About Brian McKenzie
Brian McKenzie (@pforilla)has more than 30 years of experience in elementary, secondary and post-secondary education. Armed with a B.Ed. From Western in 1992, he joined the staff of Patrick Fogarty Catholic Secondary School in Orillia as an English teacher and enjoyed more than ten years of teaching everything from English to Philosophy to Data Processing.
He moved from the classroom to the school office in 2004 and since then, he has served as vice-principal and principal in 6 schools and at the board office in privacy and information management.
With his wife Christine, a teacher, he has three adult children, two standard-issue cats, and a beautiful backyard where he spends summers watching the Blue Jays. He is currently the Principal of Patrick Fogarty Catholic Secondary School in Orillia, where his teaching career began.
**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):
Brian welcome to the high performing educator. Huge pleasure to have you on the show. Please start by introducing yourself.
Brian McKenzie (00:08):
Sure. My name is Brian McKenzie and I’m principal of Patrick Fogerty Catholic Secondary School in Orilla Ontario.
Sam Demma (00:13):
When did you realize when you were a student pursuing careers, that education was gonna be the vocation for you?
Brian McKenzie (00:22):
Well, I think I’d began in high school. I had been kind of a student who liked to help other students with with tutoring and with helping out with courses. I I was I was never really one initially for public speaking or presentations, but I was as a result of taking one of my, one of my high school courses where I was forced to presentation. And I found that I actually had some skill and some talent that you know, leading a class and, and, and doing that kind of that kind of thing. When I got into when I got into university, I took a number of courses where having, again, having to do presentations and seminars, where a component of the course, and I found that I had to talent for it.
Brian McKenzie (01:07):
I became a, a TA in my in my fourth year and a graduate assistant. And I was working on my master’s degree. And then after I finished, I, I became a a session instructor at the university as well for a while. I found that you know, being in a classroom was a, was a natural fit for me. And I enjoyed it and I found that other people recognized my students and my colleagues and the other professors wanted to reinforce and and, and compliment my my, my classroom ability. I just found it was a good fit for me, a very natural fit. And I, and I have always enjoyed it.
Sam Demma (01:45):
Did you have educators tap you on the shoulder and tell you, you, you should consider getting into teaching? Was that something that ever came in your journey?
Brian McKenzie (01:55):
Yeah, I wouldn’t say explicitly. I think that became a little bit later you know, when I was in university where I was encouraged to, to apply, to be, you know, a session instructor and, and as a graduate assistant, I think that came a little bit later. I don’t think it was so much that somebody explicitly said to me in high school or, or university, you should be a school teacher or, you know, get into high school so much as just that I was good at what I was doing.
Sam Demma (02:23):
Got it. Yeah, that makes, that makes sense. For someone who’s listening to this who thinks might be the thing for them, but is on the edge in a nutshell, why do you think education is one of the best jobs in the world?
Brian McKenzie (02:42):
oh, simple question. Yeah. Well, I, I think people often get caught up in in believing that teaching is is, is kind of a day to day activity. And I think we’ve gotta look more holistically at what education is. Mm. I’d heard it described when I, when I was much younger as it’s the process of transferring civilization from one generation to the next we’re engaged in a huge, huge responsibility. And it’s not just about, you know, the, the individual subjects or the individual kinds, the things that we do on a daily basis, but it, it’s more holistically about the importance of ensuring that we’re creating a future that we all wanna live in and, and excuse me. And I, and I think education is, is is a tremendously important part of separating us from are, you know, from, from the distant past of, of of superstition and of primitivism and of a lot of a lot of a lot of attitudes and beliefs that we are best leading behind.
Brian McKenzie (04:00):
I, I, you know, I remember as a, as a younger teacher teaching north prize, the educated imagination, and, and he goes at in great detail into what is the importance of education. And it’s literally, it is about creating the world that we want to live in. And, and again, you know, I, I, I’ve often heard this one too. I, I, I gotta retire into the world that the younger generation’s gonna run. So I’ve got him make sure that I’m setting the conditions for a, for a, a comfortable life for my generation and ensuring that the world is better than we’ve been than I found it.
Sam Demma (04:36):
Hmm. I love that that’s a worthy pursuit. from the moment you decided you wanted to get into education what did the journey look like? So take me back and take me through the steps that brought you from where you started to where you are today.
Brian McKenzie (04:55):
Okay. So, as I mentioned I was working as a as a, as a professional instructor at the, I was at the university of Windsor where I graduated. Yep. And my initial intent was to be a lawyer. I had known a couple of a couple of classmates who had pursued the law. And it, it seemed like an interesting thing to me when I was in high school and when I was in my first couple of years at university. But as I, you know, as I progressed through, I realized that that wasn’t really a good fit for me. So it was it was in it was in my time that I was working as an instructor, that I started exploring what it, you know, what it was required to be, to get into the faculty of education.
Brian McKenzie (05:40):
I don’t come from a family with with extensive education background my, on my mother and my father’s side most of the family were blue collar and and or semiprofessional workers that weren’t necessarily highly educated in terms of multiple, you know, secondary degrees had one uncle who’s who’s a university professor, but that was about, about it. So, so the notion of higher education and extensive multiple, you know, multiple degrees and going on to education, wasn’t really stressed, very highly in my band. This was kind of a, a, a process of self exploration and, and I found, you know, what’s involved in, in, in becoming a teachers, another, you know, going to school for another degree and spend more time. And, and that was very attractive to me, just when I, when I love that what was involved in, in the year of of, of the faculty of education.
Brian McKenzie (06:43):
And I saw what the courses were, they saw what it involved that was really attractive to me. And, and I applied to, I can’t remember what schools anymore. I ended up at the university of Western Ontario for the faculty of ed. And I, you know, I, I immersed myself in that. I had a great time there. And and you know, maybe I was very fortunate that you know, it was in the early nineties when teaching jobs were pretty scarce as they, as they have been for the last few years. But I was fortunate to end up getting a job right out of laid out of my graduate.
Sam Demma (07:23):
That’s awesome. And throughout the experience and the different roles and positions you played in education which of them have been from your perspective? Some of the most meaningful, and I, I’m sure it’s hard to compare the roles , but maybe the, the different pros and cons in different positions you’ve played throughout education.
Brian McKenzie (07:47):
Yeah, well, yeah, I started as a classroom teacher. I became in fact, I started as a classroom teacher at the school I’m currently at where I’m now principal 30 years ago. And, and I very much loved that being in a classroom and working with, especially in a smaller community is is very rewarding because you know, unlike unlike working in a larger city or a municipal school board where the schools are very large, this is a very, a relatively small school at the time. They only about 500 students when they started teaching the class were very small. The, it was very possible to get to know all the kids. It was a fairly close knit community because we are a Catholic high school. We’re the only Catholic high school in town. So we also had some tight integration with our church and with our parish and with our elementary school feeders schools.
Brian McKenzie (08:41):
And so you get to know each other very well and very closely. In fact, some of the students that I taught back in the nineties are parents of the school now. And so I, you know, I’ve known them for many, many years and that, that is a, that’s really exciting. And that’s really rewarding work because getting to know kids you know, not just in, in the classroom, but also seeing them out in the community, seeing them, the church, seeing ’em at the, you know, the Saturday morning market and all those kinds of things. It does foster a much greater sense of community. I left here and in 2002 and went on a, like a 17 year odysey of working in a number of different schools, as well as at our school board. And all of them brought different things in different rewards and, and had to create great advantages.
Brian McKenzie (09:33):
I worked in as an elementary principal, I’ve worked as a secondary principal. I’ve worked as a, as assistant to the superintendents at the board office. I’ve worked in information management and they’ve all brought the different perspectives on education. I you know, I, I, I feel that I’m much better running a school after having at some time working in the board off, being the bigger picture of how our system works from seeing things from the, from the, from the administrative side of the board, as well as from the, from the school side. And it’s given me the ability to, I think to provide a much I don’t wanna say more rational, but at at least a much more balanced approach to, to running a school and, and what kinds of programs and services I can offer to do.
Brian McKenzie (10:30):
I’ve never regretted, not, you know, leaving the classroom and beginning into administration. I miss being in a classroom sometimes. Mm. And I you know, I was a, I was a very dedicat English teacher when I was a teacher. And I know that I could walk into an English class right now today if I needed to and, and, and, and and lead the class and have a lot of fun with it. So I never really felt that I, I lost that that ability, but but I, I, I don’t see it as having lost in any of as much as having gained a lot more and having the, the responsibility for shaping the instruction across the entire school is very exciting. And, and it’s very rewarding work in and of itself because you can see over the course of a, of a school year, you can see the growth and you can see the the progress that the students make.
Sam Demma (11:22):
You’re probably a lot closer to viewing the future of education or how, you know, education is changing and shifting. What are some of the things that you think have changed over the past two years due to the, the global pandemic and moving forward that you think are positively changing in education.
Brian McKenzie (11:43):
But, well, definitely the pandemic has accelerated our, our efforts for what we’ve been calling 21st century learning. And what 21st century learning is about is using much more than just the traditional, you know, teacher in front of the classroom tools and and approaches to, to teaching and learning, and have many more influences on their ability to learn than just a classroom teacher. When I started teaching, if kids wanted to know something about Shakespeare, they had to go to their whole, their high school English teacher, or they had to go to the public library. And there wasn’t a whole lot of other ways, or, you know, or, you know, if their parents had invested in second Britanica, but there weren’t a whole lot of ways to obtain knowledge outside of traditional classroom structures. Now over the last you know, 20, 20, so years as, as with the rise of of the internet, and even more specifically with the rise of specific social media channels, there’s a much wider opportunity and, and much greater opportunity for students to, to, to learn things on their own or to be exposed to different perspectives.
Brian McKenzie (13:00):
So the job of schools now, and we’ve seen this very explicitly occurring over the last couple of years with the pandemic, the jobs of schools now is to harness that and to kind of filter it and to organize it in a way that makes it you know, I don’t wanna say constructivist, but you know, in a way that is provides some logical progression in learning, you know, I have kids of my own and, and, you know, long before they ever got to high school, my, my son’s in particular had in depth understanding and knowledge of physics from playing some some computer games and, and video games, and could rattle off all kinds of things about trajectory and speed and velocity, and, and a lot of, a lot of fairly advanced physics classes. They had no clue of the science behind it, or the math behind, but they kind of understood it.
Brian McKenzie (13:56):
So taking the time now to back up and explain how it all works, the math thing it is, is an important role for a classroom teacher. But we, we, we do have to do it in a, in a, in a very careful and structured way to ensure that the kids aren’t just coming away with, with the head of facts, without any understanding behind it, but going forward. What I, what I really see is, is the potential that’s going to be very positive is the opportunity for teachers to very much be instead of gatekeepers, very much facilitators and very much coaches who help the students to understand and, and and focus on how they acquire learning, as opposed to just simply learning things.
Sam Demma (14:47):
We talked a little bit about alternative pathways on our first planning call also. And it’s understanding that, you know, every pathway is a valid option and every learner might be a little bit different. How do you kind of foresee school supporting those students with the D streaming of, of courses and everything that’s changed now in education as well?
Brian McKenzie (15:14):
Well, pathways have been really important to us over the last 20 years. We’ve really focused a lot on shaping an, an education program for the individual student. Yeah. 30 credit sent out is is, is not any anymore, really the model for a lot of students. We have students who take some credits through the day program here at school. Some they take through e-learning outside of school. Some they take in summer school. We have the opportunity for students to get into apprenticeships, to get into reach ahead credits in their, in their postsecondary, through colleges. The idea of students, again, just sitting passively in the classroom and listening to teachers talk is, is, is long. You know, it’s pretty much long gone. I think even you may have experienced this in your own high school experience, but there there’s much more opportunity for kids to get out of the classroom and learn through experience.
Brian McKenzie (16:13):
So I, I think you know, some changes are coming from the ministry of education, include a greater emphasis on experiential learning, a greater emphasis on e-learning and a greater emphasis on, you know, exploring what not even state exploring of, of, of ensuring that there are stronger opportunities for the, the, or the skill trades. And and technology based programs is, is going to be, is going to be really important too many, too many years in Ontario. You know, and probably by extension, the rest of Canada, the perception has been that the only marker of secondary or post-secondary success is a university degree , and, and it’s an unfortunate belief. You know and, and then even, even in, in terms of a postsecondary degree, we tend to identify a very narrow slice of, of postsecondary education as being valid or valuable.
Brian McKenzie (17:15):
You know, I, I often when we have arts nights here at the school, we have a school called cert, or we have a drama presentation or something. I always remind the parents who are the people that we most admire in society. There are actors, there are musicians, there are artists of all different stripes, but when kids say to their parents, they’re interested in a career in the arts, the parents laugh at ’em and tell ’em, that’s a hobby. You, you get a real job being accountant. I, I think we need to make sure that we’re offering a much wider range of experiences for students and, and a, and a wider range of, of postsecondary pathways to help them arrive at what they see as personal success, as opposed to what somebody else measures as success based on something as narrow as a paycheck or, or a specific post secondary diploma.
Sam Demma (18:06):
Ah, I love it. I couldn’t agree more. I mean, pursuing this podcast is an artistic expression, and some people would say, you’re crazy. This is what you spend your days doing
Brian McKenzie (18:18):
But yeah, well, a hundred percent. Right. And, and, and the thing is, is that maybe you’re not using the specific education you receive, but yeah, I can guarantee that’s not a whole lot of what you’re doing that you, and doesn’t rely on education that you’re receiving
Sam Demma (18:32):
A hundred percent.
Brian McKenzie (18:32):
Do it without having been educated, but you don’t necessarily, you know, and that’s the same thing in my job. I, I don’t really, I was an English teacher, as I said, and a history teacher, I don’t really get to use a whole lot of my knowledge of you know, 17th century poetry in my daily job, but there’s no a way I could be doing my job right now. If I hadn’t been as a as well educated as I was. And education doesn’t necessarily mean, like I said, it doesn’t just necessarily mean a university degree in a very narrow slice of what are considered to be valid. Occupations. Education comes from a lot of different different sources. It includes, you know, like I said, includes hands on learning through the trades and or through technology programs, it includes travel. You know, you can see you know, your listeners won’t see, but you can see I’m wearing a a sweatshirt that says Kenya on it.
Brian McKenzie (19:23):
Our school board has been actively engaged for the last 15 years and what we call service learning, where we’ve taken students to a number overseas destinations to work on school projects. And and we integrated with a multi credit program here at the school, so that they’re understanding the global context with what they’re doing. We’ve had trips from everywhere from China to south America, to Africa, to India where students have explored you know, the opportunity to work in in, in community development project. And, and, and it’s, those, those experiences have changed their, their lives. They have into been the countries that they never could have imagined visiting and seeing things that they never could have imagined seen. And it’s changed. In many cases, it changed the trajectory of their own careers, and they became more involved in social justice and, and development work or, or law or other areas that that have provided them with a much more rewarding and much more rewarding career than they might have initial that they were going to have.
Sam Demma (20:34):
It’s amazing. I know your school does a great job with the social justice programming and programs. I’m curious though, for yourself over the course of your career, what resources, even maybe people resources, but what resources have you found helpful in building your own philosophy and also tangible actions that you’ve taken in education? What resources have helped shape those things?
Brian McKenzie (21:01):
Well, I, I think the the greatest resource that we have in education is our colleagues. Mm. There’s an old joke that that, you know, well, it’s too likely to get into here. It’s okay. But just spice it to say that, you know, that, that, you know, there’s the old joke that you know, those who can’t teach or those who can’t do teach. Right. And, and, and, and that’s not at all, and that’s not at all true. What I do know is that some of the smartest and some of the most capable people I’ve met in my life have been my colleagues in education and whatever, I think I know whatever I think I’m good at. I spend sometimes 15 minutes, 20 minutes chatting with somebody at a meeting or in a conference call or something like that. And, and I learn something new.
Brian McKenzie (21:51):
I come away having learned something new every time because everybody has their own everybody has their own kind of way of learning for themselves as well. So if we take, you know, me sitting home alone or sitting at night on, you know, browsing on my computer and I, and I, and two or three new facts multiply that times to thousands of teachers in, in the system and the thousands of kids. And we’re all bringing that information back to the back to school together you know, education, isn’t just a one way isn’t just a one way thing. Schools are a place for where everybody learn. And, you know, when I, when I, I talk to my colleagues, when I hear ideas, we’ll, we bounce ideas off. Each other people ask for advice and people give advice. There there’s a lot of a lot of really powerful learning that can take place just in a, in a, in a, you know, on a casual conversation more, you know, more formally as I said, I spent a couple of beers in, in information management and several years working, you know, at the board off level doing that kind of stuff.
Brian McKenzie (23:02):
And what I’ve learned from what happens around the world in other places. You know, again, we often have the perception that we’re, you know, here in Ontario, we’re doing everything right. We’re, we’re the, we’re the pinnacle of, of educational achievement, but there are other places around the world that are far ahead of Ontario in, in a lot of areas and and do a far better job than, than we do in, in, in a lot of things. You know, I think of some jurisdictions where kids don’t even start school until they’re seven, whereas the, in Ontario get them into school as early as possible, starting as you as three. And yet schools that start kids later, you know, at age seven, in many ways, our, our have better outcomes for, for students than, than what we have here. When we’re starting in that three.
Brian McKenzie (23:54):
You I’ve learned a lot from studying how, you know, those other jurisdictions do things, how they make up for the lost time that, well, the perception of lost time by having kids start four year later, well, what are they doing for that? You know, from the time between H three agent, what are they doing? What are they doing? yeah, I mean, we are, we all have to recognize that whatever it is that we think we do well, there are other people who do things, do things well and sometimes even better, we can’t be so high bound in our own way of doing things that we can’t we can’t learn from them.
Sam Demma (24:32):
I love that perspective. And even if you approach every situation, thinking, you can learn something from the other party, you’ll probably one enjoy the experience talking to someone else or being around someone else, or being exposed to something new. And the chances are, you probably will take something away from that interaction. So I think it’s a good perspective.
Brian McKenzie (24:56):
Yeah. You know, and I, and I, and I do try to approach things that way when I was, when I was younger, it was, I’m gonna tell you something , and, and now it’s gonna be, can you please tell me something? I, I, you know, I’ve, I’ve learned that as well is that I have to be, you know, much more in a receptive mode than in a transmi mode. And and, and, and that’s where I’ve I think that’s, like I said, by, by just by talking to people, that’s where I’ve gained the most. I used to, I used to go to a lot more, again, when in my information management, I used to go to a lot of conferences. That’s where, that’s where I had to learn to sit down and be quiet. Cause most of the people in the room were a lot smarter and more knowledgeable than I was. And if I was going to be of any value in the role I had to learn to listen more than than talk and then be able to bear my, you know, my, my, my new learnings with with my colleagues.
Sam Demma (25:53):
I love it. Th this probably dovetails really nicely with my next question, which is, if you were able to take all your experiences and in education bundle, ’em up, go back in time to the first class you taught, tap yourself on the shoulder and say, Hey, Brian, this is what you needed to hear when you were just starting, knowing what you know now and the experience you have, what would you have told your younger self?
Brian McKenzie (26:19):
Oh man. Well the same thing that I’m telling my, my teachers here in my school now is that you can’t push students to learn more than they’re ready you to learn at any given time. Mm-Hmm what does, you know? And, and I, and I, I guess what I’m referring to specifically is the experience that we’ve just gone through over the last two years. We have gotten into the, the, into the, you know, into a mindset where we think we’ve lost time. We’re losing time, we’re losing time. And, and that the solution to the lost time is to accelerate base accelerate the, you know, the rate of learning, but it doesn’t work that way. You can’t say to a student who’s behind, I’m gonna, you know, jam you with more work to get you caught up. It just, it just won’t work.
Brian McKenzie (27:20):
You know, back in the, in the early nineties, there was, again, the baby bit of a, a bit of a story. There’s old episode of the Simpsons where the, the family moves to Colorado and they, Homer takes a new job working in a new power plant. And Bart ends up in a, in a special ed cloth because he’s behind the other kids in, in the new school that he’s in and the teacher is doing, you know, it’s a, it’s a silly team. The teacher is doing a joke, or it’s a bunch of kids sitting around the table and she’s gonna teach them to letter a and Bart says, let me get this straight. We’re behind the other kids. And we’re going to catch up to them by going slower than they are. And I’ve always that that line has always stuck with me as a teacher and as an administrator.
Brian McKenzie (28:06):
I, you know, again, it’s a funny throw away kind of line, but there’s some wisdom in it too, because oftentimes this is what the situation we, we, we put our, our students into is that we think that you’re behind so that the, the, the better way, the best way thing we need to do is to jam you with more work, which means slowing you down when students are behind. Sometimes the best thing you can do is stop the bus and figure out where are we, why are people being left behind? If, you know, if one or two kids are, are, are behind, okay. Yeah, we can, we can check into their, their work habits, or we can look into their, into their skills, but if an entire class or an entire school is behind, then maybe we gotta stop and figure out what it is we’re doing and are, you know, what is the, what is the source?
Brian McKenzie (28:57):
What is the cause? And what can we do to help get everybody back on track? Often use the, the metaphor of the, you know, if there’s an old story, I don’t know how true it is, but there’s an old story that you know, the British rail system at one point decided that in order to make sure the buses ran on time, it would stop picking up passengers. Right? So if the bus, if the bus had to, you know, left the Depot at 8:00 AM, and it was due at its first stop at 8 0 5 and then at eight, 10, and then eight 15, or something like that, if it saw too many passengers waiting to get on it, would, it wouldn’t stop and pick them up because it had to be at the next stop for, you know, five minutes later. And the joke is, of course, the, a bus driver would get to the end of the run and there’d be nobody on the bus, but he was on, at least he was on time.
Brian McKenzie (29:41):
And, and, and again, sometimes I think that’s what we do in the classroom. We get so intent on, you know, delivering curriculum and making sure we get all of our lessons in, and we make sure we hammer the kids with work on assignments and tests and, and on and on and on. And then, you know, you get to the end of the semester and you’ve lost the kids. They’re, you know, and, and there’s a lot of different ways that you know, again, you know, from your own experience, there’s a lot of different ways that kids show that they’re lost, right. They stop attending class or they’re, or they’re not doing their homework anymore. They, they shut down or they’re, you know, they’re acting out or there’s a lot of different kinds of indicators that the teacher has lost has lost the class. So we wanna make sure. And, and for me, , I wanna make sure that as we go forward, we’re not, you know, we’re not running the buses on time, we’re picking up passengers.
Sam Demma (30:31):
Mm. I love that. That’s such a cool analogy. And the Bart Simpson story, being someone who wants that every once in a while. that’s awesome. Well, if someone wants to reach out to you based on this interview, ask a question, talk about anything you discuss today, what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you?
Brian McKenzie (30:52):
You can, well, we have a social media channel for our school. It’s Instagram and on Twitter, it’s at @pforilla. Our school’s website is https://pfo.schools.smcdsb.on.ca/ and you know, there’s contact information for the school on there. And I’m, I’m, I’m I’m available through those channels primarily, cuz you know, I, I get too many emails to try to try to follow, but you know, there’s, there’s a couple of us that track the DMS on the, on the Instagram and on the Twitter channel. So we’ll be able to probably follow what best there.
Sam Demma (31:37):
Awesome. Brian, thank you so much for making the time to come on the show. I hope you enjoy the experience and keep up the great work and education.
Brian McKenzie (31:45):
Thanks a lot. And, and, and good luck to you with.
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