About Greg Firth
Greg Firth(@coachfirth) is an experienced educator with a demonstrated history of working in special education and with at-risk youth. He is also the Coach and Department Head of the Career Path Regional Program.
Skilled in educational leadership, coaching, Secondary and Elementary education, assessment, and team building, he is a strong education professional with a Bachelor’s Degree focused in Elementary Education and Teaching from the University of Canberra.
Connect with Greg: Email | Linkedin | Twitter
Listen to the episode now on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or on your favourite podcast platform.
Bachelors of Primary Education – Canberra University
St. Edmund Campion Secondary School
DGN-Kilters (Spirit Wear Company)
**Please note that all of our transcriptions come from rev.com and are 80% accurate. We’re grateful for the robots that make this possible and realize that it’s not a perfect process.
Sam Demma (00:00):
Do you want access to all the past guests on this show? Do you want to network with like-minded individuals and meet other high-performing educators from around the world? If so, go to www.highperformingeducator.com. Sign up to join the exclusive network and you’ll get access to live virtual networking events and other special opportunities that will come out throughout 2021. I promise you I will not fill your inbox. You might get one email a month. If that sounds interesting. Go to www.highperformingeducator.com. Welcome back to another episode of the high performing educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have today’s guest on the show. Funny enough, I actually met him on Twitter. Now. I don’t use social media very much. Twitter is the only platform that I’m really utilizing right now to stay in touch with people in education. And I came across Greg Firth’s page and I was intrigued instantly by the thumbnail picture that appears on his profile header in big bold letters.
Sam Demma (01:04):
It says, don’t let your dreams be dreams. And that immediately caught my attention. And as I explored his profile a little more, I realized that he is the department head of career path regional program at Ed campions school. And he helps students transition and find their passions on and off the court. So aside from his role in helping students find their passion, he’s also a coach and being someone who grew up as an athlete myself, and that someone who was very interested in helping students, you know, answer the questions, who am I, what are my opportunities and how am I going to accomplish them? You know, I thought that me and Greg would have a phenomenal conversation and my thought turned out to be correct because we have an amazing discussion on today’s episode, a little more about Greg Greg is an experienced educator with a demonstrated history of working in special education.
Sam Demma (01:59):
And with at-risk youth. He is skilled in educational leadership, coaching secondary and elementary education, assessment, and team building. He’s a strong education professional with a bachelor’s degree, focused in elementary education and teaching from the university of Canberra. All of that aside, Greg is an awesome human being. He is someone who thinks outside of the box. A little inside joke, he was wearing a shirt that says, think outside of the box during today’s interview. And it’s evident that he does that in his day to day work in his role. So without further ado, here’s the interview with my good friend, Greg. Greg, thank you so much for coming on the high-performing educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show. I think the thing that caught my eye from you was seeing your Twitter header that was talking all about dreams and as someone who was chasing my dreams since I was a young kid and who’s still chasing my dream, and seeing that you support other students chase theirs was really cool. And I’d love for you to introduce yourself, share a little bit about who you are with the educator listening and how you got into education and the work you’re doing today.
Greg Firth (03:10):
Awesome. Thanks again, Sam, for having me I’m really excited to be here. My name is Greg Firth. I’m a teacher in Brampton at St. Edmund Champion Secondary School in the Dufferin-Peel Catholic district school board. I’m currently the department head of a regional program that we call the career path program. The career path program is a grade 9-12 program for special education students who are looking into exploring the world of work. So we have such an amazing team around us who are supportive of not only teachers, but educational resource workers, child/youth workers, social workers, psychologists, and an amazing administrative team, and some amazing teachers again in our, in our greater building. So my journey to becoming a teacher was not as kind of clear. I went to Brock university and did sport management. I played rugby a Brock. My whole goal was to get into the sports field.
Greg Firth (04:11):
I had dreams of being an event planner or working for a professional team traveling. But in the background I was always working at summer camps and I was always either running a camp or working for an organization with kids. I did teacher’s college in Australia and I worked for what is equivalent to, I guess, the Toronto maple Leafs, which was the the, the camp or ACT Brumbies which is a professional rugby team there. And again, I was running rugby camps there and it just seemed, I got accepted to go to Kenesha, to do my master’s in sports sport management. But I took it. I had to take a little bit of break and I sat and I really thought about, okay, well, is this really what I want to do? Went back and got a job in Dufferin-Peel as an educational resource worker for a year.
Greg Firth (05:01):
And during that year I had some you know, I loved it. I just loved that. Helping kids, working with staff, working with parents, working in the greater community. All the other things that come with teaching and being in a school just just kinda excited me. So that’s how I ended up in Australia doing teacher’s college, came back, connected with a few past principals and vice-principals and was able to walk in. I got hired on labor day, Monday for a grade three job on Tuesday. And and that’s kinda, that was my entry into, into Dufferin-Peel and to, to teaching.
Sam Demma (05:41):
At what point, though, in your personal career journey, when you were still going through school, figuring this all out, did you make the decision it’s going to be education, I’m going to work in education, whether it’s a teacher, a principal, whatever it, you know, it turns out to be when did that decision happen and what spurred you to make that decision?
Greg Firth (05:59):
You know what, I don’t know if there was a specific time because I’m going to be honest. I came back from Australia after doing teacher’s college. I ended up coming back in June. So I had a summer, I needed to make some money and pay off some bills that I incurred in Australia. And I worked at a, at a law firm in Toronto in the mail room. So I was, you know, shirt tie getting on the go train from Mississauga, going downtown in Toronto. And I was like, well, maybe this is kind of the lifestyle I want. So the one thing that I, that I, that I’ve followed the one thing that I preach and teach to kids is that there is no clear path. Sometimes things change. Sometimes it’s a moment, but you have to kind of recognize those opportunities, go for it, see what lies ahead and, and take those opportunities as, as they’re brought to you.
Greg Firth (06:52):
And sometimes you find things behind the door that you never expected. And, and sometimes there’s a challenge and sometimes, you know, the grass isn’t always greener, but that will you know, you’ll grow from it. And it isn’t a 20 year journey. I do believe as a lifelong learner, whether it’s an occupation or whether it’s just personal growth. I do believe that that learning happens over an eternity. And so I don’t know if there was a clear part and, you know, I’m continuing to, to reflect and to see, and to challenge myself even as a, as an educator and how I can move forward professionally in this career.
Sam Demma (07:39):
I’m assuming there’s a reason why your Twitter handle is also coach Firth. Where does coaching and athletics come into the story? You know, you mentioned you were a rugby player growing up, did you end up coaching sports in schools? And what did that teach you about also being a better educator? Did you learn some lessons from being a coach or, or w you know, you have a diverse perspective being both a coach and an educator, and I’m curious to know how it’s impacted your teaching style and, and where sports kind of come into the picture for you.
Greg Firth (08:11):
So, yeah, you know what, sports has always played a huge role. I have four brothers if we weren’t, you know, battling playing hockey outside or playing baseball outside or, or competing, even playing Nintendo NHL 93 or whatever it was, sports was always has always been a part of me. My dad coached me growing up. I umpired baseball. That was kinda my first leadership opportunity was umpiring baseball as a 14 year old and having a courageous conversation with with a father that he was not allowed to use that inappropriate language around these kids. So I grew from that and, and being in those, those opportunities coaching was kind of like the next step by a good friend and former teacher. Paul Newfeld, you know, allowed me to come back as a, as a, as a university student and help out with the rugby team.
Greg Firth (09:10):
And we ended up taking that rugby team to to also, we ended up taking that rugby team to England and to, and it just created so many friendships and memories and opportunities, opportunities because of rugby. I was able to go to Australia and meet some people, have a conversation that about a sport, it was in, it was an initial draw to, to have a conversation with people. So coaching has always been and still is a huge part. I think we can teach the lessons. I think you know, the roles that I’m in, sometimes I’m not with the with students in a day-to-day basis in a classroom, but it gives me an opportunity to teach to, to learn from them to compete and to bring life lessons. I, I’m a, I’m a strong believer. You know, we talk about sports being great, but it has to be purposeful as a coach, a sport. I believe that a sport does not bring life lessons in itself. You know, anyone can go play baseball, anyone go play basketball. It’s, it’s, it’s the adults, it’s the organizers, it’s your teammates that bring those life lessons. And I do believe that it has to be purposeful. You as an adult and as a coach need to have values and you need to, you need to teach lessons and there’s, and sports is a great opportunity for those.
Sam Demma (10:39):
Did you have a coach growing up that had a huge impact on you and maybe one jumps to mind? And I’m just curious to know what you think that coach did. That’s strongest string with you, if you have, if you have one in mind.
Greg Firth (10:52):
Yeah. You know what? I I’ve been lucky. I’ve been some, had some amazing coaches, but the one I met just mentioned before Paul Neufeld from John Fraser secondary school he was a, a phys ed teacher. He started a rugby program when I was in grade nine, I had no one had any clue what rugby was like, no idea. So we went out there learn the game. He taught it to us. There was a cup of some other grapes, but he was kind of the one funny enough. He was a relatively young teacher at the time. And, you know, we kept in contact and I graduated and he brought me in to help coach with him with a couple other buddies who went on to the school. And to this day, I’m still friends with them. We did the ride to conquer cancer last year, and we rode bikes for 65 kilometers.
Greg Firth (11:35):
And he’s, you know, he’s always been a, and it’s funny because you see the impact that these, these coaches and the teachers have on students. And I got an amazing message from a student three days ago who just signed a scholarship for basketball. And and her note to me was, was immense a lot. And you know, to see that other side that, you know, in the moment, sometimes it’s pretty thankless. And you know, it’s not always easy, you know, having a player, you know, there’s not enough time for everyone to play. And right now I’m spending a lot of time coaching basketball. And and it’s, it’s not always easy, but those moments, you know, maybe it’s not an in the moment directly, but five years, 10 years, 15, 20 years down the road, you know, they remember that offs a trip to London where they remember that fun bus ride, where the coach got up and danced and made a fool of themselves. Those little moments sometimes, or the, I had a, had a good friend who plays professional lacrosse telling me that he does remember too many of his championships as a kid, but he does remember all the hotels and the, and the team parties. This is a professional athlete that told me that once. So I thought that was a, that was kind of trouble.
Sam Demma (12:51):
Oh, that’s awesome. I love that story. And it’s a personal one for me because I played sports growing up as well. And I could name the coaches that have also had a huge impact on my life. That’s so cool. I know these days, things have changed for you in your teaching role, and you’re now doing more of the career focused stuff, but you mentioned that note that the student sent you, you know, and it felt like a really touching moment. And sometimes educators don’t actually ever hear about the impact they’ve made, although it’s still as real as it ever would be. But you know, those moments where you get a note or someone reaches out, whether it’s five years later or 20 years later is like, it’s like icing on the cake, you know? I could bet it makes you feel like a million bucks.
Sam Demma (13:37):
And I’m curious to know if you have any stories of transformation, whether in your new role now, or in any of your previous roles that stick out to you. And if it’s a serious story, you could change a student’s name or just not use a name to share it. The reason I’m asking is because there could be an educator right now, listening, who is thinking about getting out of this vocation, this calling, because of what challenges they’re faced with this year and a transformative story, you might be what they need to inspire them to keep going. Danny stories come to mind that you can think of.
Greg Firth (14:10):
So, because of my experience teaching, I taught grade three, I’ve taught, I’ve taught nine to 12. I’ve had a, I’ve had a lot of opportunities to, to work with a wide variety of subjects, a wide variety of students from a wide variety of settings. There’s a couple situations that I can think of my head, but I think, you know, what, what has recently, what is re what I’ve really focused on is the role that I’m in, in, in the high school setting is I used to go and I still do go to a lot of meetings of, of transitioning from grade eight to grade nine. So you hear these stories you know, you, you know, students struggling and literacy students, struggling, math students, not motivated. And, you know, we, we try to plan appropriately for that student. It is amazing going back and talking to elementary teachers and sharing the success stories.
Greg Firth (15:16):
Whether it’s been the student has found a passion, whether the student has found a teacher, a construction teacher, or an auto teacher that they’ve, that they’ve linked to, and they’ve taken a great liking to, to the trades. And now they’re going to continue and continue on with that trade. Those are the things that, that stick with me is that it is a path. It is a, it’s a, it’s a journey. And you know, every day’s a new day and, you know, I’ve had a teacher once told me the best teachers are, you know, we’re, we’re all drama teachers. We all have to, you know, start fresh the next day. It’s another play. It’s another day. You know, you don’t carry grudges. Kids have bad days. Kids will say terrible things. And, you know, you have to know where that get to know who the student is, develop those relationships and understand where that struggle comes from and, and, and continue to move forward and continue to guide them and continue to be on that journey with them.
Greg Firth (16:18):
And I think that’s, that’s no kind of the, the takeaways from it. All. I had a parent, an aunt actually call me at the beginning of September, just to give me a head you know, just wanted to touch base, let you know what, what my son’s doing now, or sorry, my nephew. And I shared with everyone who taught this, this child, and it was it was amazing. Everyone had huge smiles on their faces and, and his journey was different than a someone else’s. And, but that’s success. It comes in a variety of ways and and fighting those little moments to make a difference is is key. And it’s not always easy. It’s not always easy.
Sam Demma (16:58):
It’s definitely not easy now as well. I find teaching virtually presents its own different, unique challenges. I’m curious to know in today’s learning environment, how do you make a student feel seen, heard, appreciated, valued? You know, do you have any ideas around that?
Greg Firth (17:18):
Yeah. You know what, so when we started in March with the, the online learning, I don’t have a classroom, so I can approach things a little bit differently. But I set that my role is to be there if a child needs to talk or it needs to be in the air, you know, I need to be there and listen. And it may be every single day for 10 minutes. In some cases it was, and that’s okay. I, I feel that it’s so important to be, to make a connection in the school and that’s no different than online, you know, I think it’s, it all starts. I’m not, I’m a huge relationship person. I think you get so much by building positive relationships and it’s that whole concept, right? Like a co like, just going back to the coaching, like, you know, you have to develop that relationship with those players, if you want to get the most out of them, because there are times when you’re going to have to challenge them.
Greg Firth (18:16):
There are times when you’re going to have to, you know, address the elephant in the room and whether that’s playing time or whether that’s look, I don’t know if you’re ready for that next level. If you don’t have that relationship, you can never have that conversation and move things forward. So who I am is it’s, I’m a relationship builder. I, I try my best and I try to be present and I try to address everyone’s needs and a need to have a student who just can’t figure out how to log into Google classroom for the 15th time. That’s okay. We got it, we’ll work through it. And that’s what I’m here for. You know, we got to understand the stress that they’re going through in their homes and, and this new learning environment. And some of them it’s very, very challenging and, you know, the mental health behind it is it’s huge. And also recognizing who the other professionals are that I can tap into who I can call up and say, child, youth worker, Hey, you know what, I think something’s off right here. Like, can you connect or finding a club, an online club that, that, or community organization that they could tap into is, is all extremely important.
Sam Demma (19:24):
I saw on your Twitter profile for bell let’s talk day, everyone was holding up white boards there in your, in your, in your virtual class. I’m curious to know what was going on in the school board there, what were all the students doing? So that,
Greg Firth (19:37):
That was our I believe that was our student council and our student council. Again, just, we’re trying to find ways to connect with the students. And that it’s so important. You know, we just talked about our highlights in our high school, right. You know, we were involved in teens, we were going to pep rallies. We were going maybe to, you know other social events in the school. We’ll all of those kinds of just got taken away. Great twelves are missing their grad tens and elevens might be, or it might be a semiformal at the school. Great aids never had their grad. So coming into a, to this school, it’s just tough. And I think we, and I think the teachers are doing amazing, amazing work. And I think we’re being creative. I think we’re trying new thinking outside the box. And we’re trying to find ways to get students connected with the school, because we know if a student is connected to the school, great things will happen. That sense of pride, that that is, you know, school becomes easier. It’s a better place to come to. The more comfortable the confidence is built up. So I think finding those little things of of getting our students involved and letting their peers know, Hey, you know, we’re all in this together. And and, and we’re here for you.
Sam Demma (20:52):
I love that. No, that’s awesome. And in the role you’re in now with the career work that you’re doing, what’s kind of motivated you to take on that role. Like I know you’re someone who believes in following your dreams. As I mentioned at the beginning of this podcast, why is this role a crucial one for you personally?
Greg Firth (21:14):
So I used to be a department head at another school another school in the department of special ed there. And the posting came up, the lady before me retired and this posting came up and I just, I saw it as a great opportunity to not only work with students in one community, but a wider community. We have students coming anywhere from, we have a student in grand valley. We have students in Shelburne in the past. We’ve had students in Bolton. We’ve had students in kaledin all over Brampton. So students are getting bused into our school. And it’s just an amazing opportunity to work with a great staff and a great school with great administration to to take something work with it, create it. And my whole goal has been to try to provide opportunities or provide experiences or you know, we created a few little in-house businesses and we worked with amazing partners and we created our spirit where we brought in a company called DJ and killers who they came in and they worked with our students and they, they created spiritwear for the entire school.
Greg Firth (22:24):
So it was kind of like we had a program, but there was a bit of a blank canvas to move it forward to, to, and those are the things that really inspired me to work with a different different students. And again, if I’m preaching, get students and out of their comfort zone or players out of their comfort zone, you know, I have to live by those words too. And, and I was, I had a great school. I was at Cardinal LeShae and, and amazing staff and loved it, had some great friends friends to this day, but from my myself, I needed to grow and and take on a new challenge. And and yeah, it’s, it’s been an amazing five years.
Sam Demma (23:06):
And if you could go back to younger Gregg and speak to yourself when you’re just starting your journey in education, what advice would you give yourself?
Greg Firth (23:20):
So I think I would, I would you know, tell my, I think when I was younger and I think this happens with a lot of us, no matter what profession there’s, there’s doubt, right? There’s doubt we’re not as experienced and we’re not as, you know, seasoned, and we’re not just like a rookie jump jumping on a team. Right. There’s always going to be that doubt. And, and that’s okay. I think you have to question what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. But I would also encourage, like, continue to talk to those teachers who have been there, but not just, not just your teaching partner, talk to that teacher, make that connection, continue to network, find out what’s going on in other buildings, find out what’s going on in other school boards, you know, there’s so many amazing, and that’s why I’m a huge fan of Twitter.
Greg Firth (24:08):
Like I’m a big fan and it may not even be posting material. It may just be sitting there going. That’s a really cool idea. That’s a really great belief or, Hey, I don’t know if I agree with that. And, and, and that’s, I think there’s some positive in, in the other side of it too, where you see people’s opinions and you were like, okay, well, why, why are they, why is it that, and you got to start, you know, getting deeper into these conversations. And but I would say, yeah, continue to network. Don’t take, don’t throw anything to the side, take it in and then decipher all that information and continue to move forward.
Sam Demma (24:45):
That’s awesome. And if someone is listening to this thinking right now that they’re inspired and they would love to connect with you and have a conversation about anything we talked about, what would be the best way for them to reach out to you?
Greg Firth (24:57):
You know what, we can go to Twitter @coachfirth, F I R T H. You know, that’s how you and I connected and happy to communicate that way. Email is a great way too. It’s firstname.lastname@example.org . Anything teacher related happy to, to create that that learning network and and share and learn from you as well.
Sam Demma (25:29):
Awesome. Cool, Greg, thank you so much for doing this. I really appreciate you coming on and chat about your whole journey and what you’re up to these days. It’s really inspiring and keep up the awesome work kids. Kids need it now more than ever.
Greg Firth (25:41):
And Sam, same to you, man. You know, you’re doing a great job and guts. I know you had, you had Jason, the that’s, how we got got connected, and he’s a, he’s an amazing teacher and a great guy. And so, you know, thank you for what you’re doing outside of the school system as well. Appreciate it.
Sam Demma (25:57):
And there you have it, another amazing guest and 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 want to meet the guest on today’s episode, if you want to 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 feel your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.
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