About Alison Fantin
Alison Fantin (@alisonjfantin) is the proud principal of Kirkland Lake District Composite School in the District School Board Ontario North East. She is passionate about equity, student voice and helping young people reach their full potential.
**Please note that all of our transcriptions come from rev.com and are 80% accurate. We’re grateful for the robots that make this possible and realize that it’s not a perfect process.
Sam Demma (00:01):
Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest is Alison Fanton. Allson is the very proud Principal of Kirkland Lake District Composite School that is in the District School Board of Ontario Northeast. As we come up to the holidays, I am super excited to take a quick pause on episodes with Alison’s being the last one before our little break. I hope you enjoy this insightful conversation with Alison, and I will see you on the other side. Alison, welcome to the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show. Please start by introducing yourself.
Alison Fantin (00:46):
Well, thanks for having me. My name is Alison Fantin and I am the principal of Kirkland Lake District Composite School, which is a grade 7-12 school in Kirkland Lake Ontario.
Sam Demma (00:56):
When did you realize as a student yourself that education was the career you wanted to pursue?
Alison Fantin (01:03):
So, I actually had an epiphany in grade 11. Mm-hmm. I I had a, a classmate that I didn’t know very well who missed a, a few days of work. My geography teacher told me, cuz I was ahead on this one particular unit, could you please work with her out in the hallway just to kind of try and catch her up. He was kind of using that peer tutoring model and I did that and I realized that I understood the work myself a million times better by teaching it that she was really happy cuz she understood it and it was really fun. And I went home and I said to my mom, I think I wanna be a teacher. And my mom was a teacher is, was a, worked for 35 years in education, was a grade one teacher. And she said, oh, are you sure <laugh>? Yeah. And I said, I’m sure. And she said, oh, but you’ve seen me at nights and weekends working. And I said, yeah, but you know what, mom, I really think I do want to be. And, and I’ve never regretted it.
Sam Demma (02:03):
That’s amazing. That student that you first taught officially <laugh> back in grade 11 is that someone you’ve stayed in touch with? Is that like
Alison Fantin (02:12):
A I have, I have, yeah. Yep. She’s very successful. she’s become a lawyer and you know, we’ve both, yeah, we’ve both done good things with our lives, so, yeah.
Sam Demma (02:23):
So take me to the grade 11 moment and then project the future forward. So you had the epiphany in grade 11. What did that look like as it unfolded over the next couple of years before you got into education?
Alison Fantin (02:34):
Yeah, so I continued to, you know, kind of take the classes that I wanted to take. I, I was always sort of more of an art student than a science or math student. and continued to take courses that, that interested me. Always kind of seized any opportunity I had though to be a peer tutor or to be someone who could you know, help others learn as much as possible. Always try to organize study groups and, and that actually served me really well post-secondary. So and then, yeah, it, it took my my honors Bachelor of Arts at Lakehead University and my teaching degree there as well. And then went to work and haven’t looked back.
Sam Demma (03:14):
That’s amazing. what was your first role, and take us through the various roles you’ve worked and just give us the snapshot of the journey.
Alison Fantin (03:24):
Okay. This is buckle in.
Sam Demma (03:27):
Yeah, I’m ready. I’m ready. <laugh>.
Alison Fantin (03:29):
So I started teaching in 1987. This is year 35 for me. I started working in terrace transcriber at Lake Superior High School. I was an English and geography teacher. Okay. got married, moved back to my hometown of managed wad where I was a high school and elementary supply teacher, and then a high school teacher. we moved again to a little tiny town called Go Gamma, where I had my kids and I was able to do some adult night school. then we moved to gain my husband’s a forester and we kind of went all over Northeastern Ontario. we’ve been in Engelhart since 1996 and I’ve worked at so many schools in the board here in all sorts of roles. most recently high school principal, but I have been an elementary principal, elementary vice principal, secondary vice principal. And a role that was really near and dear to my heart. I was a special education resource teacher for a number of years.
Sam Demma (04:27):
Hmm. Each role provides its own unique set of opportunities and challenges. Yeah. and pros and cons. And tell us a little bit about the role you’re in right now and what you think some of the opportunities are and challenges in the role but also why you enjoy it.
Alison Fantin (04:43):
So the role I’m in right now is principal of a high school. I work really closely with my vice principal. the two of us manage a seven to 12 school. the opportunities in this school are just phenomenal because we have so many outstanding staff who, who really are leaders in their own areas. and we’re big believers in letting people shine and do what they wanna do and giving them the freedom to fail and, and not worry about that and try to kind of regroup if they do. and that extends its well to students. and, you know, giving students a chance to take on leadership roles if they can and, and really try new things. And, and because of that our school has had, you know, tremendous success in all kinds of areas. We’re really proud of our work with our makerspace.
Alison Fantin (05:37):
We’re proud of our work with indigenous studies. we’re proud of our work supporting LGBTQ plus students. but more than anything else, I would say we’re proud of the relationships that we build with our students. it’s a very, very rare time when a student ends up in my office that I say to them, well, who’s your person here? Mm-hmm. And they can’t tell me who that is. So that’s that, you know, those opportunities have been a little bit squelched because of the situation the last couple years. But it so that, and that comes to the challenge part of your question and, and, and how do we kind of connect, you know, when sometimes we’re virtual, how do we continue those growth opportunities when sometimes we literally can’t be in the same space? That’s been challenging, but it feels like there might be light at the end of the tunnel. So I’m, I’m, I’m holding onto that right now.
Sam Demma (06:29):
Ah, I love it. I love it. W what has this year been like? it sounds like the covid has still been a challenge, but we’re getting to the point where it, it hopefully is gonna be in our rear view mirror sooner than later. What has this year been like so far?
Alison Fantin (06:45):
It, it’s, it’s been challenging. You know, I think people are very covid weary. it’s, you know, it’s hard for students to stay engaged when you know, a lot of the things that, that, that many kids love most about high school just isn’t available to them. Extracurriculars and that sort of thing. So, you know, the fact that we’re able to do that again, we have our first tournament here in the gym today. We’re super excited about that. Ah-huh. Yeah. And I, I’ve just really kind of tried to shepherd everybody through this you know, tried to be available to support them. people are tired and people are stressed and people are anxious and worried about their vulnerable family members. And but, you know, the weather gets nicer. We get to get outside. Life gets better immediately. So
Sam Demma (07:35):
What does the shepherding look like? Tell me a little bit about that. When, when you’re in a role where you’re trying your best to provide hope to everyone how do you do that? Like when your perspective, like, what does that look like day to day?
Alison Fantin (07:48):
Well, and, and you know, sometimes it’s not that it, it, it often is, but sometimes it’s not providing hope because I try not to ever tell anybody something that’s not true. Yep. and so I’m, I’m, and then sometimes things do, they’re just awful. And, and, you know, and people are overwhelmed and tired and exhausted and they have family issues. And sometimes it’s, it’s just allowing people to kind of get it all out and just share what they have. That’s, that’s an, that’s making them feel anxious or worried or tired or, and, and kind of give them support. Sometimes it’s trying to take things off people’s plates. often we will as a, as an admin team, ensure that there aren’t additional demands put on our staff if we possibly can avoid it. Hmm. Really try to let teachers just focus on their classrooms and their students in these weird times because that’s where your energy’s best spent. Right. you know, other initiatives are great and we wanna do them, but maybe just not right this minute. So it’s being very protective of staff and of students and of parents. you know, we have a lot of parent phone calls, a lot of parent concerns worried and legitimately so, but we can reassure them most times, so.
Sam Demma (08:59):
Got it. Ah, makes sense. Makes sense. what do you think some of the opportunities are in education? there’s definitely challenges, but when you look at education as a whole, what do you think some of the areas where there are opportunities?
Alison Fantin (09:11):
I, I’m a, like such an optimist and, and the reason I am an optimist is because I see the kids that we have mm-hmm. <affirmative> and I just, I, I am amazed every year at what they can do and what they do do and what they are hoping to do. You know, the fact that they’ll take on these leadership roles and come with these wild ideas and, you know, share the, the compassion that they have for each other, the cheerleading that they have for each other, the support that they have for each other. It gives me such a, you know, lots of people are worried about the future. I’m not worried about the future. Cause when I look at the, the people that we’re leaving it in the hands of, I just think they’re gonna be just fine. These kids are smart. They, they know so much more about the world than we did when we were young be, and I, I think that’s just the connected internet world that we live in.
Alison Fantin (09:58):
Mm-hmm. <affirmative> you know, you, in the old days, you used to be one person sitting in a room and you didn’t know anybody like you now, even if you are that one person in your whole town, there’s 50 people in the next town over or in the next country, over whatever. So I, I think the opportunities through technology especially have just opened the doors for kids. But I also think because of that, kids are, are willing to dream bigger and, you know, we try to really encourage that as much as possible. And, and because we are a school in a small town, that’s an active part of what we do. You know, don’t think, you know, there’s nothing wrong with staying here and working here, and if you choose to come back, that’s great, but you should know what your options are because, you know, there are tremendous opportunities here in town for our students, but there are also tremendous opportunities in other places. We just want them to be aware of everything. And I think that the one thing that, that always ties kids back again, and I’m gonna sound a little bit like a broken record, but is the relationships that they establish. And they tend to establish relationships with teachers who share their interests or share their passions. And so they’re able to explore those more as well. So those are opportunities as well for kids.
Sam Demma (11:06):
Hmm. I love that. When you think about your journey throughout education, I’m sure you’ve had many people that have helped you along the way. when you think about resources, whether that’s people, books, courses or, or like anything at all that you think has informed the way you show up today what are the things that come to mind that you think are worth mentioning or sharing?
Alison Fantin (11:28):
Our board has done like a ton of work around many kind of ways that we can support students who have different needs. But the one thing that’s been particularly helpful for me in the, in the role that I’m in is the work we’ve done around trauma informed instruction. Nice. and Gene Clinton is a leader in that and, and we’ve had the opportunity to receive some professional development development from her. Hmm. she’s the one who’s most like directly changed my practice. Cool. it makes me think about when I have a student in crisis, is this, is this actually them acting out or are they reacting to something that’s happened to them in the past? how can I connect with the students so that they feel like they can approach me? One thing she talks about is the power of, of greeting students in the morning.
Alison Fantin (12:20):
And Bec ever since she talked about that, I’ve done it literally every day. We’re at the front door, we’re greeting every kid that comes in gets a good morning. If we know their name, we say their name. Little easier now, you know, we we’re recognizing them. Even with a mask on you, you get about two inches of, of eye, but you start to recognize the eyes. but you know, it’s, it that is powerful and, and the number of problems that get solved in those 10, 15, 20 minutes in the morning as kids are coming in is phenomenal. So she talks a lot about recognizing that that adverse childhood events can really impact a student’s journey through life. And we really are trying to honour that and recognize that and work with that and not judge kids when they react in a way that seems disproportional because that’s probably not disproportional for them. It’s probably completely logical. So we really are trying to work with our mental health ne team and all of our staff to kind of support students.
Sam Demma (13:13):
I love it. Very cool. when you think about your journey through education, I think you mentioned 35 years. Yeah. Thank you for your service. <laugh> <laugh>. you’re doing an amazing job. when you think about all the different roles and experiences, if you could bundle it all up into some advice that you would give your younger self when you were just starting to teach, like knowing what you know now, what advice would you give to your younger self or to anyone else who’s just getting into this vocation?
Alison Fantin (13:43):
So, so this is the advice that I give to our new teachers and, and, and I tell them the temptation is to feel like you need to know it all. The temptation is to feel that you need to do it all. The temptation is to try to pile in as much curriculum as you possibly can into every lesson. None of those things are realistic and none of those things will make you happy or your students happy. So, you know, be don’t be afraid to say, I don’t know, don’t be afraid to to feel like you have to be the, the guru of everything. And don’t worry if a lesson goes awry and takes you in a whole new different direction because there’s rich learning that can be had there as well. And I’ll tell you, if I’d had that advice and actually listened to it in my first year, it would’ve been really helpful for me because, you know, when you’re a new teacher, you, you almost can’t help yourself. You, you work and work and everything’s perfect and it’s aligned and you try to stay within the walls and make sure that you’re meeting ticking off all those boxes and the hours you work are stupid. But I really, really try to talk about and model work-life balance if I possibly can because it’s such an important piece of making a teacher first of all successful. And secondly, for them to stay in the profession because we don’t want them burning out and leaving cuz they’re exhausted.
Sam Demma (15:01):
Yeah, that’s so, so true. If someone is listening to this conversation, has enjoyed something you shared or something that was mentioned, what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you?
Alison Fantin (15:12):
I’m on social media sort of sporadically, so I’m gonna suggest they email me. That would probably be the most effective way. I don’t know if you’ve put that in your show notes or not, but I it’s Alison.Fantin@dsb1.ca. It’s probably the, the most direct. And I, I welcome anybody who has a question or a concern or wants to tell me that you’re wrong about this, I’d love to chat about that too, so.
Sam Demma (15:35):
Awesome. All right, Allison. Well thank you so much for taking the time to come on the podcast. I really, really appreciate it. Keep up the amazing work and yeah, we’ll talk soon.
Alison Fantin (15:44):
Thanks Sam. I’ve really enjoyed this. Thank you.
Sam Demma (15:48):
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.
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