About Abbey Gingerich
Abbey (@MsAGingerich) is the leadership teacher and Student Activities Director at Kitchener-Waterloo Collegiate Institute (KCI) in Ontario, Canada. Her leadership program includes over 100 students who are involved in planning school fundraisers, assemblies, special events, and daily activities to make the school a more spirited and engaging place to be.
Last year, Abbey and her student leaders were honoured to receive the award for having the most school spirit in Ontario! Abbey believes that small, consistent acts of positivity can change the world. Her enthusiastic and creative approach to leadership has drawn students to her hands-on, spirited, and community-building leadership program that is quickly becoming the leading program of its kind in Ontario.
Aside from teaching leadership at KCI, Abbey has coached basketball and rugby and also teaches English and Art. Wherever Abbey goes, she leaves a trail of glitter; her enthusiasm and passion for student leadership are infectious.
**Please note that all of our transcriptions come from rev.com and are 80% accurate. We’re grateful for the robots that make this possible and realize that it’s not a perfect process.
Sam Demma (00:00):
Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. I’m super excited to bring you today’s interview, Abby Gingerich. She is a leadership teacher and student activity director at Kitchener Waterloo Collegiate Institute in Ontario, Canada. Wow, lots of words. Her leadership program includes over a hundred students who are involved in planning school fundraisers, assemblies, special events, and daily activities to make the school a more spirited and engaging place to be. Last year, Abby and her student leaders were honored to receive the award for having the most school spirit in Ontario. And I can highly guarantee, and I can highly back that statement because I saw them at OSLC, the Ontario student leadership conference, and they are freaking loud. Abby believes that small, consistent actions of positivity can change the world. I totally agree. Her enthusiasm and creative approach to leadership has drawn students to her hands on spirited and community building program that is quickly becoming the lead leading program of its kind in Ontario. Aside from teaching leadership at KCI, she has coached basketball, rugby, teaches english and art. Wherever Abby goes, she leaves a trail of glitter. Her enthusiasm and passion for student leadership is infectious. Without further ado, please help me in well welcoming Abby to the show. Abby, thank you so much for coming on the High Performing Educator podcast. It’s an absolute pleasure to have you, can you start by introducing yourself to the audience and maybe sharing why you got into this work that you’re doing with young people today?
Abbey Gingerich (01:36):
Sure, so my name is Abby Gingrich and I’m in my third year in this role of student activities advisor at Kitchener Collegiate Institute and that’s in the KW area. Ooh, how did I get into this? I, I mean, it would go back to when I was in high school, I, I was obviously involved in, in student leadership. I actually went to another local school down the street; WCI, and I had great teachers and mentors there. And I, I mean, looking back, I should have just gone right into teaching. All of my teachers told me to go into teaching. I think it’s a bit of a personality thing for me that I hate doing what everyone tells me to do so I delayed for a little bit and I thought I would, I don’t know.
Abbey Gingerich (02:29):
I still went for English at UW and things like that which helped me then when I decided to switch over to teaching. But I was working at a bank for a little bit. I worked at a hotel which were all a great, great experiences, but just wasn’t so that like, it just wasn’t lighting my life on fire. Mm. And so I was living with one of my best friends at the time, and I remember, and she was a teacher here at KCI, and I remember seeing her talk about her students and talk about the experiences she was having. And she just loved it. And I had like this moment sitting on the couch and I was like, oh, I should be doing that. And so here I am, and it was I don’t know, I guess I remember looking at the leadership teacher role and think, I probably wouldn’t be able to have a chance at that role until I’ve been teaching for maybe five or 10 years. And then it just sort of worked out I don’t know if you wanna call it fate or destiny at KCI, but like an English teacher, an art teacher and the leadership teacher, we’re all leaving at the same time to other opportunities. And so they were able to package this role for me and it just felt like the perfect fit. And here I am.
Sam Demma (03:50):
That’s awesome. That’s so cool. And you could just feel the energy when you talk about your passion for teaching. So I absolutely love this. This is so cool. Yeah. You know, right now is a little bit different than maybe your first couple years in education. I know there’s a bunch of challenges, maybe share a couple of the challenges you’ve been facing and how you’ve come up with solutions or what types of virtual things are you doing to make up for it?
Abbey Gingerich (04:16):
Yeah. oh, it’s, it’s tough. Yeah. Especially keeping momentum going with school spirit, especially online. It’s, it’s just challenging to come up with fresh new creative ideas online. Luckily I’ve, I’ve always had really great students that I can draw inspiration from. And so one of the first things we did was just start small. Cuz obviously change is hard and it it’s scary to adapt sometimes. And so we figured that starting small with maybe one or two virtual activities a week or something and then building on those and just building up the height and the excitement and, and still saying to our community and to our staff and our students, we’re still here. We still care about our school spirit and our school community. And here is some of the smaller things that we’re doing. So it was just little things like wear some Raider wear and send in a photo online and, and tag us in it or wear your comfy clothes and send a picture of that.
Abbey Gingerich (05:25):
So, yes. We started out with just sort of these small, consistent little events and we’ve sort of grown them into, into bigger things as well. I also had staff send in photos or send in videos of like little tutorials that they at home. So some of our science teachers did experiments at home and we shared those online. Some of our one of our staff members is an expert juggler. So we put a juggling challenge out. And we just took like these every day at home things that students could still be doing and just hype them up and made them into the most exciting thing that we possibly could. I I’m so hands on with my course and with my teaching, I, I like students up out of their seats. I like them interacting. And so that’s been, the biggest challenge for me is to, is to have to stay in my seat.
Abbey Gingerich (06:27):
And so, you know, there are some great programs online that I’ve been able to use. We do a lot of shared documents with the students that are in class and at home home. So they’re still collaborating together even if it is in a, in a smaller virtual capacity. Yeah, it’s, it’s, it’s something new every day and I’ve just had to challenge myself to say, you know, for the students and, and for the staff as well, I’m gonna do whatever I can to still make it exciting and, and do some good KCI spirit stuff.
Sam Demma (07:05):
That’s awesome. Out of all the, I guess, virtual events or, you know, different events that you’ve done so far, what’s one stuck the most, like was there any one particular event that all the kids just loved it and kept wanting to do it again and again, and maybe something comes to mind, maybe not, but I’m curious.
Abbey Gingerich (07:25):
So we’re actually repeating this event on a larger scale coming up, but one of our staff members and his son actually built a Marvel track at home, like a Marvel obstacle course. And he sent me the video footage of it and I just turned it into like this. We were calling it the race, you didn’t know you needed. And, and like we had little videos of each marble and introducing them and then the race. And I think the host had like over a hundred comments on it of kids just engaging and upset that their marble didn’t win or, you know, saying the race was rigged and everything like that. So it, it was just something that you know, was supposed to be fun and bring some, some energy online and had real, no other real purpose beyond just that school spirit which I’m okay with.
Abbey Gingerich (08:26):
And and so we’re doing it again in place of one of our larger sporting events that we would normally have happening right now. We’re doing it again and we’re introducing new racers and we have our football coaches commentating the race. The students who are planning the event have created like over 15 feet of track in their, at home time. And so I think it’s, I think it’s gonna be pretty fun. I hope it’s gonna be pretty fun, but for some, I have no idea why, but for some reason it blew up on our social media which was just a nice experience too.
Sam Demma (09:04):
It’s the whole idea of just taking an idea offline and then showcasing it online and making it kind of funny. Right. It sounds like you’re introducing marbles, right? Like it’s pretty good. Yeah.
Abbey Gingerich (09:16):
I like that. I, I mean, and, and I say to the kids all the time, like if there’s, if there’s a way that we can just add some sparkle to something like, that’s just what I’m known for, like throwing glitter at everything. That’s sort of one of the best examples I’ve had I have is that it’s yeah. Just something that we didn’t even plan it. Right. It was footage. I borrowed from another our staff member and said, I think, I think the kids would be into this. And again, it’s just those moments that say, Hey, here we are. We’re still thinking of you. Hope this brings a smile to your face and let’s have some fun.
Sam Demma (09:49):
I love that. My, my next question was gonna be, how do we make students feel appreciated and heard during these times? Is it just the nudge on the shoulder, the unexpected message? Like how do you make your students feel appreciated?
Abbey Gingerich (10:04):
Yeah, I think, I think acknowledging them as individuals and still showing them that they’re valued especially right now in the, in these COVID times when we’re not connecting the way we usually do. Like I’m I miss a lot of my students. I only really interact with the, the 10 that are in front of me each day. You don’t have those same moments of like walking through the hallways and, and seeing a student you taught last year or seeing the girls from the basketball team that you coach. Right. I, I am, I’m really missing those moments. So we’ve been putting out some smaller challenges to some like to our athletes and saying here, send us a transition video of you. I don’t know, it’s a TikTok trend. I’m not quite up on that, but they’re doing these transitions from their everyday close to their school spirit wear or their athletic gear. And so you’re able to connect still one on one that way. And I can say, thank you so much for the video. And then sometimes it opens a conversation of how are you doing, or I really miss rugby right now. And so I think getting in touch with those students or, or when a student reaches out, really making sure that we take the time to acknowledge that and, and to take it that step further and just ask how people are doing those small moments can make a big difference as well.
Sam Demma (11:32):
Cool. And we talked a little bit about some great ideas and great successes, but it seems like the education state right now is almost like throwing spaghetti on the wall and seeing what sticks. And of course, sometimes things fall. I’m curious to know if you’ve learned from any of your own personal mistakes, and I don’t even wanna call it mistakes, but I want to call it an experiment because that’s really what it is during this time. And is there anything worth sharing with the audience that you think might be valuable to hear?
Abbey Gingerich (11:59):
Yeah, I I think personally the biggest issue I ran into was just trying to do everything exactly the same way, or just trying to if think, thinking I could just convert it to online and it would be totally fine. And, and there are just some activities that don’t convert well. And so a lot of work went into revamping, a couple of my courses and revamping even just projects as well. My leadership course looks to totally different from when it, from how it usually would look. And, and like the stress got to me pretty early on it, it was, it’s very overwhelming. And I, and I know I share this with a lot of other student activity teachers, but you feel like there’s sort of this extra weight to keep all the fun and, and the excitement and the school spirit going.
Abbey Gingerich (12:57):
And, and that’s hard. And, and also respecting that there’s a global pandemic going on, right. Like we shouldn’t be doing everything that we normally do because we need to put student safety and staff safety first. And so, yeah, the wake up call for me, I think, was just recognizing that I was heading into that burnout territory. And, you know, we’re, we’re told to give a lot of compassion to our students and just that reminder that we need to give a little bit of that compassion to us as well. And so doing again, doing those small, all consistent things every day or every other day, I think can have a bigger impact than doing big, exciting things all the time. Cuz it’s, it’s not sustainable right now. I don’t think anyways,
Sam Demma (13:49):
I love that it’s funny, small, consistent things. My grade tall voters should teacher Mike loud foot. The principle he taught me was small, consistent actions and we applied that to picking up trash and let, to pick waste. And now it’s like a guiding principle we follow. So I love that if, if you can just think about what’s the one small thing I can do right now instead of bake the whole pie at once, you know, a week later, it’ll have a pie instead of stressing the whole week. I think that’s an amazing piece of advice on the same top of, of advice. You know, an educator listening might be in their first year of teaching and maybe you can think back for a second to when you first taught your first year. You’re probably super excited. Now imagine if that first year had the global pandemic as well, and you were thinking to yourself, what the heck did I sign up for here? What advice would you give that teacher? I mean, you already gave some brilliant advice around, you know, not doing everything, just taking a small action. What other advice would you have to a fellow teacher?
Abbey Gingerich (14:46):
Yeah, there’s, I think there’s two that I, and I still really carry these close to me now asking for help makes a huge difference. Like you’re kind of just thrown into this role and then, and you’re given all of the social media power and you know, you wanna do all these fundraising activities as well, and you wanna make sure you’re meeting all all the needs in terms of diversity and inclusion for your students and, and that a lot. And so I think the more that you can involve other groups and clubs in the school and talk to your admin team and get other staff on board who are, who are gonna be hopefully just as enthusiastic but as supportive. And I am very lucky at KCI to have an incredibly supportive admin team and a very supportive staff.
Abbey Gingerich (15:38):
And so staff checks in with me constantly on, can I help with something? Are you doing okay? Can my group or my club, or you know, my group of students help with something and those moments of collaboration create really valuable learning opportunities for the students. But also then just help share the burden or the weight. Anyways. I don’t see it as a burden. I, I obviously I love it, but but just help spread that out a little bit. So it’s not as overwhelming and sometimes I forget, right. I forget to ask for help. Yeah. So I think the more you can, you can reach out and ask for help the better the other thing is get your students involved or ask your kids for advice. Anytime we’re doing something that I like, I guess would be on trend.
Abbey Gingerich (16:31):
I only know it’s on because the kids told me. And so I, I, you know, we like to, we like to spoof some of the, the trendy things that are happening. We like putting out really funny videos or, or copying a video that’s really popular. And again, those, those, I wouldn’t know about those without the kids. So ask your kids because it’s, it’s also there your audience, right. Do you wanna know what they wanna see and what they care about seeing, and, and some of that funny, again, popular stuff or the stuff that’s gonna create hype. The, the kids know that far better than I ever will.
Sam Demma (17:10):
That’s so true. That’s awesome. And I think it’s a great, a piece of advice because even myself, you mentioned TikTok, I decided about a month and a half ago to take a year off social media. So I could just imagine I’m gonna come back in a year and I’m gonna be like, what dance are you doing? Where is that from? What is that? Yeah, so that’s a brilliant, that’s a brilliant piece of advice. I’m curious to know as well during your career. You’ve probably had students reach out and thank you for the work you’ve done in leadership. And it’s, it’s, it’s changed their life. It’s helped them find new parts of themselves. They didn’t know existed out of all those students. Do you have a story of one that the leadership work that you guys are doing at the school has transformed someone that’s that’s worth sharing? And the reason I’m asking is because there might be a teacher or educator or principal listening who’s burnt out and is losing faith and maybe considering doing some different type of work. And if they can remind themselves why they started by hearing the story of a serious impact, I think it could really reinspire them and motivate them. And if it’s a very serious story, feel free to change the name for privacy reasons. Of course. But does any story come to mind for you?
Abbey Gingerich (18:23):
Yeah, I mean, it’s, it’s funny being sort of I guess I, I would still say I’m pretty young or new you into the world of teaching. So yeah, the ones that have reached out to me and thanked me are still sort of at that transition point and where they’ve thanked me is that I help them find a path or I’ve helped them. I’ve helped give them the tools to on some of their goals or to decide on a career path. So I did have a student reach out to me last year and he was in leadership. Well, it feels like forever ago, but just last year. And so I, I don’t think he knew when he signed up for leadership. I don’t think he knew what he was getting himself into. Like I I always say that I will give my most, I will give my attention to the students that are gonna put in the most work and not cuz I wanna ignore anybody, but the students that are gonna put the hustle in or have that drive whether they have the skills or the tools or not, I’m gonna, I’m gonna help provide that, but it’s, it’s, it’s that the heart, right?
Abbey Gingerich (19:32):
Those students that come in with that and are just ready to go and, you know, wanna make stuff happen. That’s where my attention is gonna go. And so I had a student who sort of started off pretty quiet coming into the course and then found himself in sort of a lead role in his event that he was planning. And he did a phenomenal job. And so I think where that translated for him though, is that then he went on he’s doing police foundations at Conogo right now and he actually emailed me. It, I, it must have been during during quarantine in March or April time. But he, he emailed me and told me that he was just elected student leader for police foundations at conno SOGA. And it’s, he never thought that that would be a role that he would ever be interested in.
Abbey Gingerich (20:26):
And after experiencing that level of leadership at high school, he just knew that that’s where he wanted to take his life. And you know, and I think the best part was that he felt very accomplished and he was so proud of what he achieved and that’s something I just like, I just want the kids to know how much of an impact they can actually make even as a youth or as a teenager. I mean, I, I don’t think that really matters. I think, yeah, they can just do incredible things right now. And so when a student can come to that realization that’s, what’s most rewarding for me. And I have to remind myself too, cuz we take a lot of criticism sometimes or we have setbacks. And so to get those positive moments from, from past students it was, was special and, and really meaningful.
Sam Demma (21:21):
Yeah. And a lot of educators say that as teachers you’re seed planters and you might not see the plant grow for many years to come. So it’s cool that you’ve already had some students reach out and I’m sure they’ll continue to blossom over the years. If any other educator listening wants to reach out, bounce ideas around with you, maybe hear about some of the cool things you’re working on, what’s the best way for them to do so.
Abbey Gingerich (21:45):
Probably email; I’m just at email@example.com and email is probably the most convenient way to get ahold of me, or I do run the KCI Instagram account. So if they ever, I’ve had other schools message us through Instagram and just say, tell us about this idea or how did you make this happen? And I’m, I’m always more than happy to share resources or ideas as well. Yeah, I think again, those, that collaboration opportunity when we go to, you know, leadership conferences and stuff, I’m, I’m missing that, of course. And I think there’s still definitely some ways that we can do that and achieve that across different schools as well so I’m excited for that.
Sam Demma (22:31):
Well, if you’re listening right now, you better email Abby. She wants to talk. Awesome. Well Abby, thank you so much for taking some time to come on the show. I really appreciate it.
Abbey Gingerich (22:42):
Thank you, thank you for having me.
Sam Demma (22:44):
Typically at this point in the episode, I would be ending it and telling you to leave a review and tune in to the next one. But after our conversation ended, Abby and I went back and forth a little more and there was one more thing she wanted to add to this episode. So here it is. So what other unique ideas are going on right now? Maybe student led projects or staff led projects throughout the school?
Abbey Gingerich (23:07):
Yeah, so it might leadership class because of COVID, we’ve actually half of them are working at home and then I have half in class and they switch. So the at home crew, I wanted to still give them something that was valuable for them for the course. So I’ve actually created I’m calling them community outreach, passion projects, and they have an opportunity to identify a passion that they have which was very challenging for some but then also do research and further their education on that passion. And it didn’t have to be school related at all. Just something that again, you know, brings some fire to their life. And then I wanted them to, I challenged them anyway to find a way that they can convert that passion into something that can positively impact their community.
Abbey Gingerich (24:04):
And so their community might just be home their family. It might be their school community. It might be the KW community at whatever level they were comfortable creating something. That was sort of the added challenge. And then of course you add in all of the health and safety measures of COVID there. So I’m, I am in, I’m just blown away by what they’ve been able to achieve. I have student, I have a student who she sews and she’s been making masks and she’s actually been selling the masks to raise funds for indigenous rights in KW. And she has raised almost $800 on her own just at home. Oh wow. During COVID times. And now she’s even realizing that the fundraising is not enough. She’s ready to turn sort of her awareness into action. And she’s getting in touch with council members and members of, of leadership in the KW community and, and getting in touch with them on how to, again, further this cause.
Abbey Gingerich (25:14):
And that’s just been amazing. And I have another student that is is also a sewer, but is interested in climate change and she’s been collecting thrifted or used fabrics and repurposing them into SCRs and little pouches. And she’s been selling those and working on creating then also information on the fashion industry’s impact on the environment and how to be more sustainable. And so it, it’s so interesting to see the different levels that they’ve been able to take their projects and and these passions and translate them into something that’s gonna make an impact on their community. And then other students haven’t, they, they didn’t have to do a fundraiser component. Other students are creating I have one student creating resources for new youth to Canada either through immigration or just moving to Ontario as well.
Abbey Gingerich (26:15):
And she’s put together full resources community resources that youth should know about when they’re new to Canada or new to KW. And so sort of the, I guess the accomplishment that’s come out of them and to realize that they could still make an incredible impact on their world at whatever level that is. They’ve been able to do that even during COVID and in, in a very short period of time too, it’s only been about six weeks. So that has been one of the most rewarding things that has come out of this time. And I had no idea going into it that it was gonna go that this way. But it’s been incredible.
Sam Demma (26:56):
That is so cool. Thanks for sharing.
Abbey Gingerich (26:59):
Sam Demma (27:01):
And with that final thought, thank you so much for tuning into another episode. I hope you enjoyed this interview with Abby and got something from it. There was so many pieces of wisdom and nuggets and unique ideas that you could take, make your own, and also use for your school. If you did enjoy this, consider leaving a rating and review so more teachers like yourself can find this content and also live out the high performing educator philosophy. And as always, if you have ideas that you think should be shared with your colleagues around the country, around the globe, please reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org so we can share your story with our audience. I’ll talk to you soon.
Join the Educator Network & Connect with Abbey Gingerich
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.