About Heather Pierce
Heather Pierce is the Principal of Centennial Collegiate Vocational Institute in Guelph. After completing her BA., BEd. in 1998, Heather began teaching at Gateway Dr. Public School. She entered the teaching world during a period of significant change, including the introduction of EQAO testing and the new Ontario report card. After 2.5 years in the elementary panel, Heather moved to the secondary level, teaching English at Guelph Collegiate Vocational Institute.
Throughout her 16 years at GCVI, Heather had the opportunity to teach in 4 departments and took on the role of Head of Student Services. Heather’s passion for working with diverse learners led her to two program positions at the Upper Grand DSB (Student Work Study Teacher and Pathways and Postsecondary Education Lead). In 2018 she was placed at Centennial Collegiate as Vice-Principal and in 2021 she was appointed Principal at the same school.
Heather’s experience teaching everything from Kindergarten to grade 13 has allowed her to watch students develop through all stages of the education system. She feels strongly that all postsecondary pathways need to be honoured and is focused on supporting students as they navigate the wide variety of opportunities beyond high school. She is committed to supporting students and families to end the stigma that university is the “best” path.
Heather maintains her sanity by making personal fitness a priority; this comes in handy while she follows her two teens around the competitive sports world.
Connect with Heather: Email
**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 Heather Pierce, the principal of Centennial Collegiate Vocational Institute in Guelph. After completing her BA and BED in 1998, Heather began teaching at Gateway Dr. Public school. She entered the teaching world during a period of significant change, including the introduction of EQAO testing and the new Ontario report card. After 2.5 years in the elementary panel, Heather moved to the secondary level teaching English at Guelph Collegiate Vocational Institute. Throughout her 16 years at GCVI, Heather had the opportunity to teach in four departments and took on the role of the head of student services. Heather’s passion for working with diverse learners led her to two program positions at the upper grand district school board; student work study teacher and pathways and post-secondary education lead. In 2018, she was placed at Centennial collegiate as Vice Principal and in 2021, she was appointed Principal at the same school.
Sam Demma (01:55):
Heather’s experience, teaching everything from kindergarten to grade 13 has allowed her to watch students develop through all stages of the education system. She feels strongly that all post-secondary pathways need to be honored and is focused on supporting students as they navigate the wide variety of opportunities beyond high school. She is committed to supporting students and families to end the stigma that University is the best path. Heather maintains her sanity by making personal fitness a priority. This comes in handy while she follows her two teens around the competitive sports world. I hope you enjoy today’s insightful conversation with Heather and I will see you on the other side. Heather, welcome to the high performing educator podcast. Pleasure to have you on the show here today. Please start by introducing yourself.
Heather Pierce (02:45):
I am Heather Pierce and I am the Principal at Centennial Collegiate in Guelph, Ontario.
Sam Demma (02:52):
When did you realize that you wanted to get into education?
Heather Pierce (02:57):
I think that I am, am kind of genetically predisposed to work in institutions. I come from a long line of teachers. My grandmother was a teacher in rural Quebec. My mom, I refer to her as the super teacher. She actually has won teaching awards at the provincial and board levels. Wow. And she, she was just growing up. I watched her you know, jump out of bed at five in the morning, so excited to go to school every day and stay up late, you know, working on, on projects for her kids and, and, and working through lessons and assessment. And she definitely didn’t make the job look easy, but she made it look so rewarding. And I think as long as I can remember, I wanted to be a teacher. So I created a little school in my basement when I was little and I forced my brother.
Heather Pierce (03:49):
very meanly, forced my brother to be my student. And, and I followed her footsteps into the elementary panel and did start at that level. And then after about two and a half years, decided that I really enjoyed the working with the older kids. So I made the switch to secondary and and then I gravitated towards students that struggled. Once I was in the secondary panel, not just academically, but socially and emotionally as well. I taught a lot of alternative education which was so rewarding. And so I had zero intentions of ever getting into administration. I loved being a teacher. And when my principal at the time in 2001 said, I think you should think about administration. I said, you’re crazy. It’s not gonna happen. And by 2018, I just got the itch and I decided to give it a try.
Sam Demma (04:41):
You mentioned growing up your, you know, your mom didn’t make it look easy, but she definitely made it look rewarding. What, what did that look like? So how did you know, growing up that from watching her education was such a rewarding career path?
Heather Pierce (04:58):
Yeah, I think the enthusiasm and the energy that the, the job brought for her like I said, she was super mom on top of being super teacher, but she would bake cookies at 10 o’clock at night for her students. And we would always, my brother and I would always ask, are those for us or your school kids? So she just, he gained so much energy from the job. And my mom is tough as nails, but I saw her cry at times as well. Cry with happiness, but then also cry with frustration and just the for anybody that really likes a challenge and who really believes like I do that, the best things are the most difficult things to achieve. It’s, it’s the perfect job for that because that’s, I saw that through her and she would go and visit. She would actually go and watch her, her students play hockey at night. They, I have a game tonight and she’d find a way to pop by and watch a period or something. So I just saw the joy that it brought and the frustration, but then the triumph when she would tell a story about how she got through to a student who was struggling with a learning disability or some behavior issues, and just to see the accomplishment, that kind, that came out of that. That’s what really drew me in.
Sam Demma (06:16):
What about your role now and your own journey in education? Have you found extremely rewarding about working in education?
Heather Pierce (06:24):
I, I love the fact that working in education has very measured successes and they come in such interesting ways because a success for one student may be that they came to school for two days in a row. For another, it may be achieving honor roll and for another, it may be just that they actually advocated and asked a teacher for help on an assignment instead of sitting there silently for 75 minutes, you know, being confused. So I love that those, I like to I’m a little bit of a type, a personality, like a lot of teachers, but I like to have goals and cross those off and, and really see and measure success. And so those small wins that happen all the time are, are just what, what keeps me going and what I love about it. I love problem solving mm-hmm and bringing people together to communicate.
Heather Pierce (07:16):
And as an administrator, I find 99% of the time that we are dealing with issues it’s because of miscommunication. Mm. So I love being that person that mediates all parties and kind of brings everyone together. And it’s amazing when a student finally says, you know what, this is the reason I’m not coming to class. And it’s like, like, it just kinda blows your mind. Oh my gosh, we could have figured this out much sooner if we just all sat at the table together. And I love watching young people try to navigate through being trapped into minds. So there’s the child mind and then the adult mind. And and I love trying to figuring out, figure out what they need and, and what they want. And I am the parent of two teenagers. So that has been invaluable just to understand what’s relevant for teens. And you know, I, I don’t feel so uncool sometimes because I actually know some of the things that are going on in hip, so to speak.
Heather Pierce (08:15):
Very uncool way of saying it.
Sam Demma (08:18):
That’s awesome. You definitely have the pulse being that you are the parent of two teenagers, which is awesome. If you didn’t have kids, I would say, go on TikTok and spend a couple hours on there. Yeah. You know, you, you exude positivity and enthusiasm. It’s clear you’re doing the work that you love doing. What are the various roles that you’ve worked in within schools? You mentioned something about not wanting to leave the classroom. And I had a pass guest mention, you know, the perfect candidates for administration are people who love teaching and don’t wanna leave the classroom. Mm-Hmm, mm-hmm, what are some of the kind of pros and cons or pros and challenges of each of the different roles that you’ve worked?
Heather Pierce (09:02):
Yeah. I, I did love teaching in the classroom and I I’ve had the opportunity to teach kindergarten to grade 13 through my career, which is incredible. And so what I loved about the classroom was you know, the instructional piece, the instructional leadership of bringing things that I learned in PD into the classroom and trying them out and really trying to reach each student and through assessment, really trying to move everybody forward wherever they were. But I was also able to extend my classroom experience into some leadership roles as the head of student services in my last school. And that was essentially the head of spec ed but also alternative education and ESL education. So through that, I started working with small groups of students because generally that’s in spec ed. Yes. Or AltEd, that’s what you do.
Heather Pierce (09:57):
And I loved being able to really have deep conversations with small groups or one to one. And then as I was doing that job, my administrators started asking me if I wanted to be designated. So if there’s ever a meeting offsite or, you know, a principal has to be outta the building, they’ll ask, designate to come in and fill in. And I started doing that work here and there. And I absolutely loved it because it was again, an extension of that work that I was doing in spec ed and Ted, and trying to, to deal with difficult situations. And so what the role of administrator you do lose that whole, you know, experience of being in front of 30 kids and bringing a program to that room, but you gain so much in those really, really small conversations that then you can be an advocate and a mediator for you know, that student between the teachers or the parents or social workers or whatever it is.
Heather Pierce (10:55):
So there’s definitely a level of responsibility that comes with administration that you you have a little bit more control or you feel that you’re a little bit more in control when you have 30 kids in front of you and you kind of know where everybody’s at, but when you get to a school where there’s 1700 students, but you’re ultimately responsible for in families it gets a little bit overwhelming at times. But but again, I, because I get to have those small conversations and intensive conversations I, I find that to be the most rewarding piece of my current role
Sam Demma (11:31):
For an educator listening, who loves teaching in the classroom, but maybe has been tapped on the shoulder before, by others to say, Hey, you should consider administration. And they’re unclear, like, how the heck do you make a decision for 1700 students? Like, can you give us some insight into how in an administrative role you’ve like, decide to do things or how decisions like the process of decision making?
Heather Pierce (11:59):
Yeah. The the key to making decisions that are going to work effectively for everybody is forming the relationships the minute that you get into the building. And of course, you’re going to have to make big decisions before you really get to know everybody. Yeah. But the faster that you can get into all of the department, offices and classrooms and meet with the teachers you, you get an idea of where the priorities are, where the passions are. What’s been done in the past and maybe where some of the, the issues are. And I think when administrators first get to schools, they kind of sit back on committees and just watch what’s going on to get a pulse on where, where some of the issues may be. I’m very, I wear my heart on my sleeve and I’m very open with people and say, look, I have the, you know, the big job of making this decision.
Heather Pierce (12:52):
And there are people that are not gonna be happy. My goal is to make the decisions that are the best for our students and the student success and their families. I obviously care a lot, a great deal about my teachers. So I consider those you know, that perspective as well. But I think when you’re really honest with people and you have a process and you clearly lay that out, it’s really effective. So for example, we just had a huge, a tech refresh order that had to go in. And of course we are relying on technology more than ever before. And we’ve lost a lot of devices because we’ve had shutdowns and students have borrowed devices from the school and ended up, you know, a lot didn’t come back where they were broken. So everybody wants their department to be, you know refreshed or whatever.
Heather Pierce (13:39):
So it’s, as long as you have a process and say, look, I looked into what we did last year. And the year before this department got this, this department got this, these students are, you know, in the most need of technology at this point, or this is how much we’ve lost. So really doing your homework getting some data. And I, I always tell my staff, I’m a data nerd, whether it’s quantitative or qualitative, I gather as much anecdotal information or just crunch numbers as I can. And I rationalize my decisions that way. And I find it also works with parents. If I’ve made a tough decision, you know, if there’s a mark appeal or if there’s, you know, something that’s very serious something that’s related to an I E P development or something like that, you need to have the data and the evidence to back it up. And then if you, if you make it clear that you have the student’s best interest at heart then it, it works.
Sam Demma (14:32):
What resources throughout your career have been helpful in developing yourself professionally and also just giving you more ideas or resources. And that could be books, you’ve read courses you’ve been through and even humans, like human resources as well.
Heather Pierce (14:50):
Yeah. Our board, the upper grand district school board has really put a lot of people, power and money into particularly the topic of equity and C R P, which is culturally responsive and relevant pedagogy. So there have, there are books that like for, for example, right now, it’s I’m reading a book called grading for equity and just kind of opening your mind on, it’s not a one size fits all. You don’t just write one test and that kind of measures everybody’s success within a classroom. So that’s an example of a, a book, but it, it comes from the board. And I find my board in particular has been really good about providing those paper resources. But I also think that the biggest resources, just talking to people talking to my colleagues and, and getting out into the school, I do not tie myself to my office.
Heather Pierce (15:48):
I am out in the halls as much as possible I’m in and out of department offices in and out of classrooms. And so you get an idea of what’s going on and you ask questions and you find out, you know, which, which websites, or, you know, teacher resources have been effective. I love doing TPAs teacher performance appraisals for new teachers, because they’re coming out of, out of teachers college with incredible information yeah. And experience. And some of them are doing master’s degrees in equity topics. So they, they’re a huge source of information for me. And then one most recent one that really hit me is a man named Kevin Cameron. And he’s actually the director of the north American center for threat assessment and trauma response, which sounds like a very complicated position. And he’s been called into he’s a social worker by training.
Heather Pierce (16:45):
But he is been called in to respond to tragedies, like the Humboldt bus crash the shootings in Nova Scotia, Columbine and also with COVID because there’s trauma associated with COVID and that’s carried over into our classrooms. And so our board brought him in for a couple speaking engagements, and I found it fascinating because he is presenting this idea of a connection gap. So there’s, you know, you’ll hear teachers say, there’s an academic gap. We just, how are we gonna close that gap? They’re missing. The kids are missing so many skills, but Kevin Cameron’s idea is that we need to go right back to the connection gap. And until we make those connections again with the students that have been behind an avatar on a screen for a while we need, we need to deal with that piece first. And then the academic gap will close. So he’s been a huge source of professional development for me recently.
Sam Demma (17:42):
That’s amazing that that sounds like a phenomenal person to learn from and steal, steal some ideas. There’s a book called steal, like an artist. And it’s like this idea that you don’t need to reinvent the wheel that the ideas are out there. Sometimes it’s just a matter of, of finding them and, and implementing them in your own unique way. I’m curious to know throughout your career you’ve definitely had programs implemented in the school. And one thing that I think really inspires educators to remember the importance of their role is hearing a story about a student transformation. And I’m wondering of all the programs you’ve run. If there’s any stories that come to mind about a student, you remember who was transformed or changed, or very impacted positively by a program. And if it’s a serious story, you could definitely change the name just for the sake of privacy.
Heather Pierce (18:37):
Yeah. some teachers at my school about 10 years ago created a program called cadence, and it’s an offsite alternative education program. That’s available to all the students in our board, in the program grant board. And the motto of the program is a leader looks at the world and says, it doesn’t have to be this way. Mm. And then does something about it. So the kids are programmed from day one when they go in there. And this is a collection of students that have struggled from probably about eight different schools. And they are programmed to think if you don’t like what to see, then you can be the, be that agent of change. And of course you can imagine that kids that are coming out of those situations don’t have a lot of confidence and don’t see themselves as leaders or having the potential to, to make any change.
Heather Pierce (19:29):
So this, this one student named Jordan she, I didn’t actually ever hear her speak back at, at our homeschool. She was her attendance was spotty. She had no confidence at all, a lot of family issues going on had some learning issues in an IEP and was credit poor, like, I mean, S years old with five credits. And she went to this program cadence, and at the end of the program, they do a lot of experiential things. They go to camp Muskoka they volunteer and get their volunteer hours at yeah, food bank in town hope host and just, they’re given a lot of leadership opportunities to build skills. And I talk about measurement. I mean, this is the biggest example of measuring success at the end of the course, every student in the program stands up in front of a huge room of people. Most of them strangers, some of them have supports. Like I went to support, you know, my students to watch, but in general, they don’t know all of the people that are in front of them. And each student does a speech. And it is, they lay it all out there of how they’ve grown. And she stood up and at the microphone and looked out at this room and she gave a five minute speech. That was unreal. You would think she was the professional speaker.
Sam Demma (20:53):
Heather Pierce (20:54):
And so like, I just about fell off my chair because to see the change that she went through and it was just chipping away slowly and building that confidence and building those skills. And I, and saying, building skills can live very up in the air and it’s very abstract, but they give specific, like, these are things that you need to do when you are creating a speech or communicating with someone or standing up to, to, to pass on what you’ve learned. And so she returned after doing that program she returned to school and she is in a position to graduate now, which I mean, awesome. There’s if you had have asked people at that point, they would’ve said no way. So it is definitely a success story. And I, I look forward to every semester I look forward to going and hearing those final speeches cuz it’s, it’s amazing.
Sam Demma (21:46):
That’s so cool. So the program is still running now. Like it still goes on yeah.
Heather Pierce (21:50):
Currently running right now. Yeah. Yeah.
Sam Demma (21:52):
Very cool. That’s amazing. Do you know how the idea came to life or what originated it?
Heather Pierce (21:59):
I, I know the teachers quite well that that created it and I think they just saw the need for an alternative for students that were not comfortable in the building, in a traditional building, sitting in a desk, looking at a chalkboard. And, and they really, I think took time to identify what was it that was missing. And it’s that sense of belonging and the sense of community. And that drives so much of that program. So I think it was a to get it offsite and get it out of a school building so that students could feel at ease and really feel like they were part of something special too. I think that was really important. And then for that, for thet two teachers to identify the motto of making change and doing that through community and collaboration, it was just amazing. So I think it was just from regular they’re, both PHED teachers. And they, they saw a need and they just jumped in and, and got, they got you know financial contributions from different groups in the community to make this happen. They did presentations to the board, they did their homework and and they pitched the idea and, and people absolutely loved it.
Sam Demma (23:12):
It sounds like they, they were a living example of the motto, see something in the world. You don’t like, you can do something about it.
Heather Pierce (23:20):
That’s exactly right. Yeah. Yeah.
Sam Demma (23:22):
That’s awesome. If you could travel back in time, but take with you the experience and the wisdom you’ve gained teaching in education and working all these various roles go and speak to Heather in her first year of education. What advice would you have given your younger self? Not that you want to change anything about your path, but things you think would’ve been helpful to hear earlier in your career.
Heather Pierce (23:47):
Yes. I look back on 1998, Heather, and I, it, it, I’m a totally different person and I often wish I could go back. And actually I taught grade six that year. And it was a very challenging class with six kids receiving self-contained spec ed support. And I went into that as a brand new teacher with a lot of theory in my head. And it was a very difficult time in education because it was very beginning of EQAO testing. Ah, it was the first year of EQAO testing and it was the, the first year for the new report card. And so people were spinning and I was so focused on the curriculum and the 125, you know, science expectations that you need to get to and preparing the students for the next stage and the big move to grade seven.
Heather Pierce (24:41):
And so I was buried in curriculum and paperwork and making sure that I was crossing everyt and doting every eye. And so my advice to that, Heather would be just to look at the big picture, not that I’m encouraging people to not teach curriculum, cuz obviously we do, but really looking at the big picture and sitting down with those expectations and saying really what do they need to know? What’s the bottom line. And learning about the kids first I would spend, like I encourage my teachers now not to give out a course outline on the first day of school. That’s always what we do in high school. We, we give them a Chris outline. We say, okay, 30% of your mark is this. And 20% of your mark is this. And then I, why not just spend the first few days or even the first week or in elementary you could spend a big chunk of time just getting to know who plays hockey in their spare time and who plays the trumpet. And you know, just getting to know the kids as individuals, because that will get you so far with the curriculum. Because then you can make it relevant and tailor it and responsive and, and just have the big picture. So I was buried, I was overwhelmed and when I was young and I was just so attached to that curriculum document and I, I would say focus on the kids in front of you first and you’ll be fine.
Sam Demma (25:58):
Yeah, that’s such a good piece of advice. One of the teachers that had a big impact on my life knew us all on such a personal level that he could teach a lesson and then apply it to every single one of our personal interests. Like he would stop and say, Sam, for this for you, this means X. And Kavon, for you in the fashion industry this means X, and I’ve stayed in touch with him. He knows how much of an impact he had on me. I’m actually going to his farm this, this summer to help him. Yeah. And, and I think it’s because he got to know us on a really personal level that I invested was invested much more in the things he wanted to teach us. That’s a great piece of advice. If, if, if someone wants to reach out to you after listening to this conversation, maybe they have a question about a program or something you shared or said, what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you?
Heather Pierce (26:50):
Unfortunately, I’m a really private person, so I’m not active on social media, which I love to follow other people on social media, what we’re doing, but I’m not really that person. So email would be the best and I can, I can have that in my bio. Email would probably be the best way to reach me and I’d love to connect with, with other administrators or teachers.
Sam Demma (27:11):
Perfect. I will make sure to also include it on the show notes of the podcast episode, if anyone wants to reach out. But Heather, this was amazing. Thank you so much for taking the time to do this. I appreciate it a lot. I know it’ll be helpful for educators all over the globe, whoever chooses to tune in. So thank you for doing this. Keep up with the great work and we’ll talk soon.
Heather Pierce (27:31):
Sam Demma (27:33):
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.
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