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Julie Hunt Gibbons – Superintendent of Secondary Program & Student Success at Halton District School Board

Julie Hunt Gibbons – Superintendent of Secondary Program & Student Success at Halton District School Board
About Julie Hunt Gibbons

Julie (@SOthinkingabout) is a dynamic school and system leader with a broad range of educational leadership experiences spanning three decades in two different school boards. Demonstrated success in collaborative leadership, strategic, operational, and program planning, faculty development, educational technology, and innovation.

Connect with Julie: Email | Linkedin | 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)

Peel District School Board

University of Western Ontario, B.A. in Political Science

University of Windsor, M.A. in Sociology

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):
Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. I’m super excited for today’s conversation with Julie Hunt Gibbons. Julie is the superintendent of secondary programs and student success at the Halton District School Board, or I should say was the superintendent. She is retiring as of the summer of 2021. I believe right before we recorded she let me know that she would be retiring in the next few days.


Sam Demma (01:06):
So we got her on the show right after her long career in education came to a close. Now she’s a dynamic school leader and system leader with a broad range of educational leadership experiences spanning three decades in two different school boards. And she has a demonstrated track record and success in collaborative leadership, strategic operational, and program planning, faculty development, educational technology, and innovation. You could tell that Julia is super passionate about her work, but the way she got there was a little unique. In fact, she thought she was gonna work in law as you’ll hear about in today’s conversation. Regardless, I hope you enjoy this. I will see you on the other side, take some notes, get a pen, get a sheet of paper and I’ll see you soon. Julie, thank you for coming on the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show, just I think 10 days into your retirement. Oh, five days into your retirement. I love it. It’s a pleasure to have you here. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself and take us back to the story about what actually got you into education in the first place?


Julie Hunt Gibbons (02:12):
Well, I’m Julie Hunt Gibbons, and I have just retired as a superintendent of education, specifically a program and student success superintendent at the Halton District School Board. So it’s been 30 years, so when you say, take me back, Sam, that’s a long time. So I started teaching in 1991 and I started in the Peel District School Board at a high school that doesn’t exist anymore called Morningstar High School and then I moved to heart lake. So I was up in Maltin in Brampton for the first part of my teaching career and why I became an educator; that’s an interesting one because I didn’t really have that, I want to be a teacher all my life piece. In fact, my undergrad is in political science and sociology, my master’s degree is in criminology with a focus on socio-legal studies, and I was doing that because I thought I wanted to go to law school.


Julie Hunt Gibbons (03:16):
And when I was doing my master’s degree, I was a TA. And then I taught a night school course in first year criminology. And most of the people I taught were adults who were taking it to get a bump in their pay as police officers or correctional officers. And I loved teaching. I really, really loved inspir people and sharing knowledge. And it just sort of went from there. And I I applied for both a PhD and a and to the faculty of education. And I got into both and I sort of explored both for one week panicked and then ended up at the, a city of Toronto doing my bachelor of education and becoming a teacher. And I taught all things in a history department that weren’t history. I taught politics and law and sociology. And so all those grade back then it was grade 13. So all those sort of 11, 12 and 13 core that students can take later in their, their high school career. So,


Sam Demma (04:26):
So I would be correct in saying you had no idea you’d get into teaching.


Julie Hunt Gibbons (04:31):
Absolutely not. My master’s degree was actually completed working in a maximum security women’s facility in SEL, AE, Michigan focused on women who were completing life sentences and in Michigan life is indeterminant life. It’s, it’s not a set time it’s until the day you die. And so I was going back and forth from Windsor to Michigan and doing interviews with women who were incarcerated. My very first job was actually working for lifeline, which is a program in Canada that was four lifers and BI lifers. And I was the executive assistant for this program while I was completing my ma. So no teaching wasn’t ever any part of it. It was all focused in that criminology field. And I, I thought I was going into law or at least a PhD in that area.


Sam Demma (05:24):
Well, you’ve peaked my curiosity now, as someone who interviews educators, you, you said you, you were interviewing women who are facing life sentences. What were those interviews about or, or what did they look like? You just, I’m kind of curious.


Julie Hunt Gibbons (05:36):
Well everyone was already tried and sentenced and incarcerated and serving a life term in the hero on valley maximum security women’s Institute in IIL and Michigan. And our, the interviews were really about what, how they got there. And, and a lot of it was from a feminist perspective and the role of patriarchy in their situations and in their criminal circumstances and then sort of where they were in their own journeys once incarcerated, because of course many had kicked drug habits. Others had found an education. They never were privy to when they were living on the streets, et cetera. And so it was all very qualitative in nature. And it, it was absolutely fascinating because, you know, someone could have been serving a sentence from when they were hooked on heroin and had killed a client in a sex trade piece.


Julie Hunt Gibbons (06:39):
And then now they have three university degrees and were straight and had found God and all the rest, and it didn’t have an impact in any way they were locked up until the end of their days. So it was a very interesting piece. And then when I working on the male side with the lifeline piece through Kingston again I, I loved the educational piece. I realized that that work might not sit well for a, a, a young woman looking to have a family and, and all the rest it was. So I made the decision that I wanted to help people, and I wanted to help people who got to go home at the end of the day.


Sam Demma (07:26):
That’s awesome. What a story. And when you reflect back, can you think of educators that you had in your life that had a huge impact on you that led you towards education? Like you mentioned that you loved teaching. Did you have any teachers who also loved teaching that had an impact on you?


Julie Hunt Gibbons (07:44):
For sure. I did. When I when, when I was a small child and, and, and in high school. And, and I also remember the ones who had the very opposite impact, you know, the, I think the mediocre, the ones that you forget, but the incredible, wonderful, and incredibly not wonderful are the ones that you remember. And I would say I took a, a lot of lessons from those that inspired me and I had the fortunate chance to go back. I went to high school in the us, so I moved, I grew up in Oakville and then we moved to new England and we moved back and I actually graduated from Thomas a Blakelock high school in Oakville. And I was able to do one of my practice teaching students there. And there were, there were some men in the history department who I had had in my grade 13 year when I was there. And it was the ability to be that powerful storyteller. And I think the reason I loved history so much was because of the oratory and the storytelling. That’s how I remembered and did well. I, I got into the story of all of it. And to this day, like I love historical fiction. That is my choice of reading at all times. You’re, you’re learning something, but history has come alive as well.


Sam Demma (09:07):
That’s amazing. And I think what’s so interesting about that is that the teacher that had the biggest impact on me was my history teacher. It was world issues class, but he was just sharing us history. And at the same points relate to, to my passion about storytelling and, and the way he delivered his lessons, which is so cool. You mentioned that, you know, some teachers that are great stuck out to you and some that were not so great, also stuck out to you. And it brought my mind to this quote that every, you know, person or situation were in is either an example or is a, like a caution or like a worry, you know, one example. Yeah. Non-example, I’m trying to think of what the opposite word was. So what are some of the things the best teachers did in your experience that you can remember? And also on the other side of the coin, some of the things you think that those not so great teachers did that had a negative impact on you.


Julie Hunt Gibbons (10:03):
I have always believed that kids don’t care what, you know, until they know what you care. They know that you care, and that’s the most important thing by far. Students need to know that you are the caring adult and that their, their life beyond whatever it, it is that you’re teaching is important. There has to be that human connection. Like we’re not widgets, we’re, we’re not robots, we’re human. And the human connection has to be there. And I always say to starting out teachers, you know, how do you answer the question when someone asks you, what do you teach? You know, and people might say, well, I teach math, I teach science, I teach history, teach students. I teach children. I teach human beings because that’s the most important piece, because when you reflect on your favorite teacher and I reflect on my favorite teacher, I can’t name the lesson. I can’t say what was so great about how they taught. I can only reflect on a feeling that they left me with and that feeling, that how much I enjoy being in their presence and being in that room, because it was engaging and enjoying. And it’s the feeling that you reflect back on that made them your favorite teacher.


Sam Demma (11:13):
I love that. And it’s so true. And what do you think are some of the ways they made you feel great? Like, was it by tapping on the shoulder by personalizing what they were saying to you by giving you a chance to share? Like, what do you think if I know you mentioned this is a long time ago, so it might be hard to pinpoint some specific things,


Julie Hunt Gibbons (11:33):
You know, having worked in the program department for the last number of years and, and seeing a lot of different people teach it’s, it’s the personalization of it. It’s the little things that start it with greeting students at the door, knowing their names, knowing something about them beyond just their name knowing and properly pronouncing someone’s name be having opportunities to form and build trust in relationships. So whether that’s you know, building in opportunities, regardless of what you’re teaching, you know, I could be doing teaching math or teaching geography. I can still use communi or circles and you sharing and, and opportunities where I get to know students beyond just the subject matter of desks and rows, and, you know, Sage on the stage where I’m just really regurgitate, you’re regurgitating what I’ve said. Like that’s, that’s not active teaching in this world today with Google Wikipedia, all those other things.


Julie Hunt Gibbons (12:35):
Students don’t need teachers for facts. Students need teachers to provide the engagement and that joy of education that becomes the self motivating piece to want to learn and to be inspired, to learn. And I think it’s those inspiring pieces that includes the various pedagogy. They’re not doing the same thing all the time being responsive. So one year I might be teaching a grade 10 history class. And I know that most of maybe I have 75% of very active boys in my class, and I better be doing kinesthetic learning and not having them sit there and read and regurgitate and history may be the worst subject for that because history doesn’t change, but we have to be responsive in, in how we teach. And that means knowing them and meeting them where they are. I taught math for the first five years of my career.


Julie Hunt Gibbons (13:33):
Cause there wasn’t enough history there. I don’t have math qualifications in nine and 10 that you could teach the subject. If you had a willingness back when I was doing this. And I, I said, sure, I’ll teach math. And I think the reason I excelled at it is because I told the students right up front in my math that, you know, this wasn’t, I, you know, I didn’t go and graduate from Waterloo and mathematics. I explained things in a way that made them understand it. And I took real world examples and, and I used you know, we were talking about integer and negatives and I, I, I got out that thermometer. We talked about how things look so people could com conceptualize. It made it O okay to ask any questions. There was no such thing as a, as a dumb question. And I, I think that was sort of made it a trusting environment. And when people trust people are more vulnerable and then they’re willing to go further, take greater risks and ultimately learn more.


Sam Demma (14:34):
I was gonna say, it feels like, it sounds like trust is the main ingredient and all the examples you just shared, you know, trusting that the person standing in front of the classroom does care about you trusting that you can ask questions, make a mistake and learn from it in a safe environment. Like it all seems like it stems back to care and trust and compassion. And these sorts of characteristics, those are the ones.


Julie Hunt Gibbons (14:57):
Definitely


Sam Demma (14:59):
Those are the positive experiences. And we don’t have to, you know, spend too much time on the negative. But it’s funny. I find that a thousand people could compliment us in one person, says something negative and it sticks out in your head like a sore thumb. And it’s just, I think it’s a negativity bias that all humans have. And I’m curious to know if you could think back to some of those experiences that were negative as a caution, you know, what are things that you think other educators should never do or not do? You know, based on your experiences.


Julie Hunt Gibbons (15:31):
You’re very right. There, there is a, there’s actually been research done on, on how many positives someone has to hear in order to help balance that one negative piece. And I think back to when I was a small child in elementary school and a music teacher telling me that maybe I shouldn’t sing so loudly and you know, that sort of, that you know, that, that just joy to me, that kids have. And, and then maybe, wow, that was the first time I’ve reflected that maybe I wasn’t the best singer in the world.


Julie Hunt Gibbons (16:09):
But I, I do think that some times as educated, we really have to worry about what we say, because we’re in such a position of trust and people take it to heart. And so comments about levels like D streaming is a big thing in the province right now, right? And so commentary mid by educators about what levels you, you should be taking your courses at. And, and ultimately it should be a student’s choice because only they know how hard they’re working, how hard they’d like to work, what their post-secondary dreams are in any way. And, and you know, who are we to in any way cap those because, you know, people may have to work differing degrees, achieve their dreams, but their dreams are their own. And we have to be very careful that in what we say, that we are not in any way, a stepping on someone’s dreams.


Sam Demma (17:08):
I love that. And it’s so, so true. And I think at a young age, we look up to our teachers and they have, you know, not only are they in a position trust, but you’re technically in a position of influence, you know, what you say is, is listened to, and it might not be accepted, but it’s definitely reflected upon by the students. Most of the time, I would say, and you, you, you’re totally right. You know, if you tell a student you can or cannot do something it could affect them for, for, for years or, or change their perspective, Devon what’s possible for them. Aside from the situation of the singing, can you recall any other situations where something like that happened for you personally?


Julie Hunt Gibbons (17:47):
No. I just remember the overall the feelings, you know? Yeah. Like if you say someone’s name and it’s an association of a feeling of, of either it’s a good feeling, a bad feeling or, or a lack of feeling. Got it. And I think that, that everyone, regardless of what position you’re in, if you’re you know, an EA, a teacher, a vice principal, a principal, a superintendent, the, the goal should be to leave people with a good feeling. Hmm. Because that’s the empowering piece that became, I think most clear to me when I became a vice principal, because often the association for students is the vice principal is where you go, if you’re in trouble. And you know, even now I, I see people and they’re like, oh, you were my vice principal. And I know them and people say, oh, were you, were you a bad kid?


Julie Hunt Gibbons (18:39):
You knew your vice principal. And the answer, the answer is no, there’s no such thing as a bad kid, there are bad choices. And everybody makes bad choices at some point in their life. But just because you knew the vice principal didn’t mean that you, you were a bad kid. And I, I really tried hard as the vice principal. I coached. I was involved in student government. It was just trying really hard to make it, that it wasn’t a place where you went only if you got sent there, because it was a de disciplinary matter.


Sam Demma (19:12):
I love that. And it’s, you know, I’m not far removed from high school. I’m 21. And I, it’s funny because that’s such a very, that’s a true stereotype about the vice principal situation, and I’m glad you broke it. That’s awesome. I love that in terms of positions, you’ve played the whole field in terms of when it comes to education of teaching principal, vice principal superintendent, which of the positions have you found the most fulfilling personally, and what are some of the challenges you faced in it? And how did you overcome those?


Julie Hunt Gibbons (19:46):
I have thoroughly enjoyed every position I was in. So that one, that one is hard. I, I think it was the making the difference piece is what propelled me. So when I was a teacher, then they had, they had this thing called assistant department heads back then they haven’t had that role for a long time. And people pointed out I should apply for role. And I, I did. And then now you’re helping people within the department in a leadership role. And then the next progression was to department head. And then in peel, we had this title, it was super head because it was multiple departments. And it was just sort of what was the next piece. A lot of it was intrinsic as well as extrinsic and people saying to me, oh, you should apply for this. But a lot of it was the feeling that I could make a difference.


Julie Hunt Gibbons (20:46):
So moving from the classroom into administration, a, a lot of it was that I wanted to make a difference for more students. And I thought I could in that role because now I didn’t just have the students in my classroom who I saw every day. I had the students in the school and I was a secondary vice principal at Erindale secondary school in peel for five years. And back in the day Erindale was a very large school. And I know that I got to help a lot more students in that role than I did just when I was in the class. And, and then the next logical piece was then principal. And I was the principal at Warren park in south Missisauga. And again, the, the leadership and the tone of the school comes from the front office.


Julie Hunt Gibbons (21:44):
And I’ve always believed that, and I’ve always lived that and seen and knew that that was something that I was gonna ensure that the tone that came from any office that I was running was a very positive one and one that was student focused and students first. And it was, and when I left Lauren Park, I went to Halton and I was the principal at Nelson high high school. And then I was the principal at Oak culture, Fager high school before coming, becoming a superintendent. And even the move to superintendent was sort of, I had been a principal in three, in three different schools and two different school boards. And it, it was sort of, so what do I do next for my own per personal learning and growth, because I, I do see myself as a lifelong learner. And what is that next step? And so then as a superintendent, you are now that critical friend to a whole group of principles who you’re overseeing and supporting. And then as well, taking on the portfolio of program and student success, which is all focused on pedagogy and assessment and evaluation. Now I’m having that impact on the classrooms again as well. And so I would say I enjoyed all of those rules at the time, and each one sort of fit the stage of life that I was in.


Sam Demma (23:06):
There’s definitely at least a dozen educators listening, who are asking themselves similar questions. How can I make a bigger difference? How can I make a greater impact on more students on the entire school, on the educational system as a whole, in my entire school board. And they might be wondering, you know, Julie, how did you, how did you make the ascent? And if you could go back and speak to your younger self and give younger Julie advice you know, before moving up all these different positions, what advice would you give yourself?


Julie Hunt Gibbons (23:42):
Balance for sure. I think anyone who’s reflecting on this has to make sure that they’re reflecting on the bigger picture of work life balance that is very, very important and necessary for your success. EV everyone’s family situations are different. Everyone’s home responsibilities are different, and what you’re doing has to fit within where you are in your own life journey. At the time, this was brought home to me back in 2012, I was diagnosed with cancer and I was off work. I had to undergo surgery and chemo and everything else, and I am an ovarian cancer survivor, and I’ve been clear now for seven years. So that was the biggest wake up call to me about the work life balance at full confession. I do have that workaholic tendency work has always brought me a great deal of pleasure and therefore doing more of it.


Julie Hunt Gibbons (24:43):
I just, I’ve always been that way. Having and cancer really gave me pause to stop and think and think about it. And it’s one of the reasons I retired at my first eligibility. So in teaching your age and your year service has to equal a minimum of 85 in order to get your full pension. So I, I turned 55 this year and I’ve completed 30 years of teaching, which makes me 85, which means that I am my first eligibility to retire. And I took that, and I know I shocked a lot of people cuz they were like, you’re too young to retire. But as much as I love my job, I also love my family and I love life and I want to experience more of life on my terms. And you know, it’s not a job that you can do.


Julie Hunt Gibbons (25:36):
Part-Time right. It’s a big job, a superintendent, it’s a big job with long hours. And I wanted to be more the captain of my own ship and of more of that flexibility. And, and so that’s why I did take the opportunity and I’m looking forward to doing all sorts of things on my terms. So I still am that lifelong learner. I spend an awful lot of time listening to books, reading books. I, I get a great deal of pleasure out of learning new things. And I think I will continue to do that.


Sam Demma (26:10):
I love that. That’s such an awesome way to wrap up this conversation today. You’re five days into this new journey of living life on your terms, which is amazing. Congratulations, thank you for being vulnerable and sharing, you know, the story of overcoming cancer. That’s amazing and I’m sure your overcoming of that, that challenge has probably inspired so many other people who’ve gone through similar things, especially in the field of education so thank you for sharing that. If an educator’s listening and wants to reach out and just maybe chat with you, if you’re still open to those calls, what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you?


Julie Hunt Gibbons (26:47):
I’ve always opened to those calls. In fact, I’m keeping my board email. It is my hope that I will be doing some project work with Halton or any other board, as I say, I’m not leaving, because I don’t wanna work. I just don’t wanna work 50-60 hours a week anymore. And so I’m maintaining my board email so I can be reached there through huntgibbonsj@hdsb.ca.


Sam Demma (27:15):
Awesome. Julie, thank you so much. It’s been a huge pleasure. I really appreciate you coming on the show, keep up with the awesome work and we’ll talk soon.


Julie Hunt Gibbons (27:23):
Thanks Sam. You keep up the awesome work too.


Sam Demma (27:28):
And there you have it. Another amazing guest, an amazing interview on the High Performing Educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review so other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show; f you want meet the guest on today’s episode, if you wanna meet any of the guests that we have interviewed, consider going to www.highperformingeducator.com and signing up to join the exclusive network, you’ll have access to networking events throughout 2021 and other special opportunities. And I promise I will not fill your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Julie Hunt Gibbons

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.

Sarah Hernholm – Educator turned Entrepreneur, Founder of WIT

Sarah Hernholm – Educator turned Entrepreneur, Founder of WIT
About Sarah Hernholm

Sarah is a former elementary school teacher turned entrepreneur.  In 2009, she left the classroom to create WIT – Whatever It Takes. At WIT she works with t(w)eens around the world who are interested in using their voice and ideas to launch businesses, non-profits, and/or social movements. WIT also focuses on helping t(w)eens develop emotional intelligence, soft skills, and an entrepreneurial mindset. 

She has given 3 TEDx talks, a few keynotes, and one commencement address. When I’ not “doing WIT” I’m planning my next adventure, working on a new business idea, or spending time with my amazing family and friends. 

Connect with Sarah: Email | Instagram | Linkedin

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

www.doingwit.org

www.sarahhernholm.com

Camp WIT

Do WIT Podcast

From Victim to Victor | Sarah Hernholm | TEDxYouth@Austin

Authentic self expression: Sarah Hernholm at TEDxSDSU

Bravery: Commas, Not Periods | Sarah Hernholm | TEDxRBHigh

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 to the High Performing Student podcast. The number one resource for self development for young people. If you’re a student, athlete or youth entrepreneur, looking to crush your goals and reach your vision. This show is specifically for you. Each episode is engineered to provide you with the practical systems and strategies you can use to stay motivated, beat burnout, and ultimately make your dreams a full blown reality. And I’m your host, Sam Demma. Since the age of 17, I’ve spoken to thousands of youth across north America, and now I’m sharing the tools and strategies that will help you lay the foundation for future success. So grab a pen and a sheet of paper, and let’s go. Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Student podcast. Yes, you heard that right; The High Performing student. I know you’re listening to this on the High Performing Educator, or maybe you’re listening on the High Performing Student, regardless of where you’re listening.


Sam Demma (00:58):
I thought this episode applied to both audiences that I catered to. I have a second show. I have the High Performing Student podcast and the High Performing Educator. The High Performing Educator is geared towards people in education. The High Performing Student, geared towards students. Together, there is over 300 episodes. You know, if I combine both of the podcasts together over 50,000 downloads, I’m so grateful that you choose to take your time tune in and listen to this content. So thank you from the bottom of my heart. Whatever show you’re tuning in from, I’m super, super excited to share today’s interview with you. Sarah Hernholm is the founder of WIT(whatever it takes). Her story of getting out of a career and becoming an entrepreneur and doing amazing work and the obstacle she’s overcome and the people she’s met and the impact she’s making; all of it combined really inspired me.


Sam Demma (01:51):
And I was so impressed with her, her beliefs, her ideas, her philosophies, when it comes to life that I thought I should share this episode on both platforms. So I hope you enjoy it; have a pen and paper ready because you’re gonna take a lot of notes and I will see you on the other side, Sarah, welcome to the High Performing Student podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here today. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit behind the work you do today and why you even do it?


Sarah_Hernholm (02:25):
All right. Well, my name is Sarah, Hernholm. I am the founder of an organization called WIT(whatever it takes) and we help young people become leaders and entrepreneurs, specifically tweenagers and teenagers. We believe you’re never too young to start making a difference and that you’re never too young to be an entrepreneur. And so all of our programs and everything that we do is geared around that.


Sam Demma (02:48):
Why, where, why?


Sarah_Hernholm (02:51):
It’s why wit why doing entrepreneurship? I mean, I just feel that what kids are learning in school and I used to be a school teacher. So, and I do know that there’s great teachers. I was a great teacher and I know great teachers exist, but on average there’s not a lot of great, there’s not a of great teachers out there teaching real world skills and applications to young people. And I, I believe very strongly that if you really wanna be ready for the real world, then schools should be doing that for you and getting you ready for that. And if they’re not, then other organizations like mine need to exist until they get it together over there.


Sam Demma (03:37):
I like that. I totally agree. What, what do you think are some of the real world skills that are so important that we teach to our young people today or that you even teach at, you know, your own curriculums and schools?


Sarah_Hernholm (03:49):
Well, I think we need to be teaching financial literacy. I mean, you should be very clear on how to make a budget. You should know that how much things just cost and understand where that, that cost comes from. And then that’s very empowering when you know that information, cuz then you can know when you’re getting screwed over by something and then you got like, you’re getting a good deal. Like those kind of things. And then when you’re launching your own business, you wanna know what it’s gonna cost to actually run something. And all the things that go into that. So financial like real world application of literacy is really important. I like getting young people to grapple with, with ideas. And so that looks like, okay, you wanna solve this problem that adults have created, whether it’s climate change or homelessness or fast fashion, whatever the thing is that like you don’t like then start making changes and, and start creating an alternative and create a solution. And I love that. That’s what we do at wit is we really empower a young person to take the tools they’re learning at wit and then go do something. That’s why we say, do wit, just do wit yes, I know that is a little bit close to Nikes, just do it, but it’s just do WIT and that’s really our call to action to our young people.


Sam Demma (05:06):
And at what point in your own journey did you decide I wanna leave the formal classroom and start this organization and what prompted the decision to do so because even for a young person, making a decision to change paths is a huge one. Sometimes it comes with a bunch of difficult obstacles and the expectations of others like parents, family, and friends. And I’m curious to know what prompted your career change and what it looked like.


Sarah_Hernholm (05:36):
Well, there’s nothing like getting laid off everybody to make you start wondering what you’re doing with your life. And I was a teacher in California and in California, there’s something called last and first out. So the last teacher hired as the first one fired not based on merit, not based on the impact that you have on your, on your students, but solely based on your higher date. It’s ridiculous. It’s absurd. It’s I don’t know of any other business that would ever do that. So I was laid off four years in a row due to due to budget cuts. And so the fourth year I was like, what the hell is going on? I mean, it, it was like being in a dysfunctional relationship where, you know, you’re doing like everything you possibly can. I mean, I was a great teacher. My kids were scoring off the charts, but besides that, cause I don’t really care about testing, but I knew how to play the game.


Sarah_Hernholm (06:28):
I had really, we were doing really cool things. We were even getting pressed about what we were doing in the classroom and still I was laid off or I was told to stop doing those things. And you’re like, I’m doing everything I can. And I love this and I’m doing passion and heart and it’s still not enough. This is so dysfunctional. Like this is so dysfunctional. So the fourth year is when I kind of, I had a moment of ma I’m well, first of all, it’s really good to like know yourself. So I was like, I’m not changing. The I’m not changing. I know that I’m not gonna dumb down what, I’m, how I do my teaching. I’m not gonna change to make. I was once told to stop doing things that I was making other teachers look bad. And then now parents were complaining and they wanted me to change what I was doing.


Sarah_Hernholm (07:12):
And I was like, I’m not changing it. And so I knew I was not gonna change. And that’s actually a really good thing need to realize about yourself is like, just to know yourself and to know that where your boundaries are, what your limits are, what your and I was, I’m not changing. And so if I’m not gonna change, am I willing to go play their game? And I wasn’t willing to play the game anymore. And so then I thought, well, if you’re not gonna do that, you gotta figure what you’re gonna do. And so that’s, I started figuring out what I was gonna do.


Sam Demma (07:41):
There’s so much to unpack there. Like where does your confidence come from to not change? And the reason I ask is because I feel like society pushes young people, especially to change, to mold, to certain societal standards. You might have been a little older than a high school kid when you made this decision, obviously, but where does your confidence, where does your confidence come from to, to stand in your own power and decisions?


Sarah_Hernholm (08:06):
Well, I wanna be clear that I’m not always like that. Yeah. I mean, I’m gonna be doing something right now. I got a really big opportunity yesterday and my stomach is still uneasy about it because I’m like, oh my gosh, am I gonna be good enough? Am I worthy enough? He’s probably expecting like this and what if I can’t deliver? And so it’s normal to you. Don’t just feel confident all the time. I mean it’s, but I was very, very, very confident in my teaching abilities. I’m very confident in that. Like I just, that’s something that at, can I take you back on it and do better and will I learn new practices and do better? Sure. But no one can even like, come at me with me, not caring about kids or like wanting to help kids or doing everything I possible for a kid.


Sarah_Hernholm (08:55):
Like, it’s just, that’s this one area of my life where you just like you can’t, I, I wouldn’t even believe it. Like there’s other areas of my life where I feel insecure and I feel not enough. And I try to take the, the confidence that I have in this other area and how I’ve gotten that and try to bring that over there. But I just don’t want your listeners to think that I’ve all that that goes into every area of my life. I definitely have areas where I need to work more on or I get to work more on my confidence, but I, it was UN I was unshakable. I knew I was great as a teacher.


Sam Demma (09:27):
Mm. And then, you know, you mentioned as well, this idea that school’s a little bit dysfunctional in the fact that we think our self worth comes from our GPA. And you mentioned very briefly just now, you know, I don’t care about that. And I noticed on your Twitter, you even retweeted something from someone named Neil Sharma, who was basically saying like, oh,


Sarah_Hernholm (09:46):
He was in my,


Sam Demma (09:49):
OK. Oh, sorry, Nick. Yeah. and he was basically saying shout out to all the kids who felt worthless, that didn’t do great in school, but your greatness isn’t tied to your grades. And I wanted to unpack that because I wholeheartedly believe it as well. You know, you judge someone by their ability to do good in math when they’re they wanna be the next Picasso. Like, it just, it doesn’t make any sense. You’re judging them based off something they don’t like doing. And then you’re gonna tell them they’re a failure because of it. So I wanted to know your perspective on GPA and also how it relates to students identities and, and self-worth,


Sarah_Hernholm (10:22):
Well, first I’ll share that I was not an academically inclined kid. I, I was not somebody who, what like thrives in, in a hypercompetitive academic info. And I was sometimes put into those, I, I was very fortunate to have parents who were wanting to give me the best education possible. And so we went to some of the best schools and one of the schools, I went to three different high schools, and one of the high schools was a college prep school and very, very intense, very academic and very competitive academically. And I think it was twofold. One, I just didn’t, I just didn’t buy it. I guess I was a little bit like, all right. I mean, I don’t know if it was a self-preservation or defense mechanism, but it was a little bit like you kind of suck as a teacher if I don’t understand this concept, because why are you like making me feel about, I remember one teacher would make me go to the board and do the math problems in front of everybody.


Sarah_Hernholm (11:24):
And I obviously was struggling. And instead of getting support, it was like, I guess we’ll wait, or I guess we’ll have to wait before we can move on until Sarah and I. And then when I became a teacher, I was like, who the hell does that to a kid? Yeah. Like I, cause I thought, I think you think when you’re a kid that wants you, you become an adult. Certain behaviors will make sense. While I became an adult, I became a teacher and I could never have imagined doing that because shaming, your kid is only gonna make them like perform worse and also have zero trust. And if you’re like me, it becomes a little fight or flight. So I mean, I would send I one time like walked out of a classroom, I just like put the thing down and like walked out. I probably got in trouble, but it was more like, you’re not gonna get me.


Sarah_Hernholm (12:08):
Like, you’re not gonna let, you’re not gonna have this moment of me maybe crying in front of everybody or whatever. Like I, I, but that is silly that I had to learn how to survive. Right? Yeah. Like that, like that that’s ridiculous. So I, I didn’t wanna stay at that school. My sister was there and my brother was on his way there and they were more, they were, maybe it was a better fit for them. It just wasn’t a fit for me. I went to a public school for about, I went for happy year and then I ended up going to a boarding school where a lot of people that I knew that I, I would go to summer camp. And a lot of people from summer camp would go to this boarding school. And I ended up there and probably, I would say my best high, high school teacher, one of my best high school teachers was from there, my English teacher.


Sarah_Hernholm (12:50):
And she kind of went me into shape. I mean, I, I kinda came in a little bit like a punk. I mean, I, but definitely self-preservation a lot of like defense mechanisms up get given what I’ve gone through. And she pulled me out of the room one day and said to me, you’re better than this. And you’re better than that. And I was like, I am okay. And that was really powerful. So my high school journey was that three, three different high schools became better. Academically. My later in high school got motivated. I could get the grades if I was motivated by something, but it was very hard to motivate me. And, but if it was like a carrot, like, oh, you can’t audition for something or you have to have a certain GPA to participate in something that was creative or theatrical.


Sarah_Hernholm (13:42):
I was like, okay, all right, I guess I’ll start working now. But otherwise I wasn’t really motivated. Hmm. I understand why so many people are, are motivated by grades and adults owe young people a huge apology for creating this beast, which is that we have told you that if you get a high GPA, then you will get into the school of your dreams and you will be happy and that’s not true. There is no death or, or job or title that makes you happy. It can provide happiness at times, but it’s fleeting. It’s not consistent because life happens in all the places that you end up going to, whether it’s a getting a job or a school or a partnership or a boyfriend or girlfriend, they don’t make you happy. You can experience happiness. There, so they’re is a big lie that we’ve told people. And as a result of that, we’re burning out young people and we’re also getting them pretty dependent on some hard prescription drugs. Yeah. So I it’s really unfortunate, but you know if you really wanna look at things and wonder why things happen, you just have to follow the money. And a lot of money is made on young people believing the lie that their GPA determines their worth.


Sam Demma (15:07):
How do we break that cycle? Or how do we helps students realize that it’s, it’s not, it’s, that’s not where their self worth is attached from. Yeah.


Sarah_Hernholm (15:19):
I don’t, I’m surprised that it keeps perpetuating itself. I don’t have kids yet. And, but I would never pass that on. So I’m kind of confused by all of these adults who have, even who even have, who even got the GPA, got into the school, realized that didn’t bring them happiness, realized that they had to do their own work and like maybe even change career paths, why they would pass that on to the live onto their children. I think maybe they just want, I, I think I know every parent loves their kid. My experience has been as a teacher and working with young people for over a decade is that parents are doing the best they can, what they’ve got.


Sam Demma (16:00):
Yeah.


Sarah_Hernholm (16:01):
And I’ve never met no one. That’s not true. Most parents I’ve met wanna do better by their kids and give them more than they had. And they might just go about it in walk ways. But I think parents have to just stop drinking the Kool-Aid and being like, no, I’m not, I’m not doing that. I I’m not. And, and maybe this next generation, when they have kids, maybe they will stop the, the cycle. Who knows. I don’t, I just do. I just stay in my lane, do what I can with the work that we do, cuz otherwise it becomes overwhelming.


Sam Demma (16:40):
Yeah. I’m hoping that the next generation crushes that meaning like when I become a parent, when you become a parent, because I know firsthand that it’s almost like education was everything that my parents and grandparents knew because you know, they come to this country with nothing and get an education. What gets you, which gets you a stable paying job. And that gets you a, you know, a very average life. And so in their eyes, education is protection and safety and they wanna like, you know guard you as your, as their, as their child or grandchild. Right. But I think we’re starting to realize that there’s so many other paths to a stable life that don’t just involve your grades and whether or not you get a 92 or a 72, you can still create a stable life and a great life after high school or post-secondary.


Sam Demma (17:27):
I think I’m curious to know, you know, I remember when I decided to take a break for my university studies, I dropped outta school after two months, you know, my parents looked me in the eyes and like, what are you gonna do with your life? I told them my dreams. And I said something along the lines of, and I didn’t say these exact words, but in my passion and in my description, I basically was saying, I’m gonna do whatever it takes. And I’m curious to know in your perspective, what is doing whatever it takes mean to you. And can you give us like a story or an example of a situation in your life where you’ve been told? No, because from your Ted talk, I know as an entrepreneur, you’ve been rejected hundreds of times. Yeah. So gimme some stories. What does it mean to be, what does it mean to do whatever it takes to you and gimme some stories or examples of how you’ve done it in your own life?


Sarah_Hernholm (18:14):
Okay. I’ll tell everybody that. So the name of the company that I started is called wit whatever it takes when I started it was called wit kids because I was gearing it towards elementary age. Got it. And the name came because when I was in teacher, my classroom motto was whatever it takes. The reason it be the classroom motto became, whatever it takes is because one day, and this is my first teaching job. I was teaching fourth grade in a trailer because the CLA the school was under construction. We didn’t, I didn’t have a classroom. And I was in a trailer and I was in heaven. I was so excited to start teaching and get my classroom. I mean, I was, I, I was loving teaching. I don’t know how in, how long into the first year this conversation happened, but it was probably pretty early on.


Sarah_Hernholm (19:04):
And a kid came in and they hadn’t done their homework. And I said, and I, when I always did my homework, I may not have liked school, but I always did well. I mean, I I’m gonna always, but I mean, homework was it wasn’t optional, especially elementary school. Are you kidding? I mean, my parents were still guiding me then. And so it was quiet time after school. Did you get your homework, play your sports? And I was really surprised. I remember being really at how casually. He said he didn’t do his homework. And I remember being like, why are you not concerned? Cause I’m concerned and you’re not.


Sarah_Hernholm (19:40):
And I was like okay, well you need to do your homework. Like, it’s part of your grade HES. Like, oh, okay, well I didn’t do it. And I said, well, why didn’t you do it? And without even like blinking, flinching, anything, he said, I was watching the Simpsons. And then I was even more like, are you kidding? Like you don’t even, like now you are even like, I mean, props tea for being so honest, but also like do not see a problem with this, that you were watching like a cartoon. And I said, you know, really the tip to everybody when you really wanna go like one way in a reaction, maybe it’s like more of an extreme reaction or anger or frustration lean into curiosity because that will keep you more present. So keep asking questions versus having like overreaction. And so I said did your parents like know that you’re watching?


Sarah_Hernholm (20:31):
And he said, oh yeah, we all watched it together. And so then I thought, interesting. So you have, in that moment, it was like, oh, well, the reason he didn’t think he’s doing anything wrong is because he’s doing it with his parents. Mm. And then I asked, did your parents know you had homework? Yes. Did you tell them it was done? No. And I’m thinking like just processing in real time. And I thought, oh, and I knew what demographic of kids I was teaching. I was clear on the school and the demographic and the situations of a lot of the kids. And I thought, oh, they’re gonna, this is gonna be different. Like, they’re not gonna, they don’t all have the same kind of support that I had growing up, which was sit down, do your homework, show me, it’s done. Put your folder in the backpack.


Sarah_Hernholm (21:16):
Right. Which is pretty, that’s a lot of like parenting, like a lot of like monitoring you. Yeah. And so that night I stayed late at, in the classroom and I wrote on butcher paid, I painted on butcher paper, whatever it takes, put it on the, the wall of the right above the chalkboard whiteboard in the front of the classroom, in front of the trailer. And then when they came in the next day, I said, this is our classroom motto. And we do whatever it takes. If it means you have to take your body and like put it in the other room, your homework, that’s what you do. And we do that because we love ourselves and we want, we, we have big dreams. And so I really tried to make it feel like, of course you wanna do whatever it takes because we do whatever it takes because we love ourselves so much.


Sarah_Hernholm (22:01):
And we have a, we, we believe in ourselves and we, we have goals and dreams. I didn’t wanna shame anybody. I didn’t wanna make it sound like we have to do whatever it takes, because you know, sometimes you get crappy family situations. It’s like, no, like nobody wants to, like, that’s not empowering. And that I still have that butcher paper and that, that sign and that when I went to different schools, like that was the motto. And so then when I left teaching and started my new thing, I thought I wanted to combine that. So that became wit kids then to wit then to do wit doing wit and I, I, it’s not whatever it takes to burn yourself out. It’s not about doing whatever it takes. And like I’ve hustled so hard. And so I, I only sleep one hour a day, no, whatever it takes about creating the life that you really desire and you need sleep for that life. And so do whatever it takes to get eight hours of sleep, do whatever it takes to move your body every day. It’s not a beat down, cut a corner, whatever it takes, it’s an empowering, whatever it takes.


Sam Demma (23:09):
I love that, that such a empowering story. And sometimes doing whatever it takes is sending a tweet to Gary Vee and then responding four years later and hopping on a podcast with him. Right. So that


Sarah_Hernholm (23:23):
So that was so random.


Sam Demma (23:25):
Well, you know, I think, and Gary Vee highlighted it in that conversation with you, he said, you know, it’s so important. You go into interactions, figuring out how you can give as opposed to ask. And I think that that’s such an important thing to keep in mind when we are chasing our own dreams and goals. And I’m curious to know your perspective on that and has it played a big role in your own entrepreneurial journey?


Sarah_Hernholm (23:47):
Huge. And I think it really played into why I got this big offer that I got yesterday. Opportunity yesterday is.


Sam Demma (23:54):
One second. You’ve mentioned it twice now, is it like private? Or can we like so light on yeah, it’s, I’ll tell you.


Sarah_Hernholm (23:59):
Offline, but it just happened. And so, but it’s just really timely because it’s around feeling a little bit inadequate and scared and, and that’s all really good stuff. It means you care. Yeah. And it’s on my mind and I’m gonna be working on this presentation after we have this call and this hangout. And I also feel like a, that the opportunity came due to me. It, I, of being focused more on like gratitude and, and giving. And what I mean by that is I’m really, really big on gratitude and what that looks like. It looks like I’ll just walk you through a situation. If someone’s gonna come be a guest at wit and speak to our teens. So we have something called wit Hangouts and we have them every week. And we bring in different CEOs, celebrities, entrepreneurs, we leaders, and they come in, they spend an hour with our teens for free and they share their stories.


Sarah_Hernholm (24:50):
And it’s an interview similar, like what we’re doing right now, but the kids can jump in and ask questions. And we do this because one, I believe that you should surround yourself with those who have gone before you and learn from them. And I also do this because that I expression your network is your net worth. I mean, and I think how cool is it to be 15 or 16 years old and already be connecting with John shoe? Who is this great director? And one day you wanna be a director. And now you’ve had a hangout with John talking about crazy rich Asians and in the Heights. And so I just really believe in that. And so we, I make the ask for someone to come and I share what, you know, I share the opportunity. And a lot of these, these people are like people that have met along the way in my life, but I thank them before they come.


Sarah_Hernholm (25:38):
I send a message saying, thank you in advance for making the time tomorrow to come to this hangout. We’re so, you know, just expressing the gratitude. And then during the hangout, a very essential part of the hangout is the last part of the hangout, where the teens write in the chat on zoom, their takeaways in their gratitude, because I’m wanting them to learn the value of takeaways and gratitude. And not only that, when I, I will call on a teen and say, oh, Emma, do you wanna read your, she didn’t take away. Emma reads it. And then she sees Dave’s face re like receiving that gratitude and being like, oh my gosh, like that really made him. And then the person says the speaker’s like, oh my gosh, like, I’m so glad that, that you, like, it resonated with you and I could help. And there’s this exchange of like, oh my gosh, just being, you can visually see the power of gratitudes. Then after the hangout, we’ve screenshot all the gratitude that the kids wrote. And then we send an email to our speaker and say, thank you. We thank them again. And then we say, and here are the GRA the gratitude and takeaways from our students that you can have time actually reading them and digesting them. And like, knowing that you really made an impact today.


Sam Demma (26:45):
Hmm.


Sarah_Hernholm (26:46):
Let me tell you, no one has done that for me. And I speak all over the place.


Sam Demma (26:51):
Yeah.


Sarah_Hernholm (26:51):
Now, are they wrong for not doing it? No. But when you do something like that, you stand out. And so this, this, we had a guest yes. Yesterday, and this person came and spoke and, and it was great. And I was like, oh my gosh, I really want this person to help me on my journey. They’ve gone. They they’ve gone before me. They are so like far along and I would love to work with them. And so I had a lot of asks I wanted to make, but I thought, no, the move right now is just, is gratitude. And, and, and sending the thank you email with all of the screenshots. And then they wrote me back and said, we wanna do something together with you. I


Sam Demma (27:38):
See.


Sarah_Hernholm (27:38):
And like, whoa. And I just, and receiving of that. And like, I’m really grateful. But I’m also, the other thing that I did was I got off that hangout and I wrote a thank you note to that. Person’s assistant an email because that person booked it and made it happen. And I also wrote a thank you email to the person who had introed me to the assistant, because both of those people were essential for me to get this star on. And I also think that people forget who helps them get there. And I will, I will. I know what it’s like to be the assistant. I used to work in Hollywood. I was an assistant to celebrities. I mean, you like, people don’t always treat you well, but you’re also the gatekeeper to these people. So it’s always so interesting. It’s like, so you just don’t wanna forget who got you, where you’re going or act like you got there all by yourself. And so, so gratitude appreciation. Those things are just really key for me. Give more than get it’s a tough thing though. It’s a tough thing to teach, especially to a demographic of young people who are fighting for limited spaces at colleges. And so they kind of feel like they don’t wanna share the spotlight. Yep. But I always remind them that there’s enough to go around.


Sam Demma (29:05):
So true.


Sarah_Hernholm (29:06):
There’s just enough to go around.


Sam Demma (29:08):
And I think, you know, you highlighted also within that response, the underrated value of just being a kind human being, like you’re not being a kind human being calculating like, oh, I can get this. If I say, thank you. Or please, it’s like, no, it’s just the right thing to do. It’s the kind thing to do. But natural by being a kind person like the world opens up for you, you know, in ways that you didn’t imagine, you didn’t do it to get things right. You do it to get things. But you did it cuz it was the kind thing to do. Like I, I, you know, I, there was a golf course near my house that me and my buddies just started playing at and I made an effort just because I thought it would make it funer to talk to the person behind the window who I was paying.


Sam Demma (29:52):
And I found out his name was ed and he he’d worked there and it’s his course for 25 years. And he was so happy to tell me all about his course. We finished the nine holes. I over, I thanked him, told him how much fun we had and he looks at me and he’s like, Sam, is this your first time playing here? I’m like, yeah, like this was an amazing experience. He’s like, go play it again for free. I told my buddies, they were like, bro, let’s go nine more holes. They’re super excited. Now I didn’t, you know, talk to ed and get to know ed, you know, so that I could ask him to play nine more holes, a golf, but it just, it just, it just happened. And I feel like that’s, you’re right. It’s such a hard thing to teach. And something, sometimes nothing ever comes from it, but it’s, it’s just a, I think it’s just the right way to go about living our lives. I agree. Yeah. So kindness is underrated. Don’t forget the at. Yeah.


Sarah_Hernholm (30:44):
And Gary, V’s really big on that. So a lot of that is you, if you follow, I mean, find people that you wanna follow that you wanna have on your, when you’re scrolling, but Gary is very big on gratitude and kindness and patience and all of that. So it’s good to have that always as a reminder.


Sam Demma (31:01):
Yeah, I agree. And if PE wanted, like to know more about your group I know Emma’s a founder of the sweet spot. I think that’s who you’re referencing have been some research. Yeah. If people wanted to find out more about your group, learn how they could get involved. Is that something that’s still open and, and accessible? Like tell me more about it.


Sarah_Hernholm (31:19):
So people can get involved in a variety of ways. If you’re, if you are, are a high school student, you can take college credit classes that you can then transfer to the university that you end up getting into. Cool. You can also do classes, not for credit. You can be part of WIT community, which is the members only online community of young entrepreneurs who get to go to those Hangouts and meet those people. Those, the applications are ongoing. We have fun things that we do like camp wit happens during the summer. And that’s competitive cuz I like a good competition. It’s healthy, nice and compete for some money for your business. I’ve never met an entrepreneur who doesn’t want money. So it’s really hard for young people to get access to money for their businesses. And so we try to find creative ways to get them in the arena so they can pitch and win some prize money. And if you’re an adult and you happen to be listening to this, or then we have speaking opportunities, mentorship opportunities, and we even are now letting people pitch us, adults pitch us the class. And course that they wanna teach are wit teens. And then if we like that class and course we will hire them to come in and teach that class.


Sam Demma (32:33):
Awesome. Very cool. And if someone wants to connect with you online or reach out to you directly, what would be the best way for them to do so?


Sarah_Hernholm (32:41):
Well, most of my handles I think are @miss_WIT. That’s, I mean, you can DM me. I mean, I’m on Instagram. I don’t have a ton of followers, so it’s not like, I’m like, oh, I won’t see your message, I’m getting hit up all the time. So yeah, you can find me there and then that’s probably the best way.


Sam Demma (33:03):
Cool. Awesome. Sarah, thank you so much for taking the time to chat about WIT and your own journey, time’s flew by. I really appreciate you doing this and maybe we could do a part 2 in like, you know, six months or a year from now. Totally. Yeah. I hope you, the listener enjoyed this, and got something from it as much as I did and let’s stay in touch and keep doing great work.


Sarah_Hernholm (33:25):
Thank you for having me.


Sam Demma (33:26):
You’re welcome. And there you have it. Another amazing guest, an amazing interview on the High Performing Educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review so other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show; f you want meet the guest on today’s episode, if you wanna meet any of the guests that we have interviewed, consider going to www.highperformingeducator.com and signing up to join the exclusive network, you’ll have access to networking events throughout 2021 and other special opportunities. And I promise I will not fill your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Sarah Hernholm

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

Tina McInenly – Cognitive Lead Teacher in Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools

Tina McInenly – Cognitive Lead Teacher in Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools
About Tina Mclnenly

Tina McInenly (@TMcinenly) is a Cognitive Lead Teacher in Red Deer, Alberta. She works on a division team supporting teachers and students in creating inclusive communities for all students. She values collaboration, inclusivity and the courage it takes to be a learner. Through her story, she shares the foreshadowing of her path to her current role, long before she entered into the teaching profession. 

Tina is a recipient of the Carmela Amelio-McCaw Inclusive Education Program Award through the ATA Council for Inclusive Education and is currently a student herself, working towards her Masters of Education in Leadership.  

Connect with Tina: Email | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Alberta Teachers’ Association

Simple Truths: Clear & Gentle Guidance on the Big Issues in Life by Kent Nerburn

How to use Google Meet for Teachers

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):
Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s guest is Tina Mclnenley. She is the cognitive lead teacher in Red Deer, Alberta. She works on a division team, supporting teachers and students in creating inclusive communities for all. She values collaboration, inclusivity, and the courage it takes to be a learner.


Sam Demma (00:58):
Through her story, she shares the foreshadowing of her path to her current role, long before she entered into the teaching profession. Tina is a recipient of the Carmela Amelio-McCaw Inclusive Education Program Award through the ATA Council for Inclusive Education and is currently a student herself, working towards her Masters of Education in Leadership. This is an amazing interview with Tina. I hope you enjoy it, and I will see you on the other side, Tina, thank you so much for coming on the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit about your own story and journey into education?


Tina Mclnenly (01:41):
Yeah, thanks for having me, Sam. I I’m excited. Yeah, my name’s Tina Mclnenly and I work in Red Deer, Alberta, and a little bit about my story. So right now I actually hold a position of cognitive lead teacher at our board office. So I’m so lucky and I get to work with so many different schools in our division supporting students, but to go way back to my story when I look at like what got me into this work, if you look at my past, I guess a lot of where I’m at now is really weaved into all that. So like truly to start with what got me into this work is I loved working with kids. I think kids at the root are so fun and what really got me into this work first is when I was young, probably like, oh gosh, like 10 or 11, I worked as an assistant in a dance class.


Tina Mclnenly (02:34):
So I dance growing up and I worked as an assistant to a boy who has down syndrome and he’s this really amazing young man. And I remember my teacher asking if I could just help him out with, with remembering some spots, some moves some different routines, cuz he just needed a little bit of extra repetition and help. So I did that for the year and a couple years after. And so when, when I was reflecting on this and I look back on that now that opportunity of working with him really foreshadowed what I do now and like the pattern of my jobs as a teenager and as a young adult. So I always worked with children or adults with developmental disabilities. And so that was we throughout every of and becoming a teacher was just something that I was really pulled to do.


Tina Mclnenly (03:24):
The perks of the summers off helped a bit too, but it was always something I was pulled to do. And it’s, it’s funny how everything worked out because after high school I took quite a bit of time off to go traveling and I really got the travel bug and then it was time to come home and I had, it was time to go to college. My parents were like, it’s time, it’s time for you to go to college. So I, you know, I remember applying for business and I applied for education cuz I thought I really love traveling. Could I do business? And that would take me more traveling. And I got into education first. Like that was the first acceptance letter I got and thank goodness I did because like I am truly in the business of people, what education is and I am not a businesswoman at all. Love it. So that’s kind of my story and that’s what brought me to college and university and then teaching and, and where I am now. So


Sam Demma (04:17):
That’s amazing. And you mentioned that this theme of working with young people was peppered throughout your entire upbringing. Did you work in any other jobs with young people that you think foreshadowed your role in education?


Tina Mclnenly (04:32):
Yes, absolutely. I did. So I started off as a dance teacher and so I always worked with younger kids and you know, what the piece of working with with all different, like in such an inclusive environment, I am so lucky Sam, that I have a cousin with a developmental disability and to us that was our norm and yeah, it’s actually emotional thing, but no, that’s just our norm in our family and we truly value inclusivity and sense. So starting with my cousin and then I worked with a lot of younger kids in summer camps in dance babysitting and it just kind of kept going on. And so that actually brings me to like my why, like why do I do the work that I do now is because I think I, school is such an important piece of children’s lives. And if we can, if I can be a part of a team that creates a really positive school experience for these students that really values inclusivity and equity and creating a safe community for them to be the best that they can be. And if I can be a role in adapting the environment, whether that started off in a dance class in summer camp in school. Now, if we, if I can be a part of adapting that environment for students to be so successful in their, in their own progress, that’s, that’s my ultimate. Why I think,


Sam Demma (06:00):
And I can tell that this individual from your family who has this, you know, this learning disability is, it seems like it’s touched you and really motivated you and also inspired you to make sure that you bridge the gaps for others similar to that person. That’s probably very close to your heart. How has that shaped the way that you approach education? You know, how has that shaped the way that you show up to work every single day?


Tina Mclnenly (06:24):
That’s such a good question that shaped the way because I truly feel that every child has a place in our schools and it truly makes me feel that we should be looking at students as a deficit base. Like we shouldn’t be looking at what students can’t do. We need to be looking at what students can do and how can we change the environment to make that work for them. So every student has strengths and every student and just like that every student has needs to. And so how can we change the environment to support them and make them feel that they’re right where they need to be, and they’re not compared to other students. So how can we help that child where they are at and not compare them to their peers?


Sam Demma (07:10):
I love that. There’s a little picture I’ve always seen online of a goldfish, a horse, a gorilla, a giraffe. And there’s like someone in front of them judging them by their ability to climb a tree. And, and it’s like, if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, you know, you’ll always think it’s a failure and it’s totally not true. And I love that new lens or that paradigm shift that, that that you’re mentioning. And I’m curious to know because teachers also have such an influential role in the lives of our young people today. Have you had any teachers growing up that had a huge impact on you and maybe you can share their name and what was it that they did for you that made such a big difference. And on the reverse, if you had any teachers whose names you can keep to yourself that weren’t so great and it, it showed you, you know, what to be cautious about.


Tina Mclnenly (07:57):
Yes, absolutely. I have. And I’m thinking bad. There was one teacher grade four, her name was Jeanette Thompson and she was my grade four teacher. And she was so lovely Sam and she, I can’t even pinpoint what it truly is, but it was how she made all of us feel. We had such an inclusive classroom. She was so happy to see us every day. She just really lit up when we saw, I never remember her getting upset and isn’t that so interesting. I don’t remember what she did, but I remember how I felt in grade four. And I actually ran into her like two years ago, I ran into her at a golf tournament, wind up and I said, oh, Mrs. Thompson, it’s you? She was just as lovely. So I think that just goes back to that piece of creating a place where students feel that they belong.


Tina Mclnenly (08:50):
Cuz I think every student felt that they belong there. And there was also I just remember two other teachers too. Like there was one in when I was in high school and hernia was actually Tracy Nichols and she still teaches in our division to this day and I ran into her this year. But what she did is in high school, she held such high standards for us. So like that piece let’s be adapting for everyone in an environment, but also hold really high expectations and she held those high expectations for us and I’ll never forget that. And so that’s where I kind of remember that, you know, students can stretch, like they will stretch the, the amount that you expect them to. And I think, think that’s so important.


Sam Demma (09:37):
And just giving students standards and responsibilities and opportunities can sometimes make all the difference. I had a past guest tell me that he had a student he was struggling with and to show him that he trusted him. He gave him his car keys and said, can you go get my lunchbox outta my truck? And oh, wow


Tina Mclnenly (09:53):
Know,


Sam Demma (09:54):
You know, the student looked at him and was like, like, you want me to get your lunch? And he’s like, yeah, please. Here’s my keys. And yeah, you know, the student came back and, and gave the lunch and they started building this really cool relationship because of standards and responsibilities that were placed on the young person. Even when I was an athlete growing up, I had a coach, his name’s BAAM and you know, if we walked off the cobble path down to the field, them went, you know, cut across the grass. When we got down to the field, he’d make us walk back up and then walk back the path and not step on the grass. And it’s these little like standards and responsibilities that had such a big impact on my character and characteristics today. And I’m curious to know those standards that you mentioned. Do you remember any of them, when you say your teachers held you to a high standard or how, you know, the classes are high standard? Like what does that look like or sound like?


Tina Mclnenly (10:43):
Yeah. Well in high school it sounds really different. And I, I love that you mentioned that piece about the coach, because I feel like when we acknowledge those HIL, the children are teenagers are that we’re showing them that we’re, we trust them and we wanna give out opportunity to grow. And so this teacher in particular, like she was very much like you are here on time. You we expect you to do your notes. Like I expect you to do this. And it was very routine and we did projects and I remember one time actually driving to school, I think I was 16 and I got to my first car accident. Didn’t like, I, Alberta winters, I just slid. It was a very minor accident. I slid into a car. And so I was a bit late for her class. And so I got to class late.


Tina Mclnenly (11:28):
I was a little bit flustered and I said, oh, hi, I’m here. Like, I, I was just in a car accident. And she was like, okay. She goes, are you okay? And I said, yeah, I am. She’s like, okay, sit down. Like we’re working on this. Like, that was it. And it was so good looking back on it now. Cause then she checked in with me after to make sure I was okay, but it was like, I’m so glad you’re here. Thank you for coming and let’s get to work if you think you’re okay. And so it was those pieces that she was teaching us and she also taught me how to really study to cuz she was very good at summarizing information and very clear cut. And I remember sitting down to write our diploma exam that year and I’m pretty sure everyone in the class did so excellent cuz the way that she adapted to that class and what we needed.


Tina Mclnenly (12:14):
So I think her sending those standards for us is a way that I still learn. Like I still summarize my notes the same way I did in that class. I still do projects kind of the same way that I did in that class. So I think, and this is the part of teaching that I believe is so important that I think teachers need to really give themselves so much more credit you, even with the teachers that I work with because they’re instilling this sense of curiosity that prevails so much longer after we leave grade 12 and beyond. And I think that’s the ultimate, the ultimate goal. There’s a really great book. I’m gonna mention it’s by an author named Kent Newburn he’s he wrote a book called the simple truth and he does a whole paragraph on it about the difference between education and schooling. And it is so influential and he talks lots about schooling is the act of us going to school. But education is the act of curiosity that that comes long after you don’t need to be in a classroom. So I think when I look back at the best teachers I had, they really instilled that, that curiosity that is long after and I’m still doing it like Sam I’m in my master’s right now. And so I’m like that curiosity and learning is still going on.


Sam Demma (13:24):
Well, let me flex my curious muscles right now and ask you this year probably looks for you a lot different than every other year that you’ve taught that you’ve been in a school building. What are some of the things that look different? What are some of the different challenges that, that you’ve been faced with and how have you or other educators, you know, you know, strive to attempt to overcome those things?


Tina Mclnenly (13:50):
I know what a year, Hey, like, yeah. So this year looked different for me right from the beginning because I started in a new P so my history in teaching is I started with grade three and then grade four and then I was a school counselor and then I did something called inclusion, lead teacher at my school. So I oversaw on a team with inclusive programming. And then this year I shifted to work at board office and oversee that team on a broader sense with a team here. So it naturally change with a change in position, but the hard part of this year is traditionally this job, we will be in schools 80% of the time. So we’re in schools, 80% of the time working with teachers and students to help them adapt teaching, to make, to help students be successful. And I’m on a team of four like three amazing are teachers as well.


Tina Mclnenly (14:42):
And this year, the biggest challenge has been, we haven’t been to really get into schools as much because of COVID. So we haven’t been able to like authentically really connect with students. So me as my first year, I haven’t been able to get to know students on that level that, that I would’ve liked because of COVID and, and in-person restrictions. And so that’s been, that’s been really tough, but we’ve had some, just some really excellent teacher is be so flexible in how we’re adapting things. And so rather than an in-person visit, we’ll do a Google meet, right? Like Google meet has been our best friend. And so we’ll do lots of meets to consult first. And then if our team goes in to observe, then we have to stick with like a 15 minute window or we’re in room for 15 minutes and then this one and we’re two meters away masked on.


Tina Mclnenly (15:36):
So we’ve had to be really flexible, but I mean, it’s worked, it’s worked, I’m so excited to next year when things start opening up a little more, but it’s, it’s worked and we’ve also had, but on the other hand, we’ve had a really cool opportunity cuz a lot of our classrooms have invited us online too. So when in December everyone was online and so we got to join these classrooms and then see more than we ever could in an online environment with everyone on. So the, the connection piece has been the hardest part, but I’ve seen teachers just pivot so well. And with, with their challenges, like some schools are focused solely on that social, emotional piece and just making sure they make contact three times a week if we’re online. And so the flexibility in teachers has just been outstanding, outstanding this year.


Sam Demma (16:28):
And if you could go back in time and speak to younger Tina knowing what you know now, like what advice or pointers would you give to your younger self?


Tina Mclnenly (16:42):
The biggest advice that I would give to myself and I hope every young teacher hears this is that you do not have to know how to do everything on your own. Sam. That is the biggest advice I’d give to people because it’s taken so long to get there. And I that’s something I still struggle with a bit too. I think the, it started way back in my first probably my first student practicum. So like in Alberta, we, well, I did four years at university and then you do two practicums. And I remember my young Tina south at first practicum. I just wanted to get it right and I wanted, I didn’t wanna make any mistakes. And this is my first time teaching sound like my first week in the classroom. And I was so scared of feedback. And so I think with, and it’s probably in lots of professions too, but perfectionism is an area that really got the best of me at that time.


Tina Mclnenly (17:37):
And I would be insulted if my mentor, teacher or facilitator would offer me something like just gimme feedback and it truly did it wasn’t that I thought I was that good. Like I just didn’t want to make a mistake. So, or have others think that I don’t belong there. And so it was a case of that imposter syndrome that I know, I know others feel as well because we’ve opened up and talked about this more. And I think now over time, what has really helped me in this is, and I just wish I could tell my younger self, this is that, that importance of growth mindset, right. And being very vulnerable and and authentic feedback processes. And I think working with a really strong team of colleagues over the years who I really value their feedback has helped me has helped me get better in that sense.


Tina Mclnenly (18:28):
And just knowing that we are gonna make mistakes and there will be more problems to solve and we can do it in a team. And I dunno like the work at Brene brown really stands out to me a lot as I’m working through this process of kind of getting rid of that perfectionism and imposter syndrome is, is she really talks about that. Learning at its core is vulnerable and asking our students to open themselves up every day to learning and to make mistakes, but then oftentimes as leaders or teachers ourselves, we aren’t willing to do that. And I think that’s really important. And I have to remember that, that as a teacher, myself, I have to continue practice to be, to have feedback and to mistakes and to grow from them and to model that the empathy and courage in our, in ourselves that our students can. And it wasn’t really up until the last couple years, I started to look at that and see that these students were asking them to be so vulnerable every day to receive feedback all the time and how it, you have to think how it makes us else feel is really hard to do. And so we have to recognize that to open that up for the students. And so that’s the biggest thing I would tell my younger self in so many different areas that you don’t have to get it right all the time. Yeah.


Sam Demma (19:46):
I love that. I love it so much because I’m going through it right now. And I think sometimes the advice that we need to hear the most is the advice that we also give the most. And


Tina Mclnenly (19:56):
Yes, that’s so good.


Sam Demma (19:57):
I speak to a lot of students about getting out of your comfort zone and pushing yourself to try new things. And recently I found myself not trying that many new things myself and I I’m, I’m making this project called dear high school me and it’s all about, oh yeah. Lessons for my younger self that I hope high school students can learn from. And I had a friend of mine say, these poems are great. I think you should wrap them.


Tina Mclnenly (20:20):
Oh,


Sam Demma (20:20):
Okay. And I was like, what? And he’s like, you should, you should, you should make music. And the thought of it just made me sick. I love the idea, but I I’m so nervous, you know, to, to do something different and put, put it out there in the world in a, in a way that I never have ever put anything out before. And it just, it made me think about, I


Tina Mclnenly (20:40):
Think that’s so cool.


Sam Demma (20:40):
Yeah. It made me think about your example though. You know, like you don’t need to get it right. And you know, you can get feedback and we do need to be vulnerable by putting out the things that we wanna try and do regardless of how it’s received. And yeah, I just, I, I just think that’s a beautiful piece of advice and I needed to hear it today. So thank you. And I appreciate it.


Tina Mclnenly (21:01):
Yeah. I know. You’re welcome. And I need to hear all the time. It’s something that doesn’t go away. And when you read more I’ve been reading a little bit about like the ego and those types of, of things. And it’s so important and it’s, it’s really interesting how we, how we do that to ourselves. Right. And Sam, I think you’re doing such great things. Like I’ve listened to this podcast in different episodes and it’s, so it’s so great to hear other people’s stories and, and what they’re sharing. So


Sam Demma (21:30):
Thank you.


Tina Mclnenly (21:30):
Appreciate, and you appreciate it and you should wrap it. That would be really awesome.


Sam Demma (21:34):
I appreciate the encouragement. It’s starting to reinforce the belief. So here we come. Tina, thank you so much for doing this. This has been a great conversation. 30 minutes flies by has


Tina Mclnenly (21:45):
It already been yeah,


Sam Demma (21:47):
But tell me and the person listening where they can reach out to you if they want to get in touch?


Tina Mclnenly (21:53):
Yeah. So yeah, I actually have a pretty low social media presence. I have a Twitter account, I don’t seem to use it as much as, as I would like to, but maybe I could give you my email address then and if anyone wants to reach out, I’d love to chat and connect and they can reach me yeah, at that email address.


Sam Demma (22:10):
Perfect. I’ll put it in the show note to the episode. Okay.


Tina Mclnenly (22:12):
Awesome. Thanks so much, Sam,


Sam Demma (22:14):
Tina, thanks so much. This is a lot of fun. I’ll keep with the great work and I will maybe I’ll talk to you after you finish your masters.


Tina Mclnenly (22:20):
Yes, that’d be great. Thank you.


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

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Tina Mclnenly

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.

Paul DeVuono – Vice Principal at St. Anthony’s Catholic School (BGCDSB)

Paul DeVuono - Vice Principal at St. Anthony's Catholic School (BGCDSB)
About Paul Devuono

Paul DeVuono (paul_devuono@bgcdsb.org) is the Vice-Principal at St. Anthony’s Separate School in Kincardine, ON. Paul continues to be a strong advocate and supporter of publicly funded Catholic education in Ontario.

In addition, Paul is involved and connected to the Catholic Principals Council of Ontario (CPCO), ensuring our provincial government continues to make necessary investments in publicly funded Catholic education for students, families and staff. Paul has been a Vice-Principal for three years now, serving the Bruce-Grey Catholic District School Board (BGCDSB).

Paul represents a deep passion for Catholic education while ensuring all students are provided with the fundamental opportunities to develop their God-given talents, gifts and skills.Paul holds the premise that when students feel safe, secure, included and connected in their learning, they will continue to progress and excel as learners and collaborative contributors in our society.

Paul believes moving forward, and we need to ensure our schools are seen and utilized as community hubs where our stakeholders and partners have access to board, municipal, provincial and federal programs that benefit all.

In closing, Paul believes that our youth is our most prized asset and that, as a society, we must make significant and purposeful investments in our youth and education. Paul is married to his spouse Erica, a Vice-Principal, and has two children, Leonardo, who is 8, and Isoline, 5.

Connect with Paul Devuono: Email

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Catholic Principals Council of Ontario (CPCO)

St. Anthony’s Separate School

Bruce-Grey Catholic District School Board (BGCDSB)

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):
Paul welcome to the high performing educator podcast. Pleasure to have you on the show here today. Please start by introducing yourself.


Paul Devuono (00:08):
Good afternoon. My name is Paul Devuono. I’m vice principal at St. Anthony’s elementary school inOntario working with the Bruce Grey Catholic district school board.


Sam Demma (00:19):
Why education? And when did you figure out that you wanted to work in education?


Paul Devuono (00:25):
So I think for myself kind of why education, why kind of starting a vocation in teaching was certainly from many past educators that I’ve had the privilege to cross paths with certainly from a young age, right from elementary. I always thought it’d be really cool to be a teacher. Great, great pathway, great vocation. And certainly when I first started off in school encountering you know, some learning difficulties and struggling, and I think had it not been for some of my early primary teachers, especially and certainly those educa theaters that really helped me propel through high school. I would not be standing here before you today. And I think I owe many of them a great deal of gratitude and thanks. And I, I always think that I probably wasn’t as grateful and thankful in some of those moments, certainly in my teen years definitely think of them often and really draw on the wealth of expertise that many of them had.


Sam Demma (01:30):
What do you think those educators did for you growing up as a student that made a significant impact? If you can remember?


Paul Devuono (01:37):
I think for many of them it was, it was their patience but also their, their sense of care and, and really trying to be good role models. But also certainly very much being very patient and not giving up and just kinda allowing students to be the people that they, that they are and kind of respect them you know, for who they are and, and do their best to work with them, not trying to force them to be something that they’re not, but certainly a great deal of empathy and trying to kind of best support is certainly what I felt made them extremely successful.


Sam Demma (02:17):
When you started your path towards education and decided this is what I’m gonna do. Tell me a little bit about what that path looked like. Where did you go to school and where did you start and what brought you to where you are now?


Paul Devuono (02:30):
So I, it was interesting. And it’s funny when we engage in this conversation you know, many of my friends were going off into business other types of professions and, and not many of my circle of friends were really looking at education. And at that time too, the trades were just something that was being started about. So there was things with the Ontario youth apprenticeship program. And I so wished I could have done a trade. And many of my family are, are extremely gifted in the skilled trades, but it just wasn’t my forte. And it certainly was one of my guidance counselors that said, you know, have you thought of teaching? And I said, yeah, you know, it is something that I continue to think about but was a little worried about some of the application process to it.


Paul Devuono (03:21):
And he probably gave me some of the best advice in grade 11 and 12, cuz he said, you know, it’s gonna get really competitive to get into teachers college. He’s like, if you’re really passionate about education, you can sit, you should consider going into concurrent education. And it was the best advice. Cuz certainly at that time it was becoming competitive to get into teaching. And I was fortunate to go to Lakehead university in thunder bay and did concurrent education there. I did a four year undergraduate there a double major in political science and history and did teachers college in my fifth year. And it was a, it was a great experience.


Sam Demma (04:04):
That’s amazing. And when you finished the postsecondary requirements in education, where did you first start working? And what did the progression look like to bring you to where you are now?


Paul Devuono (04:17):
So we had had a job fair kind of late winter of our graduating year. Nice. In 2004 and the GTA, the greater Toronto was kind of the last place that I wanted to go and work. I kind of wanted to be closer to home being from Northern Ontario, but many of those boards were not hiring. And so at the job fair, it was really clear place like York, York, district York, Catholic der peel P public, and certainly Toronto Catholic in Toronto district were boards that were really actively recruiting. They had full year LTOs, they had permanent positions for some teachers. And so I had made a, I was fortunate to make a contact with der peel Catholic was someone from their HR recruiting crew and managed to, to get a seven, eight position in Mississauga on the border of ACO. And it was a great, great experience.


Sam Demma (05:13):
That’s awesome. And now you’re back in the Bruce Gray county. What, what brought you, what brought you up here?


Paul Devuono (05:22):
So being from Northern Ontario was always kind of a goal to kind of move out of the city and kind of move into a more rural area. And certainly with with job markets and then getting married and starting a family, it became a lot more trickier and we kind of thought maybe it would just be a lofty retirement goal. But my wife’s family is from the Bruce Gray area and we managed we were grateful enough and blessed to be able to find work up here at both as as vice principals. And so it it all happened kind of through the pandemic. It was a little, a little tricky, but it certainly worked out.


Sam Demma (06:04):
That’s amazing. And what do you enjoy about the work you do today and for someone listening who might be a teacher and not, and doesn’t really know the experience of a vice principal what does that look like?


Paul Devuono (06:19):
So I would say you know, our youth are our most like prize commodity and I think especially going through this pandemic now into two and a half, getting closer to three years you know, it’s a little bit concerning to that I, I, I feel more and more often our youth are kind of being forgotten about. And I think if you look at any great society throughout history and even those today there’s societies that have really put their youth and education at the forefront of everything that they do. And I think you know, in terms of education, yes. It’s challenging. It’s trying any institution that works with the public and that works with youth definitely has as ups and downs, but I think again, you know, just, you know, listening to our stories and, and sharing to be a part of having an influence on someone’s life and having them have that opportunity to look back and knowing that you perhaps made a small difference not only maybe the career that they chose, but certainly the path and the people that they are today is huge.


Sam Demma (07:35):
Yeah. I couldn’t agree more. And what gives you hope to show up every single day and continue doing this work, even when things like a global pandemic start getting in the way.


Paul Devuono (07:46):
You know, what it’s, it’s certainly our, our kids and their families you know, to know when we opened up our doors to welcome students and families back and, and air support is huge. And I think RA I’m in an elementary school, so we’re K to eight. And if you ever need your bucket filled on those difficult days, I just take a stroll and a walkthrough into our full day learning kindergarten classrooms. And when you see three and a half and four year olds tugging at you and hugging you and kind of telling you the words that they’ve learned in their numbers, it’s so inspiring to see them soak up like sponges that learning. And then again with our seven and eights, they’re excited about the next phase of their academic careers. It’s just so amazing to be a part of, of those opportunities.


Sam Demma (08:38):
That’s awesome. I love on your journey. What do you think some of the resources that you’ve found that have been helpful whether it’s people you’ve met or potentially even some things you’ve been through that you thought were beneficial to yourself?


Paul Devuono (08:56):
I think when we’re talking about resources, definitely like human resources I think by far are like people you know, conversing with you know, that’s one of the unique things with education is that like, we have such a rich dichotomy of people that we and interact with, whether it’s social workers, childhood, youth workers our custodial teams, our educational assistants, our, our educational early childhood educators, administrators, like there’s so many people that I feel so fortunate that I can connect with and dialogue with and share experiences is huge when you’re coming to people. And certainly for us as a Catholic system, you know, drawing on some of the work of our, of our chaplaincy of our priests and their support as well is extremely influential into the work that we do. And certainly you know, really helps, especially when you’re kind of going through some of these challenges that we are now yeah. Society to help ground things is huge.


Sam Demma (09:59):
Yeah, I agree. And I know there’s been a lot of changes and challenges over the past two years, but what do you think some of the opportunities might be or, you know, areas for growth and improvement because of all these changes?


Paul Devuono (10:14):
I would say that certainly technology, we, we, we continue to talk about technology and I think like the whole virtual learning piece was something that especially at the elementary and secondary level was still kind of not quite at the forefront and I think for better or not, the pandemic really helped kind of thrust the up forward cuz maybe had no other choice. And I think those virtual connections for our students is definitely something that’s gonna carry them forward through their academic careers and, and through employment. I also think too, at the same time though, we, we recognize the importance of a experiential education in the outdoors. Knowing that our students were in front of screens and maybe perhaps not going outside, cuz they were kind of in a room or in a basement or in an office. Certainly kind of bringing that back to the forefront, how important it is for students to interact with their peers, but also with friends, but also outside. And those opportunities, whether they’re playing ice hockey, going to boing, going for a walk all those great things. I think sometimes we forget how, how important and how critical those are for kids.


Sam Demma (11:32):
I agreed. Agreed. can you think of a time where a program or an initiative has made an impact on a student and as a vice principal or as a teacher you got to see and witness the change or the impact that it had?


Paul Devuono (11:47):
I, I think for certainly one that comes to mind is certainly our, our transitional work with our, with our grade eights as they move to grade nine and working with our seven eights, getting them prepared and ready for high school. And, and just knowing that that is such a, a big step in a, in a huge leap for many of our students and families. And sometimes I don’t think we understand the gravity of that and just our board has done a lot of work building connections with our seven and eights before they step foot into high school. So if they have an opportunity to connect with teachers, student services, guidance counselors and other supports through the high school so that when they’re walking into those much larger buildings and seeing all those students, they can and already have a connection in rapport with people and that there’s already a go-to person for them.


Paul Devuono (12:38):
And again, you know, you know, for some students, it might not be, it’s a, it’s an easy shift that, that are very outgoing, that are very social, but certainly for those that may have some anxiety may have some stress or a little bit more introverted, it’s a huge, huge help and support for them. Once they have that opportunity to kind of have a connection at the high school. So I I’ve had an opportunity to see that first and foremost and have our students come back and say how, how great and amazing that was.


Sam Demma (13:07):
Amazing. And if you could take if you could take all the experiences you’ve had in education, kind of bundle them all together, travel back in time and speak to your younger self when you were just getting into teaching. What advice would you have wanted to hear? What advice would you have given yourself when you were just starting that you think might also be beneficial to someone else just getting into this work?


Paul Devuono (13:35):
I think that it’s and, and we hear this all the time that, that you have to take risks. Mm. And I think we, we hear that all the time, but it, it’s hard to put into practice. Yeah. And I think we need to take risks and we need to feel that we’re gonna make mistakes and then that’s gonna be okay. And I think to it’s being able to admit when you’ve made a mistake, but also when perhaps you’re feeling overwhelmed or maxed out or stress that you’re able to vocalize that to whoever you have faith in or that you trust or that there’s a circle of security for, because the work within education is very dynamic. It’s challenging. It certainly can be stressful. And I think also just kind of knowing that we’re never gonna have all the answers and that that’s okay. And that kind of humbleness again, when I think about pat ask teachers is so critical and that it’s okay to reach out to people around you.


Sam Demma (14:42):
Perfect. If someone has listened in on this conversation, found something intriguing or interesting and wants to ask you a question or reach out to connect and just have a conversation, what would be the best way for them to reach out and get in touch with you?


Paul Devuono (14:58):
I, I would say the best way to reach out and certainly get in touch with me is to connect with the Bruce Gray Catholic district school board. And certainly if you type in BGCDSB St Anthony’s my contact information will come up as vice principal here. Or even if you call the mean switch line at our board office, they’ll certainly put you in touch with me here. If you have any questions or I can do anything to help support perhaps a pathway into education.


Sam Demma (15:24):
Awesome. Paul, thank you so much for taking the time to come on the show. Really appreciate it. Keep up the great work and I will talk soon.


Paul Devuono (15:32):
All right. Thanks a lot. Really appreciate it. Thank you for having me.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Paul Devuono

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.

Rebecca Newcombe – Principal at Aldershot School (HDSB)

Rebecca Newcombe - Principal at Aldershot School (HDSB)
About Rebecca Newcombe

Rebecca Newcombe (@Ms__Newcombe) is the Principal of Aldershot School in Burlington, Ontario.  She has been part of the Halton District School Board for 20 years.  Rebecca is a firm believer in student voice and innovation.  

Rebecca is a Collaborative Problem Solving Trainer for Think:Kids. CPS is an evidence-based approach that flips the traditional way we look at students with behavioural challenges and supports the student’s skill development to reduce challenging behaviour while building relationships with the adults in their lives.

Connect with Rebecca Newcombe: Twitter | Email

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Halton District School Board (HDSB)

Think:Kids

Collaborative Problem Solving (CPS)

Aldershot 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 (00:01):
Rebecca welcome to the high performing educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show this morning, please start by introducing yourself.

Rebecca Newcombe (01:50):
Hello, Sam I’m Rebecca Newcomb. I’m the principal at Aldershot school with the Halton district school board here in Burlington, Ontario.

Sam Demma (01:58):
It’s an awesome, it’s awesome to speak to you because I would always take the go train. Last stop would always say elder shot and was always wondering what was over there. Cause I never actually got off at that stop.

Rebecca Newcombe (02:10):
Worth the visit!

Sam Demma (02:12):
At what stage in your own educational career and journey did you realize? I really want to get into education.

Rebecca Newcombe (02:21):
Honestly, since the, the very beginning I’ve always wanted to be a teacher. All always wanted to be a principal and I just was, was lucky and fortunate. And here, here I am.

Sam Demma (02:33):
So you grew up kind of just telling everyone around you when I grow up, I wanna work in a school.

Rebecca Newcombe (02:39):
Yeah, weird. Right. that’s awesome. I was, I always loved school. Always loved teaching, always loved learning. It’s just was, it was just natural fit for me.

Sam Demma (02:49):
Tell me a little bit about the actual journey. So you finished high school and then what, what was the path that you took that led you to where you are today?

Rebecca Newcombe (02:56):
So I it was right outta high school, got into the concurrent ed program at Lakehead university in thunder bay. So I was living in Ottawa at the time with my parents, so 17 hours straight north and was there for five years.

Sam Demma (03:13):
That’s awesome. And then right after the five years at Lakehead did you start with the Halton district school board and been here ever?

Rebecca Newcombe (03:21):
Since? I just started out with the Durham district school board, I taught at Fort Perry high school for two years. Nice. Yeah. And then got hired on with Halton and made the move.

Sam Demma (03:30):
That’s awesome. And I would, I’m assuming you started it in the classroom and then

Rebecca Newcombe (03:35):
I did. Yeah, well, yeah, but what my first jobs was with special education. So I kind of fell into special education. It, it became an UN, like, I didn’t realize that it was gonna be my passion, but it’s, it’s turned into that just sort of by accident. I started teaching English and history and then, and special ed. So in terms of GLE, so learning resources classes within the resource room, so supporting students who may have learning disabilities right, right out of right from my, from day one up in, up in Durham. And then when I moved to, to Halton, I ended up being the the head of special education at EC ju in Milton for, I don’t know, maybe a decade and with kids with intellectual disabilities, autism, you name it. And it was amazing.

Sam Demma (04:26):
That’s awesome. Those first couple of years probably informed the rest of your teaching career which is awesome. When you think about those experiences working in special ed, are there any memories that stick out to you or, you know, experiences that you had that were really impactful on the way that you approach teaching today or education?

Rebecca Newcombe (04:53):
That is a great question because I really think it does. And when you think about it working with kids who have special needs it, you know, you have to have a different, different approach. And also found kids who, you know, who may be labeled with behavioral challenges really really were, were those that struggled, struggled the most. And I, when I moved to Halton was introduced to the model of collaborative problem solving with Dr. Alon through Massachusetts general hospital. Nice. And there it’s a, it’s a program or department within their department of psychiatry and the whole model and framework really focuses in on a mindset shift. So when we look at kids or, or people or anyone really with challenging behavior or, or, you know, even, even, you know, a problem of a opposing view, looking at it from a diff a different lens.

Rebecca Newcombe (05:52):
So looking at it as a skillful versus willful. So what I mean by that is that kids, conventional wisdom tells us that kids do well if they want to. So that they’re as if they’re choosing to, to behave poorly when really it’s a skill deficit. So if kids had better skills to manage what were asked, the expectation we placed on them, they would manage it better because that’s what people wanna do people inherently wanna do well. Right. So that changed everything for me. So and I think that really helped me in my role as the head of spec ed as a vice principal and definitely as a principal as well.

Sam Demma (06:33):
That’s such an awesome perspective. I love that, that mindset, that shift, and I think it’s so important. This year kids were forced, not only kids, but teachers and anyone in everyone in education was forced to learn a ton of new skills due to COVID 19. What are some of the challenges that have been facing the school community that you’re in right now and how you all been striving to overcome those things?

Rebecca Newcombe (07:02):
So, so part of my learning with CPS that CPS really is a trauma informed and culturally responsive approach, nice to, to working with humans in general. And I think through COVID 19 and through the murder of George Floyd and through the way we look at at racism and looking at how to become an anti-racist it’s really supported my growth that way. And I think that that’s one of the biggest challenges. I think we face not only in school, but as a society looking at how, how are we anti-racist and what are we doing and how are we breaking down those barriers of oppression and, and racism that, that do exist in all levels of society and how, how we approach that. So that’s definitely one of the biggest challenges that I’m facing right now. I also think too with the pandemic, the pandemic has taught us a lot.

Rebecca Newcombe (08:03):
We don’t, and I never wanna hear folks say like, oh, we need to go back to the way it was. It was so much better. The back at the way, it was, there’s a lot of good things about pre pandemic times, for sure. However, there are some things that we can, you know, we can take from it and looking at, like, for example right now it’s exam time, you know, traditional exam time at high schools. Well, now we’re looking at it from a completely different way, looking at it from what, what are some engaging ways that we, that students can demonstrate their learning without having to sit down and like memorize, you know, binders and textbooks and anything you can Google? Why, why, why would we ask kids to do that? Why can’t they create something that demonstrates their learning that also demonstrates 21st century skills, creativity, collaboration critical thinking, all those amazing things that we want kids to be able to do while adults be able, able to do humans in general.

Rebecca Newcombe (09:00):
So just looking at it from, from that lens, when we think about a classroom in the 1880s, you know, rows and desks and that kind of thing, and we compare it to now, I would say we don’t always see a whole lot of difference, especially when we compare to like a car, think about a car in 1880s to a car to now, or a phone, like a cell phone. Right. So, you know, one of those old school phones back then and a cell phone now, I mean, so many, so, so much different, so much change, so much innovation. And really in the school, in the classroom, we wanna harness that and really change it and bust it open and make it better for kids

Sam Demma (09:44):
As a principal. How do you, how do you manage, like bringing these big ideas into like actionable steps? So like for a teacher listening, who’s never been in a principal role before what is it like day to day and how do we try and get everyone on board with a, with an idea?

Rebecca Newcombe (10:05):
Yeah. It’s, it’s, that’s like, if you can solve that Sam, then you’re solving, like, it’s a million dollar question. It’s multimillion dollar question. I think as a principal, really, you have to trust your staff and you’ve got amazing educators in the building and they have amazing ideas. And if they feel supported in trying something new and taking a risk, you know, it is a thing pedagogically sound for kids. Yes. Okay. Does, is someone passionate to do it? Yes. That as a principal, it’s my job to say, heck yes. Get outta their way and, and let them, let them try it. Like the magic happens when, when teachers, when anyone educators step outta their comfort zone. So as long as people feel supported that way then that’s how you make stuff happen. Because if folks don’t feel supported, then it’s, you know, then they’re, they’re like, oh, what if it goes badly? What if it fails? There’s learning in that. Right. So if it doesn’t go badly, if it goes badly or if it doesn’t work the way you thought it’s, it was gonna work that’s okay. Learn from the experience, tweak it and try it differently. The next time,

Sam Demma (11:11):
One of my favorite rap artists, his name is Russ, and he talks about failures being stepping stones. And he, he even talks about bridges that got burned in the past, lighting the way for the future. And that could be used as like a failure analogy as well. And I think it’s so true that our failures are not really failures. They’re just lessons if we choose to learn from them. You mentioned when you were working in special ed that you were introduced to this new model, which is awesome. What other resources or mindset shifts have you read watched been through or philosophies that you have about education that have really helped you throughout your, your career and journey?

Rebecca Newcombe (11:58):
I would say so like the cloud of problem solving model through think kids that’s really, that’s really, that’s, that’s really guided me guided, guided me through, throughout my journey. I’m also re I’ve read a few different books and always interested in podcasts. Nice white parents listening to that podcast. Nice. the reading a book by Dr. Betina love and really looking at like, anti-racism like, so how, how do we be become anti-racist educators? And how can we make sure that all of our kids feel like they matter? And what does that look like? And how does that, how does that look in the classroom and what, what do we see in the classroom that we know we’re, we’re intentionally breaking down those systemic barriers. What does that look like in a school? You know, so really looking at that.

Rebecca Newcombe (12:54):
So as a staff we, we did an equity audit, so what are we, what are we look, what are we looking at? What are we looking for? And then we also had our equity team, our student equity team, they went and did an equity audit. Hmm. And so then sort of meshing those two, two things together and sort of, okay, what did they, what did the kids see that maybe the adults didn’t and vice versa. And so just kind of identifying the barrier, not the barriers, but identifying those things that need to be improved like life and learning and schools, it’s constant change and it’s constant improvement, and it’s not about, that was bad. It’s just, oh, we, we, we know something different now. So it’s like, when you, when you know, better, you do better. So that’s that’s sort of we’re at as, as a, as a school community.

Sam Demma (13:39):
Teachers principles, the educational field as a whole has staff and people that this year at certain points have felt really burnt out. Maybe you’ve experienced it personally. Maybe some of your staff has as well. When you are, are not feeling at your a game or when you’re a little burnt out, how do you kinda pick yourself back up or fill up your own cup?

Rebecca Newcombe (14:05):
The kids really like the, the kids are brilliant. The kids have so many great ideas. And when you look at some of the experiences that our, our students are having, in terms of the pandemic, make, it gives you sort of a, a blast of reality as an adult. So many, you know, kids 14 years old dealing with ma major life issues and major life changes. So for me that I, it it’s, you know, the, the support in that or the, the hope that they, they have is inspiring. So it just keeps you moving forward. And and the staff, you know, they continue, they continue to work so hard, despite all the challenges and despite things that are said in the media, they keep going, and that is inspiring. So I guess it’s really like you know, the others around me that, that make it, make it worth at all.

Sam Demma (14:59):
Hmm. I love that. It there’s so much inspiration to gain from everybody if you’re, if you’re looking for it. So that’s so cool to hear, you know, the past two years have been challenging. Like we, we all know it’s, it’s been different slightly in education, but it’s opened up lots of opportunities. Like you’re mentioning in areas of equity and innovating education and trying to do new things. If you could take all the learnings you’ve gained over the path entire span of your career, and walk back into your first teaching job and tap yourself on the shoulder and say, Hey, Rebecca, I know you’re just getting started. Here’s what I wish you heard. Or here’s what I think you need to know when you’re just getting into this profession, because, you know, there could be someone starting in education right now and their new experience is gonna be awesome, but you might, you know, you might have some things to share. That could be some good reminders.

Rebecca Newcombe (16:00):
I would say don’t take it personally. Mm. Do do your best. And every day’s a new day.

Sam Demma (16:09):
I love it. I love it. And you know, one other thing that fascinates me is the program schools run. There are some uniformity in all that, like certain boards bring in the same programs to all their schools. And it’s awesome. And then there’s also some individual cases where a school is looking for a specific program or thing that run with the students. I’m wondering if there’s any programs outer has run at any point in the, in your career at this school that we’re very successful. And I’m wondering if you could share the impact it made and also what the program was.

Rebecca Newcombe (16:44):
Sure. I like the servicing that it’s the students, it’s, it’s a, it’s the teacher student relationship. That really it is what is, is the, is the thing that makes a student successful. It’s not so much the, the the program we’ve, we’ve got many different programs but really, it really boils down to that student teacher relationship. And we’ve got a, a school full of amazing educators. So for me, it’s not about specialized programs. It’s about how, how a teacher makes a difference in the life of a student. Yeah. And and that can be in any classroom, not just specialized programs. And you don’t always hear about those. Right. As, as an educator, you’re lucky if a, if a, you know, a student sends you a Facebook message, you know, 10 years after they graduated to say, Hey, like, thanks you, like you made, you made a difference for cuz you as an educator, you don’t, you don’t see the fruits of your labor, right?

Rebecca Newcombe (17:39):
You, you you work hard with the students in front of you and they, it’s kind of not, not a thankless job, but you don’t always get, you don’t always get the, the depth of your impact. So for me, it’s about it’s about it’s about that. We, we have great teachers, we have a pretty unique school. We’re seven to 12. So we’ve got traditionally grade seven, eight elementary students. And then also, you know, the traditional nine to 12 high school. So that’s that, that’s a kind of a cool unique profile that enables us to have, you know, our grade seven and eights into our various tech shops and and have experiences with, with iSTEM. So we do have an iSTEM program here. So that’s amazing. It is you have to apply to be part of that program, just a, we also have a SHSM, so which also it’s actually doubled in size for, for next year, which is amazing and a can fit pro. So we’ve got lots of cool, unique opportunities for students to hopefully help them find their passion. And, but really the difference is made by the individuals, the student but the individual teacher in the classroom. And in my personal opinion, you know, it takes a village you know, to raise a child or educate a child. And that village must be equally valued. So it’s not just the specialized programs that, that make the magic happen for kids. It’s it’s the collect is

Sam Demma (19:12):
That reminded me. It’s funny, this popped into my mind, there’s a, a book by Malcolm Gladwell called outliers. And in the book he references this study of this little village filled with European people that were all from the same place in Italy. And they found that this very tight knit, close knit community lived longer than everyone else in that state in America. And they also had very low rates of heart disease or heart attack. And it was a spectacle for doctors and they ended up doing a lot of studies on the people living within this small C community. And what they found was you couldn’t determine the health of an individual solely based on that one person’s actions, but you had to look at the community as a whole and how they interacted with each other. And I think that really relates to what you’re saying about, it’s not just about the students individual actions. It’s not just about a program am coming in and that person’s individual actions, but it’s the community as a whole that, you know, lifts the, the student experience and educator experience up which is, which is really awesome. Thanks for sharing that. You mentioned, I stem, I’ve never heard of, I stem, what is the, I stand for?

Rebecca Newcombe (20:29):
It stands for innovation.

Sam Demma (20:32):
Oh, cool. That’s awesome. And then the SHSM. I know what SHSM is cause I live in Pickering, but can you explain a little bit about SHSM for educators who might be outside of Ontario?

Rebecca Newcombe (20:42):
Sure. So it stands for specialist high skills major. And so it’s a number of different courses that students will, will take to then sort of specialize in a particular area. So our equalism is you know, so the teachers who teach it are, are the experts. So if you wanna find out more about that and get all those details, you should talk to them because they they’ve lived that experience for over a decade. So they it’s a bundle of courses and the kids get actual experience being leaders in our community at the RBG through a program called Eagle Rangers. And then also through going out and doing camping and Portage and doing all those wonderful things in Northern well Algonquin. So opportunities that way. So it’s just really about experiential learning, right? Like, so digging in and not just learning about cool things in our world, but actually experiencing them. So again, it’s all about that teacher, student relationship and students following their passion to be able to, to dig in and do what do what they’re interested in.

Sam Demma (21:47):
Love it. I did not get involved in SHSM enough when I was in high school being a high performing athlete. I rarely got involved in any extracurriculars. And I think it’s one of the things I not regret, but wish I did more of. So it’s cool to hear that your school has those opportunities existing for kids. If someone wants to reach out to ask you a question based on anything we shared during this conversation or interview, what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you?

Rebecca Newcombe (22:14):
They can follow me on Twitter. They can send me an email, give me a shout at the school.

Sam Demma (22:20):
Awesome. Perfect. I will make sure I link the links. What is your Twitter handle?

Rebecca Newcombe (22:26):
It’s @Ms__Newcombe

Sam Demma (22:30):
Okay, perfect. I will make sure to add that in the show notes, Rebecca, thank you so much for coming on the show. This was a lot of fun. Keep up the great work.

Rebecca Newcombe (22:37):
Yes. Thanks. So nice to meet you.

Sam Demma (22:39):
You as well. You as well. Bye.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Rebecca Newcombe

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.

Jacquie Pece – Principal at Craig Kielburger Secondary School (HDSB)

Jacquie Pece - Principal at Craig Kielburger Secondary School (HDSB)
About Jacquie Pece

Jacquie Pece (pecej@hdsb.ca) has been in education for 33 years. She began as an Health and Physical Education and English teacher. She also worked in Guidance and as a behavioural specialist in Special Education. She taught AQ courses in Health and Physical Education at OISE for 10 years. She was a vice-principal for 8 years before becoming the principal for the last 6 years at Craig Kielburger Secondary School in Milton.

Jacquie has taught Principal Qualification courses for OPC. She was the co-chair of OPC in Halton for 3 years and is now the past president of the Halton Secondary Principal Association. She enjoys leadership work within the system to help strengthen all schools across the board and to mentor vice-principals and principals.

Jacquie loves working in complex schools that honour all pathways. She cares deeply for her students and staff. She strives to create a school where students feel safe to be themselves and are kind to one another.

Where teachers want to come to work to collaborate, and work in an environment where they are respected and encouraged to try new ways of teaching and learning to improve student achievement. She has coached her entire career in rugby, volleyball, and track and field sports.

She loves getting to know students outside of the classroom and has also travelled all around the world with students to enhance their love for life long experiential learning. She believes in all aspects of physical, mental, emotional, social and spiritual wellness and encourages others to find the balance in their lives.

Connect with Jacquie Pece: Twitter | Email

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Halton District School Board (HDSB)

Principal Qualification courses OPC

Craig Kielburger Secondary School

Halton Secondary Principal Association

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:02):
Jackie welcome to the high performing educator. Huge pleasure to have you on the show. Please start by introducing yourself.


Jacquie Pece (00:09):
Well, hello and thank you, Sam, for giving me this opportunity. I’m Jackie Pete. I’m a principal at Craig Kielburger Secondary School in Milton. And I’ve been an administrator now for 13 years here for six. And I love what I do in the Halton district school board here.


Sam Demma (00:29):
At what point in your own career did you realize education was your calling?


Jacquie Pece (00:36):
Well, it’s kind of funny because I was one of those kids that ended up playing school in my basement. So it was the type that I actually set up a little desk for Teddy bears and dolls and gave them actual like worksheets to do and mark them. I I really loved school. I had great friends in school. Played a lot of sports and really felt that I, you know, wanted to make the most out of every day type of kid. And when I played a lot of sports and, and was we were quite good at them in school and outside in sports. And then I suffered an injury. And after I think that injury that really propelled me to work more into a, a coaching aspect of, of teaching. And I ended up going into the concurrent education program at York university to become a teacher and coach, because I couldn’t be an athlete, even though our crew boats were really successful. And one crew, I was in set, a Canadian record that stood for 12 years. Wow. Couldn’t pursue sports at that same level. So the next best thing for me was to coach and coach what teaching. And then after that I became a teacher of pH ed and English and, and teaching seemed to be a natural progression and you get to coach at the same time. So it’s like a win-win for me.


Sam Demma (01:59):
Did you draw parallels between coaching and teaching? Are those, are those similar roles and what do you enjoy about coach?


Jacquie Pece (02:08):
Well, I love mentoring young people and I love to try to get them to see their full potential. Like, so if you, you take somebody who doesn’t understand a sport or a skill and you break it down for them and you make it so that they can do each part, and then you see the progression and they see the progression in themselves, the light kind of goes off and they go, wow, this feels so great. Then you like to work towards something. So you see kids bright and, and they think, wow, I could really work towards this. Sports teaches you about the limits that you think you have in yourself and you, you break through those limits. And so that breaking through that, you could do anything if you’re, it really worked hard, enough mentality transfers to life. And so we hear that all the time that sports builds character, but I love that aspect of coaching and mentoring young people to become their best.


Sam Demma (03:02):
That’s awesome. And what was your first role in teaching and how did your career evolve and bring you to where you are now?


Jacquie Pece (03:12):
My first role in teaching was teaching at pinch and mark Grove in grades 6, 7, 8, right out of university in back in 1989, which nice be there a little bit, but that had a pH ed job as well as a home room. And I really wanted to be in Hilton. So I, I transferred, I actually resigned a, a full six section job, which my mom thought I was crazy doing, but I did be because I lived in Oakville. I, I went to school in Hulton and I wanted to teach in Hulton closer to home. I knew that down the road, I wanted a family and that would be quite easier for getting my own kids involved in sports and all and raising children. So I thought I’ll hop over to Hulton. And so that’s what I ended up doing is getting sort of forcing my way in the board through long term occasional contracts.


Jacquie Pece (04:05):
And, you know, somebody said they weren’t hiring, but I didn’t listen to that. I just kept working my way in and ended up getting great jobs. And often with the students that had students that had special needs and behavioral kids, I was kind of really good with students that, or the behavioral smart alecky kind of kids. They were like, like jam. I love them. And so I, I really wanted to work with them in, in somewhat school, within a school formats where you really concentrate on developing relationships with the, the most needy and in risk kids in your school. And I get to teach them vied and English and make a whole day with them. So that was my first kind of break into teaching. And then I just evolved from teaching more English and more Fette and always working with students with special needs or guidance or any other aspect of student success that was needed. I loved all that.


Sam Demma (05:00):
You mentioned not listening to the advice or, or feedback that the Halton board wasn’t hiring. I find that really fascinating. Where do you think your drive comes from to put aside other people’s limitations as well?


Jacquie Pece (05:17):
Well, they will sort of tow, I think party lines when it comes to we’re closed to hiring, or there’s too many teachers in the teaching profession, or, you know, you, a lot of people can even say that’s not a great profession. You could make more money doing something else or, or so you, you can’t listen to the stereotypical statements that people make about a profession. If that’s in your heart, that that’s what you really wanna do, then nobody can really deter you. So you actually just keep pursuing it and the perseverance to not listen to the naysayers, even if the odds look against you is to find your way in. It’s just like a love to be solved, find your way in. So what, what do you do to, to be known, to, to get people to see that your worth is that you’re really quite good at what you do and then pursue it to the point where you end up getting your way a little bit.


Jacquie Pece (06:10):
And I, I think my older sister, Debbie, she was told that teaching was, again, one of those professions that was overpopulated and she shouldn’t be one when, and she kind of became a nurse, which was fantastic for her, but she actually wanted always to be a kindergarten teacher. And in reality, she could have easily been a kindergarten teacher and she would’ve been a wonderful one if she just didn’t listen to them. So me being the fifth child, I learn from all my other older siblings. And I’m that one that says, yeah, no, I’m gonna go after what I want, who cares what they say?


Sam Demma (06:45):
That’s awesome. I think there is both types of educators, those that love the job and absolutely wanna be there. And there’s also others who may have, have also had a different dream but are in the classroom now. And I think that’s just a refreshing piece of advice that it’s also never too late to make an adjustment. If you think you need to enter this profession or potentially part ways. And


Jacquie Pece (07:14):
We, we do have people leaving business professions, cuz it’s not as satisfying as they thought it would be. And they really found that their heart was in helping people. And so this is a people industry and it’s a helping profession. And so they end up going back to teachers college later and, and transfer over ’em we think that’s amazing. They bring a lot of worldly experience then straight going into teaching from university.


Sam Demma (07:40):
Yeah, that’s awesome. You mentioned making assignments for the Teddy bears in your basement. Did you have parents, teachers mentors in your life tap you on the shoulder along the way and say Jackie, you would make for a photo educator or yeah. What, what was your mentorship like?


Jacquie Pece (08:06):
Well, for me, my mom was critical in helping all five children do well at school or well at anything. She’s a very positive person and she’s a very organized person who breaks down things for you. She was a pretty good athlete in school as well. Mm. So she she’s the type that loves school. So she kind of brought that love of school into our hearts at a young age that, you know, you don’t quit on something. If you, if you put your name on something, it’s always gonna be the best that you can be and do. And so she would say that for me, that I would make a great teacher. I think she wanted me to first to be a dentist and I was like a dentist. I’m not gonna be a dentist. And I had it’s all through your coaching and your teachers at school that say, Hey, you, you know, you’re good at helping other people on a team or lead.


Jacquie Pece (08:56):
So you naturally end up stepping up to leadership roles at some point in your life where you go from being, making a team, which is awesome, but then actually leading a team or being a captain of a team or pursuing that chance to help other people. So coaches along the way, would’ve said, you know, this would be great. It’s a natural progression for you. I think you’d be a great teacher. And I think we all have, have had great teachers in high school too, or in elementary school, even that really you thought, well, this person I remember to this day, or they made a, such a great impression on me and I see how important it is in a child’s life and meant to have at least that one caring adult that really sees them. And so I think we’ve all had those people in our life. And that’s what helps to turn that corner. If you’re really thinking about going into education, if, if that’s the reason you also wanna give back to children and people then makes sense that you go into education,


Sam Demma (09:57):
What, what resources or mindset shifts or things have you found helpful along the way in your own professional development. And, and I’m putting you on the spot here with this question, but yeah. Share anything you might have found helpful.


Jacquie Pece (10:15):
Well, resources for me are always kind of, well, you’re gonna do your education. And if you, if you need help with any step of the way of an education that you’re trying to pursue, then don’t be afraid to ask for help. We’re not expected to know everything first, right at a gate. It’s I tell our teachers and our students here right now, we don’t expect you to be first time smart. You know, you’re here to teach, you’re here to learn. You’re here to make mistakes. So you have to persevere and really pursue what you want to pursue. So that’s, that’s a big, that’s a big thing in education. School can be hard. So if you can get as much of an education as you can, it opens more doors. And if you have more and resources available to you, whether you want to go to right to the workplace or to college or university, then just the more skill you have in general will give you that opportunity to do whatever you want to do and pursue it as a passion.


Jacquie Pece (11:14):
So ask for help for sure. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and do some of your own work and re and research. Sometimes a lot of us feel that what needs to be handed to us or, or given to us. And, and they say, I don’t know where to look or well, do you really care about it? Like rise up and go pursue things in, in the sense of be information hungry, find out everything you can about what you want to do and find your angle in. Because even in, in, in a health sector, let’s say not everyone’s gonna be a doctor, but people wanna be in the health helping profession. So where in that sector are you going to fit? Cause you can be happy doing that. If you wanna give back in the health and science sector. So finding where you fit is really important. And I think finding the balance, we all gotta learn to balance our life, whether that’s managing our social friends and, and people, whether that’s figuring out our physical bodies and what we need rest wise, eating wise and and then our mental health and our emotional health. So you gotta find those balances and really do the work to shore up those resources and all those quads of your wellbeing. And then you can do anything.


Sam Demma (12:30):
Right now. I think a lot of educators are burnt out and balance seems to be extremely difficult especially with the pandemic. And there’s so many things going on that no one expected to happen. What are some of the challenges you see on the front line that staff and even yourself are going through? And then also two part question. What do you think some of the opportunities are that are starting to bolt to the surface because of this huge change?


Jacquie Pece (12:59):
Well, yes, currently we are faced with the years of a global pandemic restrictions that have been placed on our lives is, is hard for a lot of people. School looks different now, and sometimes that can be a good thing. We don’t wanna stay stagnant in education. So however, the speed of which all things are changing makes it challenging. Yes it does. But some things had to go let, go of goodness, we, we cannot stay still. And if you think about it being oxymoron in education, if we weren’t on the cutting edge, so we should continually changing. It’s just that a lot of people find changing hard. It, it comes at you too fast. You’re not prepared, but what it has shown people is the amount of resilience that they do have, and that we always do what’s best for kids. And that’s really important if you keep kids at the center of what we do, then it, it does make coming to school a bit easier because they are struggling as well.


Jacquie Pece (13:54):
And then you’re gonna find new things when you, when you break open that box of creativity, cuz you’re breaking down those walls and dismantling things, even with the equity work and racism and, and, and discrimination. It’s a good thing to blow it up sometimes, cuz of course it’s time and it needed to happen. And that learning is so rich. And so life changing for so many of our students and each other that that’s very important work. See, I, I never mind the the change because I think it, it brings about some very much needed growth and development in people and that’s what, that’s what we’re here for. So we have to reach our students better. We have to actually get them to breach their full potential and make sure that they have equal opportunity in life. And that’s what it’s all about. So how do we overcome these challenges?


Jacquie Pece (14:50):
Well, for me as a leader, we get information from the board who gets it from the ministry. And I do, I steal a little playbook page from your stuff, Sam, that you say, well, if I, what are those three consistent things I could possibly do actions to make a difference? Well, they have to see me as a, as a stable leader. I gotta show up every day and I do show up every day with a, a smile on my face. And I show people that I really care by being kind. And I’m pretty funny sometimes and because I, you know, you gotta keep it real, but they see that I’m here and not a lot of things get to me because they’re outta my control. So I will just control what I can control. And I happen to be very calm, under pressure.


Jacquie Pece (15:39):
I get excited but about things that I need to get excited about. But I think showing up every day and saying, I’m here for you is really important to students and staff and listening to what students and staff are going through, pointing them in the right direction. Cuz I’m the type that feels that there’s a solution to every problem. So I will work with a, a team of people to come up collaboratively with, with problems, to any concern that a student or staff have, because I I’m like, okay, okay, that, that doesn’t sound good yet. You know, I listen, I’m very patient and I’m going, okay, let’s get busy fixing this. Let’s get busy finding out what the barrier is and get rid of it so that you can, can make the most of your life, right? It’s not just about school, you’re teaching them skills for life.


Jacquie Pece (16:26):
And so these days, for sure everything is being thrown at them. So you have to be steady for, for them. You have to be that calm in the storm. And I don’t sweat the small stuff. Small stuff does not get to me. I’m the type that just says, okay, here’s the problem? Here’s the, here’s the solution. Let’s try it. If it doesn’t work, we’ll try something else. But I do very much appreciate my students and their kindness every day and staff and I, and that makes me, that makes me happy. I want, I want a place like a school to be a place where students and staff wanna come to school and they’re happy to be themselves. And that’s really important to me that they feel secure enough and safe to rise and be who they’re meant to be.


Sam Demma (17:14):
And I love the, the ideas. I think they’re so important. Listening, being kind, showing people that you care, how do you, how do you care for yourself as well? Your self-care, as I know, that’s something that sometimes people in education struggle with when you put the student at the center sometimes you, you might neglect your own personal your own personal routines and habits. And I’m curious to know how you, how you balance and also fill up your own cup.


Jacquie Pece (17:46):
Well, the goodness is I was a PHY ed grad. So even though I wanted to play sports and I couldn’t play sports competitively anymore, I do believe in a healthy, active living lifestyle. So I, you know, ran till I couldn’t and then I do spin biking or do an elliptical cuz I feel it’s very important. It downloads my brain, the exercise. So I make sure that I download that stress and anxiety that might build up on me by getting those natural endomorphs to release through exercise. And I do Pilates. I have a little Pilates table at home that I invested in years ago and I stretch, I do all those things. I try to eat, right. I have a wonderful husband who feeds me, he’s a Italian. So he wants to the time. So he allows me to do my thing at work and I come home and I have a meal we’ve always eaten as a family cuz that’s very important to him, especially.


Jacquie Pece (18:41):
But to, to me also, my kids are out of the house. Now they’re 26 and 27. But that balance of knowing you come home to a loving house I never take for granted. And that note when I come home, even if I’m here at school, let’s say, and I start to think, wow, this is really hard day or this is gonna be difficult that comfort and knowing you’re gonna go home and you’re gonna be loved and it’s gonna be okay. And I picture myself sitting and, and decompressing, I do some meditate and that, and that helps. So I balance my life out. I’m a good sleeper, oh my goodness. I can fall asleep. Mid-Sentence if I had to.


Jacquie Pece (19:20):
I can turn it off and go to sleep. And so I love that, but I really do strive that in that balance I have a couple dogs. I walk dogs are great energy. And just knowing that I have a great support system is really, is really great. I have wonderful friends and you can always, you know, that’s that critical friend you can call and talk to. And, and I love movies and I love to read cuz it’s escapism, right? You turn out away from your world and jump into another world. And I love that.


Sam Demma (19:52):
Hmm. That’s awesome. Every Saturday night I go to my cousin’s house for two, three hours and we play FIFA, some soccer on his PS five.


Jacquie Pece (20:02):
See, see, it’s funny cuz I never played video games, but my son does my husband do, but I kind of get the obsession of video games cuz I could sit and do a puzzle for three hours and lose myself. And then when I’m always bugging my kid, get off the game, you’ve been at the game for like three and they’re like, mom, you’ve been at that puzzle for I’m like, oh yeah. Right. Okay.


Sam Demma (20:24):
It’s awesome. It’s funny. I didn’t grow up with video games either and never owned a console. Parents just didn’t buy it and being a high of athlete. I was always outside anyway, but in recent months, literally just these past months I found working at home and then walking upstairs to the kitchen, which is five steps away. And then walking upstairs in my bedroom, which is only another five steps away and just being in this little area and it was really nice to lose yourself in something. And I found it in playing some soccer on a PlayStation. But I think it’s important to find that outlet, whether it’s puzzles, video games, Pilates all these things are important. Invest some of our own time in.


Jacquie Pece (21:09):
Sounds like you need to get out a little bit more Sam too. Maybe you yeah. Take your soccer ball for a walk down the


Sam Demma (21:16):
Absolutely. That’s awesome though. Thank you for sharing some of your own self practices self-care practices. If you could, and you may have already mentioned some of the ideas, so it’s, if you reiterate, but if you could take your experiences throughout education throughout all the years, you’ve been teaching and go back in time, tap your younger self on the shoulder and say, Hey Jackie, here’s what you needed to hear when you were just starting in education. What advice would you have given your younger self?


Jacquie Pece (21:48):
I probably would’ve have given myself a tap on the shoulder to say, just be brave. You, you, you know, I feel I have a, a very strong moral compass, but we do as teenagers and young adults listen too much to the chatter of other people. And I would’ve been a little braver to turn them off sooner because it, it affects your self worth or self-esteem even though I think I was a strong female growing up, they, they still work their way in and create that doubt. And so I think that no one knows yourself better than you. And I think you really honor that about yourself. You know, what other people think is none of your business. So, and they’re not the bossy. So I, I always say to students that I work with too, who cares what they think, because you have to think the most of yourself and you have to connect with your inner self. And I think for all of us, we’ve made mistakes, caring too much about what other people think and not enough about our own gumption, about what we wanna do. And we think is right. And as long as you’re doing what is right, you can’t go wrong. So I think that that’s really important. I would’ve told that girl to be a little braver sooner.


Sam Demma (23:07):
I love that.


Jacquie Pece (23:08):
That’s awesome. You know, get on with it and get busy. Don’t worry about what people think.


Sam Demma (23:14):
Thank you for sharing that. That’s a great reminder for everyone, not just educators. If someone’s listening and wants to reach out, ask you a question talk about this interview with you. What would be the best way for them to get in touch?


Jacquie Pece (23:28):
They can get in touch with me through my board email. It’s the thing I, I read the most, cuz I’m on it all the time. That would pecej@hdsb.ca and I will return your email.


Sam Demma (23:42):
Awesome. Jackie, thank you so much for coming on the podcast. This has been awesome. Keep up the great work and we’ll talk soon.


Jacquie Pece (23:49):
Thank you very much, Sam. You have a great day too.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Jacquie Pece

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.

Craig Zimmer – TED-ED Innovative Educator and Teacher with the DCDSB

Craig Zimmer - TED-ED Innovative Educator and Teacher with the DCDSB
About Craig Zimmer

Craig Zimmer (@dropthedott) has been a history teacher for 24 years, 23 of those at St. Mary Catholic Secondary School in Pickering. He is a TED-Ed Innovated educator, TEDx Organizer and has mentored numerous student and adult speakers in their TED talks. His co-authored book, Canada: A People’s History Emerging Loyalties continues to be a resource for classrooms throughout Canada. In 2021, he was named the Durham Catholic District School Board’s Educator of the Year. He has presented at conferences and continues to finds new ways to bring history to life in his classroom.  

Craig is a firm believer in the power of collaboration to improve the educational system and create a better school environment. By working together, we can improve education and foster educator’s well-being. He also feels that the educator’s role is to recognize the importance of legacy in their teaching. Educators must live up to the legacy created by those teachers they had, to teach those lessons those in front of you and to leave a foundation for students to grow upon. He also promotes the idea that learning, and education should be fun and not bound by the confines of a textbook.  

In his free time Craig enjoys spending time with his wife Andrea, their 3 kids and Juno the Dog and Oliver “The History Cat.”   

Connect with Craig: Email | Twitter | Linkedin

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

TED-ED: Lessons Worth Sharing

TEDx St. Mary Catholic Secondary School

Canada: A People’s History Emerging Loyalties

St Mary Catholic Secondary School (DCDSB)

Write your story, change history – Brad Meltzer

Tim Urban: Inside the mind of a master procrastinator | TED

Raised By Dragons | Jim Zub | TEDxStMaryCSSchool

An Indigenous Journey to Leadership | Eddy Robinson | TEDxStMaryCSSchool

Chasing dreams and beginning again | Kate Drummond | TEDxStMaryCSSchool

The danger of silence | Clint Smith

Meaghan Ramsey: Porque pensar que eres feo es dañino. – TED – 2014

Being an Introvert is a Good Thing. | Crystal Robello | TEDxStMaryCSSchool

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (01:01):
This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Craig Zimmer has been a history teacher for 24 years, 23 of those at St. Mary Catholic secondary school in Pickering. The exact high school that I went to as a student myself, I, I didn’t have the pleasure of being in Craig’s class, but heard so many amazing things about him from friends and students that were in his period two and three classes. He is a Ted ed, innovative educator TEDx organizer, and has mentored numerous students and adult speakers in their Ted talks. He coauthored book Canada, a people’s history. Emerging loyalties continues to be a resource for classrooms throughout Canada in 2021. He was Durham Catholic district school. Board’s educator of the year at the Durham Catholic virtual secondary school has presented at conferences and finds new ways to bring history to life. In his classroom. Craig is a firm believer in the power of collaboration as a way of improving the educational system and creating a better school environment.


Sam Demma (02:02):
It is by working together that we can improve education and foster educators wellbeing. He also feels that the role of the educator is to and recognize the importance of legacy in their teaching. Educators must live up to the legacy created by those teachers. They had to teach those lessons, those in tho to those in front of you and to leave at foundation for students to grow upon. He also promotes the, the idea that learning and education should be fun and not bound by the confines of a textbook in his free time. Craig enjoys spending time with his wife, Andrea, there are three kids and Juno, the dog and Oliver, the history cat. I hope you enjoy this conversation with Mr. Zimmer as I would’ve called him. When I was in high school, I will see you on the other side, Craig, welcome to the high performing educator. Huge pleasure to have you on the show this morning, please start by introducing yourself.


Craig Zimmer (02:57):
My name is Craig Zimmer. I teach at St. Mary Catholic secondary school in Pickering. I’ve been a teacher for 24 years and, and I love every minute of it. It’s, it’s an amazing adventure to be on.


Sam Demma (03:09):
I’m baffled that you and I have not crossed paths when I was going through high school and up until even right now, Monday morning, you know, of January 31st, 2022, but I’m glad that technology has made this possible.


Craig Zimmer (03:24):
Yeah, me too, for sure.


Sam Demma (03:26):
How did you figure out and discover that education was the thing you wanted to pursue throughout your own career journey?


Craig Zimmer (03:33):
You know, it, it, it really was because of a couple of factors. One, I was terrible at math and my whole life as a little kid, I had two passions. I had a passion for history and a passion for space. And I wanted to be an astronomer and I, I went down to my guidance counselor in grade 10 and she said to me, what do you want? I said, I wanna be an astronomer. She picked up my transcripts cuz I’m that old that they didn’t have computers. And she looked at it. She’s like, not with these marks, you gotta rethink what you’re doing. And I was pretty bummed. So I went back to my history class and my history teacher, great guy by the name of Joe Stafford was teaching. And he took me right out of that, took me out of that depression of, I don’t know what I want to do to this place where it’s like, I wanna do what he’s doing. He’s having fun. You know, and this guy had fun. He was passionate. He made the, the, the subject matter come alive. And from that moment, that day where I should have been like, I’m lost, you know, the, the path was opened up to me. It’s almost like that that obstacle needed to be clear. And from grade 10 on, I was working towards becoming an educator.


Sam Demma (04:50):
Wow. That is such an amazing story. Do you stay in touch with that teacher now? Is Joe still around?


Craig Zimmer (04:57):
Yeah, I I’ve seen him a few times. He, he moved out to king a couple years ago, so I haven’t really talked to him. I mean, he’s awesome. He won the governor, General’s awards for excellence in teaching history a few years back. Wow. you know, he’s, he’s a published author, but besides that, he’s just a passionate teacher. And he’s one of the two teachers that I really try to model myself after who inspired me to, to be where I am, because they showed me learning should be fun. You know, teaching should be fun. And that there’s so many possibilities with what you can do in a classroom and, and in how you can inspire students. So I, I haven’t spoken to ’em. I, I got really lucky though. A few years ago, my, my, my high school had a little 25th anniversary and he was there and, and, you know, we went out in the evening of a bunch of the teachers and some of the alumni went out and he didn’t have a ride home.


Craig Zimmer (05:53):
So I said, I’ll drive you home. Joan, I, I had a chance to kind of say to him, you know, thanks I’m, I’m here because of you. And it was really kind of a cool moment. Cause you know, he’s a really humble guy and he’s like, ah, come on. Don’t, you know, you’re there because of you. And I’m like, no man, you, you, you saved my life. You, you showed me the path, you know? And you, you got me to where I am, you gave me so something to love more than what I thought my dream was, you, you opened my eyes to where I needed to be. And so I I’m grateful to, to him for, for that. Yeah.


Sam Demma (06:27):
Sometimes educators do things, not even realizing the impact it’s gonna have on their students, but I think it takes a, an awareness and, and you know, an intentional action from your practice as an educator to create those experiences for students. Oh,


Craig Zimmer (06:46):
For


Sam Demma (06:46):
Sure. You mentioned, you know, he was one of the educators who really inspired you and that you, you kind of modeled yourself after who are some of the other educators as well. And what did you learn from each of those people that informed them way you teach today?


Craig Zimmer (06:58):
Well, I mean, in terms of high school there, Beth Hawkins, who was my, my drama teacher she was just a ball of energy, you know? And she gave me confidence. I was a really awkward kid. I had body issues, you know, growing up, I had low self-esteem, low confidence and I took drama and she showed me the, the possibilities of being who you want to be through, through being a character. Mm. And just opening up and letting it go and not worrying what others think about you. And, you know, again, it’s that, that idea of having fun. And I think a big part of what I’ve taken from that is, you know, as a teacher, I’ve always just gone for it, you know, really early on in my career. One of the things that I realized that as an educator, you’ve gotta create a character.


Craig Zimmer (07:47):
So I use that drama background to create the character of Mr. Zimmer he’s he’s me, but he’s me outside of my shell. Mm. He, he is, you know, the, this, this creation that I need to be for my kids, you know, who I am when I go home is a lot different than who I am. You know, when I’m standing in front of a classroom and I need to do that because the one thing I know from, from, from Beth and, and from Joe and, and I’ve been so lucky to, to call these people now, my friends was that no matter what’s going on outside your classroom and your life, you owe it to your students to come in and be everything. They need you to be that day. Even if you, you feel like you can’t do it, you gotta give ’em a hundred percent of everything you got that day because they’re worth it.


Craig Zimmer (08:36):
I mean, they, you, you have an off day and, you know, you don’t know what it could do for those kids learning and how, you know, it might turn them off from learning or how many of them just need you to be the energy that they are they’re lacking. So without a doubt those were two of my high school teachers when I got into education. One of the, the smartest things that I did was I realized, first of all, I didn’t know everything. Teachers, colleges often make this mistake of telling their teacher candidates, you know, forget what those old grizzled, cynical teachers are telling you. You know, they’re, they’re, they’re all old. They don’t know what’s going on, you’re on the cutting edge of education. And I never took that approach. I came into to St. Mary and right away, I recognized who I thought the master teachers were, the teachers that I looked at and said either a I’d want them to be my teacher or be, you know, when I have kids, that’s who I want to teach my kids, you know, without a doubt.


Craig Zimmer (09:41):
One of your former guests, Mike loud foot, you know, who, who I know inspired you and, and sent you on the path you’re on. He is one guy that I looked at who just put things into, to a perspective for me, you know, he he’s, he’s the kind of guy that he’s, he’s very calm and centered and very Zen, and you need that in education, you know? And, and he taught me, you know, so many valuable lessons. He taught me, you know, don’t get into a fight unless, you know, you can win. It’s not worth it. You know, you know, he, he said in this, this job do everything you can for, for kids, but recognize there’s only so far that you can go, they need to meet you. And he was just one of those guys that treated me like an equal, you know, I was a 24 year old kid walking in, not having any teaching experience and right away, I felt like I’d been on the team for years.


Craig Zimmer (10:36):
And I other teacher here for sure, Jack Lon, who you know, he’s a, he’s a history teacher here. He was actually a teacher at my high school. You know, my, my final year, my OAC year was his first year as a teacher and himself and Joe, you know, were really great with teenage me. I’d stay after school and talk history with those guys. Cool. And they, they treated me like a peer. You know, and I, I talked to Jack about that. I’m like, you guys must have got sick of an 18 year old kid wanting to sit around for like an hour after school. And he is like, no, we knew you were one of us. And we, we wanted to, to have that there for you and Jack, you know, Jack was the, the kind of teacher that I walked in and he opened up his filing cabinet and his binders and said, you take what you need.


Craig Zimmer (11:29):
He was, was great. So instead of me having to recreate the wheel, there was a lot of stuff there. And that’s, that started a 24 year collaboration between two of us, cuz he’s still here at St. Mary and we bounce ideas off each other and I create things and pass it on to him and he’ll come back and be like, Hey, let’s make it better this way. And I’m like, yeah, that sounds so much better. You know? And collaboration is such a huge part of, of teaching. You know, I, I ran into some teachers when I came in, who were like, I’m giving you nothing, learn, learn on your own. And they were, were not teachers in my opinion, cuz teachers helped teachers, not just students. You know, I collaborate really well with John stanza who teaches here. Yeah. You know, and although John and I have a comparable number of years that as a teacher, you know, he is, he’s really compassionate. You know, there, there are times where he reminds me just by watching him and how he interacts with students, you know, how important compassion is, cuz this is a job or you can get really frustrated.


Craig Zimmer (12:36):
And it’s hard to remind yourself, you know, these are kids who are dealing with things at home. These are kids who have things going on outside. These are kids who feel justified that they might not be getting their stuff in for whatever reason. And you’re like, you get frustrated because you’re like I and everything. And John’s the kind of guy that I watch him with them. And I remember, you know, you’ve gotta have an open heart and you know, I I’ve tried to take from, you know, those, those people you know, besides that my other favorite teacher at St Mary’s Mrs Zimmer, but I, I married her after meeting her here. So she’s my favorite to teacher at the school. I have to say that, but you know, she, she’s also really awesome in the sense that she, outside of the whole marriage thing, the educational side of things, she teaches history and art.


Craig Zimmer (13:26):
She opened me up to a whole other side of history that I kind of pushed aside. Cause I’m like art’s not interesting. And she’s like, what do you mean? Art’s not interesting. So she took me to museums and taught me and I’ve integrated that, you know, and, and I try to get what I can from everybody. I work with something valuable from each of them. So I can continue to build this character of Mr. Zimmer, who can be the best teacher for his students and, you know, by character. I mean, I’m also, I try to be really authentic with them, but have to save me for outside for my kids, for my wife. I couldn’t stand in front of the classroom and be just me. I have to be, you know, Mr Zimmer, does that make sense?


Sam Demma (14:08):
It’s like Spiderman. It’s like bat, you know, like a modern day superhero there’s an amazing book called the alter ego by Ted Herman. And he talks about this idea of building an alter ego for yourself for different situations in your life, even references a scenario or someone from the army, a general would come home and bring the same traits and actions and habits that he had as a general into his health. And it wasn’t working. And Todd coached him and helped him realize you need to have a different personality slightly, still your be your authentic self, but show up in a way that serves the people who live in your house versus the people that live in your army base.


Craig Zimmer (14:52):
Like I can’t be teacher Mr. Zimmer to my kids. Yeah, it does. It doesn’t work. You know, the stakes are different, you know, you got your students in front of you. There’s marks, you got your kids in front of you. And they’re not, they’re not there for marks. They’re there for life and you’ve gotta approach life differently as a parent, you know? So you’re, you, you have to be different.


Sam Demma (15:12):
You mentioned the importance of creation and collaboration. And as a student, that’s something that teachers always share with their students, you know, get involved, you know, do new things, create things, make friends, get, get yourself out there. Sure. What is inspire you to do that? You’ve done so many different projects. You’ve read, you’ve run TEDx events and you sit on the Ted ed council for innovation. Like tell me more about what inspired you to start getting involved in different activities.


Craig Zimmer (15:45):
You know, the, the one thing that I learned really on early on was working with others and, and to kind taking the strengths of others and balancing them out with the weaknesses of others creates better stuff. You know, there’s, I know what my strengths are. And I like to work with a team that basically says, okay, we know what you can bring to the table. Here’s what I can bring to the table. And that’s great. Like, I, you can’t do everything on your own. Mm I’m I’m only so, so good at one thing. And I’m, I’m a believer that we’re all lifelong learners. You know, I’m not one of those educators who stands up here and says, I know it all, you know, I, and I mean, I’ve got 24 years of experience in, and I’m fairly confident in my job, but you know, to quote Socrates, the one thing I know is that I know nothing I’m trying to continue to learn.


Craig Zimmer (16:39):
And I think that the best way to learn is by experience, by working with others and seeing what they bring to the table. It’s like, like I said, with Jack Selan, you know, he brought so much to me, he brought his experience to me, but the one thing he’s always said that I brought to him at that period of time was that, that energy to, you know, to see a young teacher who’s like fired up and ready to go, it reignited him. So, you know, I’ve always liked working with groups of people and knowing when to step up and take a leadership role, knowing when to sit back and to allow others to take that, that role, because I could learn something from them that that’s why working with Ted ed has been amazing for me. You know, I was really fortunate to be chosen, to be part of their first cohort for innovative educators.


Craig Zimmer (17:29):
So they worked with over 250,000 educators around the world and they chose their, of us that they work with to start this program about five years back. Wow. And you know, I got this email just out of the blue and I’d been working with Ted ed and I I’d gotten to know them because I ran the Ted ed club here at St. Mary. And you know, I was running the TEDx events and I went to Ted global in 2014. So I got to see the Ted people there. And I, you know, they, they, I was the only educator at this Ted conference, so, wow. You know, I’m sitting there at, at a table with all these, you know, CEOs of these companies and I’m like, I’m just a high school teacher. Like, that’s awesome. What is it like, you know, the, because it was so far removed from their experience.


Craig Zimmer (18:16):
So the Ted ed people picked my brains and I got to know them and, and they invited me to be part of this. And I was, it blew my mind because I’m like me, come on. I’m just, I’m just some guy who teaches. I Pickering I’m, I’m not, I’m not one of these super teachers who’s like published, but they didn’t want that. They recognized they wanted grassroots people like real authentic educators. And that was probably one of the best collaborations that I’ve had. I’m, you know, as a group of, of educators we got together, we talked, we created Ted lessons. We, you know, worked towards making the program at Ted ed stronger. You know, we, we sent them ideas. I mean, God bless them. They, they got get sick of me because I will just send emails. Like here’s like 20 ideas I came up with and, you know, there’s, there’s so wonderful there they’re, they’re like, yeah, I don’t know if this is something we can do, but Hey, keep the ideas coming.


Craig Zimmer (19:15):
And you know, the, the Ted ed club, you know, I, I helped go through the booklet there and they sent it off and said, do you think this works? And I tried it with my Ted ed clubs. And that collaboration has made me a better teacher. And if I have an issue in my classroom, they’re, they’re a peer group that I can go to and they’re all over the world. And I can say, this is what I’m dealing with. And, and I get that support. And, you know, the other day I had something I was working on. I’m not very good at Excel. So I’m like, does anyone know anything about L and right away, I got videos and links and like, oh, FaceTime me. We’ll, we’ll, I’ll walk you through it. And, and that makes us better. Educators need to educate each other.


Craig Zimmer (20:02):
Educators need to realize that we can’t do it on our own. And until I got into the, the, the process of being part of this Ted ed group, I was, I was at a place in my life where I was doing that. You know, I, I had had 10 years of teaching in when I started Ted ed and, or 12 years, something like that. And I was kind of at a place where I can do it all. I was very confident that I was already there. And I quickly realized that I needed that collaboration, cuz I was running out of ideas and I was running out of inspiration. So, you know, it, it definitely saved my, my career in many ways cuz it, they keep me fresh. They challenge me, you know? And it’s a safe place to, to share and collaborate. Whereas, you know, often when you’re, you’re in a school system, you know, very much so there’s, there’s a vision that comes forward from a ministry or a school board. And you have to conform to this vision where this is a think tank where the sky’s the limit, you know, let’s, let’s throw it all out there and see what people have, have to say.


Sam Demma (21:09):
It’s so cool that you are a part of this Ted ed group. And it sounds like an amazing network for another educator who loves the idea of like a think take and a mastermind who might not be able to just tap into the Ted ed community. What would you recommend? They do like hit, like call upon some of peers form almost like a little bit of a network or a mastermind or what other groups have you leveraged as well that may be accessible for, for all?


Craig Zimmer (21:37):
Well, you know, I think what’s really important is one, thanks to social media. You can start group pages. Yeah. You know, easily and start to, to use those, to, to build network for yourself. You know, I’m, I’m part of a lot of different educator pages on Facebook, for instance, where I may, I might not be active on them, but I’m seeing posts and I’m seeing things. And I know that I can access someone who might have something that I need. You know, I, I want to increase for example the amount of indigenous history it teach. It’s not an area that I’m an expert in and I’m trying to get there. So I can go on some of these networks and say, Hey, I want to teach my kids more about this indigenous experience, which is removed from my own, but I wanna make it something that is accessible to them.


Craig Zimmer (22:24):
What resources can I use? You know, is there a great YouTube video and somebody will get to you because you know, great teachers have these things at their fingertip. I, if somebody said, do you have a great Ted talk on body image, I’m like, boom, right away, I’ve got one. I can send you the link or, you know, the importance of history. You know, I, I’ve got one. And, and I think that’s one thing that, that you need to do. I think you start first at the school, you know, you collaborate with your coworkers, you education is something that you need to put ego aside and recognize that you are only better if, if you you’re working with others. So start that network, you know, first of all, in your school, grow it out to your school board because the, then you have the idea what their vision is that you’re working towards and you can conform to that and then go to the bigger level.


Craig Zimmer (23:18):
Then on the other side of it is get involved in things outside of education. You know, it’s, it’s amazing the people who you will come into contact with who aren’t part of this field, you know, who have different life experiences and have a different point of view than you. And, and you can bring that into your classroom. You know, experience is, is the best teacher. You know, it’s, it’s not about necessarily the content that you’re, you’re teaching it’s about the experiences that, that you can show students. This is what makes education valuable. Your, your experiences in life will be the things that you can use, you know, to grow. You know, as a history teacher, I always tell the kids, you know, remember every day you’re making history, your own history and that’s the most important one. So yeah, getting involved with different groups, just, you know, the planning, the, the TEDx conferences, and I know you’ve spoken at a few TEDxs so, you know, what they, the involvement of that is I have met hundreds of amazing people from outside of education who have given their time and, and I’ve just chatted with in helping them build their talks.


Craig Zimmer (24:30):
And it’s blown my mind, you know, the stuff that I realized I didn’t know about. And in putting those conferences together, you know, I didn’t bring history people in, you know, I tried to bring in diverse speakers. I’ve had everything from like parallel universes to sustainable cities of the future to you know, a former teacher who became an actress who left teaching to follow her dreams. Kate Drummond, her talk is amazing. Eddie Robinson, who’s an indigenous leader. You know, he, he and I had some amazing talks, Jim ZBB, who writes the Avengers from marble, you know, just to name a few every single one of those speakers, the conversations I had with them opened my mind in a new way. And that, that’s why I did the Ted conferences too, because I wanted students to experience something that they’re not gonna necessarily get in the classroom.


Craig Zimmer (25:23):
You know, we have prescribed curriculums and as teachers, you know, we also have timelines. And so often these ideas, which are on the fringes of what we’re teaching, don’t get a chance to get into the class. Mm. So that, that’s, that’s why I thought let’s expose students to something new, something that they’re gonna see when they get to post secondary. You know, let’s give ’em a little preview of what’s at, out there. And hopefully that, that opens their eyes to, you know, get involved in their community. I know you, you know, you got involved in your community and you started cleaning up you know, along the lake Ontario. And that made a difference cuz you, you inspired others to open their eyes, to see, you know, we have to be caretakers of this planet and you know, you can’t just sit back and say, someone else will do it cuz somebody won’t, you eventually have to say, you know, who’s gonna do this me, you know, and, and see, you know, you’re a perfect example of a person who through the teachers exposing you to new ideas and you know, and I’m, I’m assuming it’s Mr.


Craig Zimmer (26:26):
Loud foot. It is teaching you that, you know, it’s not just about learning from a book it’s about getting out there and learning from life and doing something to make a difference. You know, you became who you are now and you’re continuing to grow and go on that journey and it’s gonna take you somewhere. So yeah. Experience is the best thing. Cause I know my experience got me to where I am right now.


Sam Demma (26:46):
That’s awesome. There’s a, a, a book as well titled what got you here? Won’t get you there. And it’s a reminder to myself. I look at it as a reminder every day that be a student, you know, be a student, be a student. And that’s why I think these collaborate, the collaborations, these group chats, these think tanks with other educators and other people who have different perspectives is so important because a new perspective is like a new sun, a new pair of glasses that allows you to see the world in a different way. And for sure, that’s why I love Ted X and Ted events as well. I’ll have to ask you to send over some of your favorite. It talks and I’ll put them in the resource section of this article and the episode goes alive.


Craig Zimmer (27:27):
Yeah, no for sure. You know, and I try to watch, you know, new talks all the time, but nice. I go back to the old favorites cuz they they’re ones that, that constantly remind me what brought me to where I am. And sometimes that message changes as you get a older too. Mm you know, I know I’m a different teacher than I was five years ago, 10 years ago, 24 years ago. Yeah. And it’s, it’s okay to go back and revisit the old stuff. Because you can learn from it. It’s it’s I have fresh eyes now that 26 year old me didn’t have, but 48 year old me does. Hmm. You know, so it’s, it’s, it’s revisiting again, your own history that I think is important.


Sam Demma (28:11):
I, I love that idea of writing your own history every day. That’s a cool reminder. When, when you think about all the experience you’ve had, and maybe this will be echoing, some of the things you’ve already shared, when you think of about all the experience you’ve had, if you could bundle it up, walk back into the first classroom you ever taught 24 years ago, tap yourself on the shoulder and say, Mr. Zimmer, or back then maybe you didn’t have the alter ego. So you would’ve said Craig here’s what you needed to know. Or here’s what I wish you would’ve heard when you just started. What would you have shared


Craig Zimmer (28:45):
Breathe?


Sam Demma (28:47):
Mm


Craig Zimmer (28:47):
Breathe. You know, the, the first years as a teacher, you feel like you’ve got the weight of the world on your shoulders. You feel that, you know, somebody is going to come in at any moment and say, you know what? We made a mistake. You shouldn’t be here. Mm. You can’t change everybody. You can’t do it all. You, you can’t be that teacher. Who’s got 20 years of experience in, you know, so many young teachers and I was there too spend all day and all night just working and it takes the joy out of it, you know, enjoy those moments and breathe. Just take it in, you know, because everything comes once that class in front of you, they will never all be in front of you again. So enjoy that moment to have those kids. You know, some of them, you will get lucky and, and you might teach ’em two, three times, but some of them that’ll be your only chance to, to get to them.


Craig Zimmer (29:53):
So just take it in, enjoy each moment for what it is. Don’t take it all so seriously. It doesn’t all have to get done and, and don’t worry, don’t worry so much, you know new teachers spent a lot of time worry, am I hitting the curriculum? Am I contacting parents enough? Am I doing all the paperwork? Am I, you know, doting the eyes and crossing the Ts am and they end up missing these great moments. And I, I, I, I’ve missed so many great moments because I didn’t take the time to stop and enjoy them. And maybe that’s a little bit of retrospective now because you know, in eight years I get to retire. And you know, the other side of where I am now is I’m like, you know, I’m teaching these courses and it’s like, this might be the last time I teach about Vimy Ridge or this might, you know, I might only have get, get the course where I teach modern history.


Craig Zimmer (30:54):
I might only do the Renaissance lecture five more times and, and, you know, just be in that moment and enjoy it because despite the politics, despite, you know, the negativity that sometimes goes out there for educators in the public, this is the greatest job in the world. Mm. This is a job where I get to interact with so many different people every day. You know, over the years, I’ve taught thousands of kids. And it blows my mind to think about that. That I I’ve, I’ve had thousands of people in front of me and I get the privilege and the opportunity of meeting these people and hopefully inspiring them in some way to look at history differently. I’m so privileged that I, I get to come up here, tell the stories I love, and you know, what other job is gonna pay me to share the history that I love to share the stories that make our country, what it is to see the, the look on, on kids’ faces when they, they hear these stories and be like, that is, oh, cool.


Craig Zimmer (32:06):
Or I didn’t know that there’s no other job that gives me that opportunity, you know? And there’s no other job that allows you to, to kind of pass that passion on to so many. We, we ha other jobs. I know they have a reach where they can do it, but, you know, I, I, I get to say to them, have you ever heard of this, or, oh, let me tell you this story. And it’s, it’s just so cool. Like, I, I have try to have so much fun up here because it is a fun job. You know, Jack Selo told me right at the beginning, he’s like the one thing you gotta remember this with this job is there’s all that noise outside the negativity, the government, you know, the, the, the haters, it’s like, you close your door and that’s your world. And you, you get to play in your playground and he’s so right.


Craig Zimmer (33:11):
You know, and I’m so lucky that I’ve gotten to do this and, you know, and the people I’ve met, you know, I, I’m friends with a lot of former students on social media and you know, unsolicited, they, they send messages saying, you know, Hey, thanks to you. I’m in law school. I’m like, nah, it’s all you, you, you did it. I just, I’m just the guy up there at the front. Who’s telling his goofy stories. You know, but it’s nice to hear that. And it’s, it’s nice to, to see what’s become of them. And, you know, it was, it was talking to one of my former teachers, well, Beth Hawkins, who I mentioned, you know, I, she retired a couple years ago and I sent her a note and I’m like, thank you. And I, I like much like I did with Joe.


Craig Zimmer (33:57):
You know, I told her what she gave to me. And it really kind of dawned on me that, you know, another part of the responsibility I have as a teacher is I have to keep her legacy going and Joe’s legacy going. You know, I am part of their legacy and the job they did, I need to pass on. You know, we as educators, we’re part of have this bigger story of the educators who came before us, and we have a responsibility to shape and mold the educators who come after us, you know that responsibility is, is so important. So I have to try to get kids to love a subject that a lot of them in great, 10 they’re forced to take. So yeah, I’d, I’d go back and, and tell, ’em just breathe. Don’t take everything so seriously, just enjoy these moments more because they will be gone. You will only be a new teacher for so long. And, and that’s that, I think it’s a lesson for life, you know, just, we should all take a moment and just soak it in. You know, don’t, don’t just live, be alive in the which


Sam Demma (35:04):
Mm that’s such good advice. I appreciate you expanding on it and sharing why and how it’s affected, you know, your teaching and the way you approach your work. This has been such a awesome conversation. Time has flown by. It’s almost been 50 minutes.


Craig Zimmer (35:17):
Wow. Already,


Sam Demma (35:19):
If, if someone is wanting to reach out, ask you a question, a conversation, what would be the best way for them to get in touch?


Craig Zimmer (35:27):
I’m I’m on Twitter, that that’s probably the, the best way to be in touch. You can find me at @dropthedott. So it’s it’s cuz that that’s kind of a reference to my Ted stuff. Cause you always stand on that dot on Twitter. That’s, that’s really the quickest way to, to get me. That’s kind of the educational side of things that count there.


Sam Demma (35:48):
Awesome. All right, Craig or Mr. Zimmer depending on what mindset you in right now,


Craig Zimmer (35:54):
You know what I’ve wanted to call you Sam’s for so long too, because that’s when you were here, that’s what everyone calls you, you know? Yeah. But I’m like, no, he’s a grownup now you gotta call him Sam. You know,


Sam Demma (36:04):
That’s so funny. Well, thank you so much for coming on the show. Thanks for


Craig Zimmer (36:08):
Having, you know, and I just wanna say before I go you know, we here at St Mary’s so proud of who you’ve become, you know, I I’ve followed along when you, you kind of started off here getting active in the community and, and doing your cleanup and, and stuff. And you know, I, I, I was just amazed to see, see you doing that. And the fact that you were able to motivate so many other kids to join you and you know, you, you’re becoming a, a positive act of change in this world world, you know, you’re, you’re somebody who’s trying to make a difference. And, and you know, that’s the best gift you can give to guys like Mike, Mike, loud foot, you know, being that, that change being that message, the living message that he’s tried to instill in you. So keep it up, man. You’re, you know, you, you’re sending a positive message out there be be that and inspire others to be that message. So we’re all very proud of you here.


Sam Demma (37:02):
Ah, thank you, man. It means the world to me. And yeah, I, I reflect back on my experience at high school all the time. And I’m so grateful that I was able to go through St. Mary. I think it really shaped me into the person I am today. Not only Mike, but all my teachers and even the teachers I didn’t have because you would’ve told Mike things that informed the way he taught. So everyone has an impact on each other. Hey, it’s Sam again. I hope you enjoy 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. 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 Craig Zimmer

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.

Camille Loken – High School Principal & Executive Coach

Camille Loken – High School Principal & Executive Coach
About Camille Loken

Camille is a Principal at a high school concurrently pursuing her Doctorate of Education. She brings enthusiasm, creativity, and a passion for reciprocal learning and teaching to all endeavours. Camille is also a certified executive coach and has worked with many leaders to help them find clarity and a path forward with their leadership dilemmas. 

She is a forward-looking leader who enjoys complex challenges.  Camille is committed to seeing herself as a perpetual amateur where learning is about taking risks and is a grand adventure. Fundamentally, she believes that life, with all its lovely challenges and complexities, is meant to be enjoyed. It is all about evolving and looking at experiences as opportunities for growth.  And, it’s always okay to have too much fun!

Connect with Camille: Email

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

The Skill of Self Confidence by Dr. Ivan Joseph

The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle

Catch Them Being Good: Everything You Need to Know to Successfully Coach Girls

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):
Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s guest is Camille; Camille Loken. Camille is a Principal at a high school concurrently pursuing her doctorate of education. She brings enthusiasm, creativity, and passion for reciprocal learning and teaching to all endeavors. Camille’s also a certified executive coach and has worked with many leaders to help them find clarity and a path forward with their leadership dilemmas.


Sam Demma (01:04):
She’s a forward looking leader who enjoys complex challenges. Camille is committed to seeing herself as a perpetual amateur where learning is about taking risks and is about grand adventure. Fundamentally, she believes that life with all of its lovely challenges and complexities is meant to be enjoyed. It is all about evolving and looking at experiences as opportunities for growth, and it’s always okay to have too much fun. I had an amazing time with this interview with Camille, and I hope you enjoy it. Get a sheet of paper, get a pen or pencil, take notes, and I will see you on the other side. Camille, welcome to the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show. We just had a great conversation off the air about adversity and my story, now it’s time to flip it over to you. Can you introduce yourself and share a little bit behind the journey that got you to where you are today, doing the work in education that you’re doing?


Camille Loken (02:00):
Sure, I’m a high school Principal. I’m at a really large high school in Edmonton, Alberta. I think probably the largest one in the city. I mean, that might change in terms of student enrollment, but it’s a big one so there’s lots of levels of complexity in a, in a high school. And I’m new here this year. So I transitioned from a k-9 school as a Principal last year to a high school this year, which so many people say, well, isn’t that interesting taking on a big school in the middle of a pandemic and yes, actually the word is more, more like fascinating than interesting. Yes, because there’s, that’s just another level of complexity. So in terms of my journey, this is my third principalship. I never set out to be a principal. That’s not, that’s not how and really setting out in this journey.


Camille Loken (02:55):
Actually, I started when I was about five. So you know, how people ask you, what would you like to be when you grow up? Yeah, I was very clear in my intention, even when I was very young; I’m going to be a teacher, and I didn’t ever go off that path. That was what I had decided I was gonna do. And so you know, a little bit of a calling and even as a kid, I remember kids coming to our door knocking on the door, can Camille come out and play? Yeah, and then there’d be a crowd waiting, because I’d come out and I’d organize everything. I’d be like, we’re playing this and this is how it’s gonna go. And they would, you know, that’s how it would be. And so like those skills were, were in me to just quite naturally to wanna be with people and wanna help them to, you know, be together and, and be a collective. And all of that was just in, in me as a young, as a young person. So yeah, so I started that path, went to University, became a teacher, worked on my master’s of education at some point and currently I’m working on my doctorate.


Sam Demma (04:00):
That’s awesome. That’s so cool. And sometimes we embark on a path from a young age and we veer off. Did you veer off it at all and do something different at first? Or was it like, no, this is, this is the direction we’re going in. And every step just took you closer to this destination.


Camille Loken (04:16):
Yeah. It wa it was, I didn’t really veer off, off. I remember a time in high school when everybody’s talking about, oh, this or that or the other thing I thought, well, is that for me? Or, you know, when you do those assessments, oh, you could be an architect or a lawyer or whatever. Typical thing came out. So in those moments, sometimes I may go, well, maybe I can be an architect or a lawyer, but then none of that ever lasted very long. Yeah, it was, it was kind of, I’m going to be a teacher. That’s, that’s what I wanna do.


Sam Demma (04:46):
And when you think back to your own teachers that have taught you in your life which ones stick out and had a huge impact on you because I’m sure you were inspired by other teachers along the journey to pursue this path as well. Sometimes it’s the reverse also having bad teachers inspires it as well, but let’s focus on the positives. Can you share any of those names and then also expand and tell me why they had such an impact on you?


Camille Loken (05:13):
Well, one, I think teachers are everywhere. I think sometimes when we talk about teachers, we, we limit teachers too, our schooling experience. But I I’ve met some fabulous teachers along my journey that are, have not ever been in school. So yeah, teacher large is a much bigger thing. And so there’s lots of people that in my life that I would consider significant teachers. And, and yet to your point of teachers teaching you how you don’t wanna be, that there’s a couple that come to mind as well. And on that note, I, I think the like school system worked for me. I got the, and, and when I say school system worked to, for me, I got, I understood the system. I knew what you needed to do to do well. I knew what you needed to do to have effective relationships like me deciding on that for myself, like working the system a little bit.


Camille Loken (06:07):
I mean, it sounds a little bit CRAs, but I got the system. And then because I got the system, the system worked for me, so I got recognition teacher, you know, well, we enjoy having Camilla in class. She’s just such a really good student. One of the things that really informed me along my path is I have a sister who has some, some significant learning disabilities. So at some point she, her and I are two years apart. So at some point in school, I was accelerated a grade and at some point she was held back a grade. And so we were in the same grade. Even though we were two years apart and not in the same class, but in the same grade. And oftentimes we were in small schools. My father was in the armed forces. We moved over two years.


Camille Loken (06:54):
So that’s, that comes into the story as well, every two years, I’m somewhere new. And so I didn’t ever stay in a school for any length of time. So naming teachers for me is like the only teacher actually that comes to mind is Mr. Peters. And I’ll get back to him when I, because I was side by side with my teacher and the school system did not work for her. Well, lot of that informed me about how I would want to be in a system and what a system needs to look, cuz it needs to be equitable. A system that works for me also needs to work for my sister and it didn’t. And that’s a problem. And you know, that’s always in me to make sure that we’re creating systems to ensure that every that is going to have an excellent and equitable experience.


Camille Loken (07:43):
So Mr. Peters was my grade nine teacher at sir, Samuel will steel doesn’t exist anymore in Calgary, Alberta, which was a school on the base. And he was, I think it was his personality and he really just went outta his way to connect with kids and see us for who we were. Hmm. So I think I probably had established a little bit of a reputation of being the good student maybe, but he, but he saw this other side of me too, right? Like the, the quirky little, you know, kind of creative, those kind of things. And he nourished those, those things in me as well. Yeah. He saw me.


Sam Demma (08:26):
No, that’s awesome. Back to the, the equity piece for a second as well. Can you share what some of those challenges specifically were, and I’m curious to know, do they still exist now? I’m sure a lot of them still do. And can you talk to some of the ways that you envision the future systems changing to fix those issues?


Camille Loken (08:48):
I think our systems are better now. I still think we have long way to grow. I think we need to, I think we really do need to pay attention to that and, and ask ourselves and check into our systems to, to see if how we’re doing. Like we need to measure it as we go along. So now we talk, we talk a lot about, oh, and I think about this just Steven as because as a kid, I didn’t have an under of how you would even do that. I just saw that it wasn’t, it wasn’t right. Yeah. But I, I wouldn’t have had an understanding of how anybody would go around about, about that as a, as a teacher. And I’ve been teaching for, I, I first started teaching in 1986. I haven’t taught all those years cuz I took off time to have lots of sons.


Camille Loken (09:35):
So was a stay at home mom for a while. But when I started in 1986, we didn’t really talk about differentiation. We didn’t talk about, you know, meeting the student where they’re at and filling or recognizing their gifts or what the strengths are they bringing into the classroom and going from there, we, we didn’t talk about that. It wasn’t something we discussed and over time that has been it, it is part of what we do now as educators who really think about how do we meet everybody’s need as a unique individual. And it’s struggle. I think we, we haven’t arrived around really understanding that because you can, as complex as human beings are like each individual is, is incredibly complex and then put 30 human beings in a classroom and you know, then you have really lots of complexities to think about


Sam Demma (10:30):
That’s so true. In, in this idea of creating more equitable schools, like what are some of the steps that, that should be taken or considered? Like, for example, imagine you, you were removed from your current reality in place, back in that school you were at with your sister, like 20 years ago or 30 years ago, I might be bettering the numbers. Totally. but you look very young, so it’s oh.


Sam Demma (10:57):
And if you’re placed back in that situation with the knowledge you have now, what are the first things you, you change or what are the first things you tell all the staff like, you know, if you have the opportunity to bring them all into the cafeteria and say, this is how we need to change right now, because I would imagine that some of the schools are like, you know, a lot of them are changing and we’re getting better as a system. Some of them might still be stuck in those old ways. And what are those initial first things we have to consider?


Camille Loken (11:22):
Yeah. That’s such an awesome question. It’s a time travel question, Sam. I love time travel. Cool. want me to travel back in time, knowing what I know now and if I were talking. So if I were talking to the staff of the school that we were both in a, at the same time and, and she was having a different experience and I, I would say, think about my sister and what are the unique gifts she brings to the classroom. Please identify with her from that. Not, not from a deficit lens. Because I think many people saw her from a, a deficit lens, what, you know, what she didn’t have or what she couldn’t do. So think about her unique strengths and what she brings to this classroom. Because I think even, even that is step one. Yeah. She would be, she would feel valued.


Camille Loken (12:12):
Yeah. And appreciated from a, from a, from a gift point of view from yeah. From being valued. And then I would say, okay, so here’s someone that maybe learns differently. Maybe retains things differently, connects to things differently, you know, what is she interested in? What are the passions that you could tap into to make this relevant? How might you make learning relevant to her? How would you provide her voice about how she could demonstrate her learning? Cuz maybe you want her to demonstrate your, her learning this way and that’s not in her wheelhouse or that’s not a strength thing or she wouldn’t even be interested in that. So how might she demonstrate her learning in unique ways to her that you, that still would meet the outcomes that you still could assess and have an understanding? I mean that, and that gets to that student voice and choice.


Sam Demma (13:08):
Hmm.


Camille Loken (13:10):
I think if we had teachers who could really understand that we would have yeah. A lot more successful students who struggle. Yeah. And not even the ones who struggle. I mean, we also think of the ones we have our gifted students that are just so incredibly bright and they’re in a classroom with teachers who are kind of teaching to the middle and yeah. They’re like this isn’t meeting my needs at all. Right. Yeah. And those students are as at risk, as, as kids at the other end, like my sister, because they they’re like, this is boring and meaningless and I, I’m not in, I’m not engaged.


Sam Demma (13:50):
Yeah. It it’s an interesting conversation because like you said, there is so many complex within the confined walls of a school building and it’s a exciting challenge to figure out how to meet all their needs. Because I think that when that day comes it will come sometime in the future. It’ll be an exciting celebration and day because I think schools will have an even a huge impact on the lives, future leaders or young people. Absolutely. You, you mentioned time travel and loving time travel questions from a teaching perspective. Personally, if you could go back to the first year that you taught what would you tell yourself as a teacher? Imagine there’s a teacher whose first year in education is right now, it’s like a full blown pandemic and maybe they’re in their PJs teaching from home with the zoom mullet. Like what, what, what advice would you have for a teacher?


Camille Loken (14:54):
Yeah, that’s right. Showing up in front of the screen with your pajama bottoms on and it’s


Sam Demma (14:59):
Knows.


Camille Loken (15:00):
Yeah, yeah, exactly. You know, if, if I were to travel back in time to talk to, you know, Cannell first year I, you know, I’d say things like you, you, you haven’t figured out, you got it. Don’t don’t question yourself so much. Like, you know, am I on the right track? Do I understand this? Am I doing the right thing? Like trust your instincts. And if you are, you know, if you love this work, like if you’re showing up for the right reasons, because not everybody necessarily goes into this career for the, for the right reasons. Yeah. I think most of us do because it, it isn’t easy to work. So I think most of us show up because we are in service and we, we want to be with children and we want to make a difference in the world. I mean, I think that’s what pulls us into that.


Camille Loken (15:54):
So I think if, if you stay in that place, right. And always be a perpetual learner, like if you don’t, I, I don’t know how to teach this or I don’t, I don’t get this kid or, or, oh my goodness. This kid is pushing my buttons. So stay in the place of being a learner. What do you need to understand about yourself? I’ve said to, I say this to teachers all the time, and I would say this to first year Camil if you have taught it and they haven’t learned it, then you haven’t taught it. So you need to think about that and, and get to it. Right. Which is gonna challenge you it for sure it will. And there’ll be time that you’re like, I, I, I don’t know. I, but there is a support system and there’s lots of, there’s lots of places you can go and there’s people you can talk about and you can work as a collective and we’re better off together. And we’re you know, creating those conditions for yourself, even if they’re not in your school so that you can have that support to, to, to support our students.


Sam Demma (16:55):
I wanna go back to the last question. You mentioned something, and that was a great answer. Thank you for sharing that. If, if younger Camil was still around, she would’ve loved that advice. Yeah. You mentioned that sometimes students get looked at at what they don’t have at the lack at the deficit from a deficit perspective. And there’s this amazing book called “Catch Them While They’re Good”. Good. And it talks about the importance of coaching and giving feedback from the lens of, you know, reinforcing what they’ve done, right. As opposed to reinforcing what they lack or they’ve done wrong. And the example that I heard in a TEDx talk by this guy Dr. Ivan, Joseph, he took a self confidence expert. He was saying, I used to coach soccer teams. And, and if a player, you know, didn’t kick the ball, right. It would go over the net.


Sam Demma (17:42):
And usually the reasons are that their knee isn’t over the ball and they’re not looking down. And he said, you know, I, I could have stopped a player and said, Hey, you know, next time, make sure your knee’s over the ball. You know, you did it wrong, make sure your head’s looking down. Or he said, I can let that player have a mistake. And you know, not, not really focus on it or hype on the mistake. And then someone else goes up and they do a great job. And I reinforce the good behavior and that in the next athlete who kicks the ball, and then the first athlete doesn’t feel demoralized cuz you didn’t single them out. But they’re like, oh, that’s what I have to do next time. I’ll try again. And I think praise and catching people while they’re good is such a, a low hanging fruit and an easy way to make them feel valued, seen, heard, and appreciated in today’s environment how do we make students feel valued, seen, and you know, teaching virtually or teaching in a classroom? Like what do you think are the ways we can make students feel like they’re a part of the community.


Camille Loken (18:39):
I love that title, catch them being good. I, you have to read that book. I have stacks of books that just wait for me to


Sam Demma (18:46):
Me too.


Camille Loken (18:47):
I know it is kinda ridiculous. And what one time, you know, at some point you’re building get books all the way kinda doubted that catch would be good. Yeah. You know, as you were, as you were saying that, talking about that story, catch them being good. I, all of a sudden in my, in my head popped a student that I had when I was so relatively new teacher, I think I was maybe seven years into my career. Nice. And she was so this is in St. Albert, very affluent community. And she was new to this school and she was living in foster care, which was relatively unusual in our school. And she came to our, to my classroom, more to our school with just so much stuff, like so much baggage, she was angry, angry, angry, angry, and she would, she would come into a class and try to get that going like to, I, I think she understood anger.


Camille Loken (19:44):
She understood people being mad at her. So she would do something to, to have that happen. And I, and I thought, well, I’m not, I’m not doing that. I’m going to go outta my way to love you. Like just to, to have the loving energy. And I had to work on it because she, she could be incredibly provocative as she stopped into stomped into the classroom and whatever she was doing. And, and I would kind of just be grounded about it and I would greet her and a big, big smile. And it’s so nice to have you and just, just blaster with this, this energy that I just I’m so happy you’re here. Right. Even if I didn’t say those words. And then in my actions throughout the classroom, just attending to that making sure that she understood that I really wanted her to be in the classroom, despite all the things that she was doing, which didn’t mean that we didn’t have conversations about this or, you know, or had a redirect or anything, but it really is, you know, love them despite what they might have or what they’re bringing, because they are a human being and they’re unique and they’re beautiful with all of that.


Camille Loken (20:51):
And you have, you sometimes have to work really hard to get to that place because some kids come with so much, they just wanna push you away, push you away, push you away. Yeah.


Sam Demma (21:02):
Wow. That’s so powerful. You you’re telling this story. I immediately thought of this guy named Josh ship who was a foster kid himself. And he he would see it as a challenge, as he mentioned it in one of his talks where he, every house he got placed into, he would try and get kicked out as fast as he could. Yeah. And it was one caring adult who showed him. No, I don’t see you as a problem. I see you as an opportunity that totally changed his life. Yeah. And I think when we approach our students as if they’re opportunities, not that we’re the grand master and are gonna shape them, but we have the opportunity to plant a little seed that might be growing and watered 20 years in their future. You, you know, you mentioned about actions and how actions kind of speak louder than words. Sometimes a student doesn’t tell us that they’re feeling down or that something’s going on, but you can tell by their actions, by the way, they walk into the classroom, how do you approach a student and address a student who you think might be having something going on or something’s a little bit off


Camille Loken (22:01):
For, for that to even be able to happen. You need to have relationships established mm. Right. From the beginning, because you can’t just approach someone that you haven’t spent time with trying to get to know or have relationships or understand, you know, and it’s in the casual conversation. So, you know, so what happened this weekend? Or what did you work on? Or whatever. Like what do you, what are you watching TV, whatever, whatever they’re interested in is just kind of these, these conversations. And they, you have an understanding, you start to get, get to know them. You share a little bit about yourself as well, like the relationships and you tell ’em little stories and does anybody have a little story? Whatever that, that foundational piece of everything that we do, everything that we do is relationships. Mm. And if in, when you’ve established the relationships, then of course you can move into those conversations.


Camille Loken (22:47):
If you have established as a relationships and you try to move into that conversation, well, somebody’s gonna look at you and go I’m not talking to you. I don’t even trust you. Right. That’s not gonna happen. So that, that has to happen before you even approach. And then it is paying attention, right. Just paying attention. It it’s, there’s this, there’s this simple thing that teachers can do greeting students at the door. And it’s, you know, there’s research on this, about what difference that makes in students lives. So you’re just outside of your classroom drawer as they come in, you’re, you’re greeting them by name, or you have some kind of handshake, or whatever’s not now in the pandemic, but anyway, before some kind of whatever, whatever, as they go in, but wait, you’re doing is you’re paying attention to how, how, how they’re showing up that day.


Camille Loken (23:33):
What’s the energy they’re bringing in that day. And it gives you an opportunity to say, oh, Hey Sam, before I go in the classroom, let’s just have a little quick talk. And then the other kids go in, I go, Sam, you just, you just seem kind of, you know, not so great today is something I need to know. And then we have a relationship. Yeah. You know, this happened this morning and okay. Okay. Thanks for telling me about that. We’re gonna, we’re gonna try to cheer you up today or whatever. Right. It’s just, it’s just moving into those kind of conversations and setting a place that you can do that


Sam Demma (24:04):
Love that that’s great


Camille Loken (24:05):
Intentionality. It takes so much intentionality around those things.


Sam Demma (24:10):
And teaching is, is, is rewarding and challenging at the same time. You also have to make sure that you have fun doing it and it’s okay to have too much fun. Yeah, exactly. How do you ensure, how do you ensure that you enjoy the work and the vocation and the calling, even in those, in, even in those tough moments?


Camille Loken (24:34):
You know, I, I think it’s this, and this is probably a, a statement that may be overused, but it, its come to mind anyways, choose your attitude. Mm. So, so right from the beginning of my teaching career, well pretty close to the beginning of my teaching career, I thought, oh wow. How I show up on any given day actually influences that entire climate of the classroom. Yeah. And when I, when I first had that realization, it was, it scared me a little bit. And I thought, wow, that’s a lot of power. Like really? I mean, if I’m having a crappy day and I go in there and, and then everybody seems to be having a crappy day or so. Okay. Knowing that deeply understanding that, that I need to show up every day and be, and have the energy for the of work.


Camille Loken (25:27):
And it makes me think so I’ve I in university, I was a drama major. I was a drama teacher when you are doing a performance and you know, this you’ve done Ted talks, right. Or so, or you go and do a speech in front. So you are, you’re moving into this performance piece. And I don’t mean that in a, they you’re moving into this in an inauthentic way. So I wanna be really clear about this. Yeah. But you’re moving in front of an audience. And they’re there to listen to you. So let’s say on your way to, to there, I don’t know you got a flat tower and you had to change it or somebody cut you off or, or you and your partner had an argument with them or whatever. Cuz you’re a human being. This is gonna happen. However, you’re showing up in front of them. They don’t wanna know all about that. That’s not important to them. And so it is on teachers to really have an understanding of that and saying, I am going to choose my attitude every day. So the climate of the classroom is such right. That I have the energy for you. And I, I love this work and I love you and I have a passion for it. And here we go.


Sam Demma (26:32):
I love that. It’s a, it’s a reminder to stay present. It might something might have happened 20 minutes ago, but the moment we have is right now and what matters is the task at hand? Yeah. It’s funny, right? When you were talking about, you know, flat tire, I once had a speech two and a half hours from my house in London, Ontario. And we drove and we went to an on route, me and my buddy Dylan. And we had about an extra 30 minutes, maybe 45 minutes. We were gonna show up pretty early and we pulled up to the on route and we went inside and got coffee and I came back outside my pockets. Oh, snap, where the heck are my keys? Look through the window, locked in my car. It’s like nine in the morning in the middle of like a random highway.


Sam Demma (27:14):
You know, I don’t have CAA, I call CAA, get them on the phone, like order the, the subscription for the next two years, they show up, we make it five minutes late. I remember running into the cloud assume going, Hey, my name’s Sam demo. Like just jumping into the presentation and yeah. Anyways, I just thought, you know what you sparked that thought. I thought it’d be a funny thing to mention, but I think you’re, you’re so right. And what’s interesting is our attitude is always in our control. Like it’s not sure it’s influenced by exterior events, but it’s, it’s up to us to choose how we, I, how we walk into the classroom. Right.


Camille Loken (27:45):
And we owe that to the children, the students that we serve to do that. Yeah. And I, I really like how you characterize that. Just staying in the present moment cuz that’s it let go of everything else. Cuz the present moment is always good. Really. I mean, you’re just right here. Just enjoy this present moment and the other things that you need to think about or worry about or whatever they will come. But right now this is where I’m at. Right. I’m


Sam Demma (28:09):
Gonna


Camille Loken (28:10):
Here.


Sam Demma (28:10):
Yeah. You wanna add another book to your list? The power of now it’s all about, oh


Camille Loken (28:14):
I love that book. I have read that book. Love


Sam Demma (28:16):
It. Okay. Yeah. Kar, Kar. Totally. I might be mispronouncing his last name, but no,


Camille Loken (28:21):
I think that’s right. Totally.


Sam Demma (28:23):
Okay. Yeah. So I found his book just awesome. And it’s a great reminder that there’s no other moment that exists. Like this is all we have.


Camille Loken (28:31):
Yeah, absolutely. So,


Sam Demma (28:32):
And, and if anyone’s been inspired so far, this has been an amazing conversation. We definitely have to do a part 2. But if anyone’s been inspired so far and wants to reach out to you, have a conversation, talk about equity or how to make the school more equitable or just to bounce ideas around what would be the best way for someone listening to reach out to you and get in touch.


Camille Loken (28:51):
Oh wow. Like, you know, I listen to podcasts and podcasters always ask that question. I love podcasts, and then people say things like, well I’m on Instagram and I’m on Facebook and I’m on LinkedIn and I’m not on any of those things.


Sam Demma (29:05):
That’s okay. Me either. I don’t use it much.


Camille Loken (29:07):
That’s great. I was gonna go, you can’t get a hold of me. My email address would be the best one. Yeah.


Sam Demma (29:14):
Do you wanna just spell it out for and like, and other educators are listening, so like you just might hear from some colleagues around the country hopefully.


Camille Loken (29:23):
Absolutely. So Camille.Loken@epsb.ca


Sam Demma (29:40):
Yeah. Awesome. Camille, thank you so much for doing this. It was a pleasure bringing you on and keep doing awesome work and good luck on the doctorate.


Camille Loken (29:48):
Well, thanks Sam. This has been awesome talking to you as well. This is fun, this conversation.


Sam Demma (29:56):
Oh, thank you. I appreciate it.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Camille Loken

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.

Doug Primrose – Leadership Teacher & President of President of BC Association of Student Activity Advisors

Doug Primrose – Leadership Teacher & President of President of BC Association of Student Activity Advisors
About Doug Primrose

Doug Primrose (@djprimrose) is currently in his 23rd year of teaching. He has been at Yale Secondary for the last 15 years, and teaches Student Leadership and Law 12. He was Chair of the BC Student Leadership Conference in 2015, and Co-Chair of the Canadian Student Leadership Conference in 2019.

Currently, Doug serves as the President of the BC Association of Student Activity Advisors.  In his spare time, he coaches rugby at Yale Secondary and the Women’s team for Abbotsford Rugby Club.  In 2020 he was nominated for the Abbotsford Hall of Fame in Coaching Category. 

Connect with Doug: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Yale Secondary School Website

BC Association of Student Activity Advisors

Canadian Student Leadership Association (CSLA)

Canadian Student Leadership Conference (CSLC)

Abbotsford Rugby Club

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):
Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s guest is Doug Primrose. He is currently in his 23rd year of teaching. He’s been at Yale Secondary for the past 15 years and taught student leadership and law 12. He was previously the chair of the BC Student Leadership Conference in 2015, the co-chair of the Canadian Student Leadership conference in 2019, currently the President of the BC Association of Student activities and Advisors, and he also coaches rugby at Yale secondary and the women’s team for Abbotsford rugby club.


Sam Demma (01:15):
He’s actually selected in, in 2020 for the Abbotsford hall of fame in the coaching category. Doug has a wealth of knowledge to share when it comes to student leadership and coaching, and I’m so excited to give you some of that knowledge today in this episode. So enjoy, and I will see you on the other side. Doug, welcome to the High Performing Educator podcast, huge pleasure to have you on the show here today. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit of context behind how you ended up doing the work you do today in education?


Doug Primrose (01:47):
Yeah, so I went to high school here and grew up in in Abbotsford BC and I’m a teacher here at Yale secondary School, and I actually graduated from the same school here that I, that I teach at. So I was at a few other schools in between, but yeah, so growing up, I didn’t have any intentions of being a teacher at all. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. I think like a lot of kids, they kind of graduate and not really quite sure and just try to get the feel of things. So, so I traveled for a few years and then kind of got back into it, worked a few different jobs and got back into it by helping one of my mentors; when I was a kid, a teacher who had a big influence on me and I started helping him coach rugby. So I really enjoyed it and he, he kind of said, you know, why don’t you go through and be a teacher since you seem to enjoy it and that’s kind of what I did. So I started a little bit later than in most, I guess, but glad I did.


Sam Demma (02:44):
That’s amazing. Take me back. You said, right when you finished high school, you traveled for a few years. What, tell me more about that. Where did you trave; like where did you go?


Doug Primrose (02:54):
Not all at once, but just yeah, different trips. So I’d work for, you know, a while. And then I take off and go backpack for like four months, like, you know, around Europe and nice and places like that. And, you know, went down to the states a little bit. And so just kind of did that where I work and then travel and work and then travel and, you know, with some friends and, and then, and things like that. So, and then probably right around 22 or so, I started working more full-time and then going to night school. Nice. Just to start chipping away at some classes. And before going back to school, full-time to be a teacher


Sam Demma (03:31):
And the teacher who you helped coach. Tell me more about that person, where, where you said they had a big impact on you. Like, what do you think they did specifically that, that made a big impression on you? Like why were you drawn to that one individual?


Doug Primrose (03:46):
Well, I think a couple things, one is he just always had time for us as, as students and you know, we, we saw how much work he put in and, and we saw how much he cared about us and, you know, we, we could see that as kids and you know, he was my rugby coach, but also my PE teacher. And and he had a lot of patience there’s times when we I’m sure let him down as kids. And but he, you know, got us to learn from it and and never, never really kind of gave up on us and, and, and kept, kept working with us. So, like I said, I wasn’t really too sure what I was gonna do after high school, because I was you know, I wasn’t the best student. So I really university to me wasn’t even something that was entering my mind, but he, he encouraged me and said, this is, you could definitely do it and just put your mind to it. And so, yeah, he was just one of those guys that, you know, all the students really liked a lot because of how involved he was in our kind of school culture.


Sam Demma (04:48):
Ah, that’s amazing. I I’m just, I wanna zero in on him a little more just for a second if that’s okay. Because I feel like, you know, the people in our lives that have a big impact on us, like we can learn from them as well, you know? Like so when you say, you know, he always made time for the students, what did that look like? Was it just setting aside time to have conversations? Like what did that look like back when you were in, in, in his school?


Doug Primrose (05:10):
Yeah, for sure. And time for conversations somebody could go, go to if you had any kind of issues and he would always have the time for you. Just the amount of work he put in as you extracurricular activities you know, through coaching and somebody who was just always involved. And and he didn’t, he was one of those teachers back in the day when you know, there’s all these different types of groups in the school, like social groups and, and every, everyone just really liked him. Like he really crossed all different groups there. It wasn’t just the sports guys who liked him or, or this it’s just every, every, he just had time for everybody. And you know, I think we just really, you know, were drawn to that and just just the amount that he cared for for students and, and always wanted to try and go an extra mile to, to help them out and understood also that sometimes students aren’t at their best during certain times, and there’s growth there’s growth moments, and he would take the time to help you through these things and not quickly just judge you and, and kind of write you off, you know?


Sam Demma (06:18):
Yeah. No, it’s so important to make sure that someone feels seen and heard. Right. And then listen to what they’re saying. Yeah. Take me back to when you were, you know, 22, 23 and you know, you come back from traveling and working full time and you get this opportunity to coach the rugby team. Like how did, how did that all come about? Did he approach you? You are, are,


Doug Primrose (06:38):
Yeah, so he, he did approach me. He you know, it’s always nice to have extra help when you’re coaching teams and you know, I would always come back and visit him after high school. Like when I was back in town or I had some time I’d come by school and, and then he, he’s just said, Hey, you know, I’m on my own this year. Coaching, coaching rugby, and could really use some help. So if you got some time it’d be great if you could just come by and, and gimme a hand. And, you know, I was a little bit more mature then at, at, you know, 22 or so. So there’s enough gap between me and the students as far as getting them to, to listen to me and stuff. So, so he had me come back and I just helped them out. And then I just carried on from there and help them out pretty much every year from there on out until I started teaching myself,


Sam Demma (07:23):
I know sports was also a big part of your own personal life, you know, playing rugby and yeah. And, and, and sport world. Do you find a correlation between coaching and teaching and do you think there’s some skills you’d learn from coaching teams that apply in the classroom? And I’m just curious if there’s, like you think there are some intersections between being a teacher and, you know, being a coach.


Doug Primrose (07:41):
Yeah. I think for sure you know, just preparation for one thing to to, to prepare students for a game or to prepare, prepare students for, for different things in your classroom. So making sure you’re prepared the relationship component you know, really get, and to know your students and getting to know your players. Mm. You know, the, the saying is, as a good coach has to make sure they understand how each player is motivated and treat them all kind of differently. Right. Yeah. And depending on their personality, well, it’s similar in the classroom. You gotta kind of get to really know your students and, and kind of what works for them and what doesn’t. And so I think there’s definitely some correlation there. And then I think also just that I think I came into teaching with a lot more confidence because of the experience in talking in front of big groups and, and you know, getting kids attention and things like that. So I think it definitely helped me with all the experience I had outside of the classroom, in the, a coaching world before I became a teacher. I think if I would’ve gone in straight outta high school, without that experience ahead of time for me, I don’t think I would’ve been as successful at it, at least not at the beginning.


Sam Demma (08:52):
Yeah. No, it makes a lot of sense. That’s yeah. That relates to my experiences with sport. And I can say that I, I think sports add so much and whether it’s playing in a physical sport or just engaging in any hobby, you know, playing music or doing something you know, besides the classroom work, I think it really adds to your, your character and your reputation, you know, building skills and move being on past high school. Yeah. Which is awesome. Your own educational journey. So, you know, you, you start coaching with this teacher you’re doing night school classes. Yep. At what point did you start teaching and bring me back to that first year, what did that experience feel like?


Doug Primrose (09:32):
Yeah, so I eventually did my, you come sorry, somebody’s just coming through that’s okay. I eventually did my practicum and then I I did it here at the school at Yale, and then went into my first year I was doing I actually worked in a severe behavior program. They called it, got it. So that was a program for students that weren’t available or weren’t allowed to go into any other school in the, in the city. So these were kids that had a lot of different needs. So you know, were, there was a lot of the kids had some real substance abuse issues and some real family problems and things like that. So I spent my first three years there and that was really great experience especially kind of being in my first, first job.


Doug Primrose (10:20):
I had a guy who I worked with was who had some experience that you know, also really helped me out a lot as a first year teacher and kind of showed me the ropes that way. And you know, going to see what some of these kids were going through. I think really kind of helped me throughout my rest of my career, putting things into perspective and understanding that you know, there’s, these kids come to school and some of them have a lot of things going on in their life that that we just don’t know about. Right. Yeah. So that was my first experience. And yeah, it was great. It was the school, I would’ve probably stayed in there, but the school ended up going, turning into a middle school. Mm. So it went down to grade six, so they, they moved the program somewhere else. So


Sam Demma (11:02):
Got it.


Doug Primrose (11:02):
Then I went into to another school Robert Bateman, secondary, and I was there for five years and, and taught some law and social studies and and it was great, great experience as well. And then I’ve been at Yale here now for, I don’t know, I think it’s like my 15th year or so. Now’s here student leadership that’s and student leadership in law 12.


Sam Demma (11:26):
Nice. Yeah. That’s amazing. And yeah, you know, thinking back to that first year, you intrigued me when you started talking about the different things that students ha can have going on in their lives that, you know, as educators, you might not even know about out of all the students you met over those three years, was there any transformational stories, you know, of a student, you know, really struggling and then getting to a, a more positive place? And the reason I ask is because I think at the core of, you know, an educator’s passion for teaching is the ability to positively impact a young person, right? It’s you have this ability not to, you know, change a student’s life, but to plant a little seed in them that they might water themselves, you know, three, four years from now, and you can have a huge impact. So were there any stories of transformation? It might remind another educator are listening, why this stuff is so important, why teaching is so important, and if it’s a very personal story or like very serious, you know, feel free to change their name or use a random name just to keep their identity in.


Doug Primrose (12:25):
Yeah, we had a, we had a few actually you know, just a quick one that comes to mind is does Derek, he I, the way we got him into our program was we have a, we had this thing called the Husky five back in the day, and it was a five kilometer run that the whole school would do. I think some students probably do like a Terry Fox run or milk run or things like that. So we had the Husky five, and then when you finish the finish line, they had a table there and they would hand you a freezy when you finish on. Well, all of a sudden this kid comes ripping through, on his bicycle and grabs a handful of freezes and just starts pedaling. So we kind of you know, chased the kid down a bit and, and, and said to him, Hey, you know, would you go to this school?


Doug Primrose (13:07):
And he’s like, no, I don’t go to school. I’m, I’m not allowed to go to school. And so then we started talking to him a little bit and found out that this kid had gone to school in like three years. And he was I think grade probably about grade eight age. And the reason why he wasn’t going to school at the time, was he the only way he could get there by taxi. And I guess he assaulted the taxi drivers multiple times. So they refused to drive him anymore. So we ended up figure things out with social workers and things like that. And we got him in there. And I think just with the right structure, the way the program was for him he did fantastic. And he, he ended up starting where he would only come and see us once a week.


Doug Primrose (13:49):
And then he went to half days, and then he went to full-time where he was also in some other classes like PE and our, and things like that. And anyways, we would have the kids up until they were about 15 or 16, and then they would carry on to the other school after us. And about two years later, he sent me well, he phoned me, phoned me in my classroom when I was working at Bateman. And and let me know that he was graduating tonight and just wanted thank us for, you know, getting him back in school. And yeah, so he, and he’s done quite well. He’s actually a, a DJ now. And I keep in touch, keep in touch with him through social media. And we’ve got a few of those now where I’m still in touch with him, thanks to social media and you know, the kid there’s some now are, have kids of their own and you know, have good jobs and, and are doing quite well. So I think that that grade eight to 10 period in their life was real tough for them. And they could kind of go one way or the other there. And some of them definitely chose the wrong path, but some others we were able to really help out and get them through that hard part when they just needed to mature a little bit more to get them through the next chapter of their life. So, yeah,


Sam Demma (15:06):
That’s an amazing story. I’m, I’m sure the, the emotions come bring true. And you feel ’em again, when you talk about it, probably it’s a, yeah, it’s a cool, it’s a cool example. And it’s, you know, it’s one of millions of, of stories that educators share with me every time I chat with them. And I think what’s really cool to think about is, you know, these are the stories that we know of, but there’s so many more that, you know, they never tell you the impact you made. And it’s there though, right? It’s still, it’s still real and it’s still there. You just might not hear about it.


Doug Primrose (15:36):
Yeah, we, and we had a very supportive school. It was atmosphere junior. It was called at the time. And, you know, it was it was very supportive you know, administration, which is important. And they really wanted to see these kids succeed as well. We had another student he started playing rugby and we ended up going on a tour to UK. So we went over to England and Wales and did a rugby tour. And there was absolutely no way that this one student who was in our program could ever afford to do anything like that. So the school was able to help him out and he was able to go on this rugby tour for two weeks and we were billed over there and he was bill with families. And you know, the, for a chance for this kid, who’s probably barely been outta Abbotsford to all of a sudden going on a trip overseas to, to London and Cardiff and all these great places. And the billet families had the nicest things to say about the way he, you know, his behavior and his politeness and, and everything. So it’s just nice to be able to see, you know, those kids get those opportunities that, and he probably has never been anywhere since. Right. Yeah. So that was just a big, cool experience. And the school was really able to help him out to be able to do that trip. And you know, it’s, it’s, I think that’s just so important for, for some life changing type things.


Sam Demma (17:00):
And, you know, when we’re thinking about students in the classroom as well how do we make them feel seen, heard, and appreciated? Like what can we do as educators to make sure that they feel like they’re a part of the classroom can community? Is it, yeah, I’m just curious. What are your thoughts?


Doug Primrose (17:17):
Well, I think the biggest thing is, is a relationship. And that’s what I always tell, like student teachers that work with me is the, they can teach you all the different tools in in your university classes about classroom management and seating plans and all these different things. But the number one that for classroom management and is just building your relationship with your students, cuz when the students respect you and like you and enjoy being there, then then there tend to be a lot better behaved and they seem to be more engaged. So I think the big thing is relationship and I, one of the thing I always try and one thing I always tell student teachers is try to make sure, you know, one thing about every student in your class. So whether or not I know that this student he plays baseball this student she does dance every night this student you know, they have sibling that I had two years ago and blah, blah, blah.


Doug Primrose (18:12):
So, so I just try to make sure I know something about them. So when they come in you know, I can say, you know, Hey, how how’s it going? Did you guys have a baseball game last night? And that’s all of a sudden you have that conversation. And I think that’s just really important to try and make sure to know them and then they, they appreciate that, I think as well, that relationship part. So, and then if they do have some issues, then they might be more inclined to open up a little bit more if they have that relationship with you.


Sam Demma (18:42):
Yeah. There’s, there’s a gentleman named Jeff Gerber. You probably know him. He’s like, you know, I know Jeff. Yep. He always says the biggest ship. I think the biggest ship in leadership is a relationship. Yeah. And I think it’s so true, you know, it’s, it’s so true. But on that topic of leadership, I know a couple years ago, you know, you guys hosted the Canadian student leadership conference billed, you know, close to a thousand students from different, you know, areas, what was that experience to like doing that and hosting it and you know, bring me back to that moment.


Doug Primrose (19:16):
Yeah. It was amazing. It, obviously it was a ton of work and some stressful times, but it was absolutely an amazing experience. So the planning starts about two years ahead of time. So we put the it in for, for us to be able to host it and we hosted it here at Yale secondary, but it was a school district hosting. So it was the Abbotsford school district that was the host committee. So we had students from all the different high schools in Abbotsford bepi leaders. And then we had teachers from all the different high schools help out as well. Administrators, teachers, EA everybody kind of chipped in. But yeah, it was a huge undertaking. But the week that we put it on, it went really smooth lots of good preparation. And the biggest thing was our team.


Doug Primrose (20:07):
We had an amazing team of, of staff that volunteered tiered their time to put this conference on and, and volunteered many, many hours. You know, if you think like we had, you know, one person, his job was in charge of building, finding bill at homes for 750 students. You know, we had another person, her job was to put a committee together to, to feed a thousand people every single day and a, a in a quickly manner. You know, we had a sponsorship committee who they went out and found sponsorships and it was mostly you know, it was retired teacher or retired principals some, also some people from the community and they just all jumped in and, and really took on and did a great job. So we had just an amazing team. And that’s what I really learned was, you know, there’s no way we could have done this without the support from everybody who who chip in and, and so much of their own time away from, from school.


Doug Primrose (21:07):
But I think one of the reasons everyone was so happy to volunteer was they just saw the value of it and what it, what it did for kids and the memories that these kids would have would be a lifetime a memory of this conference that they helped put on. So I think it was just a real, like I’ve had some of the teachers who’ve taught for over 20 years, to me, that that was the, the most, you know, enjoyable and the most satisfying thing they’ve ever done as a teacher was being part of that conference and the putting it together. So, yeah, it was it was great. Unfortunately, it was the last one because until, until they start up again. But it hasn’t been one since because of the co with stuff, but


Sam Demma (21:48):
Hopefully soon, hopefully I’ll see you at one of them.


Doug Primrose (21:51):
Yeah. They’re gonna, they’re gonna be doing an online one I believe in September. Okay. And then they’re hoping for 20, 22 to go back to, to live


Sam Demma (22:00):
Nice. Oh, that’s awesome. Very cool. And you know, the current situation you alluded to it with COVID is it’s been pretty challenging and, you know, you think are some of the challenges schools are facing and maybe some of the challenges that even your school has faced since the, the whole thing unfolded in March.


Doug Primrose (22:18):
Yeah, it has definitely been challenging. And I think us leadership teachers even have a bit of an extra challenge because you’re, you’re really trying to maintain school culture and maintain that positivity around the building. And it’s very difficult to do when a lot of your functions are getting canceled and grad is getting canceled and, you know, it’s tough to kind of keep these kids positive and motivated and still wanting to do things. It’s you know, I have my grade 12 class going on right now in my grade 12 lead class and, and you know, you’re here talking about, okay, what can we do to, to do some CU, some culture events to have some fun. And then they find out that day that their prom just got canceled. Right? Yeah. So it’s, it’s very difficult. But you know, the students, they persevere and they handle it quite well.


Doug Primrose (23:10):
They, they carry on and, and hats off to them. As far as challenge in our school, it’s just, you know, I know every province is different, but with us in BC right now, we’re not allowed to mix at all. So you have to stay in your own class, which is your cohort. We have a three hour class in the morning and then nothing in the afternoon, so we don’t have a lunch hour. So we can’t do any events during that time. So we’re like for an example, right now we’re planning a pep rally for Thursday. Obviously, you know, our school’s quite well known for its pep rallies and how crazy they are, but this one’s obviously gonna be a lot different. So we’re doing some, some virtual stuff, some games that we can do virtually in their cohorts and put some videos together, some fun videos and, and that, so we’re still trying, and we’re trying to make things go.


Doug Primrose (23:59):
We, we always have a big singing competition here every spring. It’s called all, and we’re still gonna try and do that. We’re just gonna have to do it different. And that’s kind of our saying this year is we’re still gonna do it and we’re just gonna do it different, love it. And but one thing that we have done, I think a good job of this year is we’ve, we’ve done some really good things in the community. And that’s one of the things that the students have done a little bit more of is, is just reaching out to the community. And one thing that we did, which was pretty cool is they, they applied for these grants that the city of Abbotsford and the community foundation put together for COVID. And how can you make people in the community?


Doug Primrose (24:44):
Basically how, how can you engage with them during COVID time and communicate with them? So my students applied for these different grants and they all got approved and they, they started doing pretty cool things like one group. They put together these little care packages for kindergarten students where they get a t-shirt and some decorating things, decorated shirt. And so they gave those to all those students. They took you know, some care baskets down to ambulance drivers, fire police, all the first responders and did that. So they did some things for our, we have a, a teen kind of outreach type program here in Abbotsford. And they put together like little toilet tree bags and stuff to give to the student the kids in the community that might need those. And, and we’ve got out and done a lot of different things at the parks and cleaning up and just outdoor activities and stuff like that.


Doug Primrose (25:42):
So we we’ve been finding some pretty meaningful things to do. And, and I think part of that too, is like with me, one of my things with teaching leadership is I, I really want the kids to come up with their stuff and I really want them to be the ones to do it, and they take ownership over it because when it, when it works out, which it, you know, usually does the the, the, they feel so much more gratifying to them because they’re the ones who really put this together. So when they applied for those grants and they all got approved you know, they were pretty excited cuz they’re the ones who did all the work to put that grant together. It wasn’t me. Yeah. you know, when they go and deliver stuff to the Abbotsford police and Abbotsford, police puts a thing on their Instagram, thanking the Yale leadership students for, for what they did, you know, you can just see that they feel so great about about that because they’re the ones that did it. It wasn’t just me doing it and telling them to do it. They came up with it all. And I think that’s one of the important things when you’re talking about you relationships and stuff is let you know, let the kids are pretty good at at coming up with some great ideas. They’re better than I am during COVID coming up with ideas. So we get them to, so,


Sam Demma (26:55):
Ah, that’s awesome. And I feel like when you give someone more responsibility, they, they feel more part of the group or community, right. Yeah. If they feel useless or like they’re not doing anything, they might not feel like contributing or, you know, using their creative ideas. So I think it’s a, I think it’s a great thing to do. If you could take


Doug Primrose (27:13):
And, and that’s sorry, that’s a, that’s a big part of our program is the community part. So we talk about like pep rallies and stuff like that, but even a non COVID year, we do a lot of community stuff and I think that’s really important. They, they enjoy that just as much as they enjoy the, or maybe even more the stuff that we do in school. Because they don’t think they, a lot of times kids want to do things and they want help and they wanted that, but they just don’t know how to go about doing it. Yeah. So you just kinda steer ’em in that direction and then they get into it. Now, the other great thing is, is when students graduate from here I still see them doing things in the community, volunteering, putting together nonprofits into their adulthood, which is pretty, pretty great because that’s something that they did here at the school that they’ve carried on. And


Sam Demma (27:58):
Yeah, it was like a launchpad here.


Doug Primrose (28:02):
Yeah. Yeah. It’s great.


Sam Demma (28:03):
And if you could take me back to year one year one, Doug, and speak to your younger self with all the wisdom and knowledge you have. Now, what advice would you give yourself? If you could have that conversation?


Doug Primrose (28:16):
Oh man. I, I think my, my problem was when I went through school and stuff, I, I don’t think I really had the confidence. And you know, it wasn’t, I think school was just so different back when I went there wasn’t as many opportunities and you know, like I think like if I had a class like my leadership class or other leadership classes that are out there in the, at all these different schools I think it would’ve been really good for me cuz it would’ve kind of got me to come outta my shell a little bit and have a little bit about more confidence. You know, a lot of the things I did when I was a kid I didn’t do things in class because I was just, you know, worried about maybe what people would think of me or maybe I just felt like I wasn’t gonna do a good enough, so I just didn’t do it at all. Right. so my advice to me would be like, get involved, get more involved in, in school activities and more involved in extracurricular activities other than just play a sport. And, and yeah, just have that confidence to kind of put yourself out there a little bit and move more.


Sam Demma (29:27):
That’s great advice. I, I feel like I’d give myself the same advice as a student. If I could go back cuz I, you know, like yourself, I only played soccer. You know, I was wanted to be a pro soccer player. I didn’t get involved in student leadership, student council, no extracurriculars. The only thing I did was play on the school soccer team and you know, play soccer outside of school and it, if it didn’t relate to soccer directly, I didn’t do it. And I feel like it limited me slightly. And so I think your advice ring shoe, not only for, you know, younger Doug as a teacher, but also, you know,


Doug Primrose (29:56):
Oh, sorry. I thought you meant me as a student.


Sam Demma (29:58):
No, that’s okay. I


Doug Primrose (30:00):
Was sorry. I was one back to my younger Doug as a student younger Doug as a teacher. Yeah, I, I, the thing is, is my first, my first job I was telling you about yeah. Was just so different, different, it was not really like a teaching type job. It was more like a management type job where you’re managing all these different kids and got it. You’re dealing with, you’re dealing with social workers and, and outside agencies and, you know, like the actual teaching part was was not you know, a whole lot. It was more just kind of you know, building those relationships with those kids and things like that. So I think that would be a big part of it. You know, get work on those relationships a, a bit more like right from the start. I think I learned that from the teacher I worked with he did a really good job of building relationships with those kids.


Doug Primrose (30:51):
Nice. I think also I think I, it took me quite a while to get involved in a lot of the extracurricular stuff. Like I did coach rugby. Yep. But I didn’t, I wasn’t involved in a whole a bunch of other different things that were going on in the school in my first few years. So I think get involved a bit more, but yeah, sorry. I thought you meant when I was in high school there, but because I definitely didn’t get involved in much when I was in school. And if I think I could do it again, I think I would try to be more involved in the activities that are going on in the building.


Sam Demma (31:21):
You and I both. I, I appreciate you sharing it. It doesn’t hurt to get advice from both perspectives so I appreciate you sharing both. Well, this has been a great conversation. If, if someone is interested in reaching out to you and chatting more, what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you?


Doug Primrose (31:37):
Yeah, they could just you know, send me an email or it’s on our school website; Yale Secondary School in Abbotsford. Awesome. but yeah, it’s it’d be great. It’s one of the great things about our leadership community that I’m in here is that we all just you know, from right across the country, we all kind of know each other and talk to each other, and get different ideas and, and bounce ideas off each other. And especially for those new leadership teachers or new teachers in general for them, don’t don’t hesitate to, to reach out to some of the people that have been doing it for a while, and we’re always willing to help out and do what we can. And, and I tell you, I, I learn so many, every time I go to these leadership conferences, I learn so many ideas from the from the new teachers. Because they got a whole different kind of perspective, and especially with COVID now I’ve learned a whole bunch of new technology things that that I, I, I couldn’t do before. So apparently you can teach old dogs new tricks.


Sam Demma (32:38):
Hey, don’t call yourself old yet. Awesome. Doug, thank you so much for coming on the show. I appreciate it. Keep up the awesome work and we’ll stay in touch.


Doug Primrose (32:48):
All right. Thank you very much.


Sam Demma (32:49):
And there you have it. Another amazing guest, an amazing interview on the High Performing Educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review so other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show; f you want meet the guest on today’s episode, if you wanna meet any of the guests that we have interviewed, consider going to www.highperformingeducator.com and signing up to join the exclusive network, you’ll have access to networking events throughout 2021 and other special opportunities. And I promise I will not fill your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Doug Primrose

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.

Anthony Perrotta – Vice Principal, MEd Student, AQ Instructor & Filmmaker

Anthony Perrotta – Vice Principal, MEd Student, AQ Instructor & Filmmaker
About Anthony Perrotta

A graduate of Humber College’s prestigious Film and Television Production program, Anthony’s (@aperrottatweets) experience in Canadian film and new media production is extensive and diverse. From corporate film experience to independent film and new media works, Anthony’s love of film/new media led him to a career in teaching that has been equally and deeply rewarding.

With a specialization in Communications Technology and Broad-based Technological Studies, Anthony has been committed to providing students with culturally relevant learning experiences. From nurturing students to tell their own stories through video production and sharing their “why” through digital portfolio design and social media branding, Anthony continuously works to cultivate spaces of learning where students feel empowered to show what they know and who they are.

With a commitment to professional learning, Anthony has held a number of positions that allowed him to leverage his expertise in digital media to serve teacher professional development. From 2011 – 2014, Anthony was a Resource Teacher with 21st Century Learning and AICT at the Toronto Catholic District Board. In this role, Anthony worked to support teachers across the TCDSB with the integration of 21st Century teaching and learning strategies and skills with a focus on digital media production, media literacy and the implementation of eLearning. In this resource role, Anthony was the District eLearning Contact for the TCDSB and was the Principal of Continuing Education eClass for a number of years.

With a commitment to student learning and the love for the classroom, Anthony ventured back to the classroom where he became the Department Head of Business and ICT Studies at Chaminade College School. During his time as Department Head, Anthony was responsible for the development of a Communications Technology program enriched by experiential teaching and learning practices. From industry partnerships with Disney Canada to collaboration with film and new media academics and industry professionals, his goal was to provide students with an experience that transcended the traditional classroom space. Furthermore, while at Chaminade College School, Anthony worked with partners including design thinker Dr. Marlyn Morris to develop a culturally relevant pedagogy framework to empower students to become global citizens with a focus on efforts to address anti-Black and BIPOC racism.

With all of this, Anthony is now a Vice Principal with the Toronto Catholic District School Board and is committed to servant leadership with the goal to empower teachers and students to be leaders of change in school and beyond. Anthony is currently Vice Principal at St. Anne Catholic Academy, School of Virtual Learning. In this role he works to support nearly 30,000 FDK-12 students who are being schooled online during the global COVID-19 pandemic.

Anthony holds an Honours Diploma in Film and Television Production from Humber College, a BA in Film Studies (with Distinction) and a Bachelor of Education in Communications Technology from Brock University. Currently, Anthony is completing his Master of Education in Media Literacy at Queen’s University.

Anthony has written media / technology curriculum for Niagara University, Queen’s University, OECTA, OPHEA, Nelson Education, Catholic Curriculum Corporation and other institutions across Canada and has presented at a number of leading educational conferences including Reading for the Love of It, STAO, Connect and When Faith Meets Pedagogy.

Connect with Anthony: Email | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Anthony’s Personal Website

Film and Television Production at Humber College

Film Studies at Brock University

Media and Communication Studies at Brock University

Masters of Education at Queens University

Toronto Catholic District School Board

21st Century Learning and AICT at the Toronto Catholic District Board

Chaminade College School

St. Anne Catholic Academy, School of Virtual Learning

Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association (OECTA)

OPHEA

Nelson Education

Catholic Curriculum Corporation

Reading for the Love of It Conference

Science Teachers’ Association of Ontario (STAO)

When Faith Meets Pedagogy Conference

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):
Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s guest Anthony Perrotta is actually someone that I connected with on Twitter. And I just, I’m just coming back from taking eight months off social media. I’ve been on Twitter for a little while and we met through mutual educator connections, and I asked him if he’d come on the show. He has a very unique that led him into education and he has some very grounded, genuine perspectives and experiences that I think would be super helpful to hear about. From the onset of his early career in education, Anthony Perrota has been compelled and dedicated to knowing and empowering students in telling their stories.


Sam Demma (01:21):
With no surprise, he has a huge interest in film as well. As Vice-Principal, Anthony continues in his journey as a leader, committed to creating safe, equitable and inclusive spaces for all students. All while intentionally addressing anti-black and BIPOC racism. Anthony has a very unique again, journey into education. You’re gonna get a ton out of this interview today. I can’t wait for you to hear it, and let me know what you think. Buckle up and I will see you on the other side.


Sam Demma (01:49):
Anthony, thank you so much for coming on the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show. Why don’t you start by sharing who you are; introducing yourself, and a little bit behind what led you to the work you’re doing in education today?


Anthony Perrotta (02:03):
Well, thanks for having me, Sam. I’m not sure how high performing I am but we’ll have a good conversation I’m sure. So right now I am a Vice-Principal, a secondary school Vice-Principal with the Toronto Catholic District School Board. I’m part of the St. Anne’s Catholic Academy school of virtual learning team. This was Toronto Catholic’s response to COVID impacted pandemic learning. This is a fully virtual school, K to 12. There’s over 25,000 students, and I see your mask jump up there. And, and there’s a, you know, great team of teachers, of educational support workers, secretaries, administrators; like it really is a fulsome school in terms of how we want to serve students. And it’s you know, been really, really quite a fulfilling experience to be part of this type of I guess mechanism. I hate to say that word, but it feels like it at times because it is so big.


Anthony Perrotta (03:13):
And prior to becoming an administrator, I was a very passionate and still very passionate about education, classroom teacher. My background’s in film and so I was fortunate to have experience in film production and then transition into the world of education, where I taught communications technology, media studies, and really engaged in a unique experience where I could learn from students and then provide them opportunities to share their story. And for me, becoming a teacher was really about leaning into my experience as a documentary filmmaker, which was really the, the forte that I, that I entered upon finishing film school in the early 2000s and where some people say, well, you went to become a teacher, perhaps because you couldn’t make it in film. Well, anyone who has any experience in Canadian film knows that it’s never about money. It’s, it’s, it’s not Hollywood.


Anthony Perrotta (04:24):
Especially when you make documentary films, you really aren’t making these, these movies for personal wealth. You’re making them because you’re passionate about a particular story you want to unlearn and relearn through the narrative that you’re hoping to bring to life. And it was through a documentary that I was producing in Tanzania, where I met a group of students where my thinking around education was really, I think, reaffirm that young people have a transformational power about them and similar to yourself with your volunteer work and, and your social your social initiatives. And I wanted to be part of, I think that world really, and, and getting to know kids through more of a mature lens, stripping away assumptions of what we think, especially about teenagers and really support the empowerment of their voice. And, and that’s where my mindset was when I became a teacher and, you know, finished schooling, University, teachers college, and all those types of things.


Sam Demma (05:35):
You know, you brushed over Tanzania and you got me so curious, like how, how did that experience reaffirm this idea that, that young people have this transformational power about them? What happened in Tanzania that really shifted or, or affirmed your perspective?


Anthony Perrotta (05:50):
Yeah. Yeah. Well, let me peel it back a bit. So I went, I grew up in Niagara falls and then I went to study film at hum college in Toronto. And I was there from 1999 to 2002. And during that three year period, two of my years was working as a resident assistant counselor within the student residence. So my first year as an 18 year old going to film school, living in residence was about the party. And, you know, it was a great first year being 18, 19 years old, living away from home. My gosh, I’m surprised that I could wake up for classes some days. But then second and third year, I really became invested in the culture of the community and wanted to give back. And so I was successful in becoming a resident, assistant a counselor and living in the residence as a student, but also supporting my, my peers on my floor.


Anthony Perrotta (06:46):
And that provided me, I think, with an affirmation that yes, being part of the film industry, learning how to tell these stories, learning how to leverage technology and economics and get something made was quite compelling, but there’s something quite human and relational about working with people. And even as an RA and as a counselor, I was really invested in that experience. I was like really motivated to engage with people, to help them and, you know, learn from them. And it was quite unique and it shaped me, I think, exponentially. And so when I finished film school and I was working in the film industry in Toronto and different unique experiences, I started leaning into documentary because I found I would have more creative control. I found that my political and social sensibilities could be addressed. I was, was an am still very politically minded. And there was an opportunity to work with a Catholic organization called the missionaries of the precious blood, where they wanted to document their work in Tanzania, developing water windmills.


Anthony Perrotta (08:03):
And it was a unique partnership because they helped fund the project. I received government funding outside of that particular group, it had a formal release, so to speak and tr terms of what a documentary would be a Canadian made documentary. So at 22, it was quite a significant project for me. And what was wonderful was I made really two films. One was the one for the missionaries. And then the other was mine, which was looking at the intersectionality between water international aid and pretty much mindsets around development. And so it was quite a unique piece. And when I was there, there was a group of teenagers from Camloops BC that were there traveling with me when I was making the film. So part of my film was then sh documenting some of their stories and perspectives. And it was amazing because here I am, as this 23 year old young filmmaker with, you know, independent and government funding, I, you know, it’s quite exciting.


Anthony Perrotta (09:16):
It was at the time where film was transitioning from cell, you know, from 16 millimeter to digital, like, you know, the little mini DV cams, like the new technology was exciting. It was expensive as hell, but it was exciting. And I just found myself really invested in finding out who these kids were, who I was traveling with. And I was really just amazed that at 15, 16, they were going to give up their summers and travel halfway across the world and come together as strangers, some of them and contribute to this cause. And then I thought about who I was at 15 and 16, and my experience was definitely not going to Tanzania to develop and work on windmills. I was working at Swiss and, you know, washing dishes on the tourism strip in ARA, which are humbled roots, but it was very, very separate from social consciousness and community engagement.


Anthony Perrotta (10:15):
So I was really, really motivated by these young people and just really admired how them being there, tore away at how sometimes adults think about teenagers and what they are able to contribute. And even, you know, within the world of education, there will be so much that we celebrate around teenagers, but there’s often times where they’re trapped within some type of stereotype. So I was motivated to peel back the stereotype. And I just had a sense that the idea of filmmaking was going to change quite rapidly, that how we make films and tell films and share stories and what we perceive a film to be was changing quite rapidly. And this was before YouTube. This was before Facebook, right? This is really us just recognizing digital technology with the birth of Napster, which would’ve been when I started film school at the end of my grade 13, that wait a minute, the mechanisms of production were going to shift.


Anthony Perrotta (11:22):
So when I became a teacher finally in 2005 and started in 2005 as a full-time teacher with the Negar Catholic district school board, that was really where I was introduced to not only my students, but this whole, whole new democracy around the telling of stories that now we had YouTube, which I never had as a student, for example. Right. So now the way I tell stories and the way I share them shifted the power game. So it was just a very, you know, transformational for me in awakening. So to speak when I met these young kids and just thought to myself, you know, I could still make films, the type of films I want to make that are small scale that are very personal, very intimate. And like when I was an RA at hum college residence play a different role. And, and that’s where the film world and the teaching world converged.


Sam Demma (12:25):
So filmmaking, is that something that you still do now


Anthony Perrotta (12:29):
And oh yeah. Yeah. So there’s no separation be between me and film. Like I happen to be a secondary school vice principal, but on the weekends, you’ll find me blogging about the MCU on Disney plus, or, you know, a film, a popular film that I’ve seen on TV. For me being a filmmaker as the priority, you will allows me to be a better educator. Mm. Because it’s my film making roots that allow me to be responsive to situations. And this is not to say that I look at life in some type of hyper real existence where life is like a movie, but I have to tell you studying how to make films, having a degree in film theory, going to teachers college. I’m just finishing my masters in media literacy at Queens university, looking at how popular film or any type of film, really media literacy, if you will, is very much cultural literacy allows me to be very, very open to the people I work with and the people I year to serve.


Anthony Perrotta (13:44):
So I’m a filmmaker first because that’s how I kind of see the world around me as story that everywhere I go, there’s a story, you know, right now there’s a gentleman in the backyard of my house putting together a Barbie, I’m terrible at putting together things. My wife is way better at instructional design and organizational matters than I am. I, I, I think I might have like undiagnosed ADHD. So I just kind of am outta control sometimes in terms of my thinking pattern. So if you say put together a barbecue, I’m just like, oh my gosh, like, this is not for me. Yeah. So I there’s a gentleman in the backyard now. And before he even started putting together the barbecue, like I chatted with him for about 45 minutes. So I don’t know if he’s gonna charge me for that 45 minutes that it was part of the the hourly fee. But that’s to say, I found his story so unique. Here’s this young guy coming, you know over to the house to put together a barbecue laid off during the COVID experience has leaned into taskrabbit.ca to it has made this as permanent gig. And so for 45 minutes, I was really just wanting to find out who’s this guy who’s over the house. He might be thinking, I just wanna put together your stuff and, and get outta your,


Anthony Perrotta (15:00):
But he had, you know what I have to say, we had a really nice, good conversation. And I could tell that he was like, whoa, this guy’s actually taking the time. Speak to me. Like, he’s not just, here’s my barbecue. And here’s, you know, a sectional that I want you to put together in the backyard. It was a, you know, we had gave him an espresso, he had a coffee and we chatted. And so that’s the filmmaker side of me that I love to dive into story. Right. And that makes you a great teacher. Hopefully I don’t wanna say that. I didn’t great by any means, but the greatest teachers I’ve had are the teachers that really wanted to know who Anthony Prada was.


Sam Demma (15:40):
Mm. You just basically answered the question that was bubbling up in sad while you were speaking, which was, why is stories so important? Why is understanding people’s stories super important?


Anthony Perrotta (15:53):
So when we think about story, even as a parent, I talk a lot about this with my own kids who are 10 and seven years old. There’s a humbling of one’s self. When you engage in story, it’s when you actually say, I want to listen. I want to observe. I want to unlearn and rele. And so when we provide, especially young people, safe and inclusive places to be who they are without prejudice, without judgment, without assumptions. When we start actually rumbling with the power structure of our institutions, our classrooms, for example, where we re eyes, it’s not about, you know, Anthony Prada, the classroom teacher it’s about who are potentially the 25, the 30 students in my classroom. Are they going to be given with intentionality, not by accident, not some morning chat that we start the week with. I mean, real instructional intentionality to ensure that the curriculum that I design is responsive to who they are.


Anthony Perrotta (16:59):
Mm. So the story means everything because it speaks to then as an educator, what type of content am I going to be engaging my students in? And that’s really the hot topic today. When you think about EC, when you think about the type of material that we are engaging in the whole debate around, for example, what is perceived to be a classic to kill a Mockingbird, right? Do we need to be teaching a kill a Mockingbird? Do we need to be using that artifact as a vessel to engage in conversations about equity and race? I would argue, no, I will argue no there’s many other books written by black authors, people of color that provide a more humanized and more representationally profound discourse to engage in story who are the students that compose our classrooms. There is once a time. Very recently, I remember I would often show one particular film with a group of great 10 students.


Anthony Perrotta (18:08):
And I would show back to the future and I would scream back to the future in class, peel it back, talk about its kind it’s dangers around representation. Because when you look at back to the future, everyone celebrates it as this classic eighties film, but it’s a Reagan night artifact. It rises out of 1985, Reagan America. It’s directed by Robert Zeus. Who’s, you know, quite conservative. And the film is really there to make a pronunciation around whiteness and classism that only at the end, when Marty’s father stands up to the bully, when Marty’s father asserts himself to be an American man, does he rewrite the history? And then Marty’s family, this white wealthy unit. And when they’re wealthy, then their problems don’t exist. And the only black character we see is the mayor who we don’t really get to know until, unless he’s serving in the diner.


Anthony Perrotta (19:11):
So I was showing that film and having some conversations, but then I just recognized that the climate of my classroom was changing, that the students were, you know, perhaps not responding to that film. And I learned the value this many years ago of saying, Hey, what choice do you wanna make here? This is what we could watch. What, what, what, you know, connects to you and the students would guide the conversation. And so that’s all to say that the artifacts that we are using in class to engage in whatever type of, of experience we’re hoping to build, hopefully then allows students to be as real, if you will, as possible. So that’s why story to me matters story to me matters because it allows me to understand people. It allow me to kind of check my own biases, my own blind spots. You have to be open to that.


Anthony Perrotta (20:18):
That takes a lot of work, right? That takes a lot of work for you to be able to lean into your own vulnerability and say, yeah, you know, I need to change. Or my thinking in this way is not right. It’s potentially harmful and dangerous. And then when you’re thinking about young people, you are saying, Hey, I’m just the facilitator of this space. This space is yours. I’m here to serve you and people get rattled. When there’s this thinking around servitude in education that as a teacher, I’m here to serve you. And I’ve said that to colleagues, not as an administrator, I mean, teacher to teacher I’ve said, Hey, what’s the rigidness around assessment, or what’s the rigidness around being more culturally responsive in some of our or practices. Why are there these barriers when we’re there as public servants paid for by the ministry of education?


Anthony Perrotta (21:18):
Yeah. With taxpayers dollars, we are there to be in service to the child in front of us. And that child in front of us is perhaps the one thing that somebody else loves more than anything in the world. And I have the privilege to be in that shared space for 72 or 75 minutes a day. And it’s going to be about me. It can’t be when I send my own children to their Catholic elementary school, I’m sending to that school. The two things that I care about the most in the world. And I would hope when they’re there, they’re teachers who are fantastic. And I say this with utmost confidence, they respond to them in elementary school. Teachers, I think tend to do this more naturally with my, with my bias because they’re with students all year round from September to June, got it. In high school.


Anthony Perrotta (22:18):
We tend when we’re teaching to be so content driven. I’m in math. I need to get through the curriculum. I’m in comp tech. I need to get through the curriculum. I’m in geography. I need to get through the curriculum. And then the big daddy of them all, I have to prepare these students for post-secondary. Mm. Right? If I showed you Anthony Prada, transcripts from kindergarten, all the way to grade 13, it would seem as if nobody was preparing me for university. But Hey, at this point, come fall. When I finish my masters, I’ll have a college diploma, two university degrees in a master of education, not bad for someone who other people may have felt was falling through the cracks from K to grade 13. So that’s just to say that the experience of schooling has to really be about not the educator. What about the kids, student centric, student centric, and your work. When you talk about student servant leadership, that’s what it’s about. Mm it’s about saying, how am I going to help you? What is my time here really about? And unfortunately, if in the world of education within the classroom, there can exist a great ego. And sometimes the ego that exists is that of the teacher. It’s my space. It’s my I’m giving you a test. I’m giving you a quiz. Well, within that space, then where does the student fit? Is the student just a vessel to meet the, the end game that you’ve prescribed?


Anthony Perrotta (24:02):
Right? It it’s, these are challenging ideas. And this is not to say that teachers aren’t doing wonderful work. Oh my gosh. I know so many wonderful teachers. Okay. I, I I’ll, I will never say I ran into, or I’ve worked with a teacher that I don’t believe in because the potential that is exponential, the work I’ve witnessed is fantastic. It’s transformational. However, there are time where we have to ask some real critical questions about our lesson design, about our assessment strategies. Are we really there about the students now in that too comes another tough, tough one, especially when you think about high school. And we say, well, I’m preparing students for university or college. That one there kind of always gets me a little bit worked up in terms of having a good conversation, because if you’ve been an educator who’s been far removed from university or college, then how do you know what works?


Sam Demma (25:07):
Hmm.


Anthony Perrotta (25:09):
Why are we, you know, working within a prescribed near of preparing students for university and college, when act, and when in actuality, the college and university in the post-secondary world is evolving and it’s transforming that their, their game is starting to change Yet. We say, you know, I’m, I’m still working. I need to, I can’t make this change for example, because I have to fit this curriculum piece in because of college or university. I don’t know. I’ve never seen an Ontario piece of curriculum that actually states check mark, I’m prepared child, a child for college or university. I’ve never seen it.


Sam Demma (25:51):
And who’s to say that, you know, every single student in that classroom, that’s what they wanna be prepared for


Anthony Perrotta (25:58):
Ex exactly. Right. And if I look at myself as an example, my experience was not a positive one when it came to content. Mm. I didn’t really connect with material, especially in high school, other than in my art in media classes. Cause I was really, you know, very early on, very, very much grounded in where can I tell story? Where can I have control of the mechanisms of storytelling? And so visual arts media classes really spoke to my sensibilities. I knew enough to play the game of schooling. I was respectful. I would get my CS and maybe a couple of bees here and there. I knew enough that, of course I wasn’t going to flunk out by any measures. Okay. But content, the content wasn’t speaking to me and what really spoke to me more was learning about process. And luckily how having really good teachers in unique courses that allowed me opportunities to be resilient, to construct new knowledge on my own, to be curious.


Anthony Perrotta (27:17):
And when we think about education today and what’s called 21st century learning, or are learning that as grounded in global competencies, we think about the critical thinking. We think about the collaborators. We think about skilled communication, for example, using digital multimodal medias to show what students know, we’re talking about a lot of the things that make filmmaking so exciting to me. And then when that student arrives to their post-secondary space, wherever that is, they will be able to thrive. And, and I’m, you know, I’m kind of proof of that because when I went to film school, probably teachers that said goodbye to me in June of 1999, when I graduated, they probably never thought that I’d be showing up in 2005 as a colleague teaching in that same high school as my first full-time job. And you know, what I gained outside of content was what was really invaluable.


Anthony Perrotta (28:25):
It was all about the pro us. And so when we can provide students with the freedom to make mistakes, to grow, when we provide classroom cultures where we’re committed to feedback, ongoing feedback, so a student can rework and be committed to mastery when we provide these opportunities, what we’re also providing our unique spaces to get to know the students. Mm. And the type of feedback I give to student a, in student E is going to be perhaps quite different. The way they respond to that feedback is going to be quite different. And so within that difference, our unique stories. Mm. And that was what excites me when I was as an educator, when I was in the classroom. And as an administrator, that’s what excites me when it comes to helping students and their families get through pro perhaps difficult times or supporting students, you know, to go to the next level, it’s the opportunity to pause and ask myself, how can I help you? And before I can even help, I need to get to know you.


Sam Demma (29:44):
Yeah. Ah, that’s so powerful. I love that. And you, you know, at the beginning of this interview, you mentioned this idea that the school you’re at now is so large, you know, sometimes it feels mechanical or like a mechanism because of how big it is. Can you tell me more about what the school looks like? It’s, I’m assuming it it’s a fully virtual school.


Anthony Perrotta (30:02):
It’s a fully virtual school from K to 12. Got it. Over 25,000 students. And again, in response to, COVID a fantastic team at all levels, like really transformational, really doing something at a scale that was never done before. Yeah. And I can only speak for myself, but the main difference is when you’re in a building as an administrator and you believe like I did having my door open and being in the hallways very rarely when I was in a school as an administrator. And it was only a short time that I wasn’t an administrator in a school because then COVID hit. And I, and I made a transition to the virtual. I was in the hallways all the time cuz that’s where the action was. That’s where the students were. That’s where you get a sense of what’s happening. And when you’re in your school and you’re responsible to a particular community and you’re serving that community, you get to know that community.


Anthony Perrotta (30:57):
That’s the big difference between being in such a, when I said mechanical is I’m reaching sometimes to students who I don’t really know them. So the conversations perhaps don’t have the nuance that I would have with a student in my homeschool, in a physical building. Got it. But that just means that some of the conversations I have within the virtual space, they take a little bit longer that, you know, I take my time and I, and I, and I allow the conversation room. So if a parent wants to share a piece of their story in terms of why something is happening, for example, they have that safe place to do so. And I will say, I talk on the phone a lot throughout the day. And some of the conversations are longer than they perhaps need to be in terms of the more technical piece that I’m trying to solve.


Anthony Perrotta (31:52):
But if I call a parent and that parent perhaps senses in my voice or in my approach that this is a safe place to chat, maybe they just need the chat. And there’s been many times where I must have gotten a parent or even a student on a day where they felt maybe alone and unheard and they just needed to have someone listen. And that’s really the most exciting part of being an administrator is that you get the privilege to listen to all, all of these unique stories. And it’s not about me. These are, you know, these are opportunities that are free of bias of prejudice because I recognize really now fully mature in my 15 years of teaching, that I’ve been blessed with so much growing up, I’ve been blessed with the privilege of schooling. I’ve been blessed with a wonderful wife with wonderful children that there’s been so much privilege in my existence that it’s not for me to pass judgment on anyone else. Mm. Because my world is going to differ greatly than some of the worlds in which I’m trying to navigate with students and their families.


Sam Demma (33:16):
I love that. I got it. That’s a, that’s a great point. And 25,000 students, that’s like a, that’s like a university. You’re like a huge campus. Yeah,


Anthony Perrotta (33:30):
It’s massive, man. It’s massive. And there’s so many administrators. We have a wonderful lead principal, Joe Russo. Who’s at the helm like really great, great family, man, there’s job, a great team of administrators, elementary and secondary superintendents. But really it comes down to the teachers, the support workers, everyone who is in that trench with the child, so to speak, I hate to use that metaphor of the trench. Right. but in that playground then if you will, of the classroom, the digital classroom,


Sam Demma (34:01):
I get that makes sense.


Anthony Perrotta (34:02):
Thinking I lost you there a little bit. But it’s a, it’s a huge mechanism. Oh, can you hear me?


Sam Demma (34:11):
Yes.


Anthony Perrotta (34:13):
Can you hear me?


Sam Demma (34:14):
Yep.


Anthony Perrotta (34:15):
I can’t hear you.


Anthony Perrotta (34:19):
There you go. Now I can hear you. Okay.


Anthony Perrotta (34:22):
So when it goes, when it comes to the a virtual school, you know, it’s been a transformational experience in, in, so the Toronto Catholic school board has reasons to be proud in, in so many ways because it really is this collective effort coming together to support students in a time that none of us thought we would ever encounter, I, or thought that I would encounter in my educational career, let alone my life, something at this scale. And I think if you look at it through an objective point of view, it really is about recognizing that each student that we serve, each family is unique. So we want there to be the most holistic experience possible. That’s not to say that it’s not imperfect. It is by, you know, everything we’re we’re human beings. So none of us are, are perfect. Right. But the intentions are sound in regards to the work that I’m doing now with the virtual school and in regards to COVID teen and pandemic learning, I think we’re all in education going to really need to pause and reconfigure what teaching and learning really means.


Anthony Perrotta (35:38):
And you talked to me earlier about servant leadership, and I think we’re going to have to do a lot more around that and continue the good work we’re doing, because what COVID has shown us is it’s not about content. It’s not about tests and it’s not about quizzes. It really is out that relational human leadership that is needed. And I see it with the wonderful teachers that work with my son and daughter, they know how to gauge the kids. They know when it’s time to put away the work. And more importantly, they’ve created safe places for them. They go to school mask on happy. They don’t like when they’re put in quarantine or when they’re on lockdown, they wanna be in those spaces. Why not? Because of just the fact that they like to learn. They have my wife’s side. They are very much self-directed learners and, and, and love schooling.


Anthony Perrotta (36:37):
They do their homework. They’re excited about that type of stuff. I was excited about schooling because of the social side. I was never the tiny rule doing his homework. Yeah. but they love all aspects of, of schooling. And I think any educator that puts kids first truly first, like who is that child in front me and how can I best empower them to be the very best that they can be? And as a Catholic educator, what drives me is how can I support this student in being what God intends them to be, whatever that is. Am I providing the safe place for that? I always thought that as a teacher and imperfect, you know, there’d be times, you know, and if I had my students here, many of them would tell you, this is, you know, we’re a production classroom. Yeah. So we would produce movies.


Anthony Perrotta (37:39):
We had a end of year showcase. Every school I taught at was driven by this end of year, bigger than life showcase. And for the last six years, when I taught at an all boys school SHA not college school, the end of year showcase was happening at Yorkdale silver city. One of the biggest multiplexes in the city of Toronto and the whole year was guided towards the end of may, when all of our short films, digital movie posters, graphic media would be on display, not only projected on the big screen, but taking over the concession area. And it would be our end of your showcase on the most Grandes of scales, we had filmmakers who were partners. We were doing work with Disney Canada. We would have video with academics, with filmmakers. I mean like major Hollywood filmmakers. We would go see Steven Spielberg movie and then have a Skype with the screenwriter of that Steven Spielberg movie.


Anthony Perrotta (38:31):
Everything was exponential to the max, which was quite exciting as somebody who just loves that world. But within that space, there could be a lot of imperfection. I could lose my cool, I could pass judgment without perhaps thinking I could lose my patience. And one of the things I pride pride myself on, even as a parent, is my ability to apologize. And I would apologize to the students if there was a morning where we weren’t meeting the demands of production and, you know, I forgot where I was and maybe became impatient, right. And raised my voice, or maybe made someone feel unwelcome. Right. We’re all IM perfect. What mattered next was, do I respect that human being in a way that will make them feel welcomed and right. That will make them feel and know that I value them. And that would only happen with, Hey class yesterday. I lost my cool on Sam. That wasn’t cool of me. I apologize.


Sam Demma (39:38):
Mm.


Anthony Perrotta (39:39):
Right. Sam matters, Sam, I’m sorry, buddy. Right. I didn’t really have many high school teachers who would do that.


Sam Demma (39:46):
Yeah.


Anthony Perrotta (39:48):
And I would do that because I respected the kids, their stories, their uniqueness. So very much the first two of admit that I’m imperfect, but I will do the work to try to limit how many times that imperfections taint my journey.


Sam Demma (40:07):
I love that. That’s it’s, it’s, it’s so important I think, to own up to MI to mistakes or imperfections and we all have them. So it’s a great reminder, even for everyone listening, because it, I’m sure we could all, you know, point fingers at ourselves at those moments. But like, you’re right. What what’s important is that we, we acknowledge them and we bring them to light and apologize and make up for them. Right.


Anthony Perrotta (40:31):
Yeah. And you know, and I, no, I believe that even as a parent, you know, I, there’s been many times where, and what I love about Mike kids. They’re very, very, very self efficient as a 10 and 70 year old. And their self advocacy is like through the, through the, through the roofs, like level four, they will stand up for themselves. And that’s very much something. My wife and I have instilled in them. And that’s very much my extroverted personality where I will stand for what I believe in. I was the person in staff rooms that would say, Hey, you know, that’s perhaps not the conversation to have here. I’ve been in really courageous conversations in staff meetings where, you know, I would stand up and say, Hey, right, have we thought about this? Have we thought about this? Is it us? Are we not doing the job?


Anthony Perrotta (41:22):
And that can make people kind of uncomfortable, but that self advocacy or that willingness to engage in courageous dialogue is something I believe in and something I try to instill in my own children. So as a parent, if I discipline and let’s say, I raise my voice to my son, for example, he has no problem saying, Hey, this doesn’t make sense. Why are you raising your voice at me? Why am I being penalized when this, and this happened? And at 70 years old, old, he’ll say it. And he’s not saying it to be rude. He’s not talking back. He’s sharing what’s on his mind. And you know, I grew up first generation immigrant. My parents are Italian fresh off the boat and we didn’t talk back to our parents. Right. We didn’t as a child, I didn’t say to my dad, oh, by the way, I think you’re understanding of the, this this, this consequence is unfiting like, you’d be like, are you kidding me?


Anthony Perrotta (42:18):
Like it would be nuclear apocalypse. You know, we parent differently. And there’s been many times when I’ve said to my own children, Hey, you know what, sorry, I lost my temper there. Or you know what you were right. Right. I jumped to conclusions that didn’t happen the way it did, you know, let’s talk it out. And I think that shows my kids, hopefully that I actually do value, right. Their perspective and their sense of self worth. And that’s something I think we have to model in, in our everyday encounters with young people, the kids that are sent to us, right? These are not. So imagine the great responsibility we have when another parent or caring adults, guardian grandparents sends you this human being. It’s a huge responsibility. So we have to really ensure to check our ego out the door as much as we can.


Sam Demma (43:13):
I love it. And I think when you have those crazy conversations and you allow the other party, whether it’s a young person or, you know, any human being to, to give you feedback in any way, shape or form, it also shows in that there’s a safe space and that, you know, their opinion and voice matters. As much as it might be uncomfortable for you to hear it, you know, as it is for most of us to hear feedback that we don’t, you know want to hear at certain times, but that’s arguably when we need it most Anthony, this has been a great conversation. We talked about so many different things. Thank you so much for taking the time to do this.


Anthony Perrotta (43:49):
No, no problem. I hope by, you know, made sense to some of the ideas that I shared. I think to summarize who I am as an educator, and I’m still growing, I’m still growing really is shaped. Believe it or not by all of that film work. Hmm. You know, the two worlds are not disconnected. There’s a transcendence between the two, there’s an interconnectivity between to, and my mindset around teaching and learning. I don’t think it would be there without studying film production, knowing how to mobilize and tell the story and then sharing that with kids. I don’t think I would be where I am in terms of education and being an educator without living in a college dorm and being a counselor. I, I don’t think that the type of films I was working to tell and documentary, which were really community minded, really about being responsive to other people’s stories. Without those, I, I don’t think I’d be as open to making sure that my classroom wasn’t about me. And that’s really, for me, the end game about teaching and learning that it is not about me. It’s not about any type of prescribed rendering. I may have. It really needs to be responsive to who the student is, their families. And if that means I have to do a lot of unlearning, then that’s what I need to do. That’s what I’m called to do.


Sam Demma (45:32):
I love it. The, the student-centric like, that’s the main take. That’s my main takeaway, listening to this, you know, the students be the center of everything we do,


Anthony Perrotta (45:40):
It’s student, student students. And you know, that is could be complicated at times, especially when you’re working with adults. Right? Yeah. And I just live every day, whether I was a classroom teacher. And now as a vice principal, I’m still a teacher. I still see myself as a teacher, even though the roles are different. Yeah. Every day that I’m working, it really is what’s best for students. Got it. And that’s the guiding, that’s the guiding compass.


Sam Demma (46:09):
I love it. And if someone is listening to this and is inspired and just wants to have a conversation to dive deeper in some of your own philosophies and maybe exchange a, you know, a nice conversation, what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you?


Anthony Perrotta (46:23):
They could reach me on Twitter. I, I love using Twitter as a professional learning network, so many wonderful educators. So anyone who would like to chat and, you know, have a good dialogue about education and what teaching and learning is now and what is potentially going to need to be, please reach out. This is all part of the learning. There’s no right or wrong concept or thinking. It’s all about that shared experience of having a good dialogue. So yeah, look forward to it.


Sam Demma (46:49):
Awesome. Anthony, thank you so much. And keep up the great work.


Anthony Perrotta (46:52):
Thank you, buddy. Thanks so much.


Sam Demma (46:54):
And there you have it. Another amazing guest, an amazing interview on the High Performing Educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review so other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show; f you want meet the guest on today’s episode, if you wanna meet any of the guests that we have interviewed, consider going to www.highperformingeducator.com and signing up to join the exclusive network, you’ll have access to networking events throughout 2021 and other special opportunities. And I promise I will not fill your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

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