About Valerie Dumoulin
Valerie (@Val_Dumoulin) is a proud member of Taykwa Tagamou First Nation and a wife and mother to two amazing children. She is approaching her 30-year mark in education having taught in Attawapiskat, Moosonee and Cochrane.
She is currently the proud Principal of Ecole Secondaire Cochrane High School and has been in this role for 4 years. Previous to that, she was the Vice-Principal at Cochrane Public School for 3 years. Valerie enjoys walking at 5 a.m., spending time with my family and doing Indigenous beadwork in her spare time. She is a Board member at the Ininew Friendship Centre and is passionate about the importance of relationships, mental health and resiliency.
**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):
Valerie welcome to the high-performing educator show. Huge pleasure to have you this morning. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself?
Valerie Dumoulin (00:09):
Well, I’m Valerie Dumoulin and I am the principal of Ecole Secondaire Cochran high school in Cochran, Ontario. I’m a proud member of the Taykwa Tagamou First Nation. I have been a high school principal now for four years previous to that, I was a vice-principal at our sister elementary school, and I’ve been a teacher I’m actually approaching my, 30-year mark. I’ve taught it in a variety of grade levels all the way from kindergarten to adults. And, I really am fortunate to be in the role that I am right now. And I really enjoy working with, teenagers and the staff that I have.
Sam Demma (01:09):
Did, you know, growing up that education was the career and vocation for you?
Valerie Dumoulin (01:18):
Probably in some sort of sense. I actually wanted to be a social worker nice when I would younger. So I always kind of knew that I wanted to be in a field that was in service of others somehow. I always was very empathetic almost to a fault and I wanted and I knew I wanted to help people. And I grew up in Moosonee Ontario, which is a pretty remote place. Only accessible by train. It’s a, mostly an indigenous community. And you know, there was a lot of inequities that were there and a lot of systemic barriers and I always felt like I wanted to, you know, help people. So when I was in grade 11, we moved to Cochran is where I live now. Nice and finished high school here and then went off to university and you know, somewhere along that, that, that line, I, I changed my mind and decided to apply to teachers college instead. So here I am.
Sam Demma (02:22):
And did you have teachers that really inspired you back when you were a student that you can recall or remember anyone that stood out or maybe even the opposite and that’s why you wanted to change and, and get involved?
Valerie Dumoulin (02:37):
Absolutely. I think when I think about where I grew up and, you know, just a lot of, like I said, the inequities of the area, I mean, my parents had, had their family quite young and they certainly didn’t go off to post secondary school. And a lot of my classmates that I, that I grew up, a lot of my good friends that I grew up, you know, as a child in, in, they also like have kind of beaten the odds and their teachers and lawyers and doctors and nurses and, and it, and I always wonder, like how did we, you know, kind of break through that cycle. And I, and I do think it was probably a common, the nation of things, I think like when I think about our parents, even though they were young they had high hopes for us and they always instilled in to us that we, you know, that they wanted better for us and that we could invoke change.
Valerie Dumoulin (03:31):
And I think it was, it was teachers too, because the school did play a lot of a big, big role in making us believe that we can do better and do anything that we put our minds to. So I think that and certainly lots of different teachers who stood out, you know I think about you know I had a, my grade three teacher was named Carol Bernie. She became our, she was the principal of, of the public school that I went to. She had a, she had a huge impact on me because she was female, she was indigenous. And she, she kind of made me feel like I could do something like this.
Sam Demma (04:34):
Inequities in education definitely have started really bubbling to the surface over the past. I would say, you know, two years in total, roughly what are the inequities that still exist? And maybe you can even think back to when you were a student, cuz you talked about those inequities, which are the ones that are still around and, and, and are you passionate about changing and working on?
Valerie Dumoulin (05:01):
Yeah yeah, there, there, there are still lots of barriers that we’re, we’re continuing to work on. It’s hard to believe it’s still 20, 21. And, and a lot of the, the things that I faced as, as a student in growing up in or still exist for, for some families, you know, I think about our indigenous population, for example, and at, Eole Secondaire Cochran high school, we do have about 40% of our student body that is indigenous. And there still is a lot of mistrust of the education system and we’re, we’re breaking it down slowly, but it’s, it’s slow. Yeah. You know, just because of all of the history with residential schools and all of the experiences that perhaps their families have or perception of teachers and schools and buildings you know, we’re slowly chipping away at that. So I, I, I feel like that still exists on some level.
Valerie Dumoulin (06:03):
And it’s gonna be a constant process. You know, I, I, I often think it’s gonna take, you know, more years to actually break that generational kind of cycle, but you know, it it’s, it really is inspiring to know, know that we have a lot of supports in place for, for students like that. And it’s not just the indigenous students, it’s also educating the non-indigenous students because they also didn’t get the true history because their parents just weren’t simply taught it. So it’s not their fault either. You know? So we really are, you know, together in this, in this path to reconciliation.
Sam Demma (06:42):
I agree. Absolutely. And along with equity being something that bubbled to the surface, COVID brought so many other challenges. What are some of the things that have been challenging over the past year to years? And how’s the school community, have you strive to sort of overcome these things?
Valerie Dumoulin (07:03):
So I I’m finding lately the biggest challenge is keeping our spirits up. Yeah. Cause it’s been 22 months now that we’ve been dealing with COVID. And so it’s almost been two years. And as we speak today, it’s January 30 we’re approaching it’s January 14th today. And, and we’re going back to, you know, there’s so many changes that are happening. So it’s, it’s dealing with this constant change and this stress of living in the pandemic and, and we’re basically COVID weary. So I feel like it’s my job to help staff feel calm, supported, and as happy to, as I can so that they can in turn, make their students feel safe and happy and calm. Yeah. So how I deal with this challenge is I, I, I listen, I, I try to make, think of ways to make things better for people. And, and I’m here to remind them constantly that they can do hard things and they can do more than they thought that they were capable of.
Valerie Dumoulin (08:03):
And they can also do that them well, you know, so yeah, when I think about it, COVID has really changed the face of education. There have been really a lot of positive things that have come out of having to deal with COVID. So something like, like paper, for example. Yeah. You know, you wouldn’t believe like the amount of school budget that we spent on photocopy paper before the pandemic, and now we’ve become paperless pretty much, you know, we still use a bit of paper, but using asynchronous platforms and using the cloud and ditching hand outs more, I think that’s been a positive change. Nice. also I think teachers have really shifted into the 21st century rather quickly and they’ve done, done so really well. You know, they they’re using digital platforms, they’re managing break rooms, they’re using collaborative apps. I would’ve said probably before the pandemic that students probably had the edge on, on teaching staff and, and teachers on, you know, being digital. But now I, I, I could, I bet that a lot of our teachers could probably show the kids a few things. Yeah. You know, and that change has happened super, super fast. So it’s been pretty amazing.
Sam Demma (09:26):
Oh, go ahead. Keep going.
Valerie Dumoulin (09:27):
Was just gonna say the, the last thing that I, that I kind of have been really impressed with is, is the focus on mental health. Mm. And I think that’s been a positive of impact of COVID too, because you know, now people are prioritizing, what’s important, you know, self care and as taking like a front role and people are, are starting to take care of their minds and bodies more and, and, and organizations and systems are feel like that is that’s something that they wanna, they wanna promote as well.
Sam Demma (10:01):
And prioritize sometimes in front of the curriculum or the KPIs or the outcomes of the organizations, which are, which is super awesome. What does exactly, what does self-care look like for youth, for how do you fill up your cup? So you can ensure that you’re pouring into your staff, like you said, and, you know, listening to them and making them feel happy.
Valerie Dumoulin (10:26):
Yeah. I, I definitely have started taking, you know, time off, like trying to ditch the email a little bit more, you know for myself, I I’m a Walker, so I have, I’ve always had dogs and I have two Huskies that depend on me to get up every morning and walk them for, for an hour. Nice. So I find that’s a really good time for me. It’s, it’s my thinking time. It’s very peaceful. I, I walk at 5:00 AM.
Sam Demma (10:52):
Valerie Dumoulin (10:52):
Streets are quiet. You know, I get to think about like, reflect on things. Think about the day prioritize things that I wanna get done. It, it’s just a good time and I it’s me time. I also beat, I, I do some I make earrings and oh, cool. Do some indigenous type beat work. So I think that’s, that’s really helped me in the evenings kind of just you know, keep busy you, but also like focus on something else other than school, because I would say too, like, it’s, it’s been a learning curve for me to kind of let things go. I’m usually on like 24 hours, somebody would email me at nine o’clock. I’d probably email the back within five minutes, but I’ve been kind of stopping myself and saying, okay, no, that can wait till tomorrow and feeling okay to do that, which is pretty amazing. So I think that’s helped tremendously.
Sam Demma (11:42):
Boundaries. I struggle with them too. Sometimes I don’t ever turn off and people talk about burnout and you always think to yourself, oh no, I’m, I can work like this. And one day it just hits you and you go, holy crap. Like this is a real thing. And I need to set up some proper boundaries for myself. And I think a lot of people hit that threshold at some point in the last two years. So I couldn’t agree more and that’s awesome that you’re up so early walking, very that’s a cool practice. What, what do you think are some of the opportunities? I know there’s a lot of challenges right now, but what do you think some of the opportunities in education are?
Valerie Dumoulin (12:24):
Well, the, some of the opportunities that I think well, the students, like, I, I, I feel like another benefit of COVID is that families have been kind of forced to spend more time with each other. And I see that as, as, as being hopeful for, for, you know, the future because you know, I, I do, I did see kind of an alarming trend of, you know, families being really disconnected from each other. And they, you know, being tied to their phones, for example, and, and not listening or talking with their kids. And I think that’s really negatively affected kids. And as a result, we’re seeing like anxieties and behavior issues and things like that. So I’m hoping that COVID has kind of forced families kind of do things together. I have been seeing positive things. I’ve mentioned Taykwa Tagamou for example that first nation I’ve I’ve, you know, I belong to like their Facebook page and I, and I see things where programs that they have in the community are putting out really neat challenges, for example like a immune kit, like something simple like that, they’re saying, you know, we’re distributing pizza kits and we challenge families to make pizza together and then post it on the page and, you know, and, and people get to see these fam families doing things together.
Valerie Dumoulin (13:48):
So that makes me hopeful that families are, are connecting and, and talking and doing more with each other because kids have been craving that I think, and it, it will, it will help the future. So that, that gives me kind of hope for, you know, the future and, and what’s in store. And certainly with my own family too, you know, like we, you’re kind of isolated. I’ve been like, oh, let’s play a board game. We haven’t played a board game many years, you know, those kinds of things. So it has brought families closer together. I think. So I think that’s been a positive.
Sam Demma (14:23):
Me and my entire family got COVID actually over the holidays. And whenever someone asked me that question, oh, how is your holidays? I feel so bad giving them the response because they’re gonna be like, oh my God, I’m so sorry. And we, we ended up being okay. The symptoms were, were mild, thankfully, but the positive of it was like you said, we spent an unusually large amount of time together, dinner, breakfast, lunch walks, board games, movie marathons. And it was awesome. It was really cool. So I think with every challenge, there is an opportunity. Sometimes it’s just hard to find them or, or see them, especially when you’re going through a storm. And yeah, I, I agree. I think connection is a big one. That’s come out of this and a desire for more connection. We realize how important face to face communication, not over the phone, but actually in person really was. And I think that will, that will hopefully remind us after this all passes, that we need to continue doing those things and continue prioritizing mental health and continue prioritizing relationships. Over your, the course of your career, what resources have you found helpful? Whether it’s mentorship, whether it’s actually things that you’ve read watched, or been a part of that informed, you know, the way that you lead?
Valerie Dumoulin (15:56):
Through this board, like I’ve been fortunate that our board has really prioritized mental health for, for all of our staff. So they’ve brought in some great speakers. Nice. You know, so Dr. Robin Hanley defo on resiliency, like she I’m listening to her audiobook. Again, having listened to some of her, her her talks that she’s had nice Jesse Wente he’s a, an author participated in his online kind of talk that he had for, for staff and students of DSB one. So lots of different influences, but definitely restorative practices that has been really that that’s something that’s really influenced me as, as an administrator. You know, I, I view mistakes as learning opportunities, so it’s really, it’s, it’s really good to talk to kids and I know kids are gonna mess up, you know, and, and do silly, stupid things and things that they regret.
Valerie Dumoulin (17:01):
But I mean, if, if you bring the people that they’ve harmed together and have a restorative conversation, it changes into a learning opportunity. So sometimes being firm is the way to go, but I’m finding more and more that having those restorative conversations and giving chances to kids is paying off. Kids are learning how to you know, restore mistakes and talk to people that they’ve harmed make future decisions based on learning from, from their actions. And the biggest thing is taking responsibility for what they do, you know, and, and owning up to it. And, and admitting that, you know, they’ve done something wrong and that they are committing to, to rectifying kind of their mistakes.
Sam Demma (17:54):
That’s awesome. Restorative practices are so important. I even think back to when I was in elementary school I did some silly things and got a suspension. It’s just something I don’t really talk about often to be honest. And my principal was at the time his name’s Mike was big into restorative practice and he brought me the other students into his office. We cried, we were so upset with ourselves and what we did, but at the end of it, it was a serious learning opportunity. And, you know, seeing it from the student’s perspective, I found it really helpful. And I think it’s a really important thing to continue doing.
Valerie Dumoulin (18:31):
Sam Demma (18:33):
If you could take your experience in education, bundle it up into a ball, walk into the first classroom you taught in and tap your younger self on the shoulder and say, Valerie, this is what you needed to hear. Like, what would you have told or what advice would you have given your younger self?
Valerie Dumoulin (18:55):
That’s a good question.
Sam Demma (18:56):
Valerie Dumoulin (18:58):
I think back actually, my very first year teaching, I was I was teaching aa a grade two teacher. So what would I have told myself? I probably would’ve said, you know, take it easy on yourself. Like you don’t have to do, you don’t have to know everything. Cuz I remember feeling, you know, as a first year teacher really confused, like, can I do this like really doubting myself and you know, maybe trying to do too much. And I remember being so exhausted just like even after a day’s work, I’d go home and have a two hour nap and then I get up and plan for the next day, you know, but you, you have to really like just take it easy on yourself, rely on your colleagues and really get to know the community that you’re in for myself.
Valerie Dumoulin (19:47):
It was a first nation community. I, I was used to living in small Northern communities, but it was still quite a different at world just because when I was up there, there, you know, a lot of the, the, the nurses and the teachers had running water, nobody else had running water. Wow. So they used to have to go to like a community area to, you know, fill their jugs, to take home, to do washing and cooking and cleaning and all sorts of things. So it was, it was quite a different world. And so I had to really, you know, understand where my students were coming from. And and, and maybe that’s how I, you know, became really interested in and understanding like how important relationship is and understanding and being empathetic towards other people’s situations. So I think that probably kind of helped me as I move forward in my career.
Sam Demma (20:41):
Love that. Awesome. Valerie, thank you so much for taking some time to come onto the podcast, share your experiences, your philosophies around education. If someone listens and wants to reach out and ask you a question, what would be the best way for them to get ahold of you?
Valerie Dumoulin (20:58):
Well, on social media, of course, I am on Twitter (@Val_Dumoulin) and I am on Facebook and Instagram. Email works as well: Valerie.Dumoulin@dsb1.ca. Anyway, you know, I, I’m more than willing to, to talk with people and invite people to, to connect with me for sure.
Sam Demma (21:15):
Awesome. All right. Thank you so much for coming on the show. This has been a pleasure. Keep up the great work and we’ll talk soon.
Valerie Dumoulin (21:21):
Okay. Thanks, Sam.
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