About Andrea Taylor
Andrea Taylor (@GaryAllanSchool) is a Secondary Principal with the Halton District School Board and she is presently responsible for the Gary Allan Learning Centres that offer Adult, Alternative and Continuing Education at 5 different locations across the region. Andrea began her career 32 years ago as an elementary school teacher before moving to the secondary level as a biology teacher and department head.
In 2003, Andrea was promoted to the role of Secondary Vice-Principal and in 2012, she became the Principal of M.M. Robinson High School in Burlington where in 2017 she was recognized as one of Canada’s Outstanding Principals. As an outdoor enthusiast, Andrea believes that experiential learning can lead to some of the best educational moments for any learner at any age.
Taking learning outside, or even out of a classroom, can allow a student to think more broadly and creatively about the world around them.
**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):
Andrea welcome to the high-performing educator. Huge pleasure to have you on the show this morning, please start by introducing yourself.
Andrea Taylor (00:10):
Well, hello, I’m Andrea Taylor. I’m the principal of Gary Allen learning centers within the Halton district school board. So I oversee four campuses, five campuses across the region that deal with adult alternative and continuing education for the school board.
Sam Demma (00:24):
How did you get into adult education? Tell me a little bit about the journey that brought you to where you are now.
Andrea Taylor (00:31):
Well, it’s not my first principalship. My first principalship was at a regular high school M.M. Robinson from 2012 to 2017. And this is my 32nd year in education. So I guess after my five years there, I wanted something a little different. And so this was one of my career profile choices. And so I came here in 2017, so I’m in my fifth year of it. So I’m not really sure that I had any vision for adult education. However, it has been a really nice experience for this time in my career. So I’m, I’m really enjoying seeing how adults who may not have enjoyed their high school experience, know that there’s a way in which they can come back and get their diploma. It’s a, a very very inspirational job when you give them a diploma and they’re 45, 55, 65 years old. And you’re never too old to, to get the diploma.
Sam Demma (01:33):
So that’s awesome. I think it’s such a unique school to be working in filled with inspiration. It sounds like it’s a very rewarding position. What it’s tell me a little bit more about the position itself and what you do in the school and why, why, why it’s been inspirational for you?
Andrea Taylor (01:52):
Well, I think it’s been inspirational because alternative education is what we run in our day school, plus adult credit programming. So alternative education for those students who are completely disengaged with the high school career for many different reasons. And they need to be, you know, they benefit from being out of that sort of trigger environment, quote unquote. So we have a step program which is secondary teen engagement program here in Halton, across four campuses, one in Burlington, Oakville, Milton and Georgetown. We probably have a hundred and about 150 you know, spread out throughout the region who do face to face instruction. We also run an alternative program called bridges to success for the over 18 year olds who may start to be a little older than wanting to be in high school. And, but they’re close to graduating. So it’s completely online.
Andrea Taylor (02:48):
So between those two programs, we really work to help students get their diploma. And we’re very well supported. The school board is very supportive of the alternative education and students who may have been lost and, and not return know that they have a safe place to come and and, and, and learn skills, learn coping skills and develop some positive confidence to then, you know, face the world. And a lot of these students, not all of them, but some of them, you know, live on their own and we assist them in navigating those social organizations and community supports and keep that diploma as a focus for them. And then they also know that if they age out because one under the age of 21 has a right to an education in a, in a school, but they know if they age out and they’re over 21, they can stay with Gary Allen learning centers and become one of our adults to get their credits and finish off so many, many success stories in many different ways.
Andrea Taylor (03:55):
Some say, you know, that’s, that’s it Ms. Taylor? I’m 18. I gotta go work. I’m like, okay, well you go work, but then you come back to us because they know they get equivalency credits for their life experiences too. So there’s inspiration everywhere and the way the teachers work with the students. So stories of adults who come back, they may have developed a career. You know, they left school early, but they now have their own children and they don’t wanna be a hypocrite and say, you go get your diploma. You need to get your diploma. And they turn around and say, well, mom, you haven’t gotten yours. And I’ve had parents and children graduate together. And I sh you know, to shake their hands at commencement. So yeah, a lot of different things that happened. And then the new program that we brought into our learning center is for newcomers. It’s the language acquisition programs link ESL FSL for newcomers. And within a year and half, we already have over a thousand learners. And that’s non-credit, but allows them to, to gain language proficiency, which then would allow them to move into our adult credit program. So newcomers can then get their Ontario diploma. So we have a number of different vehicles and avenues within the school board to meet the needs of a wide variety of learners.
Sam Demma (05:12):
What is the step or steps program? Tell me a little bit more about that as well.
Andrea Taylor (05:16):
So the step program is the secondary team engagement program. It’s been with the board for an number of decades now. It has been fine tuned over the last couple of years. It’s it has about two or three classrooms, two classrooms at each site, smaller setting it’s supported with child, youth counselors and social workers. And EA our staff are very well trained in trauma informed classroom instruction restorative practice. And we welcome students. It’s it’s continual intake. So we run it as a positive parallel program to your traditional high school, so that our colleagues, when they know that they have a student who is not engaging, has high absenteeism has sometimes high social anxieties can’t handle the big craziness of the high schools. They’ll do a referral to our program and the first year that we have them, the step, the E and step really stands for engagement.
Andrea Taylor (06:20):
We try to engage them, build trust relationships. A lot of times the students don’t trust the educational system. It hasn’t helped them. It’s been more of a burden. And so we really work on that people to people skills. The next step is to in sort of expand them and into experiential learning. We have a TRX program, which is for trades. It’s a, it’s a woodworking shop here at the main campus in Burlington. And so the students become very creative, build everything from paddles to desks, to whatever they want. And some have gone on to the trades of that, that encouragement. And then the final step to it is when we’ve had them for a few years, we expand them into experiential co-op community co-op they may go into the bridges program to do digital learning. So they see what it’s gonna be like at college and university.
Andrea Taylor (07:15):
And many of our students will have post-secondary plans, but we really have to unpack, I guess, the harm or the, the reason for being disengaged from high school any distress or anxieties, we try to, to work with the student and the families to, to make it better for them. And and, and then, so we do get a, a number of really good success stories. Yeah, I could, I, I could spend all day telling you a number of the stories, so that’s step and, and some students do come to, to us and they feel better and they have those skills to go back into their homeschool. So they may reengage. So that’s why we’re a parallel program for the high schools, but other students stay with us and graduate from, from here as well, or they go onto the BTS or they, they may become our adult credit students as well. So we never really say goodbye to them. We really help them until they, until they graduat. And even when they’ve graduated, they’ve come back and been speakers sometimes for our kids. Just say, there’s hope don’t give up.
Sam Demma (08:23):
That’s awesome. Is BTS the bridges program. And how does that differ from the step program?
Andrea Taylor (08:28):
So bridges to success is really for the 18 to 2021 year olds it’s completely online so that you need to be of a more independent student. And self-directed, it is continual intake as well. So our teachers have a combination of step classes and a bridge class completely working online. And and so some of those students may have already graduated high school. They may be an an OSS D grad already, but they’ve found that they don’t like the pathway they’re on. So they, they come back and they change their pathway, change their courses, do their upgrading. Maybe they’ve taken a year off before post-secondary and wanna get their marks to be higher. And so those students are older and, but they’re still under the age of 21. And and so again, it’s a nice piece for us. If we’ve had a student for a number of years and they’ve developed independence and reliability and they can get their work done, then we move them on to a bridges program because that’s kind of what they’re going to see. And we didn’t know when we devised that, that the world would be at one point a hundred percent online. Yeah. So we were kind of positioned well for that, but our teachers and our students have really done well by that program.
Sam Demma (09:48):
At what point in your own career journey did you realize education is what you wanted to do with your life and how did you come to that realization?
Andrea Taylor (10:00):
Oh, I don’t know. I was a competitive athlete when I was younger and did all the sports in school and I’ve coached and I’ve always coached when I was younger, you know, I’ve, I’ve just been helping others and instructing since I was probably 14. And when I was at university, I I really wanted to go into med school because I had some really good doctors, sports medicine, doctors help me. So that’s what I really wanted to do. But in third year university, I realized I couldn’t afford med school. So I went my other love of sports and PhysEd and health biology. So I went on to teachers college with no regrets and have a, you know, my specialty, my specialists are in phys ed and biology. And that’s what I became. I actually started in elementary school.
Andrea Taylor (10:48):
So you know, sometimes things work out for you and you don’t even know why until you look back. And so I don’t regret going into education. You know, I started in, in elementary, so I I’ve taught every grade from grade five to OAC or to 12 U biology. Nice. before going into administration. So it’s it’s been a nice journey. And as I said, you don’t always know. So you know, I got into education kind of by default, and then I’ve been blessed along the way that opportunity has just come up. And, and I’m a person that doesn’t wanna say what if down the road. So, you know, you give it your best shot and you do in my mantra is to live, do well by the people I’m responsible for. So, you know, as a teacher, you’re responsible for the kids. And as, as an administrator, you’re responsible for staff and kids and parents. So you just, if you continue to do well by the P people you’re responsible for, then I find it’s worked out well.
Sam Demma (11:42):
Steve jobs has this quote in his 2005 Stanford commencement speech, where he says, you can’t connect the dots looking forward. You can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that at some point in your future, the dots will connect and what you just shared made me think of that. And it makes total sense. When you think back on your career in education and all the different roles you’ve worked in, what are some of the experiences you went through courses, mentors, you came across, anything that’s been, you think helpful over the yeah. That’s, you know, putting you on the spot here and that’s a, a long career to pull from, but I
Andrea Taylor (12:22):
Wasn’t one of your questions that were, you gave me.
Sam Demma (12:25):
Andrea Taylor (12:27):
But that’s okay. I still have a good memory. I was just, just speaking to one of my, I mentors this morning, you know people that I I have known throughout my 30 plus years here at the board. And you just learn, you, you learn who it is that are your critical friends and people that you can rely on and, you know, our role of, of maintaining pro professionalism, but we also are still human. So there’s times where you need those critical friends and, and safe places to just be you because you have to, to let it out. But I guess, I guess the, the, I would say, and I said this to some people, but I think back the most pivotal year I had was my fifth year of teaching at the end of my fifth year a teacher, I was surplus.
Andrea Taylor (13:21):
And I was told I had, you know, I got picked up at another elementary school and I was teaching grade five and, oh my goodness. So I had to go and get my junior qualifications. And I thought after my first day of teaching grade five, I was about to quit. And I was like, oh my gosh, a little old, I don’t, I don’t know what to do with these 10 year olds. And they ended up being the best class that I had. I have had former students from that class contact me and they’re doing well, but what I learned from that and surviving that year with these grade fives and then moving on into secondary, and then moving on to adult tell you, is that everybody’s a 10 year old, they’re just in bigger bodies. So, you know, they all need purpose and, and belonging.
Andrea Taylor (14:06):
And you know, I had to take a special ed course because I had so many identified students and I had a couple students with cerebral palsy. And in that class, you know, we just lowered the net to play volleyball. One person was in a wheelchair. Just learned so many things from that class and that experience and that’s taking special ed one is why I was able to move into secondary, to, to teach a course for students, with autism in science. And so things happen along the way. And, and as I said, you just do well by the students you’re responsible for, but I, I still think of that sometimes I’m the 10 year old and I’m like, I need, I need to talk to someone. So, you know, we’re all we’re all 10 year olds just in bigger bodies. And we just need to remember to listen to each other and, and not judge. And they taught me so much. I, I did not know that 10 year olds could be so responsible.
Sam Demma (14:58):
Andrea Taylor (14:59):
Just amazing, amazing age.
Sam Demma (15:01):
I love that. And right now education looks a lot different, maybe not so much for the online learners that you’ve already had in the past, but for the in person with the challenges of the pandemic and the rise of so many important conversations education looks different. What do you think some of the opportunities are maybe to change or to improve over the next couple of years?
Andrea Taylor (15:29):
Well, anytime you’re, you’re given challenges you know, it’s kind of almost like a, not a correction factor, but when you’re given challenges, you really have to back up and, and, and take a look at the big picture. And a number of my colleagues will laugh, cuz I always have sayings for things, but sometimes when you have challenges, you hang on too tight, you’re hugging the tree too close. You’re looking at the bark and you can see the ants, you know, mark through the Bart and, and it’s really cuz you feel like you have to hang onto something where sometimes, you know what this is maybe out of our control. So I’m gonna back up completely and go and see the whole forest. I’m gonna get to higher ground. And I’m gonna look at the whole forest and say, you know what, I, I need to take a different path.
Andrea Taylor (16:07):
I need to go this way now. And so I’m hoping that with education, we’re not hanging on all so tight. And we, we look at it and say, okay, what have we learned? What are the good and, and the good thing is that, you know, when I taught three or four U biology and I had a student with mono, they might lose the whole semester because they couldn’t, they were in the hospital and they didn’t have the energy and, and they had to come back and have to drop out for a bit and come back the next semester, we didn’t have a way to just move and maneuver things online and keep the work going to them. Right. so the hybrid approach to, to education is important. But I, I also think when you back up, you start to look at what are the priorities and what is education.
Andrea Taylor (16:50):
What’s the difference between teaching and transferring knowledge to educating the mind and education doesn’t have to come out of a book education, doesn’t have to come out of a digital screen education, you know, looking at how you best learn and wanna be a lifelong learner. And we need to take the opportunity right now to say, okay, what has worked really well? What can we change? And, and what can we continue to do that the students really need to learn about themselves and others to be contributing citizens to a society once they graduate. So I think the opportunity is, is to step back and just go, okay, like, you know, we’re gonna, it’s a virus, we’re gonna have to live with it. We’re gonna have to learn to manage it. But in that, how do we continue to, to help the child’s mind develop the youth’s mind, develop stay positive. Things will get better. They may be different, but will be okay and people need to, to know that. And and we will get through it. And, and so education has the opportunity to, to open its mind and go, how do we deliver this information? Are we doing it in the best possible way?
Sam Demma (18:02):
You mentioned near the beginning of the interview, sometimes you would have former students alone come in and share their stories with the current students. And it would generate some hope. I think hearing about success stories during challenging times is a great way to generate hope. And I’m sure there’s so many success stories that have come out of your, you know, school at the adult learning education center. But when you think of some of the students who have made significant changes and improvements are there any specific stories that stand out and you, if it’s a serious story, you can change their name for privacy reasons. But I’m wondering if there’s any specific story that sticks out in your mind about a student who had a serious change, and positive change.
Andrea Taylor (18:52):
Oh yeah. There’s, there’s there’s many, but I have to be very mindful. I, I do wanna protect privacy. Yeah. but what I will say I think because of the way our, our step program is with continual intake and itself pace, so students go at their own, right. And so some of them that come to us that are completely credit deficit as we call it we’ve had there’s one in particular. I won’t go into details cuz I don’t want anyone to be a BA because it’s quite unique coming out of the, you know, the GTA, the Toronto scene. Yeah. you know, know getting towards 18 and having very minimal credits. And I don’t even know if they were double digit credits, but once we were able to get through that step one of relationships and you can trust us and we’re here for you and we’re not gonna give up on you.
Andrea Taylor (19:50):
And we’re, you know, we’re working with your family as well. And they be, wow, these people are not just bail on me. They’re not just saying, you know he was able to get 10 credits in a year. He was able to do some equivalencies. He was with us for about two years and came to us with no, no sense of purpose or where he wanted to be. And when last year in the middle of COVID, of course we had couldn’t have commencement of how all was virtual, but we did have some students who were able to come back and, and get their diploma and I would have my mask on and I would meet them outside and I would give them their diploma and F them. And it was very rewarding to go from a young man that you worried would’ve ended up maybe incarcerated or, you know, there’s sometimes I worry about if my students are going even make it to their 20th birthday or 21st birthday, but because of our staff and, and, and our support staff, social workers, everybody who works around these, these very you know, challenging students are, but they’re just products of their, of their their environment in sense.
Andrea Taylor (21:09):
Anyway, it was just so heartwarming to give this young man his diploma. And I asked, what do you wanna do now? And he says, I think I wanna be a plumber and I’m absolutely go and do it. The people are so needed. Everybody has
Sam Demma (21:24):
Andrea Taylor (21:24):
It’s awesome. And, and so, you know, that, that gives our staff hope because some of our students are so fragile and, and they’re human and you, you, you just wanna wrap around them. And that’s, our focus is to do wrap around learning and support and, and get them to that graduation where they can then stay and articulate to you. This is what I wanna do. This is what I wanna be, where when they first come here, they’re like, I don’t know. I don’t know. Right. I don’t know. And that’s, that’s the beauty of education is, is helping a young person know where they may wanna go. Now it might change that journey might PA you know, like mine, I thought I might be going into med school, but I went into education, but they need that first encouragement, nudge, and support to do that. They don’t have all the answers right now. And that’s what as role models as adults, as educators, we need to do that for them.
Sam Demma (22:20):
That’s such a heartwarming story. Thanks so much for sharing that.
Andrea Taylor (22:24):
Yeah. Yeah. There’s been other ones where I’ve run across a student and you know, heard, they had been in, had done some time. And, but I was just so pleased to see that they were alive at sometimes you have students that go through and you’re like, I’m just happy. You’re here with me right now. So it’s, it’s, it’s all good. And and that’s, you know, education is around out the people and that’s the important part of it.
Sam Demma (22:52):
Hmm. When you think about your experience throughout education, you’ve already shared some great learnings and feedback, but if you could take all of your experience, go back in time to your first and second year, third year teaching, you know, tap yourself on the shoulder and say, and this is what you needed to hear. What advice would you have given your younger self or also someone who’s just starting to get into this profession?
Andrea Taylor (23:26):
I think that kind of goes with one of the questions you gave me about, you know, mistakes that you made and what I’ve learned from the, I think I would tell myself more and more, listen, listen more. Sometimes the things we think in our head, people aren’t always ready to hear it and you have to listen to the people, whether they’re peers or your, your superiors or your students, wherever you fit within the educational system, but really listen without judgment and don’t jump to conclusions. And but then know if you have something that that’s important to say, you plan out and pick the proper time to say it and in, in what manner to say it. So I have had mentors and people along the way who you know, jokingly, I can come out like a bulldog sometimes and because I become passionate about some things.
Andrea Taylor (24:21):
And I think if I’m so passionate about it, I’m gonna make you so passionate about it, but they are not ready to hear it in a way. And so I’ve, I’ve learned to, to slow down my conversation. So if I could go back to, oh my God, when I was turning to, I was 24 turning 25 when I started, oh Lord. I would be just saying, slow it down, Andrew, just slow it down and listen. And, and you know, not wanna qua the passion cuz that’s just who I am. But yeah, we sometimes in education always have answers for things and sometimes we don’t have the answers and we need to give ourselves permission not to have the answers and listen for it. Someone else may have it. Right. And that’s what I would say. It’s just slow it down and and, and listen for sure.
Sam Demma (25:08):
That’s awesome. Thank you so much for digging back. That was also for anyone wondering a non-planned question.
Andrea Taylor (25:17):
You like, you just put me on, you put me on the spot, which is kinda like my job, you know, there’s you come thinking you have your day planned or nothing planned or whatever, and all of a sudden it, it takes own path. Right. And you just gotta go with it.
Sam Demma (25:28):
Okay. Yeah. I appreciate you sharing and taking the time today to come on the show. Talk about your experiences, a little, a little bit about the school you work at and some of your philosophies around teaching and education. If someone is listening has a question for you or wants to reach out what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you?
Andrea Taylor (25:47):
Best to email me (email@example.com)
Sam Demma (25:49):
Okay, perfect. I will make sure to include your email in the show notes of the episode as well, or the article that we put together and they can, they can find the email there when it does get released. Thank you so much again for doing this. Keep up to great work.
Andrea Taylor (26:02):
And thank you. It’s been a pleasure. It’s made my morning. I think it’s made my day. So I thank you, Sam.
Sam Demma (26:07):
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