like why do we break those molds? And that’s what I try and do. so yeah, a couple of the kids who, those kids who yeah, every year was the same kind of thing where, oh, you know, they’re struggling, they’re having a hard time, they’re having a hard time, they’re having a hard time. And then you see them grow up and now yeah, they’re, they’ve got a great family. They actually owned three properties, they’re in real estate they’ve done quite well for themselves.

John Linhares (23:55):

And all these concerns, all of these, you know, little things that were happening back in grade three, you know, on a kid, you, they can’t sit still, they can’t sit still on that desk. I dunno what they can’t, they’re not gonna learn. We’re fine. You’re doing awesome actually. But again, it’s, it’s because this whole journey of education, I think everyone’s supporting and I mean, again, like in every stage of your life there are certain things that we all look out for and and, and are trying to to help out with. Right. But the beauty of this job too is that you see that it is, it’s making Jake k to like end of college, university, you’re in your twenties, that’s a big journey, right? And if we’re all doing our part to help out this kid, there you go. Right? I, and one kid I’ll never forget was I came in, it was actually when I came to Durham Durham Catholic, I started midyear.

John Linhares (24:42):

 I actually had a rough year the year before. and mother had passed away and instead of being there for my kids, I thought, you know what? I need to go half time so I can, you know, take care of myself in the mornings, basically. Like do what I gotta do, get in the right head space, go in for a couple hours the afternoon for those students, but be the best person. At least I can be. During that time, Yeah, that year I decided to switch boards and I decided, okay, I’m a supply teach for supply teaching. You have less, you know, there are, there’re less concerns that you have, right? You don’t have to work about planning and marketing and all other stuff. So it’s a pretty sweet gig. So I’m go, I’ll do it for a few months just to kinda get in the right head space again.

John Linhares (25:17):

So that’s split in. So it was February this job came along in, in at St. John, the evangelist at Wink. And so I took on this job and I remember taking that job on and the teacher was taking over for Matt. They loved her. She, they, she was their favorite teacher, you know, like she was the best. Like they just loved her and then she got this other job, so she was leaving and then here was this, who’s this coming into our room now, right? Like I had big shoes to fill it. So I tried my best to just continue on. She did things, but I’m me. Like I’m not somebody else. Right? Right. But yeah, they were not happy with me at all. And there’s one little character in particular was not happy with Mr. O at all. So anyway, so every day, let’s call it, he was just acting up a lot.

John Linhares (26:00):

Like he was getting into a lot of trouble going on. Yeah. And end of the year comes and then we get our class list for the following year and buddies in my class again. So I’m like, great. So end of the day, last day of school, he was about to take off and I’m like, Hold on, come back here, let’s have a chat before Eagle. And I remember pulling him aside, he was grade five <laugh>. And I’m like, Listen, just so you know, get back in my class next year. The waitings last few months have gone, you could have the worst year of your life next year or you can make the best of your life. And you started answering, No, no, I don’t want you to answer right now. I need you to go, go into, go the summer, have fun, you know, have a great summer, come back in September and think about what I told you. Cause Basical, this is in your court. So it went, it’s back in September, comes to find me, I’ll smiles will happen. It’s like, Mr, I’m ready for a new change. I’m like, Right. Cool, I’m glad you’re saying that, but let’s see what happens. Let’s

Sam Demma (27:05):

Do it. <laugh>.

John Linhares (27:06):

Exactly right. Yeah, fair enough. That’s exactly what it did. He, he became such a great leader that year at the school, helped out was just wanting to volunteer and help out with like, with other staff and other kids and, and with know afterschool activities and that kind stuff. And he just grew up through such a great leader for the, for the years that left here to the point where the lasting school grade eight graduation officer post all go. He kept coming back. I’m like, Buddy, you guys are done. Go <laugh>, you’re done school. Like, no, no, I’m hang out whenever. So he, yeah. So he is suck around helping me out. I was actually packing my class over the time whenever Nice. Again, continu on in contact ever since. And he was actually perusing the, the arts department here. Ah. So he still looking into it now, so

Sam Demma (27:50):

That’s awesome, man. You know what, I think it’s so important that we have big expectations for who our students can become. And it sounds like you had a vision for what this young man could be that maybe he didn’t have himself. And when you present that in a very kind way in front of a student someone that you care about you know, it forces them to actually think maybe I can be that student leader. Maybe I can change my behavior. Maybe there is a something that they see in me that I don’t see myself. So I think that’s a really cool little story. So thanks for thanks for sharing that one. if, if you could travel back in time and speak to John when he was in his first or second year teaching but with the experience you had now, what would you like tell your younger self when you were just getting into this profession? Maybe there’s a, a very fresh new educator listening to this right now and they’re looking for some words of wisdom as they journey down this education path.

John Linhares (28:51):

I think the main thing was to basically again, get to know your students. Like we get caught up in like these checklists of what have to get done, like wanting to get this, get that does this deadline. There’s that deadline I got report cards are coming soon. there’s just checklists coming out of the yin yang to be honest with you. The things that we have to do. Yeah. But we don’t, we cannot lose sight of why we’re there and that’s the most important thing. And so making those connections with those kids on a daily basis, I didn’t care what was going on. Trying to literally build in time, you know, like we talk about our families now, like, you know, talking about like traveling life, right? But it’s like, make time to meet your family, make make time to meet with your friends, make time to meet up with whatever, like work people, it was the same thing like in, in the classroom, you can easily get caught up in your checklist, make time to get to know those kids and talk to them, not about school stuff, right?

John Linhares (29:41):

Like getting to know them on that social level that human side. And that’s really key, right? And just build your success up for the whole year. Like no matter what, you know, issues are in the classroom or or behavior issues, they’re in the classroom. You put the time into really getting to know and acknowledge those kids and let them see that side of you as well. Like that you are human. You’re not this like, you know, robotic teacher creature that’s Yeah. human being, right, like with interest and whatever. And that, that really wins them over. Like, it makes a big deal. Like when you talk to a kid about just random stuff, other weekend wins, whatever for a minute or two each day. It makes a massive difference.

Sam Demma (30:23):

Small, consistent actions.

John Linhares (30:25):

<laugh> that again, back to that. Yep. If,

Sam Demma (30:28):

If someone wants to reach out to you and ask a question, bounce some ideas around, share some of their own art <laugh>, what would be the best way for another educator to get in touch with you?

John Linhares (30:39):

Yeah, so based on, on Twitter I’m @mrjlinhares, I think you’ve got that on the, on my bio. so that’s one way. And on LinkedIn as well. I’m kind of new to LinkedIn, so I’m not not on there as much as I am on Twitter. Twitter, I find a little bit easier to keep track of stuff and, and joke. But yeah, I am on those two platforms for sure and definitely would be more than happy to have conversations with you. I love conversations. I just love sitting down and chatting like we are now and, and sharing stories and all that.

Sam Demma (31:10):

Yeah man. Well I enjoyed this, a lot big time. So thank you so much for making the time to come on the podcast, share a little bit about your experiences and your journey, and I hope you have an amazing rest of your school year, and I’ll see you walking around the block sometime soon.

John Linhares (31:26):

<laugh> Sam, we’re looking forward to your, your book launch as well, so that’s coming up, so that’s amazing. Again, kids like yourself who we know are doing some great things out there, that’s what makes our jobs worthwhile. So thank you for all that you’ve done.

Sam Demma (31:39):

Thanks John, Appreciate it. Let’s talk soon.

John Linhares (31:41):

All right, take care.

Sam Demma (31:43):

Hey, it’s Sam again. I hope you enjoyed that amazing conversation on the High Performing Educator podcast. If you or someone, you know, deserves some extra recognition and appreciation for the work they do in education, please consider applying or nominating them for the high performing educator awards. Go to www.highperformingeducator.com/award. You can also find the link in the show notes. I’m super excited to spotlight and feature 20 people in 2022. And I’m hoping you, or someone you know, can be one of those educators. I’ll talk to you on the next episode, all the best.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with John Linhares

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

Tom Stones – Grade 8 Teacher at Innisfail Middle School in Alberta

Tom Stones - Grade 8 Teacher at Innisfail Middle School in Alberta
About Tom Stones

Tom Stones (@tstonesteacher) is a grade 8 teacher at Innisfail Middle School in Innisfail, Alberta. In 24 years, he has taught all core subjects and dozens of option courses in grades 4-8. When asked which is his favourite grade to teach, he struggles to choose one. There are amazing and challenging things about all grades. In all grades, his core belief is that relationship is the key component of working with middle years students. Tom has found that all students want a relationship with teachers, and making this a focus has been an emphasis of his career.  

Another role Tom is proud of is his work as a member of the Middle Years Council of the Alberta Teachers’ Association. He has helped plan numerous yearly conferences, which have provided quality professional development to many teachers from all over Canada.  

Tom is passionate about promoting wellness in teachers and himself. He has found that any success that we help students to achieve is largely contingent upon our own well-being. His advice to others (and himself) is to look after yourself first and find ways to help others.

Connect with Tom: Email | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Innisfail Middle School

Alberta Teachers’ Association (ATA)

Middle Years Council – ATA

Conferences and Events – ATA

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 (00:01):

Welcome to the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here today. Please start by introducing yourself.

Tom Stones (00:10):

My name is Tom Stones. I’m a teacher at Innisfail Middle School in Innisfail, Alberta. And this is, it’s on our last day of school here, so we’re it’s, this year is just about wrapped up. And I teach grade eight mostly science, a little bit of social studies, a little bit of health. And I’ve taught all kinds of different grades in from four to eight, I guess, so.

Sam Demma (00:33):

That’s awesome. When did you know growing up that you wanted to work in education? Like at what point did you make the decision and start moving that direction?

Tom Stones (00:45):

So, I got a funny pathway. I, I’d always kind of thought that was something I wanted to do but then when I graduated high school, didn’t feel super confident about going to university, so I didn’t, And then I got a job and it was, you know, got, kind of got too good of a job that I was getting paid decently to do it. And so stayed working. I was working in a warehouse running a warehouse for a printing company for about 12 years. And then my, that, that job was ending the, the, the business was shutting down. So I had to decide what I wanted to do. And I, I, you know, vividly recall my wife, one, I was married, had two, two kids at the time and my wife saying, Well, if you had to do something else, what would you really want to do? And I said, Well, I probably would wanna be a teacher. They, why don’t you just go to university and be a teacher? So, so I did

Sam Demma (01:34):

<Laugh>. That’s awesome. So you, you came from like a business that kinda like a business background, like you entered the world of work right after high school with the printing company and stayed with them?

Tom Stones (01:44):

Yeah. Yes. Yeah, I mean I think it was 12 or or so year or something like that that I worked for them. That’s all. A few different spots, but mostly ran the warehouse most of the time.

Sam Demma (01:54):

Yeah. Very cool. And so you made the decision to go to school, you know, back to school to work on the teacher credentials. And then what did the journey look like from that day forward to where you are now? Give us a little summary of all the different places you’ve worked positioned and what brought you here.

Tom Stones (02:14):

Yeah, so I was the sort university. I had to do a, I did two years at a, a college, which was in the town in the city we were living in, which was Red Deer. So I did two years there. Nice. And then took two years, went to University of Calgary and sort of drove back and forth, which is about an hour away from where I lived. And, and I obviously that wasn’t real easy cuz I was, had a family and, and my wife had to do a lot of extra things during those two years. And then got a job shortly after graduating, but a year after, graduated a couple other things first and then got a job at an elementary school and then in a town real close by. And then so we moved to that town to Ink, which is where I teach now. And so taught the elementary school there for about six years, I think taught grade four and four and six. And then a, a new school opened up next door and I came over here to teach grade five at the school I’m at now. And I’ve taught grade five and then grade six and then moved up to grade seven and then moved up to grade eight. I’ve been here for three or four years, I think.

Sam Demma (03:16):

How, how did you get voluntold to go and help out with nyc? And for those folks who don’t know what that is, give us a little explanation. <Laugh>

Tom Stones (03:26):

Yeah, that’s Voluntold is a good good <laugh>. The Middle Years Council is the, the association is the Alberta Teachers Association. It’s a specialist council within the Alberta Teachers Association. And there’s, there’s various ones. There’s that language arts ones, there’s math ones, there’s religious education. And this one happens to be about middle years school schools or teachers, which is from grade, about grade four to grade nine is sort of our, our target people. And I had, I’d gone to a few of the conferences, knew a few of the people, but then had kind of gotten away from it. And then one of my colleagues at the school was, was helping when she was pretty involved in it and they were having some struggles and, and needed some help. And she said, Well, would you come and help us? And I went, I don’t know, I don’t know if I can be any help or not, but sure I’ll come for a free conference.

Tom Stones (04:17):

So I, so I went and, and then just started helping out wherever I could. And then one, one year they said, Hey, you wanna run the conference? So I was, okay, sure. I had no idea what I was doing, but what we were, we just made it up, was who went along. But and then, you know, got to meet lots of really good people. And since then there’s been a few of us who’ve been on that committee for, I don’t know, about seven or eight years I guess. And so it’s, it’s now, it’s a whole lot easier than it was that first couple of years when we did what we were doing. But, and then we’ve been very fortunate to get some, you know, amazing people coming in to talk, including you and it’s just, it’s been a real great conference. And of course we had to shut down for two years and during pandemic and that was really disappointing. I remember that being one of the worst days of the early pandemic was when we had to make the decision. We, we just can’t go to ban this year. Cuz nobody could go anywhere, obviously. And then the next year we had to cancel as well, and then last year was our big return.

Sam Demma (05:16):

Yeah. You know, c has been a challenge for many people, many Ed especially people in education. I know personally you had some significant challenges as well. You know, what are some of the challenges that you face personally that maybe shifted your perspective a little bit and then also some of the opportunities that you think came out of it? Yeah,

Tom Stones (05:39):

That’s a really big question, Sam. So break

Sam Demma (05:42):

It down.

Tom Stones (05:43):

<Laugh>. Yeah, <laugh> early on in the, the pandemic, I, I don’t think we can, we can talk about it enough, what, what educators had to do. Like, we were March the 20th, I think was the day in Alberta here when they, with the Sunday afternoon we got a call or on email saying, Yeah, we’re not going to school tomorrow, we’re gonna be shut down for two weeks. And of course that was, I mean, nobody had any idea what that meant and then said, Oh, and by the way, we really want you to start teaching. Oh, we want you to come back to school. So we all went back to school and we all sort of hung around and cleaned out lockers and did report cards and all that stuff. And then there was a, a, the Wednesday afternoon we had a staff meeting and I remember the principal looking at his phone and he goes, Okay, it’s one o’clock.

Tom Stones (06:26):

I can tell you we start teaching on Monday morning online, but you can’t be in the school right now. You’ve got five minutes to get outta here. And we’re just like, what <laugh> and <laugh>. So we, well, and I think we end uping, you know, 15, 20 minutes. We just kind of sat down with the group of us that had to teach together and sat down for, what are we gonna do on Monday morning? Yeah, yeah. And of course there was a lot of, lot of Google meets in the next three days there. But, but we started teaching on Monday morning. So we, we had no idea what we were doing. Kids had no idea what we were doing. The parents had zero idea what we were doing. And, but we made it work. And then it turned into three and a half months in Alberta.

Tom Stones (07:04):

We spent the whole rest of the year online. And then the next year came back, started out back and then did the same thing again. We, in November we were told we had two days prepare to be online and we wrote did the same thing, you know, pulled it off again. And then that was right around Christmas time and just before Christmas, and this is a personal part you’re alluding to, just before Christmas, I ended up in the hospital with a heart attack, which had nothing to do with the, the stress, I don’t think. It was a, some genetic things, but, but I ended up with a heart attack and so I missed about two months of school. We kind of recovering from that and getting over all that stuff. But and it, you know, I told, I talked to the, the students who were in that class who were a very special group of kids, but and I, I just said, when I was laying in the hospital, I thought, I don’t wanna quit.

Tom Stones (08:00):

I want, I don’t want to be done cuz I wanna go back from work with these kids more. And so that really put a, a different spin on I guess some of that for me. But what really, what really you think affected me at that point was how, what, what that group of kids did. Like they were mean there 13 and 14 year olds and that they get a, that group of kids get a real bad rap, like 13 and 14 year olds, Aren be the best people in the world usually. But they, they, you know, they looked after me, they protected me, they supported me. And even now they’re into school next door and they, you know, I think I saw all of them all year long. They all come over and talk and, and we, they’re so we’ve got a, a connection that will not ever go away, I don’t think. But just that to me, just that, you know, when you ask kids to step up and do something amazing, they can do some, they can do amazing stuff. And I mean, they, they didn’t volunteer for this. They didn’t volunteer to <laugh> to get themselves involved in that, but they they were amazing. So

Sam Demma (09:04):

Yeah. Continue.

Tom Stones (09:06):

Yeah. Yeah, I think that’s all just that they were like, it was pretty cool what they did.

Sam Demma (09:12):

Do you remember some of the specific things they did that you think made a really big impact on you when you think back to some of the, those challenging moments?

Tom Stones (09:24):

I guess even just the, when I was getting, when I was recovering, the kids would send emails like, Hey, we’re really hope you’re right. Can’t wait for you to be back. That kind of thing. And there was actually, there was one day I don’t know if I can need to talk about this. One day we had an author visit Eric Walters, who’s an amazing author from Ontario was doing an author visit. And I had arranged that visit before I went, went off six. So I, and it was done all virtually, of course, at that time. And so I came on and the kids didn’t know that I was listening to the, the visit, like it was the whole school, but they didn’t realize that I was on there. You were there.

Tom Stones (10:07):

And, and I was in the background listening to it. And then when they, it was all over and that the teacher who realized that I was on there flipped the, the camera so they could see me and I could see them and that they just went wild. It was, it was pretty cool. I remember my wife texted me from work and she said, So how’s your day? And I said, I just, my kids just made me cry. Yeah. And yeah. So that was pretty cool. Just that. And that was about three weeks, I guess, before I went back Yeah. To school.

Sam Demma (10:41):

I can feel the emotion while you talk about it. Yeah.

Tom Stones (10:44):

<Laugh>, I know it, it’s, it that just comes back at me right now. It was crazy. And just others, just stuff like when I got back and the one, it was one day somebody said something about somebody having a heart attack and it was, he was just saying it as a throw away thing, Right. He wasn’t meaning anything. And this one girl just wheeled on says, We do not say as shit <laugh>. Mm. And the kids going, Oh, sorry. Didn’t think about it. And she’s going, Dad, you do not do that here. <Laugh>.

Sam Demma (11:11):

Yeah.

Tom Stones (11:12):

So, yeah. That’s cool. That’s

Sam Demma (11:14):

Awesome. That’s awesome man. Well, it, it sounds like you build such a great relationship with the students, which I think is the goal of every person in education to build relationships, to make an impact on the young minds that are sitting in front of them. How do you think we build relationships with the students in our classrooms? Like what are some of the things you try and do as teacher, teacher to ensure that we, you know, we build strong relationships.

Tom Stones (11:40):

There’s lots of stuff. Part of it I think is, is just getting to know them right. Or early, early on in the year, getting to know as much as you possibly can. Now I’m, I’m fortunate here, the school that I’m in, the grade seven wing is right beside the grade eight wing. We’re actually in the same hallway. Mm. So, so I can start to build some relationships with kids, you know, from April Mayon kind of thing, start to get them so that they’re, they, they know who I am even, you know, obviously they know my face, but they don’t know anything about me. Yeah. And I don’t know anything about them really, but start to build it just early on and, and just mostly I think just show them respect. That’s really all anybody wants is just to get respected. And if you show it to them and, and they, they, they’ll almost always give it back to you.

Tom Stones (12:32):

Now there’s always ones who don’t, obviously then, and those are ones that there’s other things going on in their world and that that’s something else to work with. But for, you know, the 99% of the kids, you give them some respect, they’ll give you respect back. And, and, and just showing interest in their lives, like what, what they’re doing, whether it’s hockey or dance or, you know, whatever. Or, or nothing. So I’m just like playing video games and I don’t have any idea what they’re talking about, but if I look like I do there,

Sam Demma (13:01):

<Laugh>, <laugh>,

Tom Stones (13:03):

I found my computer breaks down, I give it to them fix. And so yeah, just, yeah.

Sam Demma (13:09):

That’s cool. Yeah, I like that. When you, when you think about your journey in becoming the educator you are today with the beliefs you have, like, are there any resources that you have found helpful? And, you know, obviously the Middle Years Council has been a big source of per, you know, PD and professional development and maybe you can even recall some of the speakers that you think had a significant impact on you or some of the books or courses as a result of some of those speakers that you looked into. I’m curious if anything comes to mind that you think was helpful.

Tom Stones (13:43):

Yeah, there, there’s lots. And we’ve, we’ve had over the years, have had lots and lots of really, like I said, really good speakers. And that’s, that’s kind of one of the things, one of the places that I get that from. Yeah. Also, just because of my role in that committee, going to some conferences and trying to, to connect with some people so that you can, you know, as potential speakers

Sam Demma (14:04):

Bring them back or whatever.

Tom Stones (14:05):

Yeah. Bring them back home. There’s, and has lots is it a psychologist from Alberta here at Dr. Jody Carrington? Like, she, we’ve had her a number a couple of times and she’s pretty in way. She’s taught me a lot about sticking up for kids and, and being, you know, an advocate for kids. So like Dave Burgess is the, the teach like a pirate you know, corporation basically now from San Diego. We’ve had him up and, and just, just doing crazy stuff with kids and just, yeah, doing whatever it takes to reach him. You know, wherever it takes to way outta your comfort zone kind of thing. So lots of people like that. And books, I’ve, you know, then tried to read books by different people and, and get ideas and just, I, I think on my Twitter account it says something like, I’m always looking for ideas to engage kids and just taking that from anywhere. And some of them, like there’s some people I would never do what they do. Ron Clark from Ron Clark Academy in Atlanta went, went to see him once, like, he stands up on the table and yells at people. Well that’s, that’s not my personality. I would never do that, but, but I’ve, you know, done some crazy things too, <laugh> with, with kids that are, that are at least I think crazy, But yeah. That’s awesome. Little bit from anybody, like really just taking stuff from everybody and building it.

Sam Demma (15:34):

I once heard a quote from Tony Robbins and he said, Approach every conversation as if you could learn something from the other person and you, you probably will. And yeah, the way he explained it is that you might be better at gardening, but they’re problem, They might be better at cooking. And so, you know, you could learn something from that person in relation to cooking. They could learn something from you about gardening. And if you kind of go into every situation trying to learn from other people’s strengths I think it, it just leads to a better conversation. And you walk away with new information, you know.

Tom Stones (16:08):

Yeah, Yeah. And, and I think being in the school, and I’ve been at the same school now for, I don’t know how many years, quite a few 15 or something, but just the people who have come through and, and just every one of those people, whether they’ve been here for a year or for 15 years you pick up something from those people you know, something that person does and you know, new person comes from another school or a new person just new to teaching and be, go, that’s something I can use right there. And or that’s something, you know, you think, well, I’m not sure that’s in my personality, but it can be, you know, I can use something like that. I appreciate it. Yeah. Yeah. And just yeah, even from the kids, like, this is something that I, I don’t understand, but let’s, let’s go from there. Yeah.

Sam Demma (16:57):

Nice man. Nice, nice. When, when you think about students that you’ve worked with over the past 15 years it’s obvious that they’ve made an impact on you. And I appreciate you sharing those stories earlier of what they’ve done did for you, even during some of your challenging times to make you feel special and appreciated. I’m curious to know if you can think of a story where due to education, you saw a student transform, meaning maybe they started in your class one way and by the end they were totally different and they had different characteristics and built confidence. And if it’s, it’s a, if it’s a very serious story, you could also change their name just for privacy reasons. But I’m wondering if any story comes to mind that you wanna share

Tom Stones (17:37):

There. There is, and I’ve told this story quite a few times and I’ve actually talked to the, the student and he knows that I use his name. He’s okay with it. Okay. It’s a pretty common name. It’s Braden, so it’s not like there’s <laugh>,

Tom Stones (17:49):

50 million of them <laugh>. But he he was the toughest challenging kid that I’ve ever taught. And it wasn’t his, you know, his behavior wasn’t so extreme, but it was just every day. And like he, he pushed some button for somebody every single day of grade. I think I taught in grade six. And it was just like endless, endless, endless, endless. Mm. And I remember saying to the principal at the end of the year, not, not one of my better moments. So just saying that I don’t think I made any difference to that kid. Like he’s exactly the same, walking out the door in June as he walked in September. And and the principal didn’t really say anything. Jay didn’t really say anything to me, but then he moved, like, he moved up the upgrades and then went to another school that, and he eventually was doing some alternative school cause he was gonna fit into school. But then he started coming back and it was one day he I was walking down the hall and one of the teachers says Tom turn around.

Tom Stones (18:51):

And this kid was running down the hall, wanted to talk to me, coming from the high school, wanted to talk to me. And I, so we, we chatted for a second and he says, I like to come be a work experience student in your room. Wow. And that’s what that’s kinda weird cuz you spend a lot of time trying to get outta my room in grade six. And he goes, Yeah, I know, but I wanna come be work in your room. And so he did. For semester, that was kind the thing we have at the high school beside is cause they come and do some work experience. And then I sort of lost track of, and I think it was last year or the year before last year, I think he came back he had just graduated from a computer animation program in Toronto was ready to start a job and he just wanted to come back and say hi.

Tom Stones (19:33):

And so we chatted a little bit and I said, and he says, I know I was tough. And I said, Yeah, you were really tough <laugh>. And he goes, you know, he had done everything online. It was during the pandemic, everything, his whole program was online. He said, when we got into when we did, did did the lesson, then we would go work with other students. And it was on Zoom I think he said. But they would put us in, they would call breakout rooms and he says, every single time I got put in a breakout room, I remember I thought of you because you put me in a breakout room every day in case was a physical breakout room. So we had a little room beside there, which the other kid basically called the Braden’s office cuz he was in there almost the whole day anyway, so it was like, that was pretty funny. But he says Andy, he’s successful, he’s gonna do really well. And I thought that’s now you’re playing a long game there cuz that’s about seven or eight years in between those two conversations, but Wow. But yeah, pretty cool to have that come and there’s lots of kids that come back like that, but he’s pretty, he’s pretty dramatic one, so.

Sam Demma (20:36):

Well, what do you think you did, like, you know, sometimes it’s hard to pinpoint like exactly why, but like what do you think if you reflect back on it that you did that had such a significant impact on him that he did feel the need to come back, even though in the present moment you thought you were, maybe you weren’t getting through to him. It sounds like you obviously were, you just didn’t realize it.

Tom Stones (20:54):

Yeah. Yeah. I don’t know. But I think most of it is consistency. Cause he knew he knew what he could do and he knew he was gonna cross the line every single day, but he knew where the line was. Yes. And lots of people, lots of kids, but don’t have, they’re not not sure where the line is. They’re not sure what, what the consist he is. And I, I think that’s it. And, and not just writing him off, like when he come back, when he came back in high school, you know, accepting him for where he was at in high school, even though he was still way off the charts. But yeah, it, it’s, it’s hard to know. Cause if you certainly, if you could, if you could do it, you could

Sam Demma (21:42):

Replicate

Tom Stones (21:43):

It’s a lot of money marketing that Yeah. <Laugh>.

Sam Demma (21:46):

Yeah. Just

Tom Stones (21:47):

Curious

Sam Demma (21:47):

More than anything. So I appreciate you sharing,

Tom Stones (21:50):

Asking. Yeah. I think just the consistency. Yeah.

Sam Demma (21:52):

Yeah. I like it. I love it. When, when you think about your journey throughout education and the lessons you’ve learned if you could go back in time but retain all of the experiences you’ve had and tap yourself on the shoulder in your first year of teaching, knowing what you know now, what would you have told yourself in the form of advice? Not because you wanted to change anything about the path you’ve taken or what you’re doing today, but because you thought it might have been helpful to hear certain things when you were just getting started.

Tom Stones (22:26):

Yeah, you know, I, I kind of thought that was a question you might ask. Just having listen to other podcasts, the ones I I’ve started cheating and trying to get some Yeah, yeah. Lines there. I think that I’d look after myself better. Hmm. Now early on you just, you just go and you go as hard as you possibly can. And sometimes that, you know, I, I was pretty careful not to let that get in the way of being, having a family on that, but, but just you know, put, don’t push quite so hard. The, the kids will be fine if you like, the students will be fine if you didn’t stay up till 11 o’clock. They’re probably better if you get, if you’re well rested and went for a walk. <Laugh> mm-hmm. <Affirmative>. And just the, yeah, just looking after yourself.

Tom Stones (23:19):

Our actually our superintendents talked about this a bit and he says like, there’s three pieces to self the wellness and one of ’em is the division has a little bit of input into it. Like, we can put some things in to help you. The school has a little bit, but the, the biggest pieces yourself and you’ve gotta decide how to look after yourself. And that’s since, since I’ve been sick that that’s become, you know, pretty important to me. Obviously just looking after in my own boundaries. Even just thinking, No, I’m not doing that tonight. I’m going to play with my grandchildren and instead, or, you know and I don’t think that young teachers that they think they have to push real hard and then they do better if they didn’t.

Sam Demma (24:00):

Hmm. That’s a great piece of advice. And I think it’s not only for young educators, but young professionals in general, I think,

Tom Stones (24:06):

You know. Yeah, I think so. Like

Sam Demma (24:08):

You, I sound, it feels like you’re talking to me sometimes because I, sometimes I’m doing that and then I don’t get good sleep and then I don’t show up too well the next morning. And it’s a really great piece of advice. You know, so often after people have experiences that are traumatic and sometimes even challenging just like you did with the, with the heart attack sometimes. And oftentimes they have this big realization that maybe they weren’t doing the thing that they wanted to do and they make this grand life change and they’re like, I’m now gonna chart my path in the direction that I really wanted to go in because life is fragile and I’m getting goosebumps just hearing you speak. Because I think what’s so amazing is that when you were in the hospital on the bed, the thought running through your mind was, how can I get myself healthy enough to get back in the classroom?

Sam Demma (25:00):

And that to me is a signal and a symbol that you’re doing the work that you should be doing. And it’s so obvious that you’re passionate about this work and that it’s making a difference. And I just wanted to say, keep doing it because it’s so important that we have people who on their deathbed will say, I did the work that I wanted to do that I loved doing. And if, you know, if education, if you’re in it right now and you’re not enjoying it, that’s okay too. May, you know, maybe it’s time to change, but it’s really refreshing to speak to you today and hear from someone who wouldn’t change a thing about the path you’ve taken. And

Tom Stones (25:39):

Yeah, I a year ago today, basically when I said goodbye to that group of kids Yep. I said that, that you were, like I said, I could’ve walked away. Nobody would’ve said a word. I could’ve quit. And I said, but I didn’t want to. Like, I thought I was, I I wanted to come back and work with you some more and then, and continue to this year and my plan is to continue for next year. But, but yeah. And I, if it’s, I guess maybe just to follow up what you said there, if you don’t have that, then you, you should quit. You should get out. But if you’ve got that, that don’t do what you’re supposed to do. Yeah. Yeah, I’ve seen seen lots of people hang on too long cuz they, they should quit. For lots of reasons. I don’t, I don’t wanna do that, but I also want don’t wanna quit too early either, so.

Sam Demma (26:40):

Yeah. No, and I, we appreciate it and I think if you haven’t found the thing that gets you super excited as well yet, keep searching, you know, it’s out there. I’m glad that you found it in education and teaching and really enjoy it every day. Tom, this has been a phenomenal conversation. I just wanna say thank you so much for spending, you know, 30 minutes on the show, talking about your experiences, talking about how your students have made a difference in your life and how you strive to make a difference in theirs. Talking about Braden yeah. Really has been a really impactful conversation. If someone’s listening and wants to reach out to you, ask you a question, what would be the best way for them to get in touch?

Tom Stones (27:19):

By email, its tstones@cesd73.ca and I, I have a Twitter account, but I don’t actually avoid is <laugh>, it’s @tstonesteacher I think on, on Twitter.

Sam Demma (27:35):

Awesome. Perfect. Perfect. Tom, thank you again for coming on the show. Really appreciate it. Keep up the amazing work, and we’ll, we’ll talk soon.

Tom Stones (27:43):

Yeah. I think, are we planning to see you in September? Has that got set up yet? Or is it

Sam Demma (27:48):

I hope so. It hasn’t happened yet, but if fingers crossed I’ll hear, I’ll hear from them and we’ll, we’ll make it happen.

Tom Stones (27:55):

Okay. Awesome. Sounds great.

Sam Demma (27:56):

Awesome.

Sam Demma (27:56):

Hey, it’s Sam again. I hope you enjoyed that amazing conversation on the High Performing Educator podcast. If you or someone, you know, deserves some extra recognition and appreciation for the work they do in education, please consider applying or nominating them for the high performing educator awards. Go to www.highperformingeducator.com/award. You can also find the link in the show notes. I’m super excited to spotlight and feature 20 people in 2022. And I’m hoping you, or someone you know, can be one of those educators. I’ll talk to you on the next episode, all the best.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Tom Stones

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.

Eric Keunne – Program Lead, Youth Settlement (K-12), Equity and Inclusive Education at the Halton District School Board

Eric Keunne - Program Lead, Youth Settlement (K-12), Equity and Inclusive Education at the Halton District School Board
About Eric Keunne

Eric Keunne (@EricKeunne) is an Educator and Instructional Program Leader for Youth Settlement (K-12). He is also a Research Assistant for the Camerise Project (FSL hub) and a Ph.D. student in Francophone Studies at York University.

Eric has worked in his early career as a teacher and head of the French department at Misaje High School in the North West Region of Cameroon. Eric Keunne holds degrees from York University, Newcastle University in the United Kingdom, the University of Yaoundé1 and the École Normale Supérieure Annexe de Bambili in Cameroon.

Connect with Eric: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Camerise Project (FSL hub)

Francophone Studies at York University

Newcastle University

University of Yaoundé1

Ontario College of Teachers

Choq-FM 105.1

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):

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

Sam Demma (00:59):

This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. We have a very special guest with us today. His name is Eric Keunne. Eric is an educator and instructional program leader for youth settlement, K to 12. He is also a research assistant for the Camerise Project, also known as the FSL Hub and a PhD student in Francophone studies at York University. Eric has worked in his early career as a teacher and head of the French Department at Misaje High School in the North West Region of Cameroon. Eric Keunne holds degrees from York University, Newcastle University in the United Kingdom, the University of Yaoundé1 and the École Normale Supérieure Annexe de Bambili in Cameroon. I hope you enjoy this conversation with Eric, and I will see you on the other side. Eric, welcome to the High Performing Educator Podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here today. Please start by introducing yourself.

Eric Keunne (01:55):

Well, thank you so very much Sam. It’s really a pleasure to be on your show today. My name is Eric Keunne. I speak many languages. I speak Aghem the from the west region of Cameroon but my official language is French because Cameroon, where I come from is a bilingual language country, just like Canada. And my, the language I grew up speaking and studying in is French so you will realize that very often in this interview that I will use on French expressions. And you can also derive from there that as I’m a French language teacher, right. So I’m very happy to be here. I’m going to certainly have the opportunity to talk about my journey as an educator all the way from Cameroon and here in Canada, in Ontario now today. So, aside from that, I’m also a dad married to a wonderful wife. So, and my lovely two kids Michelle ve <inaudible>. So yeah. And pretty much also working towards bringing the Cameroon community together. As always, I’ve been very invested in, into that vain. And but what is very important is certainly to sheathe the path for the future of our kids. Rightm and the next generation. as an educator.

Sam Demma (03:10):

When did you realize growing up that you wanted to work in education? Was it something you always knew or something you stumbled into?

Eric Keunne (03:18):

That’s a wonderful question, Sam. I, well, it really gives me the opportunity to visit back against some sweet memories. Like I said, I was born and raised in Cameroon and Cameroon’s, a very beautiful country’s actually located in Central Africa. For those who you who are so wondering, Cameroon is the home to Toronto Rap NBA champion, Pascals, of course, yes. <Laugh> and also Ronald Soccer players like Samuel Ato and Roja mil. Yeah. So just like I indicated, Camon it’s a very, I’d say Sweden, blessed country in a sense that the dynamics of the population living in Cameroon is such a unique one, and I would love everyone to experience that. However as you know, Cameroon is also today, Cameroon as we know it today, is not only a result of colonization, but it’s also had to go through so many iterations as a country itself.

Eric Keunne (04:17):

So many changes actually happen in there. And that has also influenced my path. I grew up in a very, very modest family. My dad and Ream was a business man, and he was very, very invested into bringing up his children in such a way that they were not experience the same challenges just like he grew up experiencing. He, he was not fortunate enough to pursue his education on after elementary school. So one of the things that always prompted him to motivate his kids to go beyond his level where he dropped, was to ensure that, you know, they’ll be able to embrace the future. And for me, particularly he absolutely wanted me to hold a key position in the family, being that person who always trying to not only help others to navigate around the challenges that they were facing, because apparently, I, I had that gift, that talent of being able to, to communicate eloquently in French and also, but in a very respectful way.

Eric Keunne (05:27):

And for him, that was a sign that I would be an amazing educator in the future. So somehow he, he pushed me in this, into this profession. He pushed me to embrace and to love this profession. So I grew up with that in mind knowing that I had a huge responsibility, not only towards my family towards my community, but people that I, I meet with every single day. Mm. And I, you know, I grew up with that love and passion for, for education, for, for helping others people to grow and try. Right. And I ended up at a teacher’s college in, in Cameroon, and here I am today.

Sam Demma (06:03):

You mentioned Samuel Etto. Is, is football a big part of your childhood,

Eric Keunne (06:07):

<Laugh>? Absolutely, absolutely. I grew up playing football, we call it in Canada soccer, but I grew up playing football and enjoying it, just like every, every young man of my generation in Cameroon. And even now. And you know, when I actually started teaching, one of the things that I also dedicated my time doing, Sam, was to to coach, right? So I used to be a soccer coach when, in high school, when I was working in a high school.

Sam Demma (06:32):

So you mentioned the passion, where it came from. What did the journey look like from the different roles you worked in education and then the transition from Cameroon to Canada?

Eric Keunne (06:45):

Well, it wasn’t an easy transition all the time. So I, like I said, I I, I did my teacher’s education in Cameroon at Eco Hill, the Bomb, and next to bomb Bili. So ENS bomb, that’s in northwest region of Cameroon. And my training was in bilingual letters, bilingual education. So I was trained as a FSL teacher, but also as an English language as a English as a second language teacher. Nice. And when I finished my, my teacher’s education in Cameroon, I was actually assigned to my first high school in Cameroon government high school, je, where I spent almost two years. Ah, and I, I, I, I ended up being a department head for French in, in that high school. Then at some point my dad, who was very, very very motivated in seeing me exploring and exploiting all my full potential, he encouraged me to go beyond the level of being a teacher at the high school level.

Eric Keunne (07:48):

So he really encouraged me to pursue my, my post-secondary education. So I started looking for opportunities to doing a master’s degree. And I, so I started that in Cameroon, and I eventually got the chance to go study abroad in the uk. But before the uk I made a stop in Belgium in Brick. So where I studied for one year. Then I eventually ended up at the University of Newcastle where I did study in a Master’s of education program in international developmental education. So in the uk what was very fascinating about my, my journey there was the fact that I was able to not only match part of my experience with, you know, the reality of teaching and learning in the uk, but I was also able to share this experiences with so many learners around me. Mm-Hmm. <Affirmative>, I was a unique opportunity in that specific program.

Eric Keunne (08:38):

And I, you know, I want to take this opportunity to give a, you shout out to Professor Pauline Dixon, who will be probably listening from the uk. She was my professor in that program. And she, she really invested in, in a platform where all the scholars in this program would be able to come and share experiences, because of course, we were talking about international development, and it was also a unique platform to talk about some best practices and things challenges that we were actually able to identify in specific countries, especially in developing countries. Right. And how we could actually work towards fixing that mm-hmm. <Affirmative>. And back then we were talking about the, the, the development goals for the future. So it was very interesting. Right. And and back then, I also had a chance to do some supply job teaching in the uk some of the schools.

Eric Keunne (09:31):

So it gave me a unique perspective, right, to compare my experience from Cameroon and of course, in the uk. Then of course, eventually after that I moved to Canada here in Canada when I actually arrived in 2009, I didn’t write away get an opportunity to teach because the process was quite tedious and challenging. So I did apply to the College of Teachers. It took me about two to three years to get my OCC license, as you would imagine, Very, very stressful. But in the meantime, I was very lucky to to be invited to teach at a private school in Maka, Ontario. That’s why started my first teaching experience in Canada. Truly was at Town Center private high school. That’s why I started teaching in 2000 and, and 12. Nice. And it, it was good because I was working in a small school and it was really the firsthand experience for me working in Canada for the first time as a teacher, Right.

Eric Keunne (10:25):

Mm. And getting ready as my p my papers were being processed. And so it was really at that moment, and I, I really always thank the principal back then, Patrick McCarthy, who hired me and all the staff at thousand High School for all the support that they provided me with. And today I’m very, very pleased with where I am, because after Town Central High School I eventually had a chance to also teach at Seneca College in the nice living program where I was teaching French language as well. And after that I think in 2014 there was a, a position at Qua High School here in Halton, Hal, Industry School Board, for which I applied. And and I got a job in 2014. I’ve been really enjoying my journey so far since 2014 with Halton Industry School Board.

Sam Demma (11:14):

I love that your journey pursuing education has quite literally brought you around the globe, <laugh>, like

Eric Keunne (11:21):

Absolutely. Absolutely.

Sam Demma (11:22):

It’s so exciting to hear about the diverse perspectives you have and have picked up from teaching in such different places. What are some of the stark differences or, and similarities that you’ve noticed teaching in Cameroon versus teaching in UK and then versus both teaching in Canada, like <laugh>? I’m curious what kind of comes to mind when you think about those experiences and the similarities and differences?

Eric Keunne (11:48):

Well, the first thing that comes into my mind what I, in terms of, you know, comparing my teaching experience in these three countries is, is the fact that, you know, it’s actually provided me with a unique, unique facet of, you know, understanding the needs of the student and, and of course the families, right? Cause in Cameroon, one thing that is very interesting for you to know is that we do have very large class sizes, okay. And, and there’s that desire for every single students to to be knowledgeable. So they’re really, really looking into embracing every single word that comes out of the mouth of the teacher. So, to that is, to that regard, I think the position that you hold as a teach in Cameroon is quite different from how you position position here in Canada or somewhere else.

Eric Keunne (12:45):

Got it. Because you do have that you know, unique position as a, in Cameroon to secondly bring all the students towards a direction, the direction that you think it’s good for them, because they look up to you as not only teacher, but as a leader. I’m not saying it’s not the case here, is it still the case here? However, the dynamics in terms of the relationship is quite different. Right. And here, and, and that’s why I say I’m very grateful because I’ve had a chance to teach in Africa, in Europe, and now here in North America. So I, I, you know, I’m very blessed in that sense because throughout my journey, specifically here in Canada, I have come to the realization that, you know, beyond the fact that as a teacher, you are a leader, you are also there to facilitate the knowledge, not necessarily to give the knowledge to students, not only to provide them with everything that they need to swallow and digest now.

Eric Keunne (13:44):

Yeah. Right. You broaden the perspective, You open their avenue to students so that they can actually grow up with some critical thinking, Right. And be able to co-plan with you. Right. And that’s really what is amazing. You know, when I think about the experience here but again, you, you have to also understand that, you know, the, the, the way education is shipped around the world, it’s specifically tied to all the, the economic of that country as well. Because resources is very important when you think of planning in education. So for countries who have limited resources, financial resources I’m talking about here, and of course technological resources, it will be very, very difficult to apply the same system that we have here in Canada, everywhere. And, and to that, I think when you have the opportunity to move around a little bit, you get to appreciate every single country with what they actually bring forward in this uniqueness.

Eric Keunne (14:46):

So every country has a unique approach, which I like. So everywhere I’ve been to and here in Canada particularly I, I think one of the things that really makes me always enjoy my, my role as a teacher is really the passion that I see in every class that I go into, especially when it comes to the learning of French as a second language. Mm. As a French language teacher, I’m always, always very fascinated, but by the desire of students to wanting to learn an additional language. And that makes me feel happy because it really indicates the fact that beyond the, the, the, the noble desire to utilize that language, they want to learn the culture of a different country. And as you know as a francophone, I always try to promote all French countries, not just France and Quebec as we know, but try to open the horizons to my students in such a way that they can learn from all the French countries and including your history, right? Because yeah, no, the fact that this country speak French is a result of colonization, right? So it’s important that we bring that in perspective so that, you know, the kids that we actually teaching here can grow up learning, right? And visiting history, and be able to position themselves as citizens of the world. That the way I see,

Sam Demma (16:13):

I’m getting so much energy just speaking to you, <laugh>, I, I feel like educators listening will hopefully absorb some of this energy and remember why they got into education in the first place. What, what about teaching keeps you coming back every single day? Excited, Of course there’s challenges and difficult times, but what about the opportunity gets you excited to get outta bed every single day and teach and help in education?

Eric Keunne (16:41):

But I, I think what really gets me motivated every single day is the transformational aspect of our job as teachers, as educators. Not only do we provide in classroom space and time and platform for kids to be be able to express themselves, but we also help them to break down some barriers that they actually facing in their day to day life. I’ll tell you a little bit about my experience as an international student in the uk and you suddenly understand why I’m so motivated every single day going out and doing my job as a teacher. You know, when I actually landed in the uk back in two and eight and I think that was one of the most challenging moments of my life. Just now, one thing that I fail to, I forgot to mention, is that right now I’m, I’m actually working at my board’s welcome center.

Eric Keunne (17:41):

I’m in charge of the Youth Settlement Program, so helping and facilitating the transition of newcomer students and families in our, and in our schools, right? And that it’s really, it’s closely tied to my experience as an international students back in the uk. Cause like I said, it was one of the challenging moments of my life cuz I wish you know, I had something called the welcome center back then. Yeah. That was solely designed for newcomers and international students like myself, Right? I’m talking about the structure that is actually working towards supporting students every single. And I’m so happy to be working with this amazing team at the welcome Center Hall, District School of Welcome Center because as you know, newcomer students, and when they arrive in a place a new place like Canada or, or in Ontario or in Halton, they do have so many challenges that they’re going through.

Eric Keunne (18:34):

That was me back, back then. Yeah. I, I was struggling with language because like I said, I, I grew up speaking French, studying in French, so I had zero mastery of English language per se. Right. And in addition to that, I was trying to get used to my new environment, and I was far away from home, right? Yeah. So I had no place that I could go to or nobody that I could call a family member. Right? And, and with my, my being a francophone with little knowledge and master of English language I was required to to attend classes, graduate courses, for that matter. I was actually required to complete assignments in English. And, and, you know, it was very difficult. And I see that every single day for our newcomer students and, and families that come here, Right. The struggle with the language, but yet they actually exposed to the learning in English every single day.

Eric Keunne (19:29):

So, for me, particularly, I developed back then what I called my personal technical dictionary, and I still have it here in my shelves, I promise you that. <Laugh> <laugh>. So what, what was that is actually some a notebook that I, I, I actually designed for myself in which I would write down all the comments, expressions that I would hear people use every single day around the classroom in, in the articles that I was reading. Right? And I would, when I go home, I would translate those into French Mm. So that I could comprehend and understand these expressions. And then now in return, try to use them in sentences. This is simply to tell you how much time it takes for a newcomer students in a country like this, Right. To be able to understand the concept that are taught in a classroom and be able to utilize them.

Eric Keunne (20:20):

You see what I mean? Yeah. So it takes at least two, three or four double the amount of time for them to be able to develop the communication skills, the writing skills. And so language was a huge barrier, and language is a huge barrier for many newcomer students and families when they actually arrive here. Right. And for me, it’s very important when I wake up every single morning, is to think about every single student in the classrooms, Do they have all the tools? What am I doing as an educator to ensure that in our system, in our board, in our pro, every single student is equipped right. With the support that they need in order to try and succeed, Right? Mm. So, and beyond the language barrier, one thing that was very interesting to for me as well, and I really want to point this out I was a computer illiterate. Mm.

Eric Keunne (21:11):

As a matter of fact, I have learned how to use a computer for the first time in 2008, believe me or not. Right? Mm. And, and it would take me so many hours to type a single paragraph, this is the challenges that newcomer students and family’s experience because maybe they’ve not been exposed to technology from where they come from, Right? So, and I had to rely, rely on the support of my classmates and my professor, right? To get my work submitted online. So in thinking of that experience, I was trying to ask myself, what are we doing differently today in 2022, in such a way that students will not be experiencing the same challenges, right? So I’m not talking about financial challenges because that’s also something that every family and newcomer families actually go through. So, and it’s important for me when I wake up in the morning, to always ask myself this question, What am I going to do differently today?

Eric Keunne (22:09):

What am I going to add to what I did yesterday to put a smile on the face of every single student I encounter? And also, how do I actually foster collaboration with my team, with my staff, with the teachers that I work with to make the difference in the life of our students? Because every single student in our classroom, every single student is a success story waiting to be told. And we have a role to play into that. We have to be able to not only of God put forward our motivation, but also look for the resources that would help us as educators, as teachers, to transform the life of these individuals. Because this is the future of Canada. We’re talking about because 10, 10 years, 20 years down the road, the same student that we do have in our classroom today are the one who are going to help us navigate around our society. Are ha are those who are going to help shape the future of our country. So we need to continue to invest in education. We need to continue to embrace our job with all the energy and enthusiasm that is possible. But at the same time, I think a while ago I was talking about resources. I think the government needs also to continue to provide enough support Yeah. And financial resources for educators to be able to do the job efficiently. Mm.

Sam Demma (23:35):

You, you mentioned a few minutes ago when you were talking about your experiences overseas, that one of the things that was a little bit different was the way student and teacher relationships are built. I think what’s calming, calming common amongst here, Cameroon, Europe and the uk, is that one of the main goals of the educator, despite how the relationship is built, despite how the classroom is set up, is to help young people become their own success stories. As you just mentioned, that every student is a success story waiting to happen, and that educators play a part in it. I believe that that idea is one of the main reasons why people actually get into education. Because they wanna help people. They wanna serve young minds. They wanna make a difference. Sometimes we forget, sometimes educators forget why they started. And I think sharing an example of one of those success stories can help rekindle that fire. And I’m curious to know, in all year years teaching, if there are any success stories of students that come to mind that you might be willing to share. And it could be a very serious story of transformation, and if it is, you can change their name for privacy reasons. But I’m hoping you’ll, you’ll, you’ll be willing to maybe share one or two that that come to mind.

Eric Keunne (24:57):

Well, you know what? There’s so many success stories that I, you know, I could actually share with you. And I, I’m not just sure where to start, but I, I would love to, if you are okay, to probably read this letter that I received from one of my students. And she actually graduated I believe a few years ago no. Last year from Iru High School. Yes. And I, I, when she was about to graduate she actually sent me a very, very lovely letter, which to me kind of sum up the, the role and and, and I think the, the, not only the, the influence that we have on our students every single day, and, and for me it was at the same time also an appeal, right? Mm. And an invitation to even do better every single day. Because to me, when you have a student writing, you emailing you to share with you all these details and be able to tell you how transformative you’ve been in their lives, I think it’s just amazing as a staff, right? So for me, this is something that I want to share. Okay. Please, are

Sam Demma (26:15):

You ready for it, please? Yeah, I am. I’m patiently waiting. Ready? Excited. <Laugh>.

Eric Keunne (26:19):

Okay, so I, I’m, I’m really exactly what is, I’m not changing anything. Comment on this. Okay. Okay. And this student would, when, if she listens to me, shell recognize herself. S so the title of the email is La De So the End of Secondary School, High School S let me translate that because this is my bilingual mindset, Okay? It’s been long since the last emailed you, but now, you know, in the good of I, this is already end of, end of the school year, and she goes now in English. Okay? I would normally insist on sending you a French email, but since these words are so hard to say, I thought English might be better, they always say, High school goes by so quickly. And I didn’t believe it until now. Nothing could have prepared me for the memories I would make at ioi.

Eric Keunne (27:22):

But memories are only as good as the people who contain them. Mr. Kearney, you have taught me for more than three years. Oh, you have taught me in three years. Sorry, let me repeat that. That’s okay. You have taught me more in three years that I would’ve learned from anyone else. You brought a smile on my face on my worst days. Mm. And made me laugh at times. I didn’t expect. Without a doubt, you have been one of the most important role models in my life, and that is something I will never forget. Learning French for 12 years was a trial, but learning French with you was a joy. Selfishly, I wish you would have stayed at ioi, but even though you are not here physically, your memory leave in the praise of my peers. And I now, I have reached the end of high school, and I’m sad to live behind all the wonderful people who built me up these last four years.

Eric Keunne (28:27):

Mr. Kaney, without you, I don’t think I would be more, I will be where I am In another circumstance, I would’ve been pleased to see you watch me graduate. Although that isn’t an option. I will carry you in my heart today as I received my diploma. Thank you for everything you’ve done for me, All the lesson you have taught me, and all the lifelong memories I will carry onto university. Being your student was a privilege and owner, and I will be grateful for the rest of my life. Please send my best to your family. Don’t your friend forever. And I’m not reading this just because I want to sing my own praises. Okay? I’m, I’m sharing this because when I read this email, some, you know, I shared some tears. Mm. Because this is a student I taught for two years, and I left to take another role, but yet we kept in contact.

Eric Keunne (29:22):

So many of them, actually, this is just one of them, okay? And, and up to now, she’s at, in, she’s going to her second years at the university. And she recently emailed me just to ask for advice and to share with me where she’s up to many. This is really what I call the reward for teachers. This is how impactful we are. It’s shaping the lives of main students in this country, and of course, in the world. So to me, when I actually reach something like this, it gives me the motivation to go out there every single day. And of course, and to double my efforts to ensure that, you know, 2, 3, 4 years from now, we have people who be doing the same thing no matter what direction they decide to pick in life, whether they’re in finance, whether they actually become lawyers, whether they become anything. The most important is to plant the seed for all these students. You understand that all together, we’re walking towards the better tomorrow, right? This is the essence of this message. Mm.

Sam Demma (30:24):

What a beautiful letter. It’s so cool to see the seed planted, harvest, and see the impact, but I’m sure there’s also been situations where you’ve given your best foot forward, your best effort, and maybe you haven’t heard from a student until 10 years later or 15 years later. And maybe you wonder for a while, did I make a difference in that young person’s life? And even if they don’t, you know, send you a letter like that I think the impact is felt, you know, it’s a blessing to receive it, but sometimes they’re a little shy and they don’t share. Right?

Eric Keunne (30:57):

I agree with you. And that’s totally okay. Right. Because every single person is different, right?

Eric Keunne (31:02):

Yeah. So for me, the most supporting as an educator is to ensure that I do my job, you know, with all my passion and energy, and ensuring that the students in my classroom are safe, That the student in my classroom are able to recognize themselves in the curriculum that I’m using, that the student in my classroom are able to actually identify themself in the material that I’m using. It’s so important that way we are actually helping our students to feel included, but also to feel valued Yes. As individuals. So for me, it’s important to to point that out. Absolutely. Because as you know we’ve had so many instances in our schools where, you know, kids go through so many challenges. And I think our role as educators is also to be able to identify those students who are lacking behind, who are experiencing difficulties, who are actually feeling rejected for one reason or the other. Yeah. And being able to bridge the gap. Right. And I think the Covid 19 pandemic has created also more gaps, right? For, for these students. And it’s important that as educators we’re able to recognize that and identify the resources that are going to help them, that are going to really help to protect and uphold the right and dignity of all the students and families that we actually work with every single day.

Sam Demma (32:34):

I was gonna ask you what you believe some of the challenges are, but you just had some light on them, them. What do you believe are also some of the opportunities? I think as a result of covid 19, we’re spending more time focused on some of these things, whereas in the past, maybe we brush them by without giving them the time, attention, and energy they deserved.

Eric Keunne (32:54):

And I think one thing that I absolutely want to share is that, you know, as educators and, and teachers, it’s, it’s our responsibility. Yeah. Truly. and it, I think it’s really an imperative that, you know, we acknowledge and we embrace our responsibility to, to build, to buildable and inclusive classrooms and school communities. That is so crucial, right? So to me, I, one of the things that I always try to bring forward in, in my mind, and that’s one of my belief, is that, you know, as educators, we, we need to build a community in which every single learner, all the children can succeed. All the children can achieve success. And, and for me, I begin that through my, my enion lens, right? Which really seeks to engage and challenge my colleagues to recognize and disrupt the inequities that have actually impacted historical marginalized students in our, in our society and our schools. And we, we, we, that’s the reason I was talking about the curriculum a while ago. We must think about the curriculum as an instrument tool of learn a learning material through which we can actually infuse some inclusive perspective, Right? This way we can always make sure that the student voices are put forward, right. Especially for those who have been historically marginalized. So it’s important that as educators, we build that solid community in which every single learner can drive and succeed.

Sam Demma (34:29):

Mm. I love it. If you were to somehow snap your fingers and travel back in time to the first year you taught in the classroom, but with the experience and the knowledge that you carry now, what would you have told you younger self in the form of advice when you were just starting? And not that you would share something in the hope that you would change, the path you take, you took, but something that you thought maybe would’ve been helpful to hear when you were just getting into this vocation of teaching?

Eric Keunne (35:02):

I, I would certainly tell myself one single thing. Use the classroom opportunity to help the student understand their past and help them to shape the future. Because when I grew up, Sam, as a, as a student in Cameroon, I didn’t learn about the, the history of my own country in classroom. Oh, wow. It’s when I grew up that I learn about the history of colonization in Cameroon that is not taught in classrooms. So for me as a French language teacher, Cameroon, I would’ve loved to start talking about that within the, the classroom context and bringing that into perspective when I’m church, selecting my material. So it’s the same thing that, you know, I try to do today. Helping the students to understand the history of our country, Canada, the impact that, you know, there, residential schools I’ve actually had on you know, our population, our indigenous population, and how together we can actually work, right?

Eric Keunne (36:05):

To ensure that nothing like that ever happens again. Mm. Because if we fail to talk about what happens in the past, our kids will never understand, and it will be so difficult. And 20 years down the road, we will still be here experiencing the same challenges. I’m not saying that we should always dwell in the past and talk about everything in the that, but again, talking the perspective of bringing change, making some significant change for, for the current generation and for the future generation. So for me as a teacher, when I started back in 2005 in Camero, it would’ve been very interesting for me to bring that perspectives in the context of teaching a language like French, because I was so focused on grammar, like grammar and LA zone, because that was the curriculum. Of course. Yeah. But now having that critical lens, I think it’s important that every single language teacher, every single teacher is able to bring forward in all the current reality that we’re experiencing. Actually looking into what happens a few years ago and shipping the path for a better tomorrow for every single student.

Sam Demma (37:15):

I feel so energized. I have so much energy just hearing and, and listening to you speak. I know for a fact that the educators listening feel the same way. If one of them wants to reach out to you, share an idea, ask a question, collaborate on something, what would be the best way for an educator tuning in to reach out and connect?

Eric Keunne (37:36):

I think, the best way to reach, I will be through my Twitter @erickeunne Eric, as you already know, but also they, they can actually email me. My, my school board email is keunne@hdsb.ca, so that you can share with whoever wants to collaborate, because it’s, I believe in the power of collaboration. As educators, we can always come together to do some critical thinking on how, around how we can make things better for every single studen in our classes. And also, I believe in sharing, sharing experiences is what really help us to move forward as a community of learners. Sharing and sharing best practices, sharing some of the resources is what helps us to really bring the world into our classrooms because I usually tell my students one thing, which very crucial in, in a classroom, in the language classrooms particularly, it’s important that we bring the world to our kids.

Eric Keunne (38:37):

Mm-Hmm. <Affirmative> because if our students don’t have the opportunity to travel, just like I did back in, in a few years ago, as a language teachers, through the resources that we are using, we can actually help the students to travel, to travel without taking a flight. Yeah. To camon. We can bring in novels from Kaon, we can bring in novels from every single country around the world and be able to discuss that in a unique way. And that will help the student have a broader perspective around the world. And of course, provide them with the tools to be able to navigate after high school and traveling around the world to become that global citizen ambassador that we want our students to become.

Sam Demma (39:21):

You. I was about to end and then you sparked my interest in another area. So I’m gonna ask you one final question before we wrap up. You mentioned the importance of bringing the world into the classroom in the form of resources. And I’m curious to know, are there anything, are there any resources that you personally have brought into the classroom or your classroom spaces that you felt have helped bring the world into your classroom or help students see themselves in the curriculum? Are there any things that come to mind or things that you’ve used in the past that you think other educators might benefit from looking into?

Eric Keunne (39:55):

Absolutely. in terms of language teaching, you can always bring so many resources in your classroom. So what I’ve done in the past when I started teaching in Ontario is really to broaden the horizon by actually selecting and identify different resources from different countries around Lahan, Kaho around French countries in the world, right? And helping the kids to understand how language and culture are so intertwined, are so related, right? And helping them to understand, of course, the vq the experience vq of this, of people population in these different countries. One of the things that I’ve also done, I’m so connected to, I, I love communication by the way, and, and I always try to bring into my classes the opportunity for students to learn through news report from different countries over the world. So I, I bring the news reports so that we can listen to the news and talk about and be able to learn about experiences that are happening around, and of course in French, because we have so many varieties of French, so beautiful varieties of French that needs to be put forward when it comes to teaching and learning French, a language like French.

Eric Keunne (41:07):

Also, I had a few years ago the opportunity to take the students from my French club, a French club that I started at the college high school. So one of the French community radios in Toronto, Shock fm, where we had a debate. And it was a unique opportunity for my students to be able to do the learning outside of the classroom in a different setting, in a different context in the media, right? And I think that’s something that we failed to always think about. It’s learning is not just within the classroom context. The resources could be outside the classroom. And one, most importantly it’s also thinking about some resource people that you can always invite into your classrooms to talk about things that are crucial key to the students development. So thinking about who you can bring in your classroom or where you can take your students to so that they can learn from. It’s so important. So beyond the textbook, beyond the material that if you be using, it’s important that you brought in the horizon for the students so that they can actually, at the end of the day, have a rich experience. And I promise you, if you do that, every single student will be so pleased to come to school every single day and be able to be in your classroom and be so engaged. And that’s the essence of our job, right?

Sam Demma (42:23):

It’s so clear you’re doing work that you are meant to be doing every, Thank you so much for taking the time to come on the podcast. It means the world to me, and I know everyone tuning in is gonna feel energized and motivated after listening to our conversation. I can’t wait to continue to witness the things that you do and the impact you have. Keep doing the amazing work. And I, I look forward to staying in touch

Eric Keunne (42:50):

That I just wanted to take the opportunity to thank you in French. Cuz like I said it’s my first language, official first language. Don wish you all the best as well, and I’m looking forward to to listening to more podcasts from you.

Sam Demma (43:07):

Awesome. Thank you so much. Talk soon.

Eric Keunne (43:10):

My pleasure.

Sam Demma (43:11):

Hey, it’s Sam again. I hope you enjoyed that amazing conversation on the High Performing Educator podcast. If you or someone you know, deserves some extra recognition and appreciation for the work they do in education, please consider applying or nominating them for the high performing educator awards. Go to www.highperformingeducator.com/award. You can also find a link in the show notes. I’m super excited to spotlight and feature 20 people in 2022, and I’m hoping you or someone, you know, can be one of those educators. I’ll talk to you on the next episode. All the best.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Jesse Macdonald

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.

Lorne “ABE” Abramson – Provincial Advisor for the Nova Scotia Secondary Students Association and Historian

Lorne “ABE” Abramson - Provincial Advisor for the Nova Scotia Secondary Students Association and and Historian
About Lorne “ABE” Abramson

Lorne has been a lifelong advocate for youth with diabetes as well as youth empowerment. He has been very successful at developing and supporting many programs in these areas. Since the eighties, he has volunteered his team supporting dozens of youth programs, camps and positive character-building experiences for students. 

He has won numerous awards, including the Dalhousie University Coaching Award, for 20 years of service in coaching Nova Scotia youth and the Frederick Banting Award, from the Canadian Diabetes Association, for significant contributions to the mission of the Association in the areas of education and service.

Connect with Lorne: Email | Linkedin

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Nova Scotia Secondary Students Association

Dalhousie University

Canadian Diabetes Association

Mount Saint Vincent University

Diabetes Education and Camping Association

Before the Parade by Rebecca Rose

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 (00:58):

Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest is Lorne Abramson. Lauren has been a lifelong advocate for youth with diabetes, as well as youth empowerment. He has been very successful at developing and supporting many programs in these areas. Since the eighties, he has volunteered his time supporting dozens of youth programs, camps, and positive character building experiences for students. He has won numerous awards, including the Dalhousie University coaching award for 20 years of service in coaching Nova Scotia youth, and the Frederick Banting award from the Canadian Diabetes Association for significant contribution to the mission of the association in the areas of education and service. Lauren has so much expertise in the area of youth empowerment and so much energy and wisdom to share, so I hope you enjoy this conversation and I will see you on the other side. Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host, Sam Demma. Today we have a very special guest. I met this guest in Nova Scotia at a conference and I’m so glad that we crossed paths. Some people know him as Lorne. Most people know him as Abe. Some people know him as Coach Abe. Abe, I would love for you to introduce yourself and let everyone listening know who you are.

Lorne Abramson (02:22):

Sure. Thanks Sam. Yeah, I’m, I’m my claim to fame was probably as a you know, as a person who started getting into teaching. So I was a math, a math teacher, how I became that is a, an extremely long story <laugh> which I will probably not get into, unless you ask me the appropriate questions. <Laugh> but I ended up becoming a math teacher, which my high school math teacher from Montreal who I, who I loved dearly. He was the one that said to me when I graduated, he said to me, you know, Lauren, he said, “everybody in those days called you by your last name.” You know, you know, I, I think you should consider becoming a math teacher. And I, and I I’ve made the stupidest comment I have ever made in my entire life.

Lorne Abramson (03:26):

And that was, who would wanna be a math teacher? <Laugh> that was like, it was one of those, this is to the guy that I had total respect for. And what I meant was in those days, math teachers, like teachers in general got no pay. It was like, it was crappy, you know, and and I wanted to be a dentist anyway, <laugh> so, so anyway to say the least over a period of years, I changed careers a couple of times and and then became a math teacher and eventually a math department head. And I always felt like I don’t know. I, I always felt that I needed to be more involved with community. And, and so for me the, the extracurricular stuff became almost more, this got kind of weird, but, but almost more important in some ways because I was a very accomplished math person.

Lorne Abramson (04:35):

So it was I went to McGill and did my joint honors in math and chemistry. And that was not a, that was not an issue. So I never had to work hard at, at the math part, but I really wanted to work hard at getting to know kids really well. And, and so I got involved in coaching volleyball, which I knew nothing about, except for the fact there were six on the side that was the limit of it. And and that became a big part of my life. And you know, and then I got involved in theater and, you know, and we did a lot of musicals and, you know, anyway, I it’s it’s and eventually in 1991, I got involved with the starting of the intro Lasse, which which, where, where we met the, you know not in 1991, but <laugh> sorry, Sam, but

Sam Demma (05:43):

I have to ask you though, because when people think about extracurriculars student leadership, typically I’ve heard people talk about the antithesis of it being math and science, and like these super academic courses that happen in schools. And usually those individuals are the ones who want their kids in their classroom, not going to conferences and not getting involved. So like, how the heck did you like have these two seemingly opposite things be so intertwined in your experience? Like what changed you or were you always of that mindset and you just also loved math?

Lorne Abramson (06:25):

The heck, it’s a good question. So I right from the get go I became the student council advisor at the, at Ellsley I at the J Oley high school was the school I taught in. And it’s obviously it’s a school in Halifax and it’s, it had this kind of funny deserved rep reputation of being a, kind of in a tough area. But in actual fact it was ridiculous. It didn’t make sense at all. That being said being the student council advisor I got to meet people like Andy Tido, who you might know and and St. Saunders and Tyler Hayden. And look, there were, there were so many people because of my connection as student council advisor eventually in 1992, mark Fraser who was he? He had been the student council president at Halifax west high school and Andrew Demond, who was the student council president at Parkview education center in, in Bridgewater, in Nova Scotia.

Lorne Abramson (07:53):

They met at a a CSLC or Canadian student leadership conference. They met at that, and they met also at the same time at that a whole bunch of kids from remember, this is 90, 91, I think was when it happened. But, but they met a whole bunch of kids from Ontario who were part and parcel of the O essay. So the Ontario secondary school students association, and and I heard the two of them said we could do this <laugh> it was kinda like, that was kinda like that. And I, I, I had the guy who was my who was the student council, president of Illsley was a guy who now is one of my neighbors. Oh, wow. Is Paul and Paul. He was just a great guy. And Paul said to me, I got this letter from this guy, Andy Kibito and a couple other people.

Lorne Abramson (09:03):

And he said they were there. Apparently they’re having some event at I think it was, it was being held at St. Pat’s high school, which, which now is underground somewhere <laugh> wow. It doesn’t exist anymore. And he said would you, would you be willing to come as our advisor? And I said, well, I am your advisor. What the hell matter with you? And he was really, he, it was kind of like, I think he, he really wasn’t quite sure what anybody’s role was gonna be. We had no idea. This was like, this is so new that nobody really knew. Yeah. And so we went to the conference and I can’t remember, there was probably about, I don’t know, 60 or 70 people at the conference. Nice. It was over a weekend. We held, we all slept on the stage of St.

Lorne Abramson (09:55):

Pat’s <laugh> being a camper that didn’t bother me. Yeah. You know, but and Paul, Paul was the one that, you know, he was the one that got me involved in the first place. And then I don’t know. And then it kind of just, I don’t, it kind of just took over, you know, and, and eventually, I think the next year I became the, the advisor for the Metro region, how that happened. I, I honestly got, I wish I could remember all that, but I think, I, I’m not sure that’s okay. How that exactly happened. But I know that I knew a lot of the people in, in the other schools in Metro.

Sam Demma (10:41):

Gotcha.

Lorne Abramson (10:41):

You know, cause I, I knew a lot of teachers, you know, and so on. And the guy who was the provincial advisor was a guy named cam Morrison. And he was also from Halifax west of course. And he was quite close with mark Fraser. And so at time we, and hi, his wife and my wife worked in nursing together. Ah, and, and so anyway, we, we knew each other outside of school as well. And I think, I think that what happened was he ended up staying as provincial advisor for, I think, I can’t remember it was two or three years. Then another guy took over from SAC high and, and then in 1990 I took over as provincial advisor and right till this year, so. Wow. Yeah.

Sam Demma (11:41):

Oh, that’s awesome. You mentioned earlier that like one of the things you think are so important in connection with student activities and extracurricular activities is building strong relationships with the students, the kids. How do you build a strong relationship with young people in your experience?

Lorne Abramson (12:01):

Well, I think first of all, it’s a matter of building trust. Mm-Hmm <affirmative> with all the nasty stuff that you hear about things that are going on in schools drives me nuts. I, I just can’t that part of it is just see, seems like, I don’t know, I never had, let me put it this way. I never had that, that issue. Whether it was personality or what part of it had to do with the fact that I think was that you know, I had a family my, we had, we had two daughters. My wife was always understanding about why I was going away that weekend <laugh> and and then I, I don’t know. I, I, I remember a couple, I, I eventually ended up being a Canada games coach for, for guys.

Sam Demma (13:00):

What haven’t you done?

Lorne Abramson (13:04):

I always say in the, I, you, if you live long enough, you’ll do a lot of stuff. Yeah. You know, like when, if you didn’t, if, if that didn’t happen to you, what’s wrong with you <laugh>

Lorne Abramson (13:22):

No, I, I, I, I get the question. I I’m gonna say trust was a big thing building that it takes, that takes a lot of, a lot of, I don’t know, desire to, to build that. I had, you know, the alumni of the organization played a big role in that cuz you know, people like, like Tyler Hayden and I used to have this, this very funny competition. And it was just that the competition was how many conferences have you been to? You know, and I, and at some point we were tied, you know, cause he used to come to, he used to come to everything and and he would speak at a lot, a lot of stuff. And I don’t know. And then one day he, I knew he was going away. I think it was one of the provincial conferences and I knew that this is gonna be it.

Lorne Abramson (14:31):

I got him, he was gonna be able to be there. And and so I, I made sure that I called him from wherever hell I was. And I said, okay here’s the deal. So now, now that you’ve been defeated, <laugh> this is it Tyler. And he said, okay. I COE. So ever, ever since then it was kind of, I just built more and more anyway, he, and he would not go to a lot of the regional conferences, but I don’t know. I think, I think people like him and people like, like Andy and, and Stu and, and Phil what was Phil’s last name? He was from Winnipeg. Oh God, he was, he’s also a keynote speaker.

Sam Demma (15:28):

Is it Phil Boyd?

Lorne Abramson (15:30):

Phil Boyd. Yeah. Yeah. And and I, I, you know, there were a lot of people like that that were around Mark Sharon Brock who I haven’t seen forever, like a long time. But there were people that were, there were people in the plus a who became keynote speakers like Paul, Paul Devo and Jeff Bri, they spoke together and we became very, the two of them, we were, we were still very close. Nice. They, they both got married. We went to the weddings, we went to it’s like, yeah. And, and I really like Paul’s wife Mor I like him <laugh> and if he sees this too bad, Paul okay. <Laugh> but I think he likes my wife more. He likes me anyway. I think a lot of it, you know, again, aside from just the trust issue, there’s a lot of testing that goes on, you know, like you can’t like, you know, you can’t develop the trust without some risk associated with that.

Lorne Abramson (16:53):

I think, I think once people who are involved in anything see other people that have faith in their relationship with you, that can’t help, but build, you know, for them, you know a good relationship. So I, I, it’s probably not a very good way of putting it, but you know, over the years, geez. I, I mean, I, all I can say is that it got easier and easier. Let me put it that way. There was expectations that I would always be there. That’s another thing, you know, that you’re, you make yourself available and accessibility

Sam Demma (17:46):

Being accessible to the

Lorne Abramson (17:48):

Students and yeah, so that, that’s, that’s a big deal. And I, I knew that, well, that, that, that was, that was a big deal in good times and bad times. And, and you, and there, there’s always gonna be both, you know, that happen, you know, in a, in an organization like this. And I, I, you know, I don’t know. So for, from that point of view, it got, like I said, it got easier and easier. I, I can’t say it any easier than that, but yeah. But the fact of the matter is, is that you know, there was, there was always someone in the organization or some buddies who who come outta the blue and, and will represent the people that you think that you wanna deal with. You know, like, and I, I don’t mean that to become your, your chosen ones, but, but it look, you can’t help.

Lorne Abramson (19:00):

Sometimes you can’t help that, you know? And so I, I, I guess that’s happened sometimes you, sometimes you think, how the hell did I ever get to know this person? Like, I don’t even know why, and, you know, and, and I, and, and you want, you wanna spend time with them somehow to change in some ways, this is probably totally off the wall, but change the way that they operate. Mm. And you re you realize that something about that is, is you, you, you see something in them. Mm. That, and it’s not just being a teacher all over again, but it’s, it, it has some part in that that you realize that you’re, you’re see an opportunity. Like, I’ll give you example of number of years ago, there was a guy who got elected president. He made a terrible mistake.

Lorne Abramson (20:15):

And that is he, he he just jumped into a situation where he, where, where it was just a bad choice. And I, I was sort of stuck with trying to figure out, well, how, you know, how do I, and I, I, you know, what, what do we do about this? And cuz he really, what he really needed to do is resign. And I didn’t know. That was the first time that happened. I think if I remember right. And I, and I wasn’t quite sure what to do about that. And it wasn’t like I have control over that. I’ve never had control of the organization. But I wanted something else to happen and nothing happened with that guy until years and years later. And he, he went off and became a teacher in Korea. Wow. And and he ended up marrying a Korean girl and they have a wonderful family and I met him.

Lorne Abramson (21:25):

I think they were, they were living in, I think they’s probably gonna know this, but they were living in in Vancouver. I think if I remember right. They moved back to Canada anyway. And I had a conversation with him and he said, and he said to me, I don’t know what was going on in my head in those days. And I thought to myself, oh my God, you know, like, this is, this is a good thing to say to me, it was good. Like it was like, and I, and I remember thinking he’s a really nice guy, you know, that’s like, it was kind like, like all of a sudden there was this, this change of, of, you know, of looking at him and thinking, oh no, he’s not just some jerk. You know, that that’s, that made, that just happened to make a mistake, but it’s also, he actually is a really nice person.

Lorne Abramson (22:22):

And, and somehow this all came out now, you know, like, and it took, it probably took his family in, in being a, being a parent. And, you know, I dunno, like, it just seemed like that was it. So, yeah, I know. I sometimes you’ll, you’ll, you’ll meet people like that. Who’s a girl Rebecca Rose, who was on the conference committee, she, I don’t think she ever became her and I were very close and she she came out of the closet at some point and she wrote a a book last year and the book is called oh shit. Was it before the parade? Hmm. I can’t, I’ve never remember it’s before the parade or after the parade. Anyway, it was a book about the gay community or the development of the gay community in Halifax in. And I went to her book launch. Oh my God. It was lovely. It was just like, it was like one of those. And I, and I was always close with her. She’s just, she’s just dynamite, you know? And, and like I, and her and I, and she ended up speaking, oh, well you, well, you met,

Sam Demma (23:45):

Yeah. I know her, listen to speech. I attended her. It was awesome.

Lorne Abramson (23:51):

Yeah. And she, there’s a person that got badly treated by a couple of people within the inter plus a, I think it was probably had something to do with the time of what was going on in, in, in the area that, you know, there were people that didn’t didn’t have a how to describe it. I was, it was from a, from a, a sociological point of view, you know, the relationship with the gay community was crappy. You know, it was just shitty, you know, and yet she had a lot of friends and, and she’s, Ugh, I love that girl. Yeah. She’s just, she’s fantastic. So when we met at her book launch, I hadn’t seen her for quite a while. <Laugh> and it was really funny. She’s like, like was really, you can imagine this, okay, she’s up there talking about her book, I’m sitting in the audience, which was packed at the Halifax library. And and she looks up and sees me standing like in the back, you know, I’m standing there and she stops what she was doing in the middle of all this. And she waves, hi, you know, like that. Right. It was like in the middle of, so everybody’s now turning around, you know, <laugh>,

Sam Demma (25:28):

Who’s a <laugh>

Lorne Abramson (25:31):

And every was turning around, you know, you know, and I, I threw a kiss, you know, and, and she went, she was great. So it was really funny. So afterwards, we went out for coffee and I mean, she’s, you know, again, she’s just one of those, she’s a, she’s a survivor in some ways. Yeah. I, I think, but also a survivor with a great attitude, you know, as you could tell that so it sounds like I know, I, I feel, I always feel very fortunate, maybe the smart and parcel of this. I always feel very fortunate to have met a lot of the people that I have met through the interse and, and in other, other things that I’ve done I mean, I’ve always been able to stay, I dunno, fairly close with, with people that I was close with and, you know, and just because they graduate and wherever go on, you know? Yeah. It’s, it’s like, it’s like Paul, Gule my, my neighbor, you know, <laugh> yeah. I, now I wave him when he walks by with his dog, you know? <Laugh> yeah. Anyway.

Sam Demma (26:42):

Okay. Yeah. Sounds like trust is a big one accessibility, and then just the general desire of wanting to make a change in other people’s lives. Like it, it sounds like that those are some of the, the big ones. When, when did you start getting involved in camps and on camps and being around camps and involved in camps have been a big part of your, your life as well?

Lorne Abramson (27:04):

Yeah. my camp story is it started in, in Montreal.

Sam Demma (27:13):

Okay.

Lorne Abramson (27:15):

And I was 16 and I had, somehow I had I had my nationals in swimming and I had my my instructors for canoeing.

Sam Demma (27:30):

Okay.

Lorne Abramson (27:30):

And, and I had never gone to camp. It was like, my parents could never afford to send me to camp who was expensive. And so a friend of mine said to me, you know, we were all looking for jobs, you know, I was 16 years old, you know, like, and and I, and this friend of mine says to me, you know, you got swimming and you got canoeing. Why don’t you go to camp? You know, like, and I said, camp, <laugh> like, don’t, they pay nothing at camp. And he said, no. He said, for people that have those, those specialties, you get well paid, you know, you’re okay. So I applied to camp Milwaukee, which was in Northern Quebec and it was a, a tripping camp if you know what that is. And it’s a camp that, that has kids that go and they go out on, on canoe trips.

Lorne Abramson (28:29):

Oh, cool. Yep. They’re there, they’re there for eight weeks. Wow. It’s not just a one week camp. And and so I, I went there and I had a great time and I had five to eight year olds <laugh> you can imagine, wow. I never, in a million years ever dreamed that I’d be working with teenagers. I mean, who the hell would wanna do that? You know, <laugh> and so I, I ended up going there and then the next year I got an offer from a local camp, which was called camp nominating and in a similar job, bigger camp. And I went there and I had a great time. And and then I, the next year I got offered a big job at pine valley camp, which was in the IANS. And I was at pine valley camp.

Lorne Abramson (29:26):

I worked my way up and eventually became the director. Ah, and and I was there for a long time. And then, and eventually I ended up, you know, moving to Nova Scotia, met my wife, and she was a nurse at, at camp. And and I and so I ended up moving to Nova Scotia. And like I said, you know, when I got involved in, in camp camp always played a role for me because I, when I eventually, when I got, got involved I started getting involved with volleyball and, and volleyball became a big deal. And as, as my own skills, as a coach got bigger, got better. There was a volleyball Nova Scotia camp, oh, that had started. And and, and my lady who was the, there were two, two women aside from my wife, but two women in my life that, that were both volleyball coaches.

Lorne Abramson (30:35):

One was Lois McGregor from hou. And she, she’s a very accomplished coach. And and, and Eva Justins who became the technical director for volleyball, Nova Scotia. Ah, and they, they took me little Abe. They took me under their wing and they, they just treated me like their kid, brother. It was just great. And they, they took me to everything. I was like, their, their here, here, go, go get Lauren. He’ll be fine. <Laugh>. And so I ended up with the two of them. We ended up running the volleyball Nova Scotia camps. Wow. For, for, for volleyball. And and then I don’t know, I, you know, as I, and then, then what happened was like, like I said, my wife and I got married and we had our daughter LA was born in 1989. And we had an older daughter is three years young, three years older than that.

Lorne Abramson (31:45):

But Lara was born in 89 and she, when she turned six in 1985, I had been doing all these camps all this time. And she ended up developing type one diabetes. So her doctor just happened at her doctor came to me and said, I heard that you this is the part that’s, that’s kind of a little weird, but he said, I heard you’ve been involved with camp. And I said, how do you know that? And I said, he said, turns out that Lois who I mentioned was one of his patients, <laugh> you, you, she must have said something about me in camp, you know, but that’s the only thing I can think of. Yeah. and so he ended up saying, look, are you you might be interested in getting involved in the diabetes camp. Cause he’s the one that started the camps.

Lorne Abramson (32:40):

Oh, wow. Back in 1961. And so I said, yeah, I might be, but I’m going away with my family to a, a one year program with to teach in, in England with the Commonwealth teachers Federation. And so I’ll be away for a year. And I said, I remember saying him said, do you think we should go, like, we’ll spend our first year with diabetes with, you know, at some, some place in another country. And he said, well, if you don’t go, I’ll take her, you know, <laugh> so, and he, he became very, he and I became very close. Ah, and that when I got back cuz I did, I did a couple of camps in, in England, like volleyball camps. And and then when I got back, he called and said, so cap starts tomorrow.

Lorne Abramson (33:40):

Want to come? You know, <laugh> I said, OK, what would you like me to do? And he said, I want you to, he said, I’ve been doing these caps for a lot forever. And I want you to take a look with your experience, want you to let me know whether you think that something needs to be changed. Mm. Which was a gutsy gutsy thing for someone who was initiator. Yeah. You know, to actually say, yeah, if you think about that. Yeah. And that, that was a big deal for me. Cause I, I thought what a, what a gutsy guy, you know, like, like, and I thought, and I knew him, I didn’t know him that well, you know? Anyway he and I became very close and and of course he was Lara’s doctor and you know, and so on and everybody loved this guy.

Lorne Abramson (34:30):

He was the quintessential camp doctor. He was it, you know? And so that’s got me started in the diabetes camps, which and then eventually when we, when we came back from England Laura had gotten involved in, in writing, in equestrian writing. Wow. So she went, so we got her involved with the Halifax junior Bengal answers and I got, I ended up, God knows how you end up with the Sam. You know, I ended up on the board of directors for the, you know, junior Bengal answers, like knowing absolutely zero, except for the fact that I’d go and watch my daughter ride, you know, that was yeah. And and myself and the writing instructor ended up starting a, an equestrian camp wow. For kids. And mostly it was for the horses, which was <laugh>, which I never, whichever I think back on it that holy crap, what did we do anyway, I did that for a couple of years and also did the diabetes camps. And I don’t know. And then I, I just kept going. And as you know, when we talked, I I’ve been doing it ever since. So I’ve doing the diabetes camps now. I think it’s been 35 years. Wow.

Lorne Abramson (35:53):

All over the world. It’s been, it’s been a, really, a really nice ride. Nice. Like it’s not over, but I had a great time two weeks ago being at the the camp at Kera national park. Nice. And you know, being the head chef

Sam Demma (36:14):

Nice.

Lorne Abramson (36:15):

Which is another thing, you know, I can do with you know, and I, like I said, you know, when inter plus a kids ask me, so, okay. How do you know all these people <laugh> and I, and I said, as I said to you earlier, I said, well, you

Sam Demma (36:32):

Live long enough.

Lorne Abramson (36:33):

Yeah. Live long enough or something might be wrong with you. Yeah. <laugh>. So

Sam Demma (36:41):

If you could, if you could, you know, take the experience and the, the wisdom that you have now, based on all the different experiences you’ve been through over so many years, and you could travel back in time and tap Abe on the shoulder when he was starting his first year of teaching. And first year of being a student, you know, council advisor, knowing what, you know, now, what advice would you, would you give your younger self

Lorne Abramson (37:09):

Just follow your dreams and just I can’t, I can’t say that anything that happened over the years had negative impact, but I just, I don’t, I mean, I, I don’t mean that everything was fantastic, you know? Yeah. But I don’t know, you know, like, like, I, I, I’ve always, like, you know, when I got involved in the diabetes camps, I loved the fact that my daughter who was seven years old at the time that she developed, I don’t know what would happen if we, if she had not developed really good relationships with the, with her friends that went, that were at camp, all who had diabetes and those kids today are 43. Wow. And they’re really good friends. And like, they still are like, it’s mind boggling, you know, like when you think about it. So I feel from on a personal level, you know, I feel like that was a big achievement, you know?

Lorne Abramson (38:21):

And I, I, I, I don’t think, I don’t know. It’s not that I, I did anything extraordinary in that sense. I just feel like though that, that there was a lot there was a, a lot of the things just happened to fall into place. And, you know, and I, I, if I, if to answer your question I don’t know what, I, I don’t know what would’ve happened to me had I not left the whole dentistry dream. Mm. You know there was a, there were a couple of people that, you know, cause I always wanted to be a dentist. I wanted to be an orthodontist. I had a, a cousin of mine who was, who was a dentist and he and I were quite close. And so I, that, that was the reason it wasn’t nothing to do with being a dentist actually.

Lorne Abramson (39:24):

But I, I can’t, I, I if I think back on it, I, when I don’t know, when I made a decision, I was the end of my second year of dentistry at university of Montreal. And I, I think part of me, I loved, I loved being at university of Montreal. I I’m bilingual. And, and for me, I dunno, that was, that was a, a perfect place for me. So I guess when I, when I’m thinking about this, when I made the decision to leave dentistry, people around me were totally in a state of shock. They thought, are you outta your mind? Like, you know, you’re leaving behind the million dollar paycheck, you know, like, what are you crazy? And, and I, and that was everybody. That was my girlfriend, my parents, every everyone that I ever had any contact with, except for one guy, one single guy.

Lorne Abramson (40:42):

And that was the guy who was the, he was the chair of the dental faculty at university of Montreal. And I went to see him, had to go see him, you know, tell I wanted, I wanted to leave or a leave of absence, I guess. And I had, fortunately I had done very well in, in the academic side. So for me, it was, I, it’s still, it’s still a hard thing for me to talk about because I, I know that in today’s world, what I’ve learned from people from younger people is that it’s a different world now. People are changing their, their choices, like all the time. Like it’s like, I, I, I’m always amazed at that. And I, I, I, I’m proud of the fact that they could do that and not fault to pieces. Now I’m sure there are people fault to pieces, but, you know, but then again, you see it a lot, you know, and for me at, at that time, it was such a mind boggling you know, choice that, cause in those days, you know, you, you made a choice in career, you stuck and you, and you stuck with it, you know?

Lorne Abramson (42:21):

And that, that was it. So for me, I, but anyway, at that time, I, I remember thinking, what am I gonna do? And, and I went to see my Dr. Ju his name was and sat in.

Lorne Abramson (42:55):

Don’t do anything that you think that you possibly might not be happy with. And I remember thinking that, I think, well, geez, you know, nobody’s ever told me that before nobody ever said those words, you know? And so I, I said to him, so what, what, what choice he said to me, look, he said, I I’m gonna give you a leave of absence. That’s unlimited. He said, you’ve done. Well. He said, what I’ll do for you is this every five years, I’ll send you to stay in touch with me every five years. I’ll send you a little note saying that if you haven’t made a choice to come back yet, then that’s fine. <Laugh> so I like, this is, this is what went on. This went on Sam, this went on for 20 years. <Laugh> now just think about that. I was a teacher, I, I only became a teacher in 1972.

Lorne Abramson (44:00):

And you know, really, I had no goals of being a T teacher, you know, that was not in my life choice. But I did. And and that’s a whole other conversation, but, but it was, again, a decision that totally made sense, you know, in this, in the sense of what, what kinds of things I was involved in and also, you know, becoming in, in the extracurricular world, it was perfect, cuz I not only did it fit with my going to camp, but also, you know, it had all kinds of other re repercussions. Yeah. And so he and I, Dr. Bushier and I, he was my saving grace. He was at the, there was nobody and, and there’s never been anybody else that that, and from those days, I don’t even know any of the people that I, I, I totally, I, it’s funny cuz my, I think that that time my girlfriend got married and she lives in now.

Lorne Abramson (45:12):

She lives in Florida, I think somewhere. And she and I kind of, you know, we talk once in blue moon and but you know, when I think about it, I dunno, you know, he was it. Yeah. And so, and of course the, the choice for me, I remember about 10 years after I’d been a teacher <laugh> I went to visit my old math teacher from high school who at that point had become the human resources head of human resources for the Montreal Protestant school board. Okay. And so I, I went to see him and he, he, he immediately said, hi Abrams an hour. You know, I was like, you know, that, that gravelly voice. And and I said, look, you know, you were right. I, I went back, made the choice to be a teacher and I’m very happy.

Lorne Abramson (46:17):

So he was really funny. He, I don’t know whether I have this here. Oh, it’s downstairs. He, he turned around and in his shelf he had a bookshelf and his bookshelf, he pulls out this red algebra book. Okay. And he said, I’ve been wondering if you were ever gonna come back and get this book. And he pulls it out and he opens it up and it’s, you know, how they used to have that stamp in the books that you’d have your name and all that, and what grade you were in and all that. And he pulls this thing out and it’s my algebra book, like my algebra book from grade 11 and issues you and I’m thinking yeah, there was all kinds of things like that that happened in my life. That was one of them. I I dunno. I, I can’t, you know, it’s funny cuz part of me, I, those were kind of funny days, you know, where I was making all these choices and and but that being said, it seems to have worked out.

Lorne Abramson (47:41):

<Laugh> just, you know, and I, if I talk to like a lot of times the inter plus eight kids, a lot of them will, you know, will will again ask me about choices. And you know, I said, it doesn’t matter. You know, like you, you can make a choice that you think is not gonna work out for you, but you, you can’t tell, you know, you, you don’t know. I mean, geez, my, my choice of being a teacher was insane. I was working for the department of health and welfare in Halifax for federal government, for family allowance. <Laugh> like, I, cuz I had become, I had become a Stu a social worker. Yeah. Essentially. And and I, I ended up I walked into work one day and here’s this poster on the wall. This is so ridiculous. This post big poster. And it says, do you work for, you know the federal government, do you have an undergraduate degree?

Lorne Abramson (48:54):

Are you interested? And, and, and then tells me that if, if I decide I can, I could go into they’ll, they’ll give me a full scholarship, not gonna cost me anything the full scholarship to do a bachelor of education. And then and then you could become a teacher and, or you could you oh. And by the way, and you’d get, you’d continue to get your full salary <laugh> for the whole year. Right? Oh my gosh. Okay. So I’m thinking to myself, what idiot wouldn’t do this. <Laugh> like, I was just thinking why, why and what it was about was I, later on I realized that the people that, you know, the, the government at the time in Nova Scotia were having a really hard time getting qualified teachers and that they were, they were ending up with teachers who this is not, not really saying anything, but the, the, the fact of the matter is they had a lot of people coming from other countries like India, Pakistan, China the west Indies, you know, a lot who, who didn’t necessarily speak English that well mm.

Lorne Abramson (50:16):

That being said, but they were, they probably had really good math skills. Mm. And but they really needed was a challenge local. Yeah. Yeah. They needed people who were local. And so they were offering this program. <Laugh> God just like, I think, I thought, really this is a program. And so I jumped at it and, oh, and, and then the other thing was when you were finished the year and you became your cuz it was a one year program. When you finished the year, you had the option of not going to become a teacher, but you could just take over your, your old job again.

Sam Demma (50:55):

Oh, wow.

Lorne Abramson (50:56):

I mean, it was, it was, it was such a ridiculous choice that like I thought, like really who, who wouldn’t do this? Yeah. So so I ended up God so I ended up doing that. I went to Mount St. Vincent university in Halifax, which at that time had 10 guys and 1500 girls.

Sam Demma (51:19):

Wow. <laugh>

Lorne Abramson (51:20):

And all 10 of the guys, except for, I think one were all married, had just recently got married. So not, not a good choice, but anyway, at that time and so I had a lot of, of friends that were girls anyway. And a lot of them ended up also at the end of the year, they ended up teaching. Wow. Got jobs at jail mostly. And, you know, so we, we became, we stayed friends for a long, long time. So I, I, and that, that was beginning of my teaching career, you know, and go figure on the first day of, of school, the principal at the time, who was a bit of a jerk, but he, he he actually went thing he was good at was hiring staff. And he, he said first day we had a meeting and he said, okay here’s the things that are available for you to volunteer for <laugh>, you know, was like, you know, everybody in the school was expected to volunteer for something. Mm. And so CA volleyball came up cuz the two volleyball coaches had left the school and they went to teach in the valley somewhere. Okay. In Annapolis valley. And I thought about it. I thought, well, I don’t know anything about volleyball, what the hell? <Laugh> nice. That’s helpful. So that was one of the great choices I ever made. But you know,

Sam Demma (52:56):

I don’t know, it sounds like trusting in your choices is a, sounds like that would be like a piece of advice that you might not know what the end result looks like, but still act confidently now and things will unfold as time passes. It sounds like all of your stories, they often involve other people. So it’s, you know, it sounds like building deep relationships, not only with students, but also with your colleagues and just human beings in general. Sounds like it’s been a big piece of your journey. <Laugh> whether it’s, you know, the doctor of your daughter or, you know the President elect of an association in Scotland. So <laugh> yeah, it’s it’s really cool to kind of hear your stories and, and your pathways and what we could take away from it. If, if there’s a teacher or someone, even if it’s not a teacher listening to this and they wanna connect with you or ask you some questions, what would be the best way for them to get in touch or reach out?

Lorne Abramson (54:00):

Probably just the easiest thing in today’s world would either be by message or, or by email.

Sam Demma (54:06):

Sure.

Lorne Abramson (54:07):

Do you, you, can, you, you can, my email is labramson@eastlink.ca and I don’t mind, millions of people have that email anyway. And so it’s labramson@eastlink.ca. And either that, or if they just looked up the NSSSA or Diabetes Camps, all my information is on there. Okay. So, yeah.

Sam Demma (54:44):

Perfect. Awesome. Hey, thank you so much for taking the time to share some stories. It was really fun and exciting to chat with you, and I appreciate you, you making the time, especially during a very busy time in your own personal life.

Lorne Abramson (54:57):

Ah, well, I’ll come. You can come visit us in our apartment. <Laugh> yeah.

Sam Demma (55:02):

Sounds good. So that’s good.

Lorne Abramson (55:04):

Okay, Sam, thanks very much.

Sam Demma (55:07):

Hey, it’s Sam again. I hope you enjoyed that amazing conversation on the high performing educator podcast. If you or someone, you know, deserves some extra recognition and appreciation for the work they do in education, please consider applying or nominating them for the high performing educator awards, go to www.highperformingeducator.com/award. You can also find the link in the show notes. I’m super excited to spotlight and feature 20 people in 2022. And I’m hoping you or someone, you know, can be one of those educators. I’ll talk to you on the next episode, all the best.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Lorne Abramson

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.

Dan Wolfe – Assistant Principal at Sunray Elementary School in Pasco County, Florida

Dan Wolfe – Assistant Principal at at Sunray Elementary School in Pasco County, Florida
About Dan Wolfe

Dan Wolfe has served in Pasco County, Florida for more than 20 years. During this time, he has held roles as a teacher, instructional coach and administrator. He is currently an Assistant Principal at Sunray Elementary. He was selected as Pasco County’s District Teacher of the Year in 2011-2012 school year. He is a part of the district’s Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) Committee that recently established Pre-K through Grade 12 SEL standards.

For the past two years Dan has written a blog and recorded a podcast called Becoming The Change (formerly Our Moral Compass) which focuses on a different quote each day and how we can best apply it towards becoming the change through our own moral compass and the five areas in SEL. 

Connect with Dan: Email | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Sunray Elementary Elementary School

Pasco County Schools

Pasco County Schools Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) Committee

Becoming The Change Podcast

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):

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

Sam Demma (00:59):

This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest on the podcast is Dan Wolfe. Dan has served in Pasco County, Florida for more than 20 years. During this time, he has held roles as a teacher, instructional coach, and administrator. He is currently an assistant principal at Sunray elementary. He was selected as Pasco County’s district teacher of the year in the 2011/2012 school year. He is a part of the district’s Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) Committee that recently established Pre-K through Grade 12 SEL standards. For the past two years, Dan has written a blog and recorded a podcast called becoming the change, which focuses on a different quote each day, and how we can best apply it towards becoming the change through our own moral compass in the five areas in social/emotional learning. I hope you enjoy this conversation with Dan Wolfe and I will see you on the other side. Dan, welcome to the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here today. Please start by introducing yourself.

Dan Wolfe (02:00):

All right. Thank you so much for having me on Sam. I really appreciate it. My name is Dan Wolfe and I’m assistant principal at Sunray elementary in Pasco County, Florida. I just completed my 25th year in education where I have held multiple roles as a classroom teacher, instructional math coach, district math specialist, where I supported 18 title one schools kindergarten through 12th grade, and then also as an administrator. And my next step after assistant principal is hopefully to be a principal within the next year or so.

Sam Demma (02:32):

That’s awesome, man. When did you realize growing up that you wanted to work in education?

Dan Wolfe (02:38):

Well it started actually in high school, we actually, in my, in my high school, we had a child development course where three days a week we had pre-K students that would come visit and we got to teach lessons and things that we had planned out for learning how to do all that from, from our teachers and interact with the kids and work with them. And it just, it was just kind of like a bug that just kind of bit me and just that it was something I knew I wanted to do. And then in the summers I would go ahead and be a camp counselor, like a sports camp counselor and just enjoyed educating the kids, even in sports. And I said, this is, this is definitely my calling. So

Sam Demma (03:14):

That’s awesome. From, from the moments you realize it was your calling, what did the journey look like that brought you to where you are today?

Dan Wolfe (03:23):

Well, at the time it was kind of unclear. I, I, you know, I just took, you know, one step at a time. I mean, once I, I was blessed enough once I, I interned in a kindergarten classroom, which is, is kind of weird having a male and a kindergarten class, cuz a lot of the kids didn’t speak to me for the first couple weeks. They’re like, what’s this guy doing in here, but then they really warmed up towards the end of my, you know, middle and end of my internship and just really enjoyed it. And I was blessed to actually be hired at that school too. Mid-Year so I got a, a mini contract to finish out the year and then was able to be a part of the staff for the the next few years. And then that’s when I, I kind of got was interested in the leadership aspect.

Dan Wolfe (04:06):

I had been team leader, things like that. So that’s where you know, the, the administrative act aspect really came into focus. And one of the you know, after I had become a coach for a while and things like that, what I always wanted to promise myself was never to forget what it was like to be in the classroom. So when I became an administrator, cuz I feel like sometimes not, not all administrators, but there’s some that do forget and they don’t look at it through that lens anymore of what it’s like to be in the classroom. And I always had told my staff and I tell my staff to this day, if I ever forget or anything like that, please remind me because that’s, I, I wanna keep myself in check too, because it it’s very important for me to have that.

Dan Wolfe (04:49):

We ask the teachers to have that vividness in the classroom. I think as an administrator, you’ve gotta have that vividness with your staff and your students as well. So but yeah, so it just, you know, and it’s just as, you know, leaving no stone unturned I think is, is just very important in the field of education is just finding out cuz you, you only go through this life once mm-hmm <affirmative> and you don’t wanna have any regrets. And you just wanna it’s kind of like the saying go big or go home and that’s what you wanna do in, in this life and in this field of education, cuz there’s so many opportunities out there,

Sam Demma (05:24):

Most people on their 25th anniversary of anything probably cut a cake and have a party. And maybe you did that, but you’re you also wrote a book <laugh> so can we talk about it for a second? What inspired you to write the book and, and what is it all about?

Dan Wolfe (05:42):

Sure. so yes. Yeah. So I just recently had a book called becoming the change five essential elements for being your best self. And it’s it came out June 1st and it’s it’s available on Amazon and how it all came to be was our, our county was really big into social, emotional learning otherwise known as SEL since we have a million different acronyms, but just in case for listeners that did know what SEL was, that’s what it stands for. And what we decided to do as a district was develop pre-K through 12 SDL standards. So we could have that continuum just like we do for the academics. We wanna do it for the social emotional part because it’s like that Maslow before bloom philosophy, you can’t get to that bloom part. And so you have the Maslow mm.

Dan Wolfe (06:31):

You have to Maslow before you bloom is what they say. So so what we did is we developed standards in the there’s five elements or areas there’s self-awareness self-management social awareness relationship skills and responsible decision making. And while I was interacting with the group and everything, I I’m a big fan of quotes. And I came across a quote by Michelle Obama. And she referred to things as you know always reflecting on your own moral compass. And I just had this visual of that, those five elements are like our, our own moral compass within each of us. You might not even even know you’ve had it, you’ve always had it within you. They’ve kind of guided you through life cert during certain things, you know, whether it’s making responsible decisions or enhancing those relationships or, you know, or, or just knowing where you stand in the world, that self-awareness piece.

Dan Wolfe (07:26):

So what I decided to do is I decided to write a daily blog. I originally titled it, our moral compass, which eventually got changed to becoming the change just cuz it just, it kind of fit better into, you know, we were talking about that trajectory in life and things. So that was kind of like one of these things, you start off one thing, but that’s, you’re always open the change. So so I, I, what I did with the blog is I went ahead and took different quotes by different famous people. And then I would analyze them how it, how what it meant to me. Mm. And then I would go ahead and write about it and then ask the, the the reader, what it meant to them. Because when you look at a quote that you might have read 10 years ago, and then you read it again today, I’m sure it probably means something different, entirely different than it did back then because of your experiences, you know, and whatever you do, not just education, but just in life in general, you you’ve grown that much more.

Dan Wolfe (08:19):

So it’s gonna mean something different to you. So that’s what I started with and then decided, you know, why don’t I turn that into a podcast? So all was all I did was just re you know, record previous readings that I had done. And then just put it out there for the, you know, social media for the listeners, just, just for fun, just, you know, people listen to it. Great. If they didn’t that’s okay, too, if it, if it had some kind of impact on somebody that’s all that mattered. Hmm. And then all of a sudden the pandemic hit as it did for everybody <laugh>. And, and so I wanted to do something, you know, once I was done with my school day, I said, you know, know, I feel like I need to do something more, a way to kind of give back.

Dan Wolfe (08:58):

So I decided then to go ahead and write this book called becoming the change. And what it essentially has is it has a self-assessment within there where you go ahead and a, it has questions that, or statements that you go ahead and answer based on the five elements of where you are currently. And you’ve gotta be, this is where you have to be vulnerable. You know, we ask our students in education to be vulnerable. We, as educators are just, as people have to be vulnerable too. And the only way it change is ever gonna happen is if we’re honest with ourselves. So you have to be honest when you answer these questions within there. And then it’s gonna show you your strengths and it’s gonna show you your limitations. I don’t like to use the word weaknesses because I feel like it has a negative connotation where limit limitations, you know, you still have that area for, for, for growth.

Dan Wolfe (09:49):

And sometimes the limits we have are the ones that we put on ourselves. So you know, so within that what you’re able to go ahead and do is you go ahead and read it. Each chapter is broken down for each of the different elements. And what I have at the end of each chapter is if there, if your listeners remember in the seventies, eighties and nineties, there was a choose your own adventure book where you’d get to certain pages in the book. And then you, if you flip to this page, you know, there could have been a fire breathing dragon, or you, you know, went to another page. It was like treasure. Well, I don’t have any of that in my book, but what, what you’re able to go ahead and do is it’s your life, it’s your own adventure.

Dan Wolfe (10:30):

You get to choose a pathway. So if you’re strong and let’s say self-management, and you want to deepen, you know yourself in that area, you would read that chapter and then you get to choose what next, you can choose another strength, or you could choose a limitation and then eventually be able to read the whole book, but again, in the order that you want and I’ve throughout the book, I’ve got a lot of I have what are called compass checks along the way. And they’re basically things I, I pulled some of my blogs that I’d written from a couple years ago and put those throughout for each of the different areas. You know, so, so it’s got different facets, and then I have an image of that compass, just like you have a compass when you if you get lost in the woods, you, you look at that compass, it’s got the north south, east and west.

Dan Wolfe (11:17):

Well, that’s how the moral compass is set up with the five elements in the center at, at the epicenter is self-awareness. And then at each of the other four Cardinal directions are the other four elements. Mm. So it all comes back to self-awareness and some, and some days you lean on other elements more than than others. And but it, the one thing that’s good about the self-assessment is you can take it multiple times after you’ve, you know, focused on some different strategies that are within the book and everything, and then see if you’ve grown in those areas and, you know so it’s, it, it’s something you can use time and time again.

Sam Demma (11:54):

That’s awesome, man. How long did it take you to pull this resource together? Was it something you worked on throughout the entire pandemic? I’m just curious to hear a little bit about the process.

Dan Wolfe (12:03):

Yeah. Yeah. So it it went ahead and since, like I said, I had a lot of time on my hands when I wasn’t, you know, at school, I, I was just, I, I just had something, you know, just it’s, it’s just like anything else when you get really passionate about something and you just can’t stop, you know, there were times that kind of felt like I was back in college, again, pulling all nighters or whatever, trying to, because I just had to get these thoughts out. Yeah. And then probably, you know it I’d say it took a good, you know, five or six months to go ahead and, and write it and, you know, edit, and, and then it was just trying to learn the process. I mean, I had no idea once I thought that part was hard, just writing the book itself, which it was don’t don’t don’t get me wrong.

Dan Wolfe (12:44):

It definitely was. But then trying to have someone take a chance on you and wanna publish it cuz you know, you know, if you don’t have a lot big social media following or, you know, whatever it is, you’re just not that famous person. You know, they’re not always apt to go ahead and, you know, take a chance on you. I had over 40 rejections it wasn’t until ID finished the book probably in, you know, close to the summer of 2020. And I didn’t get have an interest in it until probably the fall of 2021. And that is when rode awesome, who I’m forever grateful and blessed to, to have taken a chance on me went ahead and showed some interest and we met and everything and you know I got to learn so much within the process.

Dan Wolfe (13:36):

Just even self-promoting and doing, which is not something I normally do. I’m very, I like to keep to myself and everything, but I said, you only go, this might be my only time I ever get the chance to go through something like this. So just pull out all the stops. But this, this was just important to me also to also not only prove to myself, but prove to my students and to prove to my daughter too, you know, about never giving up perseverance and just being able to overcome. And though though, I wasn’t, you know, I was confident that it was, it was gonna happen one day. I just didn’t know when, but I’m just glad I I’m glad I didn’t give up. And yeah,

Sam Demma (14:14):

That’s awesome, man. I love it. When you’re not working on the book or working at school, how do you fill up your own cup? What are some of the things that you do to ensure that you’re showing up to the best of your abilities at work?

Dan Wolfe (14:29):

Well, I think first and foremost, I, I wouldn’t be here without my family love and support of my wife and, and my daughter. And just having that time with them being able to, you know we live down here in Florida, so we’ve got the advantage of going to Disney world or, or things like that, cuz we’re pretty close to it. So that’s kind of like our vice as a family and we’ve done that, that always since she was little. So it’s just, it’s, that’s just, that’s just our thing and being able to do that. And I think it’s just important to always stay grounded to, they talk about work life balance, which is it’s very hard to do. And I don’t know if you can ever really, truly find that balance, but you can definitely put in the effort to make sure.

Dan Wolfe (15:10):

I, I, I think that that’s very important and also just the self care. I, I think, you know taking time, whether it’s, you know, you know, going to the gym, exercising, listening, the podcasts, reading just some of meditating, whatever else, you know, just some of those kinds of things, because if you’re not taking care of yourself, you can’t take care of others in the field of education. And that, that’s a, that’s a huge thing. Otherwise, cuz if you’re burning the bridge at both ends you’re not, you’re not being a benefit to anybody. So that, that’s huge.

Sam Demma (15:42):

When you think about the field of education, who are some individuals in your life personally, who have had a significant impact on you? Obviously your family you’ve mentioned them, but when you think about work, have you had, you know, mentors or people who have changed your beliefs helped you identified your blind spots and limiting beliefs and helped you grow into the school leader you are today?

Dan Wolfe (16:04):

Yeah. So one of ’em was definitely one of my college professors actually in graduate school Dr. Clint Wright he just, he just said it like it was and just told the importance of it. Wasn’t all just about what was in the textbook or anything else like that. He just, he just spoke to you as you would hope an administrator would and you could kind of look at it through the lens of what he was talking about. There are two quotes. Actually, yeah, there’s two quotes that he, that really stood out to me from him. One of ’em was if it’s to be it’s up to me that anything you want in life you’ve gotta go out and get it life. Isn’t gonna give you, gonna put it out on, on a silver platter for you.

Dan Wolfe (16:47):

You need to go out and get it. In my 25 years most of my time has been spent at title one schools, which are the lower socioeconomic status. And I, I wouldn’t trade those years for anything. Because just being able to tell the students there, the potentials that they have, that their, their life script has not been written yet. They get to write it themselves and being able to tell them if it’s to be it’s up to them, I’ll be there as that guide on the side, but in kind of giving them that push, but they’re the ones that can really make it to that next level. And then he said another quote as an administrator that I ha I try to always remember it’s a poor frog that doesn’t praise its own pond and it’s always letting others know how grateful you are for them.

Dan Wolfe (17:36):

And again, showing ’em, you know, telling ’em specifically, not just saying thank you, but thank you for what, what is it that, you know, to let them know that they matter? And again, it, it doesn’t matter what the position teacher, custodian, food and nutrition, office staff, whoever they’re everybody’s of value and they’re of equal value. And I always look at titles as just titles. It doesn’t mean anything. It’s what you do behind the title. That is what that is, what truly means something so that Dr. Clint Wright was for one thing a big mentor in my life. And then another one is Todd Cluff. He just recently retired from our county. He’s still doing consulting for leadership and everything else like that. But he really showed me what it’s all about to be that servant leader.

Dan Wolfe (18:25):

I had mentioned earlier in, in the podcast that I was part of like I did, I was a curriculum specialist where I supported 18 different schools, kindergarten through 12th grade that we had at one time in our county, what were called regional teams. We were the Northwest regional team and we all 18 schools were title one. And what we were able to do is kind of flip the script as far as showing schools that we were supporting them, that we were all family, that it wasn’t like uhoh, district’s coming out, cuz we’re all part of the same district. It was never, and he led the charge and all of that, just to show that grace that compassion it just, it, it was all about those relationships because that’s, what’s really gonna push you through any any challenges or obstacles that are in the way it’s the, it’s the trust and everything.

Dan Wolfe (19:15):

And, and he was able to show that and serve first and lead second and just, just his teachings and just watching him do what he, what he did just always amazed me and I did. And he was always still positive. And just try to it, it was, it went beyond data scores and things like that. It was about the people, it was about the kids. It was about the culture E each school. There’s no title one school, just like there’s no, non-Title one school, that’s the same. You can cross the street and you’re gonna have a different kind of culture, a different dynamic, a different need. And we were able to differentiate between those 18 schools over, you know, the, the time that we were a regional team and it’s definitely memories. I’d never, you know, trade for the world and it just, it made he made me a better leader because of it. So I’m a forever grateful to him.

Sam Demma (20:09):

Hmm. It sounds like they both had a significant impact on you. And I think having a significant impact on others is really one of the main reasons why people get into education. Everyone hopes they can help inspire young minds and guide them on their path and be a resource. I’m curious if there are any stories that come to mind of students who have been impacted by, you know, your leadership or the leadership of the staff around you that you have watched kind of soar. And the reason I ask is because sometimes educators forget why they started teaching, especially during very difficult moments. And I think at the heart of it sometimes the heart of the reason why they get into education is because they wanna make a positive change. So these stories of transformation in the student might help rekindle that fire in their, in their heart to keep going. Do you have any stories that come to mind of, of students or

Dan Wolfe (21:06):

Yes, I actually have. I have two, one as a teacher and then one as an administrator. Cool. And what’s interesting is, you know, both had a significant impact, but it’s from a different lens. And I think that that’s the and with the teacher one, it was early on in my educational career. It was a a girl in my class that could not read. Her mom had said her last couple of teachers that she’s had told her, told her already your, your daughter’s probably never going to read. So basically, you know, kind of like, I mean, again, I wasn’t there to hear it, but she basically told me it was like, kind of like the throw in towel. And she was like third grade. And that wasn’t, you know, again, I was in my second or third year.

Dan Wolfe (21:49):

I mean, something like that, throwing in the towel was not in my vocabulary to go ahead and do that. And I said, we’re, I’m gonna do all that I can. So what I even did is I went ahead and tutored her after school as well. And we continued to work on, we did site words. We did a lot with phonics and things like that, all those things to go ahead and build up her confidence within there. And I just told her I would be there every step of the way. And long story short, she was able to read. And she even, we had, we had a state test that year, where in Florida, if they don’t pass the state test and reading they’re automatically retained in third grade. So, but she passed. Mm. So she was able to, and the mom just was so thrilled, not because of the passing part, but the fact that her child could sit with her now and read and everything.

Dan Wolfe (22:40):

And I mean, I, and again, I don’t, I don’t ever take the credit for those kinds of things. I, I, that’s just, cuz it’s a team effort and you know, she put as much work into it as well. But it was just showing her that never quit attitude. And you know, I, I’m not sure what ha you know, it is been quite some time now, so I’m hoping she’s doing quite well, but I mean, just that, that right there, that that’s your why to be able to do that. Now from an administrator lens, it was a little bit different. Of course, fast forward, you know, quite a few years and a lot of things that as you know, across across the world, the nation, everything like that is a lot with mental health and the importance behind that. And we have within our district like threat assessments and things like that that we have to do, whether it’s threat to others or threat to themselves.

Dan Wolfe (23:31):

I had a student that was in fourth grade just a few years ago. He just had a lot of just threats to self and I mean, it never only, you know, once or twice did they have to, you know, you know be baker acted or things like that to be able to get the help, but there was a program called safe and home that, that is within our county and within our state where they have intensive services, where they even the counselors push into the home, help with coping skills and strategies. And you have to put in a lot of, you know, it’s not, you have to put in a lot of paperwork and requests to kind of get to that point and be able to, but I, I just knew that we needed to do all we could as a school to get him on cuz he had, so he had so much potential and, you know, just, just because of whether it was home life or whatever else or just his own self-esteem was suffering because of all this.

Dan Wolfe (24:29):

And you know, like I said, counselors would push in, they would go ahead and show skills self coping skills for the students they’d even work with the, the family as well of how the, you know, best help, you know, parenting strategies, cuz again, they don’t have those handbooks or things just to hand to the parents to say, here he goes, this is how you raise your child or anything like that. But fast forward a year later in fifth grade we have turnaround student awards and he was a turnaround student in his class and just the confidence in things like that. And you know, he was very closed off and everything. And one of the things that he even did when he, when he saw me recently is even just, he gave me a hug, he just came right up and I mean, I never would’ve expected that or anything else like that, but it’s just, I saw such a side to him that I always knew was there, but I was just, I would just hope that I just was able to help be that glimmer, that flicker of hope in his life to, you know, to, to show him that that, that things are possible.

Dan Wolfe (25:32):

You know, so those are two examples, you know, you know, of the kind of impact and it just kind of always rekindles that why, and, you know, just, just to be there and just just one of the sayings that we have at our school is my job is to keep you safe and your job is to help keep it safe and that’s not just physically safe, but that’s socially and emotionally safe. And I think one of the biggest things is educators out of the five elements is that social awareness piece where you try to look at it through the lens of others and it’s not just for the kids, but for your staff or whatever. It’s more about empathizing more than sympathizing within there. And it’s just, I, I think that’s just an attribute or an element that I think needs to be more pervasive as a society now more than ever with all that’s going on in the world right now is that social awareness piece. But yeah, so,

Sam Demma (26:26):

Ah, I love it, man. Thank you for sharing those stories. I know that whoever is listening is definitely feeling inspired or reminded about the impact education can have when you lead with self-awareness and as a servant leader, like your mentor, would’ve taught you and, and you know Clint yeah, your professor. When you think about your experiences in education, if you could bundle them all up, travel back in time to the first year, you stepped into a classroom to teach knowing what you know now, what advice would you have, you know, shared with you younger self, not because you wanted to change something about your path or journey, but because you thought it might have been helpful to hear at the start of your career

Dan Wolfe (27:10):

Perfectionism is a myth and it it’s important to be vulnerable. I think those are, I mean, it it’s something that you, you think that everything has, has to go a certain way. And you you’ve got your, your, your script or whatever your lesson plans in front of you, but they never go according to plan. And if they, you know, and you know, sometimes they go better than expected and then other times you think it was gonna be an awesome lesson and then it crashes and burns and that’s okay. The way that I look at it is in, in our county, we are, you know, in our state we have 180 school days. So I look at it and I tell a lot of today’s younger teachers too. It’s weird to me to say younger teachers now because I used to be one of ’em and <laugh>, I remember I had veteran teachers saying, Dan, you’ll be there one day soon.

Dan Wolfe (28:01):

And they were right. But I look at it there’s 180 or like 180 performances kind of like on stage, you know, not, you, you think of it as actors and actresses, not every play or performance goes well, but if one doesn’t go, well, you got 179 more to, to do better and you always try to, you know, you’re never gonna have that perfect one and that’s okay, but that’s what strives you to try to get to that. But when I, and that vulnerability that’s something not only as a beginning teacher, but even as a veteran teacher, it’s okay to have that. I, I even have it as an administrator, if I don’t know the answer to something or I make a mistake in something I’ll either, you know, I’m definitely gonna own up to it. If it’s a mistake or whatever, and say, I’ll fix that.

Dan Wolfe (28:48):

And I’m sorry that, you know, whatever it was, didn’t turn out the way that, whether it was a decision I made or, or anything else like that, that I thought would’ve turned out better. And it didn’t, or if I didn’t know the answer to something, I will go ahead and ask somebody that does, cuz I won’t have all the answers and I’m not gonna pretend like I do because you give the wrong answer, you get into a, a deeper hole than you started and, and you might as well just come out and say, okay, I don’t really know, but let me find out. I, I think as, as my advice to, you know my younger self would just be, you know trust the process and just be vulnerable.

Sam Demma (29:23):

Love that. It’s awesome. Thank you so much Dan for taking the time to come on the show and share a little bit about your book and your beliefs around education. If someone’s listening, wants to reach out, get in touch, what would be the best way for them to send you a message?

Dan Wolfe (29:39):

So probably the best way, I’m definitely Twitter is definitely my social media jam or whatever in regards to it. So my Twitter handle is @servleadinspire. So it doesn’t have the “e” on “serve” and it’s not that I can’t spell. It’s just that it won’t allow that many characters within the handle. So I said, so I do know how to spell serve. I just can’t spell it the way I want to on Twitter, but anyways <laugh>, but that’s, that’s probably the best way to definitely feel free to follow you know, or, you know, send me a DM, whatever, you know, anything I can do to help, you know we’re all, we’re all in this together.

Sam Demma (30:23):

Awesome. Dan, thank you again. Keep up with the great work and we’ll talk soon my friend.

Dan Wolfe (30:28):

All right, thanks so much, Sam.

Sam Demma (30:29):

Hey, it’s Sam again. I hope you enjoyed that amazing conversation on the High Performing Educator podcast. If you or someone, you know, deserves some extra recognition and appreciation for the work they do in education, please consider applying or nominating them for the high performing educator awards. Go to www.highperformingeducator.com/award. You can also find the link in the show notes. I’m super excited to spotlight and feature 20 people in 2022. And I’m hoping you, or someone you know, can be one of those educators. I’ll talk to you on the next episode, all the best.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Dan Wolfe

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

Scott Johnson – Principal at Bowmanville High School

Scott Johnson – Principal at Bowmanville High School
About Scott Johnson

Scott Johnson (@ScottJohnsonP) is the principal at Bowmanville High School. He started his career as a high school physical education teacher in Ontario and after a 2 year move to Alberta, returned home to a variety of teaching roles.

He has taught every grade other than Kindergarten and Grade 5 and has been fortunate to work in several different school communities. After working in Special Education, Scott became a vice principal and is thrilled to be back at BHS as principal. 

Scott is known for his innovative approach to teaching and for his work in integrating technology and pedagogy. Scott is passionate about equity and student success and works to ensure that all students are supported throughout the school.

Connect with Scott: Email | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Bowmanville High School

Kawartha Pine Ridge District School Board

Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE)

Cult of Pedagogy

Revisionist History with Malcolm Gladwell

Wikis, Blogs, and Podcasts: A New Generation of Web-based Tools for Virtual Collaborative Clinical Practice and Education by Applied Research Press

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):

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

Sam Demma (01:00):

This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest is Scott Johnson. Scott Johnson is the principal at Bowmanville high school. He started his career as a high school physical education teacher in Ontario, and after a two year move to Alberta returned home to a variety of teaching roles. He has taught every grade other than kindergarten and grade five and has been fortunate to work in several different school communities. After working in special education, Scott became a vice principal and is thrilled to be back at Bowmanville high school as the principal. Scott is known for his innovative approach to teaching, and for his work in integrating technology and pedagogy. Scott is passionate about equity and student success, and works to ensure that all students are supported throughout the school. I hope you enjoy this interview and I will see you on the other side. Scott, welcome to the High Performing Educator podcast. It’s a pleasure to have you on the show here today. Please start by introducing yourself.

Scott Johnson (01:58):

Thanks Sam, and, and thank you very much for for having me on the podcast. My name is Scott Johnson. I am currently the principal of Bowmanville high school in Bowmanville, Ontario. We are a 9-12 school with approximately a thousand students located right in central Bowmanville.

Sam Demma (02:18):

When did you realize in your career journey growing up that education was the field you wanted to pursue and work in?

Scott Johnson (02:26):

Well, to be honest with you, I, I would be, I, I think I’m fairly late to the game in terms of determining what I I wanted to do. I was a PHS ed student at the university of Toronto and had the opportunity towards the end of my degree to do some work in some local high schools in downtown Toronto. And really, really enjoyed the experience I got to work with. I actually played hockey at the university of Toronto and I got to work with a, a former teammate of mine who had moved on to become a teacher. And I just really enjoyed the experience and thought to myself, this might be a, a, a good career move for me. I, I really enjoyed Fette as a, as a student and played all kinds of sports growing up and thought, you know, maybe I could join the ranks of the PHED teachers of the world.

Scott Johnson (03:19):

And so that’s sort of what got me into education and lots happened between then and now sort of over the last 17 years to get me you know, into the role of principal. And I, I, I’ll be honest, I’ve, I’ve enjoyed every, every step along the way. So I think the goal was to be a PhysEd teacher. I’m not sure if I ever actually realized that because I, I was his ed teacher for a very brief period of time, but I’ve got to do a lot of interesting things in a lot of interesting places and yeah, I’ve really enjoyed all, all the steps along the way.

Sam Demma (03:52):

Let’s unpack some of that journey, the 17 year journey from the start to where you are now, what was the start? What role were you in? What school take us through the journey from then to where you are today?

Scott Johnson (04:06):

Well, it was an interesting journey. I actually went to teachers college directly after university and then took a year off after university to go play hockey over in Germany for a year. Wow. Which was a great experience. It was tons of fun. But probably three quarters of the way through that hockey season. I, I kind of got the itch to, you know, I wanted to get started on this career in teaching. And so made the decision, you know, towards the end of the hockey season that I was gonna try and pursue this, this teaching career more seriously and ended up <laugh> I ended up actually accepting, I was so excited to be a full-time PHED teacher that I applied for and took a job at a school that I, I didn’t know really what the school was. And it turned out that it was a PHED teacher job in a youth correctional facility where I worked for a year.

Scott Johnson (05:03):

And, and I, I, I, it was a, a very bizarre way to start my career in terms of just not being something that I would’ve expected, but it, it couldn’t have been a better start to my career. I learned a ton working in that setting and working with those students and that I, you know, can say quite clearly, that, that had a significant impact on helping me get to where I I am today. You know, just, just dealing with students who had obviously been in conflict with the law and, and had lots going on in all assets or all aspects of their lives and, and seeing how school could, could be a, a positive influence on their life, really, you know, set me on a, a, a, I think a good track teacher wise after that. My, my now wife and I decided to move out to Alberta for a couple of years.

Scott Johnson (05:56):

And so we moved to a very, very rural community in, in Alberta. And I actually ended up teaching at a, at a incredibly small school, K to nine 160 students in a town that didn’t have a single stoplight. And it was just another great experience, just great kids, great families got the opportunity to teach a whole bunch of different grades. And again, really enjoyed the experience after a couple years, my wife and I decided to come back and I ended up teaching grade seven, and then I taught a little bit of special education in high school. And then I taught at an alternative education school. Then I moved to a, a lead teacher of special education role, and then moved into being a vice principal at an ed school, and then vice principal at a large rural school. And then at a small rural school. And now principal here at, at one of the larger urban schools and in our school board. So it kind of bounced around a lot, a lot of it by choice, but I, I think having that varied experience has been very helpful in the role that I’m in today.

Sam Demma (07:08):

What do you think you took away from your time working at the correctional facility with students who might have been in trouble with the law? What are some of the things you learned from those experiences that maybe informed the way that you show up today and in, in the high school you work in now

Scott Johnson (07:26):

To put it in its simplest terms? I learned very clearly that every student has a story, and I can’t tell you how much that has impacted me in my teaching career. It, it, it, I just working with those students, learning, you know, you work very closely with them, you work with them every single day. And you just, you learn so much about their story and you start to understand that there’s so much more to a student than what you, you may see, or what they may present, you know, in, in a 75 minute class. And, you know, now in my role as a principal, every single student, or every single issue that that comes across my desk, I, I get, get taken right back to that sort of touch point. That is, what’s the story here there, you know, you talk about, you know, you might hear things that for every misbehavior, there’s a reason, or, or, you know, if a student’s not being successful, as we think they could be there’s, you know, peeling back the layers of the onion kind of thing, to, to try and sort out why.

Scott Johnson (08:39):

And I go back to that very first year, really starting to recognize there is a story here for every student and it’s our job to try and work with them on, on all levels to try and help them be as successful as they can. And, and that, that lesson, like I said, you know, for, for, to get that as a first year teacher, I think was, it was difficult in the moment but has served me well over the last 17 years and, and will continue to serve me well for the rest of my career.

Sam Demma (09:09):

What resources, including people have been very instrumental or helpful in your own development, professional development in this career and job, maybe it’s some people you can think of who have mentored you along the way, some books you’ve read or courses you’ve been a part of, like, what has helped you show up at your best every day at work. And obviously you’re a human being. So there’s days where you don’t feel your best, but what do you think helps you show up to the best of your ability every day?

Scott Johnson (09:39):

Well, I, I think there’s a lot of things. And, and you mentioned, you know, the human aspect of it. The one great part about teaching is that you get to see a lot of people every day. And I mean, you know, we’ve dealt with this, the COVID pandemic over the last couple of years. And I think if you talk to, to any student, any educator, anybody involved in education, or even outside of it, the thing that they miss is that human interaction. Mm. So, you know, as a principal, I love being out in the halls. I love chatting with kids. I love chatting with teachers. I love you know, having conversations with parents, sometimes those conversations with any of those groups are not the easiest conversations, but they’re, you know, we’re all working in the best interest of students. And that’s, that’s kind of what gets me to work with a smile on my face every day.

Scott Johnson (10:31):

In terms of, of long term impact. I mean, I’ll go right back. They, they, they make you do a cheesy kind of assignment back when you were in teacher’s college, talking about your, you know, the favorite teacher or the teacher that, that inspired you. And I, I can think of a couple of teachers that I had along the way, you know, my grade two teacher, Mr. Jameson, my grade six teacher, Mr. Black, just people that had significant impacts on me growing up and, and, you know, having the hope that maybe I could replicate that experience for, you know, a young person growing up was certainly part of my motivation in terms of getting to where I am today, I’ve had all kinds of people who have been incredibly helpful. I, I, from principals to teachers just people and, and I think this goes back to you, you really can’t underestimate the impact that your words can have on another person.

Scott Johnson (11:29):

You know, I can think back to one of my principals who encouraged me to be a vice principal back when I had never really thought about being a vice principal. And, and she put that in my head and I was just like, oh, and I, I just got a sense of her belief in me and, you know, the, a small conversation on her part at a, you know, a lasting and, and significant impact on my life. So those are things that, that I try and pay it forward for lack of a better term, but there’s definitely been, been tons of people along the way, who, who just through their, their words and conversations have a, have had a big impact.

Sam Demma (12:04):

You’re one of the only guests we’ve had on who pulled out a blue ye USB microphone, and sounds like a radio host. <Laugh> gonna,

Scott Johnson (12:13):

I have been told that I have a face and a voice for radio. So I’m I’m good with that.

Sam Demma (12:18):

It leads me to believe that you might listen to a few other podcasts. Is there any educational podcasts that you’ve tuned into, or people that you’ve listened to that have helped as well as a resource?

Scott Johnson (12:30):

Well, to be honest, Sam, if, if you knew me as an educator one of the things that I like to draw upon is other other areas and bring those into education. Mm-Hmm <affirmative>, I like that you know, I’ve listened to lots of, of great educational podcasts. I mean, I started, I think my first educational podcast was the cults of pedagogy which is a, you know, a wonderful series, but what I’ve really, what I’ve really tried to bring in is some more, some different parts of, of the world and how they relate to education. So you talk about a guy like Simon Sinek you know, and, and his start with why book and, and, you know, he has a podcast. Seth golden, I think has a, a lot to say about leadership that is applicable across disciplines. I mean, a lot of it’s into business and marketing, but you take that and apply some of it to a school setting.

Scott Johnson (13:34):

Those are a couple of the podcasts. I’m sure you’ve heard of revisionist history with Malcolm Gladwell in the way that he, he can look at a seemingly straightforward issue and sort of flip it on its ear and, and you kind of, wow, I never looked at it from that perspective. And those are the kinds of things that I think are important in education. I mean, we’re faced with some fairly unique problems in this day and age. And if you’ve just, you know, that old saying, if you always do what you always done, you’ll always get what you always got, sort of thing. And, and, you know, trying to do things differently, cuz these kids are growing up in a different world in a, in a world that we really haven’t seen before. And I like to, to bring those other discipline in, in just to, to try and get a fresh perspective on some of the issues that we’re facing. And, and I find those people have, have some really quality ideas that can be translated directly to the work we do each day.

Sam Demma (14:36):

I love that if you could travel back in time to your first instance of teaching in a classroom, in a school setting and tap yourself on the shoulder and say, Hey Scott, not that you need any advice right now. Not that you wanna change anything about what’s gonna happen in your future, but this is what I think would’ve been helpful for you to hear when you were just beginning your career in teaching, what advice would you have given to your younger self or another educator listening who might be just starting this work?

Scott Johnson (15:09):

Well, I’ll tell you, I, I, I don’t have to necessarily go back in time because I got that, that the piece of advice that was critical to me. Mm. I got that from another person. And the lady’s name is Dr. Kathy Bruce. And she is I don’t know her exact role at Trent university right now, but she was the Dean of education. And I had the very fortunate opportunity at my old grade eight school to be her final teacher’s college associate teacher before she ended her teaching career and moved on to the world of teacher’s college at university. And I remember Kathy is a bit of a math guru, not a bit. She is a, a definitely a math guru and, and has done lots in the, the world of mathematics. But she had tasked me with teaching a math lesson to her grade seven class.

Scott Johnson (16:03):

And the question I asked her was, okay, where’s the textbook that you use? And she said, we don’t use a textbook. And that to me, that moment, and I’ve used that moment over and over again, over, over the last couple of decades was the, the first, the, the seed that was planted that said the education for these students does not have to look the same as your education. And I think that is the piece of advice. We, most people that go into teaching go into it because they love school and they had a, a great positive experience at school. And so oftentimes we will default to the experience that we had at school and that moment, which terrified me and sent waves of anxiety through my body saying, how am I ever going to teach math to grade sevens without a textbook? Because that’s what I was used to.

Scott Johnson (17:00):

And that’s what I was comfortable with. That is the piece of advice that I needed to say. We can do things differently. And I remember, you know, I use that again, when, when will Richardson I don’t know if you know, will Richardson, but he wrote a book in the mid two thousands called Wiki’s blogs and podcasts. You know, you, you, you mentioned the microphone. And I was, I was presented that by a teacher here at the school and I immediately was like, I’m gonna do a podcast. And I, I look back to that, you know, with my students and we’re gonna start a podcast and we’re going to do those things. And we’re talking, this is back in, you know, 2008, 2009. But it was that moment with Kathy Bruce that said do things differently. It’s okay to do things differently.

Scott Johnson (17:52):

So not only did she challenge me, but it was almost like she gave me permission. It was like, oh, okay. We can bring some of these innovative ideas, you know, into the classroom. And so, you know, I don’t know, going back to my former self, listen to your elders, listen to those people who have experience. I mean, you know, they’re the people who are doing it. And there’s lots of great stuff out there. And, and I, you know, I think of if I was a new teacher starting in 2022, you know, between Twitter accounts and podcasts and you know, other social media groups and websites, there’s tons of great resources to draw on. It’s just trying to find your niche in finding those people that that can help you. And, and I was fortunate to have a couple of those people really early on in my career.

Sam Demma (18:36):

One of the things that I believe is attractive about education is impact on young minds, shaping future change makers and seeing a student progress from potentially struggling to success or some form of clarity where they have this aha moment and a breakthrough because of years of help and support from caring adults in their lives. Could you think of a moment in one of your schools that you’ve worked in, or maybe even when you were teaching where you saw a student go from serious struggle to some clarity and some success that really brought a smile to your face, and if it’s a serious story you can change their name just for the sake of privacy. And the reason I ask you to share is because I think it will remind other educators listening, why this work is so important and inspire those who haven’t got into this work yet to seriously consider it as a pot, a potential career path in the future.

Scott Johnson (19:33):

Yeah, well, I can, I can, I can share an example of one that just happened recently. And as I, I think I started off saying that my dream was to, to be a, a PhysEd teacher and, and, you know, I, I didn’t really elaborate, but I, I, I never really made it as a PhysEd teacher because I think that first experience in the, in the correctional facility led me down a path towards special education which turned into student success, where you’re often dealing with students who have stories and those stories are often, you know, incredibly challenging. They have led incredibly difficult lives and, and have overcome so much just to even be with you in front of you know, in the classroom with you each day. And so I can think of a student and I won’t mention their name, but very difficult life history.

Scott Johnson (20:36):

Very challenging. I met this student back in, I believe their grade nine year obviously had difficulties in school, but again, having that ability to recognize the story there is more to this than what you are seeing each day, and just working with that student day by day getting to know them, working with some community agencies, just reaching out and trying to be that person. And it wasn’t certainly just me. There was a whole team of people that, that got to impact this student over the course of their high school career. And I, I ended up switching schools and, and we ended up reconnecting at, at the, the new school. And again, just continuing to be patient and working with that person. And I, I actually got news just a little while ago that they had graduated high school and were starting college in January.

Scott Johnson (21:40):

And, you know, if you, that, would’ve been a tough picture to imagine way back when we met in grade nine. And I think that’s the power of education. It’s the power of you know, in, in, in my context high school is we, we get four years to work with someone and we can do a lot in those four years. It doesn’t have to all be accomplished right away. But if you look at the, the growth that all students experience, you know, coming in at grade nine at 13, 14 years old and, and leaving high school at, at 1718 we, we have the opportunity to make a significant impact and, and in a lot of cases you know, I, I think we’re able to really help students get on the trajectory that they want to get on. And, and hopefully we, we do our best to, to bring the best out of them. And again, that’s, that’s kind of why we’re here and if you’re interested in helping people out with that, then education is definitely a career that will, you’ll find very fulfilling.

Sam Demma (22:46):

If someone is listening to this inspired, wants to reach out, ask you a question, or get in touch, what would be the best way for them to get in contact with you?

Scott Johnson (22:58):

Just send me an email. I’m on Twitter @ScottJohnsonP, not as active as I once was as, as other things have, have caught up and we’ll see where things go with Twitter, given the, the recent, the news of recently, but yeah. You, you know, my email address is, is checkout Bowmanville high school. My email address is, is there along with my picture and I’d be happy to chat. You know, one of the things that got me involved in education was some chats with some people who were in the business. At the time I was fortunate to go to the University of Toronto and be close to OISE and, and know lots of people that were in education so if anyone’s interested, I’d be, be, I’d be happy to chat. It’s a, it’s a great career. It’s got its ups and downs as all careers do, but at the end of the day, I’m, I, I, couldn’t be more happy with the decision that I made way back when

Sam Demma (23:55):

Scott, it’s a pleasure to bring you on the show here today, to talk about the journey, some of the ups and downs, some of the learnings and philosophies you hold about teaching. I cannot wait to see where the next five years of your career take you and, and what you’ll be working on and doing. Keep up the great work and don’t ever hesitate to reach out again in the future and thanks again for coming on, coming on the show.

Scott Johnson (24:19):

No problem Sam. Thanks for having me and thanks for doing what you’re doing. It’s, it’s a pleasure listening to your show and, and I appreciate the opportunity.

Sam Demma (24:27):

Hey, it’s Sam again. I hope you enjoyed that amazing conversation on the High Performing Educator podcast. If you or someone, you know, deserves some extra recognition and appreciation for the work they do in education, please consider applying or nominating them for the high performing educator awards. Go to www.highperformingeducator.com/award. You can also find the link in the show notes. I’m super excited to spotlight and feature 20 people in 2022. And I’m hoping you, or someone you know, can be one of those educators. I’ll talk to you on the next episode, all the best.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Scott Johnson

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

Jennifer Meeker – Principal of Special Education K-12 at the Upper Grand District School Board

Jennifer Meeker – Principal of Special Education K-12 at the Upper Grand District School Board
About Jennifer Meeker

Jennifer Meeker (@jennmeeker), is the Principal of Special Education K-12 at the Upper Grand District School Board. Starting as an elementary teacher turned secondary Administrator she has embraced the power of Ross Greene’s mantra, “Kids do well if they can”. She believes it is the adults job to figure out the barriers and to work alongside the student to dismantle those barriers. She has been an Administrator for 13 years and has learned a lot from the youth and families she has served.

In her new role as a system Principal she is supporting students with special education needs from a system perspective. She tries to understand the many reasons why students might be challenging. She works with specialized teams within the UGDSB to make sure that supports are in place so that schools can help students reach their true potential. In the role of highschool Principal she supported having all voices at the table when decisions were being made or programming considered for a student(s). She would tell you that her best learning came from the challenging students who became her teachers.

Connect with Jennifer: Email | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Upper Grand District School Board

Who is Ross Greene?

Grading for Equity by Joe Feldman

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):

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

Sam Demma (00:59):

This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest on the show is Jennifer Meeker. Jennifer is the Principal of special education, K through 12 at the Upper Grand District School board. Starting as an elementary teacher, turned secondary administrator, she has embraced the power of Ross Greene’s mantra. Kids do well if they can. She believes it is the adults’ job to figure out the barriers and to work alongside the student to dismantle those barriers. She has been an administrator for 13 years and has learned a lot from the youth and families she has served. In her new role as a system principal, she is supporting students with special education needs from a system perspective. She tries to understand the many reasons why students might be challenging. She works with specialized teams within the Upper Grand District School Board to make sure that supports are in place so that schools can help students reach their true potential. In the role of high school Principal, she supported having all voices at the table when decisions were being made on programming considered for students. She would tell you that her best learning came from the challenging students who became her teachers. I hope you enjoy this conversation with Jenn, and I will see you on the other side, Jen, welcome to the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here today. Please start by introducing yourself.

Jennifer Meeker (02:20):

Great. Thanks Sam. I really appreciate being here. My name is Jen Meeker. I’m the Principal of special education, K to 12 for the Upper Grand District School board.

Sam Demma (02:28):

If you traveled back in time to when you were just a student yourself, at what moment, if you can recall, do you remember making the decision and knowing that you were gonna pursue education in your future

Jennifer Meeker (02:43):

Education as teaching, as in, yeah, my teacher two years, three years out of university.

Sam Demma (02:52):

Mm. So what was your path?

Jennifer Meeker (02:54):

<Laugh>? my path was actually polys, sci and economics. Okay. Wanting to be in I don’t know, in training, definitely doing training of some sort. I was always coaching. I was always involved in, in athletics and working with people and I really enjoyed that part. But I always enjoyed the coaching aspect of everything that I ever did. So all through my life, whether it was riding, skiing, rowing, whatever, it was always something, there was always a coaching element to it.

Jennifer Meeker (03:28):

Hmm. I think that’s where it took me, but definitely it was someone that I worked with. I wasn’t in education, but I was working alongside educa education in a nonprofit role. And the person that I worked with was in education. And at one, one day she just said, when are you gonna become a teacher? And I was like, really thrown back and you talking about, she goes, you need to be a teacher. And so it was a time of my life where there was probably some need to be changed, things needed to change. And I was like, Hmm. So I applied to one school U of T at the time to OISE and thought if it was meant to be, it’ll be. And I guess it was <laugh> so, and I went and haven’t looked back. I’ve left once. I should say I have left teaching once.

Sam Demma (04:16):

Okay. Well talk about that in just a second. Tell me a little bit more about this nonprofit. So you graduate and start working in the nonprofit sector.

Jennifer Meeker (04:24):

Yes. well, no, I, I <laugh>. I started with an airline first. I worked for Alaska airlines. Nice. then I was working for an entertainment insurance broker. Okay. And circumstances ended up that I didn’t have a job and I ended up on unemployment actually at one point. And I should never have received unemployment, but when they called my boss, who, the company that I had left for good reasons she, the woman from unemployment called me and said, oh my God, we’re starting your unemployment today. You could never, I would never wanna work for that, man.

Sam Demma (04:59):

Mm.

Jennifer Meeker (04:59):

So it was it was actually a great opportunity for me. And then she gave me some, there was a couple programs where you worked for a nonprofit who received funds to be able to employ you on a sort of a contract basis. And this one just happened to be, it was the career education council at a Guelph and the person in charge that hired me was awesome. She was a great, a great mentor in the beginning in terms of developing the program. And it was a real, it was a, a, something that was very much in its infancy at the time. So I developed partnerships between businesses and schools to offer opportunities of, you know, realistic experiences for students around what was, what careers could be in the future. What was going on? You gotta take this back.

Jennifer Meeker (05:47):

This was 19 90, 2 93 91, something like that. And so things were very different then. But we, we had these great partnerships between, I, I remember Linemar was partnered with, I believe it was gateway, like drive public school in Guelph. And some of the things that they did was just, was just incredible. We had, I developed a teacher internship program where teachers went out into businesses in the summer and learned skills to see what pathways career pathways were out there. And I remember a tech teacher who wanted to go in and see what it would be like to be a first year apprentice. So we set that up. And within, I think it was day three, maybe he called and said, this is garbage. I know I don’t wanna do this anymore. You know, all they’ve got me doing is sweeping floors. And so we sat down and met with the, the plant manager and talked about it. And he said, you wanted to see what a, an apprentice might start at. Mm. And this might be something until I know who you are and your responsibilities, ability to do skills and things like that. Then I have to make that decision as to when you’re ready. And so once the teacher had learned that it was like, okay, I’m gonna ride this out. And he did. So I gave him full credit.

Sam Demma (07:00):

Wow. You’ve had such a diverse experience. What, what drew you towards entertainment when you were working in that position as well?

Jennifer Meeker (07:11):

Sadly, that was just a job. <Laugh> it was an opportunity. I needed to pay bills and I, I took it not an interest at all. I don’t think at the time because it was inter insurance, it was a lot of paper, paper pushing a lot of reading of contracts and things like that. Not, not what I wanted to do for sure. Not, not really working with people. And that’s always been my I would say that’s always where I’ve been drawn to is working with people working on teams.

Sam Demma (07:41):

Hmm. You mentioned that there was one occasion where you did step away from education before obviously returning, cuz you’re here again now. <Laugh> yeah. Bring me back to that moment. What, what was going on in your life during that period of time and what prompted you to step away?

Jennifer Meeker (07:58):

So it was probably the birth of my second son. And you know, I took the maternity leave, which had just become the year long maternity leave. Nice. And my husband is self-employed so we were, you know, the company was doing well and we as a family, it was a good decision. I, I still, I shouldn’t say that I totally took leave because I left education, but probably month eight of my maturity leave. I started working for a friend nice some basically being a, was an accounts manager for a company. And I was enjoying that because again, it was that working with people and got me out, but it was part-time and I could, you know, make, sort of make my own hours, which was great for my family. And then we had some life circumstances that, that said, you know what?

Jennifer Meeker (08:51):

You need a job that’s stable because you never know what’s gonna come down down the pipe. And, and I had never left touch with teaching for sure. I was still coaching different things. So I was always still doing that role and said, you know, it was time to go back. So I took a three year hiatus but I went back and went into a role. I had been teaching mostly grade 8, 7, 8 for the most part and really, really enjoyed that age level and really got along with with those students. And then when I went back, cause I’ve been gone so long, new principal, new school, well school wasn’t new, but a lot of staff had changed. Yep. And no one thought I was coming back. So they shoved me in a portable teaching grade, two, three split. And I took all the kids and nobody else wanted to teach, I guess, because my class list was quite quite an interesting group. But you know what, probably one of my best years of teaching, mm. I went back in going home, you know, oh my God, <laugh> what do I do? And partnered up with my ESL teacher at the time. And he and I had a great year. And in fact the following year we took that group forward and taught them again and took in another group as well. So we actually, he and I became team teachers. It was a something the principal decided she let us try. And it worked really, really well and definitely a highlight of my career for sure.

Sam Demma (10:18):

Tell me more about that. You said it was one of your best years in teaching from your perspective. Why is that?

Jennifer Meeker (10:26):

I think because it wasn’t easy. I think that I, I had to struggle. I had to figure it out. I felt that those students probably taught me more than I taught them in that year, for sure. Just about being, you know, I hadn’t taught that age group. I hadn’t taught students how to read before I hadn’t worked with ESL students before. And I had parent volunteers coming into my classroom, which didn’t happen in grade seven and eight <laugh>. I had an amazing apparent volunteer who came into my classroom and she was just amazing with the kids. And it just, I don’t know, I think, and I was out in a portable, so I was kind of out on my own. But I was, I was left be to, it was the, I think it was the only two, three split as well. So I was sort of on my own for everything. And that really just really have to struggle. And I, I spent a lot of hours doing that, but I actually would tell you that I grew a lot as a, as a teacher. I grew a lot as a human, but I definitely grew a lot as a teacher, too.

Sam Demma (11:31):

Most people would say it was their best experience because it was fun, enjoyable, and easy. And you’re telling me it was your best year because you struggled. Where does that mindset of yours come from? That struggle is something that, you know, leads to growth. And although difficult is a necessary step in the process of life. Is that from sports or like, like where do you think that comes from?

Jennifer Meeker (11:55):

Yeah, I think that’s, I, I think it’s from sports. I also think it’s how I was, you know, how my parents raised me too and everything. I mean, I never wanted for anything necessarily. I, I definitely lived a white privilege life. There’s no question about that. And I acknowledged that, but I also know that my parents didn’t hand me things. And I started working, you know I grew up in the country, so I started working very early on. We had a farm. I worked for a couple of big horse farms and so I was always pushed to work. So I, I have a, I think I have a strong work ethic. I, when I look back and it’s just, I’m just, that’s just daunting to on me, as you asked the question, when I look back over my life so far, all of my experiences that have been the best experience in my life have been because of challenge.

Jennifer Meeker (12:44):

Mm. So maybe I seek that out. I don’t know. You know, these sports that I chose to be involved in are not typical sports that everybody gets involved in. They’re, they’re tough. They’re, you know there’s always a challenge there and always an element of danger, well, not danger, but Del element of pushing yourself beyond your, your limits for sure. I would say that this, my jobs as I’ve chosen, you know, I never wanted to be a teacher thought got in, did it, whatever it was a challenge. Definitely. It challenged me for sure in the beginning. And then when I became a principal or when I became a vice principal, first of all, I mean, I had no intentions of going that route either. And it was someone who tapped me on the shoulder and said, it’s time you need to do this.

Jennifer Meeker (13:32):

And so I did it and you know, those are, those are life experiences where you’re not sure what it’s gonna be like on the other side. Exactly. Mm-hmm, <affirmative>, you’re comfortable where you are and comfort is a nice place sometimes. And then someone taps you on that shoulder and says, you should, you need to do this and including this most recent job. So I’m, I’m close to my retirement time. And I’ve taken on a whole new role, which again, first three weeks, first month and a half of the job, I was like, why did I do this? <Laugh> you know, I had to, but I love it. I love my job now. Yeah. And you know, I learning every day, I think learning for me is always, my, my husband would tell you I could be a professional student. I’m always wanting to learn more. So

Sam Demma (14:20):

Let’s talk about your current role right now. What are you doing day to day? What were those first two months like, and what do you love so much about it now?

Jennifer Meeker (14:31):

Again, I think it’s challenge for sure. There’s there’s new challenges every day is something new coming at me. Yeah. Because of the job. So I work with as the principal of special education, I work with teams, multidisciplinary teams across our board to support students in need. So whether it be students who are in a life skills program to students who are in a regular class placement, but have large learning challenges ahead of them. I work with families. I work with an amazing team of special education consultants including we call them team. Awesome. And I work with mental health with our psychologists and that department and our speech and language department. So we work as a team again. So I’m, I’m always attracted to teamwork for sure. And we try to, to support schools in providing the supports that students need in their building.

Jennifer Meeker (15:30):

So it’s a lot of it’s a lot of meetings. That’s, that’s one of the downfalls for me. I’d rather be on the, on the ground, but it is a lot of meetings, but I do get to work with some amazing people. And I, I don’t necessarily always see the successes at the end, but I hear about them. And I hear from the schools when you know, when the student is really, really struggling and we have some really high need struggling students and families. And I hear that, you know, something was got a little bit better. That’s, that’s just makes my day,

Sam Demma (16:07):

Let’s bring your brain back to one of those moments. When you think about certain emails like that of school or calls of schools reaching out and telling you, Jen, we had this student that was really struggling and we had this little win today. Are there any of those examples that come to mind that you’d like to share? I think stories of, of growth in young people is one of the main reasons why adults work in education. It’s like we wanna, you know, provide a positive impact on the lives of a young person. So if someone’s burnt out right now, it’s stories like that, that I think will really reunite their fire if teaching is what they should be doing.

Jennifer Meeker (16:46):

Yeah. And not in this, I mean, I have had current role too, but I’ll take back to when I was a vice principal I had a student who wasn’t on the radar at all completely not on the radar in in terms of the office was a, you know, a, B plus student never missed a day of classes, never missed a class, was easy to get along with you know, like not a, not an issue at all. That student had some struggles in her own life. And the student checked herself into care, basically put, he put her herself to the family children’s services who then placed her in foster care. And that was a sadness story. And I met with her and her worker and we talked about you know, her strengths and her needs.

Jennifer Meeker (17:40):

And, you know, we got to know her. She happened to have a love of courses as do I. So the two of us bonded in that moment. And and then I sort of became that her person for a while. And she struggled and it, what really, what she taught me was that even when we give students everything or when we give people everything that they, we think they need or we think is going to make their life better, it doesn’t always work that way. Mm. So I couldn’t understand why all of a sudden she became a behavior issue in class. She wasn’t attending school on, you know, regularly. She wasn’t getting the work done. And she was in on the radar of the office all the time. And I said to her, her worker, one day, I said, I don’t understand she has safety. She has a roof over her head. She has food on the table. She doesn’t have to worry about those things anymore. So while all of a sudden is she not succeeding. And she said, because now she’s being a teenager.

Sam Demma (18:45):

Mm.

Jennifer Meeker (18:46):

And she has the ability to do that. And that really, that really shot a light for me on on taking each case differently that each student that I, that I met and that I dealt with and understanding what their real needs are before I assume what their real needs are, I guess. So we then backtracked and then she had a job later on, this is, so this is a couple of years later, she had a job first job, you know, and the, I happened to know the employer and she wasn’t showing up for work regularly. And they were about to fire her. And I said to the employer, you can’t, here’s why you can’t because she needs you, you can’t because she doesn’t have someone there who is saying, you know, what, if you don’t show up to work today, you might get fired.

Jennifer Meeker (19:43):

Cuz she’s on her own. She’s making these decisions for herself. There’s nobody telling her that on a regular basis that really, really cares about her. And I said, so you need to be that person. So they didn’t fire her. And eventually she left on her own. But in a good way. And yeah, so, and she, and I had many, many conversations about that, but she’s remained in contact. I’ve lost track of her in the last year or so, but she had remained in contact up till then has a family of her own and ah, yeah. And, you know, and is in a good place from what I, from what I know. So yeah.

Sam Demma (20:20):

That’s awesome. I, I think it’s

Jennifer Meeker (20:22):

On this shoulder all the time, just telling me

Sam Demma (20:24):

<Laugh> yeah. What I need to do. It’s just a really cool reminder to realize you can have such a massive impact working in education, whether you’re on the front line or not like every single person plays a significant role in making sure a student feels safe and has an opportunity to learn and grow. How do, do you think we ask students what their needs are? Is it as simple as asking them, like how did you uncover her needs when you realized that what you wanted for her, maybe wasn’t what she thought she needed.

Jennifer Meeker (21:01):

That’s a good, that’s a good question. I mean, I think that I’ve always Ross green who wrote a book called kids do well, if they can is probably one of my biggest mentors in terms of thinking about students. And so I always look at, and, and this is one of the things she taught me, you know, she could do well when she could. And when there was a barrier that she couldn’t get through, that’s when things fell apart. And so as the adult, I needed to, to be able to be alongside her in that journey. And when she came up against a barrier that she couldn’t remove, I need to figure out how to help remove that if I could so that we could learn from it and then move forward until she hit the next barrier. And I think, I mean, I think that’s how we, we all do life. We just don’t realize it. But when we’re watching, as adults, as parents, we, you know, we look at our children and we try to remove all of those barriers for them. We never wanna see our children hit barriers, right. Because that’s, that, that means that they would experience hurt and they would experience failure or whatever. But in my life, failure has taught me probably more than success.

Sam Demma (22:11):

Mm.

Jennifer Meeker (22:12):

And again, I go back to those challenges. Right. I think I have to fail before I, before I succeed often.

Sam Demma (22:20):

Yeah. And you could even just swap the word failure with learn because every, you know, failure is just feedback from whatever event you were trying to accomplish or, you know, achieve. Yeah. So I think that’s a really great perspective. You mentioned this book. Are there any other books or resources that you found really helpful that have informed the way that you teach your professional development? It could even be courses or people I’m just curious to know. Yeah. Some of the things that kind of shaped your belief system.

Jennifer Meeker (22:53):

Well, definitely the work that I did with Ross green and I’m still following has been really important for me to take a look at, especially in special education, because we, we label students with a, with a disability, a learning disability or an intellectual disability and sometimes people get stuck on those labels. And he and another Dr. Mel Levine, who’s no longer around. They didn’t, they don’t look at students that way. They look at students from a whole, the whole student perspective. They get to know the student. And one of the, the questions I always say when there’s challenge, when a student, when I was a principal and a student was having difficulty and they’d come into my office rather than I may know a whole bunch already, but rather than assuming that I know what’s going on and what the issue is, I would ask I hear you having some difficulty what’s up with that. Mm.

Jennifer Meeker (23:54):

And they might not go right to it immediately, but we would dance around that for a long time if we had to. But I would just keep coming back and say, tell me more about that. What’s up with that. You know, and I’m not gonna say that I was, I’m always perfect in the moment because sometimes you get caught emotion. We gotta, yeah, we got the motion or we gotta get this done. Or, you know, I’ve got four other people waiting outside there to talk to me, whatever. But I try to stay present in that moment with whomever. It is that I’m, that I’m working with, whether it’s a staff member, another colleague, or with a student or a family or with my own family to say, what’s up, what’s up with that? How can I help? And they may not want my help. So just, you know, sort of getting the idea of that. So that came a lot from, from raw screen, I would say. I’ve done a lot of work with oh, I’m having a, a brain pause here.

Sam Demma (24:57):

I like that you used the word pause. <Laugh> strategic. I like it. <Laugh>

Jennifer Meeker (25:03):

You can give another one, but <laugh> yeah, I guess I’ll leave it at Ross because he is the, so, oh, the other, I guess the other book that I’ve been reading most recently is grading for equity. And it’s a resource that has really had me look, I, I never, I was always the teacher that thought that report cards were, were ridiculous that we should be having conversations cuz I’m more of a talker probably than a writer. Mm. And to have conversations with people about where they are with my students, I used to do that, to talk with them about know where you’re at, here’s where we need to go next. What do you think? What do you, how are you how are you gonna achieve this? How, how am I gonna help you achieve this? And when I look at the book grading for equity, you know, marks are often subjective. I can’t tell you that we all grade the same. So when I look at that and I look at you know, people coming from diverse backgrounds and who cultural upbringings, that, that don’t value, the same things that I might it’s, it’s a problem. So I’m just, I’m partway through that book and I’m really learning a lot again about, and I think about <laugh>, oh boy, 20 years ago, I wish I could go back and teach differently and great differently. And but you know,

Sam Demma (26:30):

Everything happens for a reason, you know, and at the time it’s supposed to happen. But speaking about traveling back in time, if you could take like the wisdom and experience that you have now, you know, close to the end of your career and go back in time and tap young, you know, younger Jen, you’re still very young, but younger Jen on the shoulder. <Laugh> and you know, you say, Jen, this is what you needed to hear when you were just getting started. Not that you would share any advice to change your path or the way you’ve taught, but what advice would you have given yourself that you thought would’ve been helpful to hear when you were just getting into this vocation?

Jennifer Meeker (27:07):

So it’s interesting that say that because I just I had a teacher that I hired at the beginning of the pandemic and she’s just starting her career. Got to know her, got to be in her class and see what she was doing. And I was so impressed with how her maturity for the beginning of her career come from. And I think that a lot of our new graduates are coming out with a different outlook than I had when I graduated. Right. and so I find, I found that she seemed to be so much further ahead than I was in my first year, my career. And so I actually gave her the two books that I just talked to you about and said, if I knew this, when I started my career, I think my career would’ve been different in many ways.

Jennifer Meeker (27:55):

I think I would’ve been a more effective teacher. I think I would’ve been a more effective administrator along the way. So if this helps you, if you can connect with it in any way, you know, this is what I leave you with. And so she’s, I’ve given her both those books and we’ll we’ll chat cuz I’m not going away and she goes and you know, she could, I think she’s got a great career ahead of her. So I think that’s what I would, I, and, and people did. I, I shouldn’t say that people didn’t do that cause I definitely, I mean the whole reason I’m in teaching is because of one, one woman who Deb McGaha, I’ll never forget her who did tap me on the shoulder and who did give me that sort of advice here and there.

Jennifer Meeker (28:38):

And there were other people along the way that that did in moments, you know? But that would be someone who definitely got me into the area of teaching. And then it’s the people that I work with now that, you know, keep me asking those questions and keep me you know, looking for, for differences, for different ways to support family, different ways to converse with kids, different ways to make things, programs better for students who struggle. And I think I, I, I look to those people all the time, cause I certainly don’t have all the answers.

Sam Demma (29:12):

It sounds like a through line of your advice would be building strong relationships with others, right? Like reading books written by other people, like learning from others. You know, you mentioned how much you look forward to working on teams a few times throughout this interview, and then again, referencing the people around you and how they question you and challenge you. So it sounds like, you know, making sure you’re not working in a silo is something that’s really important in education.

Jennifer Meeker (29:40):

Absolutely. We learn so much from each other. And why would you, why would you reinvent the wheel when you can take the wheel and just make it smoother?

Sam Demma (29:49):

Mm smart. I like it. Jen. Thank you so much for coming on the show today. If someone’s listening right now, inspired by it, wants to bounce some ideas around or have a conversation, what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you?

Jennifer Meeker (30:02):

They can reach out to me via email at jennifer.meeker@ugdsb.on.ca.

Sam Demma (30:08):

Awesome. Jenn, thank you so much. This was phenomenal. I appreciate you making the time, enjoy the rest of the year and we’ll talk soon.

Jennifer Meeker (30:15):

Thanks Sam. Take care. Thanks for having me.

Sam Demma (30:19):

Hey, it’s Sam again. I hope you enjoyed that amazing conversation on the High Performing Educator podcast. If you or someone, you know, deserves some extra recognition and appreciation for the work they do in education, please consider applying or nominating them for the high performing educator awards. Go to www.highperformingeducator.com/award. You can also find the link in the show notes. I’m super excited to spotlight and feature 20 people in 2022. And I’m hoping you, or someone you know, can be one of those educators. I’ll talk to you on the next episode, all the best.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Jennifer Meeker

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.

Dawn Thompson – Strait Area Regional Advisor of the Nova Scotia Secondary School Students’ Association (NSSSA)

Dawn Thompson - Strait Area Regional Advisor of the Nova Scotia Secondary School Students' Association (NSSSA)
About Dawn Thompson

Dawn (@miztee7) grew up in Scarborough, Ontario and was educated at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ontario. She is an educator with over 25 years of varied teaching experience: from Grade 4 to adults, in public and private schools, day school and summer school, in Ontario, Alberta, Nova Scotia and abroad, and in English and French. Currently, she works in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, for the Strait Regional Centre for Education.

While the subject areas of her classes have varied widely over her career, the one constant has been her involvement with student leadership. Dawn has many years of experience as a school Student Council advisor but has spent the last 11 years working with student leadership outside of school in the NSSSA (Nova Scotia Secondary Schools Students’ Association). She has been the Regional Advisor for the Strait Region and the Sou’West/Valley Region, as well as the Advisor Co-ordinator for the Provincial Conference. This year, she is proud to be transitioning to the position of Provincial Advisor for the organization.

She is a mom to 3 amazing teenage boys who make her laugh every day (and sometimes make her scream in frustration). She is a reader and a writer. She sews and gardens. But her true talent lies in the kitchen . . . and not just because of the food she makes.

Connect with Dawn: Email | Twitter | Instagram

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Lakehead University

Strait Regional Centre for Education

NSSSA (Nova Scotia Secondary Schools Students’ Association)

NSSSA – Conferences and Events

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 on the High Performing Educator podcast.

Sam Demma (01:00):

This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest, I had the privilege of meeting this past year in Nova Scotia. Her name is Don Thompson. Don grew up in Scarborough, Ontario and was educated at Lakehead University in thunder bay. She is an educator with over 25 years of varied teaching experience from grade four to adults in public and private schools, day school, and summer school in Ontario, Alberta, Nova Scotia, and abroad, and in both English and French languages. Currently, she works in Antigonish, Nova Scotia for the straight regional center for education. While the subject areas of her classes have varied widely over her career, the one constant has been her involvement with student leadership. Dawn has many years of experience as a school student council advisor, but has spent the last 11 years working with student leadership outside of school in the NSSSA (Nova Scotia Secondary School Students Association)

Sam Demma (01:57):

She has been the regional advisor for the Strait Region and the Sou’West/Valley Region, as well as the advisor coordinator for the provincial conference. This year, she is proud to be transitioning to the position of provincial advisor for the entire organization. She is a mom to three amazing teenage boys who make her laugh every day and sometimes make her scream in frustration. <Laugh> She is a reader and a writer. She sews and gardens, but her true talent lies in the kitchen, and not just because of the food she makes. I hope you enjoy this conversation with Don Thompson. She is filled with positivity and so much high energy, and I know you’ll enjoy it. I will see you on the other side. Don, welcome to the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here today. Please start by introducing yourself.

Dawn Thompson (02:46):

Okay. I’m Don Thompson. I am a high school English and French teacher in Antigonish, Nova Scotia at Dr. John Hugh Gillis Regional Sigh school. But more significantly, the reason you asked me to be here is because I am the regional advisor for a student leadership organization in Nova Scotia called the NSSSA.

Sam Demma (03:09):

Your heart has been tied to the NS a for many years. Please tell us why it is such a meaningful organization for you and what inspired you to get involved.

Dawn Thompson (03:22):

So when I moved here about 13 years ago, I didn’t know anything about the Ente. It’s a Nova Scotia thing. I’m an Ontario girl. And I had a couple of students in an English class who said to me, miss, we’re going to this leadership conference and we need an advisor. Do you think you’d wanna go with us? And I thought, well, that’s kind of up my alley. I’ve done student council in the past. And I was sort of looking for my thing outside of the classroom. So I agreed to go. And afterwards I found out that it was over the long weekend in may and it was a three hour drive away. And I was gonna have to take some time off of school. And I thought, holy cow, what did I just get roped into? But my principal assured me that it was an amazing organization and that the girls who wanted to go were really great young people.

Dawn Thompson (04:17):

And so he said, just do it. And I got there and about five hours in, I called home and said, I wanna go to this every year. Mm. I have never experienced anything like this in my career, the enthusiasm, the positive energy and just the astounding quality of an event organized and run entirely by students, which was so well done. I thought I have to be a part of this. And then the two girls who asked me to go ran for co premier of our region, they won the election and they said, would you be our regional advisor? And I said, okay, <laugh> what do I have to do? <Laugh> and, and, and then it’s history from there

Sam Demma (05:15):

And N S a stands, can you share what the abbreviation stands for in case someone’s outside of Nova Scotia?

Dawn Thompson (05:23):

Of course it’s the Nova Scotia, secondary school students association

Sam Demma (05:29):

Love it. I, I loved the conference. I think I had similar feelings that you had being there over the summer. I second, everything you say about it. And if someone is in Nova Scotia listening to this and it’s not involved, what are you doing? What are you waiting for? You know, get involved right now. So when did you realize as a student yourself that you wanted to pursue a career and a future in education?

Dawn Thompson (05:58):

In high school, I thought I wanted to be a psychologist and my father kept trying to talk me out of it. He kept saying, oh, Don, you’d be a really great teacher. I didn’t know if that was really what I wanted. I, you know, like I’d done babysitting and I taught swimming lessons and I’ve done summer camps and things like that. So I guess I’d kind of always been involved in teaching, but I didn’t really know if that’s what I wanted as a career. And then in my last year of high school, I had a momentous conversation with somebody who I guess was kind of a mentor. And he said, Don psychologists build hospitals at the bottoms of cliffs and teachers build fences at the top. Which one do you wanna build? And I thought, I wanna build the fence. I wanna catch them before they fall. I don’t wanna fix them once they’re broken. So I became a teacher.

Sam Demma (06:54):

And when you made that decision after these meaningful conversations with people in your life, what did the journey look like from the moment the decision was made in your mind to where you are today?

Dawn Thompson (07:06):

I remember at university preparing for my very first student teaching lesson and I was terrified. I thought, what if I’m terrible? What if I suck? How am I gonna call my parents and say, I know we’ve spent thousands of dollars in a few years of my life, but I, I think I made a mistake. And then that first lesson was incredible. And like, in that moment, I knew that I belonged at the front of a classroom that like I was born to be there. It was the right fit. So I taught in a bunch of different places. I taught in Toronto for 10 years. I taught outside of Ottawa for the upper Canada school board for a couple of years. And then we moved to Nova Scotia. And in the time that I’ve been here I’ve taught at, I think, six different schools. I’ve taught every grade level from grade four to grade 12. I’ve taught English, French history, social studies, art drama. <Laugh> you name it? It’s pretty much been on my plate at some point in my career.

Sam Demma (08:13):

That’s so awesome. And in your role today, what are some of the aspects of the job that bring you the most fulfillment and joy and just fill your heart?

Dawn Thompson (08:27):

Truly my job with the NS a absolutely does every second. A lot of the time I get asked what do you do in, in your role as regional advisor? And I often answer, well, I don’t do much. I go to meetings, I listen to these kids talk and plan. They do all the work. I’m just the backup plan. And the reality is I do the job because I get, get so much out of it. Mm-Hmm, <affirmative>, it is so inspiring to watch young people be so capable to watch them plan and run incredible events and to do it all with no payback for themselves. This is not a job that they’re getting paid to do. They’re doing the work at the conference. It’s not like they even get to go there and just enjoy it. Yeah. It it’s a significant amount of work.

Dawn Thompson (09:24):

And one of the things that I love about it is that as a teacher, I have always wanted, I’ve always felt that it was my job to prepare students for the world outside of my classroom. Yes, I’m an English teacher, but who cares? If you can write a great essay, that’s not gonna do you a lot of good in your life. I would much rather know that I’m teaching you real life skills. And the N essay is a great way for kids to actually get those skills. They learn how to write appropriate emails. They learn how to read a contract and sign it, how to negotiate, how to create a budget how to problem solve, how to hire people and how to fire people. Yeah. So the skills that they get there are always so impressive. And in my career, I hear a lot about what kids can’t do. Mm. And the NS a always shows me what they can do when you give them expectations, they rise up and they meet them.

Sam Demma (10:29):

Yeah.

Dawn Thompson (10:30):

And give me hope for the future. Truly, you know, I think someday I’ll be in a care facility and it’ll be okay. <Laugh> because they’ll be BSA kids there looking out for me. The future of the world is in good hands.

Sam Demma (10:45):

Mm. So the, the students themselves sound like give you a ton of hope. I would assume they’re also the reason you’re fired up every day to get out of bed and pursue this work. What, what, what else keeps you motivated?

Dawn Thompson (11:01):

There’s a lot of joy in a classroom, right? When you can create a really great safe environment where kids come every day and they know that it’s okay to be who they are. And and that I’m interested in knowing them and learning from them as much as they learn from me, then you often get really, really great classroom conversations that go on which, which are so inspirational. And truly, there’s a really, really wonderful sense of comradery that comes with working with amazing colleagues, too. You know, those connections you make with other educators where you can think outside the box and solve a problem for a kid that nobody was expecting that like, that’s a really rewarding experience too, at the end of the day, if I go home and say, well, you know, maybe they didn’t learn how to write a really great introduction today, but I know that this kid felt loved in my classroom. This kid got some support for making a hard decision. You know, I connected with a colleague and we found a solution for a kid who’s gonna be away for three weeks or something like that. It just, those are the little things that really make every day matter.

Sam Demma (12:21):

I’ve spoken to many people in education over the past two years, and something many of them have had in common is there’s been moments of challenge, especially throughout the past two years personally, with the pandemic. And, you know, thankfully things are changing hopefully for the better for the rest of our lives. <Laugh> school will never go back to the way it was before, which I believe is a really good thing. You know, it’s challenge us to think outside the box and maybe change some of our focuses and practices, but I’m curious to know what you think some of the opportunities are that are coming outta this interesting time.

Dawn Thompson (12:55):

Hmm. Opportunities. I worry that we are not taking advantage of the opportunities that are coming here. We’ve got kids who are really, really connected to technology, and I hope that we find a way to use those opportunities the right way, because I’m a little concerned that right now we’re not preparing kids for how to handle the technology that they’re suddenly so well versed in. They don’t have some of the skills. I think that they really need to navigate that in a healthy way, but a lot of them have become in some ways independent learners. They’ve had to be if they’re doing online learning, if they’re missing classes, because they’re homesick, there’s a lot of independence there that I think we can really cultivate in them and that we need to cultivate in them a sense of personal responsibility for their achievements and their success. And more importantly, a hope that we find a way for them to recognize that what they do at school is really about preparing them for the real world, that there shouldn’t be that disconnect between your classroom and the job you might have someday. Mm

Sam Demma (14:09):

That’s a really great point. I think there are so many pathway opportunities that exist that even when I was a student, maybe we weren’t talking about as much in school and the whole pandemic has really shined a light on the, the flexibility of education or the ways it can exist. And I think it’s given students a chance to, you know, explore the world for maybe a year. Some, some schools in Ontario didn’t even actually go into a classroom for like eight months. And so, yeah, I think you’re absolutely right, like shortening that gap or that leg between what’s getting taught and what’s happening in the world. It sounds like more real world conversations are getting pulled into classrooms, even when we were at N say, the conversations that are happening are so forward thinking and based on current events. So I, yeah, those are, those are great opportunities for learning. What, what, yes, go ahead.

Dawn Thompson (15:05):

I would love to see a four day school week

Dawn Thompson (15:11):

Where kids are in classes four days a week, and there’s one day where they do all the other stuff. They do the extracurriculars, they don’t miss any class time. They get extra support. So they’re not being pulled out of a class to get support in another subject area. I would love to see education seen in a different light. We’ve been doing education the same way for hundreds of years, but the world we’re looking at today is not the same as a hundred years ago. And so I think hopefully the major changes, the, the spotlight that has been Sean on the current challenges in our whole society will allow us to be able to say, okay, we need to really make some bold moves here. If we can survive a couple of years of major changes with no preparation, you know, no, no reports written and no experts hired and no warning. And none of that stuff, if we can manage, then we can do a lot more and we should do a lot more to actually tackle the major challenges that we’re facing in our education system. For sure.

Sam Demma (16:25):

Time to push the limits. That’s the thing that comes to mind, you know be, yeah. What, what do you do to fill up your cup when you’re not at work or in the classroom to help you show up at the best of your abilities?

Dawn Thompson (16:43):

I read I’m an English teacher, so I have a real passion for literature to start with. But to me that’s a really, really great way to decompress get lost in a book, get lost in the life of somebody else, forget your own troubles for a little while and, you know, worry about how they’re gonna manage theirs, which are so much worse than yours. And <laugh> enjoy like I have a passion for language. So I love to see how a writer creates language and controls it and shapes the world, using words. That’s exciting to me. And I make sure that I try to balance that with physical activity and with time in my kitchen, I cook, I bake, I dance at the same time sometimes <laugh> and you know, I try to make sure that I spend time with my kids and I laugh and, and hang out with my friends and just, it it’s, it really is that balance in life, all the things in moderation.

Sam Demma (17:44):

Mm. I, I support the dancing and cooking at the same time. Sounds like a party. <Laugh>

Dawn Thompson (17:51):

You have to be careful though, and you should definitely wear an apron.

Sam Demma (17:54):

Yeah. <laugh> I should get food everywhere. That’s awesome. Well, when you think about people who have had a significant impact on you as a person and your professional development as a teacher who are some of the individuals that come to mind and what do you think those individuals did for you that had a significant impact?

Dawn Thompson (18:17):

There was a teacher in high school. I took political science in grade 12, and I remember walking in to his classroom every day, thinking I know nothing <laugh> and then I would leave going. I only know what I learned today in this class from him, but he never ever made me feel like, I didn’t know anything. In fact, he was the one who started calling me a political animal, somebody who was really passionate about that. And he made me actually want to live up to that. He got me interested in politics, and so I know that a lot of what I do in my classroom, I have shaped around trying to give kids that same feeling, trying to get them to see themselves in a way that maybe they have not in the past, trying to get them to say, well, it’s okay if I’m not an expert or I’m not perfect as long as I’m always trying to grow and, and learn and be better.

Dawn Thompson (19:14):

So I definitely would consider him to be a, a role model for the kind of teacher I became and have a very long relationship with the woman who was my cooperating teacher when I was a student teacher, ah her name is gay Thompson, no relation to me. Oh, wow. <Laugh> but I actually kind of think of her as a second mom, you know, we’ve known each other for 25, some odd years now, and it was amazing to be in her classroom and see what she did and then to work with her again, later on in my career and to watch the environment she created for teachers in her presence and to call her up during the course of my career, when I was facing a job crisis, should I take this job? Should I take that job? What am I doing in my classroom?

Dawn Thompson (20:11):

That’s not working anymore. And to be able to call her up and, and talk to her, not just as somebody who understood my profession, but also who understood me as a, a friend has been really, really extraordinary. And I hope that I pay that forward to young teachers who come into my space as well. And into my teaching world, I, I hope that I give them what she gave me. And then, and then someday when I am retired, I hope that they also call me up and say, Hey, I have this really great thing that happened. And, and, and I can celebrate it with them.

Sam Demma (20:52):

Ah, I love that. Are these individuals that you stay in? I mean, it sounds like you and gay Thompson stay in touch with, do you stay in touch with these individuals often?

Dawn Thompson (21:02):

Well, I don’t talk to her as often as I probably should. That’s okay. But I, we do, we, we call at least two or three times a year, major life moments. You know, she sends my kids birthday cards, which is so lovely. And, you know, just the, the little things that make sure that you stay in touch so that we know what’s going on in each other’s lives.

Sam Demma (21:22):

Nice. Well, this interview gives you another reason to reach out to her <laugh> so hopefully it facilitates a connection. So

Dawn Thompson (21:30):

When tell her, she will be,

Sam Demma (21:32):

So it’s obvious people have played an impact. Are there any resources that you think have also played an impact, maybe that’s books you’ve read that really provided unique perspectives or courses you’ve been a part of, you know, you mentioned the conference NS a, so that’s a big resource. What else?

Dawn Thompson (21:54):

Well, the N plus a I, I know it’s a student leadership organization and it really is designed run planned. The whole thing is for students, but teachers get a lot out of it too. When we go there as advisors, if, I mean, you did a session with advisors, you spent time with advisors over the weekend. You know, how important that time is for them. There are advisors who have been going to conferences for years, and it might be the only time that we see each other, but there’s such a really great sense of family that comes with that. We’re teaching in different places in the province, we’re teaching different levels, different subjects. And yet there’s a connection that we make that is really rejuvenating for a lot of us. And having that provincial conference, especially in may leading into that really rough part of the year, which is June there’s something that really fills up your tank to help you get through the month of June.

Dawn Thompson (23:00):

So it is definitely a huge resource for me, especially because I get energy from that. But I also have an opportunity to dialogue with colleagues, which is not something that happens on an everyday basis, often in a school, you know, you’re locked in your own classroom, doing your thing, that there is not a lot of opportunity to meet with other teachers and say, Hey, what are you doing in your space? Or I’m trying this, and I don’t know if it’s working out. What do you think have you had had experience with this? So certainly the S a has given me that the other thing that I would say really, really shaped my career in terms of a resource many years ago, when I taught in Toronto at Asian court collegiate, we had a principal who was kind of visionary, and he decided that he wanted to train everybody on staff.

Dawn Thompson (23:53):

And I’m not just talking about teachers, I’m talking about TAs caretakers in the building, secretaries administration, everyone who worked in that building was trained on a program, which was called tribes. It’s no longer called that now. It’s peace learning groups. I think I’m not sure that’s okay. Because I think that they’ve recognized that perhaps the name while it was well-intentioned was not necessarily a good choice, but really it’s about cooperative learning in your classroom. It’s about creating a community of learners who support each other for their success. And it’s about the teacher as much being a part of that community of learners as the students are. And so I took the training, but I was initially very skeptical because it was really designed for elementary students and they were trying to run this program with high school teachers. And I thought, oh, really, you think I can play that game with my grade twelves, are you crazy?

Dawn Thompson (24:57):

They’re not gonna wanna do that. And I asked a lot of questions and, and I was probably a little bit difficult. But at the end of the training, I committed to giving it a shot the next year in my classes. And so in September I started it up and I’ve never looked back. Mm-Hmm, <affirmative> the difference that it made in my classroom. Every single time has been tangible. It makes kids comfortable with each other. It makes them feel safe. It creates a relationship between me and them that is so necessary if you want real quality learning to happen. So during the pandemic, it was more challenging to do that because a lot of the activities required contact and they’re supposed to be sitting in groups and working in groups and they weren’t allowed to, and they had to wear their masks and they couldn’t see each other’s faces and they couldn’t touch the same ball.

Dawn Thompson (25:57):

So you can’t play the game where you throw the ball back and forth. Like it was just, there was so much about it. That was so hard. And I felt it because the environment that I created in my space was not the same. Mm-Hmm <affirmative> it was missing something. So getting back to it this year, just renewed how much that had such a gigantic impact on me as an educator. I would love to become a trainer and train other people to do that someday. But in the meantime, I make sure that I use it in all my classes, and I talk about it with my colleagues. I have the book that has the whole program laid out. I bought it, I consulted on a regular basis. I check out new activities that I might try from it. And I think that that was a really huge component for developing me into the educator that I am.

Sam Demma (26:49):

Isn’t the book, the same title of the program? Like what would the title of the book be if someone wanted to try and find it, or

Dawn Thompson (26:55):

The, the, I don’t, I’m hoping that they’re manufacturing a new version of it. Okay. But the old version was tribes, TLC the tribes learning community and it’s I think if you go online, they have a website, but I’m pretty sure exchange if you search up tribes, it’ll take you to peace learning groups now. And I think that they’re revamping a lot of stuff, so I don’t know how many of their resources their books are available anymore.

Sam Demma (27:26):

Okay. When you say using it, is it more so a collection of exercises and activities that you could implement in your classroom or what exactly is the program?

Dawn Thompson (27:37):

Well, the program has, it’s an approach really cool to how you run everything in your classroom. Okay. So I spend a lot of time at the beginning of a course, really making sure that I’m creating that space for students, getting them comfortable. They’re sharing information about themselves. I’m learning about them as individuals, as learners. They’re learning about me. We’re developing our four agreements, which basically set the rules for the classroom. You know, it’s about being an attentive listener. It’s about being mutually respectful to each other. It’s about the right to pass or participate, meaning that there are some times where if you don’t wanna talk today, you don’t have to. But recognizing that the more you don’t participate, the less other people get to know you. And then that’s not such a comfortable space for you. So understanding that you have to make choices and really building this sense of community in the classroom respect and celebrating the differences in our space and amongst our people, but also looking for the connections that draw us together and, and help us make a community.

Dawn Thompson (28:50):

So it’s a bunch of different activities that you can do. And then it’s sort of an approach to even how you run the lessons. If I really wanted to, I could structure all my lessons that way I don’t. But often I do have activities that we do on a regular basis that build that sense of community. And then eventually, probably about six weeks in when I feel like kids know me and I know them I ask them to give me a collection of probably about five names of people who they would like to have in what I’m now calling guilds instead of tribes. Nice. because it, I think a Guild is a really great name for what they’re doing. It’s a group of people who are not related by blood, but who have a common goal, their own success. Yep. And who have things in common.

Dawn Thompson (29:41):

So I’m calling them guilds now. So they tell me five people they’d like to have in their Guild. I put those guilds together and I promise them that at least one person that they have asked for will be in their Guild. So everybody has a safe person in their Guild. But I put those guilds together thinking about genders. I think about strengths and weaknesses. I think about personalities. I think about learning styles. I think about all of the things that contribute to how they might successfully work together. And then they sit with that group. They often work with that group. They don’t do everything with their group, but many things. And what I hear usually at the end of the year is how much they loved their group, how tight they became. You don’t have to think of a name for their group and they’d come up with crazy stuff all the time. And <laugh>, it’s, it’s just, there’s so much positive about it that I think if I create that in my space, then all the learning that happens in the room afterwards comes out of the fact that this is a good place to be.

Sam Demma (30:45):

Mm. Sounds like a conference in a classroom. That’s what came to mind. <Laugh>

Dawn Thompson (30:49):

I hope

Sam Demma (30:50):

<Laugh>. Yeah. It’s so that’s so cool. It sounds like it’s had a really big impact on your beliefs and philosophy and approaching education, which is awesome. I’ll definitely hyperlink it down below so people can check it out. If you could take all of your experience in education, all the wisdom you’ve gained and all of your years teaching go back in time and like tap down on the shoulder. When, when you were just starting to work in a school, knowing what you know now, not that you would change anything about your path, but what advice do you think it would’ve been helpful to hear when you were just starting?

Dawn Thompson (31:25):

You don’t have to mark everything.

Sam Demma (31:29):

Hmm.

Dawn Thompson (31:31):

As a beginning teacher, there’s this sense that you have to be on top of everything students are doing and everything they do matters, and you have to have marks for everything and you have to be accountable and guess what you don’t, mm-hmm <affirmative> sometimes you just have to relax and let the learning take place that there are other ways to assess the learning that’s happening and to check in with kids that has nothing to do with marking the work.

Sam Demma (31:59):

That’s a great piece of advice and I’m sure people who just started teaching over the past few years could have used that maybe two years ago before they jumped in so thanks for sharing. If someone is listening to this conversation, has been inspired by it, wants to connect with you, join your personal Guild, or ask you a question, what would be the best way for someone listening to get in touch?

Dawn Thompson (32:25):

Well, I I’ve got my social media, so I am on Instagram. I think I’m @miztee77. You’d have to request to follow me because I do keep it private, teachers have to do that. I’m on Twitter, so you can find me there too. I’m pretty sure I’m @miztee7 there, and obviously I’m happy to get emails too. So you know, if you wanna talk about teaching, you wanna talk about the NSSSA? My email address is kuzykmommy@gmail.com.

Sam Demma (33:10):

Awesome. Don, thank you so much for taking some of your time to stop marking some exams and you know, join me on the podcast to share some of your experiences and beliefs around education. It’s been a pleasure chatting with you and I can’t wait until our next conversation,

Dawn Thompson (33:27):

Sam, it was a real pleasure for me too. It was so nice to reconnect with you. I, I had a great time.

Sam Demma (33:35):

Hey, it’s Sam again. I hope you enjoyed that amazing conversation on the High Performing Educator podcast. If you or someone, you know, deserves some extra recognition and appreciation for the work they do in education, please consider applying or nominating them for the high performing educator awards. Go to www.highperformingeducator.com/award. You can also find the link in the show notes. I’m super excited to spotlight and feature 20 people in 2022. And I’m hoping you, or someone you know, can be one of those educators. I’ll talk to you on the next episode, all the best.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Dawn Thompson

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.