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Dr. Ann Hawkins – Chief Innovation and Marketing Officer at Health Karma Group

Dr. Ann Hawkins - Chief Innovation and Marketing Officer at Health Karma Group
About Dr. Ann Hawkins

I am Ann Hawkins, Ph.D. Early in my career, I recognized the time and financial benefits of preventive healthcare, that being wellcare and keeping people healthy. Understanding the positive economic,
personal, and practical implications of prevention and responsible healthcare is the keystone and passion of my education and career.

My mission has been to develop a new dimension of delivering physical and mental wellcare products and services. After my tenure as a university professor and successful sales/marketing executive, I started my consulting firm WellCare Dimensions Inc., a new dimension in healthcare, which was my entrée into wellcare. From there, I developed the 24hr Virtual Clinic providing specialized pre-claim, preventive solutions to decrease physical and emotional health issues for employees, first responders, and students.

The next project is Aretae (being the best you) Aretae positively impacts all aspects of health and wellcare, providing programs and products which provide guided solutions to help people be responsible for their health and well-being. Aretae allows me to follow my insights in wellcare and integrate the next generation of health and well-being professionals worldwide, as, with the Metaverse, there are no boundaries.

I received my Doctorate in Sports Management from the University of Northern Colorado, a Masters in Sports Administration from Idaho State University, and a Bachelor of Science in Health and Physical Education from Colorado State University. My doctoral dissertation evaluated a company & financial savings in keeping employees fit for work both physically and mentally.

Connect with Ann: Email | Linkedin

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Aretae WellCare

Health Karma Group

Doctorate in Sports Management – University of Northern Colorado

Masters in Sports Administration – Idaho State University

Bachelor of Science in Health and Physical Education – Colorado State University

Dr. Wayne Dyer Books

Empty Your Backpack by Sam Demma

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 (00:56):

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

Sam Demma (01:00):

This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest is Dr. Ann Hawkins, PhD. Early in her career, she recognized the time and financial benefits of preventative healthcare, that being wellcare and keeping people healthy,.understanding the positive economic, personal, and practical implications of prevention and responsible healthcare is the keystone and passion of her education and entire career. Her mission has been to develop a new dimension of delivering physical and mental wellcare products and services. After her tenure as a University professor and successful sales and marketing executive career, she started her own consulting firm, WellCare Dimensions, Inc. A new dimension in healthcare, which was her entree into WellCare. From there, she developed the 24-hour virtual clinic, providing specialized pre-claim preventative solutions to decrease physical and emotional health issues for employees, first responders and students. The next project is Aretae, being the best you. Aretae positively impacts all aspects of health and WellCare, providing programs and products which provide guided solutions to help people be responsible for their health and personal wellbeing.

Sam Demma (02:14):

Aretae allows Dr. Ann to follow her insights in WellCare and integrate the next generation of health and wellbeing professionals worldwide. As with the Metaverse, there are no boundaries. She recieved her Doctorate in Sports Management from the University of Northern Colorado, a Masters in Sports Administration from Idaho State University, and a Bachelor of Science in Health and Physical Education from Colorado State University. Her doctoral dissertation evaluated a company’s financial savings in keeping employees fit, for both work physically and mentally. I hope you enjoy this conversation with Dr. Ann Hawkins, and I will see you on the other side. Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator Podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today we have a very special guest from another country, the United States of America. Dr. Ann Hawkins is today’s special guest. Dr. Ann, please start by introducing yourself.

Dr. Ann Hawkins (03:13):

Thanks so much, Demma. I really appreciate it. So US citizens started out in the insurance area or so, so very familiar with the Canadian system, and the more Canadians I meet, you know, I still, I get still get reattached to the Canadian side of and saying all those words out “about” like you’re supposed to.

Sam Demma (03:36):

Love it. So tell the audience a little bit about who you are and, and what it is that you do day to day.

Dr. Ann Hawkins (03:47):

 Sam, I, I was really, really fortunate when I was a, in college, probably before many of you were even born in 1973, I went up to one of my, my college advisor and I said you know, Dr. John, we’re gonna be spending a lot of money on diseases. We could prevent him the next few years. And he put his arm around and he said, You know, Annie, that one’s gonna have legs, stick with it. Well, diabetes type two was not even a disease.

Sam Demma (04:11):

Wow.

Dr. Ann Hawkins (04:13):

So I’ve been very, very fortunate to stay on that path trying to get people to understand the value of their health and that they are responsible for that health. And my impact is what is the financial price that a company typically pays for some, trying to bring somebody back to health.

Dr. Ann Hawkins (04:37):

And that is considerably expensive. And my, I did my research in the early nineties, and so words like presenteeism weren’t around. We didn’t even look at mental health as a, as a causation of what happens to people and how they take care of themselves. So even in the early nineties, I mean, it, we were keeping people healthy. We were saving companies about $2,000 per employee per year if we did do something to keep them healthy. But as you well know, and as the health systems are finding that individual has to realize that they’re worthy of being healthy. And that starts with them as kids and the influences they get from their features and their parents. And sometimes it’s more from their teachers than their parents, because many times they see their teachers more than they see their old mom and dad.

Sam Demma (05:34):

Would you say educators deal with this same struggles and challenges that students do? And if so, h how can educators, you know, take care of themselves? <laugh>,

Dr. Ann Hawkins (05:47):

And it it’s hard. I was college pro professor for a long time. I made it in the US high school system for a year and then went back and got my master’s in on, on to get my PhD. But and we’ve seen it during the pandemic. We’ve seen it now with all of the stuff that’s going on in the states and the number of people that are getting out of education because of, of, of, of, of, of the lack of salary, lack of pay, lack of respect, basically. And cause it’s, and especially if you’re a mom or dad with kids and you’ve got kids all day long, finding that self care, that downtime when you really just are with yourself and are comfortable with that is difficult. Mm. But I think when, you know, taking that downtime for yourself and just be being with your thoughts, meditating, praying, whatever, call it during the course of the day, a during the day, and getting your kids and understand that without putting a class around what you’re doing. I mean, if, if those, if children could grow up understanding that self care, downtime and inward thinking and review was good for them and reaching out to get help when you need, not when you’re so far down the road that it’s take a time to get.

Dr. Ann Hawkins (07:28):

And if could start recognizing that six years by the time they were in high school or on college and had their own children, that would just be a part of their life.

Sam Demma (07:43):

And so tell me more about the work that you’ve done in this space to try and make that a reality, because I know you’re working towards it every single day. <laugh>,

Dr. Ann Hawkins (08:03):

I set up, because we don’t do healthcare. In fact, my first company was named Well Care Dimensions, a new dimension of healthcare that, of being responsible for your own health.

Sam Demma (08:16):

Mm.

Dr. Ann Hawkins (08:17):

And so when I got, when I, and so we, I was putting together a lot of different programs, different classes. And this is in probably the 1996 I started, so it doesn’t seem like a long time ago to me, but to y’all, it’s a long time ago. So in getting people to really understand, you know, we don’t have, you don’t have to take pharmaceutical. You can take something that’s, and, and natural, you know, I know they’re starving kids in India, but if you’re not, if you’re full, you don’t have to finish your plate. yes. You need to get up and move all the time. And just getting people to understand that the value of being in motion, I mean, we were not developed to be on ours all day long. <laugh> we were be in motion. And I mean, I, we were at a soccer game this weekend for one of my nephews, and this was almost a semi, it’s like the third or fourth level of soccer for eight, nine, and 10, 10 year olds.

Dr. Ann Hawkins (09:23):

And I was watch watching another team warm up and it was really interesting cause a lot of the, and it, this was all, all boys. A lot of the boys that were doing warm up drills couldn’t go step step hop, step step hop. They couldn’t get stopped to hop. And I was like, I, I don’t think they could probably gall because in the States, we just don’t have that much education now to teach those kids how to do that. So part of my whole thing is what do we do to help people get better and be, be, be better? So when I transferred outta healthcare, I got into the worker’s comp because in the United States if work comp, work comp was growing by 25 in cost by 25% a year in 2013, and that’s the only data you can find, I don’t think they want this to know.

Dr. Ann Hawkins (10:27):

And so it was like, and the cost of work comp claims are, I mean, work comp would actually be in the Fortune 500 as a company if it were a legitimate business. Yeah. Jesus. I know. It’s, it’s seriously. Yeah. And so I really wanted to help people get the help that they needed before. And I finally dawned on probably all starts in head, help people to think more open mind to rebut some of those negative thoughts that happen during the course of the day, of which 70% of our thoughts at least are negative. I mean, when you, when you, and get them to be aware of their surroundings and conscious of what’s going on. And the great news is, from all the data that I’ve seen and read and heard, is that we are truly right now in a consciousness growth atmosphere. Mm. And so, I mean, that’s a very, very good thing across the board for kids and for parents and, and for seniors to understand that there are a lot more of us that are looking at the what if it works side then, Oh, I did that before and it didn’t work.

Dr. Ann Hawkins (11:49):

Well, you know, when you were seven and you walk by that dog and it grilled you and bit you and at 27 you can’t pet a dog cause stop it <laugh>. But, and we all do it. We all do it. And I, I mean, and so a lot of the work we’re doing now is basically in that behavioral health space, that wellbeing space the resurgence face, getting people to understand that they are of value. And for all of us being cooped up in our homes for a couple years and cocooning, I mean, it was, and it was really easy to just lay on the couch and eat whatever going eat, watch some television instead of doing something that was moving and active. So hopeful, you know, knowing that we’re gonna get back to that place where we can, you know, where people are out and about more and they’re speaking to other people more and they’re getting together in groups of like-minded people so they can share their thoughts and ideas and move to that next level of consciousness.

Sam Demma (12:51):

That sounds amazing. Thank you for sharing a little bit behind the inspiration and the impetus to the work you’re doing. Tell me about the student program, you know, student First call. I think it’s very unique and good. I would love to hear a little bit about it.

Dr. Ann Hawkins (13:05):

Thank you. And we just, I mean it’s, it’s, we’ve got a student first call programs and they were originally just directed to college students of college students drop outta school in the US every year. And for those college students, and especially for the younger kids, I mean, they’ve been at home, their only impact has been a teacher on a video for the last a couple of years. And mom, mom, mom and dad’s. But the college over, what we do is we give students access 24 7, 365 to behavioral health clinicians who can help them when they need it. So as soon as you call in, you’re actually able to speak to a clinician who can assess you, get an evaluation, talk you off of the edge, and get you thinking differently. Then that counselor will talk you a couple more times if they need to. And then from there, if, if it’s necessary, we can then transfer them to a psychologist or a psychiatrist, which in the states is out outta pocket.

Dr. Ann Hawkins (14:16):

Yeah. Or we can hook them up with their parents insurance plan so that they get in someone. But I’m, I’m, I’m looking at two the middle schools, schools to families liked to say, you know, paid for either 50 50 split by the families and the school district or government funded whatever, to be able to give those parents and their underage children access to a clinician. And in, in the States, we can’t talk to those children with without a parent if parents consent unless they’re over 18. Yeah. But again, if you can get your six or seven year old, and I mean, it is really cool. So I’ve got a 18 year old grandson and a 15 year old grandson. And then the kids we were just with are like 12 and nine. Nice. But the great news is they’re having these great conversations with mom and dad that I, I never could, my generation never could have because our parents weren’t open enough. But if working with a program where the parents and the children could get help and mom and dad could learn and be guided Yeah. On how to be a little bit more openminded about hearing what their kids are saying. Everybody wins.

Sam Demma (15:57):

Yeah.

Dr. Ann Hawkins (15:58):

Everybody wins. And those kids grow up with a lot less baggage on their shoulders than their parents.

Sam Demma (16:06):

I love,

Dr. Ann Hawkins (16:09):

It’s very, very dear friend named Davell. We’ll know exactly who I’m talking about. <laugh>. And he’s, he’s not as old as I am in his fifties, but I mean, he came home one day and his mom said he was like 13. And his mom said you know, I bet all your friends at home arent talking about smoking marijuana. This was 30 years ago. Wow. Right. And so he is like, How did you know <laugh>? Why was a kid too? So he comes home from school the next, this was in the golden days, it went against the law. I understand that everybody was doing it. And sure enough, he enjoyed his first joint with his mom that the kitchen table <laugh>. But they are, she’s almost 90. They are still best friends. They communicate every single day. This mom at years knows everything that, that’s really cool. But we’ve got down those barriers. So both the parents head <laugh>. That’s awesome.

Dr. Ann Hawkins (17:43):

So, but in being able to get that across with the parents at a younger age and the kids at a younger age and the faculty staff and administration to buy in, everybody win.

Sam Demma (17:57):

What keeps you, First of all, you mentioned having these open lines of communication and encouraging students to reach out and ask for help so that they don’t live with too much baggage. funny enough, my, I wrote a book and it’s coming out on November 18th and the title is Actually Empty Your Backpack, <laugh> <laugh>. So I just felt compelled to share you, you mentioned the, the importance of reaching out and, and asking for help, the importance of keeping open lines of communication, getting everyone on board. but I’m curious to know what keeps you personally fulfilled and hopeful and inspired to show up to work every day and try and pursue this outcome despite the big challenge that it places in front of you?

Dr. Ann Hawkins (18:47):

Well, at almost 70 years, we just were able to start we just joined another company so we can even grow further. But, and our kids say to us all the time, you know, what, are you gonna retire? Well, they finally quit asking

Sam Demma (19:01):

<laugh>, They’re retired yet. I

Dr. Ann Hawkins (19:02):

Mean, Yeah. And cause it’s not, we’re not finished yet. We’re not finished yet. And it’s like, there are a number of times when I get down I get upset. cause I’m adhd and my husband is very calm, very soothing. I practice a bunch of times before I found him. But so it’s just, and I say to myself, You say this stuff to everybody else. Listen to what telling people, but how do, how, how, how, how do we do it? Bob and I are very good at and we’ve been in the fitness business for years and years and years before we got what we’re doing now, working out in just this at lunchtime you feed exercise so the blood can flow and that energy that you have can keep moving. And those thoughts keep, you know, and I for if somebody could find something that was a natural, something that you load on serotonin, dopamine to all of those, more of those positive thoughts coming through. And so, but I mean, you are what you create, you are what you think about.

Sam Demma (20:23):

Mm.

Dr. Ann Hawkins (20:24):

And you know, we all go through this. I get it. I leave the band on of these. But it’s when you’re thinking about not having money, guess what?

Sam Demma (20:35):

You manifesting it <laugh>. You’re gonna have more of not having money <laugh>.

Dr. Ann Hawkins (20:42):

Exactly. Yeah. So, and so we, I mean, we meditate ev day too. And so the medic, I am worthy. I am worthy, I am worthy of success. I’m worthy of being about being financially good. I’m worth, I’m, I’m worthy to be attractive. I’m worthy to, I’m worthy for my kids to have this, this, and this. And it takes a while to believe that. But it can just, you know, grow a little bit more and a little bit more. And I wish I could say I did this 24 hours a day, but I don’t,

Sam Demma (21:20):

What would you share with an educator listening to this right now who feels like they’re not worthy, who feels burnt out, who feels the opposite of all these beautiful things you just shared? <laugh>?

Dr. Ann Hawkins (21:35):

 find somebody you can talk to that you trust that will be honest. And I think that’s the hardest part. Sometimes when you’re not being to yourself, you need somebody to tell you that.

Sam Demma (21:51):

Yeah.

Dr. Ann Hawkins (21:53):

And not feel story for you. or, you know, it’s like doing a mental check. Why is this happening to me? And when you start to sweat, when you can feel that stress coming on, and I we’re, I’m still learning this now and into what we work with all the time is helping, it’s like, okay, whatever this stress is, I see this stress. I, I now I’m letting you go. Making me aware. And it’s hard to surrender to that. You know, we hear the word surrender all the time, but it’s if we were supposed to know the future, we’d be pulled the future and we would live so cautiously we wouldn’t have. Yeah. You know, and it’s on my computer screen I have it says always behind you or on your side. Cause the universe, whatever you wanna call, the universe is always on your side. The universe is not fighting against you, It’s fighting for you.

Sam Demma (23:10):

Hmm.

Dr. Ann Hawkins (23:11):

That’s, and I think, Yeah. Well, and to get kids to understand that too, I mean, in the playground, Susie said something to me that she didn’t, I was last picked to be on the soccer team. Whatever it is, it’s, there’s a lesson there. And the bigger the learning and the lesson, the bigger the effect on what happened you. And it’s like, okay, didn’t get it this time. She’s gonna over the sidewalk the first time up, up, up. Now a pebble still didn’t get it. Let’s put this boulder in the street. Right. How many times do we look up and go just why that happened to now and

Sam Demma (23:58):

Experience yourself

Dr. Ann Hawkins (24:01):

Point it. Right. Yeah. Been down that been down that we, we and we, we’ve all been down that path. You know, these barbie doll type Barbie and ken doll type people. If they still have those around, people e even remember, I mean everybody goes through this. The wealthy and the poor, you know, and it’s just, part of it is just how much you can take this in and realize that it is you, it’s not the world. It’s not somebody else’s fault. It’s not somebody else’s job.

Sam Demma (24:36):

Mm.

Dr. Ann Hawkins (24:37):

It’s your,

Sam Demma (24:39):

There’s that honest piece coming back. That’s why I think it’s important. You find an honest friend, you can talk to <laugh>. and

Dr. Ann Hawkins (24:47):

So it’s probably not a coworker. Cause they don’t, they don’t, you know, you don’t know where that’s going go. But, you know, and unfortunately very many of us don’t have friends that we’ve known one. Like, you know, I, I, these stories, this lady I hadn’t seen years was great, but not a lot of us have those anymore. Yeah. You know, if you moved from your hometown or whatever, you don’t have those people. But signing those people that are genuine, that want to help you grow. And you know, churches, synagogues, temples are good spots for that. Ministers, priests, nuns, you know, whoever you feel safe with Yeah. And is willing to share back with you.

Sam Demma (25:32):

Gotcha. when you are not feeling the best, aside from, you know, working on it yourself, who do you kind of lean on or you know, ask, ask for some help.

Dr. Ann Hawkins (25:48):

And I’m so fortunate that I have Bob, my husband. He’s my best friend. My soul made, we’ve been together since two nice whole opposites. But we each other all the time. Like people are like, Well, Dr. Ran and Bob, what do you mean that’s two people. So I’m very fortunate that I have have that. Yeah. But because, and we work a lot, most of our friends are are retired or cetera, cetera. So we’re basically a support system for both of this. Many times he’s more of a support to me. I to that’s I feel I think not, not a lot of couples have that. Yeah. From, and it’s hard to have that as you’re raising kids when you’re learning techniques. <laugh> are,

Sam Demma (26:45):

That’s

Dr. Ann Hawkins (26:45):

Awesome. You know, to find the common commonality, the common place. I mean, and Bob and I are fortunate together since office Bob’s desk. Nice. So we’re one of the few couples that can do that. But you know, if, if it’s not your spouse, a sister, a brother, if it’s not that, you know, it’s amazing who you can meet sitting in Starbucks sometimes. And sometimes people have more, are more successful talking to people that they don’t know. Yeah. Stuff that’s bothering them. Cause it, there’s never gonna be any feedback or any pushback. Yeah. Pushback. Yeah.

Sam Demma (27:31):

Yeah. Yeah. That’s so true. Yeah. I love that. And that’s such a great testament to your relationship. thinking of the educators that might be listening to this I think something that is really helpful when you feel a little burnt out, especially working in the education industry, is remembering why you started in the first place. And a lot of educators get into this field and this work because they wanna make a positive impact on the lives of young people. Do you have any stories that come to mind of students who you ha you know, who have gone down really challenging and struggle filled paths and made a big transformation due to education? and if so, maybe share one or two of them to hopefully rekindle some passion and, and a listener

Dr. Ann Hawkins (28:19):

Umactually in touch with some of my students from interesting. Just got reconnect with somebody on LinkedIn and his daughter is now a sophomore at the college that he actually attended where I, I spoke. But I think biggest one is one of my nephews who in Ohio couldn’t go through graduation cuz he missed so many graduation date.

Dr. Ann Hawkins (28:51):

So, and he was, if there was a chance not to be at school or do something stupid, he picked, he picked. Right. And so his brother identical twin brothers. One brother comes out gay as a junior in high school and the other one is straight. So he fought his whole senior year, the straight one. telling people that just because his brother was gay didn’t mean he was. So all of that stuff going on in, in his head. Well now he works in service as a first responder, has a master’s degree, married to wonderful children and now spends half of his time teaching at the university level.

Sam Demma (29:41):

Wow.

Dr. Ann Hawkins (29:42):

So it just, but it was a rough 18 years for his mom.

Sam Demma (29:48):

Ah.

Dr. Ann Hawkins (29:50):

So it’s really cool to kids say that. And then I used to give some very thought provoking. And so one of them, I, I hand the test out, I’d ask the question and, and they had to, they were the chairman of a fitness center at the college and what, what would they do? And they’d hand the paper back and then I’d hand it back out the next day on, on the Wednesday. And I’d say, Okay, sorry, but we had a 40% decrease in our budget. Tell me why you cut out X, Y, Z and why was there in the first place? Then they’d hand it back in again. And then on, on the last day, I would hand out the papers to somebody else and they’d have to grade them and give that person a budget. And they’re like, Why did you do that? That’s what is going. And I probably had, after I taught that class, I bet 10% of those kids were calling me within the next five years. Doctor Ann, you were right. There was a spell or grammar error on the first your paper handed you back your paper. And if didn’t, this was before spell check was available readily and

Dr. Ann Hawkins (31:24):

Doing, doing this cause this is what your boss. And so it’s, it’s effect and I don’t, are not, it doesn’t appear to that people are understanding or kids are learning that of. So I think, you know, for features, it’s the same with them. It’s, I mean, it’s and that deep breathing really does work. Or taking a pause when somebody says something to you when a child says something to you that really doesn’t resonate. It’s so hard. But it’s just look at that little face and not see the little bad man that’s living in there at that moment. Maybe picture a little angel over that wonderful child and say, I know there’s a lesson in here for me. Just chill. It’s hard, especially when you’re with them, you know, 5, 6, 7, 8 hours a day and now with, you know, breakfast served at schools and child as late as five 30 in the afternoon. Yeah. It’s, yeah. It’s hard. It’s hard for people that are working in offices too, you know, because they just can’t get out and spend the time with their kids. So

Sam Demma (32:53):

Yeah. Along your journey, you’re sharing some really great ideas and I appreciate your insights along your own personal journey to more self-awareness and more impact in the work that you’re doing. What resources have you found helpful aside from actual physical people in your life like Bob <laugh> what things have you found really helpful that you have continuously reread or return to that you think other people might enjoy looking into?

Dr. Ann Hawkins (33:26):

 I’m very much into spirituality. So we, I read a lot of or does homes. I love the mountains, so I love Aspen. So we go there a lot. But just a lot of the Intuits that talk and, you know, Jo Joza, there’s tons and tons of them. It’s just finding somebody that you can listen to on a podcast or read, read a book about, and we kind of all drop into our own authors. so it’s just finding the person that, I mean rights in the Wayne Dyer. I was awesome when he, he was alive. His books are still great. so it’s just looking into whatever talk to you.

Sam Demma (34:14):

Yeah.

Dr. Ann Hawkins (34:16):

 and for some people it’s, it’s the Bible or the Torah or the Quren, but whatever it is. And looking at that and reading it from your perspective, which is probably a very different perspective than how it was written.

Sam Demma (34:33):

Cool.

Dr. Ann Hawkins (34:34):

And so it’s like how do you take these great stories and apply them in your life today?

Sam Demma (34:45):

I love that. Oh, thank you for sharing that. I appreciate it. If someone wants to reach out to you and ask a question or start a conversation or inquire about some of your services, what would be the best way for them to get in touch?

Dr. Ann Hawkins (34:59):

Well, if I give you my email address that’s probably the easiest.

Sam Demma (35:03):

Sure.

Dr. Ann Hawkins (35:04):

Does that work? So I’ll give you which one of easiest We’ll try let’s do DrAnn@HealthKarmaGroup.com.

Sam Demma (35:24):

Awesome. DrAnn@HealthKarmaGroup.com.

Dr. Ann Hawkins (35:27):

Yep. And just in the, what do you talk, what do you want me to talk to about piece? Just put Sam.

Sam Demma (35:33):

The subject. Okay. Subject, Sam. Let’s spam her email with Sam guys <laugh>. Dr. Ann, thank you so much for taking your time to come on the podcast, share some of your experiences, some of the programs that you’re working on and creating. I really appreciate it and wish you nothing but a lot of joy, health, and success. Keep it up.

Dr. Ann Hawkins (35:53):

Thank you Sam, and you are doing such great stuff to be at the age you are and understand what your passion, your calling is now is just awesome. So many kudos to you.

Sam Demma (36:02):

Thank you. All right, we’ll talk soon.

Dr. Ann Hawkins (36:04):

Okay. Byebye,

Sam Demma (36:05):

I believe that educators deserve way more recognition, which is why I’ve created the High Performing Educator Awards. In 2022, 20 educator recipients will be shortlisted, each of whom will be featured in local press. invited to record an episode on the podcast, and spotlighted on our platform. In addition, the one handpicked winner will be presented with an engraved plaque by myself. I will fly to the winner’s city to present this to them and ask that they participate in a quick photo shoot and interview on location. The coolest part, nominations are open right now, and they close October 1st, 2022. So please take a moment to apply or nominate someone you know or work with that deserves this recognition. You can do so by going to www.highperformingeducator.com/award. We can never recognize educators enough.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Dr. Ann Hawkins

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.

Dr. Sunaina Sharma – Program Leader at the Halton District School Board & Practicum Advisor at Brock University

Dr. Sunaina Sharma - Program Leader at the Halton District School Board and Practicum Advisor at Brock University
About Dr. Sunaina Sharma

Dr. Sunaina Sharma (@DrSunainaSharma) is an in-school program leader and secondary teacher with over twenty years of experience teaching with the Halton District School Board in Burlington, ON. She strives to put the learner’s needs at the forefront of all program planning, classroom teaching, and professional learning so that students participate in authentic and relevant knowledge construction.

Her doctoral research centred on understanding how to leverage digital technology in the classroom so that it supports student engagement. In her current role as an instructor and practicum advisor at a Bachelor of Education program, she uses her knowledge, skills and experience to guide future educators.

Connect with Sunaina: Email | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Halton District School Board – HDSB

Bachelor of Education – Brock University

Dr. Susaina Sharma’s Personal Website

Google Workplace

Ted.com

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. Today we have a very special guest. Her name is Dr. Sunaina Sharma. Dr. Sunaina Sharma is an in-school program leader and secondary teacher with over 20 years experience teaching with the Halton District School Board in Burlington, Ontario. She strives to put the learners needs at the forefront of all program planning, classroom teaching, and professional learning, so that students are participating in authentic and relevant knowledge construction. Her doctoral research is centered on understanding how to leverage digital technologies in the classroom so that it supports student engagement. In her current role as an instructor and practicum advisor at Brock University at a Bachelor of Education program, she is using her knowledge, skills, and experience to guide future educators. I hope you enjoy this conversation with Dr. Sunania Sharma and I will see you on the other side. Welcome back to another episode on the High Performing Educator Podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. And today we are joined with a very special guest, Dr. Sunaina Sharma. Dr. Sunaina Sharma actually uses one of my TED talks in her classroom, <laugh> which prompted her to reach out, and I’m so excited to have her on the show here today. Please start by introducing yourself.

Dr. Sunaina Sharma (02:18):

Hi, I’m Sunaina Sharma and I have been an educator for over 20 years, and despite all the challenges, it is still my passion.

Sam Demma (02:30):

What made it your passion over, or I guess 20 years ago, what started this journey for you?

Dr. Sunaina Sharma (02:36):

It’s an interesting story because I never intended to become a teacher. My path was set. I was going to go to law school and I was going to be a family lawyer. upon graduating with my Bachelor of Arts degree, I walked down the street from where I lived to the local high school and asked if anyone needed a volunteer because I graduated and I wanted to have more experience working with youth. And an English teacher at that school, Mo leaking, said, Oh, I’d love to have you join my class. My grade elevens are writing essays and they could use some help. So I started by going in twice a week. And what Mr. Leaking did with his students in that classroom was magic. His students were excitedly engaged and I wanted to be a magician like him. So I actually rescinded my acceptance to law school and set up on the path to attain my Bachelor of education.

Sam Demma (03:34):

You mentioned Mr. Leaking was a magician of sorts. What exactly did you witness in his class that got you so excited about doing something similar with your own group of students?

Dr. Sunaina Sharma (03:47):

So what he was doing with his students in his classroom was completely different from what I experienced in high school. My high school experience wasn’t very positive and I just remember copying notes and wrote memorization and weekly quizzes and monthly tests. And what he was doing was there was such an energy and excitement in the classroom. There was so much noise and movement, but it was all very planned and calculated. So if you looked through the window of his classroom, it looked chaotic, but it was all like organized chaos. It was so much fun to be in that room. I went from volunteering twice a week to four or five times a week. I just wanted to be in that room.

Sam Demma (04:31):

Oh, that’s so awesome. And what took you from that room to where you are today? Tell me a little bit about your journey through education.

Dr. Sunaina Sharma (04:39):

Okay. So I completed my Bachelor of Education in 2001 and immediately got hired by the Halton District School Board at the school that I volunteered at No Way <laugh>. So that, that opportunity allowed me to build connections, real connections with students, but also other educators in the building. So I ended up working for that school until it closed in 2018. And that school was amalgamated into the school that I am currently at, which is mm, Robinson in Burlington. Nice. And I’ve been at that, I’ve been at that school for four years along the way. I do love learning and figuring out how to be a better teacher. That’s always at the root of all of my learning and experiences that I seek out. So along the way, I ended up attaining my master’s degree, my master’s of education, and then I thought I was done, but then I wasn’t and ended up completing my PhD in 2018. So I have my PhD in education. Nice. So with that opportunity, it’s allowed me, I am a department head or program leader in my school. It’s allowed me to not only inspire and engage the people I work with, but it’s also allowed me to work in a Bachelor of education program in mentoring and guiding our future teachers,

Sam Demma (06:03):

Which is such an important role. I think teachers when performing very well and making genuine connections with their classrooms have a very big impact on the future being the kids that are gonna be running the future and being a part of it. I think back to an educator I had in my life who, like Mr. Leaking for you created an environment that all the students in his class wanted to be in. you know, over the past couple of years things have been quite different and a little bit challenging. I’m curious in your roles, what are some of the challenges you’re faced with right now and, and kind of how are you coming, coming, getting out of or getting over some of those things?

Dr. Sunaina Sharma (06:43):

Yeah, definitely the current challenges that students are struggling in the classroom after two years of disruptive learning, they do have gaps. And as such, when they encounter difficulty, they get frustrated and the outcome is they’re giving up, they’re struggling to persevere, to overcome the challenges and the obstacles.

Sam Demma (07:03):

Gotcha. H how as as an educator do you kind of support or help a student get over that or get through it? <laugh>

Dr. Sunaina Sharma (07:12):

It’s, it’s offering care and support. We always have to remember that our students are children. Mm. Although they like to present themselves as adults, they are children and we as educators are in a position to teach them we need to reestablish or reteach them. That learning involves failing. Mm. Somehow they’ve learned along the way that failing is bad or wrong and that’s where the unlearning needs to come. And we really need to reinforce that failing is part of learning and they have to fail forward.

Sam Demma (07:46):

I love that. I think back to soccer, growing up as an athlete, our coach would always sit us down after a terrible performance and instead of scolding us, would provide us with the opportunity to chat about it with all of our teammates to try and identify what went wrong and what we could learn from so that, you know, in the future, similar situations wouldn’t unfold again. And it felt like he helped us look at failure as a stepping stone rather than a, you know, an a dead end. So I think that’s a really important lesson to share with young people. what gives you hope? What keeps you motivated and inspired to show up to work every single day and put your best foot forward?

Dr. Sunaina Sharma (08:25):

Students and my colleagues give me hope. Students since 2020 actually have gone through four different modes of learning and they continue to still come to school every day and try their best and engage My colleagues give me hope because they’re always reflecting and learning. My department does not have the course binder that we keep reusing every semester or every year. We’re constantly revisiting our courses to make them better. Our courses never remain static. And the fact that my colleagues are willing to put in the work every summer to make the courses better for the upcoming year is inspiring.

Sam Demma (09:06):

I love that. you mentioned thinking about failure not as a challenge, but it’s something to learn from. I’m curious, among your own journey, if there are certain mistakes you’ve made or certain situations that have happened in your career that you’ve learned from that you think are worth sharing with other educators who might be listening?

Dr. Sunaina Sharma (09:25):

Yeah, that’s a great question cuz it actually is gonna allow me to talk about my PhD research. I used to think technology engages students and over the years I would encounter various professional development opportunities that introduced me to new technology and that would peak my interest. And I would go home and spend the whole evening planning this amazing lesson for the next day. And the next day as the students would walk into class, I would be excited because I thought I had this amazing lesson planned. And on a number of occasions there was detachment, disinterest, and complete disengagement. The students were not compelled with this lesson that I spent hours the night before planning. So that would have to result in me going to my teacher’s toolbox to just come up with something different for the day. But this happened a number of times and it led me to want to explore the relationship between digital technology and student engagement.

Dr. Sunaina Sharma (10:28):

I have seen the power of technology to engage students who have previously been disengaged, but I’ve also seen that sometimes they, the technology itself is what causes them to disconnect. So that actually is what inspired my PhD research because I couldn’t figure out why does technology work sometimes and why doesn’t it work other times? And I learned it’s not the technology that actually engages them, it’s what the technology allows them to do. It’s the outcome. Mm. So if the technology allows students to collaborate, connect, and construct their own knowledge, then it will engage them. So if you’re using technology in a different way than you should dump the use of the technology.

Sam Demma (11:16):

Tell me more about some of the tech tools that you have come across in your journey that you often go back to and consistently use because you think they allow students and teachers to have those three types of interactions.

Dr. Sunaina Sharma (11:32):

It’s nothing new. Often I think as teachers we’re looking for the new thing, but it’s often going back to the tools that we have and using them in a different way. Hmm. So for example if you attempt to have a class discussion, you’re always gonna have these few students that are participating in the class discussion. Often all your other students in the classroom have a lot to say, but for whatever reason they’re not raising their hands. Sometimes they just need more time to process to articulate their ideas or they feel like they’re being dominated by this other strong voices in the classroom. So one thing that I do is I’ll have a class discussion on a Google doc. We all use Google Docs, but to suddenly use a Google Doc for a class discussion allows students to carefully read each other’s thoughts process and then thoughtfully share their ideas. When I post a Google Doc as a class discussion, I will typically get 100% participation on that Google Doc. So again, it’s not a brand new tech tool, it’s using the tools that we already have at our fingertips in a different way so that students are able to collaborate and connect and construct their own knowledge.

Sam Demma (12:47):

And if working in groups, each of the groups could have a different color font selected so you could very quickly and live see the edits happening on the document, which is really, really awesome. I think that’s a, that’s so cool that you use Google Docs. I had never have used in a classroom Google Docs live with my classmates and my teacher. I think that’s a really cool idea. So thanks for sharing. you know, we talked a little bit about the learning around technology. what are some things that keep you motivated personally outside of technology? Cuz it seems like it’s a big part of your career. <laugh>,

Dr. Sunaina Sharma (13:29):

The people who I surround myself with are always the ones that are motivating me. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, we all have our days where it’s just, it’s not a good day, but suddenly you’ll enter a building and the people around you inspire you. I think educators are incredible people and we are resilient and never give up and that’s what we want to inspire in our students. I’m always working to try and build that self-efficacy and capacity in other educators around me. And this year I’ve actually received a great opportunity. I’m actually on a leave from my teaching position for one year. So I can take on this opportunity as a instructor and practicum advisor in a Bachelor of education program. That way I’m working with our future educators to motivate and inspire them. And it’s really interesting. I entered the program to motivate and inspire them and it has been so motivating for me to see our future educators. They are lifelong learners, they are dedicated to making school positive and they’re dedicated to making positive change in the schools.

Sam Demma (14:43):

Hmm. That must be a pretty cool experience working with the future educators of tomorrow. Right now. I’m curious maybe this, you’ve been in that role for a short period of time so it won’t be as applicable, but tell me about a story or a situation where a program that you ran or maybe you in a program you were a part of had a big impact on a student, whether that’s an educator as a student or an actual student in a high school or middle school.

Dr. Sunaina Sharma (15:11):

Yeah. I’ll tell you about our English program at our high school and then I can kind of share a little nugget of information on how that impacted my Bachelor of education program. Sure. But I don’t have a single story cuz how do you capture an amazing program? In, in one story, while I’ll give you a little snapshot, our entire English program focuses on the overarching umbrella of equity. So in our Grade 10 program, our students choose a graphic novel from a selection of nine. And one of the students chose to read a graphic novel and she said, I’ve never read a book for school that had a Muslim character. She’s wearing a hijab. And for me that was impactful because she saw herself in something that she was reading for school. our English program in grade 11 has students identifying what they see as a problem that is impacting equity or is creating an equity.

Dr. Sunaina Sharma (16:12):

And they work to identify a solution and try to inspire a larger audience through media to tackle that problem. And that allowed, so one of the grade 11 students actually took on a project to advocate for change. It took her to our school principal, it took her to the parent council, it took her, took her to our school board, and the result was change. she advocated for menstrual products in all hdsp bathrooms regardless of the fact that they were male bathrooms or female bathrooms. And now Htsp has implemented that across the board and that came from a grade 11 students English project.

Sam Demma (16:53):

Wow. So

Dr. Sunaina Sharma (16:55):

The impact of our program is that students are seeing themselves, seeing our community, seeing their global world, and they’re inspired to use their voice for positive change. So I was sharing a little bit of our program with my Bachelor of Education program students and one of my students started to get emotional. So I, I went over and said, Is everything okay? Cuz regardless of the fact that they’re adults, they’re still my students. Yeah. And they’re all humans. And she said, and she began to share a hurtful comment that a teacher had made about her eyes because she’s of Asian descent. And she said, What you are doing in your school with your English program is what I want to do, and now I realize it can be done. Mm. So I think the, when students see themselves in the curriculum, it is so powerful not only for those students, but for us as educators to see that positive impact.

Sam Demma (17:58):

Those nine books, it sounds like, you know, those resources had a big impact on that one student who saw herself in the material shared. I’m wondering for your own personal and professional development, if you have come across any resources throughout your own learning journey that you found really helpful. And this could also be peers but if there’s any books or courses or videos or people you follow that you found helpful what are some of those things?

Dr. Sunaina Sharma (18:30):

I don’t like to say this is the golden title. Yeah. This is the Golden Book. As I mentioned, we’re constantly changing our program. We’re on a four year cycle, so every four years we kind of revisit and say, Okay, is this outdated? Should we keep this or should we remove it? So I’m reluctant to name a title, but the news, we’re constantly using the news and having students look at the news. It’s so important. They’re aware of what’s happening in our world. We like to live in this little, I call it the Burlington bubble, but we need to be aware of what’s going on around us. The news is a great resource for me. Also, Ted, that’s how I stumbled across your TED Talk. We use your TED Talk. I think Ted Talk is the platform that we’re trying to create in our students. We want our students to know that their voice matters. Sometimes they say, Why does anyone wanna hear about this? And you go to TED Talk and you hear these amazing pitches or speeches or presentations on topics that you would think maybe wouldn’t have a large audience, but they do. So TED Talk and the news for me are great resources and tools, also documentaries. Hmm.

Sam Demma (19:49):

Awesome. I love that. I, I would love for you to send me <laugh> outside of this podcast, a list of awesome documentaries for my own pleasure watching <laugh>. So please do. is there anything that you would share or say to an educator right now who is feeling a little bit burnt out, a little uninspired and needing not a full pep talk, but maybe some words of advice? and if that person walked into your office at Brock and told you that, what would you kind of share with them?

Dr. Sunaina Sharma (20:22):

I would tell them to just take a deep breath and you’re not the only one. Lots of fe people are feeling burnt out and tired. with the ch with the changes in our students and their own self-efficacy they are needing our care and support more so than before the pandemic. I would continue to affirm to them that they are amazing and they’re great. Keep doing your best. If you are doing your best, that’s what matters. And if you’re feeling like you need some support, you really need to count on the people around you. Everyone’s a team and we’re all working together. That’s the case in my department, in the school that I work at, but also in the Bachelor of Education program with the other instructors in the cohort. We’re always leaning on each other for care and support. So I would tell that burnt out teacher, you’re doing great. Take a deep breath. Is there anything that people around you can help support you through?

Sam Demma (21:28):

Mm. Love that. That’s awesome. Well keep up the amazing work that you’re doing with educators. If another educator is listening to this and wants to reach out and ask you a question or share resources or have a conversation, what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you?

Dr. Sunaina Sharma (21:44):

The best way to find me is on twitter. I think twitter is such a great way to connect with others from around the world to engage in professional dialogue.

Sam Demma (21:53):

Awesome. What would your Twitter handle be?

Dr. Sunaina Sharma (21:56):

@drsunainasharma

Sam Demma (21:58):

Okay. Awesome. Sunaina thank you so much for making the time to come on the podcast here today. I really appreciate it. Keep up the amazing work and we’ll talk to you soon.

Dr. Sunaina Sharma (22:06):

Thank you so much Sam.

Sam Demma (22:08):

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. Sunaina Sharma

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 (João) Linhares – Vice Principal at St.André Bessette Catholic School in Ajax, Ontario

John (João) Linhares - Vice Principal at St.André Bessette Catholic School in Ajax, Ontario
About John Linhares

John Linhares (@MrJLinhares), is the Vice Principal at St André Bessette Catholic School in Ajax, Ontario. John started his journey in Education in the year 2000 after graduating from York University’s Concurrent Education Program and has been privileged to work with the Toronto Catholic District School Board as well as in the Durham Catholic District School Board over the last 22 years. His journey as a Vice Principal came during the pandemic, as he felt the need to support the DCDSB’s virtual school which was home to over 3600 students.

John truly believes in an inclusive model for education, and strives to get to know each one of his students’ and their God-given special gifts and talents. He is passionate about effective use of technology and 21st Century learning in the classroom to help engage students today and prepare them for their future. He also is passionate about the arts as a vehicle to help students reach their full potential in the learning process and to express themselves to help define their individuality through creativity. He is a life-long learner who is always willing to listen and explore obstacles from an out-of-the-box perspective.

Connect with John: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

St André Bessette Catholic School

York University – Concurrent Education Program

Toronto Catholic District School Board – TCDSB

Durham Catholic District School Board – DCDSB

DCDSB virtual school

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 (00:57):

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 someone that I see walking around my block almost every single week. His name is John Linhares. John is the vice principal at John (João) Linhares – Vice Principal at St.André Bessette Catholic School in Ajax, Ontario. John started his journey in education the year 2000 after graduating from York University’s Concurrent Education program and has been privileged to work with the Toronto Catholic District School Board, as well as the Durham Catholic District School Board over the last 22 years. His journey as a Vice Principal came during the pandemic, as he felt the need to support the Durham Catholic District School Board’s Virtual school, which was home to over 3,600 students. John truly believes in an inclusive model for education and strives to get to know each one of his students and their God-given special gifts and talents.

Sam Demma (01:50):

He is passionate about effective use of technology and 21st century learning in the classroom to help engage students today, and prepare them for their future. He also is passionate about the arts as a vehicle to help students reach their full potential in the learning process and to express themselves to help define their individuality through creativity. He is a lifelong learner who is always willing to listen and explore obstacles from an out of the box perspective. I hope you enjoy this conversation with John, and I will see you on the other side. Today, we have a very special guest. I actually see him a couple times a week while walking around the block. <laugh>. His name is John Linhares. John, please feel free to introduce yourself.

John Linhares (02:33):

Hey Sam. Thanks so much. Yeah, I feel like we should be walking right now, actually. Cause Yeah, we’re always like crossing past, like crossing ships here. I’m John Linhares and I’m super excited to, to be here with you. I’ve seen you in person in your inspirational conversations and your inspirational presentations with our schools. You know, I’ve been following you as well the last couple of years, and I just was very happy to take on this, this little invite to come in on your show for a bit.

Sam Demma (03:00):

So you’re in education, what do you do? How did you get into it?

John Linhares (03:05):

So, yeah, so it’s it’s been a pretty long, like I’m not kind of, I was that kid who grew up basically knowing that I wanted be a teacher okay. And I would wind up my toys and all that. I pretend, and I was an only child, so the creativity had to come out. And yeah, so I know I, so from a young age I wanted to do that and started teaching in 2000. So it’s been essentially 22 years. And I love it. Obviously I do love it. The pandemic kicked in and another passion, the minus technology. So when the pandemic kicked in, we were all went virtual Yeah. Class. When virtual, I just felt this urge to be like, Listen, I need to help out more. At the time I was kind of in a small bubble of classes and could only help out a few people, I guess.

John Linhares (03:49):

And were reaching out to a few people to help them out. So that kind of inspired me to wanna help more people. And so I reached out to some people at the boards, listened, You guys need help with, with, you know, getting people on board with their classes and helping out. Like, what are we gonna do in the situation? you know, let me know. So that’s how I, I got on board with that. And as luck would take it, you know, the next step into my career was becoming a vice principal. And just led me to this path to being a vice principal. And the first school that I was a vice principal at was the German Catholic virtual elementary school. First of its kind created or we were announced of it, ironically, the morning of my interview come vice principal <laugh>.

John Linhares (04:33):

So I’m like listening to this like broadcast by the director and a few principals and superintendents and you know, I’m like waiting. Cause they, they, you know, I had my interview, let’s say at 10 30 and they said, Listen, your might be late. They’ve got this, you know, this big ment they’re making out to the whole board. So I’m like, Gary, no worries, I’ll just listen in. And then once that’s done, then I’ll pop on the zoom. It’s all good. And I remember hearing about this virtual school, I’m like, That’s it. That’s where I, to me, and went into my interview and saying, You know what, at the end of it, I just made a pitch for it. And yeah, I have to say three years later I’m still with the virtual program here with German Catholic. And it’s been quite the journey for sure.

Sam Demma (05:13):

What are some of the things about working with the virtual school that you absolutely love? I think over the past couple of years people have realized how important technology is, but before that may have resented it a little bit and always, or, you know, preferred the in person learning, which has both have pros and cons, but what are some of the things that you love about the virtual school?

John Linhares (05:35):

A hundred percent. Like I think that you’ve nailed it there. That there are, again, I think for me, I’ve always loved technology and I’ve always embraced it and I’ve always helped a lot my colleagues who don’t feel comfortable with it. Right? Like there’s a bit of a fear out there when it comes to it. And so just helping out my colleagues in that sense and new my students to move through those things is really key. Yeah. but with the ver the thing that, that I love the most is that when I get passionate about is when I hear kind of people kind of dismiss it and that it is not a viable option. And I have to disagree with that wholeheartedly, especially after seeing some of our kids. Listen, it’s not for everybody, a hundred percent. It is not for everyone. you know, we know that being in person with people and all that is definitely a great place to be.

John Linhares (06:19):

However, for some of our students, they do struggle in person. Like they have a hard time going to class every day. They have to put on a big front to be there for whatever reason, be on anxiety, be it social anxiety, be it just having a hard time reading people sometimes. Yeah. So just the overall, like too much noise going on or just too much business going on, you know what I mean? So for them, they’re succeeding in virtual and that in that reason alone I feel very passionate about it, that it does work for a lot of a few of our kids. not for everyone. Definitely for those kids that they do well and they succeed in, Yeah, I think we have to provide the best that we can for them. A hundred percent.

Sam Demma (07:02):

Where did your passion or love for technology come from? Did you grow up playing Atari in nta? I did. I

John Linhares (07:10):

<laugh> I saw it all summer actually. That little like little joy signal that Yeah, a hundred percent. No, I, I’m actually not a massive gamer, to be honest with you. Yeah. but I think just the creative side, I am very creative. I, I’m a bit of an artist and I think just dabbling into that creative side of things. sorry, my email will probably continue dinging as we do this. Okay. All good. It’s it’s it’s just something that I always kind of tapped into enjoyed. I just like the creative process of the technology side of it. And then I remember years ago, God, it’s really 2004 I got involved in this program in schools and it was about differentiating. So that is that, you know, we don’t, when we teach, we look at the kid and like what their talents are and what they’re about.

John Linhares (07:51):

And it’s, think of the same assignment to everybody. For an example, you may have a choice of assignments so that, you know, if you are artistic, you can tap into this assignment. If you’re more of a writing type person, you can tap into that. If you’re more of an oral person, you can go and tap into that and create a presentation on this, Right? There’s no need to have everybody doing the exact same thing. So from that project that I did there was some ministry funding for smart boards, which I’m sure you probably noticed Smart board is, but for South <inaudible>. And that is basically something that, gosh, that was like what almost 20 years ago wasn’t very heard of, but something that started coming out because it was helping, again, a few students in the classroom to engage in their classroom, Right? Get to a little more shy kid who may have you know, some issues with their writing.

John Linhares (08:36):

They were actually able to communicate their learning through the smart board in the classroom. So it became a little bit of a project. And I remember the school I was at, nobody had a smart board at the time. We were one of the first primary, or the first elementary classes to try and out. And by the time I left that school, three years later, every single classroom had a smart board. Yeah. So all these kids were engaging and just like, excited about it and just really, again, igniting, reignited about their learning, which was awesome. And then I went from another school and the same process happened. I got there no smart boards. I’m like, that’s not happening. I, I’m by my own or you guys are, find the funding for it. And sure enough, they’re like, Oh, no, we’ll support you. Right. And so, yeah, so I got a smart board and then again, five years later, every classroom had one in that school. So it’s, it, it’s your motto, Basical, that you bring on your mantra, right? Like it’s small things. Yeah. Small. Its in actions, it’s small, consistent even like little projects, little things that carry on. Right. So

Sam Demma (09:34):

Yeah, big time. You peak my interest when you mentioned you’re a little bit of an artist, you can take out the little bit of a part and tell me a little bit about the artist side of John <laugh>.

John Linhares (09:43):

Oh gosh. Yeah. So the artist side of John is like, I know I totally self-taught. I just always loved drawing, you know, doodling, that kind of stuff. Yeah. And, and then just explored it more as I grew, grew older and had my own time to explore different genres and that kind of stuff. I love going to art galleries and, and going to like installations. Like we’ve launched all that Toronto and all that kind of stuff. I see. and then that, that actually led me to working at All Saints Catholic school, which about five years ago now, six years ago opened up our first arts and media program which was very exciting. Cuz again, there are other boards that have art specific schools and our board did not. It was a lot, It was an air that was lacking and I was super excited to get on board with that. And was the grades the grade eight teacher there, one of the grade eight teachers there, but also teaching the visual arts to our grades seven and eight students. So that year, the few years that I was there, definitely a highlight in my career because it was you know, marrying my two passions of, well, three passions of teaching technology and also art. So was great.

Sam Demma (10:49):

It’s, it’s such a unique perspective and story because I think sometimes certain people veer students away from artistic pursuits because they might not be quote, realistic. and I’m curious to know your perspective, like when you see that in a student that they have a passion for an artistic field and you know, one day I wanna work full, you know, full time in, in an artistic industry. How do you kind of guide them or what, what do you share with them when they tell you that?

John Linhares (11:20):

Yeah, for sure. That’s like, I think compared to like several things, I think for myself, like I always wanted to be a teacher. Yeah. But I also thought, okay, I don’t wanna have just one path, right? You don’t wanna down any doors like that. So I always say like, try to keep as, as many doors open as possible and I’m, and I’m listening with kids, right? I’m not gonna be like, Yeah, no, you can be the best artist, you can be the next van goal. Like, listen man famous after they were dead, that’s not gonna help goal <laugh>. So that’s just the truth, right? So like, yeah, I do tell them absolutely keep going at it. And, and for some of these kids might get here some great programs that you should look into, be it the arts that we have, be it, you know, going to OK ad looking at term whatever, right?

John Linhares (11:58):

There’s ways that you can pursue that. But I always say there’s almost like a plan A and plan B, right? The arts are something that you can do that fuel your soul and you know, you can do it on the side or you can do it in conjunction with another job or another passion of yours, right? So just dealing with both of those, I think it’s the same about kind of conversation. We’re talking about an athlete, right? Like you have a kid, fantastic athlete in school and absolutely don wanna crush everybody’s dream, right? Like, yes, you can do this, absolutely, but at the end of the day, don’t close any doors. So what else you have? And you can try and aim for both or keep both going concurrently. Absolutely. Yeah.

Sam Demma (12:33):

Yeah. No, that’s great advice. what keeps you motivated personally to get up out bed every single day and keep doing the work you’re doing?

John Linhares (12:42):

Yeah, I think I honestly today’s rule teachers day, so I’m gonna say again big shout out to all the teachers out there. They I’m back in there. Yeah. You know, it’s, and I know that, you know, there’s a lot of a lot of stuff going on in education as always, but the impact and when any of us look back to our lives and how we raised and and our lives, there’s always the one or two teachers that really impact us. And they’re the ones that guide us along our path and, and help us along. And cuz we we’re parents, like for the most part of the day when we’re with these people more than we are with our families on home, right? So and sometimes you click really well with, with people with a teacher and sometimes it does work, right?

John Linhares (13:26):

But at the end of the day, there’s always that one or two that you’re going to make that connection with. And so that to me is honestly what keeps me going. It’s those connections with the students. and the beauty of it now, like now that I’ve been in it, is now my 22nd, 23rd year in education, you know, this, looking back, some of these kids that I had when I first started teaching we’re still in contact with each other. They’ve now got families, they’re now grown up. They pursued their dreams and, and their goals and I know they’ll come over for dinner, we’ll meet up somewhere for, for coffee. And it’s, it’s just neat to see these adults now, right? Like they’re not kids forever. They grow up and they, they become these amazing human beings who are doing good in our planet. That’s the most rewarding part. Like, that’s the thing. Like who am I gonna go out today and perhaps put a smile on their face that I’m gonna make their day go a little better today? Mm. That’s what motivat Yeah, for sure.

Sam Demma (14:18):

You mentioned because of World Teachers Day, how important the role of educators are and how most people have those one or two educators that make a really big difference on their development as a child, as a young person. When you think back to when you were in school, can you identify any of those teachers that had a big impact on you? and if so, like what did they do for you that you think made such a big impact?

John Linhares (14:46):

I was asked to reflect on this this morning cause I was watching a TV show in the morning, my morning TV show. I got night to get about five o’clock. Five o’clock is my time to get up, have my quiet time with a family at home. You know, it’s just nice to have that time to not be talking to anyone and not be stopping problem. Just sit there with my coffee and leave me alone with nothing <laugh>. Right. And so the TV show was watch this morning though, my morning TV show. They, they were talking about this, reflecting on that as well. And I couldn’t pitch for it. One or two people, to be honest with you. I had a series of tea of teachers that I, I think I can go back and I can name all of them and I can name probably one way that they did impact me, Right?

John Linhares (15:19):

Or they helped me along or somehow saw in me something that they felt they needed to be bring to bring out. So that I can’t say, but I can. So the one conversation that stood out to it was actually a teacher, a young teacher my first or second year. And I was chatting with an older teacher who was near retirement and she nailed it. And she said to me, and she’s like, Listen, the main thing about our profession or anything in life is that you just have to remember this. And I said, Okay, I’m listening all yours. She said, It doesn’t matter what you do for me, it’s how you make me feel. Mm.

John Linhares (15:55):

How you make me feel. I go with that statement and, and my, that statement is in the back of my mind, I have to say every hour of my day. Mm. And it was like a three second conversation that we had outside one day and it was after school. And that just stuck with me. And I’m like, you’re so ranked, it doesn’t matter. Like I can do whatever actions that I want to right. Or whatever. But at the end of the day, it’s that feeling like how when I meet someone, when I’m leaving someone, how am I letting them feel about themselves at that moment, right? Like, how leaving them, are they feeling better about themselves? Are they feeling like that they have a smile on their face? Do they feel better than they were five minutes ago? That’s what I’m going towards to be honest with you. And I mean, sometimes I fail and sometimes I, I do okay. But that statement just stuck in me, Sam. Like that’s just something that I totally hold near and near to my heart and, and as a human being, I feel it’s very important to totally describe to you.

Sam Demma (16:46):

Yeah, the educator who changed my life made me feel like there was hope when I felt like there was none, not, it wasn’t even about his curriculum <laugh>, although his, his teachings were great, but it was how I left his semester feeling about myself and what was possible for me that I really remember and sticks with me to this day. So I think that is so true and you’re absolutely right. Not only in education, but regarding whatever you choose to do. All of our interactions hopefully leave other people feeling better about themselves and feeling hopeful and all that, all that good fuzzy feelings in the chest, <laugh>

John Linhares (17:25):

People, right? Just that, that validating of people, like just with the pandemic there seemed like those walks, right? Like people were walking around street before that it’s rare that somebody would just sit and talk Right. Or even make contact with each other. Now when people walk by each other, they actually make icon and say hey, or a hi or how’s it going? Right? Like it’s something that I feel I think is interesting and it’s changed with the pandemic. I think people have gotten more that human side actually has come out a lot more, whereas before the people were getting a little too cold and just not validating each other. Right. So, and that teacher that you’re taught, speaking of, I’m pretty sure the same one that you referred to in your story. Yeah. married there. I, I unfortunately did not have the privilege of having that teacher struggle. He was around when I was there. but I remember my friends who did have him. Nice. Same thing. So yeah, definitely again, those teachers had that impact, right? Like how you making me feel? Yeah,

Sam Demma (18:17):

Yeah, yeah. So your first job in education, take me back, like give us a little bit of the snapshot of where you started to where you are now.

John Linhares (18:27):

Oh wow. So I started teaching, gosh, it was funny. My buddy and I had decided at that time back in 2019 99, 2000, there was a ton of teaching jobs like time. Okay. Like there wasn’t like the winter period here, there was not a lot of teaching jobs for the longest time. and now we’re back into, there are a few, there’s a lot of jobs out there, but at the time there was lots of jobs. So my buddy and I were like, listen, we’re listening to like, we wanna enjoy life. We wanna take the first couple years, let’s just supply teach cuz supply teaching, we’re gonna get some income but we’re gonna be able to travel. Yeah. So we travel more, right? Because then teach is a great gig going wrong, but if you’re a traveler, you’re kind of stuck cuz you can only go March break when they jack up the prices or summer when they jack up the prices not, but it’s a reality, right?

John Linhares (19:13):

Yeah. So my buddy traveling like know in February or whatever, Oh that’s a great deal. Like great have fun, right? <laugh> so we’re supply change so that we can rack and limit of money. Yeah. Pay the s right. And then we have no warnings like pay the Cardinals and then Jet just go right. And both of us got calls from principles that we respected a lot and just before the long weekend Ashley Ladale on weekend and they were like, yeah, offering us both jobs and unbeknowns to each other. We both accepting and then we were kind like, shoot, how are you supposed to tell me? You know, tell my buddy now I’m totally bail on him. And then like, yeah, I was like, like that man, I had to take this job. I was like, got me too. Like what <laugh> job?

John Linhares(19:55):

And I was great, well here we go. So took on these jobs. My first job was JK in the morning and grade five in the afternoon. Okay. Why accepted it? I still at this day was like, I don’t know who, who would take that. Like it’s just crazy. but it gave me a great perspective in the sense of like just, just kids in general. Like yeah. You know, these three and four year olds coming into the room screaming and crying first in the morning cuz they were new to school. And then I go upstairs and there was these grade fives to, I was told the year before had sent off several teachers <laugh> on leaves cuz they they were not the easiest class to deal with. So I had to go up there and be like, you know, a little more a little different than it was downstairs, the jks.

John Linhares (20:35):

Anyway, so that was a great four years that I did that actually. But I still look back to look back like, man, we should have done the supply teaching. We just should have traveled like crazy cuz we couldn’t have done it, but we didn’t. but I have to say I still have kids from that kindergarten class and that great flag class that I still talk to today. And again, they’re grown up and, and doing some great things in this world. So, so that was pretty cool. And yes, I was in Toronto Catholic and then taught that for a few years and then I moved on to getting closer to home and then I moved to Ger Ger Catholic in 2005. So that was a good job. Yeah.

Sam Demma (21:10):

When you think about student impact and stories of students who’ve been transformed or have built new skills as a result of education, maybe there’s a student you can think of who was really struggling and then had a breakthrough and made a very positive turn. Are there any stories that come to mind that you’d be willing to share? And I, I ask it because I think that’s one of the cornerstone reasons why people get into education for the impact you can have on young people. And sometimes when an educator’s feeling burnt out, they forget about those stories. They forget about that side of the job. so I’m hoping you can maybe share one if, if if you have one that comes to mind.

John Linhares (21:54):

Yeah, I got you’re saying this like, I’ve got a few that are running through my mind. Cause like I I’m for the underdog. Like I, I have to say that, you know, as a teacher looking out for that kid, there’s you know, we only sound like in the summer where about to start, it was last week of August. People are kind of in buzzing around getting their rooms ready for September and there’s an energy in the school. Everyone’s excited for the new year and oftentimes the teacher, you know, and and with the greatest of place days will come, Hey, I hear you got so and so, you know, just, you know, last year they were struggling with this and I stopped them and I’m like, listen, I appreciate it. we’re gonna just, this a new chapter, I’m gonna see how things vote and then if I need to like consult with you about maybe some strategies that worked for you last year, I know who to come talk to.

John Linhares (22:38):

But ultimately I don’t, I’m in my head like I don’t want to hear what happened last year. Yeah. Because it’s a new chapter, man, it’s a new year. We don’t know who this kid is right now. so I had several of those like I can think of off the top of my head you know, kids who were probably struggling with let’s say like maybe it’s ADHD and just could not fit into the mold of school, Right. Could not sit still at school because you know, that teacher wants them to be sitting in their desk. And I’m like, that you wanna stand, stand, go ahead <laugh> you. Yeah, I see your moving around a lot and you’re at the front of the class, let’s move here to the back. Yeah. You’re more comfortable back there if you need to get up, buddy, go, go nuts.

John Linhares (23:15):

Right? Yeah. Like your college not bothering other people around you. Just do what you gotta do. Right. And that I think again is that valuing where people are coming from and making them feel validated, right? So that, you know, I think some, for some people just they have a harder time just fitting into the mold of what school system is, right? So like why do we break those molds? And that’s what I try and do. so yeah, a couple of the kids who, those kids who yeah, every year was the same kind of thing where, oh, you know, they’re struggling, they’re having a hard time, they’re having a hard time, they’re having a hard time. And then you see them grow up and now yeah, they’re, they’ve got a great family. They actually owned three properties, they’re in real estate they’ve done quite well for themselves.

John Linhares (23:55):

And all these concerns, all of these, you know, little things that were happening back in grade three, you know, on a kid, you, they can’t sit still, they can’t sit still on that desk. I dunno what they can’t, they’re not gonna learn. We’re fine. You’re doing awesome actually. But again, it’s, it’s because this whole journey of education, I think everyone’s supporting and I mean, again, like in every stage of your life there are certain things that we all look out for and and, and are trying to to help out with. Right. But the beauty of this job too is that you see that it is, it’s making Jake k to like end of college, university, you’re in your twenties, that’s a big journey, right? And if we’re all doing our part to help out this kid, there you go. Right? I, and one kid I’ll never forget was I came in, it was actually when I came to Durham Durham Catholic, I started midyear.

John Linhares (24:42):

 I actually had a rough year the year before. and mother had passed away and instead of being there for my kids, I thought, you know what? I need to go half time so I can, you know, take care of myself in the mornings, basically. Like do what I gotta do, get in the right head space, go in for a couple hours the afternoon for those students, but be the best person. At least I can be. During that time, Yeah, that year I decided to switch boards and I decided, okay, I’m a supply teach for supply teaching. You have less, you know, there are, there’re less concerns that you have, right? You don’t have to work about planning and marketing and all other stuff. So it’s a pretty sweet gig. So I’m go, I’ll do it for a few months just to kinda get in the right head space again.

John Linhares (25:17):

So that’s split in. So it was February this job came along in, in at St. John, the evangelist at Wink. And so I took on this job and I remember taking that job on and the teacher was taking over for Matt. They loved her. She, they, she was their favorite teacher, you know, like she was the best. Like they just loved her and then she got this other job, so she was leaving and then here was this, who’s this coming into our room now, right? Like I had big shoes to fill it. So I tried my best to just continue on. She did things, but I’m me. Like I’m not somebody else. Right? Right. But yeah, they were not happy with me at all. And there’s one little character in particular was not happy with Mr. O at all. So anyway, so every day, let’s call it, he was just acting up a lot.

John Linhares (26:00):

Like he was getting into a lot of trouble going on. Yeah. And end of the year comes and then we get our class list for the following year and buddies in my class again. So I’m like, great. So end of the day, last day of school, he was about to take off and I’m like, Hold on, come back here, let’s have a chat before Eagle. And I remember pulling him aside, he was grade five <laugh>. And I’m like, Listen, just so you know, get back in my class next year. The waitings last few months have gone, you could have the worst year of your life next year or you can make the best of your life. And you started answering, No, no, I don’t want you to answer right now. I need you to go, go into, go the summer, have fun, you know, have a great summer, come back in September and think about what I told you. Cause Basical, this is in your court. So it went, it’s back in September, comes to find me, I’ll smiles will happen. It’s like, Mr, I’m ready for a new change. I’m like, Right. Cool, I’m glad you’re saying that, but let’s see what happens. Let’s

Sam Demma (27:05):

Do it. <laugh>.

John Linhares (27:06):

Exactly right. Yeah, fair enough. That’s exactly what it did. He, he became such a great leader that year at the school, helped out was just wanting to volunteer and help out with like, with other staff and other kids and, and with know afterschool activities and that kind stuff. And he just grew up through such a great leader for the, for the years that left here to the point where the lasting school grade eight graduation officer post all go. He kept coming back. I’m like, Buddy, you guys are done. Go <laugh>, you’re done school. Like, no, no, I’m hang out whenever. So he, yeah. So he is suck around helping me out. I was actually packing my class over the time whenever Nice. Again, continu on in contact ever since. And he was actually perusing the, the arts department here. Ah. So he still looking into it now, so

Sam Demma (27:50):

That’s awesome, man. You know what, I think it’s so important that we have big expectations for who our students can become. And it sounds like you had a vision for what this young man could be that maybe he didn’t have himself. And when you present that in a very kind way in front of a student someone that you care about you know, it forces them to actually think maybe I can be that student leader. Maybe I can change my behavior. Maybe there is a something that they see in me that I don’t see myself. So I think that’s a really cool little story. So thanks for thanks for sharing that one. if, if you could travel back in time and speak to John when he was in his first or second year teaching but with the experience you had now, what would you like tell your younger self when you were just getting into this profession? Maybe there’s a, a very fresh new educator listening to this right now and they’re looking for some words of wisdom as they journey down this education path.

John Linhares (28:51):

I think the main thing was to basically again, get to know your students. Like we get caught up in like these checklists of what have to get done, like wanting to get this, get that does this deadline. There’s that deadline I got report cards are coming soon. there’s just checklists coming out of the yin yang to be honest with you. The things that we have to do. Yeah. But we don’t, we cannot lose sight of why we’re there and that’s the most important thing. And so making those connections with those kids on a daily basis, I didn’t care what was going on. Trying to literally build in time, you know, like we talk about our families now, like, you know, talking about like traveling life, right? But it’s like, make time to meet your family, make make time to meet with your friends, make time to meet up with whatever, like work people, it was the same thing like in, in the classroom, you can easily get caught up in your checklist, make time to get to know those kids and talk to them, not about school stuff, right?

John Linhares (29:41):

Like getting to know them on that social level that human side. And that’s really key, right? And just build your success up for the whole year. Like no matter what, you know, issues are in the classroom or or behavior issues, they’re in the classroom. You put the time into really getting to know and acknowledge those kids and let them see that side of you as well. Like that you are human. You’re not this like, you know, robotic teacher creature that’s Yeah. human being, right, like with interest and whatever. And that, that really wins them over. Like, it makes a big deal. Like when you talk to a kid about just random stuff, other weekend wins, whatever for a minute or two each day. It makes a massive difference.

Sam Demma (30:23):

Small, consistent actions.

John Linhares (30:25):

<laugh> that again, back to that. Yep. If,

Sam Demma (30:28):

If someone wants to reach out to you and ask a question, bounce some ideas around, share some of their own art <laugh>, what would be the best way for another educator to get in touch with you?

John Linhares (30:39):

Yeah, so based on, on Twitter I’m @mrjlinhares, I think you’ve got that on the, on my bio. so that’s one way. And on LinkedIn as well. I’m kind of new to LinkedIn, so I’m not not on there as much as I am on Twitter. Twitter, I find a little bit easier to keep track of stuff and, and joke. But yeah, I am on those two platforms for sure and definitely would be more than happy to have conversations with you. I love conversations. I just love sitting down and chatting like we are now and, and sharing stories and all that.

Sam Demma (31:10):

Yeah man. Well I enjoyed this, a lot big time. So thank you so much for making the time to come on the podcast, share a little bit about your experiences and your journey, and I hope you have an amazing rest of your school year, and I’ll see you walking around the block sometime soon.

John Linhares (31:26):

<laugh> Sam, we’re looking forward to your, your book launch as well, so that’s coming up, so that’s amazing. Again, kids like yourself who we know are doing some great things out there, that’s what makes our jobs worthwhile. So thank you for all that you’ve done.

Sam Demma (31:39):

Thanks John, Appreciate it. Let’s talk soon.

John Linhares (31:41):

All right, take care.

Sam Demma (31:43):

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 Linhares

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.

Tom Stones – Grade 8 Teacher at Innisfail Middle School in Alberta

Tom Stones - Grade 8 Teacher at Innisfail Middle School in Alberta
About Tom Stones

Tom Stones (@tstonesteacher) is a grade 8 teacher at Innisfail Middle School in Innisfail, Alberta. In 24 years, he has taught all core subjects and dozens of option courses in grades 4-8. When asked which is his favourite grade to teach, he struggles to choose one. There are amazing and challenging things about all grades. In all grades, his core belief is that relationship is the key component of working with middle years students. Tom has found that all students want a relationship with teachers, and making this a focus has been an emphasis of his career.  

Another role Tom is proud of is his work as a member of the Middle Years Council of the Alberta Teachers’ Association. He has helped plan numerous yearly conferences, which have provided quality professional development to many teachers from all over Canada.  

Tom is passionate about promoting wellness in teachers and himself. He has found that any success that we help students to achieve is largely contingent upon our own well-being. His advice to others (and himself) is to look after yourself first and find ways to help others.

Connect with Tom: Email | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Innisfail Middle School

Alberta Teachers’ Association (ATA)

Middle Years Council – ATA

Conferences and Events – ATA

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 to the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here today. Please start by introducing yourself.

Tom Stones (00:10):

My name is Tom Stones. I’m a teacher at Innisfail Middle School in Innisfail, Alberta. And this is, it’s on our last day of school here, so we’re it’s, this year is just about wrapped up. And I teach grade eight mostly science, a little bit of social studies, a little bit of health. And I’ve taught all kinds of different grades in from four to eight, I guess, so.

Sam Demma (00:33):

That’s awesome. When did you know growing up that you wanted to work in education? Like at what point did you make the decision and start moving that direction?

Tom Stones (00:45):

So, I got a funny pathway. I, I’d always kind of thought that was something I wanted to do but then when I graduated high school, didn’t feel super confident about going to university, so I didn’t, And then I got a job and it was, you know, got, kind of got too good of a job that I was getting paid decently to do it. And so stayed working. I was working in a warehouse running a warehouse for a printing company for about 12 years. And then my, that, that job was ending the, the, the business was shutting down. So I had to decide what I wanted to do. And I, I, you know, vividly recall my wife, one, I was married, had two, two kids at the time and my wife saying, Well, if you had to do something else, what would you really want to do? And I said, Well, I probably would wanna be a teacher. They, why don’t you just go to university and be a teacher? So, so I did

Sam Demma (01:34):

<Laugh>. That’s awesome. So you, you came from like a business that kinda like a business background, like you entered the world of work right after high school with the printing company and stayed with them?

Tom Stones (01:44):

Yeah. Yes. Yeah, I mean I think it was 12 or or so year or something like that that I worked for them. That’s all. A few different spots, but mostly ran the warehouse most of the time.

Sam Demma (01:54):

Yeah. Very cool. And so you made the decision to go to school, you know, back to school to work on the teacher credentials. And then what did the journey look like from that day forward to where you are now? Give us a little summary of all the different places you’ve worked positioned and what brought you here.

Tom Stones (02:14):

Yeah, so I was the sort university. I had to do a, I did two years at a, a college, which was in the town in the city we were living in, which was Red Deer. So I did two years there. Nice. And then took two years, went to University of Calgary and sort of drove back and forth, which is about an hour away from where I lived. And, and I obviously that wasn’t real easy cuz I was, had a family and, and my wife had to do a lot of extra things during those two years. And then got a job shortly after graduating, but a year after, graduated a couple other things first and then got a job at an elementary school and then in a town real close by. And then so we moved to that town to Ink, which is where I teach now. And so taught the elementary school there for about six years, I think taught grade four and four and six. And then a, a new school opened up next door and I came over here to teach grade five at the school I’m at now. And I’ve taught grade five and then grade six and then moved up to grade seven and then moved up to grade eight. I’ve been here for three or four years, I think.

Sam Demma (03:16):

How, how did you get voluntold to go and help out with nyc? And for those folks who don’t know what that is, give us a little explanation. <Laugh>

Tom Stones (03:26):

Yeah, that’s Voluntold is a good good <laugh>. The Middle Years Council is the, the association is the Alberta Teachers Association. It’s a specialist council within the Alberta Teachers Association. And there’s, there’s various ones. There’s that language arts ones, there’s math ones, there’s religious education. And this one happens to be about middle years school schools or teachers, which is from grade, about grade four to grade nine is sort of our, our target people. And I had, I’d gone to a few of the conferences, knew a few of the people, but then had kind of gotten away from it. And then one of my colleagues at the school was, was helping when she was pretty involved in it and they were having some struggles and, and needed some help. And she said, Well, would you come and help us? And I went, I don’t know, I don’t know if I can be any help or not, but sure I’ll come for a free conference.

Tom Stones (04:17):

So I, so I went and, and then just started helping out wherever I could. And then one, one year they said, Hey, you wanna run the conference? So I was, okay, sure. I had no idea what I was doing, but what we were, we just made it up, was who went along. But and then, you know, got to meet lots of really good people. And since then there’s been a few of us who’ve been on that committee for, I don’t know, about seven or eight years I guess. And so it’s, it’s now, it’s a whole lot easier than it was that first couple of years when we did what we were doing. But, and then we’ve been very fortunate to get some, you know, amazing people coming in to talk, including you and it’s just, it’s been a real great conference. And of course we had to shut down for two years and during pandemic and that was really disappointing. I remember that being one of the worst days of the early pandemic was when we had to make the decision. We, we just can’t go to ban this year. Cuz nobody could go anywhere, obviously. And then the next year we had to cancel as well, and then last year was our big return.

Sam Demma (05:16):

Yeah. You know, c has been a challenge for many people, many Ed especially people in education. I know personally you had some significant challenges as well. You know, what are some of the challenges that you face personally that maybe shifted your perspective a little bit and then also some of the opportunities that you think came out of it? Yeah,

Tom Stones (05:39):

That’s a really big question, Sam. So break

Sam Demma (05:42):

It down.

Tom Stones (05:43):

<Laugh>. Yeah, <laugh> early on in the, the pandemic, I, I don’t think we can, we can talk about it enough, what, what educators had to do. Like, we were March the 20th, I think was the day in Alberta here when they, with the Sunday afternoon we got a call or on email saying, Yeah, we’re not going to school tomorrow, we’re gonna be shut down for two weeks. And of course that was, I mean, nobody had any idea what that meant and then said, Oh, and by the way, we really want you to start teaching. Oh, we want you to come back to school. So we all went back to school and we all sort of hung around and cleaned out lockers and did report cards and all that stuff. And then there was a, a, the Wednesday afternoon we had a staff meeting and I remember the principal looking at his phone and he goes, Okay, it’s one o’clock.

Tom Stones (06:26):

I can tell you we start teaching on Monday morning online, but you can’t be in the school right now. You’ve got five minutes to get outta here. And we’re just like, what <laugh> and <laugh>. So we, well, and I think we end uping, you know, 15, 20 minutes. We just kind of sat down with the group of us that had to teach together and sat down for, what are we gonna do on Monday morning? Yeah, yeah. And of course there was a lot of, lot of Google meets in the next three days there. But, but we started teaching on Monday morning. So we, we had no idea what we were doing. Kids had no idea what we were doing. The parents had zero idea what we were doing. And, but we made it work. And then it turned into three and a half months in Alberta.

Tom Stones (07:04):

We spent the whole rest of the year online. And then the next year came back, started out back and then did the same thing again. We, in November we were told we had two days prepare to be online and we wrote did the same thing, you know, pulled it off again. And then that was right around Christmas time and just before Christmas, and this is a personal part you’re alluding to, just before Christmas, I ended up in the hospital with a heart attack, which had nothing to do with the, the stress, I don’t think. It was a, some genetic things, but, but I ended up with a heart attack and so I missed about two months of school. We kind of recovering from that and getting over all that stuff. But and it, you know, I told, I talked to the, the students who were in that class who were a very special group of kids, but and I, I just said, when I was laying in the hospital, I thought, I don’t wanna quit.

Tom Stones (08:00):

I want, I don’t want to be done cuz I wanna go back from work with these kids more. And so that really put a, a different spin on I guess some of that for me. But what really, what really you think affected me at that point was how, what, what that group of kids did. Like they were mean there 13 and 14 year olds and that they get a, that group of kids get a real bad rap, like 13 and 14 year olds, Aren be the best people in the world usually. But they, they, you know, they looked after me, they protected me, they supported me. And even now they’re into school next door and they, you know, I think I saw all of them all year long. They all come over and talk and, and we, they’re so we’ve got a, a connection that will not ever go away, I don’t think. But just that to me, just that, you know, when you ask kids to step up and do something amazing, they can do some, they can do amazing stuff. And I mean, they, they didn’t volunteer for this. They didn’t volunteer to <laugh> to get themselves involved in that, but they they were amazing. So

Sam Demma (09:04):

Yeah. Continue.

Tom Stones (09:06):

Yeah. Yeah, I think that’s all just that they were like, it was pretty cool what they did.

Sam Demma (09:12):

Do you remember some of the specific things they did that you think made a really big impact on you when you think back to some of the, those challenging moments?

Tom Stones (09:24):

I guess even just the, when I was getting, when I was recovering, the kids would send emails like, Hey, we’re really hope you’re right. Can’t wait for you to be back. That kind of thing. And there was actually, there was one day I don’t know if I can need to talk about this. One day we had an author visit Eric Walters, who’s an amazing author from Ontario was doing an author visit. And I had arranged that visit before I went, went off six. So I, and it was done all virtually, of course, at that time. And so I came on and the kids didn’t know that I was listening to the, the visit, like it was the whole school, but they didn’t realize that I was on there. You were there.

Tom Stones (10:07):

And, and I was in the background listening to it. And then when they, it was all over and that the teacher who realized that I was on there flipped the, the camera so they could see me and I could see them and that they just went wild. It was, it was pretty cool. I remember my wife texted me from work and she said, So how’s your day? And I said, I just, my kids just made me cry. Yeah. And yeah. So that was pretty cool. Just that. And that was about three weeks, I guess, before I went back Yeah. To school.

Sam Demma (10:41):

I can feel the emotion while you talk about it. Yeah.

Tom Stones (10:44):

<Laugh>, I know it, it’s, it that just comes back at me right now. It was crazy. And just others, just stuff like when I got back and the one, it was one day somebody said something about somebody having a heart attack and it was, he was just saying it as a throw away thing, Right. He wasn’t meaning anything. And this one girl just wheeled on says, We do not say as shit <laugh>. Mm. And the kids going, Oh, sorry. Didn’t think about it. And she’s going, Dad, you do not do that here. <Laugh>.

Sam Demma (11:11):

Yeah.

Tom Stones (11:12):

So, yeah. That’s cool. That’s

Sam Demma (11:14):

Awesome. That’s awesome man. Well, it, it sounds like you build such a great relationship with the students, which I think is the goal of every person in education to build relationships, to make an impact on the young minds that are sitting in front of them. How do you think we build relationships with the students in our classrooms? Like what are some of the things you try and do as teacher, teacher to ensure that we, you know, we build strong relationships.

Tom Stones (11:40):

There’s lots of stuff. Part of it I think is, is just getting to know them right. Or early, early on in the year, getting to know as much as you possibly can. Now I’m, I’m fortunate here, the school that I’m in, the grade seven wing is right beside the grade eight wing. We’re actually in the same hallway. Mm. So, so I can start to build some relationships with kids, you know, from April Mayon kind of thing, start to get them so that they’re, they, they know who I am even, you know, obviously they know my face, but they don’t know anything about me. Yeah. And I don’t know anything about them really, but start to build it just early on and, and just mostly I think just show them respect. That’s really all anybody wants is just to get respected. And if you show it to them and, and they, they, they’ll almost always give it back to you.

Tom Stones (12:32):

Now there’s always ones who don’t, obviously then, and those are ones that there’s other things going on in their world and that that’s something else to work with. But for, you know, the 99% of the kids, you give them some respect, they’ll give you respect back. And, and, and just showing interest in their lives, like what, what they’re doing, whether it’s hockey or dance or, you know, whatever. Or, or nothing. So I’m just like playing video games and I don’t have any idea what they’re talking about, but if I look like I do there,

Sam Demma (13:01):

<Laugh>, <laugh>,

Tom Stones (13:03):

I found my computer breaks down, I give it to them fix. And so yeah, just, yeah.

Sam Demma (13:09):

That’s cool. Yeah, I like that. When you, when you think about your journey in becoming the educator you are today with the beliefs you have, like, are there any resources that you have found helpful? And, you know, obviously the Middle Years Council has been a big source of per, you know, PD and professional development and maybe you can even recall some of the speakers that you think had a significant impact on you or some of the books or courses as a result of some of those speakers that you looked into. I’m curious if anything comes to mind that you think was helpful.

Tom Stones (13:43):

Yeah, there, there’s lots. And we’ve, we’ve had over the years, have had lots and lots of really, like I said, really good speakers. And that’s, that’s kind of one of the things, one of the places that I get that from. Yeah. Also, just because of my role in that committee, going to some conferences and trying to, to connect with some people so that you can, you know, as potential speakers

Sam Demma (14:04):

Bring them back or whatever.

Tom Stones (14:05):

Yeah. Bring them back home. There’s, and has lots is it a psychologist from Alberta here at Dr. Jody Carrington? Like, she, we’ve had her a number a couple of times and she’s pretty in way. She’s taught me a lot about sticking up for kids and, and being, you know, an advocate for kids. So like Dave Burgess is the, the teach like a pirate you know, corporation basically now from San Diego. We’ve had him up and, and just, just doing crazy stuff with kids and just, yeah, doing whatever it takes to reach him. You know, wherever it takes to way outta your comfort zone kind of thing. So lots of people like that. And books, I’ve, you know, then tried to read books by different people and, and get ideas and just, I, I think on my Twitter account it says something like, I’m always looking for ideas to engage kids and just taking that from anywhere. And some of them, like there’s some people I would never do what they do. Ron Clark from Ron Clark Academy in Atlanta went, went to see him once, like, he stands up on the table and yells at people. Well that’s, that’s not my personality. I would never do that, but, but I’ve, you know, done some crazy things too, <laugh> with, with kids that are, that are at least I think crazy, But yeah. That’s awesome. Little bit from anybody, like really just taking stuff from everybody and building it.

Sam Demma (15:34):

I once heard a quote from Tony Robbins and he said, Approach every conversation as if you could learn something from the other person and you, you probably will. And yeah, the way he explained it is that you might be better at gardening, but they’re problem, They might be better at cooking. And so, you know, you could learn something from that person in relation to cooking. They could learn something from you about gardening. And if you kind of go into every situation trying to learn from other people’s strengths I think it, it just leads to a better conversation. And you walk away with new information, you know.

Tom Stones (16:08):

Yeah, Yeah. And, and I think being in the school, and I’ve been at the same school now for, I don’t know how many years, quite a few 15 or something, but just the people who have come through and, and just every one of those people, whether they’ve been here for a year or for 15 years you pick up something from those people you know, something that person does and you know, new person comes from another school or a new person just new to teaching and be, go, that’s something I can use right there. And or that’s something, you know, you think, well, I’m not sure that’s in my personality, but it can be, you know, I can use something like that. I appreciate it. Yeah. Yeah. And just yeah, even from the kids, like, this is something that I, I don’t understand, but let’s, let’s go from there. Yeah.

Sam Demma (16:57):

Nice man. Nice, nice. When, when you think about students that you’ve worked with over the past 15 years it’s obvious that they’ve made an impact on you. And I appreciate you sharing those stories earlier of what they’ve done did for you, even during some of your challenging times to make you feel special and appreciated. I’m curious to know if you can think of a story where due to education, you saw a student transform, meaning maybe they started in your class one way and by the end they were totally different and they had different characteristics and built confidence. And if it’s, it’s a, if it’s a very serious story, you could also change their name just for privacy reasons. But I’m wondering if any story comes to mind that you wanna share

Tom Stones (17:37):

There. There is, and I’ve told this story quite a few times and I’ve actually talked to the, the student and he knows that I use his name. He’s okay with it. Okay. It’s a pretty common name. It’s Braden, so it’s not like there’s <laugh>,

Tom Stones (17:49):

50 million of them <laugh>. But he he was the toughest challenging kid that I’ve ever taught. And it wasn’t his, you know, his behavior wasn’t so extreme, but it was just every day. And like he, he pushed some button for somebody every single day of grade. I think I taught in grade six. And it was just like endless, endless, endless, endless. Mm. And I remember saying to the principal at the end of the year, not, not one of my better moments. So just saying that I don’t think I made any difference to that kid. Like he’s exactly the same, walking out the door in June as he walked in September. And and the principal didn’t really say anything. Jay didn’t really say anything to me, but then he moved, like, he moved up the upgrades and then went to another school that, and he eventually was doing some alternative school cause he was gonna fit into school. But then he started coming back and it was one day he I was walking down the hall and one of the teachers says Tom turn around.

Tom Stones (18:51):

And this kid was running down the hall, wanted to talk to me, coming from the high school, wanted to talk to me. And I, so we, we chatted for a second and he says, I like to come be a work experience student in your room. Wow. And that’s what that’s kinda weird cuz you spend a lot of time trying to get outta my room in grade six. And he goes, Yeah, I know, but I wanna come be work in your room. And so he did. For semester, that was kind the thing we have at the high school beside is cause they come and do some work experience. And then I sort of lost track of, and I think it was last year or the year before last year, I think he came back he had just graduated from a computer animation program in Toronto was ready to start a job and he just wanted to come back and say hi.

Tom Stones (19:33):

And so we chatted a little bit and I said, and he says, I know I was tough. And I said, Yeah, you were really tough <laugh>. And he goes, you know, he had done everything online. It was during the pandemic, everything, his whole program was online. He said, when we got into when we did, did did the lesson, then we would go work with other students. And it was on Zoom I think he said. But they would put us in, they would call breakout rooms and he says, every single time I got put in a breakout room, I remember I thought of you because you put me in a breakout room every day in case was a physical breakout room. So we had a little room beside there, which the other kid basically called the Braden’s office cuz he was in there almost the whole day anyway, so it was like, that was pretty funny. But he says Andy, he’s successful, he’s gonna do really well. And I thought that’s now you’re playing a long game there cuz that’s about seven or eight years in between those two conversations, but Wow. But yeah, pretty cool to have that come and there’s lots of kids that come back like that, but he’s pretty, he’s pretty dramatic one, so.

Sam Demma (20:36):

Well, what do you think you did, like, you know, sometimes it’s hard to pinpoint like exactly why, but like what do you think if you reflect back on it that you did that had such a significant impact on him that he did feel the need to come back, even though in the present moment you thought you were, maybe you weren’t getting through to him. It sounds like you obviously were, you just didn’t realize it.

Tom Stones (20:54):

Yeah. Yeah. I don’t know. But I think most of it is consistency. Cause he knew he knew what he could do and he knew he was gonna cross the line every single day, but he knew where the line was. Yes. And lots of people, lots of kids, but don’t have, they’re not not sure where the line is. They’re not sure what, what the consist he is. And I, I think that’s it. And, and not just writing him off, like when he come back, when he came back in high school, you know, accepting him for where he was at in high school, even though he was still way off the charts. But yeah, it, it’s, it’s hard to know. Cause if you certainly, if you could, if you could do it, you could

Sam Demma (21:42):

Replicate

Tom Stones (21:43):

It’s a lot of money marketing that Yeah. <Laugh>.

Sam Demma (21:46):

Yeah. Just

Tom Stones (21:47):

Curious

Sam Demma (21:47):

More than anything. So I appreciate you sharing,

Tom Stones (21:50):

Asking. Yeah. I think just the consistency. Yeah.

Sam Demma (21:52):

Yeah. I like it. I love it. When, when you think about your journey throughout education and the lessons you’ve learned if you could go back in time but retain all of the experiences you’ve had and tap yourself on the shoulder in your first year of teaching, knowing what you know now, what would you have told yourself in the form of advice? Not because you wanted to change anything about the path you’ve taken or what you’re doing today, but because you thought it might have been helpful to hear certain things when you were just getting started.

Tom Stones (22:26):

Yeah, you know, I, I kind of thought that was a question you might ask. Just having listen to other podcasts, the ones I I’ve started cheating and trying to get some Yeah, yeah. Lines there. I think that I’d look after myself better. Hmm. Now early on you just, you just go and you go as hard as you possibly can. And sometimes that, you know, I, I was pretty careful not to let that get in the way of being, having a family on that, but, but just you know, put, don’t push quite so hard. The, the kids will be fine if you like, the students will be fine if you didn’t stay up till 11 o’clock. They’re probably better if you get, if you’re well rested and went for a walk. <Laugh> mm-hmm. <Affirmative>. And just the, yeah, just looking after yourself.

Tom Stones (23:19):

Our actually our superintendents talked about this a bit and he says like, there’s three pieces to self the wellness and one of ’em is the division has a little bit of input into it. Like, we can put some things in to help you. The school has a little bit, but the, the biggest pieces yourself and you’ve gotta decide how to look after yourself. And that’s since, since I’ve been sick that that’s become, you know, pretty important to me. Obviously just looking after in my own boundaries. Even just thinking, No, I’m not doing that tonight. I’m going to play with my grandchildren and instead, or, you know and I don’t think that young teachers that they think they have to push real hard and then they do better if they didn’t.

Sam Demma (24:00):

Hmm. That’s a great piece of advice. And I think it’s not only for young educators, but young professionals in general, I think,

Tom Stones (24:06):

You know. Yeah, I think so. Like

Sam Demma (24:08):

You, I sound, it feels like you’re talking to me sometimes because I, sometimes I’m doing that and then I don’t get good sleep and then I don’t show up too well the next morning. And it’s a really great piece of advice. You know, so often after people have experiences that are traumatic and sometimes even challenging just like you did with the, with the heart attack sometimes. And oftentimes they have this big realization that maybe they weren’t doing the thing that they wanted to do and they make this grand life change and they’re like, I’m now gonna chart my path in the direction that I really wanted to go in because life is fragile and I’m getting goosebumps just hearing you speak. Because I think what’s so amazing is that when you were in the hospital on the bed, the thought running through your mind was, how can I get myself healthy enough to get back in the classroom?

Sam Demma (25:00):

And that to me is a signal and a symbol that you’re doing the work that you should be doing. And it’s so obvious that you’re passionate about this work and that it’s making a difference. And I just wanted to say, keep doing it because it’s so important that we have people who on their deathbed will say, I did the work that I wanted to do that I loved doing. And if, you know, if education, if you’re in it right now and you’re not enjoying it, that’s okay too. May, you know, maybe it’s time to change, but it’s really refreshing to speak to you today and hear from someone who wouldn’t change a thing about the path you’ve taken. And

Tom Stones (25:39):

Yeah, I a year ago today, basically when I said goodbye to that group of kids Yep. I said that, that you were, like I said, I could’ve walked away. Nobody would’ve said a word. I could’ve quit. And I said, but I didn’t want to. Like, I thought I was, I I wanted to come back and work with you some more and then, and continue to this year and my plan is to continue for next year. But, but yeah. And I, if it’s, I guess maybe just to follow up what you said there, if you don’t have that, then you, you should quit. You should get out. But if you’ve got that, that don’t do what you’re supposed to do. Yeah. Yeah, I’ve seen seen lots of people hang on too long cuz they, they should quit. For lots of reasons. I don’t, I don’t wanna do that, but I also want don’t wanna quit too early either, so.

Sam Demma (26:40):

Yeah. No, and I, we appreciate it and I think if you haven’t found the thing that gets you super excited as well yet, keep searching, you know, it’s out there. I’m glad that you found it in education and teaching and really enjoy it every day. Tom, this has been a phenomenal conversation. I just wanna say thank you so much for spending, you know, 30 minutes on the show, talking about your experiences, talking about how your students have made a difference in your life and how you strive to make a difference in theirs. Talking about Braden yeah. Really has been a really impactful conversation. If someone’s listening and wants to reach out to you, ask you a question, what would be the best way for them to get in touch?

Tom Stones (27:19):

By email, its tstones@cesd73.ca and I, I have a Twitter account, but I don’t actually avoid is <laugh>, it’s @tstonesteacher I think on, on Twitter.

Sam Demma (27:35):

Awesome. Perfect. Perfect. Tom, thank you again for coming on the show. Really appreciate it. Keep up the amazing work, and we’ll, we’ll talk soon.

Tom Stones (27:43):

Yeah. I think, are we planning to see you in September? Has that got set up yet? Or is it

Sam Demma (27:48):

I hope so. It hasn’t happened yet, but if fingers crossed I’ll hear, I’ll hear from them and we’ll, we’ll make it happen.

Tom Stones (27:55):

Okay. Awesome. Sounds great.

Sam Demma (27:56):

Awesome.

Sam Demma (27:56):

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 Tom Stones

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.

Small Consistent Actions Sam Demma – TEDxYouth@Toronto

Small Consistent Actions Sam Demma - TEDxYouth@Toronto
About Sam Demma

Sam Demma (@Sam_Demma) is the youngest board director of the Canadian Association of Professional Speakers. A highly requested keynote speaker in the education space, Demma has delivered over three hundred presentations for clients who want to create a culture of hope, service, and self-belief. He is routinely invited for interviews on national media outlets and has been featured on the TEDx platform twice.

As a high school student, he co-founded PickWaste, a grassroots initiative that mobilized youth to pick up garbage in their communities. Within five years, the organization filled more than three thousand trash bags and provided students with six thousand meaningful volunteer hours. The initiative’s success confirmed for Demma how small, consistent actions could have a significant impact, and he lives that message in all he does.

Following his keynote presentations, students and educators often commit to performing more acts of kindness, taking small, consistent actions toward their personal goals, and proactively looking for ways to serve others. In his spare time, Demma dances the bachata, eats handfuls of tacos, and works to convince people that pineapples do not belong on pizza. For more information and booking inquiries, please visit www.samdemma.com.

Connect with Sam: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Canadian Association of Professional Speakers

TEDx

TEDx Talk, “Small, Consistent Actions”

PickWaste

Top 25 under 25 Environmentalists

www.samdemma.com

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 (00:13):

When I was in grade 12, my teacher told me three words that totally changed my life; small, consistent actions. It was April, 2017, and I was seated in his world issues class. Growing up, I have to admit, I wasn’t the brightest student and I didn’t like school all that much, but for some reason, every time I was in his class, I always felt engaged. And on this particular day, he was not talking about any ordinary topic. Instead, he was speaking about figures in history who have massively changed this world. People like Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Gloria Steinham, Gandhi. The list went on and on, and he took these figures and he wrote their names on the board. This was the only teacher I ever had who still used the blackboard.

Sam Demma (01:21):

But then he began breaking down their lives, trying to figure out what common characteristics they all shared that enabled them to make a massive change in the world. We found they had many distinct traits that made them each different and unique. But there was this one thing, this one thing that was common among them all, they all took small, consistent actions that led to their global massive changes. You see, that day in class, my teacher proved to me and all of my classmates that if we wanted to make a massive change in the world, we could, and all we had to do was commit to a small, consistent action. I left class that day with a burning desire within my chest to try and make a change within my community. But like many of you, at the age of 17 years old, I had absolutely no idea how I was gonna do this. I didn’t have a job. I didn’t even know where I wanted to go to university, let alone talk about something like changing the world, right? Well, like many students, every day after school, I would walk home and my walk was about 30 to 40 minutes. I would take my headphones out, pop in my ears, listen to some music and podcasts. But after that day in class, I decided to change my routine. I took my headphones out, I put them in my pockets, and I began asking myself the questions,

Sam Demma (03:03):

Sam, how are you going to change the world? What is your small consistent action going to look like? Now, before I continue with the rest of that story, I need you to understand where I was personally at that point in my life, or else the story won’t make that much sense. Because two years ago, if you told me that I would be standing on this stage here today talking about a lesson that changed my life, I would’ve told you that you’re insane. In fact, I probably would’ve told you that I will be in the United States on a full ride scholarship playing division one soccer. Like many of you, I had a dream for my life from a very young age, and my dream was to play professional soccer. At the age of 13, I had the opportunity to travel to Europe and live by myself for six months and experienced the professional culture. And when I came back to Canada, I came back with a new passion for the sport. And throughout my four years of high school, I sacrificed everything to pursue my dream of playing professional soccer. But in grade 12, at the age of 17, everything changed. It was mid-November, maybe one week before the biggest opportunity in my soccer career, and I was playing in a friendly match with my team. It was just before half time, maybe five minutes before the whistle when I went shoulder to shoulder with this 250 pound beast.

Sam Demma (04:48):

And after our initial contact, I caught myself, but very quickly I realized that something felt a little funny in my left knee. And for the next five minutes, I ran around with some pain in my calf before deciding to put my ego aside and get off the field. And as I crossed the line, I immediately burst in the tears because deep down I knew that something was terribly wrong. And the worst part about it is that my parents weren’t even there, and I had to hit your ride home with my teammate. And for the whole 40 minute drive home, I pted in the backseat like a little child. Fast forward one month, I ended up getting the results from my mri, and it turned out I had torn the meniscus in my left knee. I felt absolutely defeated mentally and physically because I just missed the opportunity I had been training for so emphatically.

Sam Demma (05:50):

But you see, I wanted this dream so badly, so I would not give up. I got the surgery done and I got back onto the field. And just as things began to improve, I ended up tearing the meniscus in my left knee a second time. And this time around, looking back, I realized I broke down uncontrollably crying in front of my family, my friends, and my teammates. I couldn’t understand why life seemed to be beating me to the ground for no reason. I then had a second surgery, and I even took a fifth year of high school or grade 13 for you old folks back here to try and keep that dream alive. And just when I thought things could not get any worse, it happened again a third time this time in my other knee, which forced me to quit and give up the sport that I loved. It was at that point in my life that I realized I had so deeply attached my personal identity and self-worth to the sport I played. I mean, raise your hand if you have an email address here. I’m pretty sure we all do. Just to put it in perspective, it was so bad that my email was soccer, Sam 99, soccer was all I knew, and I feared that I would be worth nothing without it.

Sam Demma (07:16):

So that’s where I was at this point in my life when my teacher taught me this lesson about small, consistent actions. The reason I shared with you my soccer story is because I want you to understand you do not need to go through extreme adversity to knee surgeries and give up a lifelong dream only to realize that doing good things that benefit others also fulfills yourself. And my teacher proved that to me through his personal passion for solving world issues. And so while walking home from school, after that day in class, when I was asking myself the questions, How are you going to change the world? What is your small consistent action going to look like? I didn’t realize it at the time, but looking back, I now see that I was taking the first small step towards building some serious momentum. And it took me 14 days to finally come up with an answer to those questions.

Sam Demma (08:21):

I was walking home when a coffee cup blew across the sidewalk, and I still can’t explain this portion of the story, but for some reason on an impulse decision, I decide to put my teacher’s theory to the ultimate test. I walked up to the cup, I bent down, and I picked it up. And for the next four months, I made my small consistent action picking up litter while walking home from school. I had no intentions of building something outta this, but to, to my surprise, my teacher was correct. And that small consistent action would soon thereafter grow into a citywide initiative. Because five days before summer break, my good friend Dylan saw me driving home and like any teenager, he pulled over, he rolled down his window, and he looked at me like this.

Sam Demma (09:17):

And then he said, Sam, what the heck are you doing? Why are you picking up garbage? And when I explained to him the theory that small actions lead to a massive change, he absolutely loved it. And then he made this statement that changed my future forever. He said, Sam, let’s do something with this. And that was the day that Pick Waste was born. Pick Waste is a community initiative that was started outta the necessity to play our small part in solving a global issue, while at the same time inspiring individuals like yourselves to realize the potential you have on this planet. It began on July 1st, 2017, and since that day, we have kickstarted four different cleanup crews in four different cities, completed over 80 cleanups, filled over 850 bags of garbage and picked up over 21,000 cigarette butts. It has also given me the opportunity to speak in front of over 8,000 individuals just like yourself, to spread this message and to raise awareness.

Sam Demma (10:29):

You see, our movement exemplifies the power of consistency. It was one small action, one small idea that led to this citywide initiative. But please do not get me wrong. The reason I told you about pick waste is not because I want you to go and start picking up litter, although if you do see it, please do pick it up <laugh>. But the reason I told you about pick waste is because I wanted to give you a real life example about how this theory of small, consistent actions played out in my personal life. But what is 10 times or even a thousand times more important is how this theory could play out in your life. Because there are thousands of social issues facing the world today that need courageous leaders like yourselves to step up and face these problems. The biggest lie we have ever been taught, told, or heard, is that one person is too insignificant, that one person is irrelevant in the bigger picture or on the global scale.

Sam Demma (11:36):

And I am here today to tell you that that is absolutely false, and I can even prove it to you in less than 10 seconds. Are you ready? Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Gloria Stein, and Lewis Tapp in Salman north of Will and Will before is Gandhi, Bill Dre and Forres, Nan, Gail, Fabio Rosa. The list goes on and on of people no different than you and I. You see, they’re just human beings who decide to commit to small, consistent actions, and it allowed them to change this world. What is stopping you from being the next person that I count on my fingertips? Tips Because my teacher told me that those figures in history are not anomalies. We can all change the world. Never underestimate the power of small actions executed consistently. Never underestimate the power of momentum because things in motion tend to stay in motion and never underestimate yourself because you are no different than any other change maker who has ever walked on this earth.

Sam Demma (12:47):

Now, before I wrap this up, I have one piece of homework that I wanna leave you with. As you leave this conference here today, I want you to think about one problem that you are passionate about, one problem that you wanna start solving. And over the next two weeks, the next 14 days, I want you to come up with some small, consistent actions that you can begin implementing in your personal life to start solving this problem. And I promise you, you’ll begin taking these actions, and it will start gaining momentum, and you will build a little initiative. And as you start to have an impact, people will begin asking you the question, “How do you plan on changing the world?” And when I was 17, in grade 12, I did not have ‘an answer to that question. But I hope that after hearing this presentation here today, if anyone ever asked you, how do you plan on changing the world,” you would take a little step back, put a big smile on your face, and respond with those three, simple but extremely powerful words; small, consistent actions. Thank you.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Sam Demma

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.

Char Andrew – Health & Wellness Coordinator at Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools

Char Andrew - Health & Wellness Coordinator at Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools
About Char Andrew

Char’s first job is being a mother and wife. She married Chris for 30 years and has 3 amazing children. Her second job is working as the Health and Wellness Coordinator for the Red Deer Catholic Regional School Division.

Her role with the division is to create healthy school communities for staff and students. Her school division is passionate about bringing awareness to the relationship between physical health and mental health.

Her 3rd job is as a fitness instructor with Studio Pilates in Red Deer. She has been in the fitness industry for over 32 years. Her fitness journey has been one of learning, passion and fun. 

Connect with Char: Email | Instagram

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Red Deer Catholic Regional School Division

Studio Pilates

Char Andrew Youtube Channel

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):

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

Sam Demma (00:58):

This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest is a good friend of mine named Char Andrew. Char is the Health and Wellness Coordinator at Red Deer Catholic Schools. Char’s first job is being a mother and wife. She married Chris for 30 years and has three amazing children. Her second job is working as the Health and Wellness coordinator for the Red Deer Catholic Regional School Division. Her role with the division is to create healthy school communities for staff and students. Her school division is passionate about bringing awareness to the relationship of physical health, and mental health. Her third job is as a fitness instructor with Studio Pilates and Red Deer. She has been in the fitness industry for over 32 years. Her fitness journey has been one of learning, passion, and fun. I hope you enjoy this energizing conversation with Char Andrew, and I will see you on the other side. Char, welcome to the High Performing Educator Podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here today. Please start by introducing yourself.

Char Andrew (01:56):

Hey. Hi Sam. Thanks for having me. My name is Char Andrew, and I am the health and Wellness coordinator for Red Deer Catholic Regional schools.

Sam Demma (02:06):

When did you become passionate about your own personal wellness and have that personal passion pour into helping others?

Char Andrew (02:15):

You know what, I think it was about 20 when I needed to take control of my health and wellness. It was kind of those late teens, early 20 years that I’m like, eh, I need to make, make a change. So I started going to a local fitness center and I literally fell in love with my aerobics teacher. She was like the high energy, high kicker type instructor. And she came up to me and she said, You know what? Have you ever thought about becoming an instructor? And that’s all it took. I had a background in figure skating growing up, and I, I had a little bit of rhythm going on. So I became an instructor and I’ve been teaching fitness for over 32 years now.

Sam Demma (02:58):

And you live it running triathlons and marathons, <laugh>.

Char Andrew (03:04):

I try to make sure it is part of my lifestyle. Absolutely. Yep.

Sam Demma (03:09):

What took you down an educational journey? Like when did you have the realization that you might want to help staff and students with their wellness and what actually brought you to where you are today?

Char Andrew (03:22):

Well, when I finished high school, I, I wanted to work in the education sector. I wasn’t really confident about going to school. So I, I started off my journey at, in early childhood development and I took a diploma program here in my, actually where I’m living currently in Red Deer. And I just knew I wanted to help students along with their education and their wellness. And then I ended up marrying my husband, who is a teacher and sort of immersed myself in that education world. I love watching him coach basketball. I love going to conferences with him. And then the opportunity came up for my, my role that I’m in right now. So it was kind of a good marriage of both where I was working in the school’s division and I was able to share my passion about wellness and how important it is for overall wellness, whether it’s your mental wellness, physical wellness, all of it.

Sam Demma (04:19):

That’s such a unique journey or introduction to Ed, you know, education. It sounds like you were able to bring two passions that you had together, which I think is a really meaningful way to pursue a, a pathway or a future. What does your role look like day to day in the school board for someone who might not be familiar with, you know, what you do?

Char Andrew (04:42):

Yeah, for sure. You know what? I think I have to give a shout out to our division first and foremost because they came up with this concept of a wellness coordinator. Knowing that what can we do to help our staff become healthier? Yeah. So that they take less sick days, right? So that it’s more consistent for kids in the classroom and ultimately it will save the division money if they’re paying for less sick time. So when they came up with this concept it was mostly to focus on, on staff wellness. And when I saw the job posting, I was like, Whoa, this is, this is a dream job for me because of the bringing the two of them together. So I think, you know, the focus of wraparound supports of wellness for students and teachers and all staff, bus drivers, whoever it might be, when people are physically well and there’s sleeping well and they’re drinking water and they’re out in the sunshine, have positive social relationships that makes us mentally well.

Char Andrew (05:48):

So I think my scope is definitely not mental wellness. I’m not a mental health practitioner. It’s not, that isn’t my, my skillset. My skillset is that that fitness and not part of the wellness, but we know that those are all the things that will support kids in their mental wellness. And when we, not even kids, staff, everybody in the group. Yeah. So when everybody’s well that way, it just makes us better teachers, It makes us better students, it makes us better bus drivers or s or cafeteria workers, whoever we are in the school division. So, okay, I’m gonna get really excited because I’m really passionate about it.

Sam Demma (06:25):

I love it. I can feel it. You can tell that this is work that you’re excited about doing every single day. And I think that in education it’s so important that every person in every role is excited about what they’re doing because that passion pours through and results and, and impact and, and actually making sure the job they’re supposed to do is getting ju getting done as best as it possibly can. I know that what you’ve done and what the division has done in the wellness sector is now sort of an example for other school boards as well. What are some of the initiatives or projects that you have worked on with your team and with the school division that you’re personally really proud of, but also excited about?

Char Andrew (07:11):

Yeah, I think the thing that we started about 10 years ago is we created this comprehensive school health model, which lots of divisions are very familiar with. But one of the things that we did in every one of our schools is we asked someone to be a wellness champion. It could have been an ea, it could have been a teacher. We, so now we actually have one or two, some schools have six cuz they’re pretty excited about it. But we are wellness champions in every school. And then they will take, I’ll do PD with them. I’ll bring them in the division office, you know, three or four times a year and we’ll talk about, Hey, what are some of the wellness initiatives that you wanna do in your school? How can I support you? And so that’s sort of where they build an action plan for the school year.

Char Andrew (07:57):

Now, in turn, those wellness champions will bring student wellness action teams together. So those, they bring students who are passionate about wellness and, and how can we support everybody in our school when it comes to anything from healthy eating bingo when you’re in elementary school to maybe bringing in someone in the high school to talk about, you know, mental wellness, those types of things. The one thing I love about our little action teams is that student Wellness Action teams, which the acronym is swapped, so they call ’em their SWAT teams, <laugh>, We have our little SWAT teams in the school helping the, the adults with their, with their wellness initiatives. So I think other divisions have really looked at that model of going, Hey, that’s a great idea. Let’s bring, bring in someone that will take that role and that leadership role in the school and then create these, these student action teams.

Char Andrew (08:49):

So I talk a lot about that with other school divisions. The other thing we did was we created a staff wellness assurance plan so that our division will follow through this over the next three years of what are an actual assurance plan that our HR team and myself will follow through with over the next three years. So it kind of gives us a path, the goal the strategic plan of what we’re gonna do over the next three years. So we talk about our, our assurance plan. There’s so many things that we’ve done. I really do get excited. I got to speak to the Zone four committee last year of all superintendent. Actually it was not even zone four, it was all a superintendents in the province about what we’re doing as far as wellness. So, ah, I’m pretty proud of what we’ve built here.

Sam Demma (09:37):

That’s so amazing. It, it sounds phenomenal. Outside of your, your role with the school division, how do you keep your wellness in check so that when you show up to work, you’re filled with energy, super excited and ready to go <laugh>?

Char Andrew (09:54):

So that’s a good question. I I actually teach fitness classes. Like I said, I’ve been in the fitness industry for 32 years. So I work my, my fun, my other fun job is working at a place called Studio Pilates where I teach everything from spin to TRX to Pilates. And I think one of the secrets for me is just doing different things. One day I, I’m gonna teach spin, but the next day I’m gonna go for a walk and then I’ll teach a TRX class and then I’m gonna go for a swim. So I think to keep me motivated, it is mixing things up. But other other piece of it for me is I know how good I feel mentally. Yeah. When I’ve done something physical that works for me. That’s my, my self care and, and self care and wellness means something different to other people. But that’s definitely the piece that motivates me is I have, I have to be moving.

Sam Demma (10:51):

It sounds like moving is the constant, but the way you move or why you’re moving in terms of the game you’re playing, the sport you’re engaged in changes that mixing things up is a part of your philosophy. Things got really mixed up over the past two years with Covid <laugh>. Yeah. When it comes to that mix up what was your focus or the school division’s focus on wellness during that time and maybe what are some of the initiatives or things that went on over the past two years to try and support the wellbeing of staff and students?

Char Andrew (11:26):

Well, you know, it was really challenging because part of what I love about my job was being able to go into the schools and work with the students and work with the teachers. So like everybody else, we had to figure out ways that we can make this work. So of course I did lots of virtual things and that’s, that was a big learning curve for me because yeah, not really technically savvy, but we managed to do a lot of sort of guest presentations for whether it’s PHED classes or the com classes in the high school. And then the teacher wellness piece, I started YouTube called Wellness Wednesdays, <laugh> Nice.

Char Andrew (12:09):

We would focus on, I would try and alternate, you know, one week would be something physical, whether it’s a five minute energy break at your desk because a lot of us were sitting at home at our desks or the next week would be nutrition. And then the following week I would do something that would help support our mental wellness. So my wellness Wednesday <laugh> little YouTuber videos became pretty popular. So, you know, we did what we could to make sure people knew we were still here and we cared about them and we cared about their wellness within the division.

Sam Demma (12:42):

That’s awesome. I’m gonna have to check out some of your YouTube videos. Are they still up there, <laugh>?

Char Andrew (12:48):

Yes, they are. In fact, I did a presentation for the bus drivers last week just to kick off the school year and a couple people put up their hands and said, Hey, are you still doing your Wellness Wednesday videos <laugh>? So, hey,

Sam Demma (13:01):

That’s awesome. We gotta

Char Andrew (13:01):

Continue with them now.

Sam Demma (13:03):

So aside from supporting the divisions as a whole, do you ever get emails or phone calls from individual staff members saying, Sure, I’m super burnt out right now, like I just need some support. Like, is that something that also happens and if so what is kind of your focus when someone reaches out like that who might be a little bit burnt out?

Char Andrew (13:26):

Yeah, that’s, that’s really great question. In fact, during the pandemic, one of the things I thought I wanted to do was how do I work with people a little bit more on an individual basis? Mm. So I took a wellness coaching course to the Spencer Institute in California and it was an online course and it now gave me the opportunity to, in the skill set to really meet with people individually, not, not really prescribing to them, You need to do this, you need to do that. It was more like, what are some of the barriers? You know, I know this is what you wanna accomplish, how can we talk you through it? And it’s really giving them strategies that it’s really them figuring out the strategies that work best for them when it comes to wellness. So I am now through the division, they said, Yeah, let’s, let’s, let’s use this as one of the supports for our staff when it comes to their benefits. So I now meet with people individually. I have about 13 staff right now that I meet with on an ongoing basis. And hopefully that’ll grow this year. But I do, I’m really enjoying that one-on-one meeting with people cuz it’s, wellness can be a really personal and private thing. Yeah.

Sam Demma (14:37):

But

Char Andrew (14:37):

It’s so important. They want, they wanna continue to be the best teachers or eaas or whatever cafeteria workers that they can be. So how can I support them on that one-on-one journey?

Sam Demma (14:48):

That’s really helpful because I feel like so many people in education over the past two years have needed a support like that. And maybe not had access to it. Prior to meeting you at the middle years’, you know council conference. I didn’t, I didn’t ever speak to a wellness coordinator before. So I think it’s really cool to see you doing the work you’re doing and that you’ve been doing it for a while now, which is exciting for education as a whole. What, like what personally keeps you motivated to do this sort of work?

Char Andrew (15:27):

Well, you know, I, I do it because I know how it makes me feel. But the other things that motivate me are just little, little comments or an email that I get, even if it’s my Wellness Wednesday video. If I get one email a week for someone saying, Hey Char, I really needed to hear that today. That really helped me get through my day. Or I went out to visit a school last week and one of the ladies had taped to her desk. The little five minute desk workout goes, I still do this every day, char. So those, that type of feedback does kind of fill my bucket and feed my soul. And I, I do know, I truly, truly, truly believe that when we incorporate wellness into our everyday life, how, how much better our life, the quality of our life can be. And I just wanna teach people that I want them to experience that same feeling that, that I get when I’m really taking care of my wellness. So I, I think that that passion that I have keeps me motivated cuz I know it’s, I know it’s making a difference even if it’s one person a week.

Sam Demma (16:34):

I was just having a phone call with a coach of mine and a mentor, his name’s Chris. And he told me that two weekends ago he was sitting on dock at a cottage. First time he had ever taken a few minutes to meditate in complete silence, where you literally sit and he crossed his legs and just focused on his breathing. And he noticed far in the distance a boat going by and could barely hear it. But the engine was loud enough that, you know, he, he understood that there was a boat somewhere, but it was at nighttime, so it was complete darkness. And within 10 minutes of this boat passing behind in the distance, he started hearing waves hitting the shore of his cottage. And at first he was thinking like, Why are there waves hitting my cottage? Just makes no sense. It’s, it’s dark outside, it’s nighttime, everything’s calm and silent.

Sam Demma (17:28):

And then he thought, oh yeah, it was from the boat. And what it made me think of just now while you were talking was the work we do in wellness, like you don’t know it or sometimes people don’t realize it, but you’re like, that boat that’s making a ripple. And it might not affect somebody instantly, but 10 years from now they’ll think back and go, Damn, I’m so glad that I did the five minute desk workout every single day. And I really took a lot from those, you know, Wellness Wednesday YouTube videos. Speaking of what is the five minute desk workout, if you don’t mind me asking <laugh> this sounds awesome.

Char Andrew (18:10):

Well, it’s things like pushing yourself away from your desk and doing a few squats and then putting your hands on the desk and doing some desk pushups. Just little things that you can incorporate onto your desk or in your chair. And now you’ve got me stumped. I’m gonna have to send you the video.

Sam Demma (18:27):

No, that’s okay. I’m gonna link it in the podcast show notes. So if anyone wants to check out Sure. Not only your YouTube channel, but the specific five minute workout, I’m gonna make it available to all the listeners. Okay. But yeah, the the work you do is, is so important. Tell me about a story of an educator or a student who reached out to you and shared with you the impact that wellness had on on them. Maybe they were going through a difficult time and five months later found themselves in a bit of a better place cuz they decide to finally focus on their wellness. I’m curious if you have any stories like that or people who have sent emails along those lines.

Char Andrew (19:09):

Yeah, you know, I, there’s always the, the little ones that you know, really have an impact on me. But it was funny, I was at a, the pool this weekend. I was swimming and I was talking to a teacher who had been part of my triathlon training cuz nice three pandemic. I would organize a group of teachers doing triathlons. She wasn’t a really strong athletic person, she didn’t love swimming. And we just had a little conversation in the change room and I’m walking out and she stopped me in the parking lot and said, Char, I just wanna tell you what a huge difference you made on my life when it comes to my, my overall fitness journey. She said, If it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t have tried that triathlon. And that was probably nine years ago. And to this day she continues to doing triathlon. So I’m walking to my vehicle going, You just don’t know the impact that you have on people. And when you hear them nine years later telling me that, yeah, he made a difference, that’s, you know, pumps up my drove home with my chest pumped up and I was very happy and then phone my husband to say, You won’t believe this

Sam Demma (20:23):

<Laugh>. It gives you purpose knowing that you made a difference. Totally.

Char Andrew (20:26):

Yeah. Yeah.

Sam Demma (20:28):

So bus drivers in the board find your wellness Wednesday video is super helpful. I’m curious to know if there are any resources that you listen to or watch or have experienced or been exposed to that have been really helpful in your own personal development journey and wellness journey?

Char Andrew (20:48):

Oh yes. There’s been lots of people. I’m kind of a little fitness groupie. I follow <laugh>, I follow all these you know, I go to lots of fitness conferences and I’ve been really fortunate. The division has supported me in going to conferences. But there’s a few presenters that have really sparked my flame when it comes to fitness. And one’s Helen Vandenberg and she’s from Calgary. Todd Durkin is one out of San Diego who he’s got a podcast. It, it’s all about get Mind, right. He’s always like, get your mind right

Sam Demma (21:24):

<Laugh>. Yeah. Nice.

Char Andrew (21:26):

In fact, and I wear his t-shirt proudly and nice. And another one is Peter Twist and he’s out of Vancouver who went on quite the journey of himself huge trainer for the Connects the Vancouver Connects and then ended up getting a brain tumor. And, you know, he feels truly, truly deep down that his health and wellness and being as strong as he was, helped him get through that. Wow. so following his journey is really inspiring. But yeah, I, there are people that I consistently go to or talk to or email or follow that keep me inspired. Right.

Sam Demma (22:05):

Yeah. That’s awesome. I’m gonna have to check out Twist and these other two people. Yeah. Get your mind. Right. <laugh>

Char Andrew (22:14):

Such a groupie with Todd Derkin. <Laugh>,

Sam Demma (22:16):

Hey, we all have our idols. You know, people we look up to and people that we learn from as well. Yeah. what are you looking forward to about this fresh new school year?

Char Andrew (22:30):

Yeah, you know what I, we just got some word that we have some funding for some mental wellness initiatives within our, within every school division within the province. So even though mental wellness is not my, my skillset or my lane, I know that that funding will help our, our students. So it’s all about student wellness which of course you are definitely passionate about. And, and part of, and I think I’m excited that they are starting to see that wellness should be at the forefront of, of the education system. I mean, we’ve got funding. Yes, I agree. The grades and, and statistics, all of those things. The data is really important, but I think that we’re finally starting to see that if people aren’t well, how will everything else be in place? Mm-Hmm. <Affirmative>, I think we need to have healthy students, healthy staff, everybody wrap around supports like I talked about before. Cuz if we, because if we don’t have those, we’re not gonna have good grades. Right. You have to have the other things in place because kids can’t learn if they’re hungry, kids can’t learn if they’re not sleeping well, kids can’t. Right. There’s all of those things, those messages that we have to get out and I think people are really starting to believe and, and our education system’s starting to believe that you’re right, those things are really important.

Sam Demma (23:50):

What an exciting time for a very positive change, <laugh> and development in education, which I think is so exciting. If you could, you know, travel back in time to the first year you were working in this position in education and tap yourself on the shoulder and say, Hey Char, this is what you don’t need. This is what you don’t think you need to hear, but you really need to hear. What would you have like told you younger self as advice or as encouragement when you were just getting started?

Char Andrew (24:27):

Hmm. You know, I I I think probably don’t give up because I felt like I was beating my head against the wall a little bit when it came to wellness and, and having people realize how important it is. So there are many days that I had administrators say, <laugh>, this isn’t really important.

Sam Demma (24:48):

Mm.

Char Andrew (24:48):

Right. It’s all about the marks and it’s all about scores and, and that type of thing. And some of those administrators that I was like, I think I’m afraid of you. No <laugh>. Yeah. Those people are now on board with me. There are in Char and they’re like, Okay, I get it now. Like, this is super important. I understand what you’re saying, but don’t give up and I have a little bit of fight to me so I I didn’t give up and finally got true to some of those people. Yeah. Probably not give up.

Sam Demma (25:24):

And what’s so awesome about not giving up is that because you decide to keep going, it’s having a positive impact on so many people. If, you know, if you gave up, you not only would’ve let your own passion down, but you would’ve let all the people down who are now on board who totally see how important it is. So thank you for persisting. If another educator is listening to this and is fueling your palpable energy through their earphones and wants to connect with you and have a conversation, what would be the best way for them to reach out and get in touch?

Char Andrew (25:58):

Yeah, you can certainly send me an email. It’s char.andrew@rdcrs.ca.

Sam Demma (26:14):

And if they wanna subscribe to your YouTube channel, Wellness Wednesdays?

Char Andrew (26:19):

Yeah. Char Andrew Wellness Wednesday. Let’s, let’s make a YouTube sensation.

Sam Demma (26:27):

I love it. Awesome. Char, thank you so much for taking the time to come on the podcast, share a little bit about your journey, your passion for wellness. I really appreciated the conversation.

Char Andrew (26:38):

Well, I appreciate you, Sam, and everything that you’re doing for mental wellness, for kids and your message is so important. So thanks for all the work that you’re doing and thanks for having me on.

Sam Demma (26:48):

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 Char Andrew

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 Karikari – Former CFL Athlete and Co-Founder of Complete Performance Centre

Richard Karikari - Former CFL Athlete and Co-Founder of Complete Performance Centre
About Richard Karikari

As a proven leader in the domestic and international sports industries, Richard is known for his skills and experience in sports business operations, training and conditioning, minor association team management and his professional football career. He is passionate about promoting health and fitness for people of all ages.

Reputed for being self-motivated, over the past six years, he has founded and grown The Physio Studio. Currently operating at three permanent locations and various pop-up locations throughout the Durham region, he is excited to be working on getting a fourth location ready to open.

Other ventures include:
• Co-founding the Complete Performance Centre.
• President of the Durham Dolphins minor football club.
• President of the Ajax United Soccer Club, a black-focused club to get underprivileged kids back into sports.
• General Manager for the Ajax Soccer Club.

Prior to these endeavours, he was a professional football player in the Canadian Football League (CFL), giving him a unique perspective and first-hand understanding of sports from an athlete’s point of view.

Richard is a motivated and determined leader with strong managerial abilities in building, mentoring, and leading large, dynamic teams. He believes in displaying hands-on leadership in delivering activities and programs and supporting employees through first-rate employee development, performance management, and an environment where employees can strive for improvement in all areas.

Karikari works hard to build trust and respect with clients, colleagues, teams, and management and collaboratively develops strategic goals that drive organizations forward. Clients and business professionals enjoy working with him because he leverages his extensive experience to help them achieve business results diplomatically, responding to challenging situations with creativity, diffusing conflict, and upholding a high level of professionalism in all interactions.

He is a well-known community leader in the city of Ajax, and this fall, he is running for the position of school board trustee within the Durham Catholic District School Board

Connect with Richard: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Facebook

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

The Physio Studio

Complete Performance Centre

Ajax United Soccer Club

Canadian Football League (CFL)

Durham Catholic District School Board

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):

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

Sam Demma (00:58):

This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest is someone who had a huge impact on me growing up as a young athlete and young man. His name is Richard Karikari. He is the proud owner and co-founder of the Complete Performance Center for Athletic Training. He trained me as the young man when I was pursuing my dream to play professional soccer. He is the president of the Durham Dolphins Minor Football Club, the President of the Ajax United Soccer Club; a black focused club to get underprivileged kids back into sports, and the general manager for the Ajax Soccer Club. Prior to these endeavors, Richard was a professional football player in the Canadian Football League, the CFL, giving him a unique perspective and firsthand understanding of sports from an athlete’s point of view. Today, he is also running for one of the positions as a school board trustee, which we’ll talk a little bit about today in this interview, along with his entire journey. I hope you enjoyed this conversation, and I will see you on the other side. Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator Podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today we have a very special guest. This individual played a big role in my life as the development of an athlete, but more importantly, a young man. Richard, welcome to the show. Please introduce yourself.

Richard KariKari (02:20):

How you do it, man. Thanks, Sam. You know, I appreciate it. You know, I have been doing a lot of work with different groups in the community, so you’re one of them, and I appreciate you guys reaching back out.

Sam Demma (02:30):

Absolutely. for those of you who don’t know much about your journey and also your impact, can you please just talk a little bit about yourself, your, your story and what brought you to where you are today?

Richard KariKari (02:42):

You know, it’s, it’s first and foremost I’m from Ajax Pickering area. I grew up here. I came here in grade four. Most like, just like everybody else that came from the Toronto area. And you know, just, just went through the system, went through the whole Catholic system, went through St. Mary’s. I ended up going to university and I’m, I’m right back here as a small business owner, just like my dad was in this community. So, you know, my impact, I feel that I’ve been able to give is, is to the youth. Right now, currently the president of the Durham Dolphins as well as a gm Hja Soccer Club. So these are two things that, these are two platforms. I’m allow myself to speak with kids, parents. I let them know about my journey. So it wasn’t an easy journey.

Richard KariKari (03:23):

Everybody expects you just to go to school, get a scholarship, come back, and everything is gonna work out. It’s complete opposite. You know, the scholarship means the university has taken control of your life in some capacity. And I know a lot of athletes come back and tell me that, but for me, I try to guide them as best I can. Work with the schools, the guidance counselors, let them know that, you know, there is opportunities outside sports to, to make an impact and look just like yourself. You’re doing a lot, and I do appreciate what you’ve been doing for the community. But you, sports is a foundation of just getting kids to understand everything works off a team, right? Takes a village to raise a community, and that’s kind of mindset I have.

Sam Demma (04:00):

What sport did you play growing up and tell us a little bit about your journey through your athletic career,

Richard KariKari (04:05):

<Laugh>. So, I, I’ve got a couple interviews and people always say he must have played football his whole life. So I ended up playing in a professional football, but that was not my first love. My first love was baseball. I grew up in an era where the Blue Jays were the number one thing in town. You, if you didn’t wanna play baseball, actually something was wrong with you. I know that the main fans would probably think I’m crazy, but the B Chases was, was defined. Tron went one era. And growing up I played baseball. I played baseball, started in age H eight went through the system, did the house league select rap, Played on the one, probably the best travel teams where we had four or five guys drafted. And, and you know, it, it just, it just, it, you know, it’s full circle how things work out.

Richard KariKari (04:46):

And I tell parents this all the time. I was a small kid, You know, I remember your meeting your parents and, you know, you were a smaller, at a younger age when I started working with you and you will grow. I tell parents, Relax, just take a breather. And I think for myself, being a baseball be my first sport, which I loved tennis. I joined the tennis academy at age 13 and 14. Loved this sport. It wasn’t affordable at the time for my parents. I appreciate my parents given the effort that they did at that time to try to accommodate it, but it wasn’t, it wasn’t feasible. And then I kind of just started to play football a lot with my friends outside. And I think that’s the things that’s missing these days. Just the, the ability to just play the sport.

Richard KariKari (05:24):

And yeah, it just, it just worked out. And I, there is a teacher or two at St. Mary’s that kind of guided me, and I, and I, and I shout out to those teachers, Mr. Sheridan, who ended up being the, the headmaster at St. Michael’s College in Toronto who wanted me to actually transfer from St. Mary’s, go to St. Mike’s at that time, which was a dominate football program. And he said, I suddenly, he said, Rich, you got talent. I was only in grade 10, 11. I was like, We just played flag football. And he was like, Yeah, flag football, but you’re pretty damn good <laugh>. So, so I, you know, I took that with my mindset, came home and one of my friends who was a wrestler was playing for the Durham Dolphins. It was actually called Ajax Picker And Dolphins at that time, AP Dolphins played out the old Kingsman Field there. And he told me to come out. And that changed my life. I came out and because of my baseball arm being a pitcher, third baseman, I ended up being the quarterback for the team. And, you know, the rest is kinda history now.

Sam Demma (06:20):

That’s awesome. You’ve done so much for so many young people in the community. Why do you think sports are such a great foundation to anyone’s future success?

Richard KariKari (06:33):

You know, I can look at multiple ways. You know, I, I was what we call an average student. You know, my mom told me to get an 80, I to get a 75. You know, I don’t wanna push envelope too much. But sports allowed me to, to know that first of all, the friends around you is what keeps you in sports, right? There’s not a lot of sports nowadays that you’re, you’re an individual. There is a rare, you know, golf and, and other sports like that. But I always played on team sports where the friends were crucial, right? You go out with them, your social is a environment is around them goods and bads. You know, you have bad days. They raise you. You know, they’re the people that tell you it’s okay. I think sports is important for that. I think sports is also important just for the parents.

Richard KariKari (07:15):

Parents want their kids out active fit. You know, we, we talked about the obesity levels. That wouldn’t be the case. Know kids are active, right? Mm-Hmm. <Affirmative> screens were not an issue. You know, we had a, I don’t wanna age myself. We hadn’t attend on Nten was at its prime. You know, Super Nintendo came out that was at its prime, right? But screen time was not an issue for, for kids at my time. It was, it was literally get outside and played a sport. And I, and I think truly, you know, becoming to Durham, when I came to Picker in moved here, it saved me. It saved me. Cause I could’ve got caught up, you know, being a guy that just hung up the mall, right? No, I ended up being a guy that played road hockey at a street in Pickering called Pebble Court pretty much every day. <Laugh>, you know, so, you know, made that, that attribute to just being Okta, being around my friends, keeping me in a straighten narrow. We all know kids like to follow their friends. That’s why parents always say, you know, who you hang out with will sometimes be who you are. Mm. Well, my friends are guys who just love to play sports, you know, stay active after school. So I am what I am. I I wanted to be like that. And, you know, that’s what kept me outta trouble.

Sam Demma (08:18):

And it sounds like sports and just team activities is what introduced you to some caring adults in your life that guided you and really had a big impact. You know, being the headmaster at St. Mike’s and even other teachers that you had growing up I know personally from experience that when I was a student in school my parents actually came to you as like a caring adult figure and we’re like, Can you help guide our son? Like what are some of the conversations that you have with parents even that have kids that aren’t in sports and some that aren’t in sports? What are some of the conversations that you have or what do they reach out to you to ask?

Richard KariKari (08:56):

Well, you know, I, I think a lot of parents, and I do appreciate the parents do come and reaching out to me. I’m, I’m from this area, and I feel they can just relate. I think first and foremost will relate. I don’t have a doctor beside my name. I further my education end up with my masters, but that’s irrelevant to the parents. Yeah. They just see Richard as a guy who’s coaching kids, who trains kids. So there’s a mental and physical component to that. And they see me as somebody who, if you can get into my son or daughter’s head athletically, physically emotionally, when you’re training athletes, then you can also talk to them about their behaviors, good or bad. And that trust is what I’m, and I, and I all sneaky, I’m not gonna lie to you, I knew a lot about kids, you know, if their grades were slipping, but the parents are still bringing them to me to work with them.

Richard KariKari (09:39):

Parents will kind of slide that information in there, and as I’m training the clients or training the athlete, I’d leak it in there. Hey, Sam, you know, how you doing, Sam? You know, just wanna get an idea. You know, you gotta, you got an 81 in your English, you know, but you know, you usually get 88, so what’s going on? And, you know, sometimes you’re truthful with me. You’ll just say, Coach, you know what’s going on? I met this wonderful girl, and I think she’s distracted me or coach, I’m doing some projects that my parents don’t know about which is a great, a project you’re doing right now. And it’s kind of distracting me. I’m really trying to change Durham. I’m trying to be a more impactful to just being a regular student in an English class. Those are things you may divulge to me, but you may not divulge to your parents. And then, you know, that gives me an opportunity to kind of give you my advice on how to either A, be more open with your parents, or b to continue on your journey, but not, and not suffer the, you know, the outcome of maybe a great job. And in the long term.

Sam Demma (10:29):

Hmm. Richard Carri Carri, the trusted parent advisor of the Durham region, <laugh>, you know what? Like,

Richard KariKari (10:37):

Don’t give away my seat now. My secret’s gonna be up now. No kids are gonna be, I’m very transparent with me. So, no, no.

Sam Demma (10:42):

You know, it is funny, when I stopped playing soccer and I’m, you know, I’m, I was, I was still in my late teens, I still found it difficult to kind of rebuild my image. You know, everyone looked at me as the soccer guy. And, you know, similarly to yourself, you’ve been so involved with sports your whole life. And some people might think your current interests, they don’t really relate exactly. But I would argue the opposite that, you know, if you’re able to pursue something and achieve greatness in one area, those same, you know, skills and attributes can be applicable elsewhere. Tell me about the other personas of Richard that no one really sees about.

Richard KariKari (11:19):

You know, something, I’m, I’m a quiet person and, and everybody, and here’s a key thing about me, and I say this for anything I do, everybody knows where to find me. Mm, right? I’m always at the same location here. I’m always working with athletes where, if not the general public, and, and I strive to focus on what’s in front of me and not about anything, what I call distracting me, right? Mm-Hmm. <Affirmative>. And I think the, from when parents really do come to me, I, I find the time and I will get an answer. It’s sometimes not an answer they want to hear. And I know some of the tough ones I’ve, I’ve dealt with is, you know, my kids started to, you know, smoke. Those are one of the toughest ones. Cause I’ve never smoked before. Mm. So it’s really hard for me to relate and, and I try to talk to the athlete or the, or the individual.

Richard KariKari (12:04):

And, you know, sometimes I have to be very honest, the parents, if you have a relative around you that smokes, maybe that’s what’s happened. Maybe they’re seeing it, maybe they’re witnessing it, you know, so it’s very hard for them. Maybe they have to take some responsibility for it. So I, I have to be honest, like, it’s, it’s really more of me trying to just put myself in both shoes, but at the same time, be honest, just be honest with either side, who I’m dealing with. And that I think parents that have come to me and athletes have come to and will probably recognize that I’m just, I’m very thorough in my decision making. Mm.

Sam Demma (12:35):

You, your, you know, you also have your own kids, and I’m sure there are people in your life who, when you can’t get through to yours, you lean on <laugh>. But you’re starting to gain a big interest in, you know, being a part of the community in these school space, in the education world. And I would assume an aspect of that is because your own kids are in it. Tell us, tell me more about that interest and that passion and why you wanna pursue being one of the counselors.

Richard KariKari (13:04):

Yeah, so, or

Sam Demma (13:05):

Trustees,

Richard KariKari (13:05):

I should say. Trustee. Yeah. So a lot of parents have come to me for, again, various issues. And I’m so happy, thankful for that. And, and ultimately for me, I have to start making some decisions because I’m starting to see a reoccurring trend. And it’s, it’s truly a trend. And you start looking at the research and data, same way you have done in your field, you start to say, Oh, hold one second, man, this is, this is not just a, a simple one off. This is not just a, a seasonal thing. This is actually something that potentially could be a change from, you know, policy, curriculum, you know, mental health could be anything. It could be anything above the, that you could start to say, How can I make a change in that direction or change in that for, for kids in the future.

Richard KariKari (13:48):

And that’s why ultimately started looking at the role of trust. And it took me about a year to decide that, you know, everybody pushes you towards me, a counselor, a mayor, I’ll, and I’ve said this and I’ll say it again. My, my, I don’t have interest in that at the moment. My interest right now is in continue to work with athletes, continue work with youth, Okay. Continue to guide people. And I think this is why it was the best fit for me to, to run as Ajax Catholic board trustee. It, it, it just fit well and well. I know have some public, have some public school people. Really ho why didn’t you go for public? I’m like, I understand, but my faith is Catholic. I went to St. Mary’s. you know, my kids are baptized in St. Francis. So I, I, I, you know, I mean, for me, I, I’m Catholic, right? But I continue to help, regardless of what board you come from I’ll continue to help, but for me, from a formality point, I, I fail those best for me to put my hand, my head my name in for Ajax Catholic trustee.

Sam Demma (14:39):

What has been the response from all your friends, family, the community at large? <Laugh>,

Richard KariKari (14:46):

It’s it’s exactly what you started by saying it’s Richard, well, the CPC guy, or Richard, the HX picker and Dolphins guy, or Richard, the HX soccer guy. It’s really breaking the the, the stereotype of who I am, right? Or the ex professional football player guy. You know, I have so many hats and I’m, I’m thankful that I have these hats to wear because when you have a lot of hats, good or bad, you’re making an impact in different areas. So I feel that the people around me, I’ve seen the social media thanking me, saying finally, I, I did get a lot of personal emails saying, finally <laugh>. And I, and I rep, I did reply all of them. I’m like, I, I understand. And I also get people saying, same thing I said before, I, I hope that I was wishing you could do the other board. I’m like, No. My focus again is just working with as a, as a Catholic trustee. And that’s what I, I’m aiming for. So it’s been amazing, all the support out there. It’s been amazing. And I’m hoping everybody can go out and vote the week of the 17th to 24th, and hopefully we can make change within the Durham region.

Sam Demma (15:48):

That’s awesome. What are the things that you’re hoping to support with in schools or like maybe for the parents who are curious, like what exactly is your role, you know, as a, as a trustee, if they’re not too involved in the system? <Laugh>

Richard KariKari (16:03):

Trustee, again, a trustee. You’re, you’re there for the parents, okay? You’re there for the youth. You’re there to be in an ear. It’s not always about the bad issues, it’s also the good issues. You’re there to support the schools. There’s gonna be different events that, you know, involve the youth, that you wanna make sure that you’re present, you’re there to continue to build the faith. We are in the Catholic faith, right? So you wanna make sure our kids, our kids are, our youth, are continuing to, to understand the Catholic faith. These are all different things that, you know, I my, I want to be a part of, right? But the most important thing is wanna build community. I think that’s ultimately the biggest thing. It’s too diverse here in Ajax that we do not wanna get caught in a situation that all this diversity will turn into everybody being separate, whereas the whole is to build.

Richard KariKari (16:49):

And I, and I’ve started that mindset at Aja Soccer. It’s our model. It’s our diversity inclusion model, which we brought in three years ago. And I’m, I’m pushing hard. We are a melting pot at a, a soccer, we are a melting pot that Durham dolphins. I want more and more kids to be involved in sports that they may not be a part, a part of their cultural background, which is a better way of saying, you know, there’s always a, and I can make this statement, there’s always been a stigma that if you’re Italian, you must be great at soccer <laugh>. You know, that’s, that’s a stigma, but you know something, why can’t semi dema play, you know, football? Why can’t stand semi dema play, you know, badminton? So these are all different things. We wanna build that community. I played tennis, I played badminton, I played, you know, volleyball in school.

Richard KariKari (17:34):

I think everybody took an attempt at that. We wanna build that in other ways outside just athletics. Build that in, in, in realms of our stem. Build that in realms above getting our kids and our high school students into job opportunities co-op, which you did co-op in, in, in this building here, which we work out of, you had an opportunity. Now see the different side at that time, at that time was called cpc. Yeah, you got a chance to see different side. So I think those are things that I wanna make sure that we continue to build on.

Sam Demma (18:02):

If a parent is listening to this right now or anyone in the education community and they wanna reach out and just like ask you a question, what would be the best way for them to get in touch?

Richard KariKari (18:13):

I have cards going all through the, the Ajax area. They can contact me. I do have a number. It’s 289-201-0497. Give me a call. I’m always available. You know, I do coach sports programs. If I get a call while I’m coaching, don’t worry. I’ll pick up and I’ll make sure, I’ll give you a call right back. My email is richard@completecentre.com. You can give a call, sorry, an email there. Ask me any questions as well as my social platforms. You can ig me or if not, send a message to Facebook. Either way you’ll get a response back, probably.

Sam Demma (18:45):

Awesome. Rich, thank you so much for taking the time to chat, share a little bit about your future pursuits and what you’re hoping to do in the community, and it was really inspiring just to catch up and chat, and I wish you all the best.

Richard KariKari (18:56):

Appreciate it. Thanks, Sam.

Sam Demma (18:58):

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 Richard Karikari

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.

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

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

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

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

Connect with Eric: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Camerise Project (FSL hub)

Francophone Studies at York University

Newcastle University

University of Yaoundé1

Ontario College of Teachers

Choq-FM 105.1

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):

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

Sam Demma (00:59):

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

Eric Keunne (01:55):

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

Sam Demma (03:10):

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

Eric Keunne (03:18):

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

Eric Keunne (04:17):

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

Eric Keunne (05:27):

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

Sam Demma (06:03):

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

Eric Keunne (06:07):

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

Sam Demma (06:32):

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

Eric Keunne (06:45):

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

Eric Keunne (07:48):

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

Eric Keunne (08:38):

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

Eric Keunne (09:31):

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

Eric Keunne (10:25):

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

Sam Demma (11:14):

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

Eric Keunne (11:21):

Absolutely. Absolutely.

Sam Demma (11:22):

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

Eric Keunne (11:48):

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

Eric Keunne (12:45):

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

Eric Keunne (13:44):

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

Eric Keunne (14:46):

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

Sam Demma (16:13):

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

Eric Keunne (16:41):

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

Eric Keunne (17:41):

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

Eric Keunne (18:34):

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

Eric Keunne (19:29):

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

Eric Keunne (20:20):

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

Eric Keunne (21:11):

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

Eric Keunne (22:09):

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

Sam Demma (23:35):

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

Eric Keunne (24:57):

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

Sam Demma (26:15):

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

Eric Keunne (26:19):

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

Eric Keunne (27:22):

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

Eric Keunne (28:27):

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

Eric Keunne (29:22):

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

Sam Demma (30:24):

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

Eric Keunne (30:57):

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

Eric Keunne (31:02):

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

Sam Demma (32:34):

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

Eric Keunne (32:54):

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

Sam Demma (34:29):

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

Eric Keunne (35:02):

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

Eric Keunne (36:05):

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

Sam Demma (37:15):

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

Eric Keunne (37:36):

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

Eric Keunne (38:37):

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

Sam Demma (39:21):

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

Eric Keunne (39:55):

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

Eric Keunne (41:07):

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

Sam Demma (42:23):

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

Eric Keunne (42:50):

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

Sam Demma (43:07):

Awesome. Thank you so much. Talk soon.

Eric Keunne (43:10):

My pleasure.

Sam Demma (43:11):

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

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Jesse Macdonald

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

Jesse Macdonald – Prince Edward Island’s Chef of the Year

Jesse Macdonald – Prince Edward Island’s Chef of the Year
About Jesse Macdonald

Growing up, Jesse MacDonald (@JesseMacdonald) had no aspirations of becoming a chef. Raised in Launching, PEI, he was born into a fourth-generation lobster fishing family where throughout his life he would hold every position in the family’s lobster boat from “cork to captain.” His childhood home was located on the corner of his grandfather’s large family farm, so he was able to spend ample time as a youngster gaining an appreciation for all things local. Growing up, farm to table wasn’t a movement or a fad for Jesse & his family; it was simply a way of life.

In middle school, he quite innocently got a summer job washing dishes at a local resort property, and these two wonderful worlds began to collide. By the time Jesse graduated high school, he was one of the lead cooks in the resort’s main dining room. Jesse then made the decision after high school to pursue cooking as a career, and that fall attended the Culinary Institute of Canada, graduating in 2010. Jesse spent time on the Island apprenticing under well-known chefs and establishments before, during and after graduation prior to leaving the province to broaden his culinary horizons with stops in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Ontario, France, Italy & Spain. After returning home to his native PEI in the spring of 2018, he accepted the position of Executive Chef of Rodd Crowbush Golf & Beach Resort and Corporate Culinary Ambassador for Rodd Hotels & Resorts.

Being home has served Jesse well since returning to his roots. In July 2018, he was awarded Chef of the Year for the PEI Tourism Department Best of Sea Restaurant Promotion which hosts the best chefs the Island has to offer to compete for the privilege of representing PEI at the International Shellfish Festival during the Garland Canada Chef Challenge Event and the chance to go head to head against some of the best chefs the country has to offer. Jesse also crowned Setting Day Festival Chef of the Year in May 2019 during the PEI Setting Day Festival Chefs Competition, where 8 of the Island’s Top Chefs were invited to compete in a fans choice competition celebrating the first catch of the spring Lobster Season. Since returning to red soil, Jesse has also become very involved in the Culinary Federations PEI chapter, as well as cultivating the next generation of food service professionals here on the Island, taking on a role as a support chef instructor during his resort off-season at his alma-matter, The Culinary Institute of Canada. Jesse is looking forward to his second full season back home in PEI, and is excited to continue to do his part to help build the already obvious momentum on “Canada’s Food Island.”

Connect with Jesse: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Culinary Institute of Canada

Rodd Crowbush Golf & Beach Resort

Rodd Hotels & Resorts

PEI Tourism Department Best of Sea Restaurant Promotion

International Shellfish Festival

Garland Canada Chef Challenge Event

PEI Setting Day Festival Chefs Competition

Culinary Federations

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):

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

Sam Demma (00:59):

This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today, we have a very special guest on the show. His name is Jesse McDonald. Jesse began his foray into the hospitality industry quite innocently; taking on a summer job, washing dishes for some extra cash while he was in middle school. And he has worked in the food and industry beverage ever since. That means 15 years, three different provinces and many fulfilling experiences later, he is currently the executive chef at the Wheelhouse in Georgetown, as well as a second year chef instructor at the Culinary Institute of Canada. I got very hungry, just having a conversation with Jesse. I hope you enjoy this interview with him about his journey through different careers, different opportunities, all with a through line for his love of food. I hope you enjoy it, and I will see you on the other side, Jesse, welcome to the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here today. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit about what you do with the audience?

Jesse Macdonald (02:04):

Yeah. Thanks Sam. So I’m a born and raised Islander from Prince Edward Island. Canada’s smallest province and yeah, I’m actually a chef by trade. So I’m an executive chef at a local restaurant called the Wheelhouse in Georgetown. I do that. We’re a seasonal restaurant so kind of in that role April till October, and then I also kind of on the off season of my industry job, am a chef instructor at the Culinary Institute of Canada here in the province as well.

Sam Demma (02:40):

Everyone eats food, it’s, it’s required for living <laugh>, but not everyone falls in love with making it. Where did your love and passion for food come from?

Jesse Macdonald (02:52):

You know, it’s funny, I, I I’ve told this story a bit, but you know, my love of food really happened kind of backwards compared to most chefs. I was kind of born and raised in rural P EI into a fourth generation lobster fishing family. Our house, essentially, even though it was a little bit down the road it was essentially on the corner of my grandfather’s large 50 acre farm kind of family style. And that farm had been in hidden, you know, his was his, my grandfather’s grandfather had been in our family for literally generations. So food was always a huge part of my life. You know, grandpa always had cattle and chickens and geese and pigs and, and things around the farm, which I spent a lot of time at. And then my parents fish lobster.

Jesse Macdonald (03:38):

So obviously naturally fell in love with the sea and still definitely identify kind of with that lifestyle mm-hmm <affirmative>. But it wasn’t until middle school. And I, you know, one of my good friends that’s now ironically the owner and boss of the kind of restaurant I work at <laugh> one of my close friends growing up you know, kind of call called me randomly on a afternoon in the summer when I was in middle school and said, Hey, I’m washing dishes at this local resort. And we need some people and you should come down and work with us. So I next day went down and got myself a job slinging dishes and kind of the rest is history. My two worlds collided a little bit really kind of fell in love with that hustle and bustle of the kitchen, but also had this like production background and understanding of food at like a grassroots level, which was something I didn’t necessarily realize was special for my upbringing.

Sam Demma (04:31):

What is your favorite dish to cook and eat and why <laugh>

Jesse Macdonald (04:37):

Oh, man, this change changes so much for those, for those that know me, well, they’re gonna be laughing at this question overall. I would say my favorite thing, and this is a generality, but I would say it’s cooking seafood in general. Obviously that’s what we have around specifically shellfish in our local fish and kind of local products, the reason being for so long and even still a little bit, you know, everyone thinks, oh, the only way you can eat muscles are steamed. The only way you can eat lobsters is boiled, you know, and the reality is there’s a whole, you know, myriad of ways and, and unique flavor profiles and manipulations you can do with this like beautiful product. So I would say that’s in general, kind of my favorite thing is, is, is taking our, you know, product and our shellfish that we’re so well known for, but kind of presenting it uniquely in a different way. People may not be used to, you know, some unique flavor, pairings and profiles, but like I said, in general, that would be kind of the area I, I like to hang out in for sure.

Sam Demma (05:39):

Yeah. That’s awesome. So take me from middle school to where you are now, once you started slinging dishes, working that first job falling in love with the hustle and bustle of the kitchen, what, what did the rest of the journey look like to today?

Jesse Macdonald (05:53):

You know, it’s funny because it, it feels very much like a whirlwind. It doesn’t feel, feel like that long ago. So that was roughly, you know, 15, 16 years ago. I’m 32 now. So kind of started in the kitchen. I believe I was 14 dish washed for that part of a summer. And then the next summer went back really enjoyed it, started again and kind of by happenstance. Just the way that you know, businesses work. Sometimes we had an influx of people that summer go out the door, ended up getting promoted from, you know, a dishwasher or, or steward as they called it. A little bit more politically correct than dishwasher, I guess to a prep cook and then to a line cook within like two weeks. So then all of a sudden I was in, you know, grade nine and learning how to cook professionally.

Jesse Macdonald (06:43):

And I had a big, like, you know, again, Royal PI upbringing. So I was big into like organized sports and stuff as a kid. And the thing that I, I really connected was I was like, this is exactly like a sport. It’s like, we’re a team and we all have a job to do, and we’re only successful. We all do it together. And it was just like something I was familiar with. And so I dove into it and I did that at the same local resort until I was in grade 12, by the end of the summer in grade 12, when I was there, I was actually running in one of the main dining minds. So I had no actual former tra formal training story, but I was, you know, by that point at four or five years kitchen experience and, and was actually the lead cook on one of our, our dining room minds, the resort is the large resort, you know, it had 150 rooms, so there was three different restaurants, a 40 seat, a hundred seat to 200 seat.

Jesse Macdonald (07:36):

So I had the mid-sized one. And yeah, like I said, I got a bunch of room to grow and it really worked to my advantage. And from there I went right outta high school after grade 12 and attended and enrolled locally in the culinary Institute of Canada here at Holland college on the island. So did that two year program between first and second year, you’re required to do a 600 hour internship. So I wanted to spread my wings a little bit. So instead of going back to the local resort I had been at for four or five years, I actually went to a well known island restaurant, but also Canadian restaurant at the time. It was 2009, was the in bay fortune. So made famous by chef Michael Smith. A lot of people know from the food network Canada. So my internship was under chef cuisine who was running day to day operations at the end chef Warren bar, who was actually still in the industry.

Jesse Macdonald (08:32):

Shout out to Warren, one of my big mentors. He has a restaurant in use slip BC called PVI. So only a couple years old, but this year actually it just copped onto the top 100 restaurants in Canada list. Wow. Very well deserved. He was my internship chef for my, like I said, my summer internship from school. And then chef Michael, who was kind of in the Mixel at the time would be there, you know, every once in a while intermittently. So kind of got to rub shoulders with both of those guys. They, they were the as I kind of say almost the finishing touch for me as a chef, because the whole background of the in is local products, you know, big farm, there’s three acres of produce. You go out every morning as a chef, decide what the menu’s going to be.

Jesse Macdonald (09:18):

It changes every day based on the products that you have in pick. And it was just like having that, like fishing and farming background with my parents and folks and pickling with Grammy and, you know, stumbling around behind Grampy when he was fencing or being at the Harbor dad. Like it was just my, like my two worlds colliding. It was like my background and my home life, but then also this like lifestyle in the kitchen that I was introduced to. So that was huge. I did that first summer, then I, you know, traveled around, I took a sous chef job, so got my first sous chef job, right outta school at a local golf course, then eventually moved to Guelph, Ontario as a sous chef as well was there for about a year and a half. Then I did kind of the typical young, Canadian thing.

Jesse Macdonald (10:03):

I feel like where I then took a couple months off and went to Europe, nice, kinda traveled through Europe and did that thing. I STO at a couple restaurants there, which means working for free. Nice. And just to kinda get the culture and stuff. So I did that at a hotel in France for a couple days and a little mom and pop restaurant in Italy where they made all their homemade pasta which was a hilarious, hilarious dynamic because it was all run by like a husband and wife and their only daughter. And the daughter was actually the boss, but the parents didn’t believe she was the boss. So like they would like boss her around <laugh>. But the reality was she was like ordering all the products everyone needed and like running the restaurant and doing the schedules. And she would like, look at me and like roll her eyes and I’d just shrug.

Jesse Macdonald (10:44):

Right. I, they were very Italian. I hardly understood a lot of what they said, but being kind of a, a little bit of a larger stature and they all being a little bit smaller. They were definitely excited whenever like the orders are coming and I’d be like, oh, I’ll take care of it. And they’d be like, oh yeah. Okay. Like <laugh>. So that was a, that was a cool experience for sure. So then I actually moved home from there and I got a sous chef job or second chef for essentially assistant manager. Okay. At the local resort, I started at washing dishes. Wow. So I kind of went back to where I started from there. I actually got an opportunity in the same company to become an executive chef, my first executive chef role. So I’d kind of be the lead of a kitchen.

Jesse Macdonald (11:28):

It was only 23 at the time. So that was a huge, huge opportunity restaurant and hotel was going through a big renovation, rebrand the restaurant. It was a different province. It was new Brunswick. So moved to new Brunswick in me mahi a little kind of seaside village. I was there for five years running that hotel. That’s where I met my partner currently Chantel we have a little girl together, Aaliyah. So we were there for five years and then I got an opportunity again, within that same company to come back home and kind of run their premier resort KBU well known golf course attached. So me and Chantel moved back to P I was there for five years before moving to my role this year at the wheelhouse in Georgetown. So this is my first summer there.

Jesse Macdonald (12:15):

And then kind of lining up when I was just kind of halfway through my stint at Crow Bush. I started working at my Alma mater at the con Institute Canada as a support chef instructor. I believe I’m going into my fourth season kind of in a lead instructor role now kind of been doing that intermittently and cover contracts and stuff. So yeah, that’s kind of a quick Kohl’s notes or long winded Kohl’s notes, depending, depending who you’re of yeah, kind of 16 of years in the you know, food and beverage industry for myself kind of on the cooking side of things.

Sam Demma (12:49):

That’s awesome. What a cool unique journey that’s brought you literally all over the globe. <Laugh>

Jesse Macdonald (12:54):

Yeah, it’s, it’s, it’s been crazy. Like I said, it’s a whirlwind, it doesn’t feel like that long ago, but it’s, it’s, it’s, you know, time is a funny thing.

Sam Demma (13:01):

One of the best ways to learn is to teach. It sounds like that’s probably been true for you with your experience teaching culinary students. How, how, how has that experience been for you? And tell me a little bit more about, about that.

Jesse Macdonald (13:19):

Yeah. the experience has been awesome, you know, like the biggest thing for me and I think a lot of chefs is that, like, I just like to talk about food, right? Mm it’s just it’s like it, it’s, it’s such a part of what you do day to day, and there’s such a wide array and vast like world out there. So you never stop learning. Right. You, you know, if you think, you know, everything, the reality is then you probably have an issue within yourself because it’s like there there’s, there’s endless amounts of knowledge out there. And the great thing about being a culinary school instructor is you’re, you know, day to day interacting with a hundred, 150, 200 culinary students that are extremely engaged, right? They’re like, they’re the people that have decided that I wanna do this as a career. This means something to me.

Jesse Macdonald (14:06):

So it’s, it’s almost for me a way to refill my tank, I find with the students and, and they do a lot for me as much as I do for them. And it’s, it’s making that genuine connection through kind of shared interests because the reality and the unique thing instructing at kind of the college level, in that vocational kind of area, is that all your students and yourself have a similar interest, or you wouldn’t be an instructor in this industry and they wouldn’t be a student. Yeah. So you have that, like you have that base to start on right away with everyone. Right. So it’s, it’s, it’s a very unique experience, but it’s one that I really, really do enjoy.

Sam Demma (14:47):

Is there stoves and oven tops in your classroom? <Laugh>

Jesse Macdonald (14:53):

Absolutely. So we have, like, obviously I’m a little biased, but we have kind of the premier facility in Canada. So we have 12 completely outfitted classroom kitchens, we call them. So the way that our program works is the first year students all through five different rotations run the in-school cafeteria services, about 300 students and clients from outside the building kind of cafeteria style. And then there’s about a hundred first year students that do that divided between five classes and five different chef instructors. They rotate through take every class through first year. Go do the internship that I had mentioned previously come back for second year, the second year students then move what we call upstairs, where there’s another kind of stable of classrooms. And they, then they begin to run our fine ironing facility in the building that has about 120 hundred and 30 seats depending how you lay it out. So it’s, it’s very much a working school. The students are working you know, two different restaurants, two different types of food service, and absolutely every single classroom has stove tops, deep friers grills, depending where you are, you know, the pastry labs have different mixers and giant ice cream machines and walk in freezers. And, and you know, the equipment in the, in the school is, is, is honestly world class.

Sam Demma (16:22):

Every time I talk about food, I start salivating and get really hungry. Is that an experience you have? <Laugh>,

Jesse Macdonald (16:30):

It’s funny because a lot of chefs have the and, and instructors are the same kind of have the same, like the, the ominous you know, existence around them where they don’t eat as much as people would expect them to. But part of that is because like, you’re almost constantly eating, so you don’t get hungry the same way a lot of times. But in saying that, especially when I’m in culinary, like when the students, depending what class you’re teaching and stuff, you know, some days if it’s black box day, you know, black box is black box exam, they would get a percentage of Americ for doing say a, they have to do a three course meal within a certain amount of time and use these three ingredients. There might be six students that go, so I have to, you know, taste and critique. So by the end, I’ve had two or three bites of, you know, six appetizers, six entrees and six desserts.

Jesse Macdonald (17:28):

I’m, I’m pretty full, you know, so a lot of times it’s almost like not directed eating, it’s like necessary eating, but at the same time, you’re in a professional kitchen. So you’re not necessarily eating anything bad ever. So it’s like cool because every once in a while, you know, a student will come up and have made something and you’ll taste and you’ll be like, oh my God, this is, this is really good. Yeah. Did you write, did you write this down? No, no, yeah. Go write this down. <Laugh> whatever you just did. Go write it down. Right. And that’s how you kind of get them to start their own adventure learning. Right. It it’s a unique thing at the college level. Cause you’re almost giving them that room to grow, but being there to kind of support them as they grow as well.

Sam Demma (18:11):

Ah, that’s so exciting. And I, it makes a lot of sense. I think one of the cool things about food is as well is that it’s attached to so many memories, like I think about traveling and if there’s a restaurant that just made phenomenal food, it sticks out in your mind, like a sore thumb. Absolutely. And it’s really cool that you do both teaching and the working in the kitchen. How do you build trust with your classroom of students every year? One on the first day they don’t really know anything about you.

Jesse Macdonald (18:43):

Yeah. That’s definitely something that I, I honestly try to focus on it. I, I basically talk about it the very first day when we sit down together. So we have, the way our class is set up is we have what we have or what we refer to as theory class. Hmm. So that always takes place for an hour, two, an hour and a half before kitchen. And then kitchen’s always four to six hours depending on your rotation. So on the very first day, when we sit down, I, I literally say to the students, you know, some of you have some kitchen experience, some of you have none. And that’s okay. However, the first thing that we have to establish, if we’re all gonna get the most out of this, you know, three or four weeks together is we have to tear down any barriers.

Jesse Macdonald (19:27):

And it’s a little bit of a unique way to present yourself to a classroom because the chef industry has very much been hierarchy based for so long and very, very regimented, but as kind of a newer chef and on the younger side and, and kind of hopefully bringing a little bit of change to the industry, they need to be comfortable to come to me for any reason. There’s no such thing as a silly question. A lot of times, you know, mistakes are actually learning moments. They’re not mistakes at all, especially in a kitchen. If you learn from the mistake you make and you either apply the understanding or don’t make the same mistake again, because of, you know, the troubleshooting that you do, then it wasn’t a mistake at all, right. There’s never gonna be a time when even myself, I make mistakes in the kitchen all the time.

Jesse Macdonald (20:18):

You’re never not going to, it’s just in reality. So the quicker that I can get them comfortable and pull down those barriers and be like, let’s actually talk about food. The more learning that actually naturally happens, and you can feel it in the classroom energy. So it’s like my conscious effort within the first week to feel that energy, when I walk into the classroom of them just being comfortable and there should be a buzz in the kitchen, meaning that they should be chatting about food. They shouldn’t be off task by any means, but oh, maybe we could do this as I’m cutting up the oranges to make a chili Vigar mm. Maybe like, you know, engage with what you’re doing. There’s nothing more terrifying to me than walking in a classroom of students at the culinary Institute. And you can hear crickets. Mm. Right. I’m like, whoa, we gotta get some, we gotta get some learning going on in here. <Laugh> being quiet. Chopping green onions is not learning right now. We eventually like, we, we start with all that stuff. Don’t get me wrong. And then you practice it continuously. But like, what are we doing? Right. Let’s engage with each other. That’s why we’re here, you know? Yeah,

Sam Demma (21:19):

Yeah, yeah. Yeah. Oh, that’s awesome. If there’s a teacher listening right now, who has a student in their class that is in a high school and is super passionate about food what could that teacher kind of share with that student or advise them to do, to explore that and maybe start their own journey towards becoming a chef or getting involved?

Jesse Macdonald (21:41):

The food industry remains one of the best entry level. And you won’t hear a lot of people say this, but I believe it, one of the best entry level positions that you can potentially inquire about because kitchens can be unique, you know? So a lot of them, you know, if a student was very interested and was like, Hey, could I come in for a day? I don’t know, in the next couple weeks that might work for you guys and just see what the operation is about nine out of 10 restaurants. If you would just look them up in, you know, a directory online or Google them in your city, I bet you, 90% of those restaurants, nine outta 10 would say, absolutely. And within two weeks would have like a time you could come in and just check it out. Mm-Hmm <affirmative>.

Jesse Macdonald (22:26):

So with that flexibility, you know what I kind of would say to someone like that is, is again, to my last point, if that’s something you might be potentially interested and engage, engage in someone in the industry engage with, maybe you have a friend of a friend that’s in the industry and they might be able to say, this is the place you should go check out. You know, like, like there’s a lot more openness, I think, to that type of thing in our industry than some of the others and people that have that interest should take advantage.

Sam Demma (22:57):

Yeah. That’s a really good point. And if you don’t ask, you’ll never know. Right.

Jesse Macdonald (23:01):

<Laugh> exactly right.

Sam Demma (23:03):

That’s awesome. Tell me about a story where you, maybe we’re a teaching a student, and I think the cool thing about your situation before I get to the question is that the students in your class are often in to be there, like you said, at the beginning. Whereas in some school situations, students have to take a course to get it on their transcript that maybe they don’t actually want to take. So I think you have the advantage of all your students being invested and really wanting to be there. But can you think of a story where maybe a student was having a difficult time? And the course kind of really helped them figure out who they are or where they wanted to go. And by the end of it, they were a slightly different person because of it.

Jesse Macdonald (23:43):

Yeah, absolutely. It actually happens so often in our school that we kind of have almost a term for it. But we, what we say is the student blossomed, meaning like a lot of times, and it’s funny and doesn’t almost relate to cooking in any sense, but we’re getting that college age person. So there’s a mix of, you know, 18, 19, 20 year olds. Maybe there’s a little bit of a Fu mature students, but what happens to a lot of kids I find is they start to gain confidence in theirselves as a person. And then when that happens, all of a sudden, the kitchen changes a little bit and they feel it and then they’re blossoming and then you can really work with that. And it happens quite often in our industry, because again, the kitchen is a funny place, but you know, good habits and discipline and things that you teach over archingly time management.

Jesse Macdonald (24:51):

A lot of times starts to bleed into the student’s personal lives. And then they’re like, Hey, I’m an adult. When did that happen? But it’s like, we talk about so much at school, right. Time management and this and that. And that’s day to day in the kitchen, like, and we are talking hyper time management, like referring to those black boxes. I talked to some courses in second year, you have to submit a timeline to the chef instructor. So, you know, I started off by 30 minutes in I’m going to be prepping my zucchini for my appetizer, cause I want them to marinate for 45 minutes. And my first plate is going up in two hours and 15 minutes. Mm. So like we’re hyper focusing on time management to like the five and 10 minutes. So then, like I said, naturally it bleeds into students’ personal lives and then they just become this like almost adapted person, right. A little bit. Right. They’re going through a personal growth and they’re going through career growth and it’s just like, the students grow up so much. <Laugh> from first year in September to graduation. And second year you almost feel like you don’t, you you’ve known them for way longer than you have, because they’ve had so many, so, so many moments of growth, right?

Sam Demma (26:05):

Yeah. Prepping the zucchini 45 minutes earlier. It turns into putting your clothes out the night before for the next day turns into exactly.

Jesse Macdonald (26:14):

Yeah,

Sam Demma (26:14):

Exactly. Starting to be early for school and work. Yeah.

Jesse Macdonald (26:18):

That’s

Sam Demma (26:19):

Yeah. That’s really cool. What, what keeps you personally motivated and excited every day to both cook and teach?

Jesse Macdonald (26:28):

Yeah, I would say just honestly, I mean, there’s always the initial thing, like wanna, you know, support my family and my wife and my daughter and make a really good life for them. And, and this is something that I think that I is, and, you know, have a little bit of a, a success in and kind of bring some things to the table and it is a big sacrifice for them because, you know, time consumption definitely is there and I’m trying to get better and, and, and that’ll, that’ll definitely happen as I get older as well. But for me, I was so lucky in the sense that I never once experienced that like screaming, yelling chef, that you always see the memes of and, and, and, and whatnots. And I really feel almost indebted to the industry. Like I have so many mentors and people that did so much for me in my early part of my career that I feel like I’m indebted to the same industry to do to the next sort of generation.

Jesse Macdonald (27:27):

What I feel the people before me did for me, because there was, you know, food pioneers here on the island that supported me since I was kind of a young cook because, you know, at that time in the mid two thousands, it was well before the food network was really famous and things like that. Like, it was rare for young people to come into the industry. So I felt like when I was kind of someone at 19 that was interested in, you know, traveling around and doing this stuff the older, the cooks that were, you know, in chefs that were my age now in their thirties were like, yeah, right on like someone else that’s interested. It was like that shared connection and interest again, that I talked about with the college students. So I just feel that, you know, that it’s important, you know, to pass along the support I received when I was their age and, and give something back to the community and, and to the industry.

Sam Demma (28:17):

That’s awesome. Amazing. D does your wife and daughter critique your food that you cook at home?

Jesse Macdonald (28:22):

So my wife always tell, like always makes fun of me because she’s like, you don’t cook like that at home. Like <laugh>. And, and, and I say, and not that my wife’s picky by any means, but I would call her particular in a certain sense. Yeah. For the, the type of food she likes. So we always kind of go back and forth in that, in that sense. So I’ll like barbecue and, and do some things, you know, pat club past and things at home like that. Yeah. But as far as like, you know, high-end restaurant food, she’s always saying, oh, you know, you have to do that for me sometime. And, and, and whatever. And I’m like, I’m worried that I’m gonna do all this stuff and, and you don’t like it. And then that’ll be sad because most, most times that doesn’t happen.

Jesse Macdonald (29:00):

And we have this funny stick in my house. One thing that I’m kind of a little known for and do a lot is, is pickling blueberries that I am willing to take to the grade that a lot of people like get great comments on my wife, Chantel absolutely despises them. So she just like every once in a while, we’ll be like talking with something, she’ll be like, yeah, like those pickle blueberries, and I’ll, you know, listen, those are good. So they’re, they’re super supportive for sure. So they don’t know so much critique, but there’s definitely a lot of fun poking being had for sure.

Sam Demma (29:34):

Awesome. Oh, very cool. Yeah. Well, if someone’s listening and wants to reach out to you, ask a question, get in touch, or maybe even inquire about sharing some recipes <laugh> yeah,

Jesse Macdonald (29:44):

For sure.

Sam Demma (29:44):

What would be the best way for them to reach out?

Jesse Macdonald (29:47):

So probably two avenues; feel free obviously to email me at jnmacdonald@hollandcollege.com, or fire me a message on Instagram @chefjessemac. I’m pretty active on, on Instagram, so those are probably the two easiest ways in avenues to get ahold of me and yeah, definitely love to engage with people, interested in food and kind of the tourism scene here on campus food island. And yeah, we’re just gearing up for fall flavors and our local festival here with some celebrity chefs on the way down. So we got a lot of cool events on the dockets, so, yeah, we’re just gearing up for kind of the last push through the 2022 tours season here on the island.

Sam Demma (30:36):

Awesome. Jesse, enjoy the last push and I look forward to staying in touch and hearing more about your journey. Keep up the great work and we’ll talk soon.

Jesse Macdonald (30:44):

Awesome. We’ll see you soon Sam. Thanks so much for having me.

Sam Demma (30:48):

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 Jesse Macdonald

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

Lorne “ABE” Abramson – Provincial Advisor for the Nova Scotia Secondary Students Association and Historian

Lorne “ABE” Abramson - Provincial Advisor for the Nova Scotia Secondary Students Association and and Historian
About Lorne “ABE” Abramson

Lorne has been a lifelong advocate for youth with diabetes as well as youth empowerment. He has been very successful at developing and supporting many programs in these areas. Since the eighties, he has volunteered his team supporting dozens of youth programs, camps and positive character-building experiences for students. 

He has won numerous awards, including the Dalhousie University Coaching Award, for 20 years of service in coaching Nova Scotia youth and the Frederick Banting Award, from the Canadian Diabetes Association, for significant contributions to the mission of the Association in the areas of education and service.

Connect with Lorne: Email | Linkedin

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Nova Scotia Secondary Students Association

Dalhousie University

Canadian Diabetes Association

Mount Saint Vincent University

Diabetes Education and Camping Association

Before the Parade by Rebecca Rose

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 (00:58):

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 Lorne Abramson. Lauren has been a lifelong advocate for youth with diabetes, as well as youth empowerment. He has been very successful at developing and supporting many programs in these areas. Since the eighties, he has volunteered his time supporting dozens of youth programs, camps, and positive character building experiences for students. He has won numerous awards, including the Dalhousie University coaching award for 20 years of service in coaching Nova Scotia youth, and the Frederick Banting award from the Canadian Diabetes Association for significant contribution to the mission of the association in the areas of education and service. Lauren has so much expertise in the area of youth empowerment and so much energy and wisdom to share, so I hope you enjoy this conversation and I will see you on the other side. Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host, Sam Demma. Today we have a very special guest. I met this guest in Nova Scotia at a conference and I’m so glad that we crossed paths. Some people know him as Lorne. Most people know him as Abe. Some people know him as Coach Abe. Abe, I would love for you to introduce yourself and let everyone listening know who you are.

Lorne Abramson (02:22):

Sure. Thanks Sam. Yeah, I’m, I’m my claim to fame was probably as a you know, as a person who started getting into teaching. So I was a math, a math teacher, how I became that is a, an extremely long story <laugh> which I will probably not get into, unless you ask me the appropriate questions. <Laugh> but I ended up becoming a math teacher, which my high school math teacher from Montreal who I, who I loved dearly. He was the one that said to me when I graduated, he said to me, you know, Lauren, he said, “everybody in those days called you by your last name.” You know, you know, I, I think you should consider becoming a math teacher. And I, and I I’ve made the stupidest comment I have ever made in my entire life.

Lorne Abramson (03:26):

And that was, who would wanna be a math teacher? <Laugh> that was like, it was one of those, this is to the guy that I had total respect for. And what I meant was in those days, math teachers, like teachers in general got no pay. It was like, it was crappy, you know, and and I wanted to be a dentist anyway, <laugh> so, so anyway to say the least over a period of years, I changed careers a couple of times and and then became a math teacher and eventually a math department head. And I always felt like I don’t know. I, I always felt that I needed to be more involved with community. And, and so for me the, the extracurricular stuff became almost more, this got kind of weird, but, but almost more important in some ways because I was a very accomplished math person.

Lorne Abramson (04:35):

So it was I went to McGill and did my joint honors in math and chemistry. And that was not a, that was not an issue. So I never had to work hard at, at the math part, but I really wanted to work hard at getting to know kids really well. And, and so I got involved in coaching volleyball, which I knew nothing about, except for the fact there were six on the side that was the limit of it. And and that became a big part of my life. And you know, and then I got involved in theater and, you know, and we did a lot of musicals and, you know, anyway, I it’s it’s and eventually in 1991, I got involved with the starting of the intro Lasse, which which, where, where we met the, you know not in 1991, but <laugh> sorry, Sam, but

Sam Demma (05:43):

I have to ask you though, because when people think about extracurriculars student leadership, typically I’ve heard people talk about the antithesis of it being math and science, and like these super academic courses that happen in schools. And usually those individuals are the ones who want their kids in their classroom, not going to conferences and not getting involved. So like, how the heck did you like have these two seemingly opposite things be so intertwined in your experience? Like what changed you or were you always of that mindset and you just also loved math?

Lorne Abramson (06:25):

The heck, it’s a good question. So I right from the get go I became the student council advisor at the, at Ellsley I at the J Oley high school was the school I taught in. And it’s obviously it’s a school in Halifax and it’s, it had this kind of funny deserved rep reputation of being a, kind of in a tough area. But in actual fact it was ridiculous. It didn’t make sense at all. That being said being the student council advisor I got to meet people like Andy Tido, who you might know and and St. Saunders and Tyler Hayden. And look, there were, there were so many people because of my connection as student council advisor eventually in 1992, mark Fraser who was he? He had been the student council president at Halifax west high school and Andrew Demond, who was the student council president at Parkview education center in, in Bridgewater, in Nova Scotia.

Lorne Abramson (07:53):

They met at a a CSLC or Canadian student leadership conference. They met at that, and they met also at the same time at that a whole bunch of kids from remember, this is 90, 91, I think was when it happened. But, but they met a whole bunch of kids from Ontario who were part and parcel of the O essay. So the Ontario secondary school students association, and and I heard the two of them said we could do this <laugh> it was kinda like, that was kinda like that. And I, I, I had the guy who was my who was the student council, president of Illsley was a guy who now is one of my neighbors. Oh, wow. Is Paul and Paul. He was just a great guy. And Paul said to me, I got this letter from this guy, Andy Kibito and a couple other people.

Lorne Abramson (09:03):

And he said they were there. Apparently they’re having some event at I think it was, it was being held at St. Pat’s high school, which, which now is underground somewhere <laugh> wow. It doesn’t exist anymore. And he said would you, would you be willing to come as our advisor? And I said, well, I am your advisor. What the hell matter with you? And he was really, he, it was kind of like, I think he, he really wasn’t quite sure what anybody’s role was gonna be. We had no idea. This was like, this is so new that nobody really knew. Yeah. And so we went to the conference and I can’t remember, there was probably about, I don’t know, 60 or 70 people at the conference. Nice. It was over a weekend. We held, we all slept on the stage of St.

Lorne Abramson (09:55):

Pat’s <laugh> being a camper that didn’t bother me. Yeah. You know, but and Paul, Paul was the one that, you know, he was the one that got me involved in the first place. And then I don’t know. And then it kind of just, I don’t, it kind of just took over, you know, and, and eventually, I think the next year I became the, the advisor for the Metro region, how that happened. I, I honestly got, I wish I could remember all that, but I think, I, I’m not sure that’s okay. How that exactly happened. But I know that I knew a lot of the people in, in the other schools in Metro.

Sam Demma (10:41):

Gotcha.

Lorne Abramson (10:41):

You know, cause I, I knew a lot of teachers, you know, and so on. And the guy who was the provincial advisor was a guy named cam Morrison. And he was also from Halifax west of course. And he was quite close with mark Fraser. And so at time we, and hi, his wife and my wife worked in nursing together. Ah, and, and so anyway, we, we knew each other outside of school as well. And I think, I think that what happened was he ended up staying as provincial advisor for, I think, I can’t remember it was two or three years. Then another guy took over from SAC high and, and then in 1990 I took over as provincial advisor and right till this year, so. Wow. Yeah.

Sam Demma (11:41):

Oh, that’s awesome. You mentioned earlier that like one of the things you think are so important in connection with student activities and extracurricular activities is building strong relationships with the students, the kids. How do you build a strong relationship with young people in your experience?

Lorne Abramson (12:01):

Well, I think first of all, it’s a matter of building trust. Mm-Hmm <affirmative> with all the nasty stuff that you hear about things that are going on in schools drives me nuts. I, I just can’t that part of it is just see, seems like, I don’t know, I never had, let me put it this way. I never had that, that issue. Whether it was personality or what part of it had to do with the fact that I think was that you know, I had a family my, we had, we had two daughters. My wife was always understanding about why I was going away that weekend <laugh> and and then I, I don’t know. I, I, I remember a couple, I, I eventually ended up being a Canada games coach for, for guys.

Sam Demma (13:00):

What haven’t you done?

Lorne Abramson (13:04):

I always say in the, I, you, if you live long enough, you’ll do a lot of stuff. Yeah. You know, like when, if you didn’t, if, if that didn’t happen to you, what’s wrong with you <laugh>

Lorne Abramson (13:22):

No, I, I, I, I get the question. I I’m gonna say trust was a big thing building that it takes, that takes a lot of, a lot of, I don’t know, desire to, to build that. I had, you know, the alumni of the organization played a big role in that cuz you know, people like, like Tyler Hayden and I used to have this, this very funny competition. And it was just that the competition was how many conferences have you been to? You know, and I, and at some point we were tied, you know, cause he used to come to, he used to come to everything and and he would speak at a lot, a lot of stuff. And I don’t know. And then one day he, I knew he was going away. I think it was one of the provincial conferences and I knew that this is gonna be it.

Lorne Abramson (14:31):

I got him, he was gonna be able to be there. And and so I, I made sure that I called him from wherever hell I was. And I said, okay here’s the deal. So now, now that you’ve been defeated, <laugh> this is it Tyler. And he said, okay. I COE. So ever, ever since then it was kind of, I just built more and more anyway, he, and he would not go to a lot of the regional conferences, but I don’t know. I think, I think people like him and people like, like Andy and, and Stu and, and Phil what was Phil’s last name? He was from Winnipeg. Oh God, he was, he’s also a keynote speaker.

Sam Demma (15:28):

Is it Phil Boyd?

Lorne Abramson (15:30):

Phil Boyd. Yeah. Yeah. And and I, I, you know, there were a lot of people like that that were around Mark Sharon Brock who I haven’t seen forever, like a long time. But there were people that were, there were people in the plus a who became keynote speakers like Paul, Paul Devo and Jeff Bri, they spoke together and we became very, the two of them, we were, we were still very close. Nice. They, they both got married. We went to the weddings, we went to it’s like, yeah. And, and I really like Paul’s wife Mor I like him <laugh> and if he sees this too bad, Paul okay. <Laugh> but I think he likes my wife more. He likes me anyway. I think a lot of it, you know, again, aside from just the trust issue, there’s a lot of testing that goes on, you know, like you can’t like, you know, you can’t develop the trust without some risk associated with that.

Lorne Abramson (16:53):

I think, I think once people who are involved in anything see other people that have faith in their relationship with you, that can’t help, but build, you know, for them, you know a good relationship. So I, I, it’s probably not a very good way of putting it, but you know, over the years, geez. I, I mean, I, all I can say is that it got easier and easier. Let me put it that way. There was expectations that I would always be there. That’s another thing, you know, that you’re, you make yourself available and accessibility

Sam Demma (17:46):

Being accessible to the

Lorne Abramson (17:48):

Students and yeah, so that, that’s, that’s a big deal. And I, I knew that, well, that, that, that was, that was a big deal in good times and bad times. And, and you, and there, there’s always gonna be both, you know, that happen, you know, in a, in an organization like this. And I, I, you know, I don’t know. So for, from that point of view, it got, like I said, it got easier and easier. I, I can’t say it any easier than that, but yeah. But the fact of the matter is, is that you know, there was, there was always someone in the organization or some buddies who who come outta the blue and, and will represent the people that you think that you wanna deal with. You know, like, and I, I don’t mean that to become your, your chosen ones, but, but it look, you can’t help.

Lorne Abramson (19:00):

Sometimes you can’t help that, you know? And so I, I, I guess that’s happened sometimes you, sometimes you think, how the hell did I ever get to know this person? Like, I don’t even know why, and, you know, and, and I, and, and you want, you wanna spend time with them somehow to change in some ways, this is probably totally off the wall, but change the way that they operate. Mm. And you re you realize that something about that is, is you, you, you see something in them. Mm. That, and it’s not just being a teacher all over again, but it’s, it, it has some part in that that you realize that you’re, you’re see an opportunity. Like, I’ll give you example of number of years ago, there was a guy who got elected president. He made a terrible mistake.

Lorne Abramson (20:15):

And that is he, he he just jumped into a situation where he, where, where it was just a bad choice. And I, I was sort of stuck with trying to figure out, well, how, you know, how do I, and I, I, you know, what, what do we do about this? And cuz he really, what he really needed to do is resign. And I didn’t know. That was the first time that happened. I think if I remember right. And I, and I wasn’t quite sure what to do about that. And it wasn’t like I have control over that. I’ve never had control of the organization. But I wanted something else to happen and nothing happened with that guy until years and years later. And he, he went off and became a teacher in Korea. Wow. And and he ended up marrying a Korean girl and they have a wonderful family and I met him.

Lorne Abramson (21:25):

I think they were, they were living in, I think they’s probably gonna know this, but they were living in in Vancouver. I think if I remember right. They moved back to Canada anyway. And I had a conversation with him and he said, and he said to me, I don’t know what was going on in my head in those days. And I thought to myself, oh my God, you know, like, this is, this is a good thing to say to me, it was good. Like it was like, and I, and I remember thinking he’s a really nice guy, you know, that’s like, it was kind like, like all of a sudden there was this, this change of, of, you know, of looking at him and thinking, oh no, he’s not just some jerk. You know, that that’s, that made, that just happened to make a mistake, but it’s also, he actually is a really nice person.

Lorne Abramson (22:22):

And, and somehow this all came out now, you know, like, and it took, it probably took his family in, in being a, being a parent. And, you know, I dunno, like, it just seemed like that was it. So, yeah, I know. I sometimes you’ll, you’ll, you’ll meet people like that. Who’s a girl Rebecca Rose, who was on the conference committee, she, I don’t think she ever became her and I were very close and she she came out of the closet at some point and she wrote a a book last year and the book is called oh shit. Was it before the parade? Hmm. I can’t, I’ve never remember it’s before the parade or after the parade. Anyway, it was a book about the gay community or the development of the gay community in Halifax in. And I went to her book launch. Oh my God. It was lovely. It was just like, it was like one of those. And I, and I was always close with her. She’s just, she’s just dynamite, you know? And, and like I, and her and I, and she ended up speaking, oh, well you, well, you met,

Sam Demma (23:45):

Yeah. I know her, listen to speech. I attended her. It was awesome.

Lorne Abramson (23:51):

Yeah. And she, there’s a person that got badly treated by a couple of people within the inter plus a, I think it was probably had something to do with the time of what was going on in, in, in the area that, you know, there were people that didn’t didn’t have a how to describe it. I was, it was from a, from a, a sociological point of view, you know, the relationship with the gay community was crappy. You know, it was just shitty, you know, and yet she had a lot of friends and, and she’s, Ugh, I love that girl. Yeah. She’s just, she’s fantastic. So when we met at her book launch, I hadn’t seen her for quite a while. <Laugh> and it was really funny. She’s like, like was really, you can imagine this, okay, she’s up there talking about her book, I’m sitting in the audience, which was packed at the Halifax library. And and she looks up and sees me standing like in the back, you know, I’m standing there and she stops what she was doing in the middle of all this. And she waves, hi, you know, like that. Right. It was like in the middle of, so everybody’s now turning around, you know, <laugh>,

Sam Demma (25:28):

Who’s a <laugh>

Lorne Abramson (25:31):

And every was turning around, you know, you know, and I, I threw a kiss, you know, and, and she went, she was great. So it was really funny. So afterwards, we went out for coffee and I mean, she’s, you know, again, she’s just one of those, she’s a, she’s a survivor in some ways. Yeah. I, I think, but also a survivor with a great attitude, you know, as you could tell that so it sounds like I know, I, I feel, I always feel very fortunate, maybe the smart and parcel of this. I always feel very fortunate to have met a lot of the people that I have met through the interse and, and in other, other things that I’ve done I mean, I’ve always been able to stay, I dunno, fairly close with, with people that I was close with and, you know, and just because they graduate and wherever go on, you know? Yeah. It’s, it’s like, it’s like Paul, Gule my, my neighbor, you know, <laugh> yeah. I, now I wave him when he walks by with his dog, you know? <Laugh> yeah. Anyway.

Sam Demma (26:42):

Okay. Yeah. Sounds like trust is a big one accessibility, and then just the general desire of wanting to make a change in other people’s lives. Like it, it sounds like that those are some of the, the big ones. When, when did you start getting involved in camps and on camps and being around camps and involved in camps have been a big part of your, your life as well?

Lorne Abramson (27:04):

Yeah. my camp story is it started in, in Montreal.

Sam Demma (27:13):

Okay.

Lorne Abramson (27:15):

And I was 16 and I had, somehow I had I had my nationals in swimming and I had my my instructors for canoeing.

Sam Demma (27:30):

Okay.

Lorne Abramson (27:30):

And, and I had never gone to camp. It was like, my parents could never afford to send me to camp who was expensive. And so a friend of mine said to me, you know, we were all looking for jobs, you know, I was 16 years old, you know, like, and and I, and this friend of mine says to me, you know, you got swimming and you got canoeing. Why don’t you go to camp? You know, like, and I said, camp, <laugh> like, don’t, they pay nothing at camp. And he said, no. He said, for people that have those, those specialties, you get well paid, you know, you’re okay. So I applied to camp Milwaukee, which was in Northern Quebec and it was a, a tripping camp if you know what that is. And it’s a camp that, that has kids that go and they go out on, on canoe trips.

Lorne Abramson (28:29):

Oh, cool. Yep. They’re there, they’re there for eight weeks. Wow. It’s not just a one week camp. And and so I, I went there and I had a great time and I had five to eight year olds <laugh> you can imagine, wow. I never, in a million years ever dreamed that I’d be working with teenagers. I mean, who the hell would wanna do that? You know, <laugh> and so I, I ended up going there and then the next year I got an offer from a local camp, which was called camp nominating and in a similar job, bigger camp. And I went there and I had a great time. And and then I, the next year I got offered a big job at pine valley camp, which was in the IANS. And I was at pine valley camp.

Lorne Abramson (29:26):

I worked my way up and eventually became the director. Ah, and and I was there for a long time. And then, and eventually I ended up, you know, moving to Nova Scotia, met my wife, and she was a nurse at, at camp. And and I and so I ended up moving to Nova Scotia. And like I said, you know, when I got involved in, in camp camp always played a role for me because I, when I eventually, when I got, got involved I started getting involved with volleyball and, and volleyball became a big deal. And as, as my own skills, as a coach got bigger, got better. There was a volleyball Nova Scotia camp, oh, that had started. And and, and my lady who was the, there were two, two women aside from my wife, but two women in my life that, that were both volleyball coaches.

Lorne Abramson (30:35):

One was Lois McGregor from hou. And she, she’s a very accomplished coach. And and, and Eva Justins who became the technical director for volleyball, Nova Scotia. Ah, and they, they took me little Abe. They took me under their wing and they, they just treated me like their kid, brother. It was just great. And they, they took me to everything. I was like, their, their here, here, go, go get Lauren. He’ll be fine. <Laugh>. And so I ended up with the two of them. We ended up running the volleyball Nova Scotia camps. Wow. For, for, for volleyball. And and then I don’t know, I, you know, as I, and then, then what happened was like, like I said, my wife and I got married and we had our daughter LA was born in 1989. And we had an older daughter is three years young, three years older than that.

Lorne Abramson (31:45):

But Lara was born in 89 and she, when she turned six in 1985, I had been doing all these camps all this time. And she ended up developing type one diabetes. So her doctor just happened at her doctor came to me and said, I heard that you this is the part that’s, that’s kind of a little weird, but he said, I heard you’ve been involved with camp. And I said, how do you know that? And I said, he said, turns out that Lois who I mentioned was one of his patients, <laugh> you, you, she must have said something about me in camp, you know, but that’s the only thing I can think of. Yeah. and so he ended up saying, look, are you you might be interested in getting involved in the diabetes camp. Cause he’s the one that started the camps.

Lorne Abramson (32:40):

Oh, wow. Back in 1961. And so I said, yeah, I might be, but I’m going away with my family to a, a one year program with to teach in, in England with the Commonwealth teachers Federation. And so I’ll be away for a year. And I said, I remember saying him said, do you think we should go, like, we’ll spend our first year with diabetes with, you know, at some, some place in another country. And he said, well, if you don’t go, I’ll take her, you know, <laugh> so, and he, he became very, he and I became very close. Ah, and that when I got back cuz I did, I did a couple of camps in, in England, like volleyball camps. And and then when I got back, he called and said, so cap starts tomorrow.

Lorne Abramson (33:40):

Want to come? You know, <laugh> I said, OK, what would you like me to do? And he said, I want you to, he said, I’ve been doing these caps for a lot forever. And I want you to take a look with your experience, want you to let me know whether you think that something needs to be changed. Mm. Which was a gutsy gutsy thing for someone who was initiator. Yeah. You know, to actually say, yeah, if you think about that. Yeah. And that, that was a big deal for me. Cause I, I thought what a, what a gutsy guy, you know, like, like, and I thought, and I knew him, I didn’t know him that well, you know? Anyway he and I became very close and and of course he was Lara’s doctor and you know, and so on and everybody loved this guy.

Lorne Abramson (34:30):

He was the quintessential camp doctor. He was it, you know? And so that’s got me started in the diabetes camps, which and then eventually when we, when we came back from England Laura had gotten involved in, in writing, in equestrian writing. Wow. So she went, so we got her involved with the Halifax junior Bengal answers and I got, I ended up, God knows how you end up with the Sam. You know, I ended up on the board of directors for the, you know, junior Bengal answers, like knowing absolutely zero, except for the fact that I’d go and watch my daughter ride, you know, that was yeah. And and myself and the writing instructor ended up starting a, an equestrian camp wow. For kids. And mostly it was for the horses, which was <laugh>, which I never, whichever I think back on it that holy crap, what did we do anyway, I did that for a couple of years and also did the diabetes camps. And I don’t know. And then I, I just kept going. And as you know, when we talked, I I’ve been doing it ever since. So I’ve doing the diabetes camps now. I think it’s been 35 years. Wow.

Lorne Abramson (35:53):

All over the world. It’s been, it’s been a, really, a really nice ride. Nice. Like it’s not over, but I had a great time two weeks ago being at the the camp at Kera national park. Nice. And you know, being the head chef

Sam Demma (36:14):

Nice.

Lorne Abramson (36:15):

Which is another thing, you know, I can do with you know, and I, like I said, you know, when inter plus a kids ask me, so, okay. How do you know all these people <laugh> and I, and I said, as I said to you earlier, I said, well, you

Sam Demma (36:32):

Live long enough.

Lorne Abramson (36:33):

Yeah. Live long enough or something might be wrong with you. Yeah. <laugh>. So

Sam Demma (36:41):

If you could, if you could, you know, take the experience and the, the wisdom that you have now, based on all the different experiences you’ve been through over so many years, and you could travel back in time and tap Abe on the shoulder when he was starting his first year of teaching. And first year of being a student, you know, council advisor, knowing what, you know, now, what advice would you, would you give your younger self

Lorne Abramson (37:09):

Just follow your dreams and just I can’t, I can’t say that anything that happened over the years had negative impact, but I just, I don’t, I mean, I, I don’t mean that everything was fantastic, you know? Yeah. But I don’t know, you know, like, like, I, I, I’ve always, like, you know, when I got involved in the diabetes camps, I loved the fact that my daughter who was seven years old at the time that she developed, I don’t know what would happen if we, if she had not developed really good relationships with the, with her friends that went, that were at camp, all who had diabetes and those kids today are 43. Wow. And they’re really good friends. And like, they still are like, it’s mind boggling, you know, like when you think about it. So I feel from on a personal level, you know, I feel like that was a big achievement, you know?

Lorne Abramson (38:21):

And I, I, I, I don’t think, I don’t know. It’s not that I, I did anything extraordinary in that sense. I just feel like though that, that there was a lot there was a, a lot of the things just happened to fall into place. And, you know, and I, I, if I, if to answer your question I don’t know what, I, I don’t know what would’ve happened to me had I not left the whole dentistry dream. Mm. You know there was a, there were a couple of people that, you know, cause I always wanted to be a dentist. I wanted to be an orthodontist. I had a, a cousin of mine who was, who was a dentist and he and I were quite close. And so I, that, that was the reason it wasn’t nothing to do with being a dentist actually.

Lorne Abramson (39:24):

But I, I can’t, I, I if I think back on it, I, when I don’t know, when I made a decision, I was the end of my second year of dentistry at university of Montreal. And I, I think part of me, I loved, I loved being at university of Montreal. I I’m bilingual. And, and for me, I dunno, that was, that was a, a perfect place for me. So I guess when I, when I’m thinking about this, when I made the decision to leave dentistry, people around me were totally in a state of shock. They thought, are you outta your mind? Like, you know, you’re leaving behind the million dollar paycheck, you know, like, what are you crazy? And, and I, and that was everybody. That was my girlfriend, my parents, every everyone that I ever had any contact with, except for one guy, one single guy.

Lorne Abramson (40:42):

And that was the guy who was the, he was the chair of the dental faculty at university of Montreal. And I went to see him, had to go see him, you know, tell I wanted, I wanted to leave or a leave of absence, I guess. And I had, fortunately I had done very well in, in the academic side. So for me, it was, I, it’s still, it’s still a hard thing for me to talk about because I, I know that in today’s world, what I’ve learned from people from younger people is that it’s a different world now. People are changing their, their choices, like all the time. Like it’s like, I, I, I’m always amazed at that. And I, I, I, I’m proud of the fact that they could do that and not fault to pieces. Now I’m sure there are people fault to pieces, but, you know, but then again, you see it a lot, you know, and for me at, at that time, it was such a mind boggling you know, choice that, cause in those days, you know, you, you made a choice in career, you stuck and you, and you stuck with it, you know?

Lorne Abramson (42:21):

And that, that was it. So for me, I, but anyway, at that time, I, I remember thinking, what am I gonna do? And, and I went to see my Dr. Ju his name was and sat in.

Lorne Abramson (42:55):

Don’t do anything that you think that you possibly might not be happy with. And I remember thinking that, I think, well, geez, you know, nobody’s ever told me that before nobody ever said those words, you know? And so I, I said to him, so what, what, what choice he said to me, look, he said, I I’m gonna give you a leave of absence. That’s unlimited. He said, you’ve done. Well. He said, what I’ll do for you is this every five years, I’ll send you to stay in touch with me every five years. I’ll send you a little note saying that if you haven’t made a choice to come back yet, then that’s fine. <Laugh> so I like, this is, this is what went on. This went on Sam, this went on for 20 years. <Laugh> now just think about that. I was a teacher, I, I only became a teacher in 1972.

Lorne Abramson (44:00):

And you know, really, I had no goals of being a T teacher, you know, that was not in my life choice. But I did. And and that’s a whole other conversation, but, but it was, again, a decision that totally made sense, you know, in this, in the sense of what, what kinds of things I was involved in and also, you know, becoming in, in the extracurricular world, it was perfect, cuz I not only did it fit with my going to camp, but also, you know, it had all kinds of other re repercussions. Yeah. And so he and I, Dr. Bushier and I, he was my saving grace. He was at the, there was nobody and, and there’s never been anybody else that that, and from those days, I don’t even know any of the people that I, I, I totally, I, it’s funny cuz my, I think that that time my girlfriend got married and she lives in now.

Lorne Abramson (45:12):

She lives in Florida, I think somewhere. And she and I kind of, you know, we talk once in blue moon and but you know, when I think about it, I dunno, you know, he was it. Yeah. And so, and of course the, the choice for me, I remember about 10 years after I’d been a teacher <laugh> I went to visit my old math teacher from high school who at that point had become the human resources head of human resources for the Montreal Protestant school board. Okay. And so I, I went to see him and he, he, he immediately said, hi Abrams an hour. You know, I was like, you know, that, that gravelly voice. And and I said, look, you know, you were right. I, I went back, made the choice to be a teacher and I’m very happy.

Lorne Abramson (46:17):

So he was really funny. He, I don’t know whether I have this here. Oh, it’s downstairs. He, he turned around and in his shelf he had a bookshelf and his bookshelf, he pulls out this red algebra book. Okay. And he said, I’ve been wondering if you were ever gonna come back and get this book. And he pulls it out and he opens it up and it’s, you know, how they used to have that stamp in the books that you’d have your name and all that, and what grade you were in and all that. And he pulls this thing out and it’s my algebra book, like my algebra book from grade 11 and issues you and I’m thinking yeah, there was all kinds of things like that that happened in my life. That was one of them. I I dunno. I, I can’t, you know, it’s funny cuz part of me, I, those were kind of funny days, you know, where I was making all these choices and and but that being said, it seems to have worked out.

Lorne Abramson (47:41):

<Laugh> just, you know, and I, if I talk to like a lot of times the inter plus eight kids, a lot of them will, you know, will will again ask me about choices. And you know, I said, it doesn’t matter. You know, like you, you can make a choice that you think is not gonna work out for you, but you, you can’t tell, you know, you, you don’t know. I mean, geez, my, my choice of being a teacher was insane. I was working for the department of health and welfare in Halifax for federal government, for family allowance. <Laugh> like, I, cuz I had become, I had become a Stu a social worker. Yeah. Essentially. And and I, I ended up I walked into work one day and here’s this poster on the wall. This is so ridiculous. This post big poster. And it says, do you work for, you know the federal government, do you have an undergraduate degree?

Lorne Abramson (48:54):

Are you interested? And, and, and then tells me that if, if I decide I can, I could go into they’ll, they’ll give me a full scholarship, not gonna cost me anything the full scholarship to do a bachelor of education. And then and then you could become a teacher and, or you could you oh. And by the way, and you’d get, you’d continue to get your full salary <laugh> for the whole year. Right? Oh my gosh. Okay. So I’m thinking to myself, what idiot wouldn’t do this. <Laugh> like, I was just thinking why, why and what it was about was I, later on I realized that the people that, you know, the, the government at the time in Nova Scotia were having a really hard time getting qualified teachers and that they were, they were ending up with teachers who this is not, not really saying anything, but the, the, the fact of the matter is they had a lot of people coming from other countries like India, Pakistan, China the west Indies, you know, a lot who, who didn’t necessarily speak English that well mm.

Lorne Abramson (50:16):

That being said, but they were, they probably had really good math skills. Mm. And but they really needed was a challenge local. Yeah. Yeah. They needed people who were local. And so they were offering this program. <Laugh> God just like, I think, I thought, really this is a program. And so I jumped at it and, oh, and, and then the other thing was when you were finished the year and you became your cuz it was a one year program. When you finished the year, you had the option of not going to become a teacher, but you could just take over your, your old job again.

Sam Demma (50:55):

Oh, wow.

Lorne Abramson (50:56):

I mean, it was, it was, it was such a ridiculous choice that like I thought, like really who, who wouldn’t do this? Yeah. So so I ended up God so I ended up doing that. I went to Mount St. Vincent university in Halifax, which at that time had 10 guys and 1500 girls.

Sam Demma (51:19):

Wow. <laugh>

Lorne Abramson (51:20):

And all 10 of the guys, except for, I think one were all married, had just recently got married. So not, not a good choice, but anyway, at that time and so I had a lot of, of friends that were girls anyway. And a lot of them ended up also at the end of the year, they ended up teaching. Wow. Got jobs at jail mostly. And, you know, so we, we became, we stayed friends for a long, long time. So I, I, and that, that was beginning of my teaching career, you know, and go figure on the first day of, of school, the principal at the time, who was a bit of a jerk, but he, he he actually went thing he was good at was hiring staff. And he, he said first day we had a meeting and he said, okay here’s the things that are available for you to volunteer for <laugh>, you know, was like, you know, everybody in the school was expected to volunteer for something. Mm. And so CA volleyball came up cuz the two volleyball coaches had left the school and they went to teach in the valley somewhere. Okay. In Annapolis valley. And I thought about it. I thought, well, I don’t know anything about volleyball, what the hell? <Laugh> nice. That’s helpful. So that was one of the great choices I ever made. But you know,

Sam Demma (52:56):

I don’t know, it sounds like trusting in your choices is a, sounds like that would be like a piece of advice that you might not know what the end result looks like, but still act confidently now and things will unfold as time passes. It sounds like all of your stories, they often involve other people. So it’s, you know, it sounds like building deep relationships, not only with students, but also with your colleagues and just human beings in general. Sounds like it’s been a big piece of your journey. <Laugh> whether it’s, you know, the doctor of your daughter or, you know the President elect of an association in Scotland. So <laugh> yeah, it’s it’s really cool to kind of hear your stories and, and your pathways and what we could take away from it. If, if there’s a teacher or someone, even if it’s not a teacher listening to this and they wanna connect with you or ask you some questions, what would be the best way for them to get in touch or reach out?

Lorne Abramson (54:00):

Probably just the easiest thing in today’s world would either be by message or, or by email.

Sam Demma (54:06):

Sure.

Lorne Abramson (54:07):

Do you, you, can, you, you can, my email is labramson@eastlink.ca and I don’t mind, millions of people have that email anyway. And so it’s labramson@eastlink.ca. And either that, or if they just looked up the NSSSA or Diabetes Camps, all my information is on there. Okay. So, yeah.

Sam Demma (54:44):

Perfect. Awesome. Hey, thank you so much for taking the time to share some stories. It was really fun and exciting to chat with you, and I appreciate you, you making the time, especially during a very busy time in your own personal life.

Lorne Abramson (54:57):

Ah, well, I’ll come. You can come visit us in our apartment. <Laugh> yeah.

Sam Demma (55:02):

Sounds good. So that’s good.

Lorne Abramson (55:04):

Okay, Sam, thanks very much.

Sam Demma (55:07):

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.

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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.