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Dr. Leslie D. Sukup – Associate Professor of Management at Ferris State University College of Business

Dr. Leslie D. Sukup - Associate Professor of Management at Ferris State University College of Business
About Dr. Leslie D. Sukup

Dr. Leslie Sukup is currently an Associate Professor of Management at Ferris State University where she is currently teaching Team Dynamics-Organizational Behavior, Quality-Operations Management, Business Integrated Experience CAPSTONE, Business Ethics and Social Responsibility, Managerial Leadership, Leadership and Organizational Change, and International Logistics courses.

Additionally, she is also the Business Administration Program Coordinator, the academic advisor for the Business Professionals of America Registered Student Organization, and the chair of the College of Business Committee on Diversity and Inclusion.

Previously to her current position, Dr. Leslie Sukup has been an adjunct professor and was also on active duty in the U.S. Air Force for 25 years. During this time, she held numerous leadership roles such as the Superintendent of the Air Force Agency for Modeling and Simulation, and a variety of instructional roles including Air Force One Advance Agent training.

Dr. Sukup has also received many awards and commendations during her service including the Meritorious Service Award, Joint Service Commendation Medal, Information Manager of the Year, Quality Inspection Professional Performer, and numerous others. Dr. Sukup is also a certified Master Resilience Trainer and has instructed more than 5,000 military members and students in resilience skills.

Connect with Dr. Leslie D. Sukup: Email | Linkedin

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Ferris State University College of Business

GIMKIT Live Learning Game Show Software

Business Professionals of America

Mindset: The New Psychology of Success

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:01):
Welcome back to another episode of the high performing educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker Sam Demma. Today’s guest is Dr. Leslie Sukup. Dr. Sukup is currently an associate professor of management at Ferris State University, where she is currently teaching team dynamics, organizational behavior, quality operations management business, integrated experience, the cap stone version, business ethics, and social responsibility, managerial leadership, leadership, and organizational change and international logistics courses. Additionally, she’s also the business administration program coordinator, the academic advisor for the business professionals of America registered student organization and the chair of the college of business committee on diversity and inclusion previous to her current positions. Dr. Sukup has been an adjunct professor and was also active duty in the US Air Force for 25 years. During this year, she held numerous leadership roles such as the superintendent of the air force agency for modeling and simulation and a variety of instructional roles, including air force. One advanced agent training, Dr. Sukup has also received many awards and commendations during her service, including the meritorious service award joint service commend medal information manager of the year quality inspection, professional performer and numerous others. Leslie is also a certified master resilience trainer and has instructed more than 5,000 military members and students and resilient skills. I hope you enjoy this conversation as much as I did, and I will see you on the other side. Leslie, welcome to the high performing educator podcast. Big pleasure to have you on the show here this morning. Please start by introducing yourself.


Dr. Leslie Sukup (02:52):
Thanks. Thanks for having me, Sam. My name is Leslie Sukup. I happen to be a, a faculty member here at Ferris State University, where I teach in the management department in the college of business. I teach a wide variety of management classes. I’m also the business administration program coordinator, the business professionals of America our registered student organization advisor. I am also the chair of the college of business committee and inclusion. So I think I’ve covered all of my different committees and responsibilities, but it, again, it’s a pleasure to be here.


Sam Demma (03:35):
Tell us a little more about the journey that brought you to where you are now.


Dr. Leslie Sukup (03:41):
Oh, great question. So the journey started when I actually, it started when I was 16 years old. So this is the time when I tracked down the air force recruiter and I was told I could not enlist in the air force. I had to wait a year. So I waited a year and tracked them down again, enlisted in the air force. And I thought when I graduated high school, I would just do four years in the air force and get out and go along my, my Merry way into whatever I had at that time, which at that time was PO potentially going into the secret service. However, I made it to my first duty station and I met my husband. That changed things. He was, he had been in the air force longer than I had and, and it was, it was easier to stay in so we could go to different places.


Dr. Leslie Sukup (04:47):
And I was enjoying my job at the time and I said, okay, not a, not a, not a problem, but I also had a lot of teaching opportunities and instructor opportunities in the year of force. And I found that I really loved the experience. I loved making a positive impact on different people that I instructed. It was very heartwarming to see people grow and develop. And I especially loved the aha moment, you know, or they get that, that big light bulb on top of their head. And you can see that they really grasp what you are teaching or instructing. So this led me to think, okay, I, I’m probably a lifer for staying in the military, but on top of that, I need to think about the second chap. So I thought, well, I really enjoy teaching and why not marry those two together?


Dr. Leslie Sukup (05:50):
So while I was active duty, I finished my bachelor’s degree, my master’s and I finished my doctorate one year before I was to retire from the air force. Wow, great, great timing. so when I retired from the air force, I started to apply to different institutions, higher education institutions, and one of them happened to be fair state university. And I was very lucky that I got selected or was hired into, into the job that I’m in. Now. I, I love this university. I love the, the culture, the small town feel it’s, it’s really, really what I is meant to do. And I can say that coming into work is never a chore. I never dread it. In fact, every day is kind of like opening a box of chocolates. Mm-Hmm you never know what you’re gonna get, but it’s always a positive feel. And I love being that change agent, the positive change agent to all of my students, it’s it really is a very rewarding job. And I’m very thankful to have chosen this as a second chapter for me.


Sam Demma (07:07):
I think every educator that’s listening to this right now is thinking the exact same thing about their work, which is absolutely awesome. You brushed over a and almost didn’t even mention the fact that while you were working with the military, you started doing sessions on resiliency. Can you talk a little bit more about your role as a master trainer and resiliency and also where that passion stem from and how you define resilience?


Dr. Leslie Sukup (07:36):
Oh, absolutely. So I’ll start off with the definition of resilience or my definition. And my definition of resilience is that you are able, when you encounter adversity, you are able to bounce back stronger than you were before. Mm. And that means that you may have learned new skills. You have learned just a, a different way of approaching a problem, but either way you’ve come back stronger than you were initially based upon that experience. And my love for resilient grew probably before I actually started to teaching resilience, but the two married up very well together. When I was 20, I had just turned 22. My dad passed away unexpectedly three days before Christmas, actually two days before Christmas and 1996. And he was 44 years old and totally unexpected that shook my world. Plus at the time I was about to PCs from my permanent changes station. So I was moving from my first duty station all the way up the east coast. So from Florida all the way up to Massachusetts, and when you’re going through that much change during the holidays, it’s a lot.


Dr. Leslie Sukup (09:14):
And that experience taught me a lot about resilience. So when I started teaching resilience in the air force, it was taking my life experiences, but also providing them with stories in the classroom, but really seeing the impact of teaching resilience to others can have on their lives. I’ve had, I’ve heard so many heartwarming stories where individuals have taken the skills that they’ve learned in the classroom and have improved their lives for the better it’s. I have so many stories. There’s no, there’s not enough time in, in a podcast to cover ’em all , but to see the improvement in their relationships, to see the improvement in their personal lives, their professional lives, and to see them become better people overall that’s where my research passion for resilience came about. It’s also the reason why I add resilience into my, all of my classes, because it has such a powerful impact, not just on myself, because it’s a way of boosting my own resilience, but it’s a, it’s also lending my students to become positive change agents in the world because they’re learning a little bit more about resilience and, and maybe not all of the tools and techniques resonate with them, but they’re gonna be able to take one away with them that does, and that can potentially help them later on in life.


Sam Demma (10:59):
Yeah, it’s so true. Resiliency is a tool that you need to pack in your toolkit or in your backpack, because it’s not a matter of if something will happen that challenges you, it’s a matter of when, at some point in all of our lives. Can you tell us a little bit more about your transition from working with the army to getting into the classroom? What was that transition like and how did you adjust and adopt this new role?


Dr. Leslie Sukup (11:31):
Great, wonderful question. So that anytime that you’re moving from one culture to another, it, it can be a little unsettling. And because I had spent 25 years in the air force, you know, this is something where you’re wearing a uniform every day. You, for females, you have to have your hair up and you are expected to act a certain way, which is called your military bearing. And once that goes away, it, for some, it could be a form of a loss of identity, but I found per personally the transition to be fairly easy. And I think that’s because there was a lot of change occurring those last few years while I was in the military. And because at that time I had finished my doctorate degree. I also had my so second baby. She was, she was born two weeks after I defended my dissertation.


Dr. Leslie Sukup (12:40):
So it was, that was part of my motivation to get it done because I knew that having another baby after, and I already had a small, small child at the time. And my oldest daughter, I knew adding another one into the mix would make it a little bit more difficult to reach that finish line. So my motivation was high to make sure I got everything done before, before she was born. But she was also born with CDH, which is Congenital diaphragmatic hernia. And that mean, that meant that when she was born, she had 18 people in the in the operating room just for her. Cause I had to have a, a C-section and, you know, she was Whis away to the, to the NICU and she survived she’s she’s my warrior. But when you have all of these moving pieces happening, it’s, it’s a lot. But I also leaned upon my resilience and what I had learned myself, but also what I had taught to others. And I think that made the transitioned really, really fluid for me. It was almost like just taking off the uniform and putting on a different uniform, you know, more, a little bit more business professional, but you know, it was still putting on clothes and going to work. And I, I, I think it, I, I think I, it, well,


Sam Demma (14:18):
That’s awesome. And speaking of transitions, everyone that works in education went through a couple of massive transitions over the past 24 months, relating to COVID and going to online learning and back to in person learning back to online learning. How did you deal with those transitions and what do you think were some of the challenges and how did you overcome them?


Dr. Leslie Sukup (14:41):
Oh, the, yes, the last couple of years have been a little bit of a rollercoaster, but I found that the way to make it through, it was one, be honest with the students, they’re going through the same journey as you. They’re not expecting you to know it all. They’re just expecting you to be real and to be clear with the communication and transparent. Yeah. You know, don’t pull any punches, don’t try to, to change things to where it may be more difficult or, you know, adding additional hurdles. But I found that that open communication really lended itself to keeping that cohesive this with my class and, you know, telling them, okay, we’re gonna try something new. And if it doesn’t work, we’ll throw it to the side. But if it does all right, you know, no, no harm, no foul, but that communication piece was, was huge.


Dr. Leslie Sukup (15:49):
But I also took the time to reflect after all of my classes to figure out, okay, what didn’t go so well, mm-hmm, what did it, what do I wish I would’ve done differently? And that helped me to prepare for the next semester. And then also leaning upon others who may have been doing this a little bit further or more with more time under their belt and getting their advice and seeing, okay, how did you approach? I mean, COVID is new, but not online teaching or high flex teaching the different modalities. Those have been in place for a while. So leaning upon the best practices that, that are out there seeking. I did a lot of webinars or zoom sessions with industry leaders and, and others who had that experience just seeing, okay, what other nuggets of knowledge can, can I add to my own toolbox to help create the best experience for my students? Cause really it’s all, I want them to have the best experience to get the most out of the class. So that way, when they graduate, they can be the best of themselves. They can go out and be those positive change. Agents,


Sam Demma (17:07):
Educators are always hunting and on the lookout for other educators, best practices to tools and tips. And I’m curious to know what some of those things have been for you not only during COVID, but potentially through your entire journey and career and education. Are there any tools, ideas, or resources that you have consistently leaned on and learned from and brought into your classrooms?


Dr. Leslie Sukup (17:33):
I think for, for me, it’s always having that open mind is probably one of the, the toolkits per se. But as far as technology, I find that games are very appealing to kids. Whether Kahoot is a big one. I found a new one during my during COVID that I added to my toolbox. And I think the students really like it cuz it adds a different appeal in the classroom. It’s still that quiz based game, but there’s no time associated with it. Mm. And I think that takes away a little bit of that anxiety that some students may have when you have a countdown timer at the top of the screen where it’s going 20, 19 18. And you’re thinking, oh, I don’t know this answer. I guess I gotta pick the best one. So it takes a little bit of that anxiety away, but you can also have the students and teams in the classroom where they’re competing against each other. But it’s, I find that when you add a little bit of fun into the mix that students take more away from the material, cause you’re, you’re tying it into a positive emotion. Do you remember? So games I think are, are really good.


Sam Demma (18:57):
Do you remember what that second quiz-based game is called? Just outta curiosity. Oh sure.


Dr. Leslie Sukup (19:03):
It’s called GIMKIT.


Sam Demma (19:05):
GI kit, like G I M


Dr. Leslie Sukup (19:07):
GIMKIT. And so surprisingly it was created by a high school student who found that it was boring learning information. And so he took the initiative and created a game that I I think is awesome. And it has a really good function too with reports. So you can see what questions they answered wrong, which ones they got. Right. so that I can take away, even though they’re playing a game, I can still use these reports to tailor the lessons or reinforce material that they might have missed along the way.


Sam Demma (19:47):
Give us an idea of how you leverage that tool. Would it be something you use at the end of a lecture to quiz the class on what you just taught them? Or how do you leverage it?


Dr. Leslie Sukup (20:00):
Oh, absolutely. So one of the ways that I, I leverage it is by having it right before a test or right before a quiz. So they have read the lessons. Maybe they have watched some videos, they have, we’ve done some lectures, some activities in class. Well now before they jump in to the test or the quiz, they can use this and they can play it as many times as they wish and build boost their confidence.


Sam Demma (20:35):
That’s awesome. Thank you so much for sharing that. I appreciate it. Sure. Along with challenges and pivoting, there’s also opportunities. And I’m wondering what you believe are some of the opportunities that the challenges in education that are facing us today are also providing…


Dr. Leslie Sukup (20:55):
Great question. The, I think that one of the opportunities that has arisen from these challenging times is flexibility. I think that the traditional classrooms are probably not going to be the new normal. I think the new normal is going to be that flexibility where students, if they want to attend face to face, they can, or if they want to, you know, they, they overslept. And instead of getting a feeding ticket on the way to class, they can, or they’re just not feeling well. Maybe they got the sniffles well, they can choose to attend via virtual means as well. So I think there’s a lot of, a lot of flexibility, at least in higher education but I also see it happening in K through 12. One of the things my daughter was in first, well, she start, she was at the end of kindergarten when COVID hit.


Dr. Leslie Sukup (21:58):
Mm. First grade was really where she had more virtual days. She had sometime in the seat part of the week, part of the week virtual, but I saw a growth in her that I probably would not have seen if it wasn’t for COVID. She is more tech savvy. Now she, she really blossomed with being virtual and as a parent, I was able to see more of what her world is like. So I think there there’s that opportunity too, on the parent side to be a little bit more involved in the education to see what their student or their child is learning. And maybe for that into a, a stronger bond between the two, cuz we would do homework together. And so she had the teacher teaching part of the lesson, but then when it came time to do the homework by herself, you know, she would, she would ask questions and I would be there to, to kind of help her along. But it was bonding moment as well.


Sam Demma (23:11):
That’s amazing. And that sounds like it was a result of you also being proactive because an opportunity is only as good as what you make of it. And it sounds like you had a growth mindset about the situation, because it’s also true that there could have been people who look at the challenge and said, I’m not changing. I don’t wanna change. There’s nothing good about this and missed out on all those areas of growth that you’re mentioning now. So I think like you said earlier, the flexibility, even in your own perspective is super important to take any adversity and turn it into a, an opportunity. Would you agree?


Dr. Leslie Sukup (23:50):
I do Agree. I think it’s that definitely the growth mindset it’s taking that perspective of, instead of looking at the glass half empty, looking at it as half full and what can you take out of that, that challenging time and turn it around into an opportunity.


Sam Demma (24:08):
I love it. And if you could go back in time and speak to Leslie year one in education, but with all the wisdom and experience that you have now, what advice would you impart on your younger self?


Dr. Leslie Sukup (24:24):
I would say more confidence in yourself, but also be more authentic and not, you’re not just the rule of the professor or the teacher in front of the room, but be more of yourself. And I have noticed that as I’ve brought more of my personality, the true me into the classroom, the students really resonate with that. They, they love seeing you as a human, as opposed to a teacher or professor that figurehead in front of the classroom. But the more authentic you are with students, that’s what I would, that’s what I would give is advice to my earlier self, be more authentic, you know, you’ll be able to enrich those students lives even more so. Yeah.


Sam Demma (25:18):
I love that. I, I think that’s such a good reminder, not only to impact the people you’re affecting, but also just to enjoy life more. If you’re being yourself and you never have to adjust yourself to fit a role or a situation, you’re gonna have more fun too. So that’s a phenomenal piece of advice. Leslie, thank you so much for taking some time to come on the podcast. I really appreciate it. I hope the rest of the year goes well. If someone is wondering how they could reach out to you, ask a question or even talk about resiliency, what would be the best way for them to get in touch?


Dr. Leslie Sukup (25:56):
Yes, absolutely. They can get in touch with me. Either through LinkedIn, I’m on LinkedIn or you can send me an email it’s LeslieSukup@ferris.edu.


Sam Demma (26:22):
Right. Awesome. Leslie, thank you so much. Enjoy the rest of your Friday. Have a great weekend. And we’ll tell to you soon.


Dr. Leslie Sukup (26:29):
Thank you, Sam. It’s been a pleasure.


Sam Demma (26:32):
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 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 Dr. Leslie D. Sukup

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.

Michelle Lowey – Teacher Physical Education & Sports Medicine

Michelle Lowey - Teacher Physical Education & Sports Medicine
About Michelle Lowey

Michelle Lowey (@Ms_Lowey) is the teacher of Physical Education & Sports Medicine at Dr. E.P Scarlett High School.  She is HIGH energy and has so much to offer throughout this conversation. 

Connect with Michelle: Email | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Dr. E.P Scarlett High School Website

Terry Fox Run

What is a Social Media Detox and how to take it

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 Michelle, Michelle Lowey. She is a teacher of physical education and sports medicine. She has her BA and her BEd major in physical education and kinesiology. She teaches at Dr. E.P Scarlett and is also the learning leader of student activities.


Sam Demma (01:00):
This conversation was filled with awesome stories and actionable advice and tips so make sure you have a note and a notepad and a pen beside you so you can take down all the different takeaways that you hear during this conversation. I’ll see you on the other side of the interview, talk soon. Michelle, thank you so much for coming on the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show, why don’t you start by sharing with the listener who you are and how you got into the work with young people that you do today?


Michelle Lowey (01:30):
Awesome. Well, thank you so much, Sam. I’m so happy to be here. So my name is Michelle Lowey. I’m a teacher at EP Scarlett. I’m actually new to EP Scarlet. So that’s in Calgary. I’m new to Scarlet this year, I’m just taking on a new role of learning leader of student activities. I also teach leadership and sports medicine and I’ve been in the leadership world for probably about five years. So when I was a student teacher, I was working at Centennial High School and, you know, like I, I knew what a leadership program was, but I didn’t really know the full extent and the depth of what what it all entailed. So when I was a student teacher at Centennial, I worked with a man by the name of Brent Dixon.


Michelle Lowey (02:20):
He’s you know, a fairly big figure in the, in the leadership world. And he has been just a phenomenal mentor to me for the last five years. And he showed me what true student leadership was and the impact it can have and just, you know, the amazing connections that you build with students and that you build in the community. And ever since then, and I saw this model to me as a student teacher, I’ve been all in and it’s been, it’s been incredible. I’ve been involved in the leadership world with Brent, at Centennial for about five years, and now I’m kind of, you know, carving out my own journey now and you know learning leader, student activities at Scarlet, and yeah, really excited to be involved in this world and to be exposed to it because like I said, prior to that, like, you know, I was a kinesiology major and a Phys ed teacher and, and all those things, which I still love. But prior to that, I, I didn’t know the depth of, of what it meant to run a leadership program. And I’m just, I’m so fulfilled to, to be a part of that.


Sam Demma (03:24):
I was gonna say the listener, obviously can’t tell, but there’s a beautiful skeleton over your left shoulder, which definitely relates to your love for kinesiology, which is awesome. Sure. Which makes me really curious, can major turn leadership teacher. What , what led you down this path at what moment in your own career exploration, did you know, I wanna be a teacher, like, was there a defining moment, was there a teacher that spurred you in this path or did you just stumble into it and realize how much you love it now?


Michelle Lowey (03:54):
You know what I always kind of like all throughout high school in that I always, in the back of my mind, I wanted to be a teacher. My journey to, to get there was a little bit longer. I kind of, you know, I did the whole typical gap year thing that a lot of kids do me too. And I ended up kind of getting into a job that was, you know, stable and I was making decent money and, you know, that sort of thing. And, and I, one day, you know, I was kind of at the top of the ladder already in that job that I was at. And one day I just realized I’m like, I, I need more than this in life. And I need to have an opportunity to, to impact others and, and to connect more. And so I was a bit older, but I, I went back to university and, and here we are today. So it was absolutely the right decision and I’m in a career that’s, you know very, very fulfilling. And I, I feel very blessed to be involved in this world.


Sam Demma (04:50):
I love it. And the world has changed specifically education and the whole world with the pandemic. Things have shifted, things have adjusted. There’s been, if I can even use that word anymore. A lot of pivots. Yeah. what are some of the, what are some of the challenges, but also unique opportunities? And I wanna use that word because I feel like there’s, there’s lots of opportunities as well. What are some of the challenges and unique opportunities that you’ve been seeing and experiencing over the past couple of months?


Michelle Lowey (05:20):
Yeah. You know, so I, I think the challenge and, and for, for me, for teachers for students and for, for everybody has been you know, that lack of real human connection. Mm. I was thinking the other day, I was like, it has been 10 months since I’ve hugged somebody other than my significant other. Yeah. And I think that’s, that’s, that can be really challenging for people and it, it can start to kind of wear you down. But I think, you know, many people are feeling this way and I think we, we do what we can. Right. you know, we’ve been super limited in terms of the activities that we’ve been able to run at school leadership and, and what we do in leadership looks nothing like it did last year. But we’ve adapt adapted, right. We, we seek out opportunities to still find ways to connect.


Michelle Lowey (06:10):
And, you know, we you have to get creative, you have to get creative, you have to use your imagination. When I, when I first came into this position, you know, again, new school, new position, I had many people tell me as, as learning leader of student activities. Oh, well, you know, you’re not gonna do, you’re not gonna do anything this year. Like, oh, it’s gonna be a cake walk. You won’t have any actual particular. And, and I’m kind of like, not a chance, like, no, like we will find a way to still, you know, do amazing things. And I, and I think we have, I rely heavily on my students for fun and fresh ideas. You know, especially as it pertains to things, you know, social media and pop culture and, you know, those kind of ways to connect you know, we’ve, we’ve taken our, our traditional events, you know, things like, you know, the Terry Fox run, which is normally, you know, 2000 people exiting the school and running together.


Michelle Lowey (07:04):
And, you know, that obviously wasn’t an option, but we, we made it work. So we we did it. So students and teachers could donate and we set a goal $2,000. And if we beat that goal, we had two very generous teachers that offered to run the, the Terry Fox run on behalf of BP Scarlet. Nice. And they did so in very fun costumes. So there was tutus involved and mullet wigs and pub onesies and all the great stuff. And so we raised, I think just over $2,200, which is incredible in these times, and we had, these two is running in this obstacle course and we’ve videoed it. And there’s kids outside everywhere watching, and we made a fun video with it. And, you know, so I really believe that when there’s a will, there’s a way. And although there’s been, you know, unique challenges and I think you know, it’s, it has been tough times.


Michelle Lowey (07:55):
I think there’s been, you know, things that I have learned through all of this that I never would’ve learned. If COVID, you know, wasn’t a thing, there’s things that I will, I will permanently change moving forward into next school year. Mm. Whether, whether COVID is here, here or not. And, you know, whether it’s my virtual presence, my online presence, that’s been a huge thing like running our school, Instagram accounts has been nice. You incredible way to connect. And so yeah, I think there there’s challenges, but with those challenges, it becomes opportunities to learn and opportunities to grow and, you know, rise to the occasion.


Sam Demma (08:31):
My grandfather always used to tell me if there’s a will, there’s a way, if you want something, you know, work hard for it and change, change what you believe about the situation, because your beliefs will to how you feel about it, how you feel leads to your actions and your actions will lead to the result that you get. And it’s obvious that you’ve been staying optimistic as much as you can in positive. You’re smiling throughout this whole conversation, which is awesome. I keep smiling. Yeah. Although they, although the listener can’t see it, but that’s totally fine. Despite the, the challenges you talked about, your students and yourself coming up with fresh ideas, and some of them have been, you know, really well received. And I’m curious to know out of all the ideas that you have tried out all the spaghetti, you’ve thrown against the wall to see what sticks, what are like one to two, or maybe even like three other small things and no pressure to share three. But if you have one or two ideas that you think are worth sharing, that, that have worked well for you in the school I would love to hear about them.


Michelle Lowey (09:29):
Yeah. So we yeah, we’ve done a variety of things. And again, kind of coming back to that Instagram, that’s been been our biggest thing. And our, our school actually didn’t have an Instagram account prior to this year. And, and thank goodness we have that, that ability to connect in those ways. So we ended up, we ran a virtual spirit week which was, and I know a lot of schools, this isn’t super unique. A lot of schools have been, been doing similar things. So we had, you know, your dress up days, your, your pajama days, your Lancer gear days and things like that. And it was kind of funny because every morning I would have the students, so they would be set up in the front foyer and we would, you know, pump some, some good pump up energy music versus in the morning, you know, eight 30 and the kids are walking in the half asleep still.


Michelle Lowey (10:16):
And the first day they, they came, the kids came through the doors and they were kind of like, what the heck is this? they were, they were a little bit like, you know, a little thrown off by it. Yeah. And, you know, and I had my leadership kids in, out there and their they’re dressed to the nines and whatever spirit day it was. And I, and they’re, you know, wishing kids have a great day, you know, spirit week this week when gift cards do this, do that, like all these online activities that we were running the stories on Instagram, all that stuff. And by day two, it was like, okay, the kids were coming through the door. They were less shocked. They were a little bit happier. They were smiling. They engaging in whatever, you know, dress update. It was. And by the end of the week, it was absolutely incredible to see.


Michelle Lowey (11:04):
And I think, I think it was so important to do that. And I think that was, that was kind of a pivotal moment and still being able to build that school culture. I think a lot kids and a lot of staff have, have come into the school year thinking, you know, oh, it’s, it’s not the same and it’s gonna be this, and it’s gonna be that. And, and you know, with, with kind of that negative mindset and not that I can blame them at all, we’ve all been there. It’s hard to, it’s hard to stay positive, but I think that was a pivotal moment. I really, really all throughout the course of that week teachers getting involved and they’re out in the foyer and we have this music pumping and the kids are coming in and it just, it really sets the tone for the day.


Michelle Lowey (11:48):
And it was just, it was incredible to see the transformation over the five days of doing it from, from day one to day five of just how the kids were receiving it. And they were, you know, just dying to have their picture taken, to be featured on Instagram. And, you know, whereas day one, they were running away from the camera. They wanted nothing to do with it. So it was kind of really creating that environment and saying, you know what? Yes, COVID is here. Yes. your school year does not look the same, but we got you. And, and we’re still gonna make this the best experience that we can. So I think that the spirit week was a really good one. We had helping hampers. Nice. So it was really unfortunate. We were, my class was, was right in the middle of, of plan for, for helping hampers.


Michelle Lowey (12:34):
And we had great stuff planned. It was like for every $4 a student donated they would get a ballot entry and the, the entry was for a ton of different prizes. You had your, like your regular, like your gift cards and things like that. But we had fun stuff too, where you win like a Lazyboy recliner that follows you for the day students were gonna break down to these kids classes from class to class. We had they could win movie lunch. So normally at lunch with COVID, the kids have to go outside or they have to stay in their classroom, which, you know, isn’t always the most fun. And so we had a movie lunch where kids could, you know, win a movie lunch in the Hilary gym, and we would put on their, their favorite movie and give them COVID friendly snacks, and they could invite six of their buds and, and hang out in the gym.


Michelle Lowey (13:21):
So we had all these wonderful things planned and then boom within a day you’re moving to online learning. And so that was no more so everything that we had been planning for kind of went out the window in an instant. So we had three days before we were moving to an online platform. And let me tell you, my kids rose to the occasion. Nice. And we, we hammered the advertising and we did so many creative things on Instagram, and we had teachers involved and, you know, putting this stuff in D two L shells. And anyways, so I just I delivered hampers actually yesterday. We did up five hampers plus we had a thousand dollars left over for an emergency fund. We raised over $3,300 and we did it in, in two days essentially.


Sam Demma (14:09):
Wow, that’s crazy.


Michelle Lowey (14:11):
Yeah. So it was, it was awesome. And, you know, my kids did, they did all that footwork and I felt bad for them because it didn’t, it didn’t turn out like we thought, but like I said, kind of going back to that, that ability to pivot and to be flexible and to, to learn from these opportunities. And then, you know, to think, you know, it’s, it’s such tough times right now, and yet people are still so charitable and so giving and loving and caring. And so it’s really, really inspiring to see.


Sam Demma (14:38):
You mentioned school culture as well. And it it’s obvious that you’ve cultivated with the help of other staff and students and amazing school culture, despite the fact that it’s virtual right now. I think one of the main ingredients of school culture is hope. And when students have hope, things will happen. And when teachers have hope things will happen. And when administration has hope, you know, they’ll take action and things will happen. How do you personally stay hopeful despite challenges and, and what keeps you motivated during this time?


Michelle Lowey (15:08):
Yeah, so, you know, I think that the that’s a variety of things, Sam, like , would it be bad if I said that a vaccine keeps me hopeful?


Sam Demma (15:17):
That’s okay.


Michelle Lowey (15:18):
Yeah. Oh man. I was supposed to get married last, last summer. Yeah. And our wedding got postponed. And so I’m supposed to get married this summer. So fingers crossed, you know, that vaccine is coming. Yeah. But I think, you know, even much bigger picture than on that. My students gimme hope. Right. And being able to see them and see them be so resilient and, and gritty and still empathetic and caring through all these times. That’s what gives me hope. And, you know, we did a little thing on, on acts of the kindness last week. And I had students that, that wrote like all the like beautiful letters to senior homes. Mm-Hmm, they did these gratitude chains, you know, with the little strips of paper that you linked together. And they, they wrote what they’re grateful for and these huge gratitude chains that they decorated their houses with. I had one, one student wrote over 40 handmade letters to the troops. Wow. And we had pictures of them. She showed me, I was just like, I was blown away and she sent them off to, to wherever. And they’re being sent overseas. There was sidewalk chalk and window posters and homemade cards. And it’s like, how do you look at that? And lose hope.

Michelle Lowey (16:34):
Right. Like you don’t, and it’s, it’s just amazing. So honestly what gives me hope my students gimme hope and that youth and that energy and, and all that great stuff is, is just so lovely to see. And I’ve had, you know, I’ve had bad days and I think we all had through this, but more often than not, , you know, I leave teaching my class and, and my heart is full and I love it. Yeah. That, that brings a lot of hope.


Sam Demma (17:00):
Ah, that’s awesome. And I’m sure, you know, you’re listening right now thinking the same thing your students probably give you a ton of hope. The work is I don’t even wanna call it work. It’s more of like a calling a vocation because you have such an opportunity to impact the future of a young person, young people, hundreds of them, thousands in your entire school. If you could go back though and speak to your younger self, when you just started teaching and you know, you’re frazzled, you’re not sure what to do. You’re overwhelmed, you’re anxious. You, maybe some of the emotions that we all felt when COVID hit again. But what would you have told yourself? What advice would you have given your younger self before you got into teaching?


Michelle Lowey (17:43):
Oh relaxed. yeah.


Sam Demma (17:49):
I love it.


Michelle Lowey (17:51):
It all works out. Mm. I’m, I’m pretty a type and I’m the perfectionist type. And I, I I like things to be a certain way. And I think with, with student leadership and with teaching in general you need to let go of that perfectionist mindset. You need to be willing to accept that, you know, on some days mediocrity is, is all you can sustain and that’s okay. Right. And be kind to yourself, be kind to yourself would be a big one for sure. I think that you know, it’s really, really important in this profession and working with young people and especially, especially in these times, you know, is that, that acceptance of yourself, that acceptance of, of the work that you’re able to do, you know, like I often I’ll find myself and I’m, you know, running the school Instagram account and I’m looking at other schools, Instagram accounts, and it’s a constant comparison like, oh man, look at these great things for are doing and, oh, we should be doing this and why aren’t we doing that?


Michelle Lowey (18:52):
And, oh, they did that better than us. And yeah. And I think that, you know, it, it’s good to get ideas certainly, and to, to be able to collaborate and, and grow. But I think that can also push you into a bit of an unhealthy mindset. So I think it’s important to balance, you know, work ethic and drive and, and commitment to that craft and commitment to be better. And to balance that too, with, with you know, the, the understanding that what you’re doing in this moment, it is good. Right. And to believe in that and to believe in yourself and to know that, you know, it, it always finds a way of working itself out.


Sam Demma (19:29):
I think that advice is so necessary, not only for you listening, but also for your students, because jealousy comparison, those feelings that you get when looking on Instagram is something that we all experience. And right now we’re using devices and you’re using devices way more than typically we would. And in fact, that’s actually one of the reasons why I decide I was gonna take time away from social media. Now, of course you have to continue running the school account. But I had those similar feelings when I was speaking and I would see another speaker and I was like, wow, they’re doing so great. And their work so amazing. And it just makes you feel like you’re not doing the right thing. And yeah, I think comparison kills creativity and comparison your own unique gifts and talents that you could be using to make an amazing experience for your students. So I like that you brought that up and were vulnerable enough to share that because it’s something that everyone goes through.


Michelle Lowey (20:23):
It’s funny, cuz you spoke to my class at the horizons conference and you oh, no way that you were you were gonna go through your little social media detox and actually that inspired me to do the same. Oh cool. I’ve, I’ve taken a, a hiatus obviously other than the school accounts. Yeah. I’ve taken this from the the social media and, and for those reasons, like it’s just, you know, it was a lot of time and an inability to not engage with some of those negative things. Yeah. And I needed to, I needed a break. Yeah. I think that’s okay.


Sam Demma (21:00):
No, I hear you. And if someone wants to use their phone for good to connect with you and, and steal us some of your positive energy and share some ideas and be a soundboard, where can another educator reach out to you? Would you prefer an email or a social account? Like what would be the best way?


Michelle Lowey (21:15):
I think email’s probably the best. I am kind of planning on getting back on my, my professional Instagram after the new year. So my handle for Instagram @ms_lowey. But again, I won’t be on there till after the new year. But probably the best way would be email. So my school email, which is mrlowey@cbe.ab.ca.


Sam Demma (21:42):
All right. Perfect. Michelle, thank you so much for coming on the show and sharing some of your wisdom and insights. I really appreciate it.


Michelle Lowey (21:48):
Thank you so much, Sam. My pleasure.


Sam Demma (21:50):
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 in 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 this 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.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Michelle Lowey

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.

John Lucas Guimaraes – Post-secondary National President of Business Professionals of America

John Lucas Guimaraes - Post-secondary National President of Business Professionals of America
About John Lucas

John Lucas Guimaraes (@JohnlucasMA) serves as the Executive President of the Post-secondary Division of Business Professionals of America, an international Career and Technical Student Organization. 

John Lucas lives in Massachusetts and is studying Civil Engineering at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth. He loves running, nature, and trading state pins with members at the BPA National Leadership Conference. After college, John Lucas hopes to go into the environmental or transit areas of engineering and government. 

Connect with John Lucas: Twitter | Email | Linkedin

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Business Professionals of America

Career and Technical Student Organizations

Past and Future National Leadership Conferences (BPA)

Steve Jobs’ 2005 Stanford Commencement Address

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:01):
Welcome back to another episode of the high performing educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest is John Lucas Guimaraes. John Lucas serves as the executive president of the post-secondary division of Business Professionals of America, an international career and technical student organization. John Lucas lives in Massachusetts and is studying civil engineering at the university of Massachusetts Dartmouth. He loves running nature and trading state pins with members at the BPA national leadership conference. After college John Lucas hopes to go into the environmental or transit areas of engineering and government. As I’m sure you’ll will be able to notice after, and while listening to this interview, John Lucas is someone who is filled with passion and doing incredible work in his community and the organizations and associations that he’s a part of. I hope you enjoy this conversation and I will see you on the other side. John Lucas, welcome to the high performing educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here this morning. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself?


John Lucas Guimaraes (02:09):
Awesome. Well thank you for having me. My name is John Lucas Guimaraes. I am a junior at the university of Massachusetts. And I am currently the post-secondary president of the national CTSO career technical student organization in called business professionals of America, where we sort of prepare students outside of the classroom for the, their futures for the, their careers and their professional lives, because there’s only so much you can learn in the classroom. So having that outside exposure I think is really bad, valuable, and that’s something that we aim to do here at BPA.


Sam Demma (02:49):
Tell me more about your journey to where you are now. What got you interested and involved with BPA and how do you think that’s shaped you as a student leader yourself?


John Lucas Guimaraes (03:01):
It started off like a progression. It wasn’t like I joined BPA and then I, the next year I became the national president I sort of was jealous of my peers of why, like they, they just talked about going to the state leadership conference here in Massachusetts and they had a wonderful time. Not none of them made it to the national competition, which is like the big, the big event of the year, but they just talked about how the state leadership conference was so meaningful to them. They got so many experiences and I was like, oh, geez, I wanna try that. And I didn’t even know what BP was. I just wanted that experience. So I didn’t know what I had to go through. I just wanted that end goal. So I thought that BPA was like, you sit around in a, in a round table and just come up with a great idea for a project and then you all do it together, but it’s so much more than that.


John Lucas Guimaraes (03:55):
You work as individuals, you work as teams. You can knock compete, you can do other service projects. So definitely getting into that and getting overwhelmed. That was what kept me here a lot of the times I do get asked that question of why I joined BPA, but I think an even more valuable question is after eight years, why the heck am I still here? What what’s kept to me here. So I think the people definitely the people and the experiences and with every passing year, I, I, I feel like I’ve want, I’ve wanted to get more involved, more more behind the scenes because you know, a national CTSO that’s not easy sheet to accomplish. So there’s a lot of behind the scenes. There’s a lot of governance that has to happen. So I I’m, I’m really appreciative of like, I think my, my ambition, but also my desire to help to always keep and grow my involvement as much as I can so that, you know, I’m doing what my teachers and my fellow leaders did to me. And that’s to prepare me for the role so that I can return the favor and pass the torch to those next leaders coming up the ladder.


Sam Demma (05:20):
That’s amazing. Eight years. I gotta give you a round of applause for that. , that’s a, that’s, that’s a lot of service, fun time. Yeah. Congratulations.


John Lucas Guimaraes (05:31):
I’m a BPA grandpa.


Sam Demma (05:33):
Literally. You mentioned other leaders kind of helping you in shaping you, were there some advisors and teachers, your life that have played a massive role in your development as a young person and also as a leader?


John Lucas Guimaraes (05:49):
Definitely. I think it was my my junior year. Oh no, no, it was my junior. Yeah, it was my junior year. We had this, I was in the video production event where we prepared a video and that year it was how to counter Driving under the influence against with like alcohol or other substances. And we finalized the project. I was so passionate about it. I had the idea my, the entire year, so we’re probably like two weeks out before the state leadership conference. So our advisor had each, each member of BPA of our chapter come to her and present our projects. So we did and I was, my heart was skipping. I got chills. And then I turned to her and she has this like, disappointed look, well, not a disappointed look, I don’t wanna say that.


John Lucas Guimaraes (06:45):
But but a like, like a concern, very confused. Yeah. Yeah, because we included a very popular song as the background song, and then she, like, that’s not a copyrighted song and the entire video was constructed on like the beat dropping the, the drum hits everything, like all the shifts. And we had to change the entire song. Looking back at it, it wasn’t this like, crucial like dire moment, but I, at that time, I was like, how did I not see this? So I just, there’s been a lot of experiences with my advisors where they’ve pointed out things that I didn’t see or told me what I needed to hear, but didn’t want to hear. So looking back at it, I value all those disappointing this encouraging moments that I felt, because that’s sort of like built me to, like now when I’m tackling a project or event, I sort of come up with I play like the devil’s advocate and come up with like, what will people bring up to me that I need to fix right now before, you know? So I can like prepare myself for those tough questions.


Sam Demma (08:01):
Love that. It sounds like those were all teachable moments for you. And what’s interesting is those all could have been breaking moments that stopped you from pursuing this path at all, but you took it as feedback and used it to iterate your own processes, which have enabled you to grow, which I think is amazing. yeah. What is, what is that advisor’s name? And were they the same individual that kind of tapped you on the shoulder and initially said, Hey, maybe you should get involved in BPA or did you discover BPA just on your own?


John Lucas Guimaraes (08:33):
Yeah, so I went to a vocational technical school. So we did ha every week we did on academics and then the following week, we did like a technical program. So I was in the carpentry program. But going into the school, you sort of took like a month and you went through each, each technical program. So they were the advisors of the business department Mrs. Powers and Mrs. Sylvia, and they sort of, they, they just marketed BPA. They spent that entire hour that we had with them, just marketing BPA and why it was so important. Nice. And that sort of, that’s what got me hooked initially. But yeah, just, and then when I, I did return because I didn’t speak to them until after that at, at all, because I chose the carpentry program. It wasn’t until the following year that the that’s when they were like, oh, we’re glad you finally joined us. And, you know, they definitely inspired me to keep growing. They’re still, one of them is still the advisor of the, of my high school’s BPA chapter. And it’s just amazing to see like little versions, not of me, but like little versions of leaders coming from the same teachers that inspired me to be where I am now.


Sam Demma (10:02):
Yeah, absolutely. And do you think providing constructive criticism and feedback as an educator is something that ex is extremely important and helpful for developing leaders? And if so, how do you think more leaders and educators can do that without discouraging, you know, their students or discouraging the young person they’re trying to provide feedback for?


John Lucas Guimaraes (10:26):
Yeah. I definitely think that’s very important because if you didn’t, what would be the alternative, you know, it would be sort of your sugar coating someone’s experience and sort of setting the ’em up to fail versus you having more of a control of what that what that criticism is gonna be, because it, you know, an educator’s never going to like purposely want to sort of, you give negativity to a student, they don’t wanna do that. They wanna just prepare them and give that soft criticism if you know what I mean. So definitely that criticism early on is very important because if you don’t, they they’ll get that same criticism, but even rougher from projects the people reviewing their projects or, you know, future employers. So I, I, I definitely think that it’s something worth doing in high school. And while you have these experiences with these students and even peers, like my, my classmates were actually watching me on that, in that video, you yep. When I was presenting that video and they, you know, said the same thing they gave me like, oh, you, you like had a product placement there and it, I don’t think that should be there. So definitely getting the perspective of your peers, I think, is really valuable and gives you sort of an outlook on, or a perspective that you don’t see yourself.


Sam Demma (12:01):
That’s amazing. And you are someone who have developed yourself into a leader based off of the feedback given to you by others. But also, as you mentioned earlier, you’re based off some of your own ambition. What do you think are some of the key characteristics or traits that you’ve developed and have seen other leaders kind of exhibit and live out themselves that you think makes for a really strong leader?


John Lucas Guimaraes (12:30):
I think it’s sort of different for everyone. You know, for me, I’m someone who loves the behind the scenes work, the gathering people, the raising scholarships, the the running crunching, the numbers looking at financial statements and sort of the adult boring work behind the scenes. So I’m as a, as the president of my division of BPM also on the board of trustees and, you know, we do a lot of the oversight work which my peers could see that is very boring. Yeah. But to me, it’s just something that excites me. It’s just something that you know, sometimes I find myself at like 1:00 AM working on a BPA policy and procedures amendment, or just reading the meeting minutes, which is just a black and white document with no, really with not a lot of fun substance.


John Lucas Guimaraes (13:29):
But that, it’s, it sort of gives me a little taste of what I want to keep going on, keep growing and doing with my life. You know, I’m, I’m in college right now studying civil engineering, but I also love governance. I love giving time to those in need and sort of doing what, what I can do to help others around me. And I think one way I Excel at that is looking at those boring documents and looking to plan strategic events and making sure that, you know, we have the budget for that and we can, we can ethically provide a good event for our stakeholders. So I think that that ambition comes from your passions and your sure you can run for an office just for the power of it. But I think a true leader, a true servant leader is someone who uses their passions to their passions are what drives their ambition. And as long as you can keep doing that, you know, what your end goal is, you know, what you like to do and how you can utilize your passions to help people. I think that’s what makes people’s ambitions really selfless and not so much an ambition for oneself, but an ambition to better, not only the world, maybe that’s two grand of a scale, but your country, your, your municipality, your state, or even just your local community.


Sam Demma (15:07):
Yeah. I love that. And you said something earlier in the interview, you, that really stuck with me, you mentioned you had no idea how you were gonna get there and you weren’t sure about, you know, you weren’t sure about how you were gonna get to, you know, the working as a president at BPA, but you were so obsessed with the goal that you just stuck with it, like you were so obsessed with the goal. Do you think goal setting has also played a big part in your own personal journey and like, how do you go about, you know, setting goals for yourself or outlining those things that you wanna work towards and accomplish?


John Lucas Guimaraes (15:47):
I definitely think that you know, nothing is out of your reach at the 2018 national leadership conference in Dallas, Texas, which I’m so excited about cuz we’re returning this year. So it’s my like sort of returning to my origin. But at the 2018, NLC I jokingly said with my with one of my peers that, you know, I’m gonna be secondary president. And at the time, like that was so far out of my reach, that was like a million years ahead. So I think that, you know, Jo having those humor moments and making sure like I’m gonna be president of the United States saying that, but also like, you know, joking around and things like that, but also, you know, pre-planning and making sure that, okay, am I qualified for that? Am I, am I headed in that right direction?


John Lucas Guimaraes (16:45):
And will I be a good whatever role you’re gonna be? Am I gonna be that, am I gonna serve that role to its and most efficient potential? And I think, and I think that my experiences sort of shaped me to reach that end goal. So it was sort of, it was like a not overnight thing. It was an like over time and steadily growing sort of experiences that led me to here. So I, I do think goal setting is important as well, but also make sure that making sure that it’s something you truly want, like you, you reach that end goal. Just think about it right now, close your eyes and think about like, I, that end goal, am I happy? Am I like changing my environment for the better? And I am I like, sort of, is this what I plan to do because sure, sure.


John Lucas Guimaraes (17:49):
You’ve reached your goal, but if that’s not anything you want, if that’s just like a, a gold medal in your mind, like high above a ladder, if that’s not really what you want, you achieved your goal, but you’re not really happy. So making sure that, you know, setting up these ambition is bold goals for yourself, but making sure that you often reflect on them and you know, all right. I, I, I don’t wanna be a city counselor. I want to be a mayor. Cuz I’m, I work better alone and I work better delegating tasks. So just going back to your like when you’re going to sleep or in English shower going back and amending your goals and saying, I can actually tackle it this way and I can achieve it better by also feeding that inner hunger, inner hunger that I have inside me. So I, I definitely think that setting goals is important, but also, you know, you can change your goals. They’re not really set in stone. You’re the one who drives that, that sort of steadily inclined to that goal. You’re the one who drives that steam book.


Sam Demma (19:01):
I love the idea of making sure it’s authentic to your core, making sure it’s something that you’re actually excited about pushing and working towards and above all else, making sure that it will also positively impact all the people around you or change something in a positive way in your environment, which leads me to my next question. How have you dealt with the opinions, thoughts, and expectations of others? I think something that sometimes holds people back is the expectations of others. You know, maybe a student’s parents wants them to get into a specific field or career, but deep down in their heart, they know that they wanna do something different. How have you personally dealt with the opinions and thoughts of others along your own journey? Because I’m sure there’s a lot of people telling you to do lots of different things with your path.


John Lucas Guimaraes (19:56):
Yeah. And, and to add to that, it’s very, it becomes very stressful and like having this cons constant pressure I’m gonna be a first generation. If I graduate of course with so ho hoping for that degree, but I’ll be a first generat graduate of an American college. Cuz my family came from Brazil. So there is a lot of pressure and expectations that come from my family. But, but making sure, I think it’s so important to make sure that your ambitions and your goals and your expecting for yourself or a more or a bigger priority to you than those expectations of your families and your peers and your, your, your friends and your teachers. But also knowing that it’s also important to get those expectations, to get those, that, that feedback, because some people might believe in you more than you believe in yourself and like hearing that like from an educator, from a peer, like, wow, you’re gonna do so, so great in life.


John Lucas Guimaraes (21:10):
I think that can be miscontrued as a, that can be miscontrued as like a, a very sets, a lot of pressure, but also knowing that that is beneficial to yourself because you have someone in your, in your court that believes in you and that is passionate about what you’re doing and believes that you can achieve anything you want to do. So I definitely think that looking at all the expectations around you, but also valuing your expectations for yourself more is it’s sort of that, that energy drink that gets you to overcome the expectations of others, because there are gonna be a lot of people, you know, especially like I think our, the younger generation is getting more vocal and is getting more decisive about what they wanna see different in the world and in their envi environments. And I think there is a, a misconception that we’re too young where we’re not experienced enough to know about these problems, but I think that’s something and that, that I even experienced myself, you know, I’m a board member, but I’m 23 years old. So it’s not so much just like I can go around telling people what to do, but it’s a team environment where all voices are equal. So I, I definitely think that it’s something that people have to evaluate for themselves because if you don’t, if you just keep listening to people around you, it’s not gonna get you anywhere. You have to tell yourself no I’m going to achieve that. No.


Sam Demma (22:58):
Yeah. I couldn’t agree more. I think especially when you’re young, there’s a lot of pressures as you grow up, it, it shifts and adjusts a little bit. And I appreciate your commitment to making this interview happen despite the fact that you’re tuning in from school as a dedicated student should. So don’t worry too much about the background noise. We can hear you super clearly, but I think when you’re young, those expectations are even louder because you’re not as sure of yourself or your own abilities, or maybe you don’t have as much confidence as you have maybe at later stages in your life. Whereas you continue to have experiences and build that skill of self confidence by achieving things and checking things off that you once said you were gonna do. I like to think of it like a giant bag on our backpack or a giant bag strapped to our shoulders, like a backpack.


Sam Demma (23:50):
And in that bag, as we experience life, it fills up with the thoughts and opinions of others, but also our personal experiences. And if we never stop to remove those opinions from others that maybe actually holding us back from being authentic to ourselves, then those start to become and grow into bricks that we carry around and weigh us down. Stop us from moving in a direction that maybe we actually wanted to go down. So thank you so much for, for sharing that. I really appreciate it. And something I always like to also mention is that like sometimes your decision will disappoint others and that’s also okay. I think it’s a part of the process. What’s more important is that you’re authentic and true to yourself because if you do end up deciding to live your life or take action, just to please somebody else’s expectations and you know, it’s going against your own authentic court desires at some point, the regret that you feel will far outweigh the disappointment that someone else will experience that may only last a couple minutes, a couple weeks or sometimes a few years, like you’ll have to deal with the regret for the rest of your life.


Sam Demma (24:58):
And you’re someone who has boldly and fearlessly pursued your authentic ambitions. And I can’t wait to see your name as the mayor or even the president of the country. where do, where do you see John Lucas in a couple years from now? What are the things you’re working on right now that you’re excited about and wanna share?


John Lucas Guimaraes (25:21):
I, yeah, I definitely don’t think I’m gonna be president. Just because I don’t qualify, but I think if, if I was born in the United States, I feel like that would’ve be, that would definitely be something I would think about a lot. I nice. But no, I, I imagine myself as governor of Massachusetts or at least the secretary of the United States department of transportation, but but that’s like far out, you know, something that I, you know, evaluate at first I was saying, I love foreign relations and I’m going to be secretary of state, but I think over time, and this is like recent, like with the last two years, maybe the last six months, I’ve sort of shifted and gone back to more my engineering passion. Right now I’m studying civil engineering and I’m really loving the transportation and the road work side of engineering because engineering is already so huge, but civil engineering is, you know, a branch in engineering, but it’s still as equally huge.


John Lucas Guimaraes (26:29):
There’s so many areas and sort of coming to school, I get overwhelmed with all the opportunities I have. You know, cuz you can fail. You know, like if I go to soil evaluating soil, you know, if I don’t know everything, you know, I could feel, but knowing that I have the choice to choose which path, which area I wanna focus on, I think that’s so that’s such a positive to feel, to know that you, you are aware you know, some of your family members might not have been in the same position that you are in. Some of them had to be like Jan janitors for a school, which there’s nothing wrong with that. But knowing that you have all these availabilities and all these possibilities in, in, in front of you and going back to your previous our previous couple statements, you know, at, to be blunt, you are going to work an eight to five full-time job probably until you retire.


John Lucas Guimaraes (27:38):
If you’re lucky enough to retire, do you really want to spend that much time of your life doing something that someone else imagined or expected you to do? I feel like that’s so much time that could be utilized to do something that you, that truly feels truly makes you feel happy and makes those around you happy because if you’re doing a job that you dislike, just because of someone’s expectations, the people around you are not gonna be happy as well because you are that, that not resentment, but that lack of happiness, that lack of enthusiasm, motivation, that’s gonna, you know, you can’t hold that in. That’s gonna come out and reflect on you and gonna to link back to the people around you. But for me personally, I think that my family respects that now as I’ve grown older and just know that if you have hard, strict expectations from your family, they’ll, they’ll change as long as you’re do being successful, being authentic to yourself and doing what you want to do, but also making sure that it’s something that will bring you success, your family’s expectations, your friends’ expectations, those will change as long as you stay true to yourself.


John Lucas Guimaraes (29:03):
So for me, I definitely want to works. There’s nothing better than working for the government in my opinion. So I definitely want to get work with the Massachusetts department of transportation or even in the private sector. I think there’s so much opportunity or success, but also happiness. All of the opportunities that I have available to me. So , I’m sort of just working on my classes and then I will evaluate what careers I have for me when I get there. I don’t wanna limit my,


Sam Demma (29:44):
Yeah, I love it. I totally agree. And can relate. That’s so many empowering perspectives are being shared and I couldn’t agree more, you know, you spend so much of your life working. It makes sense to do work that you love and you enjoy Steve jobs said in one of his commencement speeches, you know, the only way to do great work is to love what you do. You know, if you don’t love what you do, you’re not gonna give it your all or use your skills and talents and be obsessed enough with it to work on it. Like you said, at 1:00 AM in the morning, doing policy changes and that not only applies to students, but it also applies to educators. And not that you have to hustle and stay up til 1:00 AM every single night, but you have to love the work you’re doing.


Sam Demma (30:26):
You know, I think back to education as an educator, you know, your love for your work of impacting youth can literally change lives. Like you’re, you’re not only teaching content in a classroom, but you’re changing the neurons in a kid’s brain. You’re shifting their perspectives on a daily basis. And if you’re truly passionate about what you’re doing and teaching, you could have an impact on that student that, you know, changes their path for the rest of their life. And I know that because I had a teacher who changed my life and my perspective, and I’m sure you’ve had educators in your life who made a big impact, but John John Lucas, this has been an amazing conversation. And I want to thank you so much for taking your time out of your school day, to hop on this interview and have a conversation, a genuine conversation about, you know, your path and what you think it takes to be a great leader and how other leaders have poured into you. If someone is listening right now and has enjoyed this convers and what would be the best way for them to reach out to you?


John Lucas Guimaraes (31:27):
You can definitely find me on social media. I’m sort of a very marketed BPA member. So you can just find me on social media, John Lucas, Guimaraes or you can just you email me jguimaraes@bpa.org. And if you have any questions for me or, or anything that I can sort of help you feel free to reach out. I feel like I tell that to a lot of people and I feel like everyone tells that to people. But I can’t emphasize that enough if you can’t reach out to me, reach out to those around you and your peers, your teachers, these people wanna see you succeed. So just make sure that you are utilizing your resources.


Sam Demma (32:20):
Awesome. John Lucas, thank you so much. Good luck going beyond your limits at the, the next Texas national leadership conference. I wish you all the best in all your future endeavors and let’s definitely stay in touch.


John Lucas Guimaraes (32:33):
Awesome. Thank you so much, Sam, for having me.


Sam Demma (32:37):
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 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 John Lucas

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.

Brent Dickson – Leadership and P.E. Teacher at Centennial High School

Brent Dickson - Leadership & P.E. Teacher at Centennial High School
About Brent Dickson

Brent Dickson (@brent_dickson) is a leadership & physical education teacher at Centennial High School. In 2005 Centennial High School started with one leadership class of 25 students.  Now Centennial has six leadership classes per year with around 200 students total. 

At Centennial, students have hosted and run two Alberta Student Leadership Conferences in 2009 and 2016.  Each conference welcomed 900 students and 150 advisers from across Alberta as well as guests from other provinces and territories. 

Centennial students also organize and run an annual Rockathon fundraiser. Last year 240 students raised $25,000.00 for the Alberta Children’s Hospital.  Brent Dickson is happily married to the amazing Krista and is the proud father of four boys.

Brent has been teaching student leadership in BC and Alberta for over 20 years. He has presented in schools and conferences across Canada and is the Director for the Canadian Student Leadership Association. Previously, he has served as President of the Alberta Association of Student Councils and Advisers. His previous schools have also hosted the Jr. High and the Adviser Alberta conferences.

He is currently teaching leadership and P.E and is the Department Head of Student Leadership at Centennial High School in Calgary, Alberta. He also coaches rugby there as well and he is the certified Link Crew coordinator there. Brent was awarded the Canadian Student Leadership Association Leader of Distinction Award in September 2012 as well as being an Alberta Excellence in Teaching Award Finalist in 2004.

Connect with Brent: Email | Instagram | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Brent Dickson’s Personal Website

Canadian Student Leadership Association (CSLA)

Alberta Association of Student Councils and Advisers (AASCA)

The Boomerang Project

Centennial High School Website

Kahoot

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 a more recent friend of mine. His name is Brent Dickson and in 2005, Centennial high school started with one leadership class of 25 students. Now they have six leadership classes with over 200 students and at Centennial students have hosted and run two Alberta student leadership conferences in 2009 and 2016, each conference welcomed 900 students and 150 advisors from across Alberta, as well as guests from other provinces and territories. Students of Centennial organize and run an annual walkathon fundraiser.


Sam Demma (01:20):
And last year, the students (240 roughly) raised $25,000 for Alberta children’s hospital. Why am I telling you this? Because Brent Dicksonn is the teacher and educator who runs these programs and helps these students accomplish these milestones. Brent is married to the amazing Krista and the proud father of four boys. He has taught student leadership in BC and Alberta for over 20 years (longer than I’ve been alive.) He’s presented in schools and conferences across Canada as one of the directors for CSLA, the Canadian student leadership association. Previously, he was the president of the Alberta association of student councils. And currently he teaches leadership and PE, and is the department head of student leadership and coach of rugby at Centennial high school in Calgary, Alberta. There is so much more to learn and to absorb from Brent’s genius and his knowledge. He gives you a ton of gems and information on today’s episode, but I highly encourage you, after listening to reach out to Brent! Ask him about his programs, his different experiences, or ask him a question or just connect and have a nice phone call. Without further ado, let’s hop into the episode with Brent Dickson. I’ll see you on the other side. Talk soon. Brent, thank you so much for coming on the high performing educator podcast. Huge, huge pleasure to have you on the show. Why don’t you start by sharing a little bit about yourself and how you got into the work that you’re doing in education today? What did that career journey look like for you from a young age?


Brent Dickson (02:53):
Sure. Well, I’m Brent Dickson. I teach leadership and phys ed in Calgary at Centennial high school. I also am the junior boys rugby coach, which I hope to one day coach again, when we get past all this craziness. I actually grew up in Edmonton and then moved out to BC to do my education degree there and I started teaching in Abbotsford . And actually, the story of how I got into leadership was kind of funny because I was at one high school at WJ Mouat, which some of your listeners will probably know. And I was surplus after a year there because I was taking over someone’s leave and I was coaching football and I was teaching social studies and just thought I was in heaven. It was the best thing ever. And then I got transferred to another school, Yale Secondary which was a great school, but they didn’t have a football program.


Brent Dickson (03:43):
So I was devastated at the moment I wasn’t doing what I really hoped to do. And so I was teaching classes and just kinda, and I was also coaching some basketball and I felt like I really needed something to kind of energize me to be a lot of fun. And there was this guy, Wade Perry, who a lot of people know who was teaching leadership there and he was transferring to another school. And I didn’t really know Wade very well, but I kind of saw a little bit about what they were doing in leadership. And I thought that looks pretty cool. I’d like to be involved with it. I don’t really know what it’s all about, but it looks kind of neat. So this is the thing I’ll tell my kids, you gotta be proactive sometimes. So I went into the principals office and I said, you know, I’m only have taught two years at this point.


Brent Dickson (04:23):
And I said, I’d really be interested in teaching that leadership class if you need somebody. So I found out later that then they went and asked eight other teachers on staff to see if they would be willing to teach it. Cause they were probably a little nervous about a rookie coming in and doing it. And all eight teachers said no. And then they came to me and said, Brent, we would love to have you teach that leadership class. Mm. And then so I was, I had no idea at the time that I was choice number nine in the school, I was just really excited to teach it. yeah. So basically I was just going off of what can I remember we did in high school and things I saw in university and one of the very best things that Wade did for me was he me up for the BC provincial conference in November for me and two cast. So we went off to Harrison, hot Springs resort, and I got to meet amazing people like norm Bradley and Debbie coy and Hanta, and my whole vision and world opened up to what student leadership actually could be as I met these amazing teachers and mentors and the journey since then, I never could have predicted going into education, but it’s been far better than, than probably what I would’ve wished for heading in as a teacher.


Sam Demma (05:33):
That’s phenomenal. And now if I was to take you back a, another 10 years before you specifically even got into leadership, at what age did you know that you wanted to get into education just generally become a get into teaching or, or like, did you know, or was this something that you stumbled into?


Brent Dickson (05:51):
I knew I was not going to be a teacher cause my parents are teachers and you cannot do what your parents do because that would be embarrassing. So all the way through, I was kind of lost in like when I, I just knew I wanted to go to university. I, I figured, well, I like socials and English, so I’ll go into humanity stuff. At one point I was looking to kind of do a business type thing, but I got really lucky. I ran into my old football coach. I, I went to Harry Ainley high school in Edmonton and he invited me to come back and help coach his football team. And I thought, that’d be great. It’s a good thing on the resume, be fun. And I needed some stuff like that to apply to, you know, business programs and things. And this crazy thing happened. It turns out that it was so fun coaching kids, and it wasn’t like the football was great, but it was really about kids. These grade 10 football players. I had so much fun with it. And then I decided to humble myself and realize there’s actually a career out there where you can work with kids all the time. So I kind of reoriented and went into education and have loved it. Haven’t looked back.


Sam Demma (06:56):
And I’m guess sing growing up? You also had a huge passion for sports. It seems very obvious that you love sports and whether it’s rugby basketball, like the, all the different sports that you’ve played or coached. And how has that affected your experience as a teacher? I know this year, it’s, it is a little different because of the pandemic. But what is it like, what, what is teacher sports taught you that, that has helped you with your teaching? And why do you love doing it so much? Like gimme another peek into the coach side of Brent.


Brent Dickson (07:28):
I think that that coaching and teaching like leadership and other, they all kind of compliment each other. Like you’ll see kids in different ways. You know, like, like if I’m teach in an academic class, this kid might not be very successful at all. And then they come out on the rugby pitch and they’re like an amazing leader and that’s where they shine. And I also find you can build these amazing connections with athletes in a different way. And then when it comes back into the classroom and whatnot, you know, you kind of have that sort of vibe. I even remember my first year, you know, a rookie teacher at Moit and I didn’t know what I was doing. And a couple of these football players were in my class. I remember, and some kids were donkey around and they actually gave the business to the other kids and said, don’t mess with coach. not that that’s the most important part, but it talks about the relationship. Yeah. Have, like, I know know you, you were high level soccer stuff, so, you know, you, you talk about that same kind of thing. I think, I think it’s just different Avi or different areas where they can shine and show. And I think all those skills, they really meld together nicely.


Sam Demma (08:34):
And I think if the students, if the student sees you praise them on the field, but they’re struggling academically, they’re confidence might be even raise when they go back into the classroom because they think, oh, Brent knows I’m a, I am a phenomenal athlete and he wants to see me succeed. And, and I think it’s really cool that you’ve done so many different things inside the schools you’ve worked at. You mentioned, you know, a bunch of your friends, some of which I don’t really, I don’t know too much about Wade and your mentor, shout out to all of them who helped you when you were just getting started in leadership. How are you staying in touch with you know, your peers, your friends, your colleagues around the country right now during this time?


Brent Dickson (09:12):
Trying , it’s kind of hard. Yeah. To be honest, we all get a little zoomed out as you can imagine. I like it. I think the one thing I’ve actually enjoyed was actually your podcast especially when it’s friends of mine. So I, I just listened to one you had with Ren Lacone. And so I sent her a message after, and I said, this was awesome. I I’m working out, I’m listening to you talk. And it felt like I was back at CSLC, the Canadian student leadership conference, sitting in the advisors lounge and having an awesome conversation with you. I found that with these different ones, I know I’ve also enjoyed the ones, you know, people, I don’t know, they have insights and things from different areas, but I think those little connections are great. Even I got a little boost like I, I’m a director with Canadian student leadership and I primarily do the social media posts along with Maddie and some others. And so I even just had a conversation with Lenore pool and out at hope, BC. Nice about she’s recommending great children’s literature books for leadership kids. Well, even just that 15 minute conversation on the phone gives you a boost, cuz this is my kindred spirit. We both believe the same things about kids. And I think even just those short little births kind of give you energy, you know, as you stay connected. Yeah.


Sam Demma (10:29):
I, I totally agree. And the only thing


Brent Dickson (10:31):
All over the place here now though, yeah,


Sam Demma (10:33):
I know, honestly, the only thing that kinda stops is ourselves. Like, you know, we can pick up our phone and make a quick phone call. Unfortunately we can’t see them in person right now, which is a little more difficult. But it’s still possible.


Brent Dickson (10:46):
I’ll add, add some to that too. I think is important for all of us as teachers. Is that personal connection? You know, I got into, I went, did my workout this morning. I got in, I had a few jobs I wanted to get done before we did this podcast and I didn’t get any of ’em done but instead I spent 40 minutes talking with some other PHY ed teachers. I don’t get to connect with as much. I then ran into a, a French teacher she’s actually retiring the end of the semester. We were able to talk about what’s next and so forth. Then as I’m making my way to a classroom my good friend, the drama teacher was there. And you know, you have to remind yourself, that’s actually more important than the list of other things. Mm-Hmm, , you know, taking time for people and talking to them. I think it gives to them, it gives me energy, especially when we’re all distanced out like this right now.


Sam Demma (11:29):
Yeah. No relationships are so important. And whether it’s relationship with your colleagues or with your students, and you mentioned that, you know, earlier that it’s so important to build relationships on and off the field also in the classroom during this time, I’m sure you’re finding it a little more difficult to build those relationships with some kids at home, some kids in school. How are you striving to still build relationships with your students during this time?


Brent Dickson (11:54):
I think the thing I found we’re, we’re a little different. We’ve been live okay. In person a lot. And then we got, we got put totally online mid November. Okay. So I had the advantage that I already had built a face to face relationship with these kids. Mm-Hmm so I’m not the guy to necessarily say starting on line, how you do it. Yeah. But I think one thing that I really learned, actually, I was kind of mad. We were told that every day we had to do attendance with these kids on our timetable. And as a leadership guy, I was kind of frustrated. I thought these kids have so much on their plate trying to figure out their core stuff. Why are we like adding on and dumping on to what they already have to deal with? And I was very wrong.


Brent Dickson (12:34):
I know that’s shocking. I should have had everything figured out in my life now. But what I realized very quickly is those kids wanted to see me and they wanted to see each other. And the attendance was probably like 95% all the way through. Wow. So then I decided now I, there was sometimes where I was doing instruction and things, but a lot of times I was like, they just need something fun. So I’d, I’d show a five minute video or we’d do a little thing where I’d pick five kids and you had to tell me two truths and a lie. Or, and then I, at the end, actually, one thing I did is I called it the five minute free for all. And so they could all turn on their mic if they wanted to go, they could go, but they could all turn on their mics.


Brent Dickson (13:15):
They could type stuff into chat with each other. They could make jokes, they could do whatever. And you know what Sam, most of them stayed all the time. Eventually like after 20 minutes, sometimes I’d have to cut it off and say, okay, D actually has to go do some things. Yeah. But it reinforced to me how important connection was. Like they, they just wanted to be there with each other and, and get a little inspiration and have some fun. So I think no matter what you’re doing, you gotta find a way to put that into your to your teaching. Like I think when, when kids come into my leadership class, there needs to be almost every day. Even if it’s just five minutes, a little active type lesson that does some team building teach is a value or a skill. And that’s that idea of, you know, you build your house brick by brick. And I think that, and I think that’s possible to do online as well is you start drawing them out and using different different tools and skills and whatnot. Totally


Sam Demma (14:09):
Agree. And I’m sure those five minute free for alls become a highlight in the class. And the kids probably all look forward to them. I’m curious to know as well during regular curriculum, have there been moments this year where you had this idea that you were gonna cover certain subjects and topics today and the conversation that the kids wanted to have was just different and you had to adjust, veer off curriculum and, and address this conversation. And were there any moments like that as well that you’ve experienced so far?


Brent Dickson (14:41):
Actually, when, when kids first came back mm-hmm so we, we like everybody we’ve been out since mid, since mid-March and then Alberta decided that all kids were gonna come in at once. And so I found the first couple days, like we did our team building things and name games and all these kind of stuff, they needed to talk through and process what had happened to them. Yeah. And I think in some ways they needed to grieve a little bit, especially my elevenths and twelves about what they’d lost out in the semester before they needed to talk about what it felt like being back what made them even feel safe. Like I remember there was one kid I had who, you know, her mom was immune compromised and she was pretty stressed about everyone needs to make sure they have their mask on and sometimes kids would forget.


Brent Dickson (15:26):
Right. And so she, she came to me and said, Mr. Dixon, can you talk to ’em about that? Cuz I’m, I’m really stressed. And so there was kind of that processing stuff we had to go through. And and then I know everyone hates the word pivot, cuz we’ve used it way too much but we have just this last semester we have had to constantly figure out ways to adapt. So, you know, we actually decided for the first time, not that this is rocket science to everyone, but we, we came up with a plan for how we were gonna do a virtual pep rally. Mid-December and we do one pep rally a year. Normally it’s a big, huge tradition. Of course you can’t come into the gym. Kids, kids were awesome. They had a plan. We were, we were just about ready to make a video of teachers.


Brent Dickson (16:06):
We were gonna do an online Kahoot. We were, you know, all these kind of things. And then on the Wednesday it’s announced that the following Monday school’s all online. Mm. So the whole thing kind of blew up. And I was really proud of these kids because instead they said, well, let’s do a virtual Christmas spirit week. And they came up with the plans while we’re online, they came up with idea, you know, like it was traditional stuff like the ugly Christmas sweater day and things like that. And we re reached out to this new burger place that had opened just by us. And so they gave three burgers away a day for kids were participating. But to me it was the idea. I was super proud of them that they were able to find a way to say, well, okay, we’re not gonna just give up we’ll we’ll adjust and do something else because like we have those, I’m sure like most programs, we have those key anchors that are traditions at different times of year and a whole lot of ’em there isn’t really a way to adapt. They kind of just get blown up. And so you just gotta find a way with something else.


Sam Demma (17:02):
I love that. And I’m, I’m assuming the Christmas stuff wasn’t really successful because I, I feel like any opportunity to come together and do something fun. Kids are just jumping on them these days.


Brent Dickson (17:13):
What tell you one little cool story that happened with it. Yeah. Can’t take any credit. It was total fluke. Okay. One of our special ed teachers. So our special ed classes were still coming into the building. Everyone else was online. Yep. And so it was I think it was Christmas hat day. And so she had some Santa type hats. So she took them around. She ’em on her special ed kids and took some pictures and submitted it to me. And I put ’em out on Instagram. And then what I would do is I would have a kid we’d figure out how many total pictures came in and then they’d tell me the number. And then I’d just say, okay, number 22 is the winner just random? Well, randomly this special ed kid got picked, he’s not on Instagram or anything like that.


Brent Dickson (17:55):
And so I had to kind of figure out who he was. And so I went to the teacher and I was able to go into the classroom where they were at. And I said, Hey, did you know you won like a burger meal at icy Berg and kids? Like what, what he’s like kind of freaking out excited. He came back to me three times in the next two days to my classroom, just to confirm that it was really true and that he’d actually won this. Wow. So then his his teacher aid and him, they, we, I called over there and said when they were coming. And so they, they walked over for lunch on a day and he got his meal and everything, I got picture of it. And so that was really cool. Like, so, you know, I mean, that’s like the Disney moment. I couldn’t have really planned for it, but it was awesome.


Sam Demma (18:37):
No, that’s phenomenal. And those moments are, are, I would say right now they might be few and far in between because of COVID. But in normal school, those moments are, are, are everywhere. And I’m sure that you, over your, over your whole career of teaching, there’s been so many moments like that. And, and so many students who you’ve impacted and who your colleagues have impacted and your whole team at your school have impacted. I’m curious to know out of all the stories you’ve heard and maybe you have one of those files on your desk called the bad day files where you like pull out the notes. Kids have sent you to kind of lift your spirit. It’s I’ve had some other teachers talk to me about it. Of all those moments, which those moments of transformation are, those, those Disney moments, which, which of those stick out the most, and the reason I’m asking, and you can just choose one or two. And if it’s a serious story, you can obviously take away their name as well. Just so you don’t disclose it. The reason I’m asking is because there might be an educated sitting right now, who’s burnt out. Who’s considering not teaching anymore who might want to leave the vocation. And your story of impact might remind them why this work is so important despite the challenges they’re currently faced with.


Brent Dickson (19:45):
Yeah, actually, you know, I was thinking, I, I kind of knew the question was coming. Cause I heard you ask other people before. And I, you know, I have some that are like really dramatic, like, oh, this kid went to a conference and I saw how it changed their life or things like that. But there’s actually one that came that I kept thinking about. And it was this student named Zach and he was a three year leadership student. He since graduated and he was almost like an positive way, the poster child for the introvert, like this kid never said anything in class ever. I knew not to ask him for like in front of the whole class to give a comment, cuz he would just, he just couldn’t do it or wouldn’t yet there every day he’d be there at lunch for the activity to help set up and clean up.


Brent Dickson (20:33):
He’d be dressed in the thing you were doing that whatever it was we asked him to do. And even some of the conferences like the day horizons type conferences we’d go to he’d sign up for those. And sometimes I’d be a little surprised, you know, I thought that might be a little outside of his his comfort zone, but he’d be there. And actually in grade 12, was this other student, Ethan who kind of just decided to be his self-appointed buddy. And he was beside, I mean, he’d be with class, not that he like, you know, didn’t have any friends or anything, but just, you know, kind of like that reaching out thing. And and I just really appreciated this kid, his consistency. He’s a kid that you could maybe not notice if you don’t really pay attention. Hmm. And then so in his grade 12 year we were doing ugly Christmas sweater day and he always is dressed up in whatever it was.


Brent Dickson (21:20):
He comes in and he’s wearing an Oilers hoodie and I can’t figure out what’s going on now. This kid is a horror, hardcore flames fan. Like at least every other day, he’s got some flames thing on. So I’m looking at him and I can’t figure out what he’s doing. And then all of a sudden I get it. He’s decided that the Oilers hoodie is the HAPPI sweater that he can wear. And I’m like, so I start halfway through the sense I’m like, why are you wearing? And then I realized what it was and I just started laughing that is the funniest thing ever. And so he kind of, and he doesn’t laugh, he just smiles. Right? Yeah. And then I said, well, where did you get that? And he says, oh, my uncle has one. Justin said, he’s an Oilers fan. Well, about a week later, this is one of, really one of my highlights of my career.


Brent Dickson (22:04):
A week later as the semester was, you know, right before Christmas, he brought me a Christmas present and, and it was bigger. Usually it’s just, you know, like some little gift card or card or something. And he says, don’t open it now, open it later. And I’m like, okay, well, thank you very much. Well, I opened it later and it was a fancy Oilers glass. Wow. And, and I thought that’s really cool. In spite of the fact that we’re enemies on the hockey rink that he kind of thought that much of me yeah. To give, to give me something that was kind of our personal joke and also something that I would really like. And, and I thought, you know what, that’s awesome. Like in three years, I know that leadership made a difference for him. And it would be different experience for him than maybe that kid that would be happy to get on the mic or jump around or be that crazy kid. But I think it was just as meaningful for him. And he was able to give as much to the class for us as any other kid.


Sam Demma (22:58):
There’s so much to unpack. I think that’s a phenomenal story. And what this makes me wanna say is that in leadership, there’s a space and a place for everyone. And I’m curious to know how you made your student feel comfortable enough safe enough, appreciated enough to still want to participate because there might be some introverted students who don’t feel valued or appreciated and always keep to themselves. It seems like you got through to this one kid and I’m curious to know, how do you think you get through to students? Is it just by listening? Is it by asking them question, tapping them on the shoulder and saying, Hey, here’s an opportunity for you? Like how do you make your students feel appreciated, valued and, and comfortable in the class?


Brent Dickson (23:39):
I think that’s a three hour lecture. yeah. I think, you know what, it’s a lot of little things and, and most of it I’ve been taught by those mentors that have come before me about things you do. Like it’s little things like whenever I can, I try to make sure music’s playing. When they come into a class at the beginning of class, every time almost we do some kind of a fun, interactive activity and they get a chance to meet different people and talk to them. I don’t just, when we do discussions, it’s not just one kid saying their idea in front of the whole class, you try to get ’em in smaller, you know, with a partner or with a small group where they can talk. I think it’s the, a huge part is the tapping on the shoulder and saying, Hey, I think you’d be good for this.


Brent Dickson (24:20):
You should come to this conference. You should sign up for this group. We need you. And you know, it’s all the things we do as teachers like getting to know that kid, like, you know Zach loves the, or the loves the flames. So you talk about the game the night before and, and you built, and I think it’s just that little step by little step. And you create, you create that environment. And I think sometimes there’s some kids where you don’t necessarily know how much they appreciate it, even though maybe they haven’t seemed to be as engaged in it as some others. But then they’re the kid that faithfully shows up on that zoom meeting and hangs around for the five minute free for all, even if they don’t chat or anything, they just wanna be there and be a part of it. Right. So I think that, I think sometimes as as teachers leadership advisor, we underestimate how much kids thrive and appreciate and need that kind of environment.


Sam Demma (25:12):
No, I, I, I wholeheartedly agree. And it’s so true. And sometimes it might be as simple as a, as a tap on the shoulder. And what you mentioned about, about talking about the, the Oilers game or the flames game to Zach, because I was, he, that’s what he was interested in. My grade 12 world issues teacher would do the exact same thing. We’d walk into class and by, you know, week three, week four, he started to know what most of the students liked. And I don’t think he remembered it all up here. I think he wrote it down because it was, it was pretty impressive, but he would take his content and material. And after teaching, it would, would apply individual students and be like, Sam, for you as an athlete. This means this. And kaon for you as someone who’s interested in fashion, this means this and Olivia for you, someone who’s interested in, in the movies, this means this.


Sam Demma (25:58):
And he would, he would take his material and almost like give us the personalized applications or call to actions based on our, our likes and our dislikes. And it always stuck in my mind. So I, I think doing that is so impactful. It had a huge impact on me. I’m still a young guy. I’m 21 and I still remember it. So I think that’s great that you talk about that as well. Okay. If you could travel back in time and speak to younger Brent, and be the, be the mentor to yourself when you’re just starting teaching, what would you have told yourself? What advice would you have given yourself?


Brent Dickson (26:35):
I think I would say to not get obsessed about your to-do list. Hmm. I think that we as teachers, we have a to-do list that we have no choice about things that must get done. And then we have things that we really wanna get done. And I actually keep one each week, like I got on my computer to remind me of stuff I gotta get through. And we have these windows in our school day. You can get, ’em done. Mm-Hmm and depending on your prep time and what’s going on, or I’ve got so much time after school and we sometimes you can get obsessed with that and you need to make time for kids. And that’s something I had to learn. So like, for example, you know, there’s the leadership classroom here and the door is open and it’s right after, or lunch or something.


Brent Dickson (27:24):
And you see a kid kind of just hanging around outside, you know, and they’re sort of making like, they’re not really there to see you, but they really would like to talk to you. My advice to young Brent would be, unless it’s an absolute emergency, ignore the to-do list, invite the kid to come in and have a five minute conversation. Or even like I talked about this morning, right? Like I had some things I wanted to get done, take some time to talk to colleagues. You’re never gonna regret a relationship building moment. And you’re never gonna remember the, the one report card thing you had to fill in or some form for a trip or, you know, and those things are, we gotta get ’em done. But I think that, you know, worst comes to worst. You say to somebody, I can get that job done today because I needed to talk to this kid. And I think we’re always gonna win in the end if we do that.


Sam Demma (28:13):
I think you’re so right. And if, if someone’s listening right now and is thinking to themselves, I wanna have a relationship building moment with Brent and it’d be, it’d be really cool to connect with him and just chat with him, ask some questions, share some of their own stories for whoever’s listening. What would be the best way for them to reach out to you and just have a conversation?


Brent Dickson (28:33):
Well, they could email me brdickson@cbe.ab.ca and I would catch ’em there or Instagram @brdickson. And actually I have a website that’s kind of a side hobby of my it’s brentdickson.net. And I try to just post every week or two, just some leadership ideas or this kind of cool thing happened in my classroom or stuff. And, I don’t know, maybe there’s some ideas there they might wanna connect to but I’m always open to the, the back and forth conversation because I find anytime you talk to someone else, you get two things good back.


Sam Demma (29:06):
And you’re also available for a few select keynote speeches per year. So give yourself a quick shameless plug there as well if an educator’s listening who might wanna bring you in.


Brent Dickson (29:17):
Used Carl salesman pick!? Yeah. I, I love speaking in other schools, working with other leadership programs or full keynotes to schools and things like that. And so when things calm down, I would love to come to your school. I’ve spoken in conferences and schools all across Canada and it’s been my fun side thing to do. And it’s so energizing to spend time with kids or teachers, share the things you know, and you get so much back. So if someone’s looking for a presentation or consultation or just some good clean fun, they can contact me as well. And, information about presentations and stuff is all on my website. Perfect.


Sam Demma (29:56):
Brent, thank you so much for taking the time out of your day to come on the show. Hopefully you can cross this off your to-do list if it was on it. this has been a pleasure. I’ll stay in touch with you soon and keep up the amazing work.


Brent Dickson (30:08):
Awesome, thank you.


Sam Demma (30:10):
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 working 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 Brent Dickson

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.

Mike O’Neil – Superintendent of Education at the Durham Catholic District School Board

Mike O'Neil - Superintendent of Education at the Durham Catholic District School Board
About Mike O’Neil

Mike O’Neill has over 25 years of experience as an educator, consultant and school administrator with DCDSB. In addition, he has played many significant leadership roles within the system as Restorative Practice Lead and Facilitator, Development of the Bullying Awareness and Prevention Curriculum, and Executive Member of the Catholic Principals’ Council of Ontario (CPCO) Durham Chapter.

His committee work includes involvement with Mentoring for New Administrators, New Teacher Induction Program, and the School Effectiveness Framework Committee. In 2013, he was recognized nationally by The Learning Partnership with the Outstanding Principal Award for achieving increased academic success of students, building a positive school climate, and strengthening partnerships with parents and community.

Mr. O’Neill is a graduate of the University of Western Ontario where he earned his Bachelor of Arts; and University of Ottawa where he earned his Bachelor of Education. He earned his Master’s of International Education at Charles Sturt University. Mr. O’Neill is a member of the Knights of Columbus and belongs to St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church in Whitby.

Connect with Mike: Email | Linkedin

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

The Durham Catholic District School Board

Pickering Catholic Principal Outstanding

The Learning Partnership: Innovation for Educators

What are Restorative Practices?

Sunshine calls

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:01):
Welcome back to another episode of the high performing educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s interview is a special one. And I know I say that often because almost all of the guests I bring on are incredibly special and doing amazing work, but today’s special guest is Michael O’Neil, who was actually the principal of the elementary school that I attended as a young person. Mike has over 25 years of experience as an educator consultant and school administrator within the DCDSB – Durham Catholic district school board. He has played many significant leadership roles within the systems of restorative practice, lead facilitator development of the bullying awareness program and prevention curriculum, and executive member of the Catholic principal’s council of Ontario Durham chapter. His committee work includes involvement with mentoring for new administrators, new teacher induction program, and the school effectiveness framework committee. In 2013, Mike was also recognized nationally by the learning partnership with the outstanding principle award for achieving increased academic success of students building a positive school climate and strengthening partnerships with parents and community. He is also extremely involved in his own local community, being a member of the Knights of Columbus and belonging to St. John, the evangelist Catholic church in Whitby. I hope you enjoy today’s jam-packed, informative interview and conversation with Michael. And I will see you on the other side.


Sam Demma (02:40):
Mike, welcome to the high performing educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here this morning. This is a, a very full circle moment for me because you were my principal at elementary school and , and now we’re together on this podcast. So welcome. Thank you for coming on the show today.


Mike O’Neil (02:56):
Aw, thanks very much, Sam. This is definitely the joy of, of being in this vocation, being able to see success amongst your students who you, you know, I, I recall you running around with the soccer ball on the field there. You know, and several times I think some of those soccer balls may have come towards my head, but I I’m thinking that that was unintentional Sam. So I, I won’t hold you to it. So congratulations on your success as well. I’m very happy to be here.


Sam Demma (03:26):
I really appreciate it. Well, why don’t you start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit about what brought you to where you are today in education?


Mike O’Neil (03:33):
Yeah, sure. Sam so currently Sam I’ve, I’ve been in education for 25 plus years. And currently I’m residing in the role of superintendent of education for human resources here at the Durham Catholic district school board in the human resources department we’re responsible for over 3,500 employees and serving and supporting them in terms of you know, services ranging from recruitment payroll you know, support with leaves maternity leaves, et cetera. And any other issues that arise with employees collective bargaining. So it is being for me, I, I am now sitting kind of serving at a system level, trying to serve our students and ensure that our students have a qualified teacher in front of their classroom that they’re supervised that we have enough staff, which there’s definitely a teacher shortage at the, at the moment.


Mike O’Neil (04:37):
But you know, I, I’m working on a assist them level with our senior administrative team as well in enacting some of the strategic priorities around equity, excellence and engagement here at the Durham Catholic district school board. But I have, I began my career back in 1993 with or sorry, 1994, I’m aging myself even more . And I began as a kindergarten teacher, so it’s like, I’ve worked my way up from kindergarten to the system level here at superintendent. I, I was teaching a teacher of multiple grades grade six for a long time. I served as a consultant for the teaching and learning department here for the area of literacy. And then I spent 13 plus years as an administrator, a vice principal and a principal primarily in Pickering. And then I have as I mentioned before, come to full circle to be at the system level now and supporting our employees and students that way.


Sam Demma (05:46):
Did you know when you were a student that you wanted to work in education or how did that profession in vocation call out to you and become a part of your journey?


Mike O’Neil (05:55):
I could say I was probably most inspired by my parents. Both of them are educators, my mother, a kindergarten teacher and my father was a principal as well for over 25 plus years. So if I always had education in our household and there was always the education talk and but I, I didn’t really I’ll be honest. I wanted to, you know, if you were to ask me in grade, you know, 12, what I wanted to be, I wanted to be a firefighter. And then I got up a couple ladders and realized that was my fear of Heights would not allow me to do that. And then I, you know, in primarily in you know postsecondary education and I was primarily focused on being a lawyer to be honest.


Mike O’Neil (06:45):
But there was always a I always had, you know, being involved in extracurricular activities or on the stage and in theater and in drama, I always had an interest in you know, acting and then I think it was you know, when I, I went into a volunteer in a couple of schools just to get some community service and I realized, listen, I can be an actor here and I can be a kid, a little kid all the time. and so,youknow, I know that may sound,uunprofessional, but it allowed me to just have not necessarily be a kid, but feel the spirit of being a kid mm-hmm . And I think that,uis what inspired me is that I want to keep that spirit alive in myself. And so,uthen I pursued,uthe pathway,uto education.


Sam Demma (07:39):
And you live that mentality, like, I think back to growing up in St. Monica’s, you know, elementary school and you were one of the most energetic, and I don’t wanna say fun principals I ever had, cuz the rest of them were great too, but yeah, you really connected with the students and I’m curious to, do you believe that you should keep your, you know, your kid-like spirit alive, even in your adult work? Has that been important to you?


Mike O’Neil (08:09):
Oh, I, I, I think it’s education is challenging if you don’t keep that kid’s spirit alive and if you don’t feed off, I, I mean, I, I fed off the spirit, the innocence, the, the pure joy of, of children the curiosity of children. So you have to be able to feed off that. I, I, I wanted to enjoy work every single day. I wanted to, to be a part of the difference. It allowed me to just smile with the kids every single day. I mean Sam, you can remember, I think one of my most favorite moments there at, at St Monica’s was doing, I did the gang man style dance with everyone you know, just spirit days, pep, you know, pep rallies. It was like, I was a, I was a school president in for my student council in high school.


Mike O’Neil (09:09):
And I just felt like I could be school president without having to campaign for it all the time. So you know, again, that spirit alive, but that, to me, I mean, you mentioned their Sam connection and I, I think that’s that has been transformational for me in terms of where I you know, I think all educators need to, to realize that they, the they’re not responsible, you know, not that they’re not responsible, but they’re, they’re not, the importance is not whether or not someone gets into an Ivy league school. The importance is that someone feels connected and connection at that school. I mean, we, they spend just as much time with us in, during the day and with their peers and with their teachers, as they do at night with their family before they go to bed you know, for 190 plus days a year.


Mike O’Neil (10:08):
And if they, you know what do we want to do and what is, what you know, is important in family connection. So it needs to be in important in those schools. The kids need to know that they’re cared for that. They are loved that they’re allowed to make mistakes. I, I, you know, I always had a, a, a post or a in my classroom when I was a teacher that said, this is a mistake making class, you’re allowed to make mistakes. And you have to be feel comfortable. And the only way you can feel comfortable is by feeling a sense of belonging to that school mm-hmm to that classroom. So, you know my, the most important aspect for me was building up the social architecture in, in a classroom. And then as a principal in a school I was, you know, charged with, I wanted to make the school, the best school in the universe for those kids. And I always instilled that and said it every single day. You heard me on the announcements, Sam saying that every single day, and I, I drew believed it. We needed to, everyone needed to feel connected to one another, regardless whether they were in kindergarten or grade eight we are in it together. And once they felt comfortable and connected, guess what, they’re going to find success. It’s not going to matter who the teacher is or what they’re teaching. If they feel a sense of belonging and action, they’re going to succeed.


Sam Demma (11:40):
And where did those beliefs and philosophies come from? Did you have some mentors in education were they built off of your own personal experiences? Yeah. Maybe explain where those beliefs and ideas kind of originated for you.


Mike O’Neil (11:56):
Again, I think I, I, I bring it back to my my father and his his that was his approach as an administrator. It was all about making you know, a positive school, culture and climate for this staff because the staff needs to feel a sense of belonging together. And you know, he did have some great staff parties at you know, at the house that I remember. I mean, I won’t get into them now, but , it was just a sense of, you know, you had to have a, you know, share you share around the table. And that was instilled in me by that. And then I also had a a principal pat McKinnon that served as my first mentor and Mr. Mckinnon, who was the principal. He, that was his whole philosophy.


Mike O’Neil (12:50):
It wasn’t about, you know, what the kids were learning or what you were teaching is how are you treating these kids? Are you treating them fair? Are you treating them with a sense of humility? Are you you know approaching them at their level and you know Mr. Mckinnon let’s serve just as a role model for that, for me, just the way he operated being visible. And I think that was the one thing that I had previously seen principals who were just in the office and you never saw, but when I saw, you know pat McKinnon being the visible leader, that’s what inspired me to say, Hey, listen, I think I can enjoy it. Cause I don’t want an office job just sitting in an office, but I think that I could enjoy making a difference by being visible in the school and, and leading the school as an administrator.


Sam Demma (13:48):
That’s awesome. Shout out to pat McKinnon.


Sam Demma (13:55):
So connection, I also agree is so important as you mentioned, and over the past two years, that’s been a difficult one, you know, with COVID with the pivot in education and a lot of students being forced to tune in virtually how as a school board, or even as individual of schools, do you think teachers and educators can still make sure their students feel, you know, connected at least to their teacher or to their subject? Is there anything you’ve seen happen in the Durham Catholic district school board that’s worked out well? Yeah. Anything can speak on,


Mike O’Neil (14:32):
Yeah, I, you know, I think it’s, you’re right, Sam, that it has been probably one of the most challenging periods. You know, I didn’t realize that when I signed up for this job that, you know, we’d be facing unprecedented plague. Yeah. That would, you know ground the world to a halt for two years. But what it is, I, I think the key to building those connections is not necessarily lying in a tool that you know, there’s been many programs that have come and gone, you know, and, and you know companies saying use this tool with these activities to create the connection. At the end of the day, it really comes down to the personnel and who the person is that’s in front of our kids. They, you know, it’s human nature to want connections and to build on those connections.


Mike O’Neil (15:30):
So I think if you have, and what I think has been demonstrated in Durham Catholic district school board is that our teachers are the right caring adults at the right time during this period of challenge for our students. They are giving it them all, they’re all. And they are you know, I, I think the same way that we had to come closer together and we reached out and dug deep into our, our, our souls to find more connections with our family and friends went during this time. That’s the same thing that we had to do as teachers, you know because most of the kids would be, you know, when they were connecting virtually they’re on their, you know, bed in their pajamas with their cameras off, you know and they, you know, probably are sleeping but we had to engage them and find new tools and, and the ability to pivot, and it still make those connections and a different mode of learning.


Mike O’Neil (16:37):
But at the end of the day, it’s what the person says, what the teacher does how they demonstrate that they care and the respect that they show and the culture that they a built that is centered around understanding empathy. You know, curriculum came secondary during COVID you know, some of the things were where I saw the most successful classes where when they just, you know, teachers, even at the end of their ropes would say, Hey guys, it’s not a good day for me. It’s not a good day for us all, we keep getting bad news. So let’s just talk. And I, I think just the ability to connect and talk to our students during COVID, I believe teachers are the unsung heroes of the, the frontline workers during this time because parents were stressed to levels you know, unprecedented levels and, and, you know, they wanted someone to, they wanted some relief and somebody to teach their kids, and they wanted that journey of their children to continue.


Mike O’Neil (17:59):
And our teachers stepped up. So it’s not a tool, it’s a mindset. It’s a, an approach . And I, I think that our leaders, our principals did a fantastic, amazing job of, of helping support their principals to emphasize that message. You know, it’s not about, who’s getting an a, now it’s about who’s learning, who’s connecting who’s getting the supports that they need during this time and to health supports, et cetera. So you know, I, I truly believe that. And, and it, it comes down to my philosophy. I, I, I have a restorative mindset, a restorative practice mindset where you know, it’s built on connections, built on accountability to one another, but built on understanding one another. And so I think that restorative mindset that our teachers have here in Durham Catholic has made a tremendous difference for our students.


Sam Demma (19:03):
And curiosity in asking questions is so important. At some something that every teacher I’ve had or administrator that I’ve had, who’s been curious themselves, it ends up making it a better experience for the school and the students, because you realize that they’re not only there to teach you, but they’re also learning along the journey. And for any educator who’s tuning into this right now, who might be in their initial years of teaching, you know, back back when you were just starting someone like that. Uwhat resources have you found used or read,uon your own personal development as an educator or someone who works in education that you found helpful. And also if you could speak to your younger self, what advice would you, would you give?


Mike O’Neil (19:51):
What advice wow.


Sam Demma (19:53):
Don’t cheer for the Toronto Maple Leafs. That would be your first one.


Mike O’Neil (19:55):
Yeah, exactly. Yeah. I would say, you know, to my younger self is be confident, be resilient, because you need that in this job. I would also say to myself, don’t lose the joy because the times when I’ve struggled in, in this, and again, don’t lose that kid spirit. Yeah. You know, being inspired by that kid spirit, I, I would say to my recommendation for,youknow, new teachers coming in,and, and we hear, and I’m responsible for, or the new teacher induction program here. And we, we train them,uin a course,ucalled restorative practice. And again, it’s about,umaking connections. You know, it’s a, it’s, it’s an approach that is not adversarial, but collaborative with your kids,uin front, in your classroom. And so I would definitely recommend,youknow, looking into restorative practice and the tools that can be used to make those connections, restorative circles.


Mike O’Neil (21:02):
They were transformational for me in in intentionally and deliberately getting to know my students. Mm. And then getting to know me, my fears. The second thing I, I would say is as an educator, I mean, I would say I listen to a lot of brand, a Brown’s podcast about vulnerability, and you have to be vulnerable as a teacher, it’s okay for you to make mistakes as a teacher like Sam. I know I think, you know, if I, if I see some of my former students you know, especially the ones early in my career here that I taught in grade six, or even in kindergarten, I, I always, if I see them in a pub or whatever, I’ll buy them a, a drink and say, I apologize, because I wasn’t at my best at my first couple years.


Mike O’Neil (21:59):
Right. Yeah. But you know, it’s, it’s like always, you’re always need to strive to get better. Don’t rest on the lesson plans from, you know, your first year go in and always be a reflective person. And it’s okay if that lesson plan falls flat. And it, you know, my, my advice to my younger self or to new teachers would be it’s okay to go in and say, Hey, that lesson yesterday just did not go well, and we’re gonna have a, a redo. And that’s the best thing you’re in charge. You can have a redo, you can do things differently and you can reach them. So be vulnerable be you know ignite continually connect to that kid spirit that is shown and intentionally focus on the social architecture of your classrooms. What are the things that you can do that are so small that can make a difference whether it is, you know, joke Thursday, you know, I used to do those and having the kids come down and say a joke on, on the line, whether it be intentionally greeting kids at the door you know smiling acknowledging the kids acknowledging every single one of them.


Mike O’Neil (23:37):
And you know, I used to do what I used to call sunshine calls, and those sunshine calls were sometimes our parents, the parents, and this is the thing we always think that I think as teachers, we’re always afraid to call parents you know, what are they gonna say? Are they gonna question what I’m doing in the classroom? And, and everything well be vulnerable, but reach out to them, connect with, get those channels of communication going. I used to do sunshine calls, so I’d make it a, a purpose to make sure I called 10 kids a month 10 parents a month of children. And I’ve got through, you know, the whole class and repeat it to just not call, to say, Hey, listen, you know, Sam kicked another soccer ball towards my head. . But rather say, you know as Sam I just noticed this with Sam you know, he, I just observed him, you know, inviting someone into the soccer game that was you know, excluded from that. And I would just tell the parent that, so I would take notes about sunshine moments for my kids, and I think the parents needed to hear that you know, and that you know, helped you build even the kids’ confidence. I’m sure around the dinner table, when those calls were discussing,


Sam Demma (24:59):
Those are some phenomenal resources and mindset shifts that I hope yeah. You listening can implement in your own practice in your own school. Mike, thank you so much for taking the time to come on the podcast here. If someone wants to reach out to you to ask a question, it’s typically another educator from somewhere around the world, what would be the best way for them to get in touch?


Mike O’Neil (25:21):
Oh, definitely. Absolutely. And like I said, I love making connections with colleagues because that, that’s another thing, Sam advice for everyone just before I leave on this is rely on your colleagues. Mm. And you know, build relationships with them, work together because the best ideas come from one another, they don’t come from above from your principal, or, you know, the, the board, they come from one another. So I always encourage people to reach out. They can reach out to me at: Mike.ONeill@dcdsb.ca. So the Durham Catholic district school board and shoot me an email and you know, I’ll be more than be to connect with resources or things like that. And we’re always looking for qualified staff members. So you know, if you’re looking for a position, please reach out you know, like I said, all, what we want are caring adults in front of our classrooms. Those that are committed to making a difference in child’s lives, not just academically, but socially, emotionally in all aspects of their development so that we can have success stories just like you, Sam.


Sam Demma (26:40):
Mike, thank you so much. It’s been a pleasure chatting with you. And again, a very full circle moment. Keep up the awesome work, keep cheering for the Leafs. And I will talk to you soon!


Mike O’Neil (26:51):
Go Canucks! Hahah. Thanks Sam. Cheers.


Sam Demma (26:57):
Hey, it’s Sam again. I hope you enjoyed that amazing conversation on the high performing educator, their 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 forwards the 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 Mike O’Neil

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.

Deb Lawlor – Coordinator, Intermediate/Secondary Student Success OCSB

Deb Lawlor - Coordinator, Intermediate/Secondary Student Success OCSB
About Deb Lawlor

Deb Lawlor (@deb_lawlor) is the coordinator of student success at the Ottawa Catholic District School Board. 

Her interests include authentic learning experiences & inquiry.  She is also an avid outdoor enthusiast, photographer, traveler, optimist & cook.  In this episode, we talk about her educational journey and her travelling sabbatical. 

Connect with Deb: Email | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

6 Modern Sabbatical Ideas

Specialist High Skills Major Program

Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program

Hapaweb Solutions

Smiths Falls

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, I had the pleasure of working with back in 2019, and then in 2020, she took a sabbatical to go travel the world and she’s finally come back and I convinced her to come share some of her wisdom on the show. We talk a ton about her social sabbatical. Today’s guest is Deb Lawlor. Deb Lawlor is the coordinator of intermediate and secondary student success at the Ottawa Catholic school board. She also now has taken on the portfolio of helping to coordinate anything related to SHSM and OYAP, specialist high skills major, or the Ontario youth apprenticeship programs. And she is a powerhouse. She won’t be in education too much longer but while she’s here, we can learn a lot from her. I hope you enjoy today’s episode. I’ll see you on the other side.


Sam Demma (01:34):
Deb, thank you so much for coming on the high performing educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show. Can you start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit about how you got into the work that you do in education today?


Deb Lawlor (01:47):
Okay. Hi, I’m Deb Lawlor and I’m currently working at the Ottawa Catholic school board as a coordinator in the intermediate secondary student success department. And I have been an educator for about 25 years now. I started way back when, and I was able to leave from high school, get into university to take a teaching degree. I did my Phys ed degree first and was able to start yeah, actually with adults in the beginning, I sort of, I call it, I went through the back door to try and get a job at the time because there wasn’t anything available. And through, some people who were in a class of mine, they told me about it and I started teaching adults. So I was probably, I was in my, my mid twenties and I was actually teaching adults who were anywhere from 18 years old and my oldest student was 54.


Deb Lawlor (02:36):
I can remember Florian because he was his grandfather in my class trying to get his education after having left. I think he left like grade five, six and went to work on his farm and he was just trying to get his basic grade nine math and, and get his G E D at the time. And from there I moved on to teaching grade seven and eight. I wanted to get into working with the kids. I, I enjoyed working at adult Ted, but it was really, I wanted to do the extracurricular. I wanted to coach, I wanted to have activities beyond, you know, student council with the kids and work with them in that way. And so I was able to, to go into grade seven and eight. And from there I moved into a high school when, when St mother Teresa was opened up in the day when, when we were expand quite a bit in the Ottawa area for, for schools out in some of our outside the city areas.


Deb Lawlor (03:23):
And I taught there for almost 14 years teaching F ed mostly for anything from grade 9, 10, 11, 12 girls to mixed classes with grade 11 and 12 girls, boys and I, my last class I taught was actually a grade 10 boys class, which was quite fun. They, they, they made me laugh. and partway through that time, I started consulting at the school board as if I said consultant halftime and did that for about eight years. And after that, I moved on into being the coordinator within my department. And the section that I have is called specialized pathways, which really covers some programs for are students who are trying to get through high school and explore areas within options for them after high school, whether it’s apprenticeship going right into the workplace or if they take a college or university pathways.


Deb Lawlor (04:12):
So I have focus programs, dual credits, specialist, high skills, major or Chisholm program as we call it. And oh yeah, the Ontario, a youth apprenticeship program, which is some fascinating areas where you can really look at what are the options we can offer students today that are not just taking a class, you know sitting, listening, and, and learning, but they’re actually doing, they’re doing the hands on pieces, getting into job work experiences and finding out about what the work world would would be like in their career that they’re wanna choose and pursue.


Sam Demma (04:42):
I love that. And if you can think back for a moment to when you were younger and going through university or school and teachers college, when did you actually know, ah, I want to be a teacher. Was there like someone who pushed you down that path or did you just know at a young age that that was the calling for you?


Deb Lawlor (04:59):
It’s funny, you asked me because my path sort of, I had a very direct path and I meandered for many years and then I came back to it. So I actually, I wanted to be a teacher in grade four. I, I loved school as a kid. I wanted to that was all I wanted to do was to be a teacher. And, and then I hit grade six and all of a sudden I met somebody in my class and they were very well off. And when I looked at what she had, I wanted that and I thought, well, her dad’s a lawyer. I’m gonna be a lawyer. They’re rich. I’m gonna be a lawyer. I wanna get into them pursuing that. So from grade six, all the way to grade 11 until like took grade 11 law, and then I went, I don’t wanna be a lawyer anymore.


Deb Lawlor (05:37):
so a way too much detail and article and the, the research you had to do to look up stuff did not interest me. So then my brain went to the second thing. Okay. At the time I was in grade 11 and in grade nine, I got braces. So I went and had braces grade 9, 10, 11, 12. And again, I’m going, Hmm. My orthodontists are making a killing and not hurting people while doing it. So I thought, great. I wanna be an orthodontist. So I went down to see my guidance counselor and he’s like, yep, you’re gonna need to take this science and this science and this science and here’s, I said, oh, I don’t wanna do that. That’s not of an interest to me to take all the sciences. Yeah. And at the time I, then I was grade 12 by then I had started, I had started working at a summer camp when I was in grade 10 and I was working with kids mostly anywhere mostly preteens, like kind of like your 11, 12, 13.


Deb Lawlor (06:28):
And then I took over the program to work with kids who were counselors in training. They were the 15, 16 year old. So in working with them and I wasn’t very, and still am a strong athlete in, in my abilities. And so I was playing on all the school teams at school and it wasn’t until I finally talked to my dad. So if you talk about who was my influencer, it was my father. Hmm. He said a couple of things to me, one of the things was he, he told me, and this was really important to hear as a female back in 1980s, you, you can do anything you want to like, whatever you choose to do and to be, go for it. That’s, that’s your, your, your ability to try and do that. So that was one thing that was very important to hear.


Deb Lawlor (07:07):
The other thing was he’s, you know, I had this idea that, you know, I did well in school. I had good grades. I could be anything I wanted to be, I could apply to any program and probably get in. But when he said to me, think about this for a moment, if you’re gonna work for 30 years, you better darn well, like what you’re gonna do. And I kind of went, whoa, I’m like, yeah, like 30 years, that’s a long ti 30 years is a long time. Yeah. I have to try and imagine what I would wanna do for 30 years and was at a time when, like, people actually did the same thing for 30 years. That’s no longer the case anymore. But in thinking about that, I went, all right, well, look at your life, Deb, you are playing all these sports. You’re an athletic person.


Deb Lawlor (07:51):
You enjoy being active and you enjoy working with kids that you’ve been doing this at this camp, put the two together. And it was like, well, okay, yeah. Be a PHY ed teacher. And in my mind, at the time though, I was like, well, but you know, I could be more than a pH ed teacher, but I went back to the thought of, you had always wanted to be a teacher anyway. So it doesn’t matter what, you know, that stigma that might have been around it was, is I thought I could enjoy that for 30 years. And so, yeah, my dad was, was a very big influencer and what I could do and that I could choose anything I wanted to, whether I was male or female at the time. And also to say like, you wanna enjoy what you do. And I remember my first years of work going, I, I don’t, I didn’t work a day in my life because I didn’t feel like it was work, you know, in the beginning I, you know, I was doing with my physi and that, and I was kind of like, yeah, like I’m, I’m getting paid to play.


Deb Lawlor (08:43):
You know, now there’s a skill to making play interesting to kids and having them engaged. Yeah. Don’t get me wrong. But yeah, I, I, I really don’t feel for most of my career that I’ve really worked a day in my life in that sense that it, it it’s enjoyable. I, I love what I do.


Sam Demma (08:58):
That’s awesome. And it’s changed a lot over the past couple of years, specifically this year and something I’ve recently started to realize is that our beliefs lead to our emotions, our emotions lead to our actions and our actions lead to our results. And when we get a different world view, our beliefs change, then our emotions change, our actions changes and our results that we might even project onto our students change. You recently took a sabbatical and traveled the globe for a year, gained some new perspectives, came back to the classroom. And I would say arguably back to education, arguably more passionate, more inspired with a new clarity. Could you share a little bit about what prompted you to make that decision to travel and how it affected you as a professional in education?


Deb Lawlor (09:47):
Okay. I’ve always loved to travel. I, I started traveling in, in my mid twenties and the nice thing. I mean, it’s, it’s to double edge sword as a, as an educator, we are pegged into times that we have to travel mm-hmm. So we have to travel at March break. We have to travel at Christmas the two week time break. And then we, and we graciously have a summer time where we can choose to, to do some, some intensive traveling during that time on the flip side of that, it’s also very costly at all those high season times. But what sort of got me into wanting to pursue some sabbaticals and, and, and to travel in that way was in order to go to New Zealand in Australia. And I, and I did that on a sabbatical that I took back in oh 5 0 6. It was my first one.


Deb Lawlor (10:32):
I, I had that care at dangling in front of me for five or six years as I was on reduced pay in order to, to get to that goal. But what drove me was I wanted to see Australian New Zealand, but the time to see their summertime was in our wintertime and as a teacher, I wasn’t gonna be able to do that. Mm. And so that gave me the drive, the push to kind of go, okay, let’s try this, this sabbatical where I do a reduced pay. And it’s given, you know, I’m paid from a, that final year from my own money. And when I did that, it allowed me to see places. I, I, I had never, you know, had an opportunity to see. And this time when I went to go, my, my dream was to go to, to Asia. I wanted to go explore Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Laos, and see cultures that I didn’t know very much at all about.


Deb Lawlor (11:16):
And it allowed me to immerse myself into a place that there was new things to see there was new things to taste. There were new people to get to know. And I traveled with people who were internationally spread across the world. There was people from the UK, people from Switzerland, people from Germany, I met people who were Dutch all over the globe. And I think just that exposure to people, you start seeing other perspectives. And I’m always very curious about the education systems in other places. And you talk to them about how long’s your school day and what do your kids do? You know, what are the sports that they might get involved in? What extracurriculars do they run? How do they do that? And it was very interesting to me going to Asia because it is very different in some ways to, to how we do things.


Deb Lawlor (12:04):
I, I had a really great opportunity. This little boy in Vietnam came and, and approached me while we were wa walking between PI places on, on the tour. And we had a chance to stop. And I was sitting on a bench and this little nine year old boy came up and he said to me, is it okay if I sit and talk with you? And I said, sure. And I kind of looked around for the parent and, and the parent and his father and his grandfather was sitting on the bench across from me. And what I had ended up finding out later from my guide was that this was how a lot of the children would try and learn English. They didn’t wanna learn from their teachers who were Vietnamese. They wanted to learn from English speaking first language people. So they were often encouraged to see, seek out the tourists and have conversation to practice through English.


Deb Lawlor (12:49):
And so I was fascinated because this little guy, he knew, knew more about Canada than some of the students that I knew. And he was like, he, I told him where I was from. And he started talking about, well, your population is approximately this million, this number million. And you have a very large country, and it’s very cold there. You know, he had all these, I, you are nine years old and can tell me about my country. It was very interesting. But then to ask and say, so, you know, like, what are the types of things you do? What do you like doing at school? And he liked computers and he liked reading. And I asked him about sports and I said, physical activity. I said, do they do it at your school? And it wasn’t popular among some of the kids. And there were some things that were happening, but it was very oriented to achieving and to practicing your lessons and working on those types of things.


Deb Lawlor (13:42):
So I always find it interesting to travel elsewhere, to find out what they, what they do. And, and can we learn anything from, from other other cultures and, and, and having other perspectives. I mean, just on the, on tour itself my tour in New Zealand that followed that was, I was probably the oldest on that tour for most of the time of that tour. I was probably 20 years senior, too, to most of the people on the tour. And again, to have that perspective of youth and say, you know, how do you see these things and what do you, think’s happening in the world? And is this working, and, and why would you do this? Or wouldn’t you do that? Was very interesting. And I met a, I met another teacher from the UK and she was 32 and, you know, worked at elementary.


Deb Lawlor (14:24):
So again, something different for me to kind of probe. And I’m actually still in contact with, with three of the four of the gals that I met. We’re still on, on WhatsApp together to, to connect and talk about things and see how, how we’re doing. So the opportunities. And then, so what that brings back with me then Sam, for coming back to work is, is a, a renewed vigor about what I do and, and listening then to finding those other perspectives when, when I’m dealing with what I deal with now and making sure that, you know, there’s not somebody in the room that’s not heard mm-hmm , and if I’m not hearing a voice, I start to look for it and thinking or asking myself, well, what would this person think? Or how would this impact this person? Whereas before, you know, if you, it might have just been a bit more narrow because you haven’t had all those other different perspectives to hear about.


Sam Demma (15:15):
That makes so much sense. And would you recommend other educators listening to travel?


Deb Lawlor (15:20):
Oh, absolutely. I highly recommend I’ve done three sabbaticals over my time. Nice. And my next one will be permanent but no, I, I think it’s a great, I think it’s a great opportunity. And you know, what, you, you also don’t need to travel extensively far away. I mean, I, I went to Asia, I went to New Zealand. Yeah. Those are big, big options to try and, and get away from. But what COVID OS taught me is that you can actually explore around the area you live. I’m actually trying to, now that I’m restricted in where I can go from auto it’s like, well, what new trails can I go check out? And what are the new, I went to a grocery store the other day that I, I kept seeing fruit for a long time, on my way to my, my physio appointments.


Deb Lawlor (16:02):
And I said, I that’s Adonis. I’m like, that’s telling me something. That’s not a Sobeys. It’s not a Loblaws. You know, I thought, well, what kind of, you know, what’s, what’s the type of foods and stuff. So I went in and I, I had a, a little mini exploration, you know, for half an hour of just walking through aisles and going, wow, okay. Like in their deli, they’ve got a whole bunch of chickpeas and they have nuts and they have different produce that I couldn’t normally find in the wintertime. And I thought, you know, looking at the different culture that’s been brought into a store and it was very exciting in that same way of just going something new, something different and something to try. So I absolutely, I, I would highly recommend travel for, for anyone to do, but it, it can be travel even to another province.


Deb Lawlor (16:42):
If you haven’t explored Canada, it could be to a, to a small town. We live in Ottawa here with my board. But I mean, there’s Smith falls around there’s, Almont, there’s Kingston, not far our way, there’s these small little town Smith falls, Richmond, like you can explore, you know, and I think that it adds to when we’re lifelong learners, mm-hmm, , you’re constantly in, in education, you are a lifelong learner. Whether you like it or not, because you’re not always gonna be teaching the same courses, the same grade level, you’re gonna change positions. You might go into advance, you’re always gonna need to learn. And if you keep open to that learning, then it makes it a lot easier for, for what you’re


Sam Demma (17:20):
Gonna do. I was speaking to an educator yesterday on a phone call, Michael Kelly from the Toronto Catholic district school board. He teaches a GLE learning strategies course. And he was telling me that he has a passion for history, and that’s what he got into education be cause of. And there was this opportunity to travel to Italy with his students and show them history. And he said, by going on that travel experience, it renewed his passion and reconfirmed for him that he does love history. And it’s so exciting to him. And it’s so cool. And he said, he came back to school with so much more passion to teach it. And I think it’s the same case for you, but in a slightly different position that you’re now working in with the school board. What new challenges though, have you been faced with over the past? I don’t know, a couple of months that you’ve been placed back into this position right after a global pandemic?


Deb Lawlor (18:11):
Yeah, definitely a, a change in in experiences coming back to this, I, I wasn’t, so therefore I wasn’t in, in place working when COVID hit in, in the spring when schools were, were, were adjusting that I think part of the challenge I’ve seen is trying to find ways to make activities. And this is activities with my teachers or the activities teachers are doing with students trying to make activities that we normally would do engaging. Now that they’ve a lot of it switched online. And I, I think the screen time is a challenge. I, I think it’s, it’s very difficult for people to be on screen, how they’re in school. And then, and then they go home on, in our board. They, they flip flopping days at high school and then go home and then you’re expected to be on screen all day long with that.


Deb Lawlor (18:59):
And then a lot of what people’s personal interests and hobbies are, is to be on social media or to be online on, on their device. So, so I think that’s the, the biggest change that I’m, I’m on screen now all day long and I’m on meetings and, and doing trying to connect with teachers through Google meets or individual Hangouts, or it it’s a lot of a lot of time that just sitting. So I just, you know, before I, I got online with you, I just came from my walk outta lunch that nice, you know, get outside dress for it. It’s a little chillier there today. Yeah. but, and, and I also thinking it’s trying to reach out to our students and, and our teachers for me, cuz I, I work with our staff to, in a meaningful way. It, it’s making sure that they’re is those human connections that we still need.


Deb Lawlor (19:54):
And so something, you know that you can try and create, that’s fun. Something that, you know, is lighthearted being able to make use of time. That’s precious for people being consistent in terms of what you want to try to accomplish and be clear about things. It, it’s a challenge to try and make sure that, you know, you’re not wasting people’s time for different pieces. And then also for me in the, the role that I have is I get funding to run some of these programs. And there’s a lot of funding this year that we’re not using it for buses. We’re not using it for supply release. We’re not using it for hospitality reasons. So now it’s like, well, what do we use that funding for? And it’s trying to find ways to brainstorm and to think outside the box of, okay, I can’t, I can’t bring a, a, a provider and to give a certification to students. So what am I gonna do instead? You know, we ask, we can do it online, but it’s like, well, can I give you kits that you can have someone zoom in live with you and you guys each now all have your individual piece to build a house and to work on that and understand the, the makings behind construction and, and, and the skills that go with that.


Sam Demma (21:08):
I love that that’s an amazing understanding and how things have changed and shifted what is going really well though. I, you talked about an online system that specifically the O C D S B or the OCS B is using that’s working really well for teachers and students and helping them keep track of their it’s. I believe it’s like a Google workflow or something along those lines.


Deb Lawlor (21:30):
So ha power workspace is what we use. Yep. And teachers are able to load up all of their different materials in there. But the nice thing about Hapa is that the students it’s already set up for them when they walk into their, into their, their, they say, walk into their class when they begin their class, when they get yeah. Virtually, if they sign in and the folders for each of their courses are already in Google drive. So if they had math history, religion, and English happening, then there’s already a folder that has all their documents that they need. So it kind of removes that need for a binder. You’re not losing papers, things aren’t falling out. If the teacher knows the student’s gonna be away, they know that that information is in there to access wherever they are remotely and be able to do that.


Deb Lawlor (22:13):
And that was a, a nice thing to be able to see happen where it really, I mean, COVID, that’s a plus side of it. Is it really accelerated how quickly our staff is using it and becoming comfortable with it? Because we had to last spring when everything went, went remote, now I could see in the future that, you know, let’s say a student has a lacrosse tournament that we can misses some of their classes, right? Yeah. Then they come back and they know everything’s already in there, or they’re on their bus, taking the ride out, or they’re driving to Toronto to, to do a tournament you know, in their personal life. And then they can be worth on the stuff and not miss anything that that’s gonna happen there. And Harara allows the students to actually add cards to it. So you can actually collect evidence and, and they might have something where say, you know, Sam, I want you to add, you know, your ideas to this slide and Deb, I want you to put your ideas in this slide and each student would have a slide to add into it.


Deb Lawlor (23:06):
So now you have collaboration happening between students, even though they’re in their different places or it could even be happening in the same classroom because now you can’t touch each other’s, you know, laptops and materials, et cetera, but they can still be collaborating on the same document together. And and the assessments are done there through there as well in track so that they teachers able to see their progress as they’re working on it, to see where they’re at and whether they need some little reminders to, you know, keep going at it, or if they, you know, need feedback and get some help and they can do that electronically as well.


Sam Demma (23:37):
I love it. And you mentioned that your, your next sabbatical will be your final one before that parting day mm-hmm . What, what keeps you hopeful and motivated when working in education with young people, despite the challenges that we’re facing?


Deb Lawlor (23:53):
There’s always hope if you look for it. It it’s, I, I have an attitude of gratitude and I think that alone really gives me hope because as even, even walking outside today, I was thinking, you know what, I, I can go outside and walk. I’m not sick with COVID right now. Yeah. And I have my health and I’m in an area that I can do this in. I think that the the ability to not give up that there is that there’s always going to be something kind. I see people being kind that’s hopeful to me. So when you see simple kind gestures during your day, someone opens the door for, for you at work, you’re out in the grocery store. And, you know, you can still see the smile of people’s eyes above the mask, right. If, if you look for it, if, if you, so it’s pain attention to the little details.


Deb Lawlor (24:47):
Sometimes watching that, you know, someone’s got a real joy for Christmas right now in my department, and they’re just, every decorations are going everywhere and it makes people smile. And I think the other thing too, is just knowing that this too shall pass like it, this isn’t gonna be forever. It’s inconvenient. Absolutely. it’s, it’s depressing for some at times it’s certainly financially impacting people and, but it’s not gonna last, it will, it will be done someday. And I think you, that having that belief, knowing that it, you know, when you think of something hard that you went through it, wasn’t forever mm-hmm . And at the same time, what gives hope is that there’s other people that you can, that you can be helpful to around you. And that in itself is very, oh, very inspiring to, to see others doing that, to, to watching, you know, students making things for others, for the can.


Deb Lawlor (25:46):
I mean, the can food drives aren’t happening in the same ways that they did before, but we’re still finding people who are thinking outside the box. And I think when I see that when I see people being innovative, when I see people being creative with the situations they’ve been given, and yet seeing really neat things that they’re doing with their students, that gives me hope within, you know what’s gonna happen. And, and you sort of get pushed outside your comfort zone. But I think that gives me hope in the sense too, that we’re doing things that we might not have done. Had we not been put in this position? Yeah. You know, there’s been a lot of quick changes. People are collaborating a lot more now because they need to. Yeah. And they’re seeking help out from other people. I, I, I put an all call out to my, to my Chim leads across the province, you know, back in October when I was like, oh my gosh, I don’t know what to do with this.


Deb Lawlor (26:35):
And, and I got 13, 14 responses. And then I connected with those people by phone and followed up. And then we chatted about things. And then I went, okay, I’m not the only one dealing with this. Someone else is feeling the same thing I am. And someone else is going through something similar. And as you talk to someone, you just kind of go, okay, I’m not alone in this. There there’s others who are going through the exact same thing. And then you stop being so hard on yourself in what you’re trying to deal with because others are doing the same thing.


Sam Demma (27:02):
Yeah. I love that. And your hope is hopefully rubbing off on your hope, the listener. I hope this reminds you that there is always a perspective shift that you can have, right? That’s the whole idea of change. What you’re believing about the situation. It will change how you feel. It will change your actions and you’ll get a totally different result. Deb, if you could travel back in time and speak to your younger self, when you just got into education, what would you say?


Deb Lawlor (27:30):
Oh, so if I’m, I’m speaking to myself from my perspective now to my younger self?


Sam Demma (27:34):
Yeah. In education. Okay.


Deb Lawlor (27:37):
Don’t take it personally. I love it. I think as young educator is we take everything personally. We are upset if they don’t do the homework, the student doesn’t do their homework in our class. We’re upset when they walk out and say, I hate you. That we’re upset when, you know you, you plan this great lesson, you put all this effort and it totally bombs. And the kids think it sucks. You know? Like I, I think you can’t take it personally. You do the best that you can with what you’ve got and that’s gonna develop over time. I think part of it is I would tell myself I would tell myself it doesn’t have to be perfect. I think there’s so much, we strive that, you know, you’ve gotta have that perfect lesson. It’s gotta be, everyone’s gotta receive it in the right way.


Deb Lawlor (28:20):
And, and everyone being happy with it. I’d probably tell myself not to work so many long hours. I burn the candles a lot when, you know, and you do as a young teacher because yeah, you just, you need to you until you get the experience until you, you know, figure out what it is you, and if you’re teaching something different all the time, it’s, it’s inevitable it’s gonna happen. What else would I tell myself? I would tell myself to, to enjoy the ride. Mm. But really enjoy the ride because it, it, and I think I did, I eventually, I, I started to do that to really, to, to it’s about the journey. It’s not about the endpoint really, to, and, and not to be afraid to, well, certainly to not worry so much about the content. And it’s more about, it’s more about the skills that you’re teaching the kids.


Deb Lawlor (29:08):
And again, sort of my beginning year, my first, you know, five, six years that wasn’t in my mind as I, as I grew, and as I got more experienced, you, you start to enjoy those kids who who are the challenge, the kids who don’t agree with you, who, who will push and who have issues that you start to realize that you can help mold and help guide them. And it’s not all about having the kid who puts their hand up all the time and raises their hand and hands everything in and does everything you want them to. And doesn’t talk back to you. After a while I started seeking out the kids who I thought you’ll be okay without me, you’re gonna do fine and be all right, but you need a little more attention and, and, and you need in year and you need me to ask you, how are you doing today? You know, scale of one to 10, where are you at just doing a check in? Doesn’t need to tell me a, any information. I don’t need to know the details, but if I know you’re a four today, then I’m gonna deal with you a little bit different than if you’re at an eight, you know, and, and, and cut you a little slack and give you a little bit of room and be understanding that, Nope, you’re not gonna get that assignment into me today. And it’s not the end of the world.


Sam Demma (30:18):
I like that. That’s awesome. Deb, thank you so much for coming and sharing some of your wisdom and advice on the show here today, and some of your own personal journey through education. If another educator wants to reach out to you, what would be the best way for them to do so maybe Twitter or an email or whatever you prefer.


Deb Lawlor (30:35):
Yeah, they can, they can give me an email at debbie.lawlor@ocsb.ca. So debbie.lawlor@ocsb.ca. My Twitter handle is @deb_lawlor.


Sam Demma (30:55):
All right. Awesome. Thanks so much, Deb. I look forward to staying in touch and seeing where your travels take you next.


Deb Lawlor (31:02):
Sam’s it’s been a pleasure to be here.


Sam Demma (31:04):
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 want to 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 so soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Deb Lawlor

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.

Hugues Bertrand – Social Studies and Leadership Teacher

Hugues Bertrand – Social Studies and Leadership Teacher
About Hugues Bertrand

Hugues Bertrand is a Social Studies and Leadership teacher at Pierrefonds Community High School in Pierrefonds Quebec for 26 years now. Long time Quebec leadership advisor, Canadian Student Leadership Conference (CSLC) 2010 chair and Canadian Student Leadership Association (CSLA) member. 

Hugues has always been a student life enthusiast helping students discover themselves and reaching their true potential. He truly believes in being open-minded when interacting with students and emphasizes the importance of simply listening to what they have to say.

Connect with Hugues: Email

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Pierrefonds Community High School

Canadian Student Leadership Conference

Canadian Student Leadership Association

Speakers Bureau of Canada

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 Hugh Bertrand. He’s been teaching for over 26 years. He’s also a huge fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers. He had a virtual background on zoom during our interview, and he airs so many amazing insights into ideas to engage his students, to make them feel a little more appreciated and valued during this time. And he also shares this idea about keeping an envelope of all the notes he has been receiving over the years of teaching and calling it his bad day file, where if he’s not having a great day, he pulls a note out, reads it to remind him self, why you got into education. There’s so many other insightful ideas on this episode. I hope you enjoy it. Take notes, listen actively, and I’ll see you on the other side. Thank you so much for taking some time out of your busy schedule to come out onto the High Performing Educators podcast. I’m curious to know, can you share with the audience who you are and what you into the work that you do with youth today?


Hugues Bertrand (01:04):
Okay, well, I’m I’m Hugues, I’ve been teaching for 26 years. I got started teaching, I guess my dad was a teacher, so that that’s obviously I knew a bit about the job but definitely doing a lot of student life stuff that that’s just, you know, wanting to make a difference and helped kids reach their potential you know, overcome the roadblocks. That’s thrown at them like by themselves or by others. So that’s kind of been my motivation.


Sam Demma (01:31):

Awesome. When did you know a lot of teachers, I speak to say they, they knew at this super young age, some of them say they figured it out after going to university. What was the case for you?


Hugues Bertrand (01:39):

I think you know, what I decided just before, you know, university I had all these different jobs you know, from being a lawyer notary to dentist and and and then just before university, when I to decide, I, you know, decided to go into teaching first it was Phys. Ed. and then high school degree. And you know, and then I just kind of branched out to social studies and in high school. So that’s, that’s when I decided it.


Sam Demma (02:06):

That’s awesome. And you’ve been teaching longer than I’ve been alive. That just means that you’re a wise and, and you know, so much about it and can provide so much great insight. And I’m really curious to kind of dive a little bit more into that. Have you been at the same school for your entire 26 years? Have you bounced around what kind of different roles have you played in?


Hugues Bertrand (02:29):

I have been pretty lucky. I’ve been in two schools. I started in, in an inner city school in Montreal for four years. Yep. And then that school closed. And then I moved to the, the school I’m at now PCHS in Pierrefonds. And I’ve been there for while now it’s like 22 years.


Sam Demma (02:42):

Awesome. So cool. And there’s a lot of challenges this year in education. Things are definitely different. I don’t want to make it negative or seem like there’s roadblocks in every way we turn, but COVID presented us with opportunities and challenges. What are some of those challenges that you’re seeing day to day in your school and whether it’s virtually while you’re at home or sitting in an office?


Hugues Bertrand (03:04):

When I think about that question is it’s, you know, like overall, like the help, right? Like, that’s like, you gotta be conscious of your own health. And then your, and your student’s health and your own family. As I explained to my students, like on day one you know, guys, like, you know, I’m more, all this PPE welcome to the new normal this, this didn’t feel normal to me. And I was very honest with them. And know they were all wearing masks in class. I was very lucky. My students were pretty good. I mean, they don’t have to wear it. They can, they can take it off while they’re sitting, but most of them do which share reassuring. So that that’s definitely like some of the challenges, like the hell aspect of it, it kids being off for six months in Quebec, like that was like, you know, that was like, they’re rusty. So that’s something that we need to keep in mind. you know, and in the mix, my school, like the seniors mix one day at school, one day at home. So like juggling the online and, and in class you know, like you got to adapt, like they have to, but you also have to adapt.


Sam Demma (03:59):

Yeah. That’s so true. How do you find teaching virtually is it a challenge? How do you get cameras? How do you get students to turn their cameras on and raise their hands and, and speak in class is difficult?


Hugues Bertrand (04:10):

Right. I, I find it’s made me a better teacher. Like I realize that the other day, like you know, I was being ready for a session and, and I definitely keep it shorter. Our classes are 75 minutes school and, and, you know, I pants to myself, lecturing. I rarely lecture for 35 minutes at school anyway. So I try to like mix it up and you know, having them to have their cameras on is, is a challenge. You know, like I know like there’s some schools that have rules and they have to have it on, but then it’s like, you know, it’s, it’s facing a wall or, yeah. You know, I noticed this morning, I was, I was teach out a few online classes and some of their bad, they were, some of them were in their bedroom and it was really dark.


Hugues Bertrand (04:45):

Like I could see the shades were down and everything. And I, I made a few comments, like guys, like, you know, like, it’s almost like it’s night in your room. Like, , you know, let, let let in some lights. But yeah, it’s not easy. I, I try to to flip the classroom a bit. So I put some talking points up and then I, and I try to engage them. And even though like, when you share documents, depending on what you’re using, you don’t see them all, but like, I call out their names, so then they have to kind of be there. And and I, you know, I, I kind of like share, like, I usually share material with them ahead of class or during class. I’m like, Hey guys, there’s a video here. That’s 15 minutes when I’m done, you’re gonna know, watch this. And then be ready to talk about it next class. So I kind of like, it’s, it’s made me a better teacher, I think, cuz I have to think about delivery. I have to think about the material I’m using. Some of the things that I was using, I can’t use anymore in the same way. So I, I think like, you know, it’s forced me to be more creative.


Sam Demma (05:37):

That’s awesome. I think that’s a beautiful way to look at it. No, one’s given me a response like that yet. And I’ve done a dozen in interview so far making you a better teacher. So you look at it from the positive perspective. There’s so much challenges going on right now, but like you are looking at this from a positive angle. I’m curious to know what gives you hope personally despite the challenges, what keeps you going, what keeps you motivated and hopeful with the work that you’re doing?


Hugues Bertrand (06:03):

I think I, I believe in the end science will win. I mean I think that’s, you know, you have to think that this is gonna, this too shall pass is gonna end. If not, I think you just gotta go bonkers. So you gotta, you gotta believe that it’s gonna, there’s gonna be an, we don’t know when you know, I mean so, so, and I think it, it forced people to take a look at their own life. What really matters obviously when we were quarantined for like all these months in the winter last year, you know, like, I mean like my, my wife’s the teacher also, so we were both at home teaching from home. Our two kids were at home going to school at home. So, you know, so that forced us to kind of like, you know work around those things. But it’s a, it’s kind of like, you know, you gotta slow down. I think, I think it’s forced me to slow down and then, okay, so I can’t do this and this and this anymore. So I think, I think, you know, like I have the hope that it’s, you know, I, I hone, I, sorry, I hope I, I hold onto the hope that it’s it’s, you know, science will win. And then basically you know, and then I kind of like just kind of prioritize things.


Sam Demma (07:04):

That’s awesome. I love that. It makes perfect sense. There’s nothing else that we can do this. Stuff’s kind of out of our control and we have to just let it play. Its play its part and then we’ll get going when it’s done. I’ve spoken again to dozens of educators already. And I’ve asked them this question, you know, we’ve, you’ve been in education for 26 years. You’ve helped dozens of students, maybe not even academically, but also with their mental health, with their physical health. Maybe you’ve mentored them, gave them some life changing advice. And maybe once or twice someone’s written you a letter when they’re like 20 years older saying hug, you changed my life back in class. And now I’m doing this job because of what you said. And I’m curious to know what can we do during COVID that will ensure that the kids that are in your class right now have that same response 20 years later. Like how do we, how do we care for our kids right now?


Hugues Bertrand (07:56):

I think, I think we gotta be there and listen we gotta be patient. You know, I mean, I’m getting like, you know, they have lots of questions and, and they have a lot of things that they’re not sure about. And then so I think we gotta hear them out. I like, for example, like, you know, like I mentioned, there’s six months, like kind of rust that asked needs to be knocked off. So, you know, things like, you know, maybe you would’ve done three, three projects and from one and then maybe you’ll do two and maybe you’ll have to walk them through things. You know and then if they’re like, you go off topic, like you gotta, you know, like you ha you have to take the time to listen to them. And, and, and sometimes this is the best thing you can do is listen.


Hugues Bertrand (08:34):

You know when I think back of kids, who’ve gone back to me over the years. You know, and unfortunately I there’s been many in, in those are bonuses that I call as I call them. Mm-Hmm you know, I think, I think, yeah, what did I do while I listen? I gave him the time you know, and like we had a case at school yesterday, like it was announced, but the way it’s announced, it’s, it’s, you know, there’s a student in a class bubble that that’s positive. So that question, that kid was already at home, so they isolate the class and yet, but some other kids in the school were like, you know, they were, I, my grade 11 class, they were upset. We wanna know who it is. We wanna know what level. And I know I, and I stopped the lesson to kind of explain like what you can’t it’s privacy it’s, you know, how would you feel is of people knew your help you know, what, what goes on between you and the doctor?


Hugues Bertrand (09:18):

So, but I mean, I could have like, just pushed a lesson, but I stopped mm-hmm cause I think they, they were uneasy. They were nervous. They, they, they, they want, they were, they were reacting to this situation. So I think we need that’s what we need to do is we need to slow down. We need to listen to them. You know, we don’t all, maybe we don’t have all the answers, but at least if we’re listening to them and gave ’em a chance to like, like a platform you know, and, and, and also I think sometimes like we gotta you know, try to like, not steer away from it, but like, you know, there’s other things going on in COVID is everywhere in the social media. It’s, it’s in news, it’s everywhere. So I think they kind of need a bit of release from that.


Sam Demma (09:53):

Sometimes I love that we have two ears of one mouth. My mentor told me, it means you have to listen twice as much as we speak. And I think it’s a beautiful testament, especially in a classroom when student voice is being heard very little, especially right now with what’s going on. And aside from teachers, they’re the next in line being affected to a major degree. So I think that’s a beautiful point. And I appreciate you for sharing that in terms of, of students that have been impacted by your direct teaching and mentorship over the years, I would love for you to share a story or two that touches your heart deeply of a student you’ve impacted. You can change their name for the sake of privacy, but do you have a story you’d like to share of a, a student who’s maybe talked to you after they graduated and said, how big of an impact they had on, on, on their life?


Hugues Bertrand (10:39):

You know what, like, it’s funny, you mentioned that and I get emotional and then like having taught 26 years and you know, and, and I, I’m kind, I think I’m the same guy after 26 years. I’m a little bit wiser. I, I sometimes like you know, I’m better at what I do. But yeah, there’s a few that I can say I can think of, but I think like, you know, when I, I think back on my first four years of teaching in inner city you know, being like 23 and, and, and I remember like, like the kids I bonded well with the kids and, and them with me. And so I guess like 30 years later, like I get these, the Facebook you know, I mean, I’m old, so I’m on Facebook.


Hugues Bertrand (11:19):

And I got this Facebook messenger from, from an ex student. You know, who’s now as a family of five kids and says, look, I just wanted to let you know, thank you for impacting my life. And I wanna let you know that I have a job now. And, you know, and I got out of like where inner city, where we lived and I’m married, I have five kids and I’m working. And so that, that, that was really meaningful for me. And this is, this was the student I always said I was closed with. And I took under my wing and you know, spent a lot of time with listening and sometimes steering them in the, in the right direction. You know, I mean, if I come closer in, in, in, you know, to my career, like, like in the last 10 years, like I have students, I still, I have a group of students that I, I talk to well actually I it’s like a group of that.


Hugues Bertrand (12:03):

I, I, that I once in a while, I’ll, I’ll drop a message, like don’t need to respond and just, just you know, thanking them from like I on Facebook. So I get to see their life and I see what they’re doing and, you know, just kind of like tell ’em, they’re all success stories. And these are kids that I’ve like, you know, over the years, like reached out to me again with, with thank you for being there or thank you for you know, what you did for me. And you know, it’s, it’s nice to have that connection. I actually have nobody knows this , that’s cool. I have I have like a folder on my desk and it’s been like, I keep it on my desk every year. And it’s like letters or notes I’ve gotten from kids over the years.


Hugues Bertrand (12:41):

And you know, so I just know when, when you have an off day, you know, you’ll open that folder and like, you know, it sets you back. So nobody knows what that folder is, or at least now, but yeah, that’s that, that’s something for me. Like, I, I’ve been very AP very lucky, you know, I mean that the kids I always tell kids you know, not for me, but like, you know, you got to let people know, like, you know, if they made a difference in your life good or bad, you got to let them know. You know, cuz if you don’t let them know, they’ll never know that they made a difference. So, you know, yeah, I’ve been, I’ve been very, very lucky.


Sam Demma (13:12):

Yeah. Sometimes they don’t send those messages or write those letters until 20 years down the road. And I think educators sometimes, especially the younger ones who are just starting don’t realize the impact they’re having and half the purpose of this podcast is to remind them that no, what you’re doing is important, despite the challenges we’re currently facing the work is needed now more than ever. And the stories of impact do surface, maybe not right now, but they might 10, 15 years from now or when you least expect it. And I think that idea of having a folder on your desk is beautiful. Do you remember any of the letters that you recently have read?


Hugues Bertrand (13:49):

Well I had, I had one a student sent me a copy of a university paper that you were roles in sociology and it was like, you know, something shed done for in university and it was about me. So , so it was really, you know, it was I was very humbled. And, and this is someone who’s like now in their thirties with, you know, two kids, but you know, I mean, I, I, I think back I’ve done mean there’s I, you know, I guess there’s so many, like, you know, that that’s hard to pinpoint one, but they’re all, they’re all you know, they all touch me like, you know, I find it very touching, so and I, and you’re right. Like, you know, we have the power as teachers, like, you know, we can make or break a kids’ day.


Hugues Bertrand (14:33):

Like, and, and we need to remember that. Because sometimes, you know, like like kids, like you know, they, they they’re fragile even if they don’t show it. So, so, you know, we have that you know, like we, we may say something or do something that’s gonna turn off a kid completely and we might, and the worst thing is you may not notice. And then they’ll just go on you know, so good or bad. So I think we, we need to be mindful of that. You know, teaching teaching is, is an important profession and you know, and I think a lot of responsibility comes with that.


Sam Demma (15:07):

That’s so true. That’s awesome. I appreciate you sharing the story and the letters and the, the good moments. I can see the smile that you brought to your face, which is awesome. And it’s encouraging for anyone else to hear. And I love the idea. Again, if anyone’s listening, go make your own folder, we can call it the folder of appreciation or whatever you, you wanna label it and put it on your desk and put all your letters in it and revisit them. When you’re feeling down. I have a similar concept that a coach told me and it’s called that you done good list, and it’s not things that other people have given to me or said to me, but it’s things that I’m proud of that I’ve done. And when I feel like I’m not doing enough where I feel like I’m moving too slow, instead of focusing on where I want to go, I focus on where I’ve already gone, what I’ve already done, where I’ve already been, the people I’ve already impacted and met, and that change of focus leads to so much more positive decisions.


Sam Demma (15:57):

And I think it’s, it’s evident not only in education, but in all areas of life. So again, thanks for, for sharing that on a, a separate note. It’s really difficult right now to bring in powerful messages into a school. And I’m sure, or you’ve dealt with bringing in speakers for dozens of years right now. It’s harder than ever. If someone’s listening an educator that might be a little bit younger, not as wise just yet, , they’re building their wisdom. They wanna, you know, bring someone into their school to speak. How would you advise them to do so? Maybe even without COVID like, what do you look for in a person to bring in front of your students?


Hugues Bertrand (16:33):

I, I think whenever you’re gonna bring somebody in front of your student, like, you know, as one of my mentors always said, like, you have to have seen them or somebody you trust is seen them, like, so that’s school number one, like just bring in somebody just to bring somebody is the, is the bad idea. Yeah. So like you have to have like seen them or heard and, or, or somebody you trust. I seen them I think you gotta think of case this could be meaningful to my students and maybe you may find it’s really like, this is really good, but like, you know, you gotta know your students. Yeah. What, what they’re needing obviously right now it’s complicated. You know, I was, I know at school, like I was, you know, reaching out administration about maybe starting some student life this year, again, you know, and through, through the bubbles and, you know, and then the next day we have a case at school.


Hugues Bertrand (17:13):

So I’m like that didn’t get that, that fell down the list of things to do for the, for my principal by no fault of hit of his. So I think ask around, I mean, there’s some great organizations in Canada you know for, for leadership. So there’s Speakers Bureau. And so, so you can, like, you can see now with technology you can usually see clips of speakers and presenters. So like that that’s, I mean, do your homework, check it out, talk to people, ask questions you know, ask definitely there’s lots of good people to bring in like you know, kids, kids you know, they, they, sometimes you need to change it up and, and they respond you know, to somebody else, you you’d be saying the same thing, but you bring, somebody give the same message and sudden like, oh, it’s heard. But you know, by, by any means necessary, like that’s, that’s always one of, some of my mantra.


Sam Demma (18:00):

No, that’s awesome. And when it comes to speakers, what do you thinks the most important thing in relation to having impact on the students? Is it content the person shares? Is it the way they deliver it? Is it how they engage the students? Is it because it’s interactive? Is it their age?


Hugues Bertrand (18:16):

I think I’ve, I’ve been very fortunate again having been involved with leadership and, and, and going to conferences and hosting conferences. So I’ve been exposed to many, many speakers. I would say the delivery it’s not just the age. But I think the delivery, how they interact with the students is, is, is big because like, you know, you have to, you have to hook them as they, they say , but you’ll have a, it’s a mix of that, a message too, because if you have them, but then you don’t have a message or don’t deliver the message then it’s you know, once you have your attention. But I think, I think the interaction with student is, is very, very important.


Sam Demma (18:52):

Okay, cool. No, that’s awesome. And is there any plans, not, maybe not even in your school, but in other schools to do stuff virtually or is that totally out of the question?


Hugues Bertrand (19:01):

I think, I think the plan is there, the idea is there. I know I, I sit on the, our central student committee at the school board and give kids from all the, every school. And we were talking last week, you know, we usually have a senior leadership day. We have a junior leadership day and we said, well, you know, we could probably do it online you know, and bring in people. So I think the plan is there. I think it’s just right now, we’re kind of like, you know, as think cases are going up, like colors changing. So we’re just kind of like, yeah, you know, we’re gonna see where we’re gonna be with this. You know, and I think it’s one of things where we may have to adapt, but yeah, I think online for now, online speaking and is, is, is probably the way we’re gonna do this.


Sam Demma (19:38):

That’s awesome. It’s also encouraging to hear for other educators. It’s, it’s not the end, right? No, this is just a bump in the road. If someone’s listening right now, who’s a fellow educator who’s a little bit burnt out. Not maybe they just started this career. Imagine you were 23 years old and this was your first year of teaching and there was someone your age talking to you when you were 23, what would you tell that 23 year old who’s just starting in this industry?


Hugues Bertrand (20:04):

Be yourself, cuz kids will know like that’s kids kids will figure out pretty quick. So just be yourself, which I think is one of my strengths. When I talk to students that I’ve had that like, you know, what are 10 years ago, 20 years ago? You know, I’m like, you know, like, I haven’t changed. I mean, I’m, I’m more gray. I, the same haircut you, although it’s long now, but you know, like like at the same haircut I haven’t changed you know, they, they come to my classroom or if they, you know, green hackers. Yeah. That was my team when I was 16. So it’s not gonna change. You know, so like be yourself you know, be open open-minded listen, listen to them. You know kids don’t do well when you come in and just talk to them like that’s or anybody for that, for that, for that matter, don’t be shy to as for help.


Hugues Bertrand (20:51):

You know that’s that these are things that you know, but be yourself, be open-minded listen to them. You know, be fair. I think like kids will respond well to that and, and, you know, it’s, it’s a great job, but it’s not for everyone. I, and, and it’s not you know, it’s, it’s, it’s, you gotta work, you know, you gotta, I mean, I I’ve been doing this 26 years and I still, still learning every day. Like, you’re, I still screw up sometimes. You know, and, and I, and I, I’m still learning, I was talking about how I adapted everything. I’ve been adapting and changing things don’t to, to, to be successful you know, and do the job, you know, in the last year or so. So now I think you just, you just gotta, you know, keep an open mind.


Sam Demma (21:34):

Love it. Open mind, listen, twice as much as you speak, ask for help, these are all great pieces of advice. Hugues, thank you so much for taking some time to do this interview today and inspire some fellow educators. I’m curious to know if anyone in the audience wants to reach out to you and maybe bounce some ideas around that’s another educator how can they reach you in, how can they do that?


Hugues Bertrand (21:54):

Well, I don’t I, I have a, I guess email would probably be the best way. I mean, I have a Facebook page, but that’d be hard to find me, so my email probably the best way to reach me. Okay. I was gonna make a joke and say mySpace, but I don’t even know what that is. So it has to be pretty old. So yeah, hbertrand@lbpearson.ca is probably the best way to reach me through email. And then we can go from there. I don’t have a website or anything, although you know so that, that’s probably the best way to reach me.


Sam Demma (22:24):

Okay. Awesome. Here again. Thank you so much, so much wisdom, so much to share, and I really appreciate you making some time. Oh, you’re welcome. I hope you enjoyed the episode with Hugues Bertrand so much practical advice and ideas to share. Please reach out to Hugues. He’d love to hear from you. He loves connecting with fellow educators and teachers like yourself. And as always, if you took something away from these interviews, if you’re taking something away from them and you’re learning something new, consider leaving a rating review. So more educators just like you can find this content and benefit from it. And if you have insightful stories or inspiring ideas that we can use in schools right now, please reach out at info@samdemma.com. So we can get you on the show and share those stories with your colleagues. Talk soon, see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Hugues Bertrand

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.

Richard Vissers – Director of Admissions at Holy Trinity School

Richard Vissers – Director of Admissions at Holy Trinity School
About Richard Vissers

Richard Vissers joined Holy Trinity School (HTS) in 1996 as the senior chemistry teacher. Since then, he has also served as the Grade 9 and 10 Coordinator, Guidance Counsellor, Director of HTS Camps, and Chair of the Miller Thomson Scholarship Committee. Whether coaching a team, guiding the yearbook, or organizing the House and Leadership programs, Richard has worked in all areas to provide opportunities for students to engage and develop pride in their school, which will stay with them for a lifetime.

Richard attended Trent University to achieve a Bachelor of Science (Honours) and then Queen’s University to achieve a Bachelors of Education.

Connect with Richard: Email | Linkedin

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Holy Trinity School

Trent University

Queen’s University

Prep Skills College Expo

Lifelong Learning

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 special guest is Richard Vissers. He is the Director of Admissions at Holy Trinity School. He joined Holy Trinity School in 1996 as the senior chemistry teacher. Since then, he has also served as the grade 9 and 10 coordinator guidance, counselor, Director of the Holy Trinity School camp and chair of the Miller Thomson Scholarship Committee. Whether coaching a team, guiding the yearbook or organizing the health and leadership programs, Richard has worked in all areas to provide opportunities for students to engage and develop pride in their school, which will stay with them for a lifetime. And I can tell you from my interview with Richard, there’s a ton of value he has to share and advice to provide. I hope you enjoy this as much as I enjoyed recording it. I’ll see you on the other side. Richard, thank you so much for coming on the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show. I know we met at the beginning of the year, which for both of us felt like a long time. We go as a part of the Prep Skills College Expo, but tell the audience, why don’t you start by telling the audience a little bit more about yourself and how you got into the work you’re doing with young people today?


Richard Vissers (01:12):

Sure. Well, first off Sam, thanks so much for having me today. I really appreciate the opportunity and I have been teaching. I’m almost embarrassed to, I’ve been teaching for a long time now and I started at a boarding school over 20 years ago, and that was that was trial by fire. When you work at a boarding school, you have lots of different hats. And so I’ve been at the current school HTS right now for over 20 years. And I’ve had lots of great opportunities here. And as when, when you first reached out to me and invited me to participate, I started thinking about, you know, what got me into this role, what got me into teaching, I suppose. And really, I started to think about some of the people in my life back when I was in school, high school in particular, but even before that, you know, teachers that took an interest in me and that’s those of the memories that I have that are strongest and most positive and actually reflect a lot of what I’m doing now on a daily basis.


Richard Vissers (02:09):

So it was teachers that took the time to get to know you took an interest in you and, and came forward with ideas and, and kind of pushed me a little bit to, to try some new things that I probably you know, slightly she that I probably wouldn’t have done without some, some motivation, some encouragement and a little and a little bit of a push. So I think that’s probably, what’s mostly gotten me into what I, what I’m doing today. And those are the, some of the things that I thought about when you reached out.


Sam Demma (02:40):

Tell me more about those teachers and what they did or how they pushed you. I’d love to know.


Richard Vissers (02:48):

Let’s see you know, one of the people I had an English teacher, she reached out to me she said, you know, I’m really looking for someone to join and be a photographer, take some pictures around the school and get involved in that way. I had a, I, I tried in for the hockey team. I wasn’t the greatest hockey player, but I tried out, I didn’t make the team. But the coach you know, we had a good relationship. I was in a class that he was teaching. He, he connected with me a couple days later and said, you know, Richard saw you worked hard and we’d still like you to be involved. Could you help about and come along? And, you know, there’s managing and there’s on the bench and travel and all that. So you know, those are some people that really stuck their neck out for me and saw, you know, got me to be involved in the school.


Richard Vissers (03:30):

And, and so those are some of the things that kind of stuck with me. And I had some friends too at school that reached out and said, you know, you should really do this. And had a, one of my, one of my friends the track and field team was leaving. And I said, yeah, I’m doing track this year. And then I didn’t, I wasn’t gonna go. And she jumped in said, why aren’t you going, you know, that’s the best part of the day. You get to leave, you get to compete. And so I managed to get outta my class and jump on the bus and had a great day, and it was pretty successful and and kept at it for a few more years. So those are some memories of people kind of extending themselves to me. And, and that’s the, that’s the type of work that I’m doing now. I really think work in my position, Director of Admissions is really about finding kids and finding great families and providing some opportunity so they can come in and take advantage.


Sam Demma (04:17):

I love that that’s a, it’s an admirable role and every single player on the team, including the management, if you’re talking about hockey is super important, and I’m sure, you know, the school, the students, the administration is a little different this year in terms of the challenges you’re faced with as compared to maybe last year or time in the past. What, what are some of the challenges this school is facing right now? And how are they overcoming them or how are you overcoming them?


Richard Vissers (04:47):

It is a challenge, Sam. There’s no question about it. This is a different world a different environment and families, however, still are, are looking into finding a place for their children, finding a school for their children. And, and it’s a huge investment emotionally. It’s a, it is a huge investment financially as well, and they take a lot of time. They take it very seriously and you know, their children’s education is, is probably the single most important thing they’re going to consider as they, as they have children and, and their families grow. And it’s, it’s a very touchy, feely process. Families want to come into a school, they wanna see it, they want to feel it. They want to hear it. And the biggest challenge in, in my role and the people that I work with here the, the challenge is to replicate that somehow.


Richard Vissers (05:37):

And I’m very fortunate. I work in a school where I know that the students here take great pride. They love coming to school. They really do. They really, really do run to run to the doors when they get here in the morning, you know, they’re that excited to be with their teachers and their friends. And so how do you replicate that? How do you, how do you allow a family to look under the hood, so to speak and get a sense of how things work here and get, and get that feeling. That’ll make them feel good about their decision when they choose to apply or enroll at the school. And so those are the biggest challenges. That’s the number one challenge that that we’ve faced here. And every admissions office in every school’s faced with right now.


Sam Demma (06:18):

Yeah, no, that’s a, it’s a tough challenge, but it sounds like you’re doing a, a pretty great job at, at overcoming it. I’m curious to know what’s working in the school and with admissions what what’s working right now.


Richard Vissers (06:32):

Absolutely. Student voices are probably the big guess thing that we’ve leveraged. And we always have, but we’ve just had to find a new way to, to leverage that, you know, the parents would normally show up at school and say, hello, a few words to myself and my colleagues. And, and then we would pass them off to one of our student ambassadors, one of our tour guides and, and they take it from there. And invariably they’d come back 20 minutes later, half an hour later, an hour later, and there’s all smiles. And you can just tell that they’ve really gotten a sense of what the school looks like, and, and the kids here have done a great job. So it’s their voices that we want to include. And so, you know, just like you and I are chatting video conference now, we we’ve extended that.


Richard Vissers (07:14):

We’ve got lots of students that join us online to meet with families and to answer questions, we’ve run some student panels so that we have some of our student leaders all lined up with some questions ready to go, and parents are invited to log in and they’re, we invite them to make sure their children are paying attention to and with them. And so that they can hear these student voices. We really kind of leveraged friends as well. We wanna know when we, when we meet families who do you know, that might already be at the school and so that we can connect them and, and connect them with maybe students that are coming from a similar school, similar background. And so that you know, that there’s some credibility there that they’re not just seeing it virtually. They’re actually hearing it from people that, that they know and have some faith in already.


Richard Vissers (08:01):

And, and so those are ways we’ve also leveraged our parents in the same way. You know, most schools would say their parents are their biggest tool for marketing. You know, word of mouth is there’s, there’s no better form. And so we’ve gotten parents involved for in panels discussions like that as well, where they can come on board and answer questions, and the prospective families can, can listen in and hear their experience. And, and some of the thoughts and emotion that went into their decision making. And so it’s not rocket science. We’re putting people together online, virtually like this. But it it’s worked well. And I, and I think parents appreciate the effort and appreciate the access to some of these parents and students that are with us.


Sam Demma (08:45):

Oh, that’s awesome. And, you know, you mentioned people that, you know, and it, it jumped for me, it jumped to your colleagues like anyone in education would be, you know, happy to have a conversation with yourself, with anyone else who’s, you know, working in a school. I’m really curious to know, I know we touched upon it earlier about, you know, how you got into your role. Right now I’m curious to know what actually directed you to education though. And what, what emotions made you decide you wanted to get in, into, you know, the role of a teacher or admissions officer. Where did that come from?


Richard Vissers (09:20):

That’s a great question. And I had to think about that a little bit too and think about some of the influences earlier on in my life before I even got to university. And I mean, for, for so many people, it starts with their parents and, and my mom in particular manner, my, at her, right. And I’ve used that line with families that I meet every day, but it, my mom and instilled in me a sense of manners and, and respect for people. And that started out in an early job delivering papers. And I know that doesn’t happen very much anymore. So the car drives by and tosses the paper into my, into my driveway, but it made you, it made me get out there and meet people and talk to people and, and have to use my manners and develop some kind of customer service skills so to speak.


Richard Vissers (10:06):

And I found I was pretty good at it. And over the years, I had lots of jobs growing up that were, that were in kind of a customer service area. And so when I got through to university and I was looking around at things that might be a good fit for me, I thought, you know, I really enjoy working with people. I really enjoy working with students. And, and it was a really great teaching program at the school that I was at. And so I applied after my first year of university and I was accepted and had some great intern along the way. And so it took off from there and I’ve, and I’ve been doing it ever since.


Sam Demma (10:43):

And when you’re feeling down or unmotivated, what do you kind of reflect on to keep yourself going? What, what keeps you motivated during tough times?


Richard Vissers (10:51):

That’s an easy, easy answer here because I have the ability to still get up from my desk, walk down the, a hall and jump into the kindergarten classroom. Mm. And you don’t have to spend too many minutes with a group of four year olds and five year olds to understand why you’re in, why you’re in a school, why you’re teaching those kids. They look at you, you know, your, their friend right away. Right. big smile goes a long way and, and come. And so you end up reading with them, you end up sitting and talking with them. And so when I’m having a tough day at school or, you know, you kind of need some, some motivation it doesn’t hurt to wander down and, and see some of the youngsters, it really it’s better than a better than a cup of coffee.


Sam Demma (11:34):

I love that. And, and what, you know, that keeps you motivated, what keeps you hopeful? What, you know, what keeps you hopeful about the work that you’re doing in a school?


Richard Vissers (11:46):

Well, a school like this HTS that I work at it really truly is about opportunity. I think that’s the word that I’ll use with families and with students more often than, than most others. We want students that are gonna come in and take advantage. We have some really great facilities. We have really fantastic teachers. We have really fantastic programs and we want students that’ll come in and, and take advantage and, and look at this as an opportunity and kind of, we want them to come in with big dinner plates of eyes. Right. They’re so excited to, to jump in and, and to be able to try some of these things so forth. So that that’s something that resonates with, with most families when we’re sitting down.


Sam Demma (12:28):

No, that’s awesome. And you know, if I wanted to stop by of the school, would it be too much to ask to stop by the kindergarten section?


Richard Vissers (12:40):

I would love to. Absolutely. You know, I I’ll tell families. We have strategically placed the kindergarten classroom pretty much in the heart of the school. Nice. And whether you’re in grade 12 and coming down for lunch, or you are in our middle school heading to the gym you’re going to have to walk by those classrooms and they see and hear everything you say and do. And they, they, when they can, they wanna hug you and say hello to you and high five, you, they want you to stop in and, and be their friend. And and so absolutely Sam and when we can have visitors back in the building, you are most welcome to come in and have a, and I’ll take you by the kindergarten classroom. You’ll have 16 new friends just like that.


Sam Demma (13:18):

That’s awesome. That’s so cool. And, you know, if you could go back in time, speak to your younger self and, you know, give advice you’ve been in education, you mentioned for over 20 years, I’m sure you’ve learned some things and gain some invaluable wisdom. If you could, your former self, what pieces of advice would you give knowing what you know now?


Richard Vissers (13:39):

Absolutely. you know, one of the, kind of the, the philosophy right now, the language at our school that we’re using every day is to be a lifelong learner. Hmm. And, you know, at times you, people are resistant, they’re set their path, you know, they’re, they’re comfortable with what they’re doing and how they’re doing it. And change is always a challenge for people. But I really think that as I reflect especially now in a new technical world, digital world, you know, there’s lots of skills that that I can still be using and learning about and leveraging every day. And so you know, our message for our kids here is you’re gonna be learning for the rest of your life. Well, you know, that applies to me too. And so right now I’m kind of in the middle of it.


Richard Vissers (14:26):

This is something that I haven’t done before, you know, interviewing like this. And so you know, I want to take advantage of that and, and go through processes like that all the time and chow myself. So being a lifelong learner is something that I think everyone needs to have to kind of develop and, and come to grips with and have an understanding that it’s your benefit. You might try. You might, you might not love it. And that’s okay too, because then maybe you’ll go on and try something different that you do discover that you love.


Sam Demma (14:52):

And for every educator listening, I think it’s so relatable, especially right now, we’re being tasked with learning how to teach online or learning how to do interviews with families online, or, you know, learning how to run conferences online. It takes that perpetual learner’s mindset to continue, you know, figuring things out and learning along the journey. If a teacher wants to reach out to you to have a conversation was inspired by anything we talked about, what would be the best way for someone to get in touch with you?


Richard Vissers (15:21):

You’re most welcome to certainly call the school or send me an email. Those, those are probably the best ways. The admissions number is 905-737-1115 and my email is rvissers@hts.on.ca. But yeah, those are the best ways to get in touch with me. Unfortunately, I can’t say drop by the school, because right now in the world that we live in visitors are, you know, it’s, it’s a, it’s a tough situation.


Sam Demma (15:43):

The kindergarten kids don’t wanna see you right now, guys, don’t come. Haha!


Richard Vissers (15:47):

They wanna see you. They just they know they have to wait. Haha!


Sam Demma (15:51):

That’s true. Yeah. Awesome. Well, thank you so much for taking the time to have this conversation. It’s been a pleasure chatting with you and learning a little bit more about HTS and, and all the work you guys are up to, and the changes you’ve been making to adjust. I really appreciate it.


Richard Vissers (16:03):

Thank you, Sam. I appreciate the opportunity too. It’s a pleasure to have a conversation with you.


Sam Demma (16:07):

There’s the entire interview with Richard. I hope you enjoyed it. It inspired you to stop in front of the kindergarten class. If you have one in your school today, and maybe just look at the smiles on those little students’ faces and get re-energized about the real reason why he got into education in the first place. If you did enjoy this, consider leaving a rating and review, consider reaching out to Richard and having a conversation. And as always, if you have something that you need to share that you think should be heard from other educators around the world right now, please reach out at info@samdemma.com and we’ll schedule a time for you to come on the show as well until then I’ll see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Richard Vissers

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.

Brent McDonald – Superintendent of Education and Information Technology UGDSB

Brent McDonald – Superintendent of Education and Information Technology UGDSB
About Brent McDonald

Brent McDonald (@Brent4ED) is currently a Superintendent of Education with the Upper Grand District School Board (UGDSB). For the past 10 years his portfolios in this role have included; Safe, Equitable and Inclusive Schools, Information and Technology, Parent Engagement, Leadership Development and Succession Planning and working with his Family of Schools within the district.  He’s also the President of Educating Computer Network of Ontario (ECNO).

Brent is passionate about student success and ensuring that all students have the resources and supports needed to be their best. He is also passionate about learning in the classroom, educational technology, and school leadership.

Connect with Brent: Email | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Upper Grand District School Board

Educating Computer Network of Ontario

Ray Dalio, “Principles”

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 has now become a good friend of mine. His name is Brent McDonald. He’s the superintendent of education and it at the UGDSB the Upper Grand District School Board. He’s also the President of ECNO. They have a strong role in providing leadership and direction to school boards in regards to it, he’s also been a classroom teacher, a vice principal, a principal he’s done every single job you could imagine in a school maybe next to being a custodian. And he has so many valuable insights and ideas to share on the podcast today. I’m super excited because you’re going to learn so much from this interview. There are so many nuggets and so many insights. I’ll see you on the other side. Talk soon. Brent, thank you so much for coming on the High Performing Educators podcast. It’s a pleasure to have you take maybe, you know, one to two minutes to share with the audience who you are and why you initially got into the work you do with young people today.


Brent McDonald (01:03):
Yeah. Great, Sam, thanks so much for having me today to start with it’s a real pleasure and really appreciate the opportunity to do some reflection too, for for the podcast today and, and really pleased that you’ve got this series going, but I’ll, I’ll share a little bit about myself. First and foremost I’m a father to two youth as well. One is in second year, a university, and one just about to head into a post secondary experiences at a grade 12. So very interested in the work that you’re doing and I know we’ve we’ve spoken a past too about connecting with the youth in our school board and hope we get to continue that when we get on the other side of things here too. For me currently, I’m an educator by trade I guess.


Brent McDonald (01:48):
And I, my role right now is as a Superintendent of Education with the Upper Grand District School Board. So for those that aren’t sure where that is. That’s a Guelf and Orangeville area. And then kinda out to the four one, and then north up into some beautiful country around Mount forest and Harrison, just about an hour and a half hour west of Toronto. I’m so close to the city, but also some, some beautiful landscape that’s there. And what’s awesome is we’ve got a school board that is an incredible mix of diverse of students and families and a geography. So some very rural country areas, which are just beautiful and then some really vibrant more cities type centers, wealth in Orangeville, for example. So lots of, a lot of the challenges that we see around the province are replicated within the walls of our board and right now as a Superintendent of Education I get to get out into our schools and, and follow up with students and staff and our principals and vice principals that run our buildings.


Brent McDonald (02:49):
And that’s fantastic for me. I love that opportunity to get out and get into our schools. Previously I was for about 10 years of principal, myself to at about four different schools in our area. And just loved that opportunity to to lead and be part of incredible staff and student bodies that that were just full of motivation and energy to, to do things. And and I think part and parcel what I look back on the work that I’ve done. Those experiences as, as a teacher previous to that, it was a core French teacher and a science teacher, or an a grade one teacher. All of those experiences when I look back at what I like about my work, the most it’s the, the motivation and the, and the power and influence that we get from, from students and the communities who are charged up about doing incredible things.


Brent McDonald (03:40):
And I know we started just before the interview, talking about your project that you were working on around picking up garbage and, and making your communities better. And when you can harness sort of that spirit and that energy that people want to, to do better and to improve and be a part of that, it’s energizing. So for me I think back when I was more your age and kind of looking at where I wanted to go in life, I had, I had multiple jobs. I had all sorts of jobs and that was, I loved working and had a lot of different experiences to try and see where I wanted to land and what I wanted to be in. And I think when I started, started to reflect on where I wanted to land in terms of a career. I look back at the work that I had done and all the opportunities that I’d ever had to work with youth and students and to be inspired and humbled by their creativity and their hope and their optimism that they had.


Brent McDonald (04:38):

That’s what did it for me? And I said, no, I, I need to be involved in this. This is a very fulfilling for me personally and professionally but also what an opportunity to lead and to guide. And I think that was the second reason that I landed into the work that I did as a student, as a teacher and then a administrator. And now into the role that I’m in is that I had the great fortune to have some incredible role models as teachers, myself and not just around the content of the curriculum that we were being taught. And when I look back at what they taught me, yes, the curriculum was, was very important, but it was more those life lessons and the work that they taught me about the attitudes that are important to have going into life and the opportunities and the belief that they had. And I thought, you know, if I can turn around and rec replicate even a part of that for students in the work that I would do, what a great what a great opportunity to have and one that shouldn’t be squandered. So, so that’s probably where I got the idea and where I got the energy and sort of the push is, or, or influences or motivators that guided me down to the work that I get to do today.


Sam Demma (05:48):

I love that. And you mentioned the work you do today. A lot of it surrounds staying in touch with staff members, touring schools every 10 days or so to check in and see how everyone’s doing. What are you hearing from those teachers in those students, in those schools? What challenges are they currently being pressed with and faced with?


Brent McDonald (06:08):

Well, very similar to to the challenges that most industries are facing right now and, and your you’re right. Sam. So the work that we do it is I don’t work in a school. I worked out of an office right now. But I do have responsibilities for, for a group of schools, but I also lead our information technology department as well. And I’ve got a fantastic group of, of managers and staff and teams that help support that work. And so for me, it’s, it’s twofold. It’s I get to, I get to see what’s happening in our classrooms, and I get to have a hand and work with incredible people to help support students in schools and our staff that are trying to teach remotely and, and work remotely and, and get involved. So that’s pretty exciting work that we get to do.


Brent McDonald (06:57):
The other work I get to do is around leadership development and succession planning for the board. So working with with new teachers, young teachers, to encourage them into leadership pathways in whatever way they want to get involved in. And we talk a lot about reaching down to students and doing the same thing for them too. So we do try and get into our schools as, as often as I can. We, we dedicate usually one day a week to getting into our school buildings. We’ve pulled back on that a lot to this September and October, just out of respect for not getting too many people into our schools. But we reach out virtually. So it’s noon today, and I’ve probably talked to about five different schools already this morning about what’s happening and there’s ways that we can do that too.


Brent McDonald (07:40):

But the challenges I’d say that they are facing are very, very similar to to what other other industries and other sectors are. And for us, and, and Sam, you look back at your school career, I’d say the one thing about our profession and our sector is that it’s typically as predictable as anything it’s by clockwork. We’ve got school year calendars or regular year calendars that we fall on. And we have the school year calendar where sometimes looks the exact same year over year, over year for decades after decades. So, you know, the first week of school programs and initiatives that happen the, the fall activities that happen that Terry Fox runs that happen every September, the sports teams that always start in the same schedule, the graduation, the proms it’s as predictable as clockwork forever, and ever, and ever. And and kids, I think students look, look forward to that.


Brent McDonald (08:36):

I remember a student, myself being in grade five, thinking I get to have that grade six teacher next year, that everybody’s been talking about it’s finally my turn or it’s graduation. Next year, we get to go on the grade eight trip, or we get to do these milestones that that people look forward to. And all of a sudden that’s turned upside down and gone. And the predictability and the consistency that’s been involved in people’s lives forever. All of a sudden gets, it gets to be a very uncertain environment. And and that causes a lot of challenges for staff and students who built careers and, and expectations around what’s coming next and plans. Particularly for students who thrive on routines or who need routines and structure to be successful and to show their best their best efforts every single day for them not knowing is, is, is an incredible part of our incredible challenge them to overcome.


Brent McDonald (09:34):

So that I would say from a student’s point of view and staff, to some extent the, the uncertainty and the constant change throwing at a system that’s typically very traditional has been very, very difficult for folks. I’d say from a, from a system perspective too, and the work that I get to do, we’re typically a very, very collaborative organization. So before we launch an, a, an idea or an implementation, or, or think about how we’re going to implement a new idea or, or, or, or any type of new project there’s a lot of time that goes into the planning, the bringing different voices around the table to get input running it by students and staff and all of our different stakeholders that we have. And I’d say we have not had that luxury in the last four to five months to be able to do that.


Brent McDonald (10:31):

So for us, our, the way that we work has been changed an awful lot, and we’ve had to become, you know, I’ll use those words like nimble and agile that, that everybody talks about. And the, the dreaded pivot word that we’ve had to do so much more than than we ever have before. And for for our sector and our educators and students too. But at a system level, that’s probably been the most difficult pieces that are traditional consultative processes that we put in place in our collaborative efforts that we rely on have had to be speeded up in such greater fashion than we’re typically used to. And we’re doing a good job of it, but it is a change, right? It’s, it’s been a big change. So those would be some of the big the two big changes that I’d see from a student perspective. And then from a systemic perspective.


Sam Demma (11:22):

That’s awesome. Yeah, someone mentioned to me the other day, the state of education could be compared to throwing spaghetti against the wall and seeing what sticks. And I’m curious to know if there’s anything that has stuck so far for you, if you have any unique ideas that are working, or if teachers have reported back to you or any principals saying, you know, Brent, this has really worked or on the other side, you know, this was a total flop and we learned something from it. Either of those things are extremely valuable. And if you have any to share, that’d be awesome.


Brent McDonald (11:53):

Yeah, Sam, I’d say for us, the one thing that we have learned the most, or that’s been most apparent, and I’d say up until, you know, September or even October, we haven’t had a lot of time to be able to pause and reflect on what’s happened because it’s been so busy, we’ve been busy throwing spaghetti at the wall and seeing what happens. So we, we haven’t had a ton of time to reflect, but the reflections that we’ve done and when, and we’re starting to do them more and more now, which I’m pleased about. But what we, what I’d say we’ve learned a lot that we have seen is for the first time ever in, in my career in the spring everybody stopped doing everything and focused on one thing, and that was getting getting us to work remotely and to have teachers and students learn remotely when we in the spring, when everything was shut down.


Brent McDonald (12:47):

So all of a sudden 5,000 staff members and 34,000 students in our board had one goal that we had to do really quickly and had to make sure it happened. And we don’t do that very often. Usually we are juggling, you know, curriculum expectations, we’re judging or juggling technology expectations were juggling. A lot of the work that we’re doing around social justice and whether it’s our anti-oppression work that we’re doing, or anti-black racism, all of a sudden everything funneled into one, one project as an entire group. And and we had to be conscious of all those other things that we did, but really it was one, one goal. And we did it. And if someone had asked me back in January, you know, do you think everybody in this board could, could just walk out of the buildings and work remotely and live remotely in the next two months?


Brent McDonald (13:37):

I’d say, no, that’ll take us years to years to really pull off in any cohesive way, given what everything else is is on everyone’s plates. But all of a sudden we didn’t have anything else on our plates. We had one thing and watching everyone come together and work together and have that spirit of cooperation and collaboration was, was fantastic. So when I say what stuck and what, what worked back to your question? I’d say we learned a lot about what we can do if we really focus and have clear, consistent goals and and keep it simple and small we can move fast and as a big system. So that was exciting for me to see I think mistake wise, the, you asked that as well mistake wise. Yes, absolutely. It’s not perfect. What we’re working on and that’s okay.


Brent McDonald (14:29):

We talk a lot about failure in our system and that failure is, is is a really good thing because you learn from it and if you’re failing and learning, that’s okay. That’s how you get better at it. And we have to be able to do that. And there, there’s a whole show that you could probably do on, on failure or a whole talk we can do on, on how you manage that. But I think we’ve created a culture of of safety for, for staff and students as best we can and by safety, I mean not necessarily physically safe, but really being able to say, Hey, you know what, we can try some things and if they don’t work, it’s okay, nobody’s going to get too upset. We’re going to fix it and move forward and learn from it.


Brent McDonald (15:10):

And I think that’s what we’ve done the last little bit. So from all of the granular mistakes that we make every day, and, you know, it’s seven months later and people are still not unmuting their mics on zoom calls, right. Those really small things that come to the, to the much bigger mistakes that we’re making. And for us, some of those have been trying to solve problems that really don’t exist. And and under estimating people in some respects too. So the example I use is we spent, we spent weeks worried about students three and four year olds having to wear masks all day and that, how can that possibly happen? Well, it did. We asked them and we provided resources and, and teaching to them. And I can go into a school at the end of the day on a Friday.


Brent McDonald (16:00):

And there’s a three-year-old has been there all week, all day, still wearing their mask and completely fine with that. So something that was a big worry for us in our planning turned out to not be a problem at all, and for most people but certainly not to the extent that we thought it was going to be as an example some of the other underestimations that we’ve made. And it’s just because it’s our first time through a lot of it, I’d say we planned. And we, we underestimated the amount of people that would take up remote learning, for example, through COVID. So, you know, our schools are open and we have options around remote, and we might’ve fought somewhere under 10%, five to 10% might pick that up and so we planned appropriately for that. And our board, we’re sitting more around 17% now, but there’s many boards that are sitting around 40 to 50% of their population that have opted for remote.


Brent McDonald (16:50):

Those numbers are staggeringly more than what we thought they would have been to start with. And we didn’t know. And again, didn’t have that time through the consultation to really find out. So it was best guesses. And so I’ve seen some areas where we have underestimated either whether it’s at the student level or systemically some of those pieces. And we’ll learn from that. And now, you know, the next time that we venture down this road we’ll know what’s a problem. What’s a real problem. And what’s not a real problem. So that’s been, that’s been interesting to watch, and I’d say we’ve learned from that.


Sam Demma (17:23):

There’s a gentleman named Ray Dalio wrote a book titled “Principles,” and we’re the most successful hedge fund managers in the world. And he has a concept known as the error log. And it’s a document shared by his entire company where every time a mistake is made instead of a manager, figuring it out, you personally log the mistake yourself, explain what happened and what you learned from it. And he says like every week, his old team reviews, this error discusses it publicly so that every single person in the company learns from one person’s mistake. And I thought it was a brilliant, brilliant concept. And you had so many other pieces of wisdom in this book. And you also mentioned, you know, the importance of resilience, which comes from overcoming challenges or going through failures and seeing the resilience of a three-year-old or a four-year-old must be a motivating site for you, especially for anybody. I’m curious to know, you know, those sites motivates you. What else keeps you motivated? What drives you to keep doing this work, even when times are really difficult and tough?


Brent McDonald (18:28):

Well, you, you, you nailed it right. There really is the youth that we have and their voices, and and seeing the hope that they have. So I’d say also the lessons that we learned from them and started the questions today, you know, why did I get into this work? And, and the other reason which lends into this motivator is, is that desire to keep learning. And we learn as much today from our youth, as I do from, from any professional development series or, or workshop. And, you know, when we look at the great work that’s happening around our environmental work that we’re doing, or around our anti-oppression anti black racism, anti-oppression work that we’re doing, our students are often the ones leading the charge and teaching us about about how things need to be. And, and sometimes we needed to take a step back and really look at at, at what they’re doing and what they’re asking and what they’re saying.


Brent McDonald (19:27):

And so those lessons that we learned from our, our youth and the questions that they put on the table holding us as the adults and the, the, the leaders and systems accountable for what we’re doing. That’s, that’s incredible. That’s a, that’s, that’s motivating for me and helps move us forward and think, yeah, these are the, these are the leaders of our future. So it’s up to us to get barriers out of the way so they can do the work that they want to see as they go forward. And, you know, I don’t know if it’s always been that way, but I’d say the student voice is, is, is alive and, and more present now than, than I’ve seen in years past. And there’s venues for it. And, you know, your, your show’s very much like that too. It’s bringing student voices and ideas for students forward. But we’re also seeing it in so many other places. So I think having that energy behind you, when you know that you’re in a school system that has 34,000 voices and opportunities ahead of them, that’s, that’s motivating you. Can’t not be motivated by that, that gets you out of bed in the morning.


Sam Demma (20:32):

I love that. That’s awesome. And for the educators who might be listening, hopefully they’re not struggling with motivation issues, but in the, in the case that they might be, and they’re struggling to get out of bed. Maybe in fact, it’s their first year in education. If I could take you back to your first year in education, and, you know, you, you started, you were a little bit uncertain, maybe really passionate to get going, but confused and overwhelmed with all the different systems and terminology. And there’s the, just, just the change of starting something new. What pieces of advice would you share with your past self and with other educators who are just starting to get into this role, especially during a year like like 2020 with the global pandemic.


Brent McDonald (21:16):

That’s a great question, Sam, in one night, we got to remind ourselves all the time and I alluded to it earlier, but I think if I went back to my first-year teaching self probably a lot of fear around failure and not doing things right. And I’d say I probably spent way too much energy worrying about that. Then just trying some things and seeing how it goes and being okay if it didn’t and moving forward. So I learned those lessons along the way, but I, I probably wish I learned those more quickly probably would have had a lot less sleepless nights as a, as a brand new teacher. I’d also say reaching out to, to colleagues and you know, when I first started, I think I remember my first email that I ever wrote as a teacher it’s we email was just coming on.


Brent McDonald (22:04):

And when that happened, which is a very sad thing to say, but I remember the first time that we got to do that as a teacher, and now the ability for teachers to connect and collaborate be outside the walls of their classroom is phenomenal. The, the PD that’s available on on social media, on Twitter feeds on, on that you can access at the, you know, whether it’s through podcasts, whatever it might be, you can get ideas and collaborate and make connections with people more than we ever could when I first started. So my advice would be not to encourage youth youth and new teachers to the profession, especially when you’re feeling up against the wall on something or worried about something, reach out and put the question out there. And I see it every day when I’m looking through feeds in the comments, the, the support that’s out there in the broader educational community for, for staff is fantastic and feels really supportive when you read it. And and there’s a, a great venue there for, for people, as opposed to just walking down the hall. There’s nothing wrong with walking down the hall and texting with your teaching partner down the way, but you have access to so much more than you ever did before. So use it would be my advice.


Sam Demma (23:16):

That’s awesome. And if someone wanted to get in touch with you, I know you’re busy and I have so much going on, but maybe there’s a fellow educator somewhere in the world who has ideas to share or wants to just bounce ideas around what would be the best way for them to reach out to you?


Brent McDonald (23:32):

Probably probably on Twitter. It would be the best way if if they’re looking for that. So my Twitter handles is @Brent4ED. So absolutely would be one of the best ways to reach out. You could do that or go into the Upper Grand District School Board website, and they can find me on there and make a connection. I just told people they should do it, just connect them and share ideas. And I think that’s what we have to keep on doing in this profession, especially as we’re all facing new challenges and new problems that we’ve never had before. We don’t need to solve it by ourselves. So it’s great to be able to bounce ideas off of each other and and see where we can go.


Sam Demma (24:14):

Right? That’s a great way to end this episode. Thank you so much for coming on here. I hope people reach out. It’s been a pleasure chatting with you, and I look forward to seeing you again in person when all of this passes or starts to change and adjust.


Brent McDonald (24:26):

We’ll definitely make that happen. Sam, I was talking to folks today who we’re hoping that we can continue down that thread too. So we’ll look forward to having you back and a huge thanks again for allowing me to be on your show today.


Sam Demma (24:38):

Thanks a lot. You bet. And there you have it. Another amazing interview on the High Performing Educator podcast. If you enjoyed this episode and liked it, consider reaching out to Brent, he would love to hear from you. And if you have your own ideas and insights that you’d like to share, please shoot us an email at info@samdemma.com. So we can also get you on the podcast. And as always, if you’re benefiting from this content and you’re enjoying it, consider leaving a rating and review. So more people just like yourself can find it and also consume it and learn new things for their own students in schools. Anyways, I’ll see you on the next episode. Talk soon.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Brent McDonald

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.

Adrian Del Monte – English Department Head and Leadership Coordinator

Adrian Del Monte – English Department Head & Leadership Coordinator
About Adrian Del Monte

Adrian (@adrian_delmonte) has been teaching for 13 years in the Toronto Catholic District School Board as an English Teacher, Department Head and Leadership Coordinator. Five years ago, he began a leadership development program at his school which emphasizes the importance of servant leadership for hundreds of students each year.

Adrian and his wife also founded Hopes Rise, a charity that works to help unprivileged children achieve fitness, literacy, and leadership goals.  He recently began a podcast called Wholehearted Teaching, which inspires teachers to bring their whole selves to the classroom. Adrian believes that there is no greater cause you can give your life to than serving others.

Connect with Adrian: Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Wholehearted Teaching

Tim Elmore, GIGO Principle – Garbage In Garbage Out

Harper Collins, “Good to Great” – Show Horse vs. Plow Horse

Jamboard

Kahoot

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. Adrian actually reached out to me over email after hearing an episode on the podcast, just to let me know that he thought it was excellent content, and he’s really enjoying the interviews. And after read a little bit about himself and doing research on him, I realized that he should be someone who’s also interviewed on the show. And so we brought him on here today. Adrian has been teaching for 13 years in the Toronto Catholic District School Board as an English teacher, department head and leadership coordinator. Five years ago, he began a leadership development program at his which emphasizes the importance of servant leadership for hundreds of students each year. And you’ll see why servant leadership is so important to Adrian. In this episode, Adrian and his wife also founded Hopes Rise, a charity that works to help underprivileged children achieve fitness, literacy and leadership goals.


Sam Demma (01:01):

Adrian also recently began a podcast and is the host of Wholehearted Teaching, which inspires teachers to bring their whole selves to the classroom. A believes that there is no greater cause you can give in your life than serving others. Make sure you connect with him on Twitter at @adrian_delmonte at Hopes Rise. Hope you enjoy this episode. See you on the other side. Adrian, 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 with the listener and sharing how you got that, the work that you do in education with young people today?


Adrian Del Monte (01:40):

Great. Well, thanks for having me, Sam I got into teaching maybe a little more unconventionally than, than others. I I didn’t have a great, great experience in high school that that’s totally on me. I I was pretty self-absorbed in high school. I had a lot of insecurities and and so I kind of buried my head in high school in my athletics. I was a competitive runner and was kind of angling for a scholarship. And when I look back on it now, there were so many teachers who were there with kind of their arms out and I didn’t really take advantage. I totally like got self-absorbed a bit focused on my, my sports so much. And, and I think I missed a lot of the high school experience. So I started studying at university and I figured I’d be a lawyer.


Adrian Del Monte (02:34):

My Nono said he would pay for . He would, he would pay for law school if one of us went. So it was like, all right. And then I realized, you know, in my third year of studying criminal justice, very few lawyers actually demand, you know, the truth like Tom, like Tom Cruise and a few good men. I want the truth. Lawyers don’t do that. Lawyers do a lot of paperwork. And so in my fourth year of university, I sort of started realizing, you know, what I feel like I want to give back. I want to give back, I want to create high school experiences for students that maybe, you know, maybe that I wasn’t aware of or, or that I, that I missed. And so I totally, in my fourth year I got into, I started, I had an in, I had enough teachables in, in English. But then I had to angle for a second one in my fourth year. And that’s really when I decided to go into teaching, but it took me a while to get there. I just, I don’t know why I think my sports while it added so much, it also kept me hidden a bit from the real world.


Sam Demma (03:32):

I feel the same way. I think we can. We’re very similar in many ways. My high school experience was so similar. In fact, I, I didn’t get involved in any activity throughout high school, aside from extracurricular soccer and rushing a soccer practice when the school bell went and I too missed out on all those abilities to serve and give back and learn more about myself with like-minded students and individuals. So I think the reason you got into teaching is, is amazing and it’s wholeheartedly centered that’s right? Yeah. Little pun there on your podcast title. Why don’t you share a little bit about your own show for educators and why you started it?


Adrian Del Monte (04:10):

Yeah, that’s that, that’s a good question. Thanks. the name of my podcast, Sam is, is Wholehearted Teaching just started maybe have half dozen episodes and you know, the biggest challenge in COVID I have found has been to keep your head in a good space. Mm. There is so many rabbit holes you can go down right now, right? Like I I’m driving into work this morning. I had the radio on from like 7:30 to 7:32. And in those two minutes, right. Car accidents on the 401, the, our, our premier is deceiving us. It’s global war. Like within seconds, your mind can just go the wrong way. You, you start letting your mind as a teacher, like, are the kids even listening on the other end of these Google meets? Are they, are they learning in this virtual school? And, and I’ve actually found the biggest challenge has been filling my mind with good stuff, like consciously going outta my way to fill it with good stuff.


Adrian Del Monte (05:09):

And so the podcast was a way that I could fill my mind with, you know, things above better things. Just, just filling my brain with one of our core principles with our leadership students is we took this from Tim Elmore, but the GIGO principle garbage in garbage out mm-hmm . And, and I think if you, whatever you put into your brain, that’s the kind of person you become. You are what you eat. Right. These puns make a lot of sense. Right. And so the podcast for me was just a way that we could sort of set up some, the content. Yeah. You know, you know, what was inspiring a little bit was I don’t know if you saw during COVID. One of my favorite shows is the office. Yeah. And John Kansky, the character who plays Jim started this some good news. I don’t know if you saw those episode, some good news. And his idea was to combat bad with good, because I think it’s so easy for us to like slip into these rabbit holes of despair. Right. And like, you start scrolling through Twitter. You’re like, oh my gosh, like the icebergs are melted. The world is over. Like everything’s. And so trying to find good to combat is really the reason for my podcast. It’s, it’s, it’s really what I’m trying to do with my, my mind, my mind right now.


Sam Demma (06:23):

And you mentioned that when you were in high school, you had teachers who extended an arm and a hand to you to try and help you, that you didn’t take. And I’m really curious to know, what do you think are the qualities, or maybe just one or two qualities of a wholehearted teacher of someone who is not only striving to teach curriculum, but really see, hear, and value and appreciate their students. How can educators listening, make sure that they are being those sorts of people, the people that reached out to help you when you were a kid?


Adrian Del Monte (06:54):

Yeah. You know what, I, I think we use this, it’s a little cliche, but, but the word is real mm-hmm or authentic or vulnerable. The subtitle of my podcast is bringing your whole self to the classroom. I think, I think, I think an, an attribute of, of, of the best kind of teacher is teaching. Isn’t a job, it’s it? It’s, it’s not something they come in, they check in, they check out it’s, it’s who they are. Yeah. This idea of their, their, they wanna learn not just in the classroom, but they wanna learn all the time. They wanna, they wanna have a growth mindset all the time, again, another cliche phrase. But I think a teacher is someone who recognizes that at my core, I’m a teacher. So I think that’s one thing, this authenticity, this integrity of, I learned recently that integrity is a math word.


Adrian Del Monte (07:51):

That just means whole it’s a whole number. And so integrity is a whole person, right. They don’t, they’re not a teacher. And then, so else later on they’re, that’s who they are. It’s just a, it’s, it’s a kind of a, a coming together of all parts of their being. And, and so that’s, that’s an attribute. I think another part of, of a great teacher is gratitude. I think that’s such a big one for teachers. I know there’s problems and, and I’m definitely not, I’m not sorry. I’m, I’m very aware of the problems mm-hmm and I think I’m also consciously aware of how grateful I am that I get to do this work. Yeah. That I get students in front of me who listen to me, who are interested in the things that I might see as important, and that I, I, I’m grateful that I get to work with the wonderful school community, wonderful colleagues. So, so I think those things, I try to keep gratitude high on my list, authenticity high on my list. I think those are some of the attributes of a, of a wholehearted teacher.


Sam Demma (08:55):

Totally agree. And when I think about Mike loud foot, who is the, not the one teacher, cuz there were so many, but one of many teachers who heavily impacted my career in life, his authenticity of being who he truly was. Yeah. Came out as some quirky mannerisms and extreme passion when teaching his curriculum to the point where it was hard not to listen to him and focus because he was just so into it. Yeah. And I think during tough times, some of that passion dwindles not that the, not that the candle ever gets unlit, but it might just, it might just reduce slightly I’m. Yeah, yeah. Yeah. And I’m curious to know if you have any stories of transformation and it doesn’t have to be a kid in your class. It could just be a story about how someone, you know, or someone you’ve taught or someone, you know, who’s taught, has transformed. A student has transformed due to, to teaching. And the reason I’m asking to share it is because it might relight or make that little handle, like it might make it brighter right now. And you can change the student’s name for privacy reasons if it’s a serious story.


Adrian Del Monte (10:04):

Hmm. Yeah. So, you know, Sam, I, I actually have never been brought to tears with my students over my curriculum. My curriculum, my, I know inside and out. I, I, I all day I can teach the books, but the stories that matter, I think that that inspire teachers are the ones that have outside the curriculum. Mm. I’ve cried with my students many times. Yeah, here’s a great example. A few years ago I had this particular class, it was a a grade 10 English class. And they were so openly curious about everything. And we went off book a ton of times. We, we went off book and we, this was maybe four or five years ago, but Google docs was just kind of getting a little bit big. And, and one of the things I started offering the students was editing, editing, help with them but because there were so many of them, I couldn’t meet with them each out after class.


Adrian Del Monte (11:01):

And, and so I started saying, I’ll edit with you, we’ll meet on your Google doc. That’s the beauty of a Google doc. You can collaborate in. So, so many ways. And, and they, they started taking me up on it. So we would edit at, in the evenings and we did parent consent forms and all those sorts of things cuz it was outside of class hours. But I started editing with the kids, giving them time outside of our class hours and, and on the last day of class and, and sorry, this is something, I think that even though it happened before COVID, this is, it is such a powerful tool. So showed out to Google docs, editing tools. So back on, back on this story, last eight class I walk in and they’ve got a cake and I get emotional thinking about it.


Adrian Del Monte (11:47):

And, and one of the things that year I really pushed was reading and Harry Potter became a huge reference. And at the very end of the very last Harry Potter, Harry Potter says to his mother as a ghost, will you stay with me? And she says, till the very end and the students on the cake had written, will you edit with me? till the very end. Right? That’s what they had written to me. Right. And it was like, what am my colleague poked her head in? And, and she saw me and she’s like, are you crying? Like, and I was like, I’m freaking crying. Like I’m crying right now because it just over it overcame me that this thing editing, editing their essays, their five paragraph essays mattered to them that I made time for them. And I can still see their faces. I, I can still see their faces is like holding the cake, them being emotional and over this simple thing of editing till the very end and, and yeah, man, those, those are the kind of things when you kind of go outside the curriculum and I think now is a time if there’s ever a time to leave your curriculum for your students, it’s 2020.


Adrian Del Monte (12:53):

And , and, and that, that story every time I think of it, I, I to use your language, ignites the fire a little bit. Mm. Ignites the fire. Yeah.


Sam Demma (13:02):

And you, you mentioned that you left and that’s a beautiful story. Thank you so much for sharing. And if anyone’s listening, I mean, I know you’re listening. If you are listening, actively please consider reaching out to Adrian. Maybe you can share a little bit about Google docs if you haven’t used it before. Mm-Hmm I know it’s really cool. Cuz you can change the colors of everyone who’s typing and you can have like 10, 15 people on the same doc typing things at the same time. Really cool tool to use. You mentioned your Nu though, made a promise to you that he pay for your education. If you went and became a lawyer. Yeah. I too Italian so I can wait for the pressures in the family. but you said that you actually wanted to give back and something that I know because of previous conversations we’ve had is that you deeply believe in the power of serving others and servant leadership. Where has that, where has that aspect of your life come into play in teaching and outside of the classroom that you think is worth sharing with others?.


Adrian Del Monte (14:04):

You know, a funny story about my no, no, I, I didn’t pursue law school, but when I was in, when I was doing my masters, I actually, I applied for, for my, for my doctorate. Yeah. And was accepted my doctorate and, and my no know said goes, that’s not a real doctor. That’s what he said. Cause he wasn’t a medical doctor. So, so anyways, you know, I gotta thank him cuz that actually pushed me a little further towards teachers college, but about servant leadership. You know, I think students have an image of a leader that is a little bit unrealistic. I think the image of, of, of leadership for most students is like someone up on a stage, right? With a mic commanding, the troops, MLK, you know Nelson men, someone, someone Barack Obama, someone up there with like power and influence.


Adrian Del Monte (14:57):

And I think that’s intimidating for a lot of students. And so when I got into leadership at the school, I realized that a more accurate representation of a leader was not someone with a Mike, but someone with a empty garbage bag. And I know this, I know this is something you, you and I connect on. Le leadership to me is, and I’m taking this from a great leadership book called Good to Great. And the author talks about the difference between a show horse and a plow horse. Right? And I think many leaders are show horses. They, they look good, right? They got the image, they got the confidence, they’re good on a mic. They can speak with a good deal of articulation. Right. And, and I think those leaders are good, but not great. Great leaders are the ones who are plow horses.


Adrian Del Monte (15:48):

Mm-Hmm right. The image in my mind of a show horse is like the one jumping over the barriers with like the fury tail. I don’t think, you know, like the eque all that, right. But the plow horse is the guy out in the field, pulling the, the, the S around his neck or pulling the yolk around his neck as he’s like grinding through the dirt. And that was a better image to me of leadership. And so one of the images that we always have highlight for our students is pick up a garbage bag, you know, pick, pick up a garbage before you get the mic. You’re gonna hold the garbage bag. And, you know, a couple years ago this, we, we played this amazing game at Muskoka woods on one of our leadership retreats. The game ended with students building these cardboard boats, sailed them through the lake.


Adrian Del Monte (16:33):

Hmm. So fun at the end of it, everyone’s got their spirit gear on, you got smoke, grenades going, you got all the it’s, a who music that wasn’t the highlight. The highlight was the six kids who stayed after and pulled that soggy cardboard out of the lake. Mm. To me, those were the kids that got it. The other kids are wonderful kids and they might have just missed the moment. But the images we posted on social media after were the garbage pickers. Mm. Not the kids with the smoke grenades. And I, and I think students need those images. Mm-Hmm, otherwise leader leadership too. It’s big of a concept for them to grasp. It’s like, well, I can’t do that. I’m I don’t wanna be on the stage. And many students don’t wanna be on in high school. I didn’t wanna be on the stage. And, and so I hid, or I found something that was a little more safe and I, and, and I think images like garbage picking are powerful, powerful metaphors for students. And so those are the kind of things that I, I try to give my students opportunities to pick up garbage. I love it. I love it. Yeah. And there’s no shortage of trash, so that’s right, right?


Sam Demma (17:49):

That’s right. It’s a great opportunity. And I love the story, man. I got goosebumps as you were explaining it because recently I’ve had a similar revelation. I mean, all throughout high school like yourself, I was very self-absorbed in, in soccer and not getting involved. And then my 21st birthday, which was September this year, I decided to take a year off social media and I haven’t logged on, it’s been over two months now. Wow. I’m I have a buddy who checks my messages for me and a high school intern who manages Twitter. And I, before I left the, the platform, I took down almost all of the pictures that I had. I had like over a hundred posts. And most of them were me standing on a stage saying basically, unconscious justly, look how great I am, you know, doing all these speeches. And, and I started to ask myself, is the message I’m spreading congruent with these posts, because I’m actually not doing young people, a service by sharing all these, highlighted all these highlights and, and huge moments because they’re gonna look at it and think, wow, I’m not doing that. I’m good enough. I could never be there. And so I took most of them down. Mm. And I started asking myself, why am I putting content out in the first place? Is it to help others or to validate my own insecurities? Mm. And yeah. So I deeply relate to you on that level. And when I come back to social media, if I do there’ll be a lot more garbage bags.


Adrian Del Monte (19:11):

Yeah. Right. You know what I think, I think it’s so important for kids to understand that leadership is not something you do yeah. For three days. Yeah. Right. And I think that’s typically the image, you sign up for a leadership experience and those things are powerful. Those are fire starters. I’m not, I’m not, you know, a trip to camp Olympia or Musk woods that those ignite the fire. But I think the kids have to really buy into a way of living. Yeah. And, and, and, and then it’s not so much about what I did for those three days. It’s about how I live the other 362 days. And, and that becomes, you know, then it’s about, I woke up this morning, the dishwasher was full. I’m an empty that even my mom doesn’t let me know that that’s or, you know, my friend my, my friend needs me. I’m gonna call her on the phone. Right. And, and I think then servant leadership is not about an event. It’s about a a way of life. And I really do think values.


Sam Demma (20:08):

Yeah. Right. Your values drive all your actions. And if you’re always asking yourself, how can I help others? Or how can I serve others? You don’t have to have talent skills, abilities, or God forbid sake, even education all the time to just be a great person to the people around you, as much as you can. Mm-Hmm and it’s funny, cuz you talk to what your Nuno. I, I think of mine when I think about this, because God bless his soul. He’s passed away now. I have the same name as him. Usually. I name you after your, your other father. Do you have the same name as your grandfather or middle?


Adrian Del Monte (20:40):

Middle name.


Sam Demma (20:41):

Middle. Yeah, of course. and and Sam, my Nuno though he would wake up 4:00 AM shovel, 10 to 12 streets driveways in the middle of the winter of people that he knew couldn’t shovel at themselves before going to work at a farm for pretty or sorry, not in the winter, but before going to work for a whole day in a factory when my dad was just growing up you know, one time I remember a story where he could called my dad because my dad knew he needed some help to cut a little spot in the grass to, to plant a garden. And they said they were gonna start the project at 7:00 AM. And my dad woke up to my grandfather, digging. The job was done when he…


Adrian Del Monte (21:20):

Got at seven..


Sam Demma (21:22):

He started at four, it came over like five. And was done by seven.


Adrian Del Monte (21:25):

Plow horse, man. That’s a plow. That’s that, that see the, those are the stories of servant leadership that servant leadership, servant leadership is not a mic. It’s not like spirit. It’s not, I think school spirit is great, but it’s not servant leadership. There, there, there there’s overlap, but they’re not the same thing. And your grandfather that’s that’s leadership. He led his family like, like how, how could, how could our, how, what better examples of that? Can we give to our students than that? Like that, that is just so powerful. That’s a great, great example. Sure. It was for you and your siblings. Like I’m sure that was a great example.


Sam Demma (22:01):

Well, I still remember it to this day, right? Mm-Hmm , it’s the stories that are memorable and stick in our mind. You know, we’ve talked a lot about servant leadership, a little, a little bit about what it means to be a wholehearted or high performing educator. Mm. You know, right now it’s, it’s challenging with COVID and I’m curious to know, not so much, I don’t wanna focus too much on the challenges, but I wanna focus on what you’ve tried that is working or is in progress and you think another educator might benefit from here?


Adrian Del Monte (22:26):

Yeah. That’s a great question. You, a, a lot of people are saying, you know, once we get this vaccine, we can get back to normal. And, and the reality is normal. Wasn’t that great? Like there was a lot of problems with normal. We had, we had, you know, again, I don’t wanna focus on the problems, but yeah, you had disengaged students, you had mental illness, you had systemic racism. There was a lot of thing. And that, that needed to be addressed. And I think COVID, I’m looking at it in a way of what opportunities does this now present us. Mm. So, so, so here, here’s an example, I think over the last several years, but particularly in a virtual learning space, teachers no longer need to hold information because the students have Google, right. Teachers used to be, if you wanted to know about what happens in the play Macbeth, you had to come to Mr. Delmonte’s class and I’ll tell you, they don’t need you for that anymore.


Adrian Del Monte (23:18):

They, they don’t need teachers to be the sage on stage. Right. They don’t need me up there with all my knowledge presented because they can Google it. So the first I’ve heard, this is the generation of kids that knows more than the adults. Now they don’t know what to do with it necessarily, but they, they have tons of information. And I think what COVID is giving us an opportunity to do is ask ourself, how can we really create opportunities for student voice student voice? And, and so when I’m designing a lesson, now I ask myself, is this experience about what I know or what the students can create? Mm, right. So, so let me give an example, cuz teachers are practical academic. So that, that sounds fine. But how do you design a lesson?


Adrian Del Monte (24:08):

So the way I would design the lesson, I’m gonna teach, right? When this interview’s over is, is I’ll start with a I’ll start with a Kahoot, right? A Kahoot is like a, a virtual game, a trivia game, but all the kids turn off their mics on their mics. So you can hear them as they play the game. Then they come into the conversation and we’ll read a story about actually, we’re, we’re reading a great piece today about it’s called dear white people. Great piece. Nice. And that’s gonna lead us into a journal entry where they’re creating a boat, asking the question of themselves. Am I not a racist or am I anti racist? And they’re, they’re different. And so they get to write a personal journal. They come back and they go into a breakout room where they’re in a conversation with a few of their a few of their classmates, an online small group.


Adrian Del Monte (24:57):

Then after that, they come back for a class discussion and then it ends with all of us contributing to like a interactive whiteboard called the Jamboard. And so when I look at, I would’ve never taught that way. Right. But what COVID is making me do is realize the kids have to stay engaged all the time. Cause there’s too many distractions in their bedrooms. Right. They’ve got Snapchat and yeah. And, and, and, and, and their bed, like things on the wall, right. They get distracted. Right. And so COVID is asking me to reconsider, how do I take the emphasis off knowledge and focus on what the students can create? And actually the homework tonight after this conversation is I’m gonna have them create like a, a poem, an original poem. And I, I think Google, while it’s a powerful source is crippling our kids a little bit. So teachers have a wonderful opportunity to innovate and, and try new things that are gonna shift the focus from what we know to what they can do. Yeah. I hope that answers your question.


Sam Demma (25:58):

A hundred percent. And if anyone’s curious about Jamboard or Kahoots or any of the resources you mentioned, including Google docs, how can someone reach out to you if they’re inspired by this and just wanna bounce some ideas around and have a conversation with yourself?


Adrian Del Monte (26:14):

Twitter’s probably the best way my handle on Twitter is @adrian_delmonte like the like the fruit cup, no relation. Yeah. Okay. Awesome.


Sam Demma (26:27):

Yeah. Cool. Yeah. Adrian, thank you so much for taking the time to do this. It was such an insightful conversation. You’re doing amazing work and I hope to stay in touch and keep watching all the cool things that happen with your class and in your school.


Adrian Del Monte (26:38):

Sam, I have got to get you on Wholehearted Teaching.


Sam Demma (26:40):

Let’s do it. That’ll be great.


Adrian Del Monte (26:41):

Thanks Sam. All right. Talk soon.


Sam Demma (26:44):

This interview could be something that you actually share with your class. I think the stories that Adrian shared and the perspectives on reframing leadership is something that is so relevant, especially right now, when all of your students are spending an average of eight to nine hours per day, a on social media, believing that leadership might be being a professional YouTuber being, becoming famous on TikTok. But when in reality, it’s, it’s all wrong. Leadership is about service leadership. Leadership is about being a value to others. And Adrian did an amazing job highlighting that today. And I think it’s worth sharing maybe with even other colleagues, especially with your students. If you enjoyed this interview with Adrian, consider reaching out to him, also consider leaving a rating and review. So more teachers like yourself can find these episodes and benefit from the content. And if you have something that you’d want to share, shoot me an email at info@samdemma.com and will get you scheduled to come on the podcast as well. Anyways, I’ll see you on the other side. Talk soon.

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