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

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

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

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

Connect with Eric: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Camerise Project (FSL hub)

Francophone Studies at York University

Newcastle University

University of Yaoundé1

Ontario College of Teachers

Choq-FM 105.1

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):

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

Sam Demma (00:59):

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

Eric Keunne (01:55):

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

Sam Demma (03:10):

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

Eric Keunne (03:18):

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

Eric Keunne (04:17):

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

Eric Keunne (05:27):

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

Sam Demma (06:03):

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

Eric Keunne (06:07):

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

Sam Demma (06:32):

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

Eric Keunne (06:45):

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

Eric Keunne (07:48):

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

Eric Keunne (08:38):

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

Eric Keunne (09:31):

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

Eric Keunne (10:25):

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

Sam Demma (11:14):

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

Eric Keunne (11:21):

Absolutely. Absolutely.

Sam Demma (11:22):

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

Eric Keunne (11:48):

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

Eric Keunne (12:45):

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

Eric Keunne (13:44):

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

Eric Keunne (14:46):

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

Sam Demma (16:13):

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

Eric Keunne (16:41):

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

Eric Keunne (17:41):

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

Eric Keunne (18:34):

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

Eric Keunne (19:29):

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

Eric Keunne (20:20):

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

Eric Keunne (21:11):

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

Eric Keunne (22:09):

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

Sam Demma (23:35):

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

Eric Keunne (24:57):

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

Sam Demma (26:15):

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

Eric Keunne (26:19):

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

Eric Keunne (27:22):

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

Eric Keunne (28:27):

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

Eric Keunne (29:22):

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

Sam Demma (30:24):

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

Eric Keunne (30:57):

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

Eric Keunne (31:02):

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

Sam Demma (32:34):

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

Eric Keunne (32:54):

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

Sam Demma (34:29):

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

Eric Keunne (35:02):

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

Eric Keunne (36:05):

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

Sam Demma (37:15):

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

Eric Keunne (37:36):

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

Eric Keunne (38:37):

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

Sam Demma (39:21):

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

Eric Keunne (39:55):

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

Eric Keunne (41:07):

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

Sam Demma (42:23):

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

Eric Keunne (42:50):

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

Sam Demma (43:07):

Awesome. Thank you so much. Talk soon.

Eric Keunne (43:10):

My pleasure.

Sam Demma (43:11):

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

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Jesse Macdonald

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

Robyn Hollohan RMSS B.Sc, B.Ed, M.Ed – Junior High Science Teacher at Roland Michener Secondary School

Robyn Hollohan RMSS B.Sc, B.Ed, M.Ed – Junior High Science Teacher at Roland Michener Secondary School
About Robyn Hollohan

Robyn Hollohan (@kathholl99), is a junior high science teacher at Roland Michener Secondary School in Slave Lake, Alberta. She recently finished her masters of Education in Leadership and Inclusion. Her thesis on the “Impacts of Restorative Practices on a Northern Secondary School” is currently on the waitlist to be published by the Alberta Journal of Education.

While finishing her masters of Education she welcomed her son Bryce into the world during the chaotic pandemic of 2020. She has been teaching in Alberta for 9 years and has also taught in Nova Scotia and in Kenya. While in Kenya she worked under Canadian International Development Agency to work with students with disabilities in the low-income areas of Nairobi. She enjoys coaching basketball, volleyball and is the teacher liaison for her school’s student council.

This year her student council had the 2nd most money raised for the Terry Fox Foundation in Alberta (4,100$) and they have also raised over $5,000 for Movember, and other local charities this year.

Robyn’s focus on education has been from a restorative practice pedagogy where she believes that every student is a valued member of our community and we need to support their growth by providing safe, meaningful and impactful relationships in their learning journeys. She hopes to one day soon be a vice-principal in a school and build capacity within schools to increase student success. 

Connect with Robyn: Email | Instagram | Linkedin

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Roland Michener Secondary School

Alberta Journal of Education

Canadian International Development Agency

Terry Fox Foundation

Teachers These Days by Jody Clarington

Careers at the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP)

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.


Sam Demma (00:59):
This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest is Robin Hollohan. Robin is a junior high science teacher at Roland Missioner Secondary School in Slave Lake, Alberta. She recently finished her masters of education in leadership and inclusion. Her thesis on the impacts of restorative practices on a Northern secondary school is currently on the wait list to be published by the Alberta Journal of Education. While finishing her master’s of education, she welcomed her son Bryce into the world during the chaotic pandemic of 2020. She has been teaching in Alberta for nine years and has also taught in Nova Scotia, and in Kenya. While in Kenya, she worked under Canadian International Development Agency to work with students with disabilities in low income areas in Nairobi. She enjoys coaching basketball, volleyball, and is the teacher liaison for her school’s student council. This year, her student council had the second most money raised for the Terry Fox foundation in all of Alberta; $4,100.


Sam Demma (01:57):
And they have also raised over 5,000 for November and other local charities this year. Robyn’s focus on education has been from a restorative practice pedagogy, where she believes that every student is a valued member of our community, and we need to support their growth by providing safe, meaningful, and impactful relationships in their learning journeys. She hopes to one day soon, be a Vice Principal in a school and build capacity within schools to increase student success. I hope you enjoy this conversation with Robin, and I will see you on the other side. Robyn, welcome to the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show this afternoon. Please start by introducing yourself.


Robyn Hollohan (02:38):
I’m Robyn Hollohan. I’m a junior high teacher in Slave Lake, Alberta. I teach science and I’ve just recently, I guess, finished my masters of leadership in inclusion education.


Sam Demma (02:50):
When did you realize throughout your own student journey and career journey that education was the calling and vocation for you?


Robyn Hollohan (02:59):
I think that was a tough one. Originally in school. I wanted to be a police officer and cause I always just valued how much they give back to the community. And then through my biology degree in university, it just struck me that kids were the way the future. And I think during that time I was reflecting back on the, the passing of an a relative and then how much they had changed everyone’s life. And I really wanted to do the same that she did.


Sam Demma (03:21):
Was she in education by any chance?


Robyn Hollohan (03:24):
Yeah, she was, she was my grade 8, 9, 10 teacher for home economics. And then when I was in grade 10, fortunately my auntie passed away very suddenly. And then at her funeral there was a lot of people there. So at the time I was just kind of like, wow, she had really, you know, made a difference, but now farther as an adult, it was like, yeah, she definitely made a difference. Cuz even when I’m now as a teacher in slave lake, I actually have a, a group of kids who I taught their parents and I’m not from Alberta. I’m actually from


Sam Demma (03:51):
That’s awesome. That’s so cool. And I mean, it sounds like your made a really significant impact among your own, amongst your own school journey as a student. Did you have any other teachers that had a significant impact on you personally? Yeah. That you could think of. Definitely.


Robyn Hollohan (04:09):
Yeah. I had this grade four teacher, Mrs. Weam. She was super, super stickler and she had helped me significantly. Remember my multiplication tables. I remember getting frustrated and not wanting to do it, but so many times she was like, Nope, Robin, you are going to do this, sit down and stop crying.

Robyn Hollohan (04:27):
She was just stern. And then I remember like hard work makes it, makes it happen and you know, yeah. At the time I definitely didn’t like her, but as an adult, I was very thankful.


Sam Demma (04:36):
So the, the sternness sounds like it helped, it sounds like sh as much as she was stern, she was probably also patient like willing to sit by you and help you kind of figure it out. Like, what are some of the things you think that she did and other educators you had that made an impact on you in terms of like the, I think it was


Robyn Hollohan (04:53):
The way that she cared about us and it wasn’t just that we were students in our class, but we were her own kids. Like she, I think had three or four kids of her own, her sons, but she also every day came in and just say, Hey, you know, Robin, I have a twin also, Rebecca, how are you doing guys? Like how’s everything at home. And she just genuinely cared, even though there was a lot of sternness and like I remembered the finger, she would point at you . But it was just that you tell, you could tell from her heart that she really wanted you to be successful.


Sam Demma (05:20):
Mm. So you got the glimpse in biology when you were going through your biology experience in university what did the journey look like once you kind of made the decision? I want to pursue this from that moment to where you are now?


Robyn Hollohan (05:36):
Well, the journey was a little different, cuz at first I was pursuing an RCMP occupation and I got all the way to the end of almost a depo posting. And I realized at that point it was just, my uncle had sat me down and said, well, Robin, I really don’t think this is for you. Are you sure you wanna go? I said, well, you know what? It’s, it’s a great career. They get back to the community. I said, yeah, but in the long run, do you ever wanna have to harm another human? If that’s what you have to do? And I just broke down and cried and I was like, no, I can’t do it. I honestly don’t think if I had to weight, raise my weapon, I’d be able to do it. He’s like, all right, you better call them back and figure out what you’re doing.


Robyn Hollohan (06:09):
And then I had more conversations with him and he was like, why did you never, ever want teaching? I said, well, I’ve always thought about it. I just didn’t think it was for me. I was like, yeah, well you’re patient, you care. You wanna give back? So why not teaching? So I had talked to some friends who were teachers and then I started to apply to a couple universities. And then I guess I just started to realize how much teachers make a difference and it’s not, you don’t have to be the author, you know, the, the dictator or the, the leader in every classroom. But it’s just how much that I remember teachers cared about me and it helped me be successful.


Sam Demma (06:42):
So you transitioned from the RCMP job. And did you have to go back to school to get more like education? Like what exactly was the path?


Robyn Hollohan (06:54):
Yeah, so I was in my last year of my biology degree. Would’ve been my fifth year and when I applied for all that stuff for the RCMP, and then during that time I had just had said, all right, I need to, I wanna be a teacher. I need to figure it out. So I had to go back to teaching school for two years and Halifax, Nova Scotia. And that was an interesting path. Cause I ended up playing university volleyball for the two years I was there just because I was tall and I could play. And the coach was like, you better be trying out girl


Sam Demma (07:22):
that’s. That’s amazing. And then, so you finished you finished school, you finished volleyball. Did you start applying and landed in the position you’re in now?


Robyn Hollohan (07:33):
It was an odd journey. So where I was in Halifax, they do like a teaching job fair from everywhere at west. Basically Northern communities come into Halifax and do a job fair for teachers. Okay. And I had done a couple interviews and then I got offered a position for a school division in here in Alberta, but in the Northern parts, it’s called the for Vermillion school division. Nice. It’s quite remote. It’s about an hour and a half from the Northwest territories. And within hours of doing the interview, they offered me a contract, asked when I could come. And I was like, well, September. And it was pretty exciting and that, I didn’t know where up there I was going, but ended up in a beautiful little town called high level Alberta and made some incredible, incredible context. And then two days later I actually was on a flight to Kenya where I didn’t the rest of my teacher practicum in Nairobi in Africa.


Sam Demma (08:24):
No way. Tell me about that experience. You, you kind of just, that was a, that’s a big, that’s a big journey. Tell me what brought you out there and what that experience was like. My, my sister in her fourth year of film and media production did a documentary just outside of Nairobi. I can’t remember the name of the city, but they were there for three weeks and she said that the interactions with the people and the, the kindness and the generosity and the humanity like changed her life and perspective. I’m curious to know what brought you out there to finish it and what the experience was like.


Robyn Hollohan (08:57):
Well, just before Christmas, that year I went, we applied for a grant with the Canadian international development agency and myself and three other, my colleagues my Stu I guess my classmates at the time had gotten the position to go. So we left, I think the beginning of February to go for eight weeks, no, nine weeks. And then we got over there and we were working with mostly with students with disabilities. So we started off, like, we lived on campus at university, which is quite different because it’s, it’s not like a campus life that everyone pictures everywhere else. Cause I I’ve lived on that. It’s, you know, it’s very rough and different environments. And then we had taken like little either motorbikes or taxis or these little tutus. They’re like little tiny minivans with like a driver to different schools, different like cuz they don’t have like inclusion there.


Robyn Hollohan (09:48):
Any of the kids with disabilities are either unfortunately not treated very well or if they are in education, they’re in a separate building in like a completely separate school than anyone else, which is quite different and it was quite shocking. And then we visit a lot of the slums and we did get to visit like a private school, but we didn’t stay there long. We really didn’t enjoy the atmosphere. It wasn’t what we were there for. And then we worked with a non-for-profit called start small and helped them with children who were victims of abuse.


Sam Demma (10:17):
Wow. what was the duration of your entire trip and how do you think those experiences kind of shaped and informed the way that you look at teaching and education to today?


Robyn Hollohan (10:27):
So I ended up staying there for almost 12 weeks. I stayed for a couple weeks after and traveled around. But it completely changed my outlook. I didn’t, you know, we didn’t have a lot when I was a kid, but I, we, we had enough and it, it was so different to see children, either being treated differently because they had disabilities or not having the things we’d had, you know, like we brought crayons and all the kids stood up and cried. They haven’t seen full crayons. Like just, I don’t know. We take for granted at the little things or even pencils. They were like writing with the tiniest little nub of a pencil and just tell the absolute end. And I remember kids in my first practicum in Halifax just snapping them. Wow. So that was super hard. But then the way students also responded to authority was much different.


Robyn Hollohan (11:09):
You know, they, they stood when you entered the room, they wouldn’t sit down until you said you could sit, which I found hard in one day. I actually didn’t believe it. So I just waited a second and I was like, oh, oh my God. They’ll stand until until I tell them to sit. I was like, okay, sit. And they’re like, thank you, miss. Yes, miss no miss. And it was just, it’s different, so different, but they love not that all kids don’t love school, but they genuinely loved being there cuz not everyone could get to go to school. A lot of the kids walk a really long distance or they’re at a boarding school and they don’t see their families for months on end.


Sam Demma (11:45):
Wow. Yeah. That’s a, a unique experience and I think a really helpful one before you get into education in north America, you know? And do you think traveling, if you can, when you’re just getting into education is a worthwhile thing to do or an opportunity to take for someone who’s just considering getting into teaching.


Robyn Hollohan (12:06):
Yeah. And even just get outside of where you’re from and where you would wanna teach, you see different parts of our country. Like I grew up in Newfoundland, so I was fortunate to be in their school system. And then I did my teaching degree training in Nova Scotia and then my then Africa and Kenya. Yeah. And then I taught in high level in Northern Alberta. So seeing the other settings kind of made me understand that not every system is the same, but all of our kids really in some way are the same. They wanna learn. You just have to find someone who cares about them.


Sam Demma (12:33):
I love it. So you, so you went to Nairobi and you spent 12 weeks there, you came back, you applied you got a fulltime position. Not in the school board journey now. So what was the journey from that to today?


Robyn Hollohan (12:49):
I actually met my spouse when I was in high level. Nice. we’ve been together nine years now. So then his son actually lived here enslaved lake Alberta with his mom. Okay. So after we were up north for a couple years, we wanted to be closer down here to him. So we moved down to slave lake, which was also hard. Cause you go from like, there was nothing in high level. They got a Tim Hortons my second year there. And that was huge because there’s no Walmart, there’s no Costco. There’s nothing like it’s dark by two o’clock in the afternoon. The sun might come up at 10 in the morning for some days in the winter. So it was really isolating. And then coming here, we have Walmart, the school is massive. The school is 700 kids from seven to 12, which I was used to maybe 300. So it like doubled.


Sam Demma (13:33):
Wow. Wow. Cool. And have you been in different roles in the different schools you’ve worked in or what is your yeah. What is the role you’re in now and what various roles have you been in? Pretty easily.


Robyn Hollohan (13:46):
Okay. So when I was up north, I was still like, it’s hard up there cuz a lot of the younger teachers tend to take on leadership very fast because the turnover’s really high. Not a lot of people stay in Northern communities very long and even my four years there I think most years on staff, we had at least six or seven brand new teachers, like just out of university where that’s quite rare in most teaching practices. So even in my second year I was mentoring a first year teacher. Wow. And which was different. Cause I still felt, I wasn’t really, you know, I didn’t have the ground underneath me yet. But then since I moved here, I have been mentoring other teachers. I was active administrator before I went on maternity leave last year. I’m a 20, 20 pandemic mom.


Sam Demma (14:27):
Woohoo. yeah.


Robyn Hollohan (14:29):
That’s and then now being back this year, I have a student teacher she’s actually in my class today. I’m off for some medical appointments. So I’m mentoring a student teacher.


Sam Demma (14:37):
That’s awesome. Very cool. This, yeah, that’s great. It’s cool that you hear that you’ve done some different positions and also mentored some educators. I know mentorship is a huge part in no matter what career you choose to get into, but especially in education, it’s a big part of the journey. Do you have some people that have mentored you? I know we talked about teachers earlier that have had an impact. I’m curious when you started going down this path what other educators have been impactful on your professional development or mentorship?


Robyn Hollohan (15:08):
I guess like when I was up north, one of the vice principals, her name was Anna, she just had a harder gold. And I remember telling her, I don’t know how long I could live in the darkness. And it was just hard. Like, you know, the, the cold it’s minus 40, most of the winter, your eyelashes freeze, the kids and the culture was so different. There’d be times where like most the class would be absent because they’re gone hunting wow. A large indigenous population or some kids just hated school and they just didn’t come. And so she just said, talk to me and asked me what were my long term goals? And I said, well, my spouse and I, we do wanna be near his son eventually. And I do wanna be a leader eventually. So she had like gave me the ins and outs of leadership and evenness like just a person and just, you know, she was always there to listen to. And when you had a bad day, she’d, you know, pull up a chair, get a coffee and like cry, which is great. And sometimes people to do that for you and helps you just see it’s okay to be upset. And that we’re human too.


Sam Demma (16:02):
Yeah. A hundred percent. I love that. When you think about that, that idea of it’s okay to not know the answers and it’s, it’s also okay to, to be human. What other pieces of advice kind of come to mind that you have? Cause that’s obviously a great learning. What other things kind of come to mind that you think have been helpful for yourself throughout your journey in education and maybe the way you can think about this is if you could speak to yourself when you were just starting knowing what you know now with the experience you have, like what would you have told your younger self or someone else who’s just getting into this work


Robyn Hollohan (16:39):
Say no more often.


Sam Demma (16:41):
I love it.


Robyn Hollohan (16:43):
I think a lot of new teachers like are always looking to impress and they’re always looking to take on, you know, how many teams can I coach? How many clubs can I run? Yeah. And it’s great to like give back, but you also to take care of yourself and that like statistically one in five teachers in their first five years burnout and stop teaching. So there’s a reason, right? And the system is hard to get in to get your permanent certification. So I mean, it’s pick a couple good things and stay good at them. Don’t overwhelm yourself and take the time for yourself. Like your mental health is so important. It is so tough now, especially with, you know, the pandemic slowly, slowly trickling away. But a lot of teachers and staff are just exhausted and you’re taking care of your mental health and yourself is the best thing you can do.


Sam Demma (17:26):
Such a good piece of advice, just don’t say no to Sam demo’s podcast interviews. That’s the only thing


Robyn Hollohan (17:31):
Yes. Do those


Sam Demma (17:34):
But I love that advice. I think I struggle with that. Some part of us feels guilty when we, you know, turn someone else down or turn down an opportunity for our own mental health reasons. We might feel like we’re letting somebody down, but really I think it’s beneficial for everyone involved you benefit because your mental health is, is better and you’re not biting off too much than you can chew. And there’s probably someone else who has the capacity to fill the role. If you say no, that could even potentially give it more energy time and do a better job. So I think no is important for everyone. Not just not just the person saying it or the person receiving it.


Robyn Hollohan (18:11):
Yeah. And it’s, I’m not perfect at it yet. It’s still hard, but like my, my sons will be two in July, but I start to think about, you know, like there’s only so much of me I can give and I wanna make sure my son gets enough. My spouse gets enough and my students and you know, you only have so much on your plate and that you gotta take care of yourself is really important


Sam Demma (18:29):
And you get enough of yourself. yes.


Robyn Hollohan (18:31):
And yes. And you know, and you gotta your own, your own self, your own body and your mind and your soul.


Sam Demma (18:36):
Yeah. Speaking of taking care of yourself what keeps you motivated and inspired and you know, showing up with a full cup when you’re not working or in school virtually or in person, what do you spend time doing to kind of refuel and take care of yourself?


Robyn Hollohan (18:51):
I read a lot, like I’ve been reading a lot of Dr. Jody Carrington. She’s like a psychologist who tells like teachers basically to like with a lot of cost words, to relax and to think about why they become teaching. She’s great. I won’t mention any of the things she talks about, but


Sam Demma (19:05):
What are some of the books? Do you remember any of the titles of the books or


Robyn Hollohan (19:07):
One of them is called teachers these days. I just


Sam Demma (19:12):
Read after Jody Carrington. Cool teachers.


Robyn Hollohan (19:14):
Yeah. Kids. It keeps Kesy stays and teachers, these days is the new one and it’s great. Cuz it just, it kind of make, have you have, have a good laugh about your job, cuz sometimes even in the hardest moment you do need to unwind and relax and think about everything and I don’t know what else do I do? I love craft beer. We have a local brewery here in slave like dog island brewer is really good. So we go there and just try to relax. Try not to think about life too much and prepare for our next travel or my next goal on my massive checklist, whatever it may be.


Sam Demma (19:44):
That’s awesome. Very cool. And if someone is listening to this right now, thinking to themselves, they would love to chat with you, ask a question, have a conversation. What would be the best way for them to reach out and, and get in touch?


Robyn Hollohan (19:59):
I’m on Facebook, Robin Hallahan they can message me Instagram. I think it’s @kathholl99. I tried to avoid students searching me and just email on my emails too; RobynKHollohan@gmail.com. Cool. But I’m always easy to chat. I always like to talk to other educators just to see what they’re doing and to, you know, figure out the balance. And that’s the most important thing, you know, like I think I mentioned to you before my interview, I also finished my masters during the pandemic when my baby was at home. So trying not to overwhelm yourself, but you know, pick the goals that are achievable, but you know, within a certain, you know, stretch, you don’t wanna make yourself too burnt out.


Sam Demma (20:35):
Yeah. How, you know, before we wrap up here, how do you balance all the different, you know, containers you’re juggling master mom, teacher, like what has been helpful in managing time and energy organization?


Robyn Hollohan (20:49):
I have like a massive checklist in our kitchen of like things that are coming up and then sticky notes. I think I need to invest in the sticking out stocks I just honest to God use probably hundreds a day and my students think it’s hilarious, but that’s you just, you know, you think of something that you’re not sure when you’re gonna remember it. So it’s a sticky note and it’s bad. Cause it’s, I don’t even go into the note section on my phone. I put the sticky note on my phone or it goes on my computer screen or it goes on my mousepad or wherever it may end up there’s it’s just reminders and organization. And then I think the biggest thing is to just make sure whatever you choose to do is making you happy. And at the end of the day, you’re not like, why did I decide to do this? Why what’s the reason so that you’re not completely upset with your choices.


Sam Demma (21:36):
I love it. One final question before we wrap up here. You mentioned reading a lot, you mentioned Dr. Jody Carrington. Have you found any other resources helpful among your, your journey in education, whether it’s courses, books, people, things you’ve watched, things you’ve read, that you think would be worthwhile to share?


Robyn Hollohan (21:56):
I guess it’s a lot of stuff. Depends on where you are in your life and stuff. I’ve been doing some like just self searching to try to figure out I have like a, really A type personality overachieving. So I try to find some stuff to dial that back. I’ve always been a fan of Bill Nye the science guy. I don’t know why. I just find no matter how old or young you are, you can listen to him and have a laugh so any podcast that he’s been posting out oh my goodness. My brain’s not quite sure.


Sam Demma (22:23):
No, those are good.


Robyn Hollohan (22:23):
There’s a lot out there. Or even just like, not necessarily the stuff online, but your colleagues or people around you. Sometimes they have the wealth of information and the capacity building that you may never ever ask any. They can be there one day for you that you might, you know, they take the chance to take the offer or be there for them.


Sam Demma (22:40):
Love it. Love it. If anyone has any questions, I’m sure they’ll reach out. I’ll include your email in the show notes of this episode and also on the article we post on the High Performing Educator website. Robyn, thank you so much for taking the time to do this. I appreciate you. Good luck with the rest of your endeavors in education and the family. Keep up the great work and we’ll talk soon.


Robyn Hollohan (23:00):
Thank you.


Sam Demma (23:02):
Hey, it’s Sam again. I hope you enjoyed that amazing conversation on the High Performing Educator podcast. If you, or you know, deserves some extra recognition and appreciation for the work they do in education, please consider applying or nominating them for the High Performing Educator awards, go to www.highperformingeducator.com/award. You can also find the link in the show notes. I’m super excited to spotlight and feature 20 people in 2022, and I’m hoping you or someone, you know, can be one of those educators. I’ll talk to you on the next episode, all the best.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Robyn Hollohan

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

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

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

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

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

Connect with Tina: Email | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Alberta Teachers’ Association

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

How to use Google Meet for Teachers

The Transcript

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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Tina Mclnenly (09:53):
Know,


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Tina Mclnenly (20:20):
Oh,


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


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


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


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


Sam Demma (21:30):
Thank you.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Tina Mclnenly

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

Lori Wagner – Coordinator of Student Support at Myrnam Outreach and Homeschool Centre

Lori Wagner – Coordinator of Student Supports
About Lori Wagner

Lori Wagner is the Myrnam Outreach and Homeschool Centre (MOHC) Coordinator. She was born feeling the need to make connections and to help others. The passion to teach was in her blood.  She has always looked at learners from an individualized lens; a perspective that was different from how others looked at the teaching profession over twenty years ago.

Her path through life has been filled with twists and turns, which has deepened her compassion for others, and has allowed her to approach times of change and struggle with a perspective that has helped her live every day to the fullest. 

Connect with Lori: Email

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Myrnam Outreach and Homeschool Centre (MOHC)

Camp Widow

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):
Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker Sam Demma. Today’s guest is Lori Wagner. Lori actually saw me speak at a teacher convention about two and a half months ago, and we connected right afterwards and it was obvious that she would be a great fit for a podcast interview; so we brought her on. Lori was born with the feeling that she needed to make connections and to help others.


Sam Demma (01:03):
The passion to teach was in her blood. She always looked at learners from the individualized lenses; a perspective that was different from how others looked at the teaching profession over 20 years ago. Her path through life has been filled with twist and turns, which has deepened her compassion for others and allowed her to approach times of change and struggle with the perspective which has helped her live every day to the fullest. And she vulnerably shares some of those challenges during this interview today and it’s actually an anniversary of a huge challenge that she went through years ago. But that’s what really has boughten out her light and her compassion and I think you’ll get so much out of today’s interview. So I’ll hear you. I’ll hear from you on the other side; enjoy today’s episode. Lori, thank you so much for coming on the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show after meeting at the teachers convention briefly. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit about what led you to working with young people?


Lori Wagner (02:02):
Well, it was, well only the thing that I ever wanted to do. My dad was a teacher for 40 years, probably at the same school. He was a junior high science, which did not interest me at all. I, no offense to those teenagers. I love coaching them. I love teasing them, in the hallways and walking down, getting like blown away by their acts, the body after street. But I do not like teaching them and the reason is I am kind of a five year old at heart. So where can you be goofy and like sing in front of a class and do weird accents and just make kids like super engaged? Elementary! So that was my route. And then I chose special ed because I just have a passion for finding the, like that student who is struggling. You see them so frustrated and when you get to that point that you can see you’ve like figured out how they learn and that spark goes in their eye,


Lori Wagner (02:56):
It’s like the best thing ever. Mm. So that’s why I went this special ed route. And it’s still a passion of mine to figure out kids with learning disabilities, ’cause you really see them kind of get lost in the regular classroom. And if you don’t have that sped eye that I feel like I do have and really know how to get to them and do those diagnostic testings and make a difference, like in my first practicum there was a boy and he was like a non-reader non-writer by the end of my practicum, he wrote a creative writing story that was two pages long. ‘Cause I made this cool project. It was like create a creature and the news came and it was just like that. So that was not even teaching. That was my practicum. It impacted me to then carry that on to the next years ahead.


Sam Demma (03:40):
I love that something interesting is you mentioned, you know, when you, you really feel for them when you see the struggle and you know, you’ve been through an instrumentable amount of struggle and I’m curious to know what your perspective on struggle is. Like how do you view struggle?


Lori Wagner (03:57):
Sometimes you have to view a sense of humor. Yep. Sometimes you have, you have to view it with the silver lining. Sometimes you have to view it that we are all struggling in some way. So it was really interesting to me. So the backstory about what Sam is talking about, the struggle is today it’s a 12th anniversary. My husband’s death. It was a sudden death in the avalanche. I was, was pregnant at the time, six months pregnant with my second child. And that was really one of the, well, that was the hardest thing that I had to do in the months ahead and deliver by myself and crazy two little babies, but the connections and the compassion that I felt from the people of BC and also of Alberta who supported me, like it filled my heart. It made me feel like I wanted to do that for other people in any way. So on this day, like if my voice shakes a little bit, you’re just gonna have to ignore it.


Sam Demma (04:54):
But no it’s just feels


Lori Wagner (04:55):
Passionate about it. Like it’s my, it makes me smile. When I think back to that feeling because he had died on a, in a mountain called McBride in the Rocky mountains, which funny and left, I ended up moving there and changing my life and new perspectives were, were changed there. But I just remember going to view his body, which my parents thought I was pretty. He is either like, you’re gonna you’re pregnant. This is gonna be bad for the baby. And I was like, no, this is what I have to do. And the whole town of 500 people just rallied around us, the victim service worker, which is now one of my best friends. She stayed us with us the whole time. The corner was like, if you need to see him at two in the morning, again, you just call me, I’ll come pick you up.


Lori Wagner (05:41):
We’ll take you to the hospital. The hotel put us up, everyone at the, the hospital and restaurants were just feeding us and taking care of us. And I was just like, wow, these people don’t even know me or my family. And they’re crying for me. Like this is made me feel like this connection to strangers that I now like, especially on this day, I love connecting to people. I don’t know because everyone has a story. And if I can make them smile sometimes like that taxi driver that I’m like reaching out, not treating ’em my keys, a second class per, or that Pelman that I’m like, how’s your day going? And like, what’s new with you. And those people that don’t get talked to in my travels, which I usually somewhere amazing on March 24th. Cause I’m determined to make this day the complete opposite of what it was.


Lori Wagner (06:33):
So I’ve always like gotta go to Vancouver. We’ve gone to the states a couple times last year, we’re supposed to go to Texas. And so the pandemic hit last year and it, it gutted me because March back to the perspective of how people are feeling right now, I really feel like now people all understand what March brings me because there is, we’ve been getting emails about that unresolved trauma that many people feel from last year that their world was falling apart. And how now they’re reacting, not by like a cognitive way, but it’s hitting them like with anxiety or just this feeling of unsettling and, or just they’re crying for no reason, nobody because of what happened last year. So every month I go through this process and I never know when it’s gonna hit me. I’m usually a little bit anxious, but last year it felt like our world was falling apart.


Lori Wagner (07:28):
So that’s how it brought me back to a PTSD feeling of 11 years ago from last year, my world fell apart. So it tanked and it put a, and not a great place, which I’m now with the help of some therapists and getting back on meds and being pro mental health, no stigma talking about it. But people now understand that that is not something you think about the whole world feels this trauma right now. And so it was hard for me to talk about this to other people. Well, cuz they would say, oh, March 24th is, that’s gotta be such a hard day. I’ve got all these text that are saying big hugs to you. And, but they don’t know that I actually broke down last weekend for no reason. I don’t know because I just felt like I got hit with a truck. Mm.


Lori Wagner (08:14):
I dug my husband’s ashes out and like feeling them. I don’t know if you know anything about ashes, but there’s bone bin in there. There’s teeth and crying. And my present partner who he’s been with me for six years is super supportive about me crying over my dead husband, which is like not really that common. So I’ve gone on now, a mini tangent from the con connecting with compassion and then kind of back how trauma has made me feel. But I’ve had hard days, but I’ve also had a lot of times that I really just had to laugh at what was going on. So I can give you an example of that time


Sam Demma (08:53):
Please. And before you continue, before you continue, I just wanna say thank you so much for being so vulnerable and sharing this part of yourself. It will relate to some people listening and, and they’ll find some strength in your sharing. So thank you so much.


Lori Wagner (09:08):
Yeah, no, Sam, I really think that being young widow, I was 32 at the time. So I went out to, because I, I don’t know how to be a widow. I’ve got two little kids and a section on grief in chapters had like seven books in it. And the one that I picked up and looked at was about finding a new golf partner one year 65. And it was so unrelatable that I’ve like since reached out, there’s a camp down the states called camp widow, which now they operate them Ontario. There’s an amazing camp called camp care, which is a grief family trauma camp. Oh wow.


Sam Demma (09:40):
It’s,


Lori Wagner (09:41):
It’s just that connecting with other widows that know what’s happening and how it feels to have two little kids that feel like you wanna crawl up in or how many kids crawl up in a corner and cry, but you can’t because you have to keep goings. So anyhow, there was one time, couple, it was probably, I don’t know, six years in and I kind gone through some ups and downs with my in-law family because death brings out hard feelings in people. And sometimes there’s times that we weren’t talking and we got back on track and my mother-in-law and father-in-law were always amazing. So I decided to do something important for them and take some, I’ve always offered the ashes to them and they said, no, no, no, that’s fine. You don’t have to. So I looked into it and there was this place in the states that you could get ashes like blown, like glass into this orb.


Lori Wagner (10:33):
And then it made like a beautiful little ornament. So I contacted them down there and they said, this is what you have to do. You need so much ashes and we’re gonna, you can ship it down and then we’ll send you the ornaments back. So I’m at the kitchen table having a beer with my, my dead husband’s ashes and kind of looking at it like, this is the most ridiculous thing. Like this is ridiculous. So I’m, I’m scooping it out and I’m like, I wonder what, part’s going down the state SCO be your arm, proving your, I don’t know, but you’re going, this is a man who never went on a flight to the states. I was like your first vacation. Hey congratulations. So I go to the post office and funny enough, the lady at the counter was also a bit of, and she was, but she not a looking at the dark side of humor kind of person than I am, like kind of laughing about the crazy stuff.


Lori Wagner (11:25):
So yeah, she goes, what’s in the package. And I said, and I was like, it’s ashes, my, my dead husband’s ashes. She was like, well, how much would you think this, this would be worth? Cuz you have to put that a on there when you have the item that you’re shipping down. And I was like, what do I say? Priceless? Like nothing like it’s ashes in the metal container. Like I don’t know what to tell you. And my friend was there and she kind of understands my sense of humor and we’re trying not to laugh because this is so crazy. I’m shipping my husband off and trying to put a price tag on his, his, his worth. But that there’s no sense in that to me. So anyhow, it was just one of the stories I had shared with my widow group because they got it and thought it was very humorous and yeah, it was just one of times, like my kids had asked many times actually when they’re little, can we pull out daddy? And I was like, okay, here we go. Like bring up, open the box up. And I have to remind my two year old, like daddy’s not a sandbox. Let’s get the cars out of there and yeah, shut ’em up and put them to bed. And then I have a little moment of like, wow, that was hard, but also crazy. And this life is so weird, but also amazing.


Sam Demma (12:41):
Hmm. And you said when you, you moved to where the accident happened in your life, you know, changed, like what changed for you? How did you approach life differently? Like, I’m curious to know what minds said shifts happened after the experience


Lori Wagner (12:56):
That life is too short and we can, and there’s really bad things that happen that we shouldn’t worry about the little things. So especially during this pandemic time in teaching, there’s been a lot of people worrying about what I call the small stuff like and worrying about. I’m not talking about getting sick, but just worry about those little details. And my perspective now is like, whoa, I don’t care. Like pretty pandemic or whatever about chewing gumming class. Or if you have a hat on let’s, I’m not arguing about those details. I cannot do it or worrying about. So my social online kids that I have in grade eight that are also struggling with theirs, some health problems going on, there’s some family stuff, Hey, guess what? Grade eight, you’re gonna still be a good person. If you don’t remember 18, whatever, whatever. So what we’re gonna do is just do the review. I’ll help you through the test and we’re getting you through grade eight social cause this will not matter in five years. Like I cannot deal with the silly details when there’s bigger things in life. So what had happened was I was starting to go visit my, the victim service lady that we got to be connected with. She was about my age and I would use it kind of as mistakes. So my perspective also was I’m just a swearing podcast or not,


Sam Demma (14:14):
It’s just fellow educators. So it’s okay.


Lori Wagner (14:17):
I’m gonna make this life the same way I would’ve done with my husband. So that means I’m gonna learn how to drive a fifth wheel. I’m gonna get myself a big one ton to pull it around. And I’m fricking doing it with a eight month old and a two almost three year old and it’s happening. So I learned how to pull a fifth wheel all that thing to through the mountain passes all the way up. It’s like, I don’t know if you know where prince George is, but anyhow, you go through Jasper and then you go, instead of going down Camelot and Vancouver, you take it up to like halfway to it’s 45 minutes from Mount Watson. Okay. If that gives you some sort perspective on perspective again, on where I’m at. So I’m parked in our backyard and I’m thinking, okay, instead of parking in our backyard, maybe I should look for some investment land.


Lori Wagner (15:02):
There’s another backstory about why I had some money for investment land because I had these bring me back to this, but I had some thoughts three months before he died about him dying. And I kept, it was a gut intuition that I could not fight and we just had sign life insurance. So, oh wow. Bring me that if you’d like. Okay. So anyhow, I’m connected with this real estate lady who we had got to be good friends, cause everyone in this town is like a personal connection. It’s such a cute little small town. And she said to me, so too bad, you weren’t like looking at buying a business because you’d be so good. You’re really sociable. And I, and I said, what kind of business? She said, it’s a trading company, kind of those like small town, bulk health food jars on the wall, little cafe that, that, so I said, well, I love baking that that would be like, take me to see it.


Lori Wagner (15:52):
And it was just this place. You ever walk into a place and you feel like it’s home. Like, wow, this feels amazing. So I said, well, what’s the catch on this? She goes, well, there’s a couple there that would like to go in with a partner. They don’t wanna do it on their own. So I asked my friend if she knew them. And of course she does cuz you know, everyone in this town. And so I cold called this guy. He was a retired banker and just had a conversation. We went to go see the building again. And he goes, okay, well think about it. I’m in, if you’re in. And I was sitting outside, looking at the mountains and put my kids to bed in the trailer and I thought, this is crazy if I walked away for like, I was on math leave.


Lori Wagner (16:33):
But if I left my teaching career, which I do love, but would I regret not trying when I’m 85? And my answer in my heart was like, this would be something I would regret, not throwing all, just all caution to the wind and taking this huge leap by myself and just doing it. And my thought was always like, what’s the worst that could happen. Mm. The worst that could happen, it would go south. And I could move back to Alberta. What’s the best that could happen. I can change up my life a little bit. Get myself out of that. Like whenever I’d go to the local grocery store or see someone in town, I’d get that pity widow look like, how’s it going? Worry. Yeah. And then you’d have to kind of like console other people, even though they’re trying to be very compassionate, but it was a hard space to be.


Lori Wagner (17:23):
And it was also a small town that people knew me. I’d taught in for 10 years. So I made the decision like within minutes, I’m gonna buy this business and we’re moving. I had three apartments above this to go building. Like we can live up there. So I call my parents from, from the backyard. I was like, so, and they were worried about me living on an acreage Alberta by myself. Mm. Like they were that concerned like Lori, you’re gonna have to sell your house just after Luke was born. That’s my son. You can’t handle it all acreage by yourself. You’re a single mom. Now you’ve got two little kids and they made me move into town to be closer to them right after he died. So anyway, I called about, I was like, mom, dad, I have something to tell you. He might wanna sit down.


Lori Wagner (18:04):
I bought a business to McBride and I’m moving there next month. And what are you like, are you actually insane? And I was like, it’s happening? So anyhow, I move up there. We had a couple years we lived in and then I ended up finding the most amazing soul healing place up on the mountain road, just by chance through my friend up there. That was in the same en road that my husband died at the top of that mountain. And that house was, I’ll send you pictures after like you, people from out where you live will not believe that some people are that lucky to live in such a magical mountainous valley. Like it was just gorgeous. And I lived there for about eight years and then circumstances kind of, I don’t know if you believe in the universe and like putting things out there, but I always wanted to live in the mountain.


Lori Wagner (18:55):
I always wanted to own a bakery. And this is like, when I’m a teenager, I did that. I did that. I wanted to get back to teaching and I kind of felt a little bit stuck in that mountain town. The schools, people were moving out, the schools were like 50 kids. There was a, and any opportunity for me after I’d worked in a few different places. So I thought I love this place, but I’ve also dated the men in this town. So I’m not gonna find any new ones. I also do want a partner that is going to be like my chapter two partner, which I did meet up there who coincidentally his birthday’s today. So now always celebrate.


Sam Demma (19:31):
Wow.


Lori Wagner (19:32):
Yeah, it was the universe saying to me, here you go, Laurie, like my, my best friend. And I looked at each other when we were talking about this and I met him up on a, a Memorial ride for their friend. And I said, so how old are you? And he said, 40. And last month, when’s your birthday? March 24th. And my girlfriend and I looked at each other like, is this, is this a screen Still around years later? And, and it’s brought me back to, Alberta’s the most amazing school my kids are doing well, and we’re all doing well. And we just appreciate what we have.


Sam Demma (20:08):
Wow. It’s such a good reminder to cherish the small and big things in life, you know? Your story’s amazing. And if you had advice for young teachers or, you know, teachers that are just getting into the profession, what would you share with them?


Lori Wagner (20:23):
Well, I do have a new teacher in here that I apparently I’m mentoring. Nice. So I, yeah, I, I did see her come in and get, she kinda get overwhelmed, which is normal. But I, so the new position I came into was a position that kind of fell into my lap last year. And it was the facilitator of the home learning outreach program. And it had no structure. It was like a, just a program. They thought they would get up and running to increase enrollment. And when I got hired or offered the position, they said, I said to them, so what does this look like? And they said, whatever, you’d like it to be. So every day was a learning process last year. And every day was scary until I learned something and could apply it the next time. And so I, in that, by from it, and then by the end of the year, I could see how far I’d come.


Lori Wagner (21:12):
So this new teacher came in and then also we revamped the program twice this year and the other teacher’s like, oh my goodness, what are we doing? I’m like, everyone just stop. Let’s take it day by day. This will all work out. I’ve been through this before we will learn. We will grow. We will tweak. And that’s part of even teaching, right. Or being a human, like we’re supposed to make mistakes. We’re supposed to be scared. We’re supposed to be uncomfortable or else we wouldn’t be growing. So when I was, had no idea what I was doing last year, I learned even more like when I moved to BC, scary, uncomfortable, but worth all those magical years I had with the people that lived in that town and what memories we collected. So we’ll, we’ll collect memories by being stressed out and anxious and taking that step.


Lori Wagner (22:01):
I know, I feel like a lot of the teaching community, I’m not type a, but I feel like there’s a lot of type a out there and that’s hard to deal with change, but I think we need to force ourselves to deal with change. And I could not live with not changing because I would get more quickly. Yeah. Frankly. And before, before Cory died, I was thinking, oh, this life’s kind of boring. And then it got really boring, but you know what? My daughter, when she was eight said to me, dad didn’t die. We would never have met all these people and had these experiences. She’s kind of an old soul. And I was like, you’re right. Like, good for you seeing this over lining in this. Cuz we, we lived in an amazing life in the mountains. Like we quad to the top of the mountains and a, you go up for snowmobile to the cabin to have a hot dog grow river boating on the river.


Lori Wagner (22:53):
Whenever we’d want to like doing all these crazy things that people who live in Alberta or who live in the city. My kids experience so much because of the steps that we went through. And so now, okay. Back to the teacher, the first year teacher thing. Yeah. Change and being scared is good. I just do just do it. Put, take your steps forward, build the plane as you’re flying it. And that’s fine because that’s how even I’m 44, this little young thing is 22 coming in and I can tell her it’s okay. I still sometimes don’t know what I’m doing, which is what I tell of kids. Cause kids, since we’ve got like, oh, you’re an adult, you’ve got it all together. I’m like, guess what? No, we don’t. And that’s okay. Cause we’re, if we figured it all out, we might as well be dead, be honest.


Lori Wagner (23:43):
So I also look at kids and young people that are just coming into their own well, I’m thinking like teenagers and kids too. I think we have too much, too many high expectations for kids and how they behave in their emotions and what they’re dealing with because I kids live in like the red or green zone and we kind of operate the yellow zone. And when we like, we can be okay, but when we get mad, we’re mad or sad. We get sad where kids just go from one extreme to the other and I can have a crying fit, but it could be in my own space cause I can regulate myself. But when kids are overwhelmed or their parents are overwhelmed because of what’s going, how they’re feeling. I really think that we need to take the behaviors as something behind it and recognize that adults have temper tantrums. So how can we expect our kids to walk into the door? Having good days all the time. Yeah. So I guess that comes like from a first year teacher, how we’re feel about things to how you’re recognizing the emotions in our fellow staff members and just trying to be compassionate about where everyone’s at and sharing that with them. Cause then you don’t feel like you’re alone. Same with like the sharing with the widows. You don’t feel like you’re alone anymore.


Sam Demma (25:01):
I love it and thank you so much for taking the time again today to chat about all this. I really appreciate it. If another educator is, is tuning in right now and wants to reach out to you and have a conversation about anything we just shared, like what would be the best way for them to reach out to you and have a conversation?


Lori Wagner (25:22):
My email would be fine. I would, could would share out to them if anyone reached out to you. I don’t know any other technology.


Sam Demma (25:30):
Email is perfect. Yeah. Just spell it out.


Lori Wagner (25:36):
Oh, it’s loriwagner44@gmail.com. Perfect.


Lori Wagner (25:45):
So what was I to say with oh, sharing with people? I, yeah, I’ve also like cold reached out. Like when people, the avalanche victims really get me those news stories. If you Google my name, Lori Wagner, avalanche McBride, that story went national because it was at the end of the very bad avalanche here. Wow. So now when I hear about these like credit mess, I will reach out to those widows or widowers, or whether I know them or not. And just say, Hey, I’ve been through what you’ve been through. If you’d like to reach out, I totally help walk you through how you’re feeling and it’s okay to feel that and validate that for you because, and some of them have come back to me and we’ve had that kind of conversation. And on those that also were a little bit lost, like I was lost. So I’ve often thought about a podcast about widows ’cause I don’t know if there’s a lot out there, but it might be an interesting topic.


Sam Demma (26:40):
I think that’s a great idea. An amazing idea. And if you do start it, let me know. But again, thank you so much for taking the time to chat today and honoring the, you know, the Memorial, today’s 12 years. I really appreciate it. Keep doing awesome work and stay in touch. I would love to stay in touch, whether it’s over email or whatever and keep doing great stuff and, and I’ll talk to you soon.


Lori Wagner (27:07):
Okay. Thanks a lot, Sam.


Sam Demma (27:09):
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 Lori Wagner

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.

Michael Booth – Principal of Blyth Academy’s Yorkville and Orbit Campuses

Michael Booth - Principal of Blyth Academy’s Yorkville and Orbit Campuses
About Michael Booth

Michael Booth is the Principal of Blyth Academy’s Yorkville and Orbit Campuses. Previously, he taught undergraduate courses at Northwestern University, Loyola University and Indiana University while pursuing a Ph.D. in Film Studies. Michael has a B.A. from McGill University and an M.A. from New York University.

Connect with Michael: Email | Linkedin

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Blyth Academy Website

Principles by Ray Dalio

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):
Do you want access to all the past guests on this show? Do you want to network with like-minded individuals and meet other high performing educators from around the world? If so, go to www.highperformingeducator.com, sign up to join the exclusive network and you’ll get access to live virtual networking events and 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 Michael Booth. He is the Principal of the Blyth Academy, Yorkville and Orbit campuses. He has previously taught undergraduate courses at Northwestern University, Loyola University and Indiana University while pursuing his PhD in film studies. Michael has a BA from McGill University and an MA from New York University.


Sam Demma (01:06):
I had the pleasure of speaking at a couple of Blyth campuses over the past few years, and Michael’s energy really reflects the professionalism that all of the Blyth students and campuses have and contain and pass on to all of their students. I hope you enjoy this episode. I’ll see you on the other side. Michael, welcome to the High Performing Educator Podcast. It’s a pleasure to have you on the show today. Why don’t you start by sharing a little bit about yourself with the audience and explain why you got into the work you do with young people today?


Michael Booth (01:36):
I am the the Principal of Blyth Academy’s downtown Toronto campus. I started with Blyth Academy. We are a, a small boutique private high school in Southern Ontario with campuses across the province from, I think we have 10 campuses now stretching as far east, as London and west as Ottawa. I started with the school 11 years ago now when I was returning to Toronto with my family after the first half of my career was mostly in, in academia, in the states and I was doing my graduate work there. And we were coming back to Toronto. I was looking to come back to secondary education and they were opening a new campus at that time in Mississauga and asked if I would be interested in running that, which I did for eight years. And a couple of years ago go, move to the Toronto location, and this summer I’m also the principal of a new campus we’ve begun, which exists in the virtual hemisphere. Nice. Which is in following the model of what all of our bricks and mortar campuses did in the wake of the lockdown in March running classes face to face with teachers and students through the zoom platform on an entirely, but the, these classes are exclusively virtual for its students.


Sam Demma (03:17):
That’s awesome. And it’s slightly different than maybe what teaching was like last year in the past 11 for you. What has been working in your two locations, virtual and in person with your students right now, and what problems or challenges have you been faced with that you guys have slightly overcome or are still dealing with that someone listening might find valuable?


Michael Booth (03:38):
Well, we’ve been very fortunate at Blythe because I think that more than most, any other school in the province our existing, physical model the gap between that model and what we, we are doing virtually is I think smaller at our school than most any other. And the reasons for that is that we have always had very small class sizes. So in the physical campuses, our class sizes have always been capped at 16 students. The average class size is eight students in the virtual world. We cap them at 12 and they still average about eight. We also have what used to be a, a fairly unique academic calendar where most high schools in the province are either semester with two semesters of a full course load being four courses per student, per semester, after or full year with students taking all their courses from September, until June at the same time, we’ve always been on a quarter system which is in fact what most of the public schools in the province have now turned to.


Michael Booth (04:57):
And the quarter system means that a full course of students is two courses per what the public schools are calling quadmesters. We call them terms. So from September, until mid-November, you might take geography and math, and then you’ve completed those courses, and then you move on to science and history and, and so on. And so that that mix of two courses at a time plus small class sizes plus our school is everything we do and, and our entire structure is dedicated towards very rigorous, comprehensive communication between ourselves students and students, parents, and guardians. Mm. And so in the wake of, of COVID in, we, we were notified, I think, right before March break by the Tuesday after March break, we had resumed classes on the same schedule, same timetable, and didn’t miss a day for the rest of the, the year.


Michael Booth (06:13):
And we simply maybe not, but more simple for us. We were able to effectively mirror what we do in the physical campus, through the zoom platform, so that those are when students are only doing two classes a day, the duration of the classes is longer. So we have two hour and 15 minute time blocks for each class per day. And that doesn’t necessarily mean that students just, as in the physical campus, it’s a very rare, you virtually never would walk around our classrooms and see teach every teacher classroom after classroom standing at the front of the room and, and in a more of a lecture mode trying to pitch it down the middle and hoping that more advanced students aren’t bored and weaker students are following. We have two hour and 15 minutes with an average of eight students in the class to engage in different styles of teaching different styles of assessment.


Michael Booth (07:20):
A lot of one-on-one conferencing, a lot of group work. Our teachers float around the room and students have opportunities to engage in different learning activities in the same class. On the same day, we can do that through the zoom platform as well. So it’s not necessarily the case that our student are listening to a teacher drone on, as I am for two hours on end. They might have a half hour 45 minutes of more traditional classroom conversation, discussion, PowerPoint presentation, have a small break rejoin, and then they might be assigned independent work that they might in breakout rooms on zoom. They might do off camera and then come back. They might have conferences scheduled with the teachers in that second hour to do one on one work. And so our model is really equipped us well to, to carry on in, in that format, the physical school we have resumed physical classes in September and because of our class sizes we’ve been able to maintain social distancing and cohorting of 15 or fewer students.


Michael Booth (08:34):
So no student is exposed to more than 15 other students at any given time of the year. And if a student is unable to come to the school because of an illness in their household, or a situation of immunocompromised or something like that, there is a virtual option coupled with the physical option, always available mm-hmm . So teachers have cameras in their classrooms and you’ll see if a student’s not able to be there. The student will be projected onto a a screen through zoom and be able to interact with their classmates and the teacher.


Sam Demma (09:10):
That’s cool. That’s how awesome game plan. And I think you’re existing model sets you up and life up really well to adapt and evolve with the current situation. What has, what have the students really enjoyed about the changes? Have they given the school or teacher any feedback on what they’re liking and disliking or what they wanna see more of and less of?


Michael Booth (09:34):
Yeah, I think, I mean, I was, I was actually really impressed and we, because we are, we’re a small school community, very, very inclusive, very diverse, very supportive. We all last year, we already had, you know, a very strong community that proved quite resilient. And our approach was able to cater to students that were struggling to adapt to a virtual classroom. And they supported each other for some students they actually really, I mean, they like the fact that they don’t have a commute for some student into, might be struggling with anxiety for them, some of them, the virtual format has actually helped alleviate that. I think, but I, I don’t know that the students have really in the virtual school their are students that don’t live within commuting distance to our physical campuses.


Michael Booth (10:41):
And so we have students from Alberta, we have international students that, that appreciate being able to join our schools without being physically there. They appreciate that we’ve been able to maintain continuity. So where many students in the last half year have, have effectively lost quite a bit of their access to teachers and curriculum. So we’ve, we’ve really this year, for example, our grade 11 math class is struggling because many of the students did not gain the fifth foundations they needed in grade 10 math. So we’ve been kind of triple timing it to help those students through their grade 11 course. But the students that have been with our school ha have not had that struggle because they didn’t have that interruption. We still have the same flexibility and of time tabling. So students have as much course selection and of course, flexibility and adaptability through the year that they’ve always had with us, whereas in many schools, because of the, the challenges that they’re facing the timetables are pretty set and they’re not changing and they’re not adapting.


Michael Booth (11:59):
And and very often they don’t even know exactly what it’s going to be in the next quad master, much less the third or fourth quad master. I think that the challenges that we faced are, are again, they’re, they’re not dissimilar from what we face in the physical school, it’s just, they’re taking on digital forms. So for example, students being shy about or, or, or lazy about, or not wanting to turn their cameras on. And we, as with everything, we, we approach that with empathy and support, we reach out to the student and their families to try and have discussions about what’s happening. If it’s a case of something appreciable like, like anxiety or their, an internet connection, isn’t speedy, we’ll make arrangements where that, you know, that’s okay. But as, as the, as the weeks progress and the year progresses, we, we approach that not unlike we might, we would approach attendance.


Michael Booth (13:06):
So if a student is struggling to make it to class on time or to come to class that’s, that’s enters into the conversation that the school has with the student and their, and their parents or guardians. And unlike, I, I, I know again in the, I, I’m not meaning to I fully appreciate the challenges that, that some of the public schools and the province are facing. And I, I really admire the work they’ve done, but they simply don’t have the capacity to help students and, or require students to have their cameras on. So they’ve got, you know, 25 students in a class and all of their cameras are off. And we, that’s not the case with us. We, we might have one student that we’ve made an arrangement with, but otherwise their cameras are on, they’re engaged and we’re having daily lessons with all of the interactions that we normally would.


Sam Demma (13:57):
Nah, that’s fantastic. And I know your campus has a lot of athletes as well, and extra quicks are a big part. How are you navigating these students who were super involved in other areas, aside from academics, not being able to do those things anymore, is there some way to deal with that and manage with that that’s been successful?


Michael Booth (14:15):
I, Yeah, that’s the, the athletics part is, is more challenging. Where, where one of our strengths lies is with the four terms and three periods a day of which students take two they can manipulate the schedule so that if they’re doing athletics outside of the school, so we have competitive figure skaters, hockey players, soccer players track athletes who have been able to maintain their, their practice schedules. There’s not a lot of games going on, even outside the school. So that’s a nice option with, with our clubs and physical education classes. We, we ran PHY ed in the fourth turn in the spring last year. And it was actually a great course to run because it, it helped us to motivate the students to get outta their bedrooms, which I think initially, I mean, it’s still a problem, but it’s initially it was a serious problem.


Michael Booth (15:16):
And we were doing yoga classes online and we were doing fitness classes, or we were asking them to design their own health programs, but varsity soccer is not really happening. Unfortunately mm-hmm, with other extracurriculars and clubs, because we’re trying to maintain the cohorts of students on Wednesdays. We run a shortened academic day and then we have two periods in the afternoons dedicated to extracurriculars and clubs. So our student council is up and running. We have a math club, we have a model UN club. We have, I think about eight different clubs going and extracurriculars going on for a total student population of 150 students. And so weekly, they’re getting to do that, meet other students in the school. And and that’s how we’ve been able to


Sam Demma (16:10):
Do that. That’s awesome. No, it’s fantastic. There’s so many different challenges, but it seems like you guys have been very successful at managing it and pivoting and finding what works and sticking with it. I think a huge key was the empathy piece that you mentioned in meeting kids where they’re at and understanding their situation before trying to coach them through anything. And I’m curious to know when you were a young person, not that you’re old , but when you were younger and you were in school did you have an educator in your life that made a huge impact on you and what did that person do? That made a big difference. And how did that, like, how did that lead you into education? Was there a defining moment where you decided I want to be a teacher?


Michael Booth (16:53):
Yeah, I think grade seven. I was I was fortunate to go to a, an independent school in Toronto where not unlike many of my friends, my dad was in, in, on base street and banking. And I, I thought until grade seven that I would just do whatever it was he did when he put his suit on to go to work in the morning. But I had an English teacher who was that teacher that, that that touched a lot of us and made me even more excited about the humanities than, than I had been in the past. And really after that, it didn’t occur to me to do much of anything but teaching. And that was really twofold. One was, I always liked working with, with kids. I was a camp counselor but it was also the academic side of it.


Michael Booth (17:46):
So that was, you know, my first job was actually working at the high school. I went to I was working in the boarding house and I was and actually my high school teacher that really inspired me had to take a leap of absence for the second half of the year. So when I was in my second year out of undergrad, I took his, his courses. And that was that, that kind of sealed the deal. And then I wanted to pursue graduate work. But the thing I loved about the graduate work most was the teaching and the thing I didn’t like as much as it was not as conducive to raising a family and yeah, and, and engaging students as much as I wanted to focus on. So that, that was what prompted me to come back to Toronto and, and, and work with life.


Sam Demma (18:38):
That’s awesome. That’s a cool story. And was it just a push that he gave you that inspired you? Was it, what, what made him an impactful teacher? Because the educators listening who are thinking, how can I be more effective with my students? And I can tell you, I had a grade 12 world issues teacher named Mike loud foot who changed my life. And the thing for me with him was his passion. He really cared about what he taught, what he taught. And when he talked about it, you just wanted to listen because he was excited. And I I’m curious, what was it like, what was the qualities of your teacher that made it different from every other class?


Michael Booth (19:14):
In the, in the case of the grade seven teacher, that’s when we started talking about themes in the novels, we were reading of the story and that I’d never done that. And so it brought my level of engagement with the material and my level of thinking beyond what I knew existed. Mm. And then he, he taught like, instead of in, for the poetry unit, instead of only doing 19th century romantic poets, we studied pink, Floyd’s the wall. And we did, I, I think it, I think it was a three or four week unit on that. and so that made me realize that studying wasn’t just out of the textbook and it wasn’t remembering dates and so forth. Mm-Hmm . So in, in my, the case, my high school teacher he, he taught a course that was of his own design that he, that called modernism and I, I, and about modern the modernist movements in art and literature and and the arts in general and, and philosophy.


Michael Booth (20:20):
And I didn’t know that existed either when, when I was in grade that was grade 13. And like a lot of my teachers in high school, I, I would sit in class and I wanted to be as smart as they were. I wanted to be able to cite thinkers and I wanted to be able to interpret the world. I wanted to be able to give commentary and analysis at levels that I couldn’t at the time. Hmm. So that’s a little, that’s a little passe these days. I think, I think a lot of times when people, you know, the current pedagogical trends are more towards experiential learning and student driven learning, and finding ways to, to engage the students almost as if it’s your job to, to, to tap into what they are interested in. Mm. Whereas in my day it was more the case that you’d kind, it was, the teacher would stand there and just be so illuminating that you would be inspired.


Michael Booth (21:32):
And I, I think I, I, I think a mix of both is, is worthwhile. And I, I, I sometimes worry that we put we certainly do it Blyth and, and we put a lot of emphasis on making sure are that we are engaging, the students interests as they exist before they enter the classroom. And my feeling is there’s actually nothing wrong with challenging them to move outside of their, their the interests that they bring in to recognize connections between those interests and what the teacher may be talking about that day. Mm. And, and there’s nothing wrong with challenging them to exceed what their immediate knowledge is of. And I, I, I think particularly in the age of social media where their interests, their desires, their curiosities are being satisfied by the second. And it’s whatever they, they within themselves think to tap into quite literally they don’t have as much experience with feeling uncomfortable or challenged.


Michael Booth (22:47):
And so I fear that if we don’t, build those skills in them, that the world is a much harsher and crueler place to enter as an adult for them than it was for me in my generation. And I fear that when confronted with the challenges of having to meet the expectations of someone other than themselves, that they won’t have much practice in doing that. And so we’re constantly trying to find that balance with us and, and, you know, like with the black screens, like we start with empathy, we start with accommodations, but ultimately the goal is to work on resiliency and that may involve consequences. And we don’t lay them down at the outset. As a matter of course, we work with each student with each family to find what the, the line is. Yeah. But ultimately we’re working to wean them off of the accommodations and the need for degrees of empathy that they might need at the start.


Sam Demma (23:50):
That’s so true. And Ray Dalio, hedge fund manager wrote a book called principles, and he talks about problems and he says most often the bad outcome is just a root of a bigger issue. So having a screen is not actually the, the problem, it’s a symptom of a problem, which you have to uncover through conversations. So I think the approach that you guys take is a great one and it’s well thought out, and I think it can be applied to any problem a students facing. It’s probably not the real problem. Just a root, gotta dig a little bit deeper. That’s fascinating.


Michael Booth (24:25):
Yeah. One of my refrains to the teachers is 99.99, 9% of the time, whatever the behavior or posture a student is, is, is presenting is not what’s actually going on inside. So if it’s a boy that’s kind of fronting and pretending, or not pretend, but acting like he doesn’t care and he’s not interested and sometimes a little oppositional or what have you underlying that is actually some, probably some insecurity maybe you know, certain struggles in particular areas of processing or what have you mm-hmm . And so you always have to translate what’s in front of your face, into an understanding that you don’t actually know. And until you have a better sense of it, give the benefit of the doubt because otherwise they’ll shut down. Yeah. But then going back to my earlier point, ultimately, we’re going to work to get you to, to the place where we don’t have to do that translation, because we figured, figured out where, where the problem lies and what we can do about it.


Sam Demma (25:35):
Yeah. There’s a quote what people don’t or what kids or students don’t, what, what kids don’t speak out, they act out I think Josh ship was the speaker who said that once, and it really resonated with what you do is saying what you’ve learned so far on your educational journey. Maybe you, if you could, could you summarize your key learnings that if you could talk to your former self, when you just started, like what key learnings or pieces of advice would you give? Imagine there’s an educator listening. Who’s just starting teaching now, or is a little overwhelmed your experience over the past 11 years, what do you think are some key things to tell your younger self or a new educator?


Michael Booth (26:14):
Well, I think what we were just talking about is, is is probably the, the refrain that I, that I use the most and the, the way I can best explain it is there’s a great seminar that I’ve gone to a couple of times that my wife is a social worker. So she, she introduced me to this and it’s called walk of mile in my shoes. And it’s for parents of students with learning disabilities and what they do. They start the seminar by showing parents of student of children with, with learning disabilities, a problem on a, on a board and asking them to take five or 10 minutes to solve the problem. And, but the problem is pure gobbly go, and there is no solution. Yeah. And when the parents experience that, then the presenter says, so that’s what your child is going through 24/7.


Michael Booth (27:11):
Mm. And I’ve been to a couple, my wife has been to many and, and she says that she’s, and it happened when I was there. She’s never seen, been attended the seminar when one of the fall, others has not broken down in tears realizing that when he was brow eating his, his son or daughter, that they weren’t being lazy or resistant or whatever, just for the cuz they liked to do that. Cause they were having a struggle that was invisible to the parents. And I think it’s similar. We all fall into habits of, oh, they’re Johnny. So and so is struggling again and giving me a hard time because Johnny is lazy or unmotivated or what have you. And I’m not in the trenches in the classroom as much as I used to be. So I feel like it’s my job to remind teachers to try to walk a mile in their, their student shoes.


Michael Booth (28:07):
Mm that’s awesome. And, and then on the other token, I mean, it’s all about navigating these, these, these often conflicting or competing demands not necessarily only accommodating and this is parents and students. Yeah. We have the capacity at this school to be highly responsive to students struggling or trying to achieve a higher goal or what have you. And the, the immediate impulse is at times to, oh yeah, we can make that accommodation. So we will, and that’s fine at the start, but ultimately the end goal is always, how do we, how do we work ourselves off of needing that accommodation? Like if, if possible.


Sam Demma (28:57):
Yeah. That’s awesome. And a side note question before we wrap up today over your right shoulder, there’s a picture on the wall. It might it be Martin Luther king. I’m curious to know if this is your office or what that picture says.


Michael Booth (29:12):
No, that, that is my office. It’s it’s an album cover for a John QUT train jazz saxophone player.


Sam Demma (29:19):
Nice. yeah. Cool. Very cool.


Michael Booth (29:22):
Having a rough day. I’ll just turn around and look at that and it makes me feel a bit better.


Sam Demma (29:26):
Oh, I love it. Cool. That’s amazing. And if anyone wants to reach out, have a conversation, they think something you said was impactful or inspiring, what’s the best way for someone listening (an educator) to do so?


Michael Booth (29:39):
My email mbooth@blytheducation.com is, is great. And I can schedule zoom calls and, and phone calls and or email exchanges.


Sam Demma (29:48):
Awesome! Michael, thank you so much for taking some time today. I really appreciate it, it’s been really insightful. And there you have it. Another amazing guest, an amazing interview on the high performing educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review so other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show. If you wanna meet the guest on today’s episode, if you wanna meet any of the guests that we have interviewed, consider going to www.highperformingeducator.com, and signing up to join the exclusive network. You’ll have access to networking events throughout 2021 and other special opportunities. And I promise I will not fill your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

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