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Jason Schilling – President of the Alberta Teachers Association

Jason Schilling – President of the Alberta Teachers Association
About Jason Schilling

Jason Schilling (@schill_dawg) was elected president in 2019 following two years of service as vice-president and more than eight years of service as district representative for South West. Prior to his election as President of the ATA, Schilling taught English and drama teacher at Kate Andrews High School, in Coaldale, where he worked for 17 years.

Schilling is a proud graduate of the University of Lethbridge. Schilling’s assignments as president include chairing the CTF (Canadian Teachers’ Federation) Committee, serving
as a member of the Strategic Planning Group and the Teacher Salary Qualifications Board, and acting as Provincial Executive Council liaison to the English Language Arts Council. He also represents the Association on the CTF Board of Directors.

Connect with Jason: Email | Instagram | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Alberta Teachers’ Association (ATA)

English Language Arts Council at the ATA

Kate Andrews High School School Website

Drama at the University of Lethbridge

Canadian Teachers’ Federation (CTF)

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 interview with Jason Schilling. He was the elected President in 2019 for the Alberta Teachers Association, following two years of service as vice president, and more than eight years of service as district representative for Southwest. Prior to his election as president of the ATA, Schilling taught english and drama at Kate Andrews High School in Coaldale, where he worked for 17 years. Schilling is a proud graduate at the University of Lethbridge, and his assignments as president include chairing the Canadian Teachers Federation Committee, serving as a member of the strategic planning group and the teachers salary qualifications, board, and acting as provincial executive council liaison to the english language arts council.


Sam Demma (01:27):
Ah, that’s a lot of words. He also represents the association on the CDF board of directors. All that aside, Jason is an awesome human being with a lot of wisdom to share. I hope you enjoy today’s episode and take something valuable away from it. I’ll see you on the other side, enjoy. Jason, welcome to the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show today. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit behind why you’re so passionate about the work you do in education?


Jason Schilling (01:56):
Well, thanks Sam for having me in it. I really appreciate the opportunity to be here and have a conversation with you today about the things that I love, which is education and teaching, and I’ve always found teaching to be a joy. It’s one of the things that has been a great fit for me as a profession because I, I love working with children. I love working with students and helping them in the capacity of helping them grow and learn. I teach english and drama. Those are my two main areas. I am a drama major actually, but you can’t always find a drama job so you end up teaching other things as well. But I fell into English because there’s a, there’s the way those two really marry together quite nicely and, and things like that as well.


Jason Schilling (02:38):
From the Lethbridge area, I taught around Lethbridge my entire career and it’s started off in a small school in Vulcan teaching junior high and then worked my way up into high school. Then I switched to where I was teaching before I became President at Kate Andrews in Coaldale. And when I became president of the association, I had to go on leave from my teaching job and relocate to Edmonton in order to do this work and I knew that was a factor that I’d have to do in my life, but the day that I had to leave my school was one of the hardest days of my career because I, I built these relationships up with students and colleagues and the community over 17 years; and so then when I left, it was, it was pretty hard. And I miss teaching every day, but it’s also a really good reminder of why I do the work that I do now as association President.


Sam Demma (03:30):
I love that. And if you take me back to, you know, younger Jason, not that you’re old or anything, but like, you know, Jason right before St. Art in your career as a teacher how did you know that that was the path for you? Was there educators in your life that directed you down that path because they thought you had those associated characteristics and skills or from a young age, did you just know, you know, this is what I wanna do. Like, you know, gimme more context on how you landed in this profession.


Jason Schilling (03:59):
No, that’s a great question. When I was in junior high, you know, I was that typical kind of socially awkward little weird kind of kid in junior high, right? Yeah. And so I had this really great language arts drama teacher in grade seven. And I just always thought in my mind during that point, this would be all right. That would be a cool job, you know, and, you know, she was really great. And she, she worked with us really well and I felt it was one of the first times I remember in school feeling like somebody saw me. Right. Mm. And, and, you know, I had great teachers all through school, but this was a, you know, this, I was just something about this teacher that really kind of, kind of hit that mark. And that’s always in the back of my mind, but it was interesting when I went to university, I was a marketing major.


Jason Schilling (04:47):
I was going to get into advertising. That was my, my initial plan. And I remember, you know, university left bridges where I got my undergrad degree. It’s a liberal arts university. So you have to take all of these other subjects within the list requirements as they like to detail of them. So I ended up taking drama, which I never taken drama before. I was too shy. I was too chicken to do it as a junior high kid, no way would that ever happen. And I just remember my prop, I had there just said to me, he goes, this economics marketing thing that you’re doing, doesn’t sit you on you. Well, it doesn’t fit you, you well. And the drama class was just super easy. And then he, he tapped me on the shoulder to be in the main stage production at the university.


Jason Schilling (05:29):
And just from there, I, I changed my major. I got into drama education because it was a way to to take sort of the things that I, I really enjoyed working on. I think students really grow through the fine arts courses especially in drama. I’ve been able to, to work with students who are super shy and awkward. Like I was as a, you know, junior high kid and put them into a, a, a play where they just shine and they come out of their shell and they, and you see this growth and it’s phenomenal. And, and you kind of learn that through university when you’re working on that with students. And it just sort of came from there. And once I got into that sort of drama education part in university it changed the whole dynamics of going to university. It was suddenly became much easier. It was a joy to be there. The work was hard and the hours were long, but I didn’t mind doing it because it was, I was doing something that I love. And I, I’m very fortunate that I had on people who kind of pushed me in that direction to, to do that because you know, I, you know, some days are hard, but it’s what you love. And so you just keep doing it. So it’s great.


Sam Demma (06:32):
You, you mentioned that the day you left your school to move into the, you know, this president role of this association was one of the toughest days of your life. But that reminds you now why the work you’re doing is so important. What do you mean by that? Tell me more about the work you do now and how it relates to education and why you think it’s so important.


Jason Schilling (06:52):
Well, part of my role as, as association president is that the ATA you is you know, part of our mandate is to promote an advanced public education in Alberta. Nice. And I’ve just seen the benefits of public education for my students myself you know, I’ve gone to public school. All my university degrees are from pub arcade or from public universities in Alberta. I just know the benefits of public education and we need to fight for it because I always believe, and I’ve, I’ve said this a few times in other places as well. I think you, you fight for what you value and what you believe in. Hmm. And that’s why this role is important to me, it’s challenging. There’s some good, like everybody else, there’s some good days in there some bad days. But I carry with me, you know, that it experience of my, my teaching career. And I’ll end up probably going back to teaching once I’m done with this role as well with my colleagues and my students, and just knowing that education’s important to them as well, because they value it and they believe it as well. And I took a bunch of my mentors that I had in my classroom that I have collected over the years, and I have them in my office in Edmonton, because they’re just there as a visual reminder as well of the reason why we’re doing the work that we’re doing


Sam Demma (08:07):
Beautiful. And COVID 19 introduced some interesting challenges not only in, you know, every school, but I’m, I’m assuming also in the association and everywhere could the world, what are some of the challenges that have, that have come up and how have you and your team trying to tried to address them and overcome them?


Jason Schilling (08:28):
Well, definitely. And it’s been, it’s been a huge challenge and a difficult year for teachers and even staff working at the association because every way that we’ve normally have done things has changed and has been altered. And the things that we thought would be temporary have become sort of these permanent mainstays in our lives right now. And, you know, we still have lots of pandemic ahead of us. And so we’ll still be doing these things for, for months to come, even though vaccinations are coming, but we’re still seeing an increase in, you know, variance and other things around that as well for teachers, they literally had to change how they were interacting with their students overnight when classes were canceled last March. And they did a phenomenal job. Some days weren’t great. Some things worked, some things didn’t work. It was hard to connect with all of our students because one of the things I think the, the pandemic EC has done as well is highlighted the inequalities that we have within our system.


Jason Schilling (09:19):
Not every student has access to technology, not every student is able to you know, connect at home because they might be sharing a computer with their parents and their siblings, or, or just a multitude of things that came up, you know, poverty, income, security, all sorts of came up with this as well. And so that was a lot, a big challenge for us to manage at that time and still to do that at this point, as well as trying to deal with health protocols and now, you know, close it or schools that might have to close because they have a COVID case and moving everybody online, then coming back in for myself as a, you know, president, I usually tens of thousands of kilometers a year. Yeah. And so it’s it’s a little bit of isolating in that fact that a lot of my work has done sort of how we’re talking today through zoom. But you know, it’s, it, you just keep doing it, you just get up and you keep working to make sure that you’re connecting and engaging with members and being able to hear what they’re saying in terms of their experience, and then turning around and advocating for them down the road with you know, ministry staff and such.


Sam Demma (10:23):
And I also believe that every adversity challenge, you know, also plant there’s a seed somewhere planted of an opportunity within that adversity year challenge. And, you know, one of them is to create more, you know, equitable school. I’m curious to know what are some of the opportunities that you’re seeing as well, or the shifts that you’re seeing that you think are great and are good to be having in conversations that are happening within schools and within the association?


Jason Schilling (10:51):
Well, I know through the last little part in March and June, where teachers were working online, a lot of collabo between teachers in terms of making, you know, talking to one another and their school leaders or principals about connecting with kids and connecting with parents and making sure that lessons were being delivered. And it really started to spark a conversation towards the end of the school year about assessment and what are we assessing in school and what are the things that we need to be assessing in what’s a priority and what’s important. And those are really good conversations to have, because teaching it to me is always reflective, look back at what you’re doing, where you’re going with with things like that. And then to analyze that. So the, the conversation around assessment has been a really good one. Like, do we need to have diploma exams and provincial achievement tests?


Jason Schilling (11:37):
Like, are they capturing what students are truly learning? And we know that they don’t. And so to keep those things going forward is important. And it’s also really highlighted, I think the importance of relationships, we know that relationships are key when it comes to teaching with students, with each your colleagues in the building with their parents in the community that really highlighted that over this last year. You know, I talked to teachers who they don’t like having to go online because they want to be in the room with their students face to face, even though they’re wearing a mask and have to do, try to do social distancing as best as they can. They still want to be in that space with their students, working with them in that capacity, because trying to connect with people is really difficult through a screen.


Jason Schilling (12:20):
And for a variety of reasons you know, some kids might not turn on their cameras and and things like that. So that makes it even harder. And we also kind of learned, you know, the inequities that we have with some of our students and that we have a greater need in terms of society to address those things such as poverty even connected to the wifi is one of them. And of course, I think one of the biggest conversations that we’ve been having and still need to have in the future will be around mental health and supports around mental health as well.


Sam Demma (12:52):
I love that. And you, and we’re living in a time where students bedrooms have been transformed into the classroom, and some students are rolling outta bed and turning on their, you know, computer to join class. And it’s just as stressful and difficult for the teachers sometimes. And I would even assume yourself, like, I, I’m not sure if you’re, you’re doing this interview from an office or for, you know, from a place in your home, right. You have beautiful pictures behind you and it looks great which is awesome. You have a nice microphone, which is great. But how do you balance that work in life when they’re both? So, you know, closely intertwined personally? I just, just a very curious, personal question.


Jason Schilling (13:27):
No, it’s, it’s, it’s a really a great question because I’m actually, yeah, I am talking to you today, actually from my apartment in, in Edmonton. So I I’m working from home today because I’ve had that, that luxury being able to do that, but I do go to the office quite a bit as well, just to find that balance and that normality in life, I think COVID is really altered a lot of the normals that we, we normal. We, I’m gonna keep saying normal over and over again. Yeah. It’s gonna alter, it’s all altered the way that we’ve done our lives professionally and personally. And so I do go to the office just because some days it’s easier to, to do that, the work that I need to get done that day there, but also it allows me periodically to see other human beings.


Jason Schilling (14:10):
Right. So I might, you know, I try to time things sometimes with my assistant, because maybe there’s some, some documents I need to sign, or we need to talk about some things that are in the, the plans and works like that. So we try to, to focus that as well, or if we have a big media event such as the curriculum was just released here on Monday some of the com the communications people might come into the office as well. And, and then we’re able to do that work together because it’s easier that way. So finding that balance is it’s hard it’s because when you’re working from home and I’m not sure about your situation, Sam working from home, your work is just sitting on the kitchen table. Yep. Right. And it’s always there. And so you just end up working longer and, and, and things like that. And it’s, it’s important to find balance and to, to, you know, get outside and, and do the things that you can in a safe manner that are, are protecting yourself and others.


Sam Demma (14:59):
It brings, it brings the conversation back to that topic of mental health, right. Addressing student mental health, but also staff and human, mental health, the whole, the whole world should be addressing that. What do you, you think is important around, you know, addressing mental health in the next couple of years? Like, what do you envision or think should be happening more in schools to support that in relation to students and staff?


Jason Schilling (15:22):
Well, that’s a great question. And I think it’s a great question that a lot of us need to have conversations with our elected officials about because you know, I’ve, I’ve insane that I don’t think anybody is untouched by the effects of the pandemic. Some will feel it differently than others and that’s just human nature. That’s the way that we are. But I think one of the things, you know, coming from a small rural school is you, we would only have a counselor in our building maybe one day a week. Right. But the, the the effects of the pandemic make, or the mental health needs of our students, they come to school every day. And so we need more support that way in terms of having counselors in buildings working with students helping staff as well in terms of the support that they have.


Jason Schilling (16:05):
I mean, staff are able to access health benefits if they have them substitute teachers don’t necessarily have those support, but other staff do, and to make sure that they’re, they’re taking care of themselves and getting over the stigma of taking care of your mental health as part of your health, I’ve always been saying to teachers through this whole time, and I, I’m a victim of it myself, you know, it’s okay not to be okay. And it’s okay to have bad. I have them too, but just work and, and, and chat with people and try to support that and, and making sure that you’re taking care of yourself. That’s key. And we also need to make sure that you know, government is providing those means of support for that and making it a priority as we move forward.


Sam Demma (16:50):
I agree. And I’ve experimented with some like, different things like meditation, and, you know, there’s stigma along with that too. Right. Like, you know, just talking about mental health is, is it shouldn’t be, but it, you know, historically has been a touchy topic. But you tell someone, oh, I’m meditating. And you know, my friend’s like, what are you a monk? I’m like, no, what are you talking about? Like, this is something that I do to quiet my thoughts, quiet my mind, and start my day off on the right foot. And I think it’s so important to normalize those things in schools. Like I, I don’t know. Do you think in the next couple years, wellness will be like a, you know, something that’s very implemented in schools and social, emotional learning.


Jason Schilling (17:29):
Yeah. I think we need to make the idea of wellness as, as normalized as part possible that these are just the things that I do, whether you meditate, I run, right. And so you know, I get out there and I strap my shoes on and I, there’s not a, I say, there’s not a, there’s not a problem. I can’t solve on a good 10 mile run. Nice. And and things like that as well. And I’ve actually even said to students in the past, you know, I could have marked these assignments, but I went for run instead. Just because I’m going to be a much happier teacher for you today because I went for a run yesterday and I’ve actually had students in the past. Sometimes that we’ve, if I’m might be having a particularly cranky day, they’ll like, could you go for a run today when you’re done school?


Jason Schilling (18:12):
And, and then maybe when you come back tomorrow, you might be a little bit more pleasant and I’m like, duly note it. So, I mean, we all have those things in there that we, it just, we have to make this an ingrained part of our life and know that wellness is important for us in all aspects of our lives. And the pandemic is really showing that as well, because it’s really highlighted the things that we’re missing from our lives, maybe in terms of personal relationships and our professional relationships, and then trying to find a way to rectify that so that we can just be better or happier as we move down the road.


Sam Demma (18:45):
I agree. I totally agree. And, you know, we, we mentioned relationships earlier and how, you know, that’s one of the things that you noticed, you know, as a, something that’s super important that came up during COVID 19 and maintaining relationships how do you think we continue building relationships virtually? Is it by just, you know, phone calls and checking in with the teachers and, you know, having them check in with their students, like, yeah. How do you think we build those relationships?


Jason Schilling (19:11):
Well, ideally, I mean, in person is always gonna be better. Yeah. I mean, we, we do have these virtual things and there’s ways to, to stay connected with that. I don’t know you know, I talk to a lot of my colleagues and, you know, my friends and family I’ll do the zoom thing, but periodically I just like to pick up a phone yeah. And just call somebody. So instead of, you know, I always say if my email chain gets more than five, I’m phoning that person just to talk to them about it because after a point you just lose that. And so it’s hard and it’s not ideal, but you just do the things that you can do. And I know Christmas holidays was difficult for a lot of people and I didn’t have the chance to spend it with my family for the first time in a long time. And so we, we still managed to have Christmas dinner. We just did it by FaceTime. And we were kind of weird at first, but then at the end it was, it wasn’t bad. It was okay actually. And it wasn’t, it wasn’t too bad. And, you know, when it came dishes time, you could just, instead of having to do them, just click end then,


Sam Demma (20:09):
And then you put on your shoes and went for a,


Jason Schilling (20:12):
Yeah. I’m not sure it’s Christmas time. It was kind of cold, but I don’t know if I would,


Sam Demma (20:17):
So, yeah, that’s awesome. That’s amazing. And you know, if you could give advice, there’s educators listening to this right now who maybe burnt out right now, who may also, you know, couldn’t see their family for Christmas, who, who have been question whether or not the work they’re doing is making a difference. And, you know, they may even be thinking about, you know, leaving or quitting. You know, what advice could you share as someone who knows how important education is and educators are on the lives of our youth? What advice could you share that might be helpful? You know, imagine you were talking to a friend of yours, who’s a teacher.


Jason Schilling (20:50):
Well, and I have these conversations with teachers all the time over this last year about feeling overwhelmed or burned out by the requirements and, and things like that, of what they have to do, or working with the health protocols or carrying the stress of, you know, trying to keep a class of the 30 kids safe through the course of the year so that they don’t get ill. Is that time it’s okay to, to step back a little bit from the pressures and it’s okay to say no to some things, and I’m, I’m not, I’m not doing that. Or I’m not running book club this year. If I was at school, actually in the classroom right now, there would be no way I’d be doing a drama production this year. Just on top of everything else that needs to be done. It’s okay to take a break from that stuff.


Jason Schilling (21:33):
It’s also, I would just say, you know, talking to people we sometimes get stuck in our heads over things, or we, we, we see a lot of negativity maybe within social media, stuff like that. And, and it’s hard to put that down but to put it to, to try to find ways to support mental health and, and things like that as well. And also talking with your colleagues, because if you might be struggling with some aspect on something, they might be as well. And just finding ways teachers work very well collaboratively. And so finding that space in that time, I was really appreciative of this last year. We had a couple school boards in the fall, actually changed a couple of their PD days into just wellness days and just gave everybody the day off. And it was around the remembrance day weekend.


Jason Schilling (22:18):
And I thought that was a really good approach. Not saying, okay, well, kids, you have the day off teachers, you have to do all this extra work. And they just said, no, here’s the day off. And so I think that’s important for employers as well to, to look at what’s happening and saying, okay, we need breaks. Let’s not try to cram everything in cuz this year’s not normal. And I’ve always cautioned people from normalizing this year. Nothing about this year is normal. Nothing about the way that you’re teaching is normal. And it’s okay if you don’t get to everything because a resilient I’ve, you know, I’ve taught for English 20, 30 for 20 years. I know what I need to do in the curriculum as a professional to make sure that my students are reaching the outcomes that they need to have in order to move on to the next grade, teachers are professionals and they’ll do that. And so it just, you know, having that conversation with them and saying, you know, it’s all right, it’s, we’re all in the same boat together. And, and to just reach out that way. So


Sam Demma (23:13):
I love that I was talking to another educator the other day and, you know, we were, you know, talking about the situation, but trying to make it a little more lighthearted by like laughing about some things. And she said, you know, we’re all in the same boat and the boat’s the Titanic. I was like, relax. Like I, I know I totally get it. And you know, like yourself, I’ve had lots of conversations on this with this project on this podcast. And yeah, I think it’s important to have those people in your life that you can talk to and have conversations with and realize that it’s okay to take a day off. I’m curious to know personally what is, what is the first thing you’re looking forward to once this passes blows over the world opens up per like what is the first thing that you’ll be doing at that moment?


Jason Schilling (23:58):
Joe, what’s funny is I’m, I’m often known for not being a hugger. And so I, you know, when I keep saying to people, when this is all over, I’m still going to keep that six foot rule away from me at all times. And there people are like, we are gonna give you a hug. That’s great. I think it’s one of those things is I’m just looking forward to being able to spend time, you know, with my parents and my family. And, you know, I have a sister who lives in the states and that, and being able to see them in and for probably well over a year now. Right. And so just getting to, to be around people in that capacity, we’re, you’re just not afraid at the time and, and, and stuff like that as well. So that’ll be the biggest one. Yeah, yeah.


Sam Demma (24:40):
Yeah. You know, as long as everyone stays six feet apart, right.


Jason Schilling (24:42):
As long as there’s just not some big hug I’ll be working with.


Sam Demma (24:46):
That’s awesome. Jason, thank you so much for taking the time to chat today about education and you know, it’s important and why you’re so passionate about it, and some of the things that you’re observing and seeing. If someone wanted to reach out, you know, send you an email you probably already have a lot of those, but if someone did wanna reach out to you, what would be the best way for them to get in touch and maybe have a conversation?


Jason Schilling (25:06):
Actually the best way is just through email and it’s just jason.schilling@ata.ab.ca. And I always, I always say to teachers, I try to get back to everybody. Even the hate mail that I get, I always respond to those as well but not always as quickly as I would like to sometimes; just always depends on what’s going on.


Sam Demma (25:28):
Sounds great. Again, thank you so much. This was awesome and I look forward to staying in touch and watching the great work you do.


Jason Schilling (25:34):
You bet, Sam. Thanks very much. I appreciate it.


Sam Demma (25:36):
And there you have it. Another amazing guest, an amazing interview on the High Performing Educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review so other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show; 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 Jason Schilling

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.

Brandi Rai – President of the Alberta School Councils’ Association

Brandi Rai – President of the Alberta School Councils’ Association
About Brandi Rai

Brandi Rai (@rai_brandi) has a passion for public education – to ensure it prepares children to be leaders in our world.

Married, with five children in grades 5 through 10, and many pets, Brandi lives in Edmonton. She has served as an executive on multiple school councils, is involved with fundraising societies, and is a frequent school volunteer, with a lifelong goal of serving others.

She is drawn to ASCA’s support of school councils in the province because it ensures that all parents have the opportunity for engagement and the ability to determine their definition of effectiveness within their local communities.

Parent voice in education is crucial to student success. Education is a foundational pillar in society and having equitable access to public education is vital for Albertans.

Brandi attended her first ASCA Annual General Meeting (AGM) in 2014 and was elected as a Board Director at the 2016 AGM. She was elected Vice President at the 2018 AGM, and elected President at the 2020 AGM.

Connect with Brandi: Email | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Alberta School Councils’ Association (ASCA)

Alberta School Council’s Association Conference and AGM

Expanding Mental Health Supports in Schools

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 to bring you today’s interview. Our guest, our special guest is Brandi Rai. Brandi has a passion for public education to ensure it prepares children to be leaders in our world. She is married with five children in grade five through 10, and has many pets.


Sam Demma (00:58):
She is also from Edmonton and she has served as executive on multiple school councils, is involved with fundraising societies, and is a frequent school volunteer with a lifelong goal of serving others, and it’s very evident that that’s something that is very close to her heart as you will learn in today’s interview. She is drawn to ASCA; the Alberta School Council Association support of school councils in the province because it ensures that all parents have the opportunity for engagement and the ability, the ability to determine their definition of effectiveness within their local communities. Being that she is a parent of five kids, she definitely wants to make sure that her schools are being run as effective as possible. She believes that parent voice and education is crucial to student success and at the heart of everything she believes is that education is a foundational pillar in society, and having equitable access to public education is vital for Albertans, but for everyone in the world. I hope you enjoy today’s interview. Brandy Rai is a phenomenal human being doing such amazing work in education. I will see you on the others side, enjoy. Brandi, thank you so much for coming on the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show this morning. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit behind the reason why you’re so passionate about the work you do in education today.


Brandi Rai (02:22):
Thank you so much for having me. And so I am the mother of five children who are neurodiverse, they are biracial, and they are queer. And so having, having a family that is full of diversity and full of wonderful young souls who are trying to navigate a world that is not always made for them has really inspired me to lean in and to volunteer and to actively work, to create an education system that is equitable and meant for all children. And then additionally, I am married to a teacher, and so education is in every aspect of our life, whether we’re volunteering or we’re working or we’re trying to help our children through their, through their lessons. So I’m very involved because I need to be involved. These are my people and I want to do good for them.


Sam Demma (03:09):
I love that. And you know, you mentioned your kids, all five of them that you have. Are they a big motivator and driver behind the work that you do and, and why? Like if you had to give me some, some reasons?


Brandi Rai (03:23):
Well, I think that, I think that most parents are engaged and involved in their children’s education. And I know that it looks very different depending on what families, what their work schedule looks like or what their culture looks like. And also what experiences they’ve had in education a four, because they, they may not have always been positive for that family and the generations before them. And so for, for me, it has been, you know, my children are going away from me and they’re learning and they’re navigating their life and their relationships in, in, in school and class. And I think that what the, the light bulb moment that happened for me is my children are spending more time away from me during a school year than they are with me. Yeah. And so those people and those interactions are really shaping the young citizens that my babies are going to be.


Brandi Rai (04:10):
And so I am, of course I am their parent and I am an expert in my child, but schools are the resources that I am using to help them educate and navigate the world. And so it is very important that I remain connected to those schools that I volunteer in those schools and that I have a voice in the education system in terms of advising you know, my principal and my school board, even the education minister. So I show up because my kids matter to me and all children matter to me. And so, because I have the time and the, and the ability to do these things at this season of my life, that’s why I’m doing what I do.


Sam Demma (04:47):
Ah, that’s so cool. And when did you start getting involved? Like was your whole career in education or when you started having kids, you decided to get involved? Like what, tell me a little bit about how it actually manifested in your life.


Brandi Rai (05:01):
Yeah, so I actually, so I had children young, so my first child was born when I was 20. Yes. And so then whenever they went into kindergarten you know, just volunteering in the classroom, it just looks like, you know, going and helping cut things and do things with art and then it really morphed into yes, parents are important volunteers, but did you also know that they have a role in advising principal? Did you know that they have a role in understanding board policy and influencing board policy? And I didn’t know those things until I knew those things. And so once I got a taste of it’s really important that I’m, you know, reading with the, with the students or I’m you know, helping fundraise for, you know, more technology that, you know, because education is vastly underfunded in our province. So whether I’m doing those things or I’m sitting down with a principal and, and looking at time tables and saying, yeah, this would really work for junior high and this is how families feel about this. When those things came into focus for me and I realized I could have a piece of that voice I lit up and I leaned in. Mm.


Sam Demma (06:04):
Ah, so that’s so awesome. And what did your initial involvement look like? I know now, you know, you have a huge role with the all of Alberta, but when you first started, what was the, what, what did the initial role role look like?


Brandi Rai (06:17):
Well, I, so initially I started as a volunteering classrooms, you know, going on field trips in the classroom fundraising, and then for school council, I went and I was a, I was a school council member who attended and listened to the meeting, participated when needed. And then when we had our elections, I became secretary. And so you take the minutes for the school council and used, send out the agenda, you do the things that your chair would need you to do. And that’s how I started. And then it, it, you know, I became vice chair and, you know, at one point I had four children. I had five children in four different schools. And so I was on the executive of each school council and I might have been in different roles, but I was active in all those. And, and, and so there was a huge time commitment right.


Brandi Rai (07:02):
To doing that. And then eventually my school council, we, we went to the Alberta school council’s association conference and AGM. And so a trustee had talked to me about that. And a principal had talked to me about that and a fellow council member had talked to me about that. And, and I went, and I was amazed at the professional development opportunities that were available for parents to be engaged partners in education. And that was the next step that I took. I said, okay, this is how I’m impacting change locally. This is how I’m making my school community a more vibrant, inclusive space. And now I can lend my voice to a provincial landscape. And so that was the next step that I decided to take.


Sam Demma (07:40):
And as the parent of five kids yourself, who obviously you were super engaged in all of their, you know, student activities and within all of their schools, why do you believe that parent engagement is so essential and important in relation to student success? And how do we engage more parent during this interesting, crazy time?


Brandi Rai (08:03):
So that’s a, that’s a wonderful question. Thank you. And I think that so studies have shown that parents who are engaged and involved in their education, those students have higher success rates. And sometimes that can be defined as completion of high school or, you know, higher on standardized tests, those sorts of things. But what I really look for is that parent engagement that helps students become global citizens who are well regulated and can co-regulate their peers. And, and it’s that success that I believe that parents have a wonderful hand in because the school is helping with curricular outcomes. The school is helping with, you know, basic behavioral standards, but it’s the parents who re enforce that whenever those children come home, it’s the parents who, who say, oh, tell me more. They lean in and they nurture their children. And then they nurture their school communities whenever they volunteer and they help shape the culture at those schools.


Brandi Rai (08:52):
So I think that it’s, it’s the parents that solidify the learning that happens at school. And that’s why that relationship is so important. And then additionally, I think that it’s important that systems recognize that parents are partners in education. And so they do more than just inform inform the parents about decisions that are being made because and I think that we can all recognize this when you take the time to engage and consult with stakeholders and parents are a major stakeholder in education, they have more buy-in to whatever decisions are being made. So if you tell me that something is happening, but you don’t include me in any of the process, I may, I may not agree with it. I may revolt against it. I may not be an active participant in making sure that it becomes meaningful meaningfully implemented. But if you engage me the whole time, if you consult with me the whole time, then I have buy-in. I see my voice, I see the, I see the, the need for these changes to happen, and then I help with implementation. And so I think that from a system perspective, student success is impacted when parents are brought a lot on the journey rather than being told what the journey is.


Sam Demma (09:58):
Mm oh, I love that. That’s awesome. And how do we bring more parents into the journey right now? So like, I know I would assume, and I could be wrong yeah. That with COVID maybe parents feel a little more disconnected to their students and their school activities. Maybe it’s the reverse. Maybe, maybe you can tell me what you guys have been seeing in the province of Alberta and how can we still get parents involved and engaged during this crazy time?


Brandi Rai (10:24):
So I think that, yeah, so this, so the last year and a half has been, you know, obviously an anomaly. And so there is a huge disconnect that’s happening for many parents across Alberta, because we are not physically able to go volunteer in the schools. There is different communications that are happening because most of our communication is now based on emails. Or we hold our school council meetings virtually to, you know, in order to be able to respect health protocols. And so you don’t have the support of your parent community. You’re not talking to each other at pickup or after, you know, a dance performance or those sorts of things. You are extremely disconnected from your parent community. You’re additionally disconnected from your admin because all communication comes in either black and white or through a virtual platform. And so you, you’re not having the same opportunities, which means that you also don’t feel connected or, and you also don’t wanna step on toast.


Brandi Rai (11:15):
So you don’t wanna say, well, I don’t really sense some of the things that are happening, but you don’t wanna be a burden in asking for clarification or, or the ability to give your input, because you already know that the system is stressed, the adminis stress, right? So there has been, this has been a huge year of disconnect across our province in many ways. And then the flip side of that is when there’s disconnect, we are, we are wired for connection. Yeah. So when there is disconnect, we will actively seek solutions to fill in those gaps. And so we’re having council meetings virtually we’re, we’re increasing, you know, school councils and parents are increasing sharing things on social media. And that is why that, that is the, there has been an uptake in the things that are happening in education in a different way this year, partially because everybody’s getting a lot of information on social media, because that is the only connection point that they might have.


Brandi Rai (12:06):
And so, and we know how that, that can be good and bad, but we know how easy that is. So maybe I, you know, maybe I’m at the end of the day and I don’t have time to go through, you know, on my school zone or, or my power school and like read all the things. But if I connect to my school council Facebook page, or if I’m on Twitter and I see some things that are coming out around the new curriculum that might peak my interest, that’s an engagement point. That’s a touch point that lights a fire in me to do more in education. So there are some positive, even though we have been extremely disconnected this year.


Sam Demma (12:37):
I love that. And I think there’s always positives, even in every negative situation. It’s just up to us to go ahead and look for them. Right. without darkness, you can’t have a bonfire. Bonfires are beautiful. Right?


Brandi Rai (12:50):
I love that. Yes.


Sam Demma (12:51):
Right. Question for you, you, what exactly is a school council, I would consider you and your association like the experts of school councils what exactly is a school council and why are they so important and essential to schools?


Brandi Rai (13:08):
Well, no pressure to get that question. Right. Thank you for that. So, so yeah, so a school council and, and it might look different across the province, depending on that school community, but a school council. They have members parents or community members that would like to be part of the school council. The principal is also a member of the school council and a teacher designation, and then a, a teacher designated representative. And then additionally, if you’re in older grades, you might have a student representative attends. And so basically it’s, it’s parents and community members and possibly students who come and they, they work with admin on issues related to the school. And so a school council’s job is to advise the principal on any issue relating to the school. So maybe that’s the school’s plan. Maybe that’s the, like the, the school’s, you know, in, and some of the districts, they schools have three year plans.


Brandi Rai (13:57):
And so maybe you’re advising towards that. Maybe you’re maybe you’re advising towards the budget, you know, schools get budgets. And what are the priorities that parents also identify are really important places to spend that money knowing that the principal has final decision making in any decision related to a school then additionally school councils also in buys to their school boards. And so their school board might be engaging them on any changes that are happening within the district, you know, related to transportation or fees, or scheduling those sorts of things. And then higher, higher things such as right now, you know, the new curriculum draft, those are things that boards would be engaging with school councils around. And then additionally the Alberta school council’s association is the provincial voice for school councils in our province. And so school councils, can we, we have a variety of resources that help school councils understand their role.


Brandi Rai (14:49):
And so we believe that the empowerment and the respect and engagement of school councils is important for student success. And the way that we help that happen is we empower schools to learn how to be active in their own communities and to be local advocates, to, to affect change in their communities as needed or to support the culture as it is. And then we have we have an upcoming conference in AGM where we provide professional development for school council members. And then additionally, we have our AGM where members themselves have put. And so when we say members, we actually mean the school council as a whole, so not individual parents, but those school council members have put forward resolutions that then become advocacy policies that we advocate for. So for example, you know, years ago, there was a resolution that came forward related to class size and the importance of there being lower class size numbers for supporting student success.


Brandi Rai (15:41):
And so that then became an advocacy policy that we then advocate for. And it can be utilized in a variety of ways, not just in standard years, but specifically in a year where there has been COVID the importance of having smaller class sizes to mitigate the risk of spread. So that was a really long answer to say lots of things. But the, the main thing that I think that is important is that their, you know, school captures school councils are captured in legislation and regulations, and they have a role. They have a legitimate role in education. Parent voice is, is locally important. And then it goes all the way up to every table that we can carry that voice to through ASCA, as we talk with like trustees, superintendents, secretary treasurers the teachers association, any other major stakeholder group in education the Alberta school, council’s Associa this caring parent voice through school councils to that table.


Sam Demma (16:35):
And if you could speak to, you know, educators and principals outside of even Alberta and everywhere and be the bridge between, you know, a student and what they need to know about students right now, because you’re a, you’re a parent of five kids who are all in school. Like what could you share with a, you know, a principal or an educator who might not have kids that are in school right now and say, Hey, like, this is what kids or my kids are struggling with, which probably is the same struggles for most kids in certain ways and shapes like what could you relate to them to kind of say like, this is what you’re not seeing or not hearing right now.


Brandi Rai (17:10):
So I think that it’s, I think that right now what most parents and school counselors are talking about is mental health. And so they’re saying that, you know, my child’s mental health has been severely impacted and there is no support system readily available that my child can access in a timely or affordable manner to, to help with these, these issues that are happening. So that’s one thing that I know right now that parents on school councils are bringing up. The other thing is that through the years, we have really talked about the importance of, of school community. So teachers and admin, you know, relating to their students in ways that let the students give feedback and the students own the culture. And that’s really important because I can say, well, this is what my child is, is experiencing, and this is what they need.


Brandi Rai (17:54):
But as a parent, I believe that it is, it is actually more important that the teachers in the admin listen to my babies, they need to be talking to my babies about what the culture looks like in a school at their level, because we can have policies place. We can have wonderful conversations and metrics that we measure things by. But if the lived experience of those students does not reflect those policies and the intent of those policies, then it’s all for not. And so that is why it’s important that that educators be looping back to students and then be including parents in that dialogue as well.


Sam Demma (18:26):
And you started this interview by talking about the important of, you know, equity in equality in schools. What does an equitable school in your eyes look like? And, you know, how can we strive towards creating more equity within our schools?


Brandi Rai (18:41):
That is the, that is the universal question of, of how to how to solve all the problems in education. So just so, so no pressure, I guess, no pressure. So I think whenever I try to just collapse it down to the core of what it is that I’m asking for, I’m saying that equity and education and equitable access means that students in rural locations have the same opportunity and quality of education that students in metros would have. And I think that that is, and also the same inclusivity and the same opportunities. So, so I think that there is, there are definitely barriers when you travel across Alberta in terms of location and funding. And, and I think that equitable to me means that there is consistent quality and standards that are applied across education so that all, all students have access to the same opportunities within education that, that we know are meaningful for them.


Brandi Rai (19:37):
And for, for so long, I think that we’ve talked about you know, we’ve, we’ve boiled it down to, to funding and all of these different pieces. And one of the conversations I think that needs to be had as a collective with an education and is what do we identify as a basic quality education? So if we’re saying we’re providing a basic education to every student in Alberta, what does that basic education look like? How are we informing that? And then how are we measuring that to make sure that it is equitably applied and also inclusivity? So how are students with learning needs? How are they being in, into their school communities, all across the province? And, and what does that look like and what are the resources being given to make sure that it’s equitable inclusion? And then additionally, how are student, how are minorities, how are they, how is their lived experience being positively impacted across the province?


Brandi Rai (20:28):
And, and what about our queer kids? You know, how, how are they living this? And so when every student irrespective of their learning needs or their, or their racial composition or their you know, gender identity or sexual orientation, when I can say that every baby has a quality education where they felt loved and valued and seen in their community and in their curriculum, then that to me is actually equitable education. And I know it’s gonna take a long time, but I’m here for a long time. So I’m willing to keep doing this work


Sam Demma (21:03):
Awesome brand. This has been a, such a passionate conversation. Like it’s so clear that this is something so close to your heart, which is amazing because we need empathetic and heartfelt leaders. If you could give your younger self one piece of advice when it comes to fighting this good fight to end off this interview here today, like, what would you tell younger Brandy to know?


Brandi Rai (21:26):
Oh, that’s a really good question. I would just say to her oh it’s this metric that I now have that I wish I had learned a long time ago is will it matter in five minutes? Will it matter in five months? Will it matter in five years? Mm, because I think that lots of times we put our energy to putting out small fires right now. And I have learned to measure for myself if it’s going to matter five months from now, I need to give this a significant amount of energy. If I need this to look drastically different five years from now, I need to make a roadmap to make that happen. And, and that is a hard learn lesson that I have learned in my own life and in my own children’s life that if I could have given myself that 16 years ago, oh goodness, how much more could I have done with my time?


Sam Demma (22:18):
Hmm. Love that. And if an educator is listening right now and enjoying this conversation, what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you?


Brandi Rai (22:27):
So they can go to the Alberta School Council’s website and then go if they go there, we have our contact information there so they can get in contact with me directly through our executive director or our communications coordinator. And I am always willing to have a chat to help in any way that I can to get, to get the spark going, because I know that if I can help just make a tiny spark, everybody else in that community can continue to fan it into the flame that will, as you said, create a bonfire in the darkness and I’m willing to do that so thank you for that.


Sam Demma (23:01):
Oh, I love that. Awesome. This has been a great conversation, Brandi. I appreciate you taking the time to come on here and share some of your perspectives and philosophies around education. Keep, keep up the amazing work and I hope to meet you one day in person soon.


Brandi Rai (23:14):
Thank you so much.


Sam Demma (23:16):
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 Brandi Rai

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.

Marco LeBlanc – Vice President of the New-Brunswick Student Leadership Association

Marco LeBlanc – Vice President of the New-Brunswick Student Leadership Association
About Marco LeBlanc

Hooked on Leadership and Community Service since 1999, Marco LeBlanc is doing leadership right! He’s been teaching since 2009 and has taken students to local, provincial, national and global student leadership conferences.


Married to the wonderful Sindy and father to Kate, Marco has also adopted his 29 year old cousin after the sudden passing of his Mother. Scott lives with a mental and physical disabilities but gives an entire new and positive meaning to quality time, he is amazing!

Marco is currently a director on the board of the Canadian Student Leadership Association, the Vice- President of the New-Brunswick Student Leadership Association, President of the Local Association for Community Living, where we run a learning center for 35 adults living with mental and physical disabilities as well as a community residence for 7 adults, and Co-President of a Drug Free Community Committee. He’s a Grad and Student Council Advisor and Homestay Coordinator for Atlantic Education International finding host families to give an amazing experience to international students.


Winner and Recipient of the 2008 UNB Unsung Hero Award, 2014 Tom Hanley Leadership Award, 2014 and 2018 NBSLA Community Outreach Award, 2015 CSLA Leader of Distinction Award, and 2019 New Brunswick Teacher’s Association Teacher Recognition Award.

Connect with Marco: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Canadian Student Leadership Association (CSLA)

Canadian Student Leadership Conference (CSLC)

New-Brunswick Student Leadership Association (NBSLA)

Atlantic Education International (AEI)

New Brunswick Teachers’ Association (NBTA)

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. Today’s guest is Marco LeBlanc. He has been hooked on leadership and community service since 1999. That’s right; the year I was born. Not to age Marco, he’s a phenomenal dude. And he has been doing leadership right since that day. He’s been teaching since 2009 and has taken students to local provincial/national global student leadership conferences.


Sam Demma (01:03):
He’s married to the wonderful Sindy and father to Kate. He has adopted his 29 year old cousin after the sudden passing of his mother. Scott lives with the mental and physical disabilities, but gives an entire new and positive meaning to quality time and Marco believes he is absolutely amazing. He is currently a director on the board of the Canadian Student Leadership Association, the Vice President of the new Brunswick Student Leadership Association, the President of the Local Association for Community Living, and the Co-President of a drug free community committee. He’s a grad and student council advisor and home state coordinator for Atlantic Education International, finding host families to give an amazing experience to international students. His bio goes on and on. Marco has done so much in the world of education, so much for young people, and it’s really inspiring. And I hope some of his stories that he shares today in his podcast really touch your heart.


Sam Demma (01:54):
Marco is the winner and recipient of the 2008 UNB Unsung Hero award 2014, Tom Hanley Leadership award 2014 and 2018 new Brunswick Student Leadership Association Community Outreach award, 2015 CSLA Leader of Distinction Award, and 2019 New Brunswick Teachers association Teacher Recognition award. There’s a reason for all of that and you’ll hear about it on today’s podcast. And I hope that his stories really touch your heart and remind you why you got into teaching. I’ll see you on the other side, enjoy. Marco, 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, why you got into the work you’re doing in education today?


Marco LeBlanc (02:41):
Well, my name’s Marco LeBlanc. I’ve been an educator for about 12 years and a student council advisor for about 10. I’m part of the New Brunswick Student Leadership and the Canadian Student Leadership Associations. And I guess I would’ve gotten into this leadership journey because it was offered to me as a student and I just grabbed onto it. Totally fell in love with being of service in my community, whether that be in my direct community or my school community. And from there, I mean, I just wanted to share that passion with students and give them some purpose and, and things to do while they’re at school and so it’s been working great.


Sam Demma (03:29):
And what made you back when you were a student? What made you want to grab onto that opportunity of getting involved in the student leadership? Was it the, did encourage encouragement from another educator or were there other things in your life that really like drove you towards wanting to get involved?


Marco LeBlanc (03:49):
So that’s a great question. It was an another educator for sure. And she’s actually a colleague of mine now, which is kind of odd, but it, it works. We team tag now, so it’s partnership. But basically as a student, I wouldn’t, I would not have been involved very much in, in school and probably on the path to making a few wrong decisions consecutively in, in, in my teenage journey. However, this teacher was adamant that, you know, she saw that I was always willing to help. And then from there she just used that as the spark and always made sure that I had a project going. And so she kept giving me these projects and I kept falling into it and, and taking it by the horns and planning activities, doing fundraising is being involved and having something to do. And from then on, I was hooked on this leadership thing.


Sam Demma (04:50):
That’s awesome. I love that. And when you say hooked, I mean, if that’s the analogy we’re using now, you’re like a professional fisherman then, because you’re you know, you’re heavily involved with the school you’re at, you’re also heavily involved with the new Brunswick student leadership association. At what point in your, you know, your educator career, your teaching career, did you start getting involved in the new Brunswick, you know, leadership association and, and what drove you to get involved there? You know, cause I’m, I’m sure you were heavily involved at your school, but I’m assuming that took it to a whole new level as well.


Marco LeBlanc (05:22):
Yeah. So in, in my last year, as a high school student, I was able to finally take part in a new Brunswick student leadership association conference. And, you know, that was a wonderful experience. I networked so much by just being an attendee and, and learning many new things. And when I went into college and university, I mean, I still took part in, in some social clubs and, and I did a, a working group from the university as well. So when I returned into education at a school after, I mean, I, I dipped my feet in to get my first year under my belt, but starting second year, we went right into let’s get a student council going. And after that first year of having a student council connected with the new Brunswick student leadership Associa, and then have never looked back, went through as a, as a director. And then now I’m vice president and loving what, what we do and the opportunities we provide for our New Brunswick youth.


Sam Demma (06:32):
That’s an amazing story. And I’m curious to know, like, I’m, I’m sure there’s other educate who you share your experiences with with student leadership that are very fascinated by it. And there’s also other educators who sometimes think like, why is this stuff so important? You know, like what makes student leadership such an impactful and essential part of school? Like, we’re not, you know, we’re not teaching them math or science here, it’s, it’s life skills and other, you know, other things, what would you share with another educator who might be thinking to themselves? I don’t understand why this stuff is so essential and so important. Yeah. In your opinion, why is this this work around student leadership, very foundational to learning and growing as a young person?


Marco LeBlanc (07:17):
Well, I think, I think given the anything with student leadership is a lot about finding, finding out who you are and, and tuning into you know, the, the skillset you have and, and the things you want to develop and, and maybe try out, it’s also having that ability to take a risk also. And so once, once these students start entering into these, these leadership opportunities, you really see them develop and, and, and turn into, you know, students who wanna make a difference, wanna make an impact, wanna serve their community. And, and there are still those students that want to be at the background, and that’s fine because that’s still a foundational element of, of anything. And so in speaking with, with educators, I would say that the best thing would be, you know, the, the importance of this is that students find like their, their niche. They find something that they can and hook onto. They can invest in it and they see what happens. You know, they, there’s, there’s an automatic response. So it’s either, you’re gonna see that people are enjoying themselves at an, a event you’re running, or you’re gonna see that people are getting involved in a fundraising effort for a cause, whatever it be, if it’s social awareness and, and just that networking that happens, the connections, the community, partnerships, all these things, follow them beyond school. And, and that will be where the benefits will show.


Sam Demma (08:57):
Yeah, that’s a, I love that. And I mean, from the perspective of an educator, you’ve also seen the impact firsthand in your own life, but also in the lives of the students, in your schools and communities. And I’m curious to know, like if I had described the state of the world right now, I would say, it feels like sometimes it feels like someone has taken a large blanket and just dropped it on top of the planet. And it seems a little dark at times. And a little lonely at times, and student leadership provides a light, a light for students. And I’m curious to know in your experiences, if you’ve seen firsthand, you know, student transformations occur maybe because of student leadership or because of a, you know, a caring adult or educator, and do any of those stories come to mind. And if they’re, if they’re very serious, you can change a student’s name just to keep it private. And the reason I’m asking you just to be transparent to share it is because I think another educator listening can be reminded of why the work they do is so important. We hear about these transformational stories.


Marco LeBlanc (09:59):
Yeah, I guess the, the one thing that I always go back to is a story of I’d say about six or seven years ago, I had a student council election coming, and I had a student who was basically peer pressured by his buddies to, to join in, but it was, it was as a joke. It was as a first, it wasn’t going to be an authentic commitment and whatnot. And anyways, we went through the election process anyways, and I knew that, that this had occurred, but I wanted to see what the results were. And after student vote basically I had a tie for who was going to be leading the student council. And so this individual had received almost 50% of the votes from the student body. And so I sat down with the student with the two individuals, and I said, you know, I think this is an opportunity to, to work as a team show that teamwork is possible.


Marco LeBlanc (11:02):
That one position can become two, and maybe we can you know, have more success this way. And obviously the voice of the building was saying that they, they really think that that person might, you know, do the job real well and represent their student by. And so we went for it and everybody was in agreement. We had a wonderful year, tried new events. Everything went well so much success, but in the end, at the end of the year, we had what we call a turnaround award in our, in our school district. And that’s that award is actually created so that students who have totally flipped their lives, they were experiencing some difficult circumstances in their lives or academic, behavioral, troubles, whatever it’d be. And they’ve shifted their life around fully. And, and this student one, I mean, he had, because of peer pressure, he was obviously in a bad place, poor choice, poor decision making, but went for it anyways, got into student leadership, found out that it was a passion. And he obviously brought forth a major skillset that was lacking in our student council. From there, you know, then he, he just built upon, totally changed his perspective. Everything got better. His relationships got better. His academics got better. He looked into post secondary, which he wasn’t even considering before. And he was the recipient of that turnaround award. And, you know, it, it was the best kind of full circle moment at the end of a school year.


Sam Demma (12:41):
That’s such a great story to share. And that student any chance you stay in touch with him to this day or, oh,


Marco LeBlanc (12:50):
Yes, for sure. That student is working full time and started a new family and everything’s in the up and up. Yeah.


Sam Demma (12:58):
That’s amazing. Thank you for sharing that. I appreciate it. And did he have any realizations as he got into it? Like I’m sure at first he might have not been the most confident in himself, but through student leadership, did you see a change in him? Like how did he transfer form personally throughout the journey as well?


Marco LeBlanc (13:18):
Yeah, he, he definitely transformed because he, wasn’t going to start this with any level of, of knowing what to expect. And so he was coming at it quite blind. He didn’t know what to expect, what his role was going to be. And, and obviously he wanted the, the appearance to peers was a major concern of his if, if he’d be accepted or not, and, and what would be the repercussions of that. But his revelation was probably his first successful event and how many people knew his name would say hello in the hallway would start to, you know, ask him questions and, and suggestions of new ideas. And he took it on and he really felt that he got the student’s voice vote. And so he needed to commit to being there for them. And the minute he started doing that, I mean, it was, it was wonderful just to see how he could blossom early.


Sam Demma (14:22):
Yeah.


Marco LeBlanc (14:23):
Yeah.


Sam Demma (14:24):
Oh, awesome. And this year, obviously things are a little different.


Marco LeBlanc (14:30):
Very different. Yeah.


Sam Demma (14:32):
A little comedic, you know, but I’m curious to know, despite the, despite the challenges that are going on, I, I think that with every challenge, there’s an equal opportunity if we really try and find it and look for it. So I’m curious to know one, what are some of the challenges and two, what do you think some of the opportunities are as well during this time?


Marco LeBlanc (14:54):
So, I mean, a different a definite challenge is the fact that, you know, a lot of activities are not following the distancing protocols and so on and so forth. So they’ve been put on hold for the year and with a lot of activities that in involve having a lot of students gather it’s been a lot, a lot more difficult for our student council members to digest and, you know, to, to understand that those limitations exist. However, we do talk about limitations are often opportunity as well. So you need to check what can we do? And how can we flip this around so that people get to, to enjoy it too? So I mean, meetings are not in person. Meetings are virtual. We do theme days, we still plan classroom events. So if they’re in already in their bubble, we’re, we’re able to have those classroom events. And we’re starting now that the weather’s nice in new Brunswick, we’re starting to do some of the activities outside because we’re allowed to have a little bit more people outside. So, yes. Yeah. And I mean, they’re, they’re still committed. They’re still doing their part, it’s different, but they know that any, any time they commit and anything they do for the benefit of somebody else, then it’ll come back as being a successful thing.


Sam Demma (16:23):
And correct me if I’m wrong. But I also believe that this, there might be an opportunity of a reminder that reminded us how important relationships were. Yeah, I think it really showed us how important it was to maintain relationships and build relationships with not only our fellow colleagues and family, but the students in our classrooms. What is your philosophy on relationships? And how can we try and still build relationships during this like weird time?


Marco LeBlanc (16:52):
Yeah. I mean, relationships, so are key. That’s, that’s just, that is the foundation. If you don’t have the ability to sustain relationships and make relationships, then you know, leadership is very difficult. So you need to be very open to that. What students are, what I’m noticing here this year is a lot of, of youth empowerment is happening. We, we want positive messages out there. We want to tell people they’re okay. We want to have these moments of celebration and, and make sure that, that we take that time to do it because maybe before it was a little bit, you know, something that we just, we were too busy or caught up with with our own lives. But now we’re really intentional with the fact that we need to celebrate the successes. We’re having the great things that are happening. We need to tell people that we love them and why we love them. And we need to tell them why we appreciate what they’re doing for us. And I think not only do we need to say it, but people are really starting to show that they feel it too. And so you know, I think students are learning. There’s still a, a curve. Some people are struggling through this, obviously, but others are, are taking that advice and they’re, they’re going with it. They’re offering some positivity and it’s, it’s working for us.


Sam Demma (18:13):
Awesome. It’s so true. And you’ve been doing this for a while. Not to age you, you’re not old, but, but


Marco LeBlanc (18:26):
Yeah, no kidding.


Sam Demma (18:28):
You’ve been doing this for a wow. I’m sure you’ve, you’ve changed your own philosophies around education since you’ve started teaching from now. And I’m curious to know if you could go back in time and speak to Marco when he first started teaching, what advice would you give yourself knowing what you know now and from learning from so many, the other awesome educators?


Marco LeBlanc (18:50):
I think I’d actually go back to that relationship piece. When I was starting into education. I mean, it was all about the content and it was all about delivery and it isn’t about that. It’s about the relationship with the people you have in your class. You make sure that they feel valued. You make sure that they understand that they’re worthy and, and then you can get to content because they’re comfortable in your class and they’re ready and willing to learn. And I, I think I’d tell myself back then that it, it’s very important to spend a lot of time on building relationships and then the rest will come.


Sam Demma (19:23):
Mm, love that advice. That’s awesome advice. Awesome. Marco, this has been a, a great short but jam packed conversation and I appreciate it. For everyone who’s listening to this, Marco and I recorded an earlier episode about two months ago, and we had both some technical difficulties so he was kind enough to come back on and rerecord, and I’m so glad that we did. If, if an educator is listening and wants to reach out to you just to share some ideas or have a conversation, what would be the best way for them to get in touch?


Marco LeBlanc (19:53):
So the best way would be through email probably. So it’s quite simple; marco.leblanc@nbed.nb.ca. I can also be reached through any student leadership platforms, whether that be the Canadian one or the New Brunswick one. So feel free, reach out.


Sam Demma (20:10):
Awesome. Cool, Marco, thank you so much for calling on the show.


Marco LeBlanc (20:14):
Thanks Sam. Keep doing that amazing work of yours. We appreciate that.


Sam Demma (20:18):
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 Marco LeBlanc

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.

Eleanor McIntosh – Founding member of the Ontario Alliance of Black School Educators (ONABSE) and the Principal of Ajax High School

Eleanor McIntosh - Founding member of the Ontario Alliance of Black School Educators (ONABSE) and the Principal of Ajax High School
About Eleanor McIntosh

Eleanor (@Eleanor27332035) is a secondary Principal within the Durham District School Board. She holds a Master’s degree in Educational Leadership and Administration and undergraduate degrees in Biochemistry and Kinesiology. She is an advocate for youth and the community.

Eleanor is one of the founding members of the Durham Black Educators’ Network (DBEN) since its inception in 2005. She has held executive positions of Treasurer, Vice-Chair and two terms as Chair. Eleanor is a founding member of the Ontario Alliance of Black School Educators (ONABSE), where she lends her skills and experience to inform policy and programming for educators across the province.

Eleanor has been a panellist and presenter at 30 different speaking engagements and conferences since 2012. She has appeared on CTV, Rogers TV, and a variety of Metroland Media local newspapers. An avid global traveller, Eleanor has visited over 25 different countries around the world and is happy to call the Durham region home.

Connect with Eleanor: Email | Twitter | Linkedin

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Durham Black Educators’ Network (DBEN)

Ontario Alliance of Black School Educators (ONABSE)

Durham educators call for more inclusivity in wake of George Floyd’s death (Global News)

Ajax High School – Durham District School Board

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:01):
Eleanor welcome to the high performing educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here today. Please start by introducing yourself.


Eleanor McIntosh (00:08):
Yeah, for sure. So good day, everyone. Eleanor McIntosh here, my pronouns are she her and hers. I am excited motivated, inspired to be here today for this podcast. I’m a principal in the Durham district school board at Ajax high school where I’ve been for the last five, almost five years doing, doing the good work, getting into some good trouble.


Sam Demma (00:37):
Why education? What drew you to teaching and education as a whole?


Eleanor McIntosh (00:42):
So interesting story. My pathway to education was not direct by any means. I, I always tell people that I kind of fell into it because I never really saw myself as an educator education found me. So after my post my undergraduate post-secondary adventures, which are more, mostly geared in the sciences, actually, that’s my undergraduate degree. I decided to put a pause in my life to try and sort things out, I guess you could say. And I traveled, I took I took a job teaching English, a overseas through the a program called the jet program, the Japan exchange and teaching program. So I applied got shortlisted and then got accepted to the program. And off, I went on my adventure to Asia. So I spent two years in Japan where I had never been that far away before, but, you know went along with many other educators from Canada and around the world and found myself in a small little town kind of like Pickering or Ajax in the Durham region.


Eleanor McIntosh (01:59):
And I taught English in a large academic high school cuz they do, they, they stream there in Japan. And in that experience I found my calling. I loved teaching. I loved connecting with kids. I loved being in a classroom and English is not my background, but I had to figure it out. And it wasn’t about the English, right? The English was just a part of it. It wasn’t about the English, it was about the connection and, and being in community and all, lots of other different things. And so it’s because of that experience that I applied to teachers college here in Ontario, came back and became an educator.


Sam Demma (02:42):
That is so awesome. Would you other educators who are teaching now or thinking about teaching to travel international and if so, why?


Eleanor McIntosh (02:53):
So again, a really good question because it was because of this experience that I really often encourage students and educators to travel and to use international travel or education as a gateway to learning and building, building our personal selves and verse building character because I really, we found that that experience, it, it was for me life changing. I will say that I say that all it was life changing for me. I grew as an individual. I grew as a professional at the time I didn’t really see myself at the professional, but I really grew into my professional self. And, and, and so, you know, I often talk about my international education experience as a stepping stone to to whatever you want to learning to growing. And I talk a lot about that, especially with students who are unsure, you know, take a year go and see, because you can gain so much from traveling around the world and connecting with people, which is what I found.


Sam Demma (04:06):
That’s so amazing. I found similar experiences traveling not to teach, but to play soccer. Yep. At the age of 13. So I think travel opens your mind and eyes to many things you might not hear or see, and it changes your perspectives. It gives you more tools to see the world through.


Eleanor McIntosh (04:27):
It does. It does. And it’s, it’s amazing. I think probably there was lots of aha moments in that, in that traveling. I was there for two years. Like I was overseas for two years. Didn’t come back to the Western world for two years. Because why I could come back, I’m gonna be back here eventually. Yeah. But you know, I really, I really saw the value of perspective because the world views the west their differently than the west views, the rest of the world. So that was eyeopening for me.


Sam Demma (05:09):
Tell me more about that. How does the rest of the world view the west versus us?


Eleanor McIntosh (05:15):
So we are very, as a Western society, we’re very, we’re new compared to the west of rest of the world, right. Because our, our civilization started much later than, than other countries. And I think we’re a little bit arrogant in the way that we believe the rest of the world operates or a ESP for the rest of the world to operate. And so it’s very Western centric. So, you know, it’s like the west is the center of the world and everybody else operates based on what the west does, but oh no. You know, you know, the west has its own ways of functioning and, and operating. And, and I found in particular I often got confused for being American. And so I was interrupting notions of discrimination and, and viewpoints of Americans or black Americans, even when I was traveling overseas.


Eleanor McIntosh (06:13):
But the minute I said that I was Canadian boy, the, at the viewpoint change. So the world welcomes and sees Canada as a very big partner for it around for its, for its citizens and a global participant positive global participant. Whereas it doesn’t view the Americans in the same way. Exactly. And so there was a lot of hate coming, you know, I, I heard a lot of hate for the west and we, you had to kind of separate Canada and America a little bit because really that hate was about America a lot. Right. Wow. So it was, it was really I opening yeah. Really eye opening.


Sam Demma (06:59):
Speaking of perspectives and the importance of gaining more, I’m grateful that lots of perspectives that have been very underrepresented are starting to, you know, hopefully bubble to the service and have over the past two years especially in the communities of a diversity equity. And you’ve been a champion of pushing that message forward as much as you can. What do you think are some of the challenges that have existed and to this day still exist, that you’re really passionate about speaking up and, and trying to make a change in that you think are underrepresented perspectives.


Eleanor McIntosh (07:38):
Really great question. So a couple of things come to mind I think for a long time education, public education was allowed to be ignorant yeah. To the realities of what was happening in its communities, where it was centered. You know, it was always seen as the powerhouse and there was a very clear, defined way of operating and still it’s still there. It’s absolutely still there. And so you know, George Floyd, the, the incidents and George Floyd a couple of years ago, I think served as a real catalyst for the world to wake up and for education to now participate in interrupting biased practices, discriminatory practices that have been going on forever and still continue. So it really allowed us to will no longer be silent. So those who were on the margins who were working in education, it gave them voice mm, gave them a space it gave and not them cuz I’m included in that.


Eleanor McIntosh (08:52):
It allowed us to advocate for the change that we knew we wanted to see for so long, but really we were silenced for for years. And I will say that specifically about my work in education. I never really saw a, an avenue where I could participate in challenge notions of, of racism, discrimination, oppression in the system. I felt that I really had to maintain the status quo because if I chose to speak up, then there, I would be for lack of a better word blacklisted, I would be I would limit my career possibilities, right. There would be, there would be impact to me personal impact and professional impact to me. But as the doors have widened more and more examples come to the forefront that have allowed the conversations of equity and diversity and more specifically anti-oppression to find its way into learning spaces.


Eleanor McIntosh (10:09):
And that was nothing that we ever wanted to participate in before you might have seen pockets, but they were quiet pockets. Yeah. They were people that would close their doors and do their thing quietly. But now people have opened their doors and let that freedom out into the entire school community. And that is bringing students joy because we’re not, we’re no longer harming, we’re not harming kids anymore. That harm. You’re giving students voice. You’re giving them the opportunity to say, no, I don’t want my education to be like this. I wanna make sure that it’s going to resonate with me fully and, and allow me to be my full self.


Sam Demma (10:54):
And represent the whole truth.


Eleanor McIntosh (10:58):
100%. Cause we were speaking partial truths for a long time.


Sam Demma (11:01):
There’s a book by Martin Luther king Jr. With the title. Why we can’t wait, it’s something, I might be butchering it a little bit, but it’s something along those lines. And the whole book is amazing and it talks about a lot of the movements he engaged in and why now was the time for change and why? Like we can’t be patient anymore. And I’m curious to know why you believe the reform that’s happening currently in education and, and hopefully continues to happen throughout north America and all over the west. Why is now the time and why can’t we be patient with this stuff anymore?


Eleanor McIntosh (11:36):
We can’t be patient because all kids are not succeeding. Mm.


Eleanor McIntosh (11:43):
All, all students, that’s what publication is grounded in. Yeah. Right. The success of all students, Nelson Mandela talks about that education is the powerful equalizer. Right. But it hasn’t been yeah. For so long. And so we can’t wait for more and more students to be harmed for black students, particularly black males to be pushed out of the system to end up into this pipeline into activity because they don’t feel a sense of belonging that no one is there advocating for them. So you’re right. We can’t wait. And sadly for those who hold privilege and those who have, have garnered that privilege through just by who they are, we can no longer allow those loud voices to control the outcomes of students cannot. Right. It’s time now for those who have been silenced underrepresented or marginalized to bring those perspectives back to the forefront so that we are there to, to advocate, that’s what public educators are for. They’re there to advocate for all students, not just some and the ones on the margins need us the most. And so we need to stand up for them. Now, the data’s clear, kids are not succeeding and we can’t do it anymore.


Sam Demma (13:11):
It seems like the motivation and motivation is very fleeting because it might last for a minute. It might last for a month. It might last for two months, six months. Yep. But the motivation and excitement of something happening in the world and our initial reaction seems to fade very fast. Yes. How do we sustain this change? How do we move away from motivation and decide to commit and discipline ourselves to follow through with these things? Even when it’s hard, even when the doors are open and the conversations are extremely uncomfortable, I’m not asking you for the key of this whole solution here, I’m putting on the spot, but how do we bring this back to the forefront of the conversation and continue it?


Eleanor McIntosh (13:59):
Yeah. I mean, I think there’s a, there’s a number of different ways that that can happen. From a, from a professional standpoint, I think it’s, it’s twofold, right? So from a professional standpoint we have a responsibility in schools, right. And so for this question leans more towards what is our responsibility and, and not just, not just in the way that we believe that this should be, but what is the legal responsibility? Because there is a legality, right? What is the legal responsibility that we have to make sure that this that we’re not closing these doors, that we’re keeping that at the forefront, right. So that’s the first thing. And there’s been a couple of really strong moves made by the government in order to make sure that, that that, that responsibility is clear for educators. And I’ll give you an example.


Eleanor McIntosh (14:55):
So one example is, is that the Ontario college of teachers has now advised it has now become as part of the education act that discriminatory practices are now an act misconduct for educators. That’s a bold move. That was a necessary move to legitimize the work and keep that responsibility very ever present for educators. Right. they’ve also put out an advisory relating to anti-black racism, right? Again, another bold step that allows for that high level of accountability for educators. Right. So no longer. So now as a system, we have some, some very clear lines to lean on, right? Should people decide that they no do not want to participate, that they want to give up their responsibilities to the students that we serve. Right. but I also think it goes deeper than that because we have to also lean on ed administrators, like leaders in the right leaders, leaders have to participate in, in making the space for this change to happen.


Eleanor McIntosh (16:07):
Right. We are part of that responsibility because we are also we’re educator at heart. And so from, from middle to upper management and the executive level, how are we making sure that the policies, procedures and frontline work of leaders make sure that we are advocating, educating, building awareness, right. With our staff so that it doesn’t fall to the wayside so that our, our educators feel not just empowered, but confident to entertain and engage in conversation of injustice in the classroom. Right. Because it’s not just about teaching you know, literacy and numeracy, that’s important, but we want to make sure that we are creating a world that we, that is not reflective of the current day. We wanna create a world that is reflective of what we want to see in the future. We do that through opening up these conversations in the classroom.


Eleanor McIntosh (17:21):
Right. And so that, I think it’s so it’s, it’s multiple things. And then on a personal level for people, people have to also feel as though that they are not comp that they’re not complicit in racist practice or discriminatory practices. Right. So, you know, you know, they have to choose to educate themselves, right. So how do they, how do they, why, why would I, as an educator, as a human being choose to participate in, in learning more, right. People don’t want to feel as though that they are creating barriers for people or upholding white supremacy. They don’t wanna feel that way. And so it’s also playing into people’s compassion and right. We wanna make sure that people understand that justice is for everyone, from every location, from every identity. And so by putting that and making that as a priority, right. Going, leaning on the moral compass, if you will, the compassion that everybody holds, I think it’s how you also get to educators or people to buy in right into these circum, into these conversations, even when it’s hard. Right? Yeah. Even it’s hard.


Sam Demma (18:40):
It sounds like we really can’t afford spectation or spectators anymore.


Eleanor McIntosh (18:46):
You can’t, you can’t afford to be a bystander anymore. Yeah. If you’re a by, in, or someone’s gonna call you out, like this is the thing now, right. People aren’t gonna stay silent, somebody’s going to call you out. And I have had to on many occasions, you know, engage in conversations, sometimes difficult conversations with staff about something they may have said or whatever. And again, not ill intention. I would never think that anybody is doing something maliciously. We are gonna make these mistakes, but it’s up to me and, and everybody else in the building to make sure that we are all moving this forward together, nobody left behind.


Sam Demma (19:26):
Hmm.


Eleanor McIntosh (19:26):
Nobody left behind.


Sam Demma (19:28):
What have you found helpful in terms of educational resources? So there’s an educator listening right now who is mentally deciding, not because they’re just motivated due to your passion for this topic. Yep. But they’re mentally deciding right now. Okay. I don’t wanna bystand I don’t wanna spectate. I wanna join this conversation and participate. Where should they start with their own self education or what have you heard, or even read yourself or heard other educators reading, going through, watching to learn more about the situation to inform themselves?


Eleanor McIntosh (20:07):
So reading is a lot of what I’ve been doing over the past little while, and also, you know, encouraging my staff to read as well. Right. Yeah. And presenting them with choices and options to help build their awareness cuz you’re right. We can’t do it all right. As I so a couple of, so in terms of titles, you know me and white supremacy by Lelas Asad white fragility, lot of, so I read white fragility by Delo. So a lot of DeAngelo’s work. A lot of Kent’s work you know, anti-racist education. Anything by Kent DLO Leila, sod is all very important readings to participate in because it allows us to connect with that personal side of us and push a little in terms of our thinking around what it means to be just a human being, not even just for educators, just a human being. So those are some of the things that we’ve engaged in here. And then of course there’s any number of videos and media pieces that are all put together by again, people who are doing this work that allows us to build more awareness about the issues that are at the, the forefront of this. Right.


Sam Demma (21:25):
Yeah. Awesome. Thanks for sure. What personally on all fronts of life and education, not only with this topic, but what keeps you personally motivated and hopeful to show up every day with your energy and continue doing this work?


Eleanor McIntosh (21:40):
Yeah, so a few things, when I, I decided to become an educator, I came back to Durham where I part when I, where I went to school and, and was raised, I came back to Durham because I wanted to make sure that other students who were in our system didn’t have to experience some of the injustices that I experienced as a, as a young woman. Mm. The young black woman growing up in, in the Durham region. So it was really important for me to be active as an active advocate, right. To interrupt those, those injustices, that was really important. You know, I wanna make sure that I’m actively participating in state in change and not being complicit. And that, that, that, those aha moments, those, that feedback I get from teachers, from students that what we are doing is working definitely keeps, keeps the fire lit for me.


Eleanor McIntosh (22:41):
Mm. You know, when I hear that positivity, when I hear, you know, student voice coming to the forefront, definitely that that warms my heart. It really does to know that I’m, that I’m making those connections really strongly for, for our students. When I, when I see a student turn the corner that’s huge, huge for me because I I do this work for students. I do this for that next generation who is going to do amazing things very much like yourself, Sam, right, who are doing these amazing things that you know, 10, 15 years ago, we couldn’t even imagine, right. It is students that are going to create change for the future, right. We, it is, it is, it is this generation, your generat that, that are going to make that change. And so it’s really important that we empower them to do so. And the last piece in particular is at some point in my career, I became a parent and I have a young daughter a young queen. And you know, I definitely, I’m a young queen. And you know, I wanna make sure that the path is very clear for her coming in, into a system where I know there is injustice. So she is my light every day. And the one who helps to make sure that I am staying focused on the work that needs to be done, because I don’t wanna ever ha have my daughter to come home and tell me that she wants to have blonde hair and blue eyes again.


Sam Demma (24:24):
Amen. That’s awesome. Thank you for sharing that.


Eleanor McIntosh (24:28):
Yeah, no problem.


Sam Demma (24:30):
If you could if you could take all the experience you’ve had in education, bundle it up, walk back to when you first started teaching, tap yourself on the shoulder and say, Hey, this is what you need to hear right now. What, what advice would you have given your younger self?


Eleanor McIntosh (24:54):
Yeah, that’s another good question. I always, I always ask myself, I have learned, I, you know, when you, when you know better, you do better. And I, and I definitely have done better. So I was gonna go back to myself. I would definitely say, make room for, to connect with students, build community it’s community that signals belonging and value for kids. When you have that belonging and value, you get engagement. When you have engagement in the classroom, learning happens when learning happens, success happens. So I would make sure that I would tell my younger self to put aside. There are times when you need to put aside your plan and you need to make sure that you are bringing conversations that matter into the classroom.


Sam Demma (25:48):
Mm.

Eleanor McIntosh (25:49):
I really wanna encourage, I would really spend that time. I was a math and science teacher. So sometimes it can be very linear right in the way that we think. But I think, you know, sometimes we have to take risks, right? I I’ve, I’ve become a risk taker as I’ve, as I’ve matured in the profession. And I would, I would try to take more risks a little bit. I would try to make sure that I’m also using my voice, cuz I didn’t use my voice in those early years. I was too worried. I would use my voice as a vehicle and a platform to advocate even when it was difficult. Even when I fell, felt scared, even when I was fearful.


Sam Demma (26:32):
That’s awesome. Right.


Eleanor McIntosh (26:34):
I would do that.


Sam Demma (26:35):
Thank you so much for taking the time to come on the show. Talk about your experiences, talk about your beliefs and philosophies and share some important follow up on all the things that have happened over the past year or two years. If someone’s listening, wants to reach out, collaborate with you, ask a question, brainstorm some things. What would be the best way for them to get in touch with you.


Eleanor McIntosh (26:59):
Best way is to reach out to I’m not see super huge on social media to be truthful. So I’m on LinkedIn. That’s the one platform that I’m on. So you can look me up on LinkedIn for sure. And then look me up at Ajax high school for now or through the DDSB email’s always great. I’m always open to doing the good work and getting into good trouble with anybody who wants to do that.


Sam Demma (27:22):
Cool. Oh no. It’s thank you so much. Keep up the great work and we’ll talk soon.


Eleanor McIntosh (27:26):
Sam, it’s been a pleasure. Thank you so much for having me on the show.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Eleanor McIntosh

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.

Andrea Taylor – Principal at Gary Allan Learning Centres for Adult, Alternative & Continuing Education

Andrea Taylor - Principal at Gary Allan Learning Centres for Adult, Alternative & Continuing Education
About Andrea Taylor

Andrea Taylor (@GaryAllanSchool) is a Secondary Principal with the Halton District School Board and she is presently responsible for the Gary Allan Learning Centres that offer Adult, Alternative and Continuing Education at 5 different locations across the region. Andrea began her career 32 years ago as an elementary school teacher before moving to the secondary level as a biology teacher and department head.

In 2003, Andrea was promoted to the role of Secondary Vice-Principal and in 2012, she became the Principal of M.M. Robinson High School in Burlington where in 2017 she was recognized as one of Canada’s Outstanding Principals. As an outdoor enthusiast, Andrea believes that experiential learning can lead to some of the best educational moments for any learner at any age.

Taking learning outside, or even out of a classroom, can allow a student to think more broadly and creatively about the world around them.

Connect with Andrea: Email | Twitter | Website

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Gary Allan Learning Centres

Halton District School Board

Bridges to Success Programs (BTS)

Steve Jobs’ 2005 Stanford Commencement Address

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):
Andrea welcome to the high-performing educator. Huge pleasure to have you on the show this morning, please start by introducing yourself.


Andrea Taylor (00:10):
Well, hello, I’m Andrea Taylor. I’m the principal of Gary Allen learning centers within the Halton district school board. So I oversee four campuses, five campuses across the region that deal with adult alternative and continuing education for the school board.


Sam Demma (00:24):
How did you get into adult education? Tell me a little bit about the journey that brought you to where you are now.


Andrea Taylor (00:31):
Well, it’s not my first principalship. My first principalship was at a regular high school M.M. Robinson from 2012 to 2017. And this is my 32nd year in education. So I guess after my five years there, I wanted something a little different. And so this was one of my career profile choices. And so I came here in 2017, so I’m in my fifth year of it. So I’m not really sure that I had any vision for adult education. However, it has been a really nice experience for this time in my career. So I’m, I’m really enjoying seeing how adults who may not have enjoyed their high school experience, know that there’s a way in which they can come back and get their diploma. It’s a, a very very inspirational job when you give them a diploma and they’re 45, 55, 65 years old. And you’re never too old to, to get the diploma.


Sam Demma (01:33):
So that’s awesome. I think it’s such a unique school to be working in filled with inspiration. It sounds like it’s a very rewarding position. What it’s tell me a little bit more about the position itself and what you do in the school and why, why, why it’s been inspirational for you?


Andrea Taylor (01:52):
Well, I think it’s been inspirational because alternative education is what we run in our day school, plus adult credit programming. So alternative education for those students who are completely disengaged with the high school career for many different reasons. And they need to be, you know, they benefit from being out of that sort of trigger environment, quote unquote. So we have a step program which is secondary teen engagement program here in Halton, across four campuses, one in Burlington, Oakville, Milton and Georgetown. We probably have a hundred and about 150 you know, spread out throughout the region who do face to face instruction. We also run an alternative program called bridges to success for the over 18 year olds who may start to be a little older than wanting to be in high school. And, but they’re close to graduating. So it’s completely online.


Andrea Taylor (02:48):
So between those two programs, we really work to help students get their diploma. And we’re very well supported. The school board is very supportive of the alternative education and students who may have been lost and, and not return know that they have a safe place to come and and, and, and learn skills, learn coping skills and develop some positive confidence to then, you know, face the world. And a lot of these students, not all of them, but some of them, you know, live on their own and we assist them in navigating those social organizations and community supports and keep that diploma as a focus for them. And then they also know that if they age out because one under the age of 21 has a right to an education in a, in a school, but they know if they age out and they’re over 21, they can stay with Gary Allen learning centers and become one of our adults to get their credits and finish off so many, many success stories in many different ways.


Andrea Taylor (03:55):
Some say, you know, that’s, that’s it Ms. Taylor? I’m 18. I gotta go work. I’m like, okay, well you go work, but then you come back to us because they know they get equivalency credits for their life experiences too. So there’s inspiration everywhere and the way the teachers work with the students. So stories of adults who come back, they may have developed a career. You know, they left school early, but they now have their own children and they don’t wanna be a hypocrite and say, you go get your diploma. You need to get your diploma. And they turn around and say, well, mom, you haven’t gotten yours. And I’ve had parents and children graduate together. And I sh you know, to shake their hands at commencement. So yeah, a lot of different things that happened. And then the new program that we brought into our learning center is for newcomers. It’s the language acquisition programs link ESL FSL for newcomers. And within a year and half, we already have over a thousand learners. And that’s non-credit, but allows them to, to gain language proficiency, which then would allow them to move into our adult credit program. So newcomers can then get their Ontario diploma. So we have a number of different vehicles and avenues within the school board to meet the needs of a wide variety of learners.


Sam Demma (05:12):
What is the step or steps program? Tell me a little bit more about that as well.


Andrea Taylor (05:16):
So the step program is the secondary team engagement program. It’s been with the board for an number of decades now. It has been fine tuned over the last couple of years. It’s it has about two or three classrooms, two classrooms at each site, smaller setting it’s supported with child, youth counselors and social workers. And EA our staff are very well trained in trauma informed classroom instruction restorative practice. And we welcome students. It’s it’s continual intake. So we run it as a positive parallel program to your traditional high school, so that our colleagues, when they know that they have a student who is not engaging, has high absenteeism has sometimes high social anxieties can’t handle the big craziness of the high schools. They’ll do a referral to our program and the first year that we have them, the step, the E and step really stands for engagement.


Andrea Taylor (06:20):
We try to engage them, build trust relationships. A lot of times the students don’t trust the educational system. It hasn’t helped them. It’s been more of a burden. And so we really work on that people to people skills. The next step is to in sort of expand them and into experiential learning. We have a TRX program, which is for trades. It’s a, it’s a woodworking shop here at the main campus in Burlington. And so the students become very creative, build everything from paddles to desks, to whatever they want. And some have gone on to the trades of that, that encouragement. And then the final step to it is when we’ve had them for a few years, we expand them into experiential co-op community co-op they may go into the bridges program to do digital learning. So they see what it’s gonna be like at college and university.


Andrea Taylor (07:15):
And many of our students will have post-secondary plans, but we really have to unpack, I guess, the harm or the, the reason for being disengaged from high school any distress or anxieties, we try to, to work with the student and the families to, to make it better for them. And and, and then, so we do get a, a number of really good success stories. Yeah, I could, I, I could spend all day telling you a number of the stories, so that’s step and, and some students do come to, to us and they feel better and they have those skills to go back into their homeschool. So they may reengage. So that’s why we’re a parallel program for the high schools, but other students stay with us and graduate from, from here as well, or they go onto the BTS or they, they may become our adult credit students as well. So we never really say goodbye to them. We really help them until they, until they graduat. And even when they’ve graduated, they’ve come back and been speakers sometimes for our kids. Just say, there’s hope don’t give up.


Sam Demma (08:23):
That’s awesome. Is BTS the bridges program. And how does that differ from the step program?


Andrea Taylor (08:28):
So bridges to success is really for the 18 to 2021 year olds it’s completely online so that you need to be of a more independent student. And self-directed, it is continual intake as well. So our teachers have a combination of step classes and a bridge class completely working online. And and so some of those students may have already graduated high school. They may be an an OSS D grad already, but they’ve found that they don’t like the pathway they’re on. So they, they come back and they change their pathway, change their courses, do their upgrading. Maybe they’ve taken a year off before post-secondary and wanna get their marks to be higher. And so those students are older and, but they’re still under the age of 21. And and so again, it’s a nice piece for us. If we’ve had a student for a number of years and they’ve developed independence and reliability and they can get their work done, then we move them on to a bridges program because that’s kind of what they’re going to see. And we didn’t know when we devised that, that the world would be at one point a hundred percent online. Yeah. So we were kind of positioned well for that, but our teachers and our students have really done well by that program.


Sam Demma (09:48):
At what point in your own career journey did you realize education is what you wanted to do with your life and how did you come to that realization?


Andrea Taylor (10:00):
Oh, I don’t know. I was a competitive athlete when I was younger and did all the sports in school and I’ve coached and I’ve always coached when I was younger, you know, I’ve, I’ve just been helping others and instructing since I was probably 14. And when I was at university, I I really wanted to go into med school because I had some really good doctors, sports medicine, doctors help me. So that’s what I really wanted to do. But in third year university, I realized I couldn’t afford med school. So I went my other love of sports and PhysEd and health biology. So I went on to teachers college with no regrets and have a, you know, my specialty, my specialists are in phys ed and biology. And that’s what I became. I actually started in elementary school.


Andrea Taylor (10:48):
So you know, sometimes things work out for you and you don’t even know why until you look back. And so I don’t regret going into education. You know, I started in, in elementary, so I I’ve taught every grade from grade five to OAC or to 12 U biology. Nice. before going into administration. So it’s it’s been a nice journey. And as I said, you don’t always know. So you know, I got into education kind of by default, and then I’ve been blessed along the way that opportunity has just come up. And, and I’m a person that doesn’t wanna say what if down the road. So, you know, you give it your best shot and you do in my mantra is to live, do well by the people I’m responsible for. So, you know, as a teacher, you’re responsible for the kids. And as, as an administrator, you’re responsible for staff and kids and parents. So you just, if you continue to do well by the P people you’re responsible for, then I find it’s worked out well.


Sam Demma (11:42):
Steve jobs has this quote in his 2005 Stanford commencement speech, where he says, you can’t connect the dots looking forward. You can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that at some point in your future, the dots will connect and what you just shared made me think of that. And it makes total sense. When you think back on your career in education and all the different roles you’ve worked in, what are some of the experiences you went through courses, mentors, you came across, anything that’s been, you think helpful over the yeah. That’s, you know, putting you on the spot here and that’s a, a long career to pull from, but I


Andrea Taylor (12:22):
Wasn’t one of your questions that were, you gave me.


Sam Demma (12:25):
I know


Andrea Taylor (12:27):
But that’s okay. I still have a good memory. I was just, just speaking to one of my, I mentors this morning, you know people that I I have known throughout my 30 plus years here at the board. And you just learn, you, you learn who it is that are your critical friends and people that you can rely on and, you know, our role of, of maintaining pro professionalism, but we also are still human. So there’s times where you need those critical friends and, and safe places to just be you because you have to, to let it out. But I guess, I guess the, the, I would say, and I said this to some people, but I think back the most pivotal year I had was my fifth year of teaching at the end of my fifth year a teacher, I was surplus.


Andrea Taylor (13:21):
And I was told I had, you know, I got picked up at another elementary school and I was teaching grade five and, oh my goodness. So I had to go and get my junior qualifications. And I thought after my first day of teaching grade five, I was about to quit. And I was like, oh my gosh, a little old, I don’t, I don’t know what to do with these 10 year olds. And they ended up being the best class that I had. I have had former students from that class contact me and they’re doing well, but what I learned from that and surviving that year with these grade fives and then moving on into secondary, and then moving on to adult tell you, is that everybody’s a 10 year old, they’re just in bigger bodies. So, you know, they all need purpose and, and belonging.


Andrea Taylor (14:06):
And you know, I had to take a special ed course because I had so many identified students and I had a couple students with cerebral palsy. And in that class, you know, we just lowered the net to play volleyball. One person was in a wheelchair. Just learned so many things from that class and that experience and that’s taking special ed one is why I was able to move into secondary, to, to teach a course for students, with autism in science. And so things happen along the way. And, and as I said, you just do well by the students you’re responsible for, but I, I still think of that sometimes I’m the 10 year old and I’m like, I need, I need to talk to someone. So, you know, we’re all we’re all 10 year olds just in bigger bodies. And we just need to remember to listen to each other and, and not judge. And they taught me so much. I, I did not know that 10 year olds could be so responsible.


Sam Demma (14:58):
Yeah. They’re


Andrea Taylor (14:59):
Just amazing, amazing age.


Sam Demma (15:01):
I love that. And right now education looks a lot different, maybe not so much for the online learners that you’ve already had in the past, but for the in person with the challenges of the pandemic and the rise of so many important conversations education looks different. What do you think some of the opportunities are maybe to change or to improve over the next couple of years?


Andrea Taylor (15:29):
Well, anytime you’re, you’re given challenges you know, it’s kind of almost like a, not a correction factor, but when you’re given challenges, you really have to back up and, and, and take a look at the big picture. And a number of my colleagues will laugh, cuz I always have sayings for things, but sometimes when you have challenges, you hang on too tight, you’re hugging the tree too close. You’re looking at the bark and you can see the ants, you know, mark through the Bart and, and it’s really cuz you feel like you have to hang onto something where sometimes, you know what this is maybe out of our control. So I’m gonna back up completely and go and see the whole forest. I’m gonna get to higher ground. And I’m gonna look at the whole forest and say, you know what, I, I need to take a different path.


Andrea Taylor (16:07):
I need to go this way now. And so I’m hoping that with education, we’re not hanging on all so tight. And we, we look at it and say, okay, what have we learned? What are the good and, and the good thing is that, you know, when I taught three or four U biology and I had a student with mono, they might lose the whole semester because they couldn’t, they were in the hospital and they didn’t have the energy and, and they had to come back and have to drop out for a bit and come back the next semester, we didn’t have a way to just move and maneuver things online and keep the work going to them. Right. so the hybrid approach to, to education is important. But I, I also think when you back up, you start to look at what are the priorities and what is education.


Andrea Taylor (16:50):
What’s the difference between teaching and transferring knowledge to educating the mind and education doesn’t have to come out of a book education, doesn’t have to come out of a digital screen education, you know, looking at how you best learn and wanna be a lifelong learner. And we need to take the opportunity right now to say, okay, what has worked really well? What can we change? And, and what can we continue to do that the students really need to learn about themselves and others to be contributing citizens to a society once they graduate. So I think the opportunity is, is to step back and just go, okay, like, you know, we’re gonna, it’s a virus, we’re gonna have to live with it. We’re gonna have to learn to manage it. But in that, how do we continue to, to help the child’s mind develop the youth’s mind, develop stay positive. Things will get better. They may be different, but will be okay and people need to, to know that. And and we will get through it. And, and so education has the opportunity to, to open its mind and go, how do we deliver this information? Are we doing it in the best possible way?


Sam Demma (18:02):
You mentioned near the beginning of the interview, sometimes you would have former students alone come in and share their stories with the current students. And it would generate some hope. I think hearing about success stories during challenging times is a great way to generate hope. And I’m sure there’s so many success stories that have come out of your, you know, school at the adult learning education center. But when you think of some of the students who have made significant changes and improvements are there any specific stories that stand out and you, if it’s a serious story, you can change their name for privacy reasons. But I’m wondering if there’s any specific story that sticks out in your mind about a student who had a serious change, and positive change.


Andrea Taylor (18:52):
Oh yeah. There’s, there’s there’s many, but I have to be very mindful. I, I do wanna protect privacy. Yeah. but what I will say I think because of the way our, our step program is with continual intake and itself pace, so students go at their own, right. And so some of them that come to us that are completely credit deficit as we call it we’ve had there’s one in particular. I won’t go into details cuz I don’t want anyone to be a BA because it’s quite unique coming out of the, you know, the GTA, the Toronto scene. Yeah. you know, know getting towards 18 and having very minimal credits. And I don’t even know if they were double digit credits, but once we were able to get through that step one of relationships and you can trust us and we’re here for you and we’re not gonna give up on you.


Andrea Taylor (19:50):
And we’re, you know, we’re working with your family as well. And they be, wow, these people are not just bail on me. They’re not just saying, you know he was able to get 10 credits in a year. He was able to do some equivalencies. He was with us for about two years and came to us with no, no sense of purpose or where he wanted to be. And when last year in the middle of COVID, of course we had couldn’t have commencement of how all was virtual, but we did have some students who were able to come back and, and get their diploma and I would have my mask on and I would meet them outside and I would give them their diploma and F them. And it was very rewarding to go from a young man that you worried would’ve ended up maybe incarcerated or, you know, there’s sometimes I worry about if my students are going even make it to their 20th birthday or 21st birthday, but because of our staff and, and, and our support staff, social workers, everybody who works around these, these very you know, challenging students are, but they’re just products of their, of their their environment in sense.


Andrea Taylor (21:09):
Anyway, it was just so heartwarming to give this young man his diploma. And I asked, what do you wanna do now? And he says, I think I wanna be a plumber and I’m absolutely go and do it. The people are so needed. Everybody has


Sam Demma (21:24):
Well, its


Andrea Taylor (21:24):
It’s awesome. And, and so, you know, that, that gives our staff hope because some of our students are so fragile and, and they’re human and you, you, you just wanna wrap around them. And that’s, our focus is to do wrap around learning and support and, and get them to that graduation where they can then stay and articulate to you. This is what I wanna do. This is what I wanna be, where when they first come here, they’re like, I don’t know. I don’t know. Right. I don’t know. And that’s, that’s the beauty of education is, is helping a young person know where they may wanna go. Now it might change that journey might PA you know, like mine, I thought I might be going into med school, but I went into education, but they need that first encouragement, nudge, and support to do that. They don’t have all the answers right now. And that’s what as role models as adults, as educators, we need to do that for them.


Sam Demma (22:20):
That’s such a heartwarming story. Thanks so much for sharing that.


Andrea Taylor (22:24):
Yeah. Yeah. There’s been other ones where I’ve run across a student and you know, heard, they had been in, had done some time. And, but I was just so pleased to see that they were alive at sometimes you have students that go through and you’re like, I’m just happy. You’re here with me right now. So it’s, it’s, it’s all good. And and that’s, you know, education is around out the people and that’s the important part of it.


Sam Demma (22:52):
Hmm. When you think about your experience throughout education, you’ve already shared some great learnings and feedback, but if you could take all of your experience, go back in time to your first and second year, third year teaching, you know, tap yourself on the shoulder and say, and this is what you needed to hear. What advice would you have given your younger self or also someone who’s just starting to get into this profession?


Andrea Taylor (23:26):
I think that kind of goes with one of the questions you gave me about, you know, mistakes that you made and what I’ve learned from the, I think I would tell myself more and more, listen, listen more. Sometimes the things we think in our head, people aren’t always ready to hear it and you have to listen to the people, whether they’re peers or your, your superiors or your students, wherever you fit within the educational system, but really listen without judgment and don’t jump to conclusions. And but then know if you have something that that’s important to say, you plan out and pick the proper time to say it and in, in what manner to say it. So I have had mentors and people along the way who you know, jokingly, I can come out like a bulldog sometimes and because I become passionate about some things.


Andrea Taylor (24:21):
And I think if I’m so passionate about it, I’m gonna make you so passionate about it, but they are not ready to hear it in a way. And so I’ve, I’ve learned to, to slow down my conversation. So if I could go back to, oh my God, when I was turning to, I was 24 turning 25 when I started, oh Lord. I would be just saying, slow it down, Andrew, just slow it down and listen. And, and you know, not wanna qua the passion cuz that’s just who I am. But yeah, we sometimes in education always have answers for things and sometimes we don’t have the answers and we need to give ourselves permission not to have the answers and listen for it. Someone else may have it. Right. And that’s what I would say. It’s just slow it down and and, and listen for sure.


Sam Demma (25:08):
That’s awesome. Thank you so much for digging back. That was also for anyone wondering a non-planned question.


Andrea Taylor (25:17):
You like, you just put me on, you put me on the spot, which is kinda like my job, you know, there’s you come thinking you have your day planned or nothing planned or whatever, and all of a sudden it, it takes own path. Right. And you just gotta go with it.


Sam Demma (25:28):
Okay. Yeah. I appreciate you sharing and taking the time today to come on the show. Talk about your experiences, a little, a little bit about the school you work at and some of your philosophies around teaching and education. If someone is listening has a question for you or wants to reach out what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you?


Andrea Taylor (25:47):
Best to email me (taylora@hdsb.ca)


Sam Demma (25:49):
Okay, perfect. I will make sure to include your email in the show notes of the episode as well, or the article that we put together and they can, they can find the email there when it does get released. Thank you so much again for doing this. Keep up to great work.


Andrea Taylor (26:02):
And thank you. It’s been a pleasure. It’s made my morning. I think it’s made my day. So I thank you, Sam.


Sam Demma (26:07):
You’re welcome!

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Andrea Taylor

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.

Nicholas Varricchio – Principal at M.M. Robinson High School (HDSB)

Nicholas Varricchio - Principal at M.M. Robinson High School (HDSB)
About Nicholas Varricchio

Nicholas Varricchio (@MMrPrincipal)  is the current Principal of M.M. Robinson High School of the Halton District School Board located in Burlington Ontario. Nick’s career in education has spanned 24 years – 12 of which as a Principal. Nick has taught in 3 different school boards across Ontario both in the Catholic and Public systems, with experience in both the elementary and secondary panels.

Nick has earned a Master’s of Education from York University, a BEd. from the University of Windsor and his Honors BA. from the University of Waterloo.

Connect with Nicholas: Email | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

M.M. Robinson High School

Dr. Frank J Hayden High School

Solution Tree – K12 Professional Development

Halton District School Board

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:02):
Nick welcome to the high performing educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here, please start by introducing yourself.


Nicholas Varricchio (00:11):
Well, my name isNicholas Varricchio. I am a secondary school principal with the Halton district school board, and my current work location or school is M.M. Robinson high school. And thank you Sam, for allowing me to participate in my very, very first podcast. So if I stumble and hum and hall a little bit, please excuse that, but I’m excited about this opportunity and thank you for hearing my story.


Sam Demma (00:38):
Thank you for saying yes to this opportunity. I appreciate you may the time to come on the show. Why don’t you start by sharing a little bit about what brought you into education and maybe even explain how you came to realize that education was the career that you wanted to get into?


Nicholas Varricchio (00:58):
Well to be quite honest, I stumbled into education. It wasn’t something that I had planned as a, as a, as a kid or as a teenager, I, I stumbled into it. And you know, the reason why I, I like doing what I do is not because I’m crazy because a lot of people do think being a teacher or a principal today is to, especially during the pandemic, we ought to be crazy. Yeah, but I’m not, I can assure you. I feel that there’s no better place to stay young, energetic, and in tune with the world and the direction of the world, other than being in a school, you learn a lot from kids. They are, are the future. And if you enjoy working in a very fast paced environment with complex situations and you enjoy inspiring others to help evolve the world to be a better place, then absolutely.


Nicholas Varricchio (02:02):
There’s no better place to work than being in a school. What, whether it’s a teacher or a principal secretary, or even custodian, the kids of today will definitely keep you hoping and young and who doesn’t wanna stay young nowadays. Right. But I stumbled into this particular job, you know, as a, as a kid, I, wanted to be a rock star. I’m a musician and a drummer and still have music as part of my life. And although on the surface people might think that, you know, being a principal and a drummer and a, and a rock band are totally different you know, practices or careers, but, you know, I’ve thought about this for many years. You and I come to realize that, you know, I, came into schooling or education because of music, really, even though I’m not a mu I wasn’t a music teacher you know, musicians have a story to tell they like making connections through their music, which is a language and, and teachers and educators have a story to tell both musicians, both educators feel that their stories can inspire and make the world a better place.


Nicholas Varricchio (03:18):
So I think it, it, for me, it’s a, a very good metaphor to help explain how I stumbled into education.


Sam Demma (03:26):
I appreciate you sharing and think it’s so awesome that you still pursue your passion of music. Do you actively continue to play in bands today?


Nicholas Varricchio (03:38):
I do not as my much as I used to when, you know I, I was a young teacher or even a vice principal, but as a principal, I still do. Of course, the, the music industry is somewhat shut down today and has been for the last 18 months or so. So obviously no currently, but it’s definitely a something I continue to to do in my own house on my downtime gives me a definite a definite outlet. My wife is also a singer professionally, although she, she works for a, a big bank as well. She tends to be more active in music today, despite the pandemic challenges than, than myself. But you, yes, to answer your question, I, I still have music on, on, on the radar and hoping to sort of get back into that a little bit more formally once we’re behind once the pandemic is behind us,


Sam Demma (04:32):
You mentioned stumbling into education. You know, your first dream was to get into music, but you stumbled into education. Can you explain a little bit behind that stumbling journey or at what point you realized education is something I would like to do? And then what did the path look like from that moment?


Nicholas Varricchio (04:51):
So you know, I, believe that kids fall into two camps when they’re you know, pursuing their education or the school system one camp is that kids know exactly what they wanna do, or, or at least they think they know what they want to do post secondary, you know and they pursue it. And then there’s the other camp where, you know, kids have no idea what they wanna do post Canary and both camps are okay. I was in the latter camp. I did not know that I wanted to be a teacher. I did like music and wanted to dabble into that a little bit knowing full well that, you know, to make a real good go as a, as a career to let live off that most certainly would be a challenge for many people. And so I decided to, you know, continue with schooling after high school while I still played music.


Nicholas Varricchio (05:58):
And while, you know, I had my part-time job in the retail sector. And you know, when I entered university, I dabbled into all subject areas because I didn’t really know you know, what I wanted to do. And I wanted to see if I could keep as many doors open as possible, should the music not play out the way I thought and hoped it would. So that was in around the time where it was very difficult to get a teaching job. There was a surplus of teachers. And so I decided to take some time off after my four year degree, just to kind of play music, supplement my income with the retail sector and go from there and see what happens. And then after about a year and a half doing that, I kind of got tired of being around a bunch of Grammy guys, playing music in some bars.


Nicholas Varricchio (06:53):
And so I thought, okay, I’m, I’m gonna, I’m gonna, you know, apply to teachers college. And just the, to see where that goes. And it was very competitive to get into teachers college, but I made a commitment to myself that should I get, go get into a, a, a program, I’ll give it a shot. I got nothing to lose. And so I did you know after I completed my four year degree at the university of Waterloo you know, I, I eventually got into the university of Windsor for teachers college and during my first practice teaching assignment at WD low in Windsor, Ontario, I loved it. It was, it was the kids. The kids kept me hopping. I shared with them, you know, some of my, my, some of my journey with music and made a connection through them. And, and and that helped me, you know you know, get through the curriculum with the kids and keep them engaged, you know, developing those personal relationships.


Nicholas Varricchio (07:44):
So being able to, you know, share some personal stories with kids to, to engage them and using those stories to you know, work through the curriculum, I think was is key and was key for me. And so that’s how I kind of stumbled into it. Once, once I finished teachers college, again, there was still that shortage of of teaching opportunities. So again, went back into music into retail and did that for a few months. And then I thought, okay, I, I think I’m ready to at least apply. I think I have the maturity now to apply and let’s see where it goes. And so I applied to, you know, pretty much all the GTA boards and the Halton Catholic board was the first board to give me a chance. And you know, I supply taught and then quickly got out, got, got an LTO that evolved into, and to an, a, a, a position in an elementary school.


Nicholas Varricchio (08:45):
And I, I took it, you know, even though my passion was more of secondary and my experience in teachers college was secondary. I took the opportunity and, and it was a great opportunity that is for sure, but strange enough you know, a few months later I got a call from the principal at St. Francis Xavier, which is in Mississauga for a full-time geography position at their high school. And I never applied to that school. I applied to the Catholic board for a supply teaching gig, you know, several months before, but you know, the principal called me and I thought, man, that was pretty strange. And it was an odd time of year. It was like, you know, the third week of February and, you know, the teachers across the province were just coming off the major strike during the Harris days.


Nicholas Varricchio (09:37):
And so I went for the interview and, you know got the job. And I was in din field for quite a few years. And it was strange because that opportunity presented itself because the the permanent teacher, I guess, decided to marry some guy overseas and didn’t return to the teaching job. So, you know, the, the, I got that opportunity and I, because of somebody else’s best luck in a marriage. And it was a strange time. And I was with din peel for six, seven years. And you know, I was I taught at C I was just gonna zag another big, big high school in Mississauga. And then from there, I came to the Halton ditches school board, which which is actually home for me, I’m a product of the Halton district school board. My K through 12 experience was through the Halton ditches school board. And ironically very ironically the high school at, I graduated from 25 years later. I became the principal of that school at a time when many of my teachers were still there. And I, I wasn’t the best student. And most certainly, if you had asked those teachers if they thought that I would become a teacher or a principal at the school where they worked at, they would look at you like you’re crazy, but the world is a crazy place and a funny place. And that’s my stumbling into education journey.


Sam Demma (11:10):
You mentioned your belief about this idea that students fall into two categories, those that are so certain and, and know what they wanna do with their future and those that are not so certain and like yourself, I feel like I fell into the latter category of not a hundred percent being sure. How do you think we help those students that are unsure, you know, as a principal and as a teacher, how do we also support those students who are unsure, think about maybe what you would’ve needed when you were a student.


Nicholas Varricchio (11:45):
So, you know, and I know there’s gonna be some people who hear this podcast, who, who will adamantly disagree with me, but I, believe that it’s perfectly fine not to know exactly what you want to do as a young person. Mm. And I also believe that to help those young people who are not certain, what they wanna do is to highlight for them that it’s perfectly okay, because that will help take the edge off in some of the anxiety that they might be experience experiencing on not knowing exactly what they want to do. I always say to the kids, Hey, look at it this way. If you’re not sure what you want to do, and you spend an extra year at school, that means one less year that you’re, you’re having to work for a living. So, you know, I, say to kids, don’t worry about it.


Nicholas Varricchio (12:38):
Just, you know, if you’re not sure, just try a little bit of everything, something will, something will spark your interest and, you know, and once that spark happens, continue to spend more time and energy in that area. And it, it, something will emerge for you most certainly. So I, I think, you know, to help kids understand that it’s perfectly fine, you know, say that to them, be transparent with them. And again, you know, some people will disagree with that. Because you know, there’s so much pressure on kids nowadays in selecting the right courses is early on in their career to leave the doors open, which, you know, you wanna leave doors open for sure. But I think it’s perfectly fine and normal not to have a concrete plan for your next step in university, but I think if you, if you prepare kids and, you know, take that layer of pressure off of them I think they will appreciate that and understand that that’s just a normal process of growing and learning and moving on in life.


Sam Demma (13:45):
I personally agree with you and relate, because again, I was the student who wasn’t sure who maybe got three years of no work because I, I took a great third a gap year and a year off before deciding what I wanted to pursue professionally. So it’s really refreshing to hear that perspective coming from a principal as well. What do you find most rewarding about your work in education?


Nicholas Varricchio (14:18):
I, think, and often the reward is not an immediate reward. It could come days, weeks, months, and maybe even years after it’s, it’s seeing hearing or understanding that some of the work that you’ve done, whether it was directly with a student or a specific class or some of the work that you’ve done with the staff in your building or some of the work that you’ve done collaborating with central board staff, the reward for me is that I see that some of the energy input and voice has been acted upon and, and influenced others, processes, products or paths for kids or for staff that evolves schools systems and helps kids grow to be better people. Hmm. So I, that is, to me, the most rewarding bit is seeing that, yes, my work, my voice had a positive change for the better in education for kids.


Sam Demma (15:41):
And along your journey as an educator, I’m sure there’s been teachers, mentors, people that have poured into you and, and helped you, who are some of those people that come to mind and what did they teach you or share with you that you think was impactful in your journey of, you know, becoming the best educator and role model or, or principal that you possibly can be.


Nicholas Varricchio (16:07):
So, you know, I two things I’ve always had connections with teachers who am evolve themselves outside the classroom like through extracurricular, for sure. But also those teachers who had incredible stories and a gift to tell a story, to engage kids, to keep them captivated and listening and learning and class. I also, I also think that you know, my parents and I think this is probably, this will probably echo for a lot of people too. My parents were probably my best teachers throughout my life, and my mom Conti continues to be my best teacher in my life and together between, you know, my parents and my parents and my teachers throughout my school journey have always encouraged and, and foster this sense of, to ask some real crew critical questions. And don’t be shy from asking real critical questions.


Nicholas Varricchio (17:24):
That’s what I’ve learned. And, you know the power of partnerships are very important. And I I’ll give you two, two examples of, of partnerships with team parents and teachers that as, as a, as a kid, you know, if something happened in the school and I was directly involved in this incident, I tell ya I would go home. And of course, I’m not gonna say anything to, to my parents. And my mom would say, well, anything happened at school today? And I’d be like, Nope, Nope, no. And then she would throw it in my face. Right. And I would always wonder, how did she know? You know? And you know, she all always used to say, and I remember never lie to your mother. Your mother will know everything. The fact is my mother used to work for Loblaws and she was a cashier and the teachers would deliberately go through her line to share some of the things that were occurring in the class.


Nicholas Varricchio (18:25):
Now, whether they op, whether they deliberately shared to throw me under the, a bus or my mom would ask them, you know, keep the pulse of of of what was happening in schools, either way the partnership was there. And you know, funny enough, you know, again, when I came back to be a principal at the school we had a good chuckle with some, some, some of that, you know, cuz you know, here’s me being the principal and of the school and knowing that office space quite well from 25 years earlier. So very interesting. That is for sure. So the power of partnerships is definitely important. And in fact, my mom also volunteered in, when I was a, a high school kid, volunteered with the auto shop teacher. Now she claims she just volunteered because my dad was useless and didn’t know how to change a tire. But I have a feeling that I have a, I have a feeling, she did that to kind of keep an eye on what was happening in the school. So, you know you know, those teachers who had good connection or I felt I had a good connection with were those who actively got involved with my life, both inside and outside the classroom and through building partnerships with my parents.


Sam Demma (19:37):
That’s awesome. I totally relate to having parents as mentors, I’m even inspired deeply by my grandparents as well. Both who I think like yourself, are, are you a Italian? Is that your background?


Nicholas Varricchio (19:53):
Yes, I am. Yeah. Yeah. My mom and dad were both born in Italy. My, my grand, my grandparents of course were born in Italy. My, my grandfather was a world war II vet. Oh. They immigrated in the, in the fifties and you know, my grandpa other worked in the mines in Northern Ontario and the subways in in in Toronto and then actually later on in life, he, he worked for the the Toronto school board and he was a, he was a custodian for the for the for the Toronto school board. And for any Toronto district board central staff, one of his grievances was, you know, staff members leaving half coffee cups in the garbage cans. And at the time they weren’t using garbage bags and all that used to bother him. So if there’s any central staff listening, they won’t leave your half, your cup, half full in the garbage can for the custodians.


Sam Demma (20:49):
I love it. Leave it there. That’s a, that’s a very good point, but yeah. You know,


Nicholas Varricchio (20:53):
Yeah, don’t do that. Don’t do that. So, but anyway, that little, little funny story, but a true story.


Sam Demma (20:59):
Yeah. And my grandparents are both from Italy as well. My parents are born a year, but my grandparents are born there and grandfather’s name Salvato. And he, yeah, he passed when I was 12, but yeah, he was a big, you know, mentor, not even through his words because I was so young and you know, didn’t really, you know, understand a lot of the meaning of mentorship back then, but through his actions and his hard work really taught me a lot. So I think partnership is really important. And having people in your life who you can bounce ideas off of, or who you can share, the honest, authentic truth, no matter how bad it sounds and, and know that the person you’re sharing it with is gonna be giving you advice from their heart with your best interest in mind. So, yeah, I think what you’re mentioning with your mom and just with, with partnership in general is so important throughout your career in education have you come across any resources, any programs anything you’ve attended or things you’ve brought into your school that you think were really valuable for the community that another educator listening could also benefit from?


Nicholas Varricchio (22:10):
So, you know, some, some of the, some of the PD that I’ve participated in both through my board, the Hal and ditch school board, and, you know, other PD that I participated in outside our board through solution tree, I, I have the opportunity to, to hear a fellow, his, his name is Anthony Mohamed and he’s, he’s well known in education circles and a lot of his work centers on the importance of culture and really understanding culture of a school to, to, to navigate the culture and how to evolve culture in a way that best serves every single kid. And, you know, some of the messages and the, and the thoughts through his research and, and and work really resonates with me because, you know, understanding culture is understanding people and you know, and, and trying to inspire them to get them side and doing that takes time doing that, you know requires you to build trust lead with empathy. But also, and as my dad would say is, you know, approach relationships by being fair firm and friendly. Mm. So, you know, very simple. But I think it, it, you know, if you keep that in mind being fair firm and friendly you know, I think it, you’re in the right, you’re taking the right steps to, to, to build trust to get people to buy in, to feel supported and see the bigger picture on, on what you’re trying to do.


Sam Demma (23:56):
Got it. That’s awesome. Do you know, what’s a solution tree, like a organization that has some speakers or what, what is solution tree?


Nicholas Varricchio (24:07):
Yeah, so it, it, it’s a network of professional speakers that that, you know, they have, they put on conferences throughout the world really. And and I’ve attended a few conferences in the United States that one here too, as well in the past. And, you know, school will, boards will often tap into solution three to bring speakers to the, to their boards of education. And, and, and quite a few colleagues. I’m not the only one who will, you know you know, participate in these conferences with solution three. And of course, you know, they, they promote the, the the speakers and their books. You know, so it’s, it’s, it’s, it’s well known in the education world for sure. And the speakers that are engaged in solution tree are, are well known as well and experienced in school systems. They’re not just, you know they have experiences in schools. Let’s put it that way before they, before they became on the speaking circuit. So, yep.


Sam Demma (25:13):
Yeah, absolutely. That sounds awesome. Thank you for sharing that. I’ll definitely make sure to include a link to their stuff in the show notes of the episode. If you could take your knowledge and experience, and maybe this will be reiterating something you’ve already shared, but if you could take your knowledge and experience, wrap it all up and travel back in time, walk into the first couple of years of teaching that you did as a young educator. Not that you’re old now, but when you were fresh into your career if you had all the advice and wisdom now could give it to your younger self, what would you have told young Nick?


Nicholas Varricchio (26:00):
I would say that do recognize that everyone has a different starting point. Mm don’t don’t don’t assume that, so I don’t that as a, as a teacher that just because a student had graduated or moved on to the next level, they will, they, they do most, certainly have the same skill, knowledge experience, even though they formally have moved on, on to the next grade or the next course. So rec recognizing that, despite what it says on a transcript, know that when you are in the classroom with the kids, that despite what is said on their previous report card, for the course, they are coming with a diff or they both are starting your class with a different starting point. And I think also as well is you know, when they, when a student starts, starts a course with you as a teacher you know, you you’ll hear, you’ll hear things.


Nicholas Varricchio (27:16):
And if you review the OSR, which, you know, teachers are teachers, do, you know, just have that as a background, but, you know understand that it is a, it is a, a blank canvas and you have an opportunity to to work with that student from the beginning. Mm. So, you know, and we are approaching a new beginning, you know, February 4th is the start of semester two. And so every student and every teacher has a fresh start here in the next week or so. So I think, I think as a young Nick remembering and highlighting that, that every student that’s sitting in your class, despite what it said on a report card is starting from a different point in, in, in their, in their learning.


Sam Demma (28:11):
Hmm. That is a very good piece of advice. Thank you so much for, for sharing that if someone is listening to this, wants to reach out, ask you a question about anything we talked about during the podcast, maybe even inquire about hearing some of your music so they could find it online. What would be the best way for somebody to reach out and get in contact with you?


Nicholas Varricchio (28:34):
So I am on Twitter, (@MMrPrincipal). So that’s a good way to kind of remember, MMR principal. I am on Twitter and actually some of the, some you’ll see some music video clips on, on Twitter too where you’ll see me playing with some of the kids at my previous school and some good classic hard rock, a little bit of Metallica, Black Sabbath Motley Crew, which is not usual picks for your principles nowadays, but nonetheless, you’ll see it on my Twitter and those videos. Actually they, they came about in a very interesting way at my previous school before, before before, mm Robinson, I was a school, I was at a school called Dr. Frank J. Hayden. And it had a a common lunch and often kids would go into the music room at Hayden and just jam.


Nicholas Varricchio (29:27):
And so, you know, when I first got there, I, I kind of made a point just to kind of go in there, listen to what the kids were jamming with. And of course they’re jamming some hard rock songs and, you know, I just tap the drummer on the shoulder and say, Hey, do you mind if I kind of try a little bit? And they’re like, sure. And I’m like, what’s on, you know and, you know, just, you know, they started playing some stuff and I just played along. And all of a sudden, you know, kids started coming in and taking some videos and, you know, thought, Hey, look at this. This is really neat. And so I had them share the videos with me and, you know, just at the time I thought, you know, a good little memory of my experience at this school when I eventually move on.


Nicholas Varricchio (30:03):
But then when the pandemic hit you know, one, the first lockdown, you know, there was a lot of concern around about kids and staff becoming disconnected with the school. And so, you know, as an admin team, we would think about ways of somehow keeping the staff and students engaged with us or engaged together. And so, you know, at the time I thought, you know what, I, I, I’m gonna try, you know, some learning, some editing software that were free on the Google play store, downloaded them video editing software. And I decided to, you know, upload those videos that some of the kids took and shared with me. And, and and I started editing them a little bit and I thought, you know, how can I use this to engage the community? And so, and then I started tweeting them out and created a music trivia challenge and saying, okay, if anyone can guess what song I’m playing here with these students, you know, hit me back first, first, correct.


Nicholas Varricchio (31:00):
Answer. You pick up your hard prize when the school reopens, and I would do this on a weekly basis and sure enough, you know, kids were keeping engaged. And the whole point of that was ensuring that our school community remained connected. So another kind of innovative way to weave in music, to, you know, to share a story and, and work in partnership with kids. So, yeah, I share all that because some of my music’s on my Twitter handle and you can see how music can be weaved in as an educator and not just a music teacher.


Sam Demma (31:31):
Absolutely. that sounds awesome. I’ll, I’ll be following you after this as well, and digging for some of those videos. So I appreciate you sharing. Yeah.


Nicholas Varricchio (31:39):
Yeah, no problem. They’re buried in the Twitter. Yeah. Yeah.


Sam Demma (31:42):
Awesome. Well, Nick, thank you so much for taking the time to come on the show here. I look forward to staying in touch with all the amazing things you do. Keep up with the great work and, and we’ll talk soon.


Nicholas Varricchio (31:53):
Sam, nice meeting you. Nice talking with you and best of luck and stay safe. My friend.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Nicholas Varricchio

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.

Jim Rieder B.Ed M.A – Head of Institutes and Strategic Development

Jim Rieder B.Ed M.A – Head of Institutes and Strategic Development
About Jim Rieder

Jim (@riederj) leads the flagship Institute program at West Island College. providing students with academic focused experiential opportunities focused on future careers opportunities in Business, Engineering, Health Sciences, Liberal Arts, Fine Arts, and International Languages and Culture. 

Jim is always looking to partner with professional organization who will share their stories and provide opportunities for his students as they develop their passion for future university and career paths.  Jim has had a dual career in Education and in the Software industry.  Jim started his career in education and education administration, becoming a Vice-Principal at 27 years of age.   

After a 7 year stint as a school leader, Jim left education to pursue a career with a software startup that grew, went through a series of acquisitions and went public.    

Jim eventually became a sale director who looked after sales teams and a reseller channel that extended across North America and the globe.  About 6 years ago Jim returned to his educational roots and started working at West Island College, leading the Admissions team, and eventually transitioning to his current role as the Head of the Institute program.  

Jim has been married for 27 years and has two grown children who are pursuing their own careers in Business and Biotechnology.  Jim’s enjoys hockey, golf, travel, backpacking and just being with people.

Connect with Jim: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now (Part One)

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

Listen Now (Part Two)

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

Resources Mentioned

West Island College

Flagship Institute Program at West Island College

Bachelors of Education at University of Alberta

College of Education at San Diego State University

Books by Peter F. Drucker

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 to bring you today’s guest. He is the head of Institute and strategic development in Alberta at West Island College. Jim leads the flagship Institute program at West Island College; Jim rider. He’s providing students with academic focused experiential opportunities, focused on future career opportunities in business, engineering, health science, liberal arts, fine arts and international language and culture.

Sam Demma (01:06):
He’s always looking to partner with professional organizations who will share their stories and provide opportunities for his students as they develop their passion for future university and career paths. He has a dual career in education and in the software industry. In fact, he started his career in education and educational administration. He became a vice principal at 27 years old and after a seven year stint as a school teacher, Jim left education to pursue a career with a software startup that grew and went through a series of acquisitions and ended up public. Jim eventually became a sales director who looked after a sales teams and a reseller channel that extended across north America and the globe. About six years ago, Jim actually returned to his educational route and started working at west island college, leading the admissions team, and eventually transitioned to his current role

Sam Demma (01:53):
as the head of the Institute program, Jim has been married for 27 years, has two grown children who are pursuing their own careers in business and biotechnology. And when Jim’s not in a classroom room, he enjoys hockey, golf, travel backpacking, and just being with awesome people. Jim is a kind human being. I’m so excited that he agreed to come on the show today. I’m actually working with him and his school and bringing them some awesome presentations, and I really thoroughly enjoy this, this interview and this conversation. And I hope you do as well. I’ll see you on the other side, talk soon. Jim, thank you so much for coming on the High Performing Educator podcast. It is a huge pleasure to have you on the show. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit about the journey that led you to education today?

Jim Rieder (02:40):
Hi Sam. Well, thanks for having me. I appreciate being here. It’s a, it’s an honor for me actually, to be invited on your podcast. I appreciate that. So my name is Jim Rieder. I am an educator in Calgary, Alberta. I currently work at West Island College. I’m the head of institutes and strategic development. I’ll talk a little bit about that more, I guess, during the podcast. My journey started a long time ago, actually sitting in a classroom in high school. I think I was in a grade 10 or 11 social studies class and I was watching the teacher teach. She was a bit of an old school teacher and it was the, the class was a bit boring and, and I thought to myself a few times in that class, you know, I think I can do that better.

Jim Rieder (03:28):
I think if I was in charge of this class, I would, I’d be able to provide a great experience for the kids that are sitting here board to death that are, that are trying to find any excuse they can to get out of the class and, and go to the washroom or in those days go have a smoke outside. Yeah. And I think that’s what started me on my journey into education way back in the day. And yeah, I went to, I went to the university of Alberta and did a bachelor education. And then my very first teaching assignment, I went out to the, I was, you know, I was a young kid living in the city and I’m like, you know, I’m never gonna, never gonna work outside of the city. All my lifestyle and friends are here. And I found myself very shortly after graduation out in rural Alberta, a few hundred kilometers away from Edmondson, a teaching in a K to 12 school with 300 students in living in a teacher Ridge way back in the day. And that’s where it all began.

Sam Demma (04:19):
Oh, I love that. That’s an awesome story. And I can relate to the boring classes, but I, I also, on the other hand know that I had some teachers that were super inspiring correct me if I’m wrong, but your journey took many different turns. I mean, you got involved in technology, you got involved in sales, you did a bunch of different roles in and out of education. How did some of, how did some of those opportunities appear for you and what encouraged you to pursue those?

Jim Rieder (04:47):
Sure, great question. So when I was in university still, I, I you know, they started bringing in what they called computing computers for teaching. And we were all made to take a computers for teaching course. So when I graduated, I went out to these rural school, these rural schools for the first time. Well, I was now, I now became the computer expert in the school. Nice. And I remember in the, in the in the school that I was in, in Wayne Wright, they had just brought in a brand new lab of apple, two GSS or something like that. And nobody knew how to use them. But I had taken a computers in, you know, education course. So I was the resident expert. So I started running the computer labs right back from the beginning of my teaching career.

Jim Rieder (05:30):
And I eventually moved on into the Calgary area to south Calgary. And again, got involved in teaching out there was running the computer labs. I became a vice principal very early in my career. I was a, only about 27 when I became a vice principal. And I was involved in bringing technology into the division. I sat on a districtwide technology committee and we, we were the ones bringing new computers, new, new software, new programs into the school district. So about 10 years into my teaching career, I’d already been a vice principal for about seven years. Some friends of mine were involved in a educational startup out of Simon Fraser university. Nice. And they asked me to, they were looking for sales people who had education experience.

Sam Demma (06:14):
Nice.

Jim Rieder (06:15):
So it was a very young company just getting started. And I thought, well, you know, I’ll take a bit of a flyer and I will, I will, I will leave the reigns of education behind. I was quite young. I knew I could come back to it. I was in line for principalships, but I was a bit young yet for, for, to really take on the, on that role. So I thought, Hey, I’ll, I’ll try it out. And my school division was kind enough to actually give me a leave of absence and hold my position for me. And they did that for two years while I went away. And cuz they wanted that, you know, young technology leader to come back anyway, I became the, the, the, the Western north American sales manager for this brand new company and, and and started traveling and that company we started doing quite well.

Jim Rieder (07:02):
We were selling collaborative, educational, collaborative project based learning software early days kind of prebi internet access. So local servers with kids accessing accessing projects to the web browser, its very pioneering, very interesting. Well that company went public and we bought, we bought a much, we did a reverse sort of takeover and bought a much bigger company and that carried on my journey of selling collaborative groupware products back to education. And for the next 15 years I sold with its sales team across north America. I became the director of sales north America us Europe and we sold collaborative groupware solutions to big school districts, universities, private schools allowed them to have their groups of people working together, collaborating. It was a very exciting journey that being in the public stock markets was very exciting, both the rise and the fall of the, of the stock markets.

Jim Rieder (07:57):
We, we, we injured the dock calm bubble both the growth and the bursting of it. Yeah. And about about five years ago, six years ago now I guess I was friends of mine were working here at the west island college and the economy was changing in Alberta and one of them reached out and said, Hey, you know, we love your background. We love your experience. Why don’t you come check out a private at school? We know that’s your background and your journey. And so I came over and talked to the headmaster and they said, we really like your blend and your mix of experience and maybe you should come and work with us. And so that, so I’ve been here for six years and it’s been a, it’s been a great journey here at west island college.

Sam Demma (08:35):
That’s awesome. I, I have so many questions. You know,

Jim Rieder (08:41):
That was the Kohl’s notes version

Sam Demma (08:42):
Of the, yeah, I know there’s so much more to it. Especially during the rises and falls, I’m sure there’s a lot of, a lot of great stories packed in there, but I’m fascinated by,

Jim Rieder (08:51):
Well, everybody was a, everybody was a stock expert back in, you know, the.com era

Sam Demma (08:56):
Making all

Jim Rieder (08:56):
The, we had stock tickers on our computers all day long,

Sam Demma (09:00):
Making all the projections and assumptions, people going on the news and saying when things are gonna happen and then the total opposite happening

Jim Rieder (09:07):
It wasn’t about wasn’t about making money. It was about how much you could spend in those days.

Sam Demma (09:11):
Interesting. It was

Jim Rieder (09:11):
Different era.

Sam Demma (09:12):
Yeah. I’m curious though, you know, you mentioned become becoming a vice principal at 27 and then, you know, moving out of education, getting into sales very quickly, becoming a, a, a national sales you know, manager, what do you think are the principles and philosophies that you carry that allowed you to Excel quickly in those different roles and positions, because they’re, they’re very different. But I’m curious to kind of dig into your own philosophies. What do you think makes a, a great leader, salesperson educator, et cetera? Sure.

Jim Rieder (09:44):
Well, that’s, that’s an excellent question. And I always, I often thought about that and talked about that in terms of someone from education who transitioned into the business world and what skills that being an prepared me for. You know, the idea that and, and I think a lot of it comes from the classroom where you, when you walk into a, into a room full of people and you’re ready to do a presentation or a sales pitch, you need to very quickly understand who your audience is. You need to understand how, how to to make sure that you are addressing their needs. And building a rapport very quickly with them. Reading the room is a very important skill for an educator. They need to know what students are up on a given day or what down or on a given day, which students might be causing you a little bit of discipline problems and how to deal with those, how to, how to, how to control the flow of your presentation.

Jim Rieder (10:33):
How to understand if you’ve got half an hour as you’re a teacher, if you have a, some plan you’ve got pacing skills, all of those kind of play into effect in, in a sales pitch, of course, as an educator, you’re naturally just trying to, you’re trying to get your audience in front of you to learn something new. And I always thought, you know, I’m not selling, I’m teaching, I’m educating my audience about the benefits of my product and how that will help them in their organization. And that’s not what a teacher does. 6, 7, 8 times a day is they get in front of a room of a new group of kids and they, and they try to convince them that what they’re providing is valuable and useful and having them to, to, to take that up. So, you know, organizational skills, thinking on your feet just the interrelational skills that teachers have with, with, with, with working with other people, all those skills are, are empathy for other people. Mm. Those are all skills that are very transferable into the business world. And I’ve said that time and time again, to, to people who are thinking about making, making a transition,

Sam Demma (11:33):
Who, who are some of your inspirations just outta curiosity, people that you have looked up to that taught you these own philosophies and principles that have served you well, personally.

Jim Rieder (11:42):
Yeah, that’s a great question. Probably my most, the largest inspiration I probably too, but in my early days it was the principal. It was the principal who I was the vice principal for out in in just south the Calgary and the Foothill school division. Doug Anderson was his name. He was a long time principal. And that, and Doug just taught me about empathy, about caring for the people who work for you about knowing, knowing who they are, what their family situations are like when your staff was, when your staff was having good days and bad days and, and just reaching out and making sure that they felt valued and listened to, and that you tried to help them out of tough situations. Or as many times I know was with him. And it, it was just about taking care of people in need. The other thing that he was really good at was, was, was always looking for the, yes,

Jim Rieder (12:36):
He he wasn’t, when you came to him with ideas, it wasn’t about, oh, no, no, we’ve never done it that way. Or we can’t do that. It was always about how could we do that? That’s you know, let’s, let’s explore that. How does that fit into what we’re doing? So the, the yes, and philosophy is something that I really learned from him. Just the idea that we, we want to keep moving forward. And I think that that’s played very well for me in my career. And then when I first came to, when I first came to west island college, the headmaster here at the school as well Carol Grant wa was of the similar fashion. She was at the pathetic leader. She, she really cared for the people who were working for her. She really cared for her students.

Jim Rieder (13:20):
If someone was sick, you immediately go to the hospital to, to see what they need. If they’re in the hospital, just that reaching out and making sure that people feel welcomed in a party or community was very important. And the other thing I learned from her too, was that she was a very quick to quick decision maker and people, if they come to you, if they come to you with a problem and they’re looking for a decision I learned from her that, you know, you’re better off making that decision quickly, whether it’s something they want you to, whether it’s good or bad, just make the decision and move on. And those are a couple things that I learned from those two people.

Sam Demma (13:55):
And I’m interested to also know when you took the shift away from education and into the business world, who were some of those similar role models that you looked up to, and maybe they were authors or people that you haven’t even personally met yet, but drew a lot of inspiration from,

Jim Rieder (14:10):
Yeah, that’s a good question. I think, I think one of my early sales managers, sales director was his name was Scott Rosses and he, and he, he taught, he taught me a lot about, and he’s still in the business world and he’s still selling a lot into back into the education space. And he was a, he was a world class rower competitor. And, and he, he had that competitive edge, you know, do whatever it takes to, to get it done. You know, overcome the excuses. I can remember being with him at a conference in in Texas, we were in, we were in Austin, Texas, and our materials. We were at a trade show and our materials had not showed up. And we were kind of like in a bit of a panic and, and it was just like, well, we’re gonna make this work. And we were at, we were at king coast, you know, king coast in those days, you know, at two in the morning, the night before at big trade show, getting all of our, getting stuff, printed it, getting trade show materials printed. And it was just one of those, like, let’s just get this done kind of attitudes. And I learned that from him that, you know just, just, if people are counting on you to get something done, then, then get it done. Mm.

Sam Demma (15:27):
No, that’s awesome. Love that. So, so cool. And this all comes as experiences that you’ve had, and it’s, it’s almost like you’ve, you’ve been building your life’s resume through these experiences, which have led you to where you are right now, which is strategic planning and development at the school. What is that role? Why are you passionate about it and what are you responsible for doing with the school?

Jim Rieder (15:48):
Sure. Those are, those are great questions. So I guess, so the first part of my role is the our Institute program here at the college and the Institute program is what I would call a, a, a unique academic experiential education offering. So we all know the idea that we, we offer academics in the classroom and this that’s, you know, the core, bread and butter of the school. And when we talk about the co the experiential education, you know, Westtown colleges does a lot of travel programs. We do a lot of sports teams. We have a lot of clubs that run throughout the school day, but the Institute programs are kind of over and above that. And what we try to do this is give a, give kids experiences and opportunities to explore future career path for themselves. So about 11 years ago, the first Institute, if you will, was developed, that’s called the, was the business Institute.

Jim Rieder (16:40):
Mm. And the whole model was that we would expose students to they might they could be in the city or outta the city class, outta class experiences at businesses on offices, meeting professionals you know, accountants, finance, people, investors, and and those kind of things. We expanded into engineering, liberal arts, fine arts, health sciences, and international languages and culture. So we have six institutes running now, and, and I oversee that program. We have coordinators for all of those institutes. And on a weekly basis, we try to provide 20 or 30 different opportunities for students to just do that experience. What a future meet professionals in the, in fields, in their field experience some activities around what they might do in their, in their career, in their lives, find out what their educational background was like, what their journey’s been like. It really just expose them to what the future sure. Career potentials could be. We run a block of time on Friday in our timetable called focus Friday. And every week we, we plan 20 or 30 activities that the kids can participate in. Usually there are a series of four or five that occur a week after week. So the kids can actually participate in, we have a group graduating on Friday with drone, pilot licenses. Wow.

Sam Demma (17:54):
For example,

Jim Rieder (17:55):
We we have students that just built a virtual reality experience. We’ve got yeah, we just, you know, on and on, we do engineering courses. We’ve got kids who have built battery pack systems that are for green energy supply and how they’re adding solar panels and things like that to them just various various kind of activities in all of those institutes. And it goes, and the we also plan weekend activities for them. And we have travel programs that are associated with them. So a couple examples might be a trip to the Silicon valley, which we unfortunately had to council of last year where the kids would go and learn about the, the tech sector and entrepreneurism and the history of computers. And we were going to Tesla and Google and to Facebook and the history of computer museums.

Jim Rieder (18:43):
We have a trip that goes to New York city, and we go look at the financial district and go to investment banking houses and go to wall street and get them exposed to the, to the financial districts. So, yeah, it’s just that we have, we go to hospitals, we go talk to doctors, we have you name it. We have people coming in. We really, we really rely on our alumni community who are willing to you know, get us into their facilities and tell us about their career path. And we, and we rely in our parent community who are all, you know, leaders and experts in their own. Right. And it’s just a fantastic program. So I’m very excited about that. The kids are excited about it. They can earn certificates alongside with their high school diplomas. It becomes a resume builder for them, but most importantly, it really helps them on their journey and their path to what their future might look like.

Sam Demma (19:32):
I can tell, like, it seems like it sounds like a core belief of the school and yours is the importance of experiential learning. Why do you think, or does the school think experiential learning opportunities are so essential and important to young minds?

Jim Rieder (19:47):
Yeah, we really, we really do feel that that’s the value add of the program that we offer here is is that opportunity to, to go off and, and explore and to, to become independent and to work collaboratively with collaboratively, with others to, to build leadership skills, to, to and just to open their minds to what the global possibilities are for their future. So our travel programs are, are, you know, are about exposing them to the become global citizens. And, and to give back as we do service work in those things, our sports teams, like most schools are about developing leadership and, and, and you know, comradery and, and, and on and on and on it go. So, you know, if you’re, if you’re only coming to a school to just take, then you’re missing out on all of the things that you, that you should be participating as a young adult that will help you build your, build yourself, build your character, build your, build your leadership skills, build your public speaking skills, all of the things that will do you well in the future,

Sam Demma (20:46):
It’s a holistic picture, right. And you gotta have all the, the separate pieces before we continue. Do you have a hard stop right now? I know we started a little late. I just wanna make sure you still have time, but if you had it, I’m good. Okay.

Jim Rieder (20:58):
I’m up until 10:15. I have a meeting at 10:15.

Sam Demma (21:01):
So, okay, perfect. So, so many things happening at this. Cool. what do you think right now is the most exciting project? I know that there’s so many things going on before we started this call. You talked about a, a business case competition. What are some of the more exciting projects that are going on? And I guess that’s a subjective question. So you can add in your own personal flavors and passions in this one.

Jim Rieder (21:25):
Yeah. It’s interesting. I know some of your early questions were about COVID and Marilyn talked about COVID, but I wanna talk a little bit about the school in general, in that sense, because when we in Alberta, the school’s locked down in March and we really only closed the school for a day to train our, make sure our teachers were up to speed on using the, the virtual, the zoom technology. We went to the zoom platform

Sam Demma (21:48):
Just a day,

Jim Rieder (21:49):
Just one day. And the next day we were, we were back, we were online, we were completely virtual. And our students were taking their classes on a regular schedule online with their teachers. So we, we really only instead of being in person, we went virtual and classes carried on. We for normal, this was, this was an incredible pivot and an incredible change that, that occurred. And it allowed us to carry on and finish the school year strong. Mm. And when we started up in the fall again, we took that. We took that and we learned, and we came, cuz we came back in the person, but we added extra into all the classrooms. We continued to train our teachers on how to use technology for teaching and learning when the students weren’t weren’t present. And now we went into a hybrid model.

Jim Rieder (22:39):
So some of our students were at home and some of them were in the classroom. Most of them were in the classroom, the teachers. And just to see, I mean, that’s an, a challenge in itself, but just to see, but to see the whole community thrive and grow on that has you’ve you we’ve added technology. We’ve never thought we would be using before this, every week we celebrate and showcase new software. That’s being used by teachers and their students in the classroom. There’s always one of our, our, our one of our senior leaders who works with teachers on their professional development is always showcasing on a what kind of innovative and new things that are being done in this school in this virtual hybrid mixed model. You know, if you talk about a project, that’s the big project that’s carrying on.

Jim Rieder (23:25):
Now we see all the clubs have returned. We’ve seen our we’ve started to be able to sneak back. We had outdoor ed occur with some grade nines. They went out cross country skiing, you know, instead of taking one bus, you take four buses and spread them out. And, and just the, the adaptation that’s occurred has, has been a, a amazing to watch this, the whole school go through that transformation, even in my program, you know, I couldn’t, we can’t go to Silicon valley. So we’ve been bringing Silicon valley to the school virtually. I’ve had Tesla engineers. I’ve had, I’ve got a Google engineer coming in tomorrow. We’ve got, you know, all sorts of resources that we would’ve gone to in person are now coming in and virtually. So that, to me, that’s the big project. And then the question will be, I think that will change us as we, if we get back to, you know, the normal we’ve got so many more tools in the tool belt that we’ll be using going forward. That just makes us a better place.

Sam Demma (24:19):
And, you know, you mentioned going on field trips with four buses instead of one, I think it’s important to also share that, you know, you’re one of the people that just became certified to drive the bus. That’s great.

Jim Rieder (24:30):
I just went through a nerve wracking class, four driver’s license test last night.

Sam Demma (24:34):
Yeah. And I, well, what, what I think is so awesome about that is that, you know, you are in this position of influence and leadership within the school and you’re the one going and getting the, the, you know, you’re not hiring a bus drive, you’re the one going and getting certified. It just kind of shows your principle about, you know, I can, we can, let’s figure it out and just make it happen. I think that’s just really interesting and cool. What do you think is one of the greatest opportunities in education right now with challenges? There are opportunities and sometimes they’re hard to find but I find that if you look for them, you know, they, they kind of present themselves.

Jim Rieder (25:07):
That’s a good question. I think, I think, you know, with our new gen ed gen Z cohort, that’s kind of in the school now. Yeah. I think just to continue on the path of personalization. Mm. I think students are looking for that. You know, they want to be known in the school, which we think we do a good job of, and they want personal, they want their, you know, their, their, their journey through school to be personalized. And I think that with the ability to be flexible in our programming, whether students are here, whether they’re at home you know, students are in and out all the time now the flexibility of, of not having to, you know, they don’t have to be in the school to take the test at the same time as other kids, we can bring them in after hours, for example, which we’ve run in after our test center.

Jim Rieder (25:52):
So they can come in and write tests in a, you know, more secluded environment, if that’s what they need modification of programming, you know, we’re an academic school. We’ve, we’ve added us. We’ve really beefed up our student success center and are really trying to do a lot more with personalizing the per programming for all the students. I think that’s, I think that is the, the model you know, do we have to be in school five days a week? Can we be in school three days a week can be at ha at home can the families be at their, you know, away on holidays or those kind of things, and still have the students come into the school. We are moving in that journey already where we have, you know, high performing students who are away for athletics or for something that they’re pursuing outside of school and the ability to give them programming that sort of meets their needs. I think we’re on a journey that that’s gonna take that to a whole nother level.

Sam Demma (26:45):
I agree. There’s, there’s so many opportunities right now to personalize, especially I was talking to another school recently, not only with the students, but also with the parent community. I had a teacher tell me that they, they would do all these parent engagement events and not many parents would show up. And the moment it became virtual, you know, parents started showing up because they could keep their greens off. They didn’t have to talk to other people if they ended a long Workday and just wanted to sit back and learn and listen. So there’s even in some cases, opportunities for increased engagement or increased interest. And I think you highlight that with all the different things happening, you,

Jim Rieder (27:16):
You hit the, you hit the nail on the head there. We just ran our parent teacher interviews last week. They were all virtual, of course. And, and, and parents signed up for 10 minutes, you know, their blocks of time. And it was solidly booked for two days. Wow. So, you know, those kind of things are definitely changing. We just ran a, an information meeting on Wednesday on Tuesday night with eight alumni who are in the medical profession. And the whole theme of the theme of topic was how to get, you know, what, what’s it like being a doctor? What’s it like getting, how do you get into medical school? What are the kinds of things that are going on? And we had about a hundred people on that call. So, so people are definitely willing to sit in the comfort of their home and, and be a part of a, of a zoom call or a interactive session that way,

Sam Demma (28:02):
Love that. Awesome. And being cognizant of the time maybe we’ll do a part too as well if you’re open to it. But I, I would love to know if you could go back in time and give yourself advice when you just got into education and teaching, what would you say? What, what advice would you give knowing what you know now?

Jim Rieder (28:22):
Oh, that’s a, that’s a pretty philosophical question. And You might wanna cut this outta the interview.

Sam Demma (28:31):
No, not at all.

Jim Rieder (28:33):
No, I think I, I think probably one of the things I would do and maybe it’s still down the road for me is I would, yeah. I really think that there’s a education is in, in is in a stage of transformation and you know, the virtual world is coming. Technology is coming. I always thought there was a, I always thought there was a room for a different model of a school and maybe that’s part two of the conversation. But yeah, I think I would’ve, I think I would’ve you know, worked harder, maybe it’s still to, still to come, but yeah, I think there’s a, there’s some new models of education that I probably should have, could have pursued in terms of, you know, stepping out on my own. I have the business experience now. And I would’ve said to my said to, you know, I always say to my kids and I’ve said, it doesn’t matter what you do, what your passion is, but try to own the business that you’re, that, that you’re in. So you can, as long as you’re, you know, living your dream own your business and, and take it. So I think that’s something I might have done differently to my, or told my younger self is you’re in education. You can change the world. You know, you, you know, you can do this well to take the, take the reins by the horn and create your own vision in your own school or your own, your own your own education system. If that, if that makes sense,

Sam Demma (29:48):
It does. And I love that. You said if it’s yet, maybe it’s yet to come. I was listening to a podcast recently with Jim Collins and Tim Ferris. And Jim is one of his mentors was Peter Drucker. Who’s like this know brilliant thinker. And I believe he has something like 29 or 39 books that he’s written over this, this man of his lifetime. And

Jim Rieder (30:10):
I’ve read, I’ve read some of his books.

Sam Demma (30:12):
They’re awesome. And Jim was

Jim Rieder (30:14):
A master’s degree.

Sam Demma (30:15):
Yeah, that’s amazing. And, and Jim was telling Tim, Jim Collins was telling in Ferris that he got to visit his house and see all the books he had written in order sitting on a shelf. And he asked the person who owned the estate. Now, can you point on this shelf to where Jim was 65 years old? And the lady pointed to the first third of the bookshelf and he blown away that this guy wrote the two thirds of his life’s content after the age of 65 years old. And it’s just a test Testament that goes to show that age is a number. You can create things for the rest of your life. Sure. And I think its just important to end on that note because someone listening might be a little older or, or just starting and now’s the time was the time.

Jim Rieder (31:03):
Right. I agree now is the time. Yeah.

Sam Demma (31:05):
And if someone listened to this and was inspired at all, wants to chat with you, have a conversation, what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you?

Jim Rieder (31:13):
They can email me. I’ll give you my email address. That’s okay. Yeah, Jim Rieder. So JimRieder@mywic.ca.

Sam Demma (31:27):
Awesome. Jim, this has been awesome. We’ll definitely do a part 2, and until then keep doing great work and I’ll talk to you soon.

Jim Rieder (31:34):
Sounds good.

Sam Demma (31:35):
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 Jim Rieder

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.

Tim Cavey – Founder of Teachers on Fire, 8th-grade teacher and assistant principal

Tim Cavey – Founder of Teachers on Fire, 8th-grade teacher and assistant principal
About Tim Cavey

Tim Cavey (@MisterCavey) is a husband, stepfather of two, 8th-grade teacher, assistant principal, and the host of the Teachers on Fire podcast. In 2019, he completed a Master’s in Educational Leadership degree that re-ignited his fire for teaching and put him on a new path of growth, professional reflection, and content creation.

Tim’s a firm believer in the growth mindset and advocates often for the kinds of informal professional learning that can be found on social media and in blogs, vlogs, or podcasts. When he’s not creating content or spending time with his family, you’ll find Tim hiking, flying his drone, or paddle boarding in the chilly waters of the pacific northwest.

Connect with Tim: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Vancouver Christian School

Masters of Education in Educational Leadership at Vancouver Island University

Teachers on Fire Podcast

Mindset by Carol Dweck

EdPuzzle

StreamYard

FlipGrid

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 come back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest is Tim Cavey. He is a husband, stepfather of two, eighth grade teacher, assistant principal, and the host of the Teachers on Fire podcast. In 2019, he completed a masters in educational leadership degree that reignited his fire for teaching and put him on a new path of growth, professional reflection, and content creation.


Sam Demma (01:05):
Tim is a firm believer in the growth mindset and advocates often for the kinds of informal professional learning that can be found on social media and in blogs, blogs, or podcasts, just like this one or his own. When he is not creating content or spending time with his family, you’ll find Tim hiking, flying his drone, or paddle boarding in the chilly waters of the Pacific Northwest. Tim is a brilliant, brilliant educator and an awesome human being. I’m so glad that he agreed to come on the show and I hope you enjoyed this interview as much as I enjoyed chatting with Tim. I will see you on the other side, talk soon. Tim, super excited to you on the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself in whatever way you choose to do so and share why you’re so passionate about the work you do in education and with young people.


Tim Cavey (01:56):
Thanks so much, Sam, what an honor to be here. You inspire me so much. So thanks for having me on I’m an eighth grade teacher, assistant Princip, both rookie assistant principal this year, and the host of the teachers on fire podcast. You asked about where my fire comes from, and I always point back to the start of my master’s program a few years ago, and reading Mindset by Carol Dweck as, as kind of a couple of really pivotal moments in my academic journey, my education journey. So those together with launching the podcast have really sort of set me on fire, and gotten me excited about learning again and sharing what I’m finding with other educators.


Sam Demma (02:37):
Love that you mentioned the book mindset, I’m a big fan, and I sure you could riff about the difference between a growth and a fixed mindset. I’m curious to know what would those two perspectives of a growth and a fixed mindset look at today’s current situation of education and, and take away from it. So looking at the challenge of COVID 19, what would the fixed mindset person think say or do versus the growth mindset?


Tim Cavey (03:02):
I think the fixed mindset would look at all of the problems and sort of stop there and attach labels to the problems. Talk about the, just the difficulties we face the, the, the way states and districts are not really listening to the needs of educators, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And, and, and like I said, kind of stop there. I think the growth mindset recognizes the adversity we’re facing, but actually says, okay, what are the takeaways? What can we learn from this? How can we actually move education forward and transform it in a permanent way based on what we’re finding. So educators have learned so much and grown so much and fully mindful that the last year has been a nightmare for a lot of teachers. I, I do see tweets about teachers leaving the profession and so forth, but on the other hand, teachers have really gained a lot of knowledge. Teachers who really didn’t spend much time online a year ago are now fully embracing these ed tech tools, getting into new spaces, covering better strategies for delivering formative assessment to their learners. And it’s super exciting. So the fixed mindset is all about labels. The growth mindset is all about saying, how can I evolve? How can I adapt? How can I move forward based on what I’m facing


Sam Demma (04:16):
And what are the opportunities that you personally have discovered? I know you, you know, you teach grade eight and rookie vice principal in those two roles, what are some of the opportunities that, that have surfaced for you that you think have been very transformational in your own learning and growth?


Tim Cavey (04:33):
I think some of the most growth that I experienced was actually last spring during the lockdown when I was forced to go virtual along with a lot of my colleagues and I did get into some new tech tools that were pretty transformative. So I, I started to experiment with ed puzzle and I’m, I’ll forever be an evangelist for ed puzzle. I think it’s such an underrated tool. Pad is an another one, Flipgrid wake lit some of the tools that I, I, to that point I sort of knew about, but hadn’t really played with too much. Now this past school year we’ve been face to face. And so I’m sort of going back in some ways, but still a, as I said earlier, like trying to implement those new tools in the old spaces, if that makes sense. So trying not to go right back to the way things always were and bring some of those new insights and strategies into my practice. And I would say to some extent I’ve been successful now this year has been really tough in other ways in terms of masking and COVID protocols and, and no field trips and no assemblies, and just a lot of things that kill the joy of school. And so in that process, we’ve learned how to, within our school building livestream assemblies in and deliver them into every class and, and bring about or livestream parent teacher conferences. So those are some things that in terms of access we can move forward with as well.


Sam Demma (05:55):
I love that. And you do a phenomenal job with your own podcast, which we’ll talk about later on today. It’s a huge, amazing resource, not just the podcast, but you have thousands of links on your website to different books and, and past episodes in blog posts. And I was getting overwhelmed with how much you provide, like, it’s just, it’s phenomenal. And I see that you use streamy have like multiple educators on the screen at once, which is amazing. You know, you mentioned a bunch of awesome tools and you said you’re a huge evangelist for the ed puzzle. Can you explain what that is? And also maybe explain what streamy yard is if anyone’s curious about using that for their own virtual assemblies.


Tim Cavey (06:32):
Sure. So full disclosure on ed puzzle, I’m at a new school this year and I, I have not yet convinced my it department to get on board with ed puzzle. So that’s still, that’s still a discussion that is ongoing, but ed puzzle is basically a way to engage and to monitor student engagement with video content. So if you think about the flip classroom, if you think about asynchronous learning resources, we know that our students re night with video, we’re creating more and more tutorials all the time, whether you are a math teacher, English, whatever you’re working in, hopefully you’re starting to do a little bit more screen casting. And so thinking about that, ed puzzle is that tool that actually shows you have my students viewed the content. Have they responded? You can integrate questions really well. And so I it’s, it’s simple. It, it’s not an elaborate tool, but it’s so effective.


Tim Cavey (07:24):
You also mentioned stream yard, which is something pretty different, but I’m having a lot of fun with that one Sam a year ago, I, I started seeing teach better and other friends streaming. And at first I was like, this content is not so great. Like what, what sort of educators gonna sit around and watch this grainy video one on one interview, right on YouTube or whatever platform. But I started to warm up to it. And I realized that there are certain things going on there that are actually really powerful and impactful. So the live Q and a, the live connections relationships are actually forming around some of those streams. So yeah, I, I made the decision to start streaming every Saturday morning on streamy yard, which you mentioned, and it has a free base level that you can just experiment with. And then there are tiered levels above that, that allow you to stream on multiple platforms and get rid of watermarks and so forth.


Tim Cavey (08:17):
But the goal is really just to share ideas and amplify voices. That’s what I do on my podcast. And so now I’m starting to do so by video. And, you know, just last Saturday, I had the pleasure, the honor of hosting five Latina superintendents from California. Nice. And that was such a fun conversation. I was way out of my depth, but it was a really fun conversation. And I learned a lot. I left super inspired, so it benefits my professional practice I find, but it also just gets the word out and shares ideas as well.


Sam Demma (08:50):
My mind immediately jumped to three years ago, being in Costa Rica, dancing the Beata and salsa with people in, in Costa Rica. When you said that that’s so cool ideas, spreading ideas, such an impactful way to share content, to share practices again, your podcast teachers on fire and your whole platform does a lot of that. I’m curious to know out of the, I don’t know, hundreds of conversations that you’ve you’ve kick started and had so far, what are some of the ideas you’re hearing that you think are important to listen to important to try and maybe implement during these crazy times?


Tim Cavey (09:30):
There are so many different directions I could take that. I mean, I guess my brain is still stuck on the virtual sort of hybrid mediums and platforms. So another part of my work, something I’ll be engaging in later this afternoon is is connecting with a virtual conference presentation platform and looking at what they can offer educators in terms of a local conference happening in this area. And so I, you know, I look ahead to the future and I think, yes, I look forward to getting back to face to face. I mean, who doesn’t love those face to face conferences, but as I mentioned earlier, I think we have to really improve our access at, especially when I think of rural educators, international educators, we, we need to think about how we can scale our learning and share it a little bit better. And so virtual conference presentation platforms that that’s one way to do it. And, and then I think your part of your question related to the classroom as well, right? Could you just reframe it for me?


Sam Demma (10:29):
Yeah, absolutely. So a, a teacher right now might be listening or an educator who is struggling. I think the basis of all change stems from an idea, right? Like the water bottle that’s beside me on my desk was an idea in someone’s mind before they created it. You’ve heard hundreds, if not thousands of ideas within your conversations. And I’m curious to know if there’s been any ideas educators have shared that you think might help a classroom teacher or principal or educator in any sense.


Tim Cavey (10:56):
Yeah. Wow. So you just opened the door for me. One, one example that is fresh in my mind that I was just talking about yesterday is there’s an educator on Twitter by the name of Tyler Roblin. I hope I’m seeing his name correctly. And he is experimenting with different forms of assessment and some really progressive practices in his high, high school English classroom. Something he has done is built a rubric for his high school English writers. That is it. It’s got those proficiency columns. So it’s grade list in that sense. And then each of the proficiency levels is actually hyperlinked out to a YouTube video that explains exactly what that student needs to be focused on. And I saw that Sam and I was like, wow. If we can start to hyperlink rubrics like that, then students can on their own time asynchronously actually dig into exactly how to take that next step.


Tim Cavey (11:54):
And so when I think about tools like that, when I think about tools like moat that are offering audio feedback embedded right in Google classroom and other learning management systems, it’s a pretty exciting time just for better feedback, because we know students learn best when they have immediate precise feedback. If you just think about the coaching the coaching metaphor, right? Like a basketball player doesn’t benefit too much from a review of a game two weeks later. Yeah. They benefit from some coaching right in the moment. So looking at the tools that allow us to do that faster and, and more precisely like moat or, you know, deliver that pinpointed advice to take the next step, like the hyperlinked Google docs that really excites me. And I think moving ahead, teachers teachers are going to be adopting more of those practices. And, and it’s a good time to be a student.


Sam Demma (12:47):
Teachers are also struggling to find balance between work and life. And I, I mean, I saw your recent post that said in, in 48 hours, you had 858 emails. And I was, I was blown away and I was curious to know personally, what tools and management systems you use to organize your own time you know, to separate work in life. What is your own system to look like when it comes to time management? Do you have something that’s that you try and follow? That’s been helping you?


Tim Cavey (13:19):
Usually my answer to that is just obviously using a calendar. I shouldn’t say obviously. So using a calendar cementing in those times that are non-negotiables. So, you know, I’ve got Friday family fun night, make sure to connect with my boy and my wife, and actually have some quality family time. Saturday is really date day or date night. Nice. For sure. So spending some quality time with my wife device, free dinners, shutting it down, usually weeknights, we try to shut it down around 9:00 PM and those are all just guardrails that sort of help to put some structure around my life, make sure I’m getting decent sleep, make sure that I’m cultivating relationships and not neglecting them. But other than that, Sam, it’s an ongoing struggle. And so yeah, you saw that tweet where I, I mentioned, I just sort of ignored email for a few days and of the emails piled up and I ended up blowing a couple of appointments and one of them was use and my heartfelt to apologies.


Tim Cavey (14:15):
They, no. So it is, it is tricky. And, and to that point, let me just say about email. I hear some educators or I see it sometimes on Twitter saying like, yeah, I just step away from email and completely ignore it for a while. And I think, yeah, well, yeah, that kind of works. But on the other hand, when you, when you know that the emails are piling up, it, it is going to stress. It’s going to add more people to get back to you. So I, I think email alone is just such a difficult space to manage effectively. One more thing I’ll pass on that might be helpful to somebody in your audience is I keep, I keep my iPhone on, do not disturb twenty four seven. So if you’re not in my favorites list, you probably won’t reach me by phone or by call or by text, at least in real time.


Tim Cavey (15:00):
You’ll sort of have to wait until the next time I actually look at my phone, but to me that just slows down the mountain. Well, it does more than slow down. It kind of eliminates the mountain, the avalanche of notifications. And, you know, I look at some of my colleagues who get a notification every time they receive an email. Yeah. I, I just think that would drive me crazy in a short amount of time. So try, do not disturb on your phone if you are getting a snowed under by notifications. That really that was a game changer for me.


Sam Demma (15:30):
I love that. It’s a great piece of feedback. I saw this funny tweet the other day as well. And it was this girl explaining how you could hang up the phone without letting the other person know that you hung up and essentially you just slide up and you hit the airplane mode button and on the person calling you screen, it’ll say call disconnected or did not go through as opposed to, as opposed to hang up. So if you have to avoid a phone call too there’s this little strategy for you.


Tim Cavey (15:57):
Nice, nice, bad connection.


Sam Demma (15:59):
Yeah. Right, exactly. I’m curious to dive a little more into Tim, your passion for education. Like, you know, you could have taken many different paths back when you were in school. What, with the passion you have for technology with the, in the, the entrepreneurial spirit that you obviously have starting these ventures, what drove you specifically to teaching?


Tim Cavey (16:24):
I think at the time it was a love of people. I knew I, I enjoyed working with kids and a love of the classroom. And I, I will say too, like some really impactful teachers that influenced me. And I just thought, like, I can see myself in this space and teaching has sort of a sense of autonomy, at least within the classroom. Most teachers have a sense of autonomy and independence in the sense that you can really make what you want of the day. Yeah. You’re you caring for these kids of different ages, but you can shape the learning experience and, and you can impact your own level of fun. And I, I get excited when teachers are actually teaching to their passion and that is very evident to their learners. They’re teaching to their strength and they can bring in things from the outside, whether it’s a side hustle or other passions, bring that right into their practice.


Tim Cavey (17:16):
I think on, so another answer to your question, Sam, I look at you at, at, you know, 21 years old, you blow my mind. And I think if I could do it all over again you know, if, if that was my generation, I would take a, a really hard look at content creation as a path to act, actually developing and building your own career. And that may involve some level of being in the school system. It may not, but you, you really excite me because you have that whole, you have your whole career track in front of you. You’re making all the right moves. My Matt,


Sam Demma (17:49):
I appreciate that. And I, I’m learning from gracious educators like yourself, who give their time to chat with me on this podcast. You know, one of the reasons I started it was because I don’t have all the answers to give educators, but I thought, wouldn’t it be cool if I could just invite them on the show to chat about what’s working for them in the hope that other educators might listen. I want to go back though, still to those teachers that you said deeply impacted you when you were in school. Mm. What did they do? Like, what was it that those teachers did that had such an impact on you that it drove you to go to education? Because I know I had teachers that changed my life and I can pinpoint the reasons why, and I feel like for every person it’s a little bit different. And if you can pinpoint those things, it’s essentially teaching other educators what they can do to also impact their kids. So I’m curious to know if you can pinpoint the characteristics or things that those teachers did for you.


Tim Cavey (18:39):
I think one of the teachers, I always look back to his name was Mr. Bergen and I had him in eighth grade. And it’s kind of funny that I’m an eighth grade teacher today. Yeah. And although my, my teaching assignment is sort of going to evolve a little bit next year, but I, I teach eighth grade. And so Mr. Bergen was such a supporter. And, and like, you always hear, I mean, I don’t remember a ton of specific moments or lessons that he taught, but I remember the way that I felt in his class. And I remember the way that he encouraged me. I came to Mr. Bergen. Now this is going to sound so nerdy, but I came to Mr. Bergen as a really passionate writer and content creator. Pre-Internet nice. And I was, I was, I, I had fun like working with word processors at the time, there was one called print master.


Tim Cavey (19:28):
I I’m sure no one has ever heard of it. That was, this is the time of word perfect. And corre draw and some really primitive tools now. But I was, I was excited to play with these tools and I had the vision of creating a class newspaper. And Mr. Bergen actually trusted me enough or gave me enough space to actually print a few additions of my newspaper and put them up on the bulletin board. And just something like that. I know I, I look back and I’m like, okay, he was giving me that commendation and that encouragement, that, that approval at 13 years old and now you know, much, much later I am writing blog posts. I’m creating content, I’m doing writing all the time. And I look back at him as a really key you figure in that journey. So there were others in my high school experience as well, but I will shout out Mr. Bergen. I haven’t had contact with him in decades, so I hope he’s still around, but, but I will, I will shout him out as someone who just, just gave me that encouragement and gave me the space. Like he took a risk, right. Because I could have, I don’t know, put something really awkward or inappropriate up on the bulletin board or sort of made him look bad somehow. But he, he gave me the space to try that and he cheered me on and I think it shaped who I am today.


Sam Demma (20:46):
I think giving students responsibility is such an impactful way to build trust. I had a pass guest on, who told me that he had a student in his class that was giving him issues or giving them issues. I can’t remember exactly who the guest was, but they told me that after a couple months of of struggle and he took his car keys and said, can you go into the parking lot into the front seat of my car and grabbed the jug for me? And the kid was like, do you want me to do it? And, you know, gave this kid his trust and his responsibility. And he went and he got the thing, he brought it back into the school. And it was like, he said, it was like a flip switch. The kid changed from this problem to this. Wow. I was useful to the teacher.


Sam Demma (21:28):
He trusted me enough to give me his car keys. I kind of crashed the car. And so, you know, hitting on that piece of, of responsibility is so huge. When I look back at my experience, when I was in grade 12, Mike loud foot was the name of the teacher for me, who’s now retired. And you mentioned it already, but he was so passionate about his, that it just rubbed off on me. Like I felt like he was doing his life SQUI teaching was his ministry. And it was so evident. And you mentioned that, you know, you loved when teachers are passionate about their content. Do you think that’s also a, I wanna say a trait of a high performing educator or a teacher on fire. Like you, you need to be passionate about the material that you’re deliver in teaching


Tim Cavey (22:10):
100%. And if you don’t have the passion, maybe you’re stuck with an assignment that you didn’t really want. I mean, try to generate that passion, dig into it, lean into it try to, to bring that curiosity to life. But absolutely if you’re, if you’re in a situation where you have no passion for your content, it, it really is to think about maybe moving on or changing context, right? You don’t necessarily need to leave education, but as I’ve interviewed educators, one story that I didn’t see coming, Sam was this idea that for many teachers, it was just finding a different situation that actually better aligned with their passions and that brought their fire back to life. So I, I do have a, a concern or a passion for those teachers that are burning out or don’t have much fire left. And I think one of the solutions, one of the answers sometimes is just finding a, a situation that fits their passions and aligns with their values a little better.


Sam Demma (23:06):
And how long have you personally been teaching or in educational?


Tim Cavey (23:11):
Well, I’m embarrassed to say beside you, but that’s okay. I started, I actually entered the field in 2001. That was my first fall.


Sam Demma (23:19):
So 20, 20 years now.


Tim Cavey (23:21):
Yes,


Sam Demma (23:21):
That’s awesome. And if you could, if you could like go back in time and speak to younger Tim and give yourself advice relating to the practice of education and teaching, what advice would you give yourself knowing what you know now?


Tim Cavey (23:36):
Oh, man. Well, my thinking has evolved in the area of assessment quite a bit. Okay. And so the way that I collect grades or, or marks, whatever you wanna call them that would evolve considerably. I would make sure to clarify I could talk about that quite at length, but basically it would be keep the focus of assessment on the learning and not any not any of these old compliance measures that we used to keep in mind. So, you know, that’s a whole other topic, but you know, that’s something I would definitely bring back. And again, Sam, if I could go back to the beginning, I would say just from a content creator perspective and just a growing professional, like just write one blog post a week. And that would be absolutely transformative over the, the decades. Not just for any kind of an audience, although that audience would certainly come.


Tim Cavey (24:30):
And, and that brings a whole lot of opportunity and, and fun growth as well. But just simply for my own professional practice, there is power in self-reflection. We know that from the classroom, we call it metacognition. We think about it all the time. We want students self-assessing more today. We want them reflecting on their learning. Why aren’t we doing more of that as educators? Right. George Kus actually said when he was principal in Alberta, he made his staff take two hours and write a blog post about their learning. I don’t know if a lot of teachers are ready for that. Yet. There, there might be some rebellions in some staff meetings, if, if, if principals tried to force that, but there’s so much power, right. In actually reflecting on what we’re learning and how we’re doing. So I think that’s, my answer is more reflection along the way.


Sam Demma (25:17):
I have to ask, cuz you sound super fired up about assessment. As a young student myself, I struggled with my self worth because I had to hatched it to my talents, achievements and accomplishments, which sometimes was my grades. Because as an athlete, if I did get a 95% average, it would lead to a potentially higher scholarship at a university or a school. I also attached myself with, to soccer because my whole family praised me as an athlete growing up. And I thought if I wasn’t a great athlete or student, I would be worth nothing as a human being, which looking back now I realize is totally crazy, but it seems like the assessment system is set up that way. When a soccer game get a trophy, everyone praises you do well in school, get high grades, everyone praises you. But what makes it scary is that if the opposite is true, if you fail, which is supposed to be something that teaches you a lesson, you get reprimanded. And I’m curious to know how you think assessments could be changed, adjusted or altered to remove that, that issue of failure being a bad thing. And what you think about the whole idea of failure.


Tim Cavey (26:22):
Wow. Well, I mean, it goes back to the growth mindset, right? Do we see failure? I mean, you could spell the word fail as first. Why am I forgetting it now? It’s okay. First attempt, first attempt in learning. There we go. First attempt in learning, but yeah. But I think it goes back to the growth mindset. And as you say, how do we look at failure? Do we look at it as a stepping stone? Do we look at it as a, an inevitable part of the journey as a sign that we’re actually stepping out and taking risks? Do we believe that the most learning and growth happens when we leave the comfort zone? I mean, to take it into sports or into the gym, I, you know, our physical ball is only really grow and develop when we’re pushing them to their limits and the same is true of our brains.


Tim Cavey (27:08):
So to bring that back to assessment, yes. I mean, traditional assessment systems have done a great job of ranking and sorting and yes, traditional grades motivate a certain number of students, but they also demotivate a great number of students. And what they do is assign labels and validate people to say, either you’re smart or you’re dumb or whatever, fill in the blank. I mean, as educators, we cringe at those terms, but that’s the way people tend to interpret grades or have traditionally, as, you know, this, this X pathway is not for me or that kind of thing. We put ourselves into boxes. So all kinds of limitations come with those labels of letter grades and percentages. And as we can start to move away from that and actually put the focus on learning and growth and standards, the, the curricular standards then we start to create some space for students to take risks and not worry about being penalized, but try new things and move forward and move into unfamiliar territory. So there’s so much we could talk about there Sam, but yeah. I’m not a fan. I understand the difficulty. You mentioned scholarships and that’s tricky. I mean, we’ve got some big question to sort of resolve at the high school levels in terms of college and university acceptance. And we, we’re not about to convert the whole system overnight, but that’s where we want to get to in my mind is really put, putting the focus on the learning and the assessment, the feedback on growth.


Sam Demma (28:41):
I love that that’s it’s great to hear from an educator, first of all. And I would, I’d love to see how you test the different theories with the students and classrooms that you work within. And on that note, I’m curious to know, like, have you tried anything unique with your own students with your own grade eights? That’s a little different or outside of the box per se? Over the years,


Tim Cavey (29:03):
I mean, this won’t shock any edge educators in British Columbia, but I have not entered a number in my grade book in math or English in three years. So all I, all I track is proficiency levels and you know, that, and so there’s, I condition the cells in my, in my Google sheet or Excel, whatever to reflect, you know, the color code. And so I can see at a glance how a student is doing on these different learning standards. And that’s just one small answer to your question is I just don’t use numbers. I refuse to put overall assessments on math, you know, summative assessments anymore, because I know that students will just look at that overall assessment and they’ll tend to say, oh, I did, I did great. Or I, I did terrible. And then the, the quiz or the test goes in the garbage and they’re not really moving, not learning forward at all. So yeah. Keeping the focus on the standards, getting away from grades is, is one thing for sure. But does that answer your question?


Sam Demma (30:06):
Yeah, I was actually curious to know when you mentioned people in BC, wouldn’t be surprised by it. Is this like a province-wide initiative that’s been started or tell me more.


Tim Cavey (30:16):
Yeah. So I, I mean, across the province and, and you raise a good question, had know the answer to this in terms of, is it actually provincial policy? Okay. but, but the, just the, you know, if you look across all of the districts K to eight, basically there are no, there are very few holdout schools or districts at this point who are not in a proficiency scale model, you know, moving from emerging to developing, to proficient, to extending and teachers and educators are measuring, learning against that framework. And that’s gonna look different. I mean, there, there are sort of experiments happening and different variations and you see one point rubrics and things like that. But by and large, no very, very few schools would have letter grades and percentages in British Columbia at this point. And I know we’re pretty progressive on that front, so it’s not going to be the same in every state in province, but it’s a, it’s exciting. It’s a great place to teach right now.


Sam Demma (31:17):
It’s innovative, it’s disruptive. It’s, it’s leading the cha change. It, I even fascinating when you mentioned the four words, you know, the, the one at the bottom is emerging. That’s a very positive word. Like I remember getting my report card and it, you know, if you did something bad, it was needs, improve needs, improvement or satisfactory. And the use of positive wording, even if you are on the lower level, you know, of where you maybe should be in terms of the I’m an emerging student, that still sounds amazing. And, you know, the student will probably remain, remain positive in that grading. Yeah, there’s a great book called catch them. Why they’re catch them while they’re good, which talks about the importance of, you know, praising the positive behavior instead of coaching the negative and how sometimes coaching the negative diminishes or is the student’s confidence. And right. I think that system does a great job of ensuring students still feel confident despite where they’re at. Yeah. What, what has your experience been with that? Like, I mean, if you had to grade a student lower or, or as an emerging student what does their feedback, like, how does a student react to respond?


Tim Cavey (32:22):
I mean, so full disclosure, I mean, students do try to sort of compare our current system to their older models. And so they, they will interpret that typically as you know, as, as failing or we try not to use that word, but yeah, I mean that they, they tend to go there, but you’re right. It is a positive word. And the more we can use that proficiency language, it really puts the focus on learning as growth, right? This is where you are now, but it’s not static. I think that’s the key difference. You’re not an F student you’re learning on this particular standard is a urging or developing. It’s going to move forward to proficient. How can we get you there? Got, and I’ve, I’ve got a good friend on Twitter Jeffrey Fri from California who talks about getting rid of, as you said, deficit based assessment. A lot of our assessment looks for the faults. What if we focus on what if we focus on the growth? What if we focus on what we see and sort of fan those flames and work from there. So, yeah, I love it.


Sam Demma (33:25):
Cool. I love this. And I, I wanna wrap up today’s conversation highlighting your role Adex of resources, if, if you’re okay with me calling it that sure. Where can people go and listen to your podcast, give a brief explanation of the cast itself and why it started and, and where all the resources are housed.


Tim Cavey (33:44):
So thank you so much, Sam. I really appreciate this opportunity. You have a brilliant future. My man, and I’m so grateful to be connected with you today and going forward. So I started the podcast on anchor. I would encourage all budding podcasters to consider it. I actually don’t know where you’re hosted, but anchor is free. It, it distributes my podcast to 12 different apps and platforms for free, which is phenomenal. Can’t beat that value. Nice. And you can, so you can find teachers on fire on just about any podcast app, wherever you listen to podcasts. And you can also find my website, which is badly out dated and needs and overhauled, but I do have some posts happening there @teachersonfire.net. And you’ll also find me on any social media platform, including clubhouse at teachers on fire.


Sam Demma (34:32):
Awesome. Tim, thank you so much. And personally you already have enough emails, so I won’t direct people there, but if someone wanted to just shoot you a question or a message, what would be the best way? Would Twitter be the best or what social platform should they gravitate towards?


Tim Cavey (34:48):
Yeah, sure. Like I said, you could probably reach me on your favorite platform, but I am most active on @TeachersOnFire and yeah, you can reach me there. I’ll definitely get back to you.


Sam Demma (35:00):
All right. Cool, Tim, thank you so much for coming on the show. Keep lighting educators on fire in a metaphorical sense and thank you so much. It was an awesome conversation.


Tim Cavey (35:09):
Thank you for having me, Sam. It was a pleasure.


Sam Demma (35:12):
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 Tim Cavey

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.

Catherine Hogan – English teacher and Student Leadership Advisor

Catherine Hogan – English teacher and Student Leadership Advisor
About Catherine Hogan

Catherine (@CatherineJHogan) is an English teacher and student leadership advisor at Westwood Senior High School. She is a high energy educator that consistently looks for new and exciting ways to give her students amazing opportunities. Enjoy this conversation with her.

 

Connect with Catherine: Email | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Westwood Senior High School

Canadian Student Leadership Conference

Canadian Student Leadership Association

Ontario Student Leadership Conference

Global Student Leadership Summit

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):
Do you want access to all the past guests on this show? Do you want a network with like-minded individuals and meet other high performing educators from around the world? If so, go to www.highperformingeducator.com. Sign up to join the exclusive network and you’ll get access to live virtual networking events and other special opportunities that will come out throughout 2021. I promise you, I will not fill your inbox. You might get one email a month. If that sounds interesting, go to www.highperformingeducator.com. Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s guest is Catherine Hogan. Catherine is someone I was introduced to by my other good friend; Dave Conlin. She is a student leadership advisor and she teaches grade 11 English with the English department at Westwood Senior High School. Catherine has incredibly high energy. We had to, to reschedule our podcast a few times before we got the chance to record it, but I’m so happy we did because there’s so much value you can take away from this interview. I hope you enjoy this. I’ll see you on the other side. Catherine, 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 a little bit about who you are, and how you got into the work you’re doing with young people today?


Catherine Hogan (01:26):
Okay, well, so my name’s Catherine Hogan, and I’m a teacher here at Westwood Senior High School in Hudson Quebec, and that’s just right outside Montreal. We’re kind of in the country a little bit. It’s a regional high school so we have 36 buses that come from a really huge district all around the outside of the island of Montreal and they all get shipped here to my school. This is my 21st year teaching and it’s about my ninth year now doing leadership. So I spent most of my early career teaching English at Lindsay Place High School. That’s where I spent my first 16 years of my career. And I got really interested in student life and started working on student life there with the advisor who was already there and he was really familiar with CSLC and he would do all of that, but he was sort of thinking that he was ready to kind of start to move out of leadership, and he was hoping that somebody else would come in. And so we worked together at Lindsay place for the first couple of years, and then I took over student life from there and that’s how I really started working with young people in leadership capacity. And then I was really lucky to be able to participate in CSLC and then the global student leadership conference and OSLC. And that’s really where I found, I found my passion. I found my people and that’s where I’ve been. That’s how I’ve been involved ever since.


Sam Demma (02:55):
Why teaching? You said you spent your early career teaching English, but did you get into teaching as your first profession and did you know from a young age you wanted to be a teacher or what led you to this calling?


Catherine Hogan (03:05):
Oh, well, that’s actually an interesting question. So both of my parents were teachers. My mom was a high school teacher. My dad was a university professor, but I didn’t get to teaching right away. So my first degree I was actually working as a parliamentary page in Ottawa and I did my first degree in political science and planning on going to law school. And that was always sort of my plan. And then I began to think a little bit about social work. I thought between the two avenues, that’s the way that I would be going. But I decided in between my two degrees, I decided to take one year off just to make money, to pay for my second degree. And I started doing a bunch of jobs working. I had always worked at a summer camp and by then I was working as the coordinator and then a strange opportunity came available to teach a science class to elementary students.


Catherine Hogan (04:01):
So I said, okay, I could do that. And it came through the same it was a municipal camp that I worked for and they were having municipal classes for their elementary students during the school year. So I did a little elementary science class once a week, every day after school. And I really started to really enjoy it and kind of find my stride and find my pace. And I loved the vibe with the kids and the energy that they brought every single week. And then I decided, and this was a huge change in a decision. I thought, well, I’m gonna apply into education instead. And then funnily enough I, I, I spent all this time sort of soul searching and deciding, okay, no, I’m gonna choose education over law. And I had a philosophy where I told myself that the world does need good lawyers, but they need smart teachers as well.


Catherine Hogan (04:56):
And so I thought, Nope, you know what, I’m gonna do this. I’m gonna become a teacher. And know that when I went to my interview for teachers college, they, they were very kind and they were looking through my portfolio and they looked through all my grades and everything and my letter of intent and they put it down and they said, no, we just have really one question, why are you going to law school? And I said, no, you’re not supposed to ask me that. Cause I made this soul searching decision. And because I’ve made this choice and I want to go into teaching because we need dedicated and exciting teachers, and this is what I wanna do. And actually I ended up sort of selling them on that. And they were really happy that I had changed my mind and made that decision. So it turned in out great.


Sam Demma (05:43):
That’s cool. My, my ex-girlfriend was going to go into law. And then she did some soul searching and now she’s in English and it’s like, she did three careers of law and switched over. So I think it’s never too late, which is awesome. It’s


Catherine Hogan (05:58):
Never too late. Great philosophy,21 years. You’ve been teaching as long as I’ve been alive. And I’m sure not to make you sound old at all, cuz you’re not. But that’s a long time with that amount of teaching comes a lot of wisdom and experience and I’m sure, you know, this year specifically has been very different than the first 20.


Sam Demma (06:02):
Yes. What sort of challenges are you and your school uniquely faced with during this time?


Catherine Hogan (06:30):
So one of the things I think that we’re finding the hardest is the changes that are coming continuously and we, without warning. So that’s been really hard. Teachers tend to be of a type personalities. We like to plan everything out. We like to make sure everything is perfectly organized and perfectly or orchestrated every single day for our little standup show each day. Right? But now we have this, this wrenched thrown into our plan where, where, where things change every single day. So we are teaching in person, then we’re teaching online. Now we’re teaching both a combination. We have an AB schedule now where we see the kids only one day. And then we see the other cohort on the opposite days. We also were just told by the minister that we need out communicate daily with all of our students who are out in quarantine.


Catherine Hogan (07:22):
We’re not entirely sure how we’re supposed to do this yet or how we’re supposed to communicate. What, what is our purpose? Are we reaching out for their mental health? Are we reaching out for their pedagogy? All of these things are really changing so quickly and without warning and, and teachers are really thinking on their feet every single minute of the day and trying to adapt. And, and this year, course, we just have so many challenges with, with just dealing with, with, with the kids themselves and how they’re doing and how they’re faring. And at my particular school, we are having a lot of challenges with mental health issues. By the middle of November, we had already had four students who had been admitted to the hospital for extreme mental health issues. And, and that usually we would have only four in an entire school year and we had four before October.


Catherine Hogan (08:18):
So, wow. We’re really at my school in particular, we’re trying to ease the anxiety and ease the stress of the kids and really focus on the day to day teaching and making sure that they are okay and faring well in, in such a difficult situation. They’re receiving really only half of the pedagogy time that they would’ve had, but yet they still have the same demands. They still have CJE applications waiting for them. They still have provincial exams at the end of the year. It’s a lot for them to manage. It’s a lot of stress. And sometimes I really think of that analogy of on planes. You know, when the plane’s going down, we’re supposed to put our mask on before we put on our children’s mask so we can help them. But teachers are also struggling in a lot of the same areas that the kids are. We’re also struggling with maintaining the balance of everything that’s changing and the health of our own families and the health of our own students and children and all of that. It just feels like we can’t quite put on our mask before we can put the masks on the kids to make sure they’re all doing okay as well. So that’s been, I think our biggest challenge here at my school this year,


Sam Demma (09:31):
And you’re not alone. I’ve reached out to dozens of educator who have responded back saying, Sam, this is a great opportunity, but usually I’d say yes right now I have to pass because I can’t even get my head above water. And yeah, one of the questions I wanted to ask you was how are you keeping your glass full? Cause you know, when your glass isn’t full, it’s hard to pour into others. And what have you been doing to cope that might be of value for another educator to, to hear about


Catherine Hogan (09:57):
We’re really, you know, I think here this year, I’m really relying on my colleagues quite a lot to pull me through the day. We have one pod group that really has a lot of both academic needs, but also a lot of emotional needs as well. So what we’ve done is the core teachers for that particular group this year, we’ve kind of made a little team of our own. We’ve made a little pod team of our own. So the core subjects being English, French, and math, those are the, the core for their group this year. We meet all the time just to make sure that we’re sharing our, our, our, or help stories for each other. We’re sharing like all of our information about each one of our child’s need children’s needs so that we can make sure that we’re on top of all of their needs, both, both academically and emotionally.


Catherine Hogan (10:50):
And, and then at the same time, we are there for each other. Each time we have a setback in that group come together, the three of us and we try to make a plan together. And I think that this is one of the nice changes this year about the fact that we don’t have our own classrooms this year. So our, we had to sort of give up our, our classes. And my principal told, it, told us that it was as though we were putting our classes on Airbnb this year, we were sort of, we are moving out and everybody else was moving in. And then we moved class to class because of that this year, we’re not staying just in our own classrooms. We are congregating together as teachers and we’ve, we’re really standing by each other and we’re working through these, these issues as a real good team.


Catherine Hogan (11:36):
And sometimes it’s a full school team. And sometimes it’s just, as I said, our little pod team, just to make sure that our individual class is still feeling successful and St their needs are being met. And I think that even though we have COVID this year, it’s brought us a lot closer because we really are working together for these kids this year. And I, I feel, I feel a great sense of community. That’s, that’s developing in my school this year. And I think we’re actually becoming a lot closer as a team. And for me that has saved my mental health. That is what is doing it for me every day. I know I can come in and even though it might be a hard day, I know that that the other teachers here have really kind of got, got my back and they’ll work through things with me this year. And it it’s been so helpful, even as somebody who is experienced. I have a lot of years, you know, sometimes I need just the ed energy from the new young teachers to get me through the day. So,


Sam Demma (12:36):
Well, your passion. Yeah. Your passion and energy is, is evident even now through this podcast, as I’m sure you’re listening, you can feel it too. What keeps you motivated and hopeful personally? Like you, you sound like you’re a teacher who’s just started teaching and is SOS excited to teach. Like, it seems like your passion has never left you. Where does that motivation, inspiration and hope come from?


Catherine Hogan (12:59):
Oh, well, thank you. That’s such a nice compliment, Sam. Thank you. Do you know what I, I really find teach teenagers to be so incredibly fascinating and so much fun. I love the way we get to see them begin to emerge into these young adults. And we get to see how they navigate or begin to navigate the world. And that really, it energizes me. I love the language of teenagers. I love to be around them for their energy, their curiosity, their ex excitement for the next stages of their life. I find that I can feed off that All day long, and I always Still kinda


Catherine Hogan (14:02):
Working ourselves like a herd of animals. And I find the teenagers they’re so interesting because they want to be adult and they want to go off on their own way and their own path, but they’re not secure yet these tiny little herds. And, and as they become more comfortable they’ll as a herd, they’ll try out new things and they’ll go and try different things, different challenges together. And I, I kind of love watching how they begin to navigate the world around them as little young adults and how they, how they grow and change from the time that they come in as seventh graders, the way up until the time that they graduate, when they are really ready to kind of leave the herd a little bit and become kind of the independent zebra, right. The one that can go off to the watering hole all by himself.


Catherine Hogan (14:50):
And I just, I just love it. I love watching them take those steps. It’s like watching, I think little children take toddler steps for the first time. It’s really quite the same when they come in from at grade seven and then they leave as seniors. And they’ve done all of these little steps by themselves. And I think that’s really where I, a lot of energy when people say, oh, you teach seniors in high school. Oh, that must be terrible. I think, no, that’s the best time to teach them because they’re really just on the cusp of becoming these amazing adults themselves. And I get to witness that and I get to witness all the little steps that got them there. And, you know, those are really special little moments, their first, their first heartbreaks their first talking about prom and what they’re gonna wear, and who’s who they’re gonna go with and, you know, all of the activities and all of the things that they go through. And they’re applying to these programs that so exciting. And I think, you know, all these steps that I get to witness and see happen every single day. It it’s like it’s like living all of these careers myself. It’s really fun. It’s, it’s really energizing for me.


Sam Demma (16:05):
And you took a pivotable pivotal step nine years ago when you decided to start teaching leadership, how did that decision fall onto your lap and unfold in your journey?


Catherine Hogan (16:17):
Well, it has unfolded in such a monumental way. I really think that I always love to be part of extracurricular activities and to be able to to lead activities that I know that the kids are going to remember. I loved high school. I think a lot of people that do go into teaching, they themselves really liked high school. And I really did too. And I think back to all of the memories that I had, that I made of being on school teams or being in the school play or being on student council, and I just really wanted to recreate those exact same feelings for students today. And I wanted to provide those kind of activities for them because I wanted them to be able to know that, you know, school is part academics, but I think it’s also part arts and part athletics and part activities.


Catherine Hogan (17:09):
I, I just love that for A’s because I think that’s what makes school a great school. And so I thought this is exactly what I wanna be part of. And I remember the first year that I went to CSLC I was new. I was nervous. I didn’t know anyone it’s really overwhelming your first few years at, at CSLC, but I remember like this amazing sense of comfort and acceptance feeling like I had met people that had the same feelings as me and people who understood that they like the same things that I did. They wanted to be part of those activities too. They, they wanted to bring enthusiasm to their school and you don’t find that those people, those people exist at every school, but they’re not your entire staff. Right. But when you get to go to CSLC or to OSLC or some of these big conferences, it’s, every teacher are there.


Catherine Hogan (18:09):
And it’s just so motivating to hear the ideas that they’re doing at their schools, and to learn how different schools across the country manage their activities, or manage their student life and, and, and what they bring to their schools, and then try to replicate those same amazing ideas in your own way at your own school. And, and I really feel like I’m so lucky to have met some of these people who are so inspiring to me as educators, and to feel that I’m a little bit a part of their world and, and share that with them has honestly changed my life. And I really feel like in my own, out, outside life, I’m so happy that I have these leadership advisors in my life because they’ve, they’ve tr they’ve taught me as well, how to deal with things in my own life and how to, you know, like bring, bring the best to every single day. I really feel lucky for that.


Sam Demma (19:07):
No, that’s amazing. And that’s the main reason I started this podcast. So we could continue building community for educators that are doing unique things in their school, or are throwing spaghetti against the wall and seeing what sticks and on the topic of running your school and student life and leadership events, what’s going on this year, how are you and your team managing to do things? What have you ride what’s working? What’s not tell me more about the experiment.


Catherine Hogan (19:35):
Okay. Well, yeah, we are trying like all schools, we are trying desperately to keep any sort of student life activities working that we can, but also staying within a little bit of the parameters and framework and protocols of COVID. So we’re, we’re thinking out of the box this year, one of the things that I decided this year was okay, I’m gonna learn the language of my students. And that I have realized is TikTok. Now as somebody, my age TikTok makes zero sense. I have tried everything to try to figure out and understand TikTok, but my kids, my students have, have to me, they, we have TikTok challenges between our classes and our pods. And so a lot of the teachers, we started getting into it as well, and filming talks as well. And the minute the kids saw our tos, because of course we said, okay, we’re gonna bring this.


Catherine Hogan (20:30):
They just thought this was, is amazing. And then they would challenge us further. And so that is one way we, that we are definitely bringing spirit here this year. We’re trying to use some of the online platforms and social media in a way that can, can be engaging and fun for the kids. So that’s one thing that we’ve really tried to do this year. We are trying to do well, we have brought back our big morning announcements and we’ve made it into sort of like a little radio show in the morning to showcase all of our students because we don’t get to see their games. So we don’t have, you know, we don’t have, or Scholastic sports now. So we’re still highlighting some of our athletes each day. We’re doing shoutouts for them. We do our birthday shoutouts every day to make sure everybody’s feeling good about that.


Catherine Hogan (21:17):
And then we started incorporating sort of just fun ways to start the day. So we did a dad joke challenge for two weeks where the kids could submit their best and most cringeworthy dad jokes. And then the winners would get to come on to the morning show and tell their jokes to the whole school. And we would figure out who was the funniest student at Westwood. And so that made everybody laugh. Just simple, simple pleasures. We’re trying to bring back again, a lot of, sort of the simple, fun that we’d sort of forgotten and, and try to bring it back in such a way that we can do it safely and, and do it where we can get as much student involvement as we can. So we’re trying to do as much as we can virtually. We’ve done full game challenges.


Catherine Hogan (22:03):
So we’re, we’re start, we’re gonna have a full school bingo that we’re gonna to run through zoom. And I know lots of the other schools have tried that as well. We used to have it at my other school and a teacher, Alex, Kate, and she used to do it, and she did such a great job. She inspired me to try that here. So I thought, all right, we’re gonna give that a go here. And it it’s really, really been, it’s fun for us, a staff to see because the kids are really able to guide us through a lot of these online activities, cuz they’re so much more familiar with the platforms than we are. And so they’ll set it all up. Oh, we got a hashtag for our new, our new TikTok challenge and this is how we’re gonna roll it out to the student body. And


Catherine Hogan (22:49):
They’re really tech savvy. So that’s been one area that we’re really able to kind of develop a little bit this year during COVID is to run as much as we can virtually. And to just try to think out of the box as much as we can think out of the ordinary and, and be open to trying it, try it, we’ll just see it might work. It might not. And, and I’ve always had a philosophy that if we try it and, and I, I try to make, take away the hard part sometimes for the kids. I’ll try to take away the embarrassing part so they don’t feel embarrassed. So in the morning if the Anthem, cuz we listen to the Anthem at our school in the morning, but sometimes is so old school. The CD tends to break in the middle of the Anthem.


Catherine Hogan (23:36):
So now I’ve just taken to like hitting onto the morning announcements and I’ll sing the rest of the Anthem for the kids. And, and so I do it to just show them like, just don’t be embarrassed, be you, do you. And, and don’t worry about feeling embarrassed about these things. So I try to kind of put myself out in embarrassing situations as much as possible so that they don’t feel intimidated or embarrassed. I kind of call it. I always, and Justin Timberlake saying, he always said he was bringing sexy back. I say that I’m bringing nerdy back. I’m making it cool to be kind of nerdy around my school and, and the kids kind of, they embrace it. They’re like miss you own that. You own that. You’re not afraid to be like nerdy or whatever. And I’m like, no, I’m not.


Catherine Hogan (24:24):
And so it makes them also feel comfortable because then they don’t feel that when they do something that feels out of their comfort zone, they don’t worry as much. Cuz they sort of feel like, oh, well we can laugh at ourselves and we can have some fun and we don’t always have to be like super cool or like super popular. Like, you know, sometimes I I to just take that edge off so they don’t have to worry about those things so that they can just have fun and feel comfortable being themselves. And, and I really try to just be me at school and that’s just who I am. And I, I tell the kids, I am nerdy, man. I am gonna own that. I’m owning that. And, and I think they kind of appreciate that.


Sam Demma (25:09):
Yeah. I think they would too. If, if you were my teacher, I definitely would. Every single one of us has our own insecurities and yes. Funky traits. And if someone’s embracing theirs, it gives everyone else permission to do the same. Yeah.


Catherine Hogan (25:22):
That’s what I’m


Sam Demma (25:23):
Hoping. Yeah. Keep doing that. Over the 21 years of embarrassing moments and funky experiences and embracing nerdiness, what have you learned as an educator for yourself that if you could go back in time and speak to younger Catherine, when she just started teaching, what would you tell her? What would you share? There might be an educator listening who could benefit from hearing that.


Catherine Hogan (25:47):
Yeah. You know I think that the single most pivotal thing that has changed me as a teacher was when I did have children of my own. Mm. I, my expectations changed. My understanding of children changed a little bit. I, I have a daughter who has special needs and it’s really allowed me to see from an inside perspective how these kids function in a classroom. And I feel that I’m able to be honest with them. And I tell them all the time, you know, if you have trouble reading, cuz I teach English, I tell them a right away. I’m one person you don’t have to be embarrassed about cuz you know what, my daughter, I’m just gonna be honest. She’s about five grades behind in reading because she’s severely dyslexic and you know what I’m used to, people stumbling over words when they read to me and you don’t have to be shy about that.


Catherine Hogan (26:47):
And I really try to kind of let them know like I, I hear you. I get you. And, and I wanna make this experience not difficult for you, but comfortable for you. I, I want them to know that I understand them. I think that it, it, to me also become more flexible into understanding that there can’t be a one size fits all for education. Even if it’s a whole grade level, every kid is so incredibly different and their needs coming into classrooms are so incredibly different. And, and as a mom, I, I really try sometimes to, to teach them as though they were my own kids and how I would try to deal with things in my, with my own kids. And that’s helped me so much during COVID because I’m just gonna be honest. Like a lot of teachers, I’m an a type personality. So it’s like we have gotta cover this much curriculum on before the provincial exam and


Catherine Hogan (27:48):
Has to work hard, cuz everybody, I want you all getting into exactly the programs you wanna be in next year for CJ. But this year I’ve really learned that for some, sometimes in your life, mental health has to come first and, and other are things can wait and they’re not as critical. And it’s allowed me to step back and say, okay, I may not be able to teach all of a fellow this year because it is just too long. And I don’t see the kids every single day and where every other year I might have said, but a fellow is the best play I have to teach it. I’m realizing that it’s better to be a little bit flexible sometimes. And to make sure that what I am doing is fully effective and I can get the most out of my kids when they feel safe and secure.


Catherine Hogan (28:36):
And I’m really, I, I think almost in a way I have COVID to thank for that because it’s allowed me to step down a little and, and change, not drop down my expectations, but change my expectations. And also this was the first year I ended up just by accident of the way that our classes were scheduled this year. I was put teaching the alt class. So the alternative education class now I would’ve said from the, on, from the outset, like, wow, I, I am not gonna be good at this because of course I’m like super like organized and demanding. And I had to learn from them. And I learned from them on how to work in a way that worked for them. And, and they have showed me that they’ve so load me down. And they’ve, they’ve said we need more steps.


Catherine Hogan (29:30):
We need more time. And I’ve really through teaching this class, something that I thought would be so incredibly challenging. And it has been in a lot of ways, but I, I have seen a whole other side of what being successful means, teaching these guys and sometimes being successful isn’t that we got a great mark or we got into our university program that we wanted to get into sometimes being successful is we, we wrote a, an essay like we did that. We did that step by step and we were successful. And, and that has really taught me a lot that I’m gonna carry through my education career. And, and I have, I have my alternative students to thank for that. They’ve taught me this year and I bet they would never in a million years think that they were teaching their teacher, but they are, they really are.


Catherine Hogan (30:26):
And, and I tell them that, I tell them that all the time that I’m learning from them, I learn from them every day. And, and my first goal in there, I said, okay, my first goal is to learn. I’m gonna just learn how to love these guys before I can learn how to teach these guys. And, and that was the best thing that I think I’ve ever tried to do because man, I miss them every day when I’m not teaching that all class and every day there’s turmoil and every day there’s some kind of explosion of some sort, but we’re a team. We are a team in there and, and we are all going to through together. And I really feel like they’ve, they’ve shown me how to do that. Cuz they’re used to working in a team they’re used to being together all day, the same class. I’m not used to that. And they’ve really shown me how, how to teach in that environment and how to be a different teacher, a different teacher. And I, I appreciate that.


Sam Demma (31:21):
I love that. That’s a, it’s such a great response and you know, if you’re not in a place right now where you’re about to have kids, you can still take that advice by loving your students before teaching them. And I think that’s a beautiful way to put it. If someone’s listening to this and wants to reach out and bounce ideas around, share some of your energy, talk about TikTok or the other funky things going on, what would be the best way for another educator to reach out to you?


Catherine Hogan (31:46):
Ooh. They could reach out to me a whole bunch of different ways. They could definitely always email me and that’s easy. I always tell the students it’s easy to remember my email because it’s just C Hogan, which becomes Chogan. So I just tell them it’s chogan@lbpearson.ca. So just like Lester B Pearson. So chogan@lbpearson.ca; that’s my email. And absolutely, I, because I’m old, of course I’m a Facebooker. So absolutely add me on Facebook; it’s captain Hogan and it’s a picture of me riding my horse so you can find me that way, and they can always private message me as well through Facebook as well. And always reach out anytime, anytime. I’m happy to reach out with other educators for sure.


Sam Demma (32:32):
Awesome. Katherine, thank you so much for making some time to do this. I really appreciate you sharing your wisdom, your insights, and above all your energy with all of your colleagues on this show. I, I really do appreciate it.


Catherine Hogan (32:43):
Oh my gosh. I feel like I should be thanking you Sam. This has given me a great opportunity to think about some of the things that we’re doing this year and, and challenge myself to think a little bit differently and you know, just think out of the box. So I, I feel like I should be thanking you because I, it, this has given me really an opportunity to kind of stop and think over some of the things that we’ve been through this year going forward and how to use them better going into the next phase of this pandemic at schools. It’s, it’s a challenging one. So I’m hoping to learn new things each day.


Sam Demma (33:18):
No, cool. The feelings mutual and I’ll make sure to stay in touch and keep watching all the things that you’re working on. Yeah. 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 Catherine Hogan

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Abbey Gingerich – Teacher and Student Leadership Advisor (KCI)

Abbey Gingerich – Teacher and Student Leadership Advisor (KCI)
About Abbey Gingerich

Abbey (@MsAGingerich) is the leadership teacher and Student Activities Director at Kitchener-Waterloo Collegiate Institute (KCI) in Ontario, Canada. Her leadership program includes over 100 students who are involved in planning school fundraisers, assemblies, special events, and daily activities to make the school a more spirited and engaging place to be.

Last year, Abbey and her student leaders were honoured to receive the award for having the most school spirit in Ontario! Abbey believes that small, consistent acts of positivity can change the world. Her enthusiastic and creative approach to leadership has drawn students to her hands-on, spirited, and community-building leadership program that is quickly becoming the leading program of its kind in Ontario.

Aside from teaching leadership at KCI, Abbey has coached basketball and rugby and also teaches English and Art. Wherever Abbey goes, she leaves a trail of glitter; her enthusiasm and passion for student leadership are infectious.

Connect with Abbey: Email | Instagram | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Kitchener-Waterloo Collegiate Institute School Website

English at University of Waterloo

Ontario Student Leadership Conference

Police Foundations at Confederation College

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 to bring you today’s interview, Abby Gingerich. She is a leadership teacher and student activity director at Kitchener Waterloo Collegiate Institute in Ontario, Canada. Wow, lots of words. Her leadership program includes over a hundred students who are involved in planning school fundraisers, assemblies, special events, and daily activities to make the school a more spirited and engaging place to be. Last year, Abby and her student leaders were honored to receive the award for having the most school spirit in Ontario. And I can highly guarantee, and I can highly back that statement because I saw them at OSLC, the Ontario student leadership conference, and they are freaking loud. Abby believes that small, consistent actions of positivity can change the world. I totally agree. Her enthusiasm and creative approach to leadership has drawn students to her hands on spirited and community building program that is quickly becoming the lead leading program of its kind in Ontario. Aside from teaching leadership at KCI, she has coached basketball, rugby, teaches english and art. Wherever Abby goes, she leaves a trail of glitter. Her enthusiasm and passion for student leadership is infectious. Without further ado, please help me in well welcoming Abby to the show. Abby, thank you so much for coming on the High Performing Educator podcast. It’s an absolute pleasure to have you, can you start by introducing yourself to the audience and maybe sharing why you got into this work that you’re doing with young people today?


Abbey Gingerich (01:36):
Sure, so my name is Abby Gingrich and I’m in my third year in this role of student activities advisor at Kitchener Collegiate Institute and that’s in the KW area. Ooh, how did I get into this? I, I mean, it would go back to when I was in high school, I, I was obviously involved in, in student leadership. I actually went to another local school down the street; WCI, and I had great teachers and mentors there. And I, I mean, looking back, I should have just gone right into teaching. All of my teachers told me to go into teaching. I think it’s a bit of a personality thing for me that I hate doing what everyone tells me to do so I delayed for a little bit and I thought I would, I don’t know.


Abbey Gingerich (02:29):
I still went for English at UW and things like that which helped me then when I decided to switch over to teaching. But I was working at a bank for a little bit. I worked at a hotel which were all a great, great experiences, but just wasn’t so that like, it just wasn’t lighting my life on fire. Mm. And so I was living with one of my best friends at the time, and I remember, and she was a teacher here at KCI, and I remember seeing her talk about her students and talk about the experiences she was having. And she just loved it. And I had like this moment sitting on the couch and I was like, oh, I should be doing that. And so here I am, and it was I don’t know, I guess I remember looking at the leadership teacher role and think, I probably wouldn’t be able to have a chance at that role until I’ve been teaching for maybe five or 10 years. And then it just sort of worked out I don’t know if you wanna call it fate or destiny at KCI, but like an English teacher, an art teacher and the leadership teacher, we’re all leaving at the same time to other opportunities. And so they were able to package this role for me and it just felt like the perfect fit. And here I am.


Sam Demma (03:50):
That’s awesome. That’s so cool. And you could just feel the energy when you talk about your passion for teaching. So I absolutely love this. This is so cool. Yeah. You know, right now is a little bit different than maybe your first couple years in education. I know there’s a bunch of challenges, maybe share a couple of the challenges you’ve been facing and how you’ve come up with solutions or what types of virtual things are you doing to make up for it?


Abbey Gingerich (04:16):
Yeah. oh, it’s, it’s tough. Yeah. Especially keeping momentum going with school spirit, especially online. It’s, it’s just challenging to come up with fresh new creative ideas online. Luckily I’ve, I’ve always had really great students that I can draw inspiration from. And so one of the first things we did was just start small. Cuz obviously change is hard and it it’s scary to adapt sometimes. And so we figured that starting small with maybe one or two virtual activities a week or something and then building on those and just building up the height and the excitement and, and still saying to our community and to our staff and our students, we’re still here. We still care about our school spirit and our school community. And here is some of the smaller things that we’re doing. So it was just little things like wear some Raider wear and send in a photo online and, and tag us in it or wear your comfy clothes and send a picture of that.


Abbey Gingerich (05:25):
So, yes. We started out with just sort of these small, consistent little events and we’ve sort of grown them into, into bigger things as well. I also had staff send in photos or send in videos of like little tutorials that they at home. So some of our science teachers did experiments at home and we shared those online. Some of our one of our staff members is an expert juggler. So we put a juggling challenge out. And we just took like these every day at home things that students could still be doing and just hype them up and made them into the most exciting thing that we possibly could. I I’m so hands on with my course and with my teaching, I, I like students up out of their seats. I like them interacting. And so that’s been, the biggest challenge for me is to, is to have to stay in my seat.


Abbey Gingerich (06:27):
And so, you know, there are some great programs online that I’ve been able to use. We do a lot of shared documents with the students that are in class and at home home. So they’re still collaborating together even if it is in a, in a smaller virtual capacity. Yeah, it’s, it’s, it’s something new every day and I’ve just had to challenge myself to say, you know, for the students and, and for the staff as well, I’m gonna do whatever I can to still make it exciting and, and do some good KCI spirit stuff.


Sam Demma (07:05):
That’s awesome. Out of all the, I guess, virtual events or, you know, different events that you’ve done so far, what’s one stuck the most, like was there any one particular event that all the kids just loved it and kept wanting to do it again and again, and maybe something comes to mind, maybe not, but I’m curious.


Abbey Gingerich (07:25):
So we’re actually repeating this event on a larger scale coming up, but one of our staff members and his son actually built a Marvel track at home, like a Marvel obstacle course. And he sent me the video footage of it and I just turned it into like this. We were calling it the race, you didn’t know you needed. And, and like we had little videos of each marble and introducing them and then the race. And I think the host had like over a hundred comments on it of kids just engaging and upset that their marble didn’t win or, you know, saying the race was rigged and everything like that. So it, it was just something that you know, was supposed to be fun and bring some, some energy online and had real, no other real purpose beyond just that school spirit which I’m okay with.


Abbey Gingerich (08:26):
And and so we’re doing it again in place of one of our larger sporting events that we would normally have happening right now. We’re doing it again and we’re introducing new racers and we have our football coaches commentating the race. The students who are planning the event have created like over 15 feet of track in their, at home time. And so I think it’s, I think it’s gonna be pretty fun. I hope it’s gonna be pretty fun, but for some, I have no idea why, but for some reason it blew up on our social media which was just a nice experience too.


Sam Demma (09:04):
It’s the whole idea of just taking an idea offline and then showcasing it online and making it kind of funny. Right. It sounds like you’re introducing marbles, right? Like it’s pretty good. Yeah.


Abbey Gingerich (09:16):
I like that. I, I mean, and, and I say to the kids all the time, like if there’s, if there’s a way that we can just add some sparkle to something like, that’s just what I’m known for, like throwing glitter at everything. That’s sort of one of the best examples I’ve had I have is that it’s yeah. Just something that we didn’t even plan it. Right. It was footage. I borrowed from another our staff member and said, I think, I think the kids would be into this. And again, it’s just those moments that say, Hey, here we are. We’re still thinking of you. Hope this brings a smile to your face and let’s have some fun.


Sam Demma (09:49):
I love that. My, my next question was gonna be, how do we make students feel appreciated and heard during these times? Is it just the nudge on the shoulder, the unexpected message? Like how do you make your students feel appreciated?


Abbey Gingerich (10:04):
Yeah, I think, I think acknowledging them as individuals and still showing them that they’re valued especially right now in the, in these COVID times when we’re not connecting the way we usually do. Like I’m I miss a lot of my students. I only really interact with the, the 10 that are in front of me each day. You don’t have those same moments of like walking through the hallways and, and seeing a student you taught last year or seeing the girls from the basketball team that you coach. Right. I, I am, I’m really missing those moments. So we’ve been putting out some smaller challenges to some like to our athletes and saying here, send us a transition video of you. I don’t know, it’s a TikTok trend. I’m not quite up on that, but they’re doing these transitions from their everyday close to their school spirit wear or their athletic gear. And so you’re able to connect still one on one that way. And I can say, thank you so much for the video. And then sometimes it opens a conversation of how are you doing, or I really miss rugby right now. And so I think getting in touch with those students or, or when a student reaches out, really making sure that we take the time to acknowledge that and, and to take it that step further and just ask how people are doing those small moments can make a big difference as well.


Sam Demma (11:32):
Cool. And we talked a little bit about some great ideas and great successes, but it seems like the education state right now is almost like throwing spaghetti on the wall and seeing what sticks. And of course, sometimes things fall. I’m curious to know if you’ve learned from any of your own personal mistakes, and I don’t even wanna call it mistakes, but I want to call it an experiment because that’s really what it is during this time. And is there anything worth sharing with the audience that you think might be valuable to hear?


Abbey Gingerich (11:59):
Yeah, I I think personally the biggest issue I ran into was just trying to do everything exactly the same way, or just trying to if think, thinking I could just convert it to online and it would be totally fine. And, and there are just some activities that don’t convert well. And so a lot of work went into revamping, a couple of my courses and revamping even just projects as well. My leadership course looks to totally different from when it, from how it usually would look. And, and like the stress got to me pretty early on it, it was, it’s very overwhelming. And I, and I know I share this with a lot of other student activity teachers, but you feel like there’s sort of this extra weight to keep all the fun and, and the excitement and the school spirit going.


Abbey Gingerich (12:57):
And, and that’s hard. And, and also respecting that there’s a global pandemic going on, right. Like we shouldn’t be doing everything that we normally do because we need to put student safety and staff safety first. And so, yeah, the wake up call for me, I think, was just recognizing that I was heading into that burnout territory. And, you know, we’re, we’re told to give a lot of compassion to our students and just that reminder that we need to give a little bit of that compassion to us as well. And so doing again, doing those small, all consistent things every day or every other day, I think can have a bigger impact than doing big, exciting things all the time. Cuz it’s, it’s not sustainable right now. I don’t think anyways,


Sam Demma (13:49):
I love that it’s funny, small, consistent things. My grade tall voters should teacher Mike loud foot. The principle he taught me was small, consistent actions and we applied that to picking up trash and let, to pick waste. And now it’s like a guiding principle we follow. So I love that if, if you can just think about what’s the one small thing I can do right now instead of bake the whole pie at once, you know, a week later, it’ll have a pie instead of stressing the whole week. I think that’s an amazing piece of advice on the same top of, of advice. You know, an educator listening might be in their first year of teaching and maybe you can think back for a second to when you first taught your first year. You’re probably super excited. Now imagine if that first year had the global pandemic as well, and you were thinking to yourself, what the heck did I sign up for here? What advice would you give that teacher? I mean, you already gave some brilliant advice around, you know, not doing everything, just taking a small action. What other advice would you have to a fellow teacher?


Abbey Gingerich (14:46):
Yeah, there’s, I think there’s two that I, and I still really carry these close to me now asking for help makes a huge difference. Like you’re kind of just thrown into this role and then, and you’re given all of the social media power and you know, you wanna do all these fundraising activities as well, and you wanna make sure you’re meeting all all the needs in terms of diversity and inclusion for your students and, and that a lot. And so I think the more that you can involve other groups and clubs in the school and talk to your admin team and get other staff on board who are, who are gonna be hopefully just as enthusiastic but as supportive. And I am very lucky at KCI to have an incredibly supportive admin team and a very supportive staff.


Abbey Gingerich (15:38):
And so staff checks in with me constantly on, can I help with something? Are you doing okay? Can my group or my club, or you know, my group of students help with something and those moments of collaboration create really valuable learning opportunities for the students. But also then just help share the burden or the weight. Anyways. I don’t see it as a burden. I, I obviously I love it, but but just help spread that out a little bit. So it’s not as overwhelming and sometimes I forget, right. I forget to ask for help. Yeah. So I think the more you can, you can reach out and ask for help the better the other thing is get your students involved or ask your kids for advice. Anytime we’re doing something that I like, I guess would be on trend.


Abbey Gingerich (16:31):
I only know it’s on because the kids told me. And so I, I, you know, we like to, we like to spoof some of the, the trendy things that are happening. We like putting out really funny videos or, or copying a video that’s really popular. And again, those, those, I wouldn’t know about those without the kids. So ask your kids because it’s, it’s also there your audience, right. Do you wanna know what they wanna see and what they care about seeing, and, and some of that funny, again, popular stuff or the stuff that’s gonna create hype. The, the kids know that far better than I ever will.


Sam Demma (17:10):
That’s so true. That’s awesome. And I think it’s a great, a piece of advice because even myself, you mentioned TikTok, I decided about a month and a half ago to take a year off social media. So I could just imagine I’m gonna come back in a year and I’m gonna be like, what dance are you doing? Where is that from? What is that? Yeah, so that’s a brilliant, that’s a brilliant piece of advice. I’m curious to know as well during your career. You’ve probably had students reach out and thank you for the work you’ve done in leadership. And it’s, it’s, it’s changed their life. It’s helped them find new parts of themselves. They didn’t know existed out of all those students. Do you have a story of one that the leadership work that you guys are doing at the school has transformed someone that’s that’s worth sharing? And the reason I’m asking is because there might be a teacher or educator or principal listening who’s burnt out and is losing faith and maybe considering doing some different type of work. And if they can remind themselves why they started by hearing the story of a serious impact, I think it could really reinspire them and motivate them. And if it’s a very serious story, feel free to change the name for privacy reasons. Of course. But does any story come to mind for you?


Abbey Gingerich (18:23):
Yeah, I mean, it’s, it’s funny being sort of I guess I, I would still say I’m pretty young or new you into the world of teaching. So yeah, the ones that have reached out to me and thanked me are still sort of at that transition point and where they’ve thanked me is that I help them find a path or I’ve helped them. I’ve helped give them the tools to on some of their goals or to decide on a career path. So I did have a student reach out to me last year and he was in leadership. Well, it feels like forever ago, but just last year. And so I, I don’t think he knew when he signed up for leadership. I don’t think he knew what he was getting himself into. Like I I always say that I will give my most, I will give my attention to the students that are gonna put in the most work and not cuz I wanna ignore anybody, but the students that are gonna put the hustle in or have that drive whether they have the skills or the tools or not, I’m gonna, I’m gonna help provide that, but it’s, it’s, it’s that the heart, right?


Abbey Gingerich (19:32):
Those students that come in with that and are just ready to go and, you know, wanna make stuff happen. That’s where my attention is gonna go. And so I had a student who sort of started off pretty quiet coming into the course and then found himself in sort of a lead role in his event that he was planning. And he did a phenomenal job. And so I think where that translated for him though, is that then he went on he’s doing police foundations at Conogo right now and he actually emailed me. It, I, it must have been during during quarantine in March or April time. But he, he emailed me and told me that he was just elected student leader for police foundations at conno SOGA. And it’s, he never thought that that would be a role that he would ever be interested in.


Abbey Gingerich (20:26):
And after experiencing that level of leadership at high school, he just knew that that’s where he wanted to take his life. And you know, and I think the best part was that he felt very accomplished and he was so proud of what he achieved and that’s something I just like, I just want the kids to know how much of an impact they can actually make even as a youth or as a teenager. I mean, I, I don’t think that really matters. I think, yeah, they can just do incredible things right now. And so when a student can come to that realization that’s, what’s most rewarding for me. And I have to remind myself too, cuz we take a lot of criticism sometimes or we have setbacks. And so to get those positive moments from, from past students it was, was special and, and really meaningful.


Sam Demma (21:21):
Yeah. And a lot of educators say that as teachers you’re seed planters and you might not see the plant grow for many years to come. So it’s cool that you’ve already had some students reach out and I’m sure they’ll continue to blossom over the years. If any other educator listening wants to reach out, bounce ideas around with you, maybe hear about some of the cool things you’re working on, what’s the best way for them to do so.


Abbey Gingerich (21:45):
Probably email; I’m just at abbey_gingerich@wrdsb.ca and email is probably the most convenient way to get ahold of me, or I do run the KCI Instagram account. So if they ever, I’ve had other schools message us through Instagram and just say, tell us about this idea or how did you make this happen? And I’m, I’m always more than happy to share resources or ideas as well. Yeah, I think again, those, that collaboration opportunity when we go to, you know, leadership conferences and stuff, I’m, I’m missing that, of course. And I think there’s still definitely some ways that we can do that and achieve that across different schools as well so I’m excited for that.


Sam Demma (22:31):
Well, if you’re listening right now, you better email Abby. She wants to talk. Awesome. Well Abby, thank you so much for taking some time to come on the show. I really appreciate it.


Abbey Gingerich (22:42):
Thank you, thank you for having me.


Sam Demma (22:44):
Typically at this point in the episode, I would be ending it and telling you to leave a review and tune in to the next one. But after our conversation ended, Abby and I went back and forth a little more and there was one more thing she wanted to add to this episode. So here it is. So what other unique ideas are going on right now? Maybe student led projects or staff led projects throughout the school?


Abbey Gingerich (23:07):
Yeah, so it might leadership class because of COVID, we’ve actually half of them are working at home and then I have half in class and they switch. So the at home crew, I wanted to still give them something that was valuable for them for the course. So I’ve actually created I’m calling them community outreach, passion projects, and they have an opportunity to identify a passion that they have which was very challenging for some but then also do research and further their education on that passion. And it didn’t have to be school related at all. Just something that again, you know, brings some fire to their life. And then I wanted them to, I challenged them anyway to find a way that they can convert that passion into something that can positively impact their community.


Abbey Gingerich (24:04):
And so their community might just be home their family. It might be their school community. It might be the KW community at whatever level they were comfortable creating something. That was sort of the added challenge. And then of course you add in all of the health and safety measures of COVID there. So I’m, I am in, I’m just blown away by what they’ve been able to achieve. I have student, I have a student who she sews and she’s been making masks and she’s actually been selling the masks to raise funds for indigenous rights in KW. And she has raised almost $800 on her own just at home. Oh wow. During COVID times. And now she’s even realizing that the fundraising is not enough. She’s ready to turn sort of her awareness into action. And she’s getting in touch with council members and members of, of leadership in the KW community and, and getting in touch with them on how to, again, further this cause.


Abbey Gingerich (25:14):
And that’s just been amazing. And I have another student that is is also a sewer, but is interested in climate change and she’s been collecting thrifted or used fabrics and repurposing them into SCRs and little pouches. And she’s been selling those and working on creating then also information on the fashion industry’s impact on the environment and how to be more sustainable. And so it, it’s so interesting to see the different levels that they’ve been able to take their projects and and these passions and translate them into something that’s gonna make an impact on their community. And then other students haven’t, they, they didn’t have to do a fundraiser component. Other students are creating I have one student creating resources for new youth to Canada either through immigration or just moving to Ontario as well.


Abbey Gingerich (26:15):
And she’s put together full resources community resources that youth should know about when they’re new to Canada or new to KW. And so sort of the, I guess the accomplishment that’s come out of them and to realize that they could still make an incredible impact on their world at whatever level that is. They’ve been able to do that even during COVID and in, in a very short period of time too, it’s only been about six weeks. So that has been one of the most rewarding things that has come out of this time. And I had no idea going into it that it was gonna go that this way. But it’s been incredible.


Sam Demma (26:56):
That is so cool. Thanks for sharing.


Abbey Gingerich (26:59):
Thank you.


Sam Demma (27:01):
And with that final thought, thank you so much for tuning into another episode. I hope you enjoyed this interview with Abby and got something from it. There was so many pieces of wisdom and nuggets and unique ideas that you could take, make your own, and also use for your school. If you did enjoy this, consider leaving a rating and review so more teachers like yourself can find this content and also live out the high performing educator philosophy. And as always, if you have ideas that you think should be shared with your colleagues around the country, around the globe, please reach out at info@samdemma.com so we can share your story with our audience. I’ll talk to you soon.

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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.