fbpx

Association Director

Derek Hill – New York FFA State Director

Derek Hill - New York FFA State Director
About Derek Hill

Derek Hill is the Director of New York FFA and a staff member of the Agricultural Education and Outreach program at Cornell University.

Derek specializes in youth leadership development and is responsible for the oversight and management of the New York Association of FFA. Derek is an award-winning educator with over 15 years of experience working with students and educators at varying levels.

Connect with Derek: Email | Linkedin

Listen Now

Listen to the episode now on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or on your favourite podcast platform.

Resources Mentioned

New York FFA (Future Farmers of America)

NY FFA Events

SUNY Morrisville – Associates in Applied Science – Natural Resources Conservation

Cornell University – Bachelors of Science – Agricultural Sciences

The Transcript

**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 guest. His name is Derek hill and he is the director of New York FFA and a staff member of the agricultural education and outreach program at Cornell university. Derek specializes in youth leadership development, and is responsible for the oversight and management of the New York association of FFA.


Sam Demma (01:00):
Derek is an award-winning educator with over 15 years of experience, working with students and educators at varying levels. You will feel Derek’s passion in this interview, and it was a pleasure working with him and his state conference with all the students from his organization and association in New York city. I hope you enjoy this, and I will see you on the other side. Eric, thank you so much for coming on the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show today. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit behind the journey that brought you to where you are today working with young people?


Derek Hill (01:36):
Sure. Thanks a lot Sam for having me today. I’m Derek hill, I’m the New York FFA director and I’ve been in this position for about six years now. My background is I grew up on my grandparents’ dairy farm here in New York and always had a passion for agriculture and thought that I would, that’s what I would do someday is I would take over their farm and and be a dairy farmer. But that, that didn’t work out that way. So you know, and I, I, after that point I thought I was gonna be I wanted to be a natural resources conservation officer. So I went to SUNY Morrisville and got my natural resources degree and while I was there, professor, my advisor had told me that they were look that he thought I would be a good ag teacher and he suggested that I go to Cornell and get my teaching degree.


Derek Hill (02:27):
And at that point I thought he was crazy, cuz all growing up in high school, you know, school, wasn’t my, my favorite thing. I never could have picture pictured myself being a teacher and you know, here’s this guy telling me, he thought I would be you know, a good teacher. I thought about it for a while and I decided to apply and, and go into the teacher education program. And that’s what I did. And I ended up getting a te a teaching position at Tali which is just south of Syracuse. So I was an ag teacher and FFA advisor there for over eight years. And then my current role opened up and I decided to apply for this job thinking that you know, if I could have that much impact on students in the Tali community, you know, this would give me a chance to have an even bigger impact on, on more students. And so that’s why it was a very difficult decision at that time. And cuz I loved being at Telli. But I made that jump over. So here I am today


Sam Demma (03:44):
And for all our Canadian friends that are thinking what the heck is FFA . Can you tell me a little bit more about the acronym what the organization stands for, what it hopes to achieve and accomplish and what compelled you to get involved?


Derek Hill (03:58):
Yeah, so FFAs used to stand for future farmers of America in the 1980s. They voted to just make it the national FFA organization. And the reason for that is, is we do a lot more than talk about production agriculture there. You know, everybody knows the agriculture industry is much broader and wider than the, you know, the farmer that’s on, on the farm. It’s you know, it’s getting the food there, it’s getting the food processed, it’s getting it to the stores, it’s all the financing behind it, all those things. So FFA recognized that and we wanted to be more inclusive of everybody. So that’s where the name kind of changed. It’s the largest youth organization in the country. We have over 700,000 members in all 50 states and and Puerto Rico, Virgin islands as well.


Derek Hill (05:03):
And the, the idea behind it is to help those students that are interested in agriculture to develop leadership skills and get recognized for the skills that they’re developing in their programs. And you know, a comp in, in the United States, a comprehensive agriculture program at the middle and high school level includes the classroom laboratory piece of it, but it also includes work-based learning which is what we call an SAE supervised agricultural experience. And then that third circle third component is FFA and they get to develop their leadership skills and compete in competitions from anything from public speaking to demonstrating their mechanical skills that they’ve picked up in their ag mechanics class. So huge opportunity. And we’re trying to grow it further here in New York so that more schools offer this opportunity to students.


Sam Demma (06:08):
That’s it’s awesome. I wish I had something like that here in Toronto, Canada. Growing up, that’s so cool. And I know leadership skills and giving students experiential opportunities is a huge thing that the organization does, especially with the, you know, huge conferences and everything that happens outside of the agricultural education. What are some of those experiences that they go through and have you seen the impact that it can have on a young person? Like maybe you can think of, you probably have hundreds of stories, maybe think of one or two and you can change the student’s name if it’s a crazy story, just to keep them private, but I’d love to hear how the impact change a young person’s life or change a perspective or something. And also some of the events that you guys hold and host every year.


Derek Hill (06:55):
Yeah. So what’s really awesome about FFA and I’ve always admired is the fact that you can have students that are in sixth grade all the way until, you know, they can be freshman, sophomore in college, even, but those high school students and those middle school students, you know, if you, you were to ride the bus with them to school each day, some of ’em would be sitting in the front and some would be in the back and they wouldn’t interact with each other at all. And FFA for whatever reason, it doesn’t matter what, how old you are, where you come from your background. Cuz we have students that live in the inner city all the way to students that live in the rural as part of the state. And they just are able to connect because they have a commonality and that they wanna grow as leaders and they, they wanna learn more about agriculture and all that other stuff gets pushed aside.


Derek Hill (07:54):
And the older students wanna help the younger students. We have a lot of mentor programs with the high school and middle school. So you know, the, the best thing that I can tell you that students have told me is a lot of times we, we have students that are lost and they don’t fit into sports. And Sam, I know your, your background is in sports and you know what it’s like to feel like to be on a team, right. And build that family well for these kids, you know, sports really doesn’t do that for ’em. And not to say we don’t have any athletes, we have a lot of athletes too, but the stories that stick in my mind are those that can’t find a place that they feel like they fit. And because we’re, I feel that we’re very accepting of just about anybody.


Derek Hill (08:45):
They they find that family and that’s what sticks out to me. And I’ve had students that could not for whatever reason do well in their other classes. But because, you know, as their ag teacher and FFA advisor, we spend so much extra time together. We build that bond and, and they can you know, kind of see the, the forest through the trees. They, they start to do better academically. And that’s what, that’s why I keep doing this is when they come back and tell me, you know, thanks for, for everything you do. Because it didn’t make a difference. And that’s what I’m here to do.


Sam Demma (09:33):
It’s, it’s cool too, because you know, agriculture planting, you know, reaping sewing, you know, as a, as someone who works with young people, you’re planting seeds in them as well, you know, and absolutely, you know, you’re watering it over time by giving them experiences and mentoring in them. And sometimes plant shoots to the ground and grows super fast. Others take some time. Sometimes you don’t even see it, you know, you don’t even see it happen. And it might be five years down the road that someone comes back and tells you about the impact that you made. I was gonna ask you, you know, what keeps you motivated to get up every day and do this work? Is it the students like tell me more about personally, what keeps you going?


Derek Hill (10:12):
Yeah, it’s, it’s definitely the, the students you know, there’s a lot of aspects to my position cuz part of it is being that administrative piece. And I’m not saying that that piece isn’t important or I don’t enjoy certain aspects, but that’s certainly not what keeps me going every day. Got it. It’s working in my position. I get to work with our, our state officers and district presidents. And then I also plan a lot of the events that all of our or a lot of our members come to and to work with them and see the difference that they’re, that they’re having to go to an event and see the new friendships that are being made. The networking that’s happening. You know, I, I can’t stress that enough. These students now know people from all across the country because they attended national convention and met somebody from a state that they would’ve never met before.


Derek Hill (11:09):
And it, you know, working with the state officers and, and you know, this intensive year that we have with them and seeing the growth from the beginning to the end and it, it always, it always is difficult at the end because we’ve put so much time and effort and they’re, they’re at a point where they’re performing and I can just send them out to schools and chapters and they’re good to go. And then I gotta start that process all over again each year, which is a challenge, but it’s also exciting, you know kind of hard to let go sometimes too.


Sam Demma (11:42):
Yeah, no, I hear you. And you know, just to give people an idea of the intensive experience, what does that look like? Is it you guys meet on a weekly basis? I know you obviously plan events together, but what does that commitment look like from a state officer’s perspective? And those are what age students as well?


Derek Hill (12:00):
Yeah, so they’re typically either a senior or a freshman in college. This year we have all college students they’re freshman and sophomores. Nice. it just happened to work out that way. And this is the first year that we’ve had all female state officers and female district presidents in our 96 year history. So, wow. it’s pretty exciting. Nice. in terms of the intensity in a normal year we’re going there’s something every week whether it’s going to a conference for another organization that wants us to come and speak or you know, they go through hundreds of hours of training. So as soon as they’re elected about a week or two later, they go into their first multi-day training learning about themselves. We start by focusing on themselves and helping them figure out who they are and what their strengths and weaknesses are.


Derek Hill (13:02):
And and then we start to build that team once they know who they are and try to get them to gel. And sometimes that, that happens quickly and sometimes it doesn’t. And sometimes they learn to respect each other and they ne you know, they never necessarily become the best of friends, but that’s okay too. You know, that’s, that’s the way the world is. And then after that you know, we focus on their ability to facilitate workshops and give presentations. And throughout the year we offer all kinds of different leadership conferences. So one of our biggest ones is called 2 12, 3 16 in January. And we bring in some national trainers and we have about 800 students that’ll attend that. And they’re learning to grow themselves as leaders. Our state officers will do a tour in the fall around the state visiting different chapters and businesses.


Derek Hill (14:14):
So we’re on the road for about seven days, traveling, 15, 1600 miles meeting members and industry partners. We go to national convention, which is a week long process where our state officers become our delegates there. And you know, they work on committees and, and vote on different issues during the Del the business session. We have our own state convention that’s hopefully gonna be in person in 2022 . And that’s a three day event that our state officers we have six general sessions and, and they do all those sessions. They write the whole script, they write the retirement addresses. We help them work on presenting those. And so it’s, it’s a year round job, and, you know, I’m, I’m, I’m their advisor, but most of the time I end up being a coach and their, their life coach. And I’m available to them almost twenty four seven. When they call me at one o’clock in the morning, then my wife gets a little upset, but you know, so I try to keep it during working hours, but it, it, it’s it’s a lot of one on one time and helping them develop and not only their skills, cuz if they’re elected as a state officer, that’s a very competitive process. They already have those, some of those natural skills. But it’s, it’s about developing who they wanna become.


Sam Demma (15:57):
Mm. And what’s with the corduroy jackets, , you know, tell like where, where did this hype come from? And, and tell me more about that.


Derek Hill (16:08):
So that’s part of our official dress. And that’s been around pretty much the entirety of the organization. And what’s funny is throughout the years, the, the emblems changed even depending on when they could, what type of fabric they could get to make that quarter Ray sometime there was a point where it was almost like a purple color instead of blue, just because of the fabric that they could get at that time. But it, it’s, it’s a tradition for us. You know, it’s important to evolve as an organization and, and we certainly have tried to do that over time, but I think it’s also important to keep and maintain some of those traditions. And when you walk into national convention, downtown Indianapolis, and there’s 70,000 students, we’re in that blue corduroy and we’re all walking down the street together that makes an impression and everybody knows that they’re part of that organization. And the same thing at our own state convention, you know, it doesn’t matter where you’re coming from. We’re all wearing that. And, and the, the students feel unified. So it’s a, it’s a point of pride for us. And you know, sometimes it’s fashionable. Yeah. And sometimes it’s not, and right now it seems like it’s coming back around to being a little more fashionable.


Sam Demma (17:29):
, it’s funny. I tried getting one on eBay before the state convention and it wasn’t gonna ship in time, so I had to pass up on it. But I, I spoke to Ryan Porter, a guy who probably spoke for you guys, you know, a couple years ago or a long time ago. And he was like, yeah, man, the corridor jackets, you know, they, they love their jackets. And I was like, what is it? What is it about the jackets? But that’s awesome. Thanks for, thanks for sharing. And the emblem has changed lots. Like the logo now is pretty fascinating. Is there like meaning behind it or anything or


Derek Hill (17:59):
Yeah, yeah. Yeah. There’s it has changed a little bit over time. It used to say vocational education instead of agricultural education. And that really had to do with the change of terminology over the years. You know the symbols all mean something you know, the owl is there for wisdom and represents the, you know, the advisor piece the rising sun is kind of emblematic of looking towards the future. So each piece of that, you know, the cross section of the corn, you know, that’s kind of unity is behind that because corn’s grown in all 50 states. So yeah, we, we, we actually, as an ag teacher, a lot of, a lot of teachers will break that emblem down and, and get students to realize what that, what that all means and why it’s there.


Sam Demma (18:53):
Got it. Cool. That’s awesome. And when you talk about being an ag teacher how did that differ from the role you’re in today? Are you still doing that as well?


Derek Hill (19:04):
Yeah. I still consider myself a teacher. I’m just different role just doing it a little differently. I’m not in the classroom having to worry about six different preps each day. instead I’m worried about six different students, but yeah, it’s certainly as an ag teacher you know, you plan events and do things at the local level and you, you host competitions and things like that. But at this level I’m planning events for 2000 people where as an ag teacher, I might have been planning events for 150 people. So there’s a lot of similarities, but there’s some differences. You know, as, as, as the chapter leader, you’re thinking about your students, your chapter as the, the director for the state organization, I have to think about the entire state and, and what’s in the best interest for that. And you know, sometimes that’s, that’s easy to do and sometimes it’s not.


Sam Demma (20:10):
Yeah. And I have to ask, cause you mentioned it earlier that you thought you were gonna take over your parents’ dairy farm do you have a farm of your own? Do you grow vegetables?


Derek Hill (20:20):
yeah, we, we typically have a garden and we’ve raised pigs and cows in the past. We just moved. So you know, my two boys and, and I are working on building the fence and hoping to get them involved with some showing of animals and things here soon.


Sam Demma (20:42):
Nice. Oh, that’s awesome. And if you could go back in time and give yourself advice, knowing what you know now, and though all the experiences you had, if you went back to your first year, working with youth in any capacity, what advice would you give your younger self that to help equip you and prepare you for the journey


Derek Hill (21:01):
Yeah. I think I would give myself two pieces of advice. One would be to, to keep an open mind because I never would’ve imagined that I would be where I am today. This was not where I started out thinking I was gonna be. And here I am. And, and number two would be, you know, for all, all the teachers out there, you know, there are a lot of rough days but there’s also those good days too. And we have to, we have to remember those good days too, and not, not just the bad ones. You know, and I, I know that’s what kept me going is, you know, even through those bad days when a, a student or a teacher comes to me and you know, they’re, they’re happy and going in the right direction. That’s, that’s what keeps me going,


Sam Demma (21:58):
Love that. Awesome. Well, if someone is listening to this right now, Derek, and they wanna reach out, maybe just have a conversation, what would be the best way for them to, you know, find your info or even get in touch with you?


Derek Hill (22:10):
Yeah, probably the, the easiest way would be to send me an email and my emails pretty straightforward. It’s just dhill@cornell.edu. So feel free to reach out anytime.


Sam Demma (22:23):
Awesome. Derek, thank you so much for coming on the show. It’s been a pleasure chatting with you a little bit about your journey, the corduroy jacket, the logo, what the organization stands for and the part, the role that you play in, in the whole process. This has been awesome. Keep up the great work and we’ll talk soon.


Derek Hill (22:39):
Thanks a lot, Sam.


Sam Demma (22:41):
And there you have it. Another amazing guest, an amazing interview on the High Performing Educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review so other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show; if you want meet the guest on today’s episode, if you wanna meet any of the guests that we have interviewed, consider going to www.highperformingeducator.com and signing up to join the exclusive network, you’ll have access to networking events throughout 2021 and other special opportunities. And I promise I will not fill your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Derek Hill

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.

Kevin Fochs – Executive Director of Alaska FFA

Kevin Fochs - Executive Director of Alaska FFA
About Kevin Fochs

Kevin Fochs (@fochs_for_hd60) is the Executive Director of the Alaska FFA. Kevin spent 32 years in the classroom and is an award-winning agriculture educator and FFA advisor.

Kevin specializes in leadership development of youth and educating them about the opportunities and importance of agriculture. He is responsible for the oversight and management of the Alaska FFA Association and the Alaska FFA Foundation.

Connect with Kevin: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

Listen to the episode now on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or on your favourite podcast platform.

Resources Mentioned

Alaska Future Farmers of America Association (FFA)

Agriculture Education at Montana State University-Bozeman

Masters of Education at Montana State University-Bozeman

Hobson Public School

The Transcript

**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. Today I have the privilege of being joined by Kevin Fochs. He is the executive director of the Alaska FFA. Kevin spent 32 years in the classroom and is an award winning agricultural educator and FFA advisor. Kevin specializes in leadership development of youth and educating them about the opportunities and importance of agriculture. He is responsible for the oversight and management of the Alaska FFA Association and the Alaska FFA Foundation. Kevin does amazing work and we have a very enjoyable, laid back, but authentic conversation on today’s episode. I hope you enjoy it and I’ll see you on the other side. Kevin, welcome to the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here today. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit about what brought you to where you are in your own life’s journey so far?


Kevin Fochs (01:32):
Yeah, well, I grew up on a cattle ranch in Montana actually, ’cause kids spent most of my life, life or youth in on a farm and ranch, raising cows and milking cows, riding horses. And when I graduated from high school, my mom said “Hey, you need to go on to college” and I was kind of fighting that I wasn’t actually thought, oh, I’ll just keep be work for a while and then think about it but she insisted, which was a very good thing. And so I went to Montana State, actually got a degree in agriculture education, started teaching in the state of Montana, taught there for, actually taught 6 years in a little town called Hobson. And and then I took a year off and got my master’s degree in school administration, which I never did use, but went to and then went to a town of Livingston. It was kind, it’s kind of a funny story, how I got to Livingston.


Kevin Fochs (02:31):
I finished up my master’s degree and the agriculture teacher that was there called I’m take a sabbatical for a year’s pregnant in Livingston. So he says, will you come teach for me for a year? And I said, sure, that sounds good. I didn’t have a job at the time. And so I went thinking I was gonna be there a year and he decided he was never, he was gonna stay on the ranch. So I stayed there and taught for 26 more. So, wow. So I taught 32 years in Montana. Wow. And actually taught those twin girls too, which was kinda cool when when they were, they took my class and the, the first week of school they, I had the kids introduce themselves and these two twins introduce themselves. And, and I says, you know, if you don’t, if you don’t like your ag teacher, you can blame your dad. And they, they would come up to afterwards, like what you about getting started in Oxton. So, yeah.


Sam Demma (03:37):
So that’s awesome. And


Kevin Fochs (03:38):
Then I, you know, I retired 32 years in Montana retired. I was, but, and I last about four months and I’m like, no, this isn’t ready. This isn’t where I wanna be. So not ready for retirement. So that’s brought me to Alaska. So I took the job up here in 2014 as their state FFA advisor. So I oversee all the FFA chapters in the state. So I’ve been doing that going on seven years. So


Sam Demma (04:08):
That’s awesome. And it sounds like your mom played a big role in you going to school and continuing your education. Did you have other educators in your life that tapped you on the shoulder and said, Hey, Kevin, you know, you should consider doing this work or getting into agricultural education. Did you have other educators that inspired you? And if you did, what did they do that made a huge impact on you? If you can remember any of them,


Kevin Fochs (04:32):
You know, I probably you know, my family, yeah. On my mom’s side was a lot of educators. My grandma was an elementary teacher. I had, I had three of my uncles actually taught my mom’s brothers and, and really, you know, I’m real close to, or really my, my uncle John made a big impression on me as youth. You know, part of my history. I lost my kinda a tragic story when I was young. I lost my my grandfather and uncle and my dad were hit by a train and killed when I was wow. Little, my mom at the time had four girls and myself and was pregnant with my little sister birdie. So she ran our ranch for about three years before she remarried. So wow. Real strong lady. So got a lot of, I listened to my mom, I guess growing up and making, you know, having her tell me to go to school, I guess was probably a good thing.


Kevin Fochs (05:38):
I actually looked at being a vet and got accepted to Colorado state finances. Weren’t that great for me? So I couldn’t afford to go to school there. So that’s what took me to, to MSU. And I actually started in architecture and that didn’t sit real well with me. So I actually got good grades in architecture, but decided I wanted to get into something that was, you know, probably still keep me associated with agriculture. Nice. That’s what led me to agriculture education had a, had a great ag teacher in high school, you know, ate, taught for over 40 years. Wow. Still, still talk to Gary Olson frequently. So yeah. Good guy.


Sam Demma (06:26):
Oh, that’s amazing. And thank you for sharing that part of your story. Yeah. I appreciate that must have been a really difficult experience growing up. But I believe that our adversity shapes our values and our principles and the rest of our life. And I’m curious to know what are some of the principles and values that your mom raised you with to help you pursue and continue through this, that difficult challenge at that point in your life or things that you think, ah, I believe this because of my mom. Any, any of those things come to mind? I feel like our, you know, parents play a big role in how we grow up as young people and educators play a big role in how students grow up as well. Curious.


Kevin Fochs (07:05):
Yeah. You know hard work I guess. And, and the ability to do what you set your mind to do, I guess, you know, in a matter of hardship, you know, my mom remarried and had two boys too, so there’s eight kids in our family, but my stepdad real close to him. Cause I was so little when my, my dad passed, my real dad passed away that he was my father, you know? But he used to always say, there’s no such word as I can’t,


Sam Demma (07:35):
Love that.


Kevin Fochs (07:36):
So yeah, that, that’s kinda a, something that drives you, you know, and just seeing the, the hard work and the strength of my mom.


Sam Demma (07:45):
I love that. Thank you for sharing. And, and what do you think keeps you going now? You know, what keeps you, you said you’re well past retirement or you stopped teaching in the classroom and now you’re, you’re doing a lot of work with students in agriculture and you know, it’s been keeping you in Alaska for the past couple years. What is your motivator today? What keeps you going?


Kevin Fochs (08:05):
You know, working with youth keeps you young, that’s fun.


Sam Demma (08:09):
Yeah.


Kevin Fochs (08:10):
And I guess you can always see the impact, you know, that even if you just change, you know, one person’s life there’s to the impact that you make with youth and particularly in Alaska being a young state and not having a lot of strength in their agriculture education programs in the state. So being able to grow that and seeing that you’ve made change, I guess that’s rewarding. So but, but youth always keep you young and you know, and still even touching base with those kids that you impacted when you’re teaching or, or associated with an FFA, you know, is rewarding.


Sam Demma (08:54):
Ah, I love that. And when you think of students whose impact you have seen or heard of maybe even 10 years down the road, sometimes you can probably attest to this. You don’t really know you impacted a kid until 10 years later when they come back and tell you other times, you know, right away do any impact stories of students that that have happened over the past 20, 30 years, however long you’ve been working with youth stick out in your mind are any stories that you can recall that are like, wow, this is, this was amazing. And maybe it’s a very serious story, so you can change their name if you wanna keep it private. But I’m curious if anything comes to mind.


Kevin Fochs (09:29):
Yeah. Oh yeah. There’s a lot of stories. You know, I always said, you know, the kids that were struggling, that you could see that you made a change with were the, probably the most rewarding, you know, a lot of times you have really intelligent students, really capable students and you don’t know that you made an impact on, so the ones that, you know, that’re having tough time with school or with life and, you know, I guess they’re the most rewarding, but one student in particular, I don’t know, I’ve told this story. It’s kinda my success story. I guess a teacher, I had a, I had a student that came into my class as a freshman. He was wearing sandals and short, you know, he was a city kid. He wasn’t your typical FFA type student. And he immediately brought his drop ad slip up to me and said, Hey, I didn’t sign up for this ag class.


Kevin Fochs (10:23):
I’m will you sign my drop ad? And you know, the school’s policy was, they couldn’t change class till the end of the week. Anyway, this was like beginning of school year. And I said, well know what, yeah, I will, at the end of the week, if you want me to sign it, bring it back up. But why don’t you, you know, stick with class till Friday and see what you, you see what you think. And bring it back up Friday if you wanna change so well, the end of the week comes up and he goes, you know, this sounds like an interesting class. I think I’ll, I’ll take this class. You know, he, the funny part is he was, didn’t have any association with agriculture whatsoever. He grew up in, you know, in town and as a sophomore, he ran for our chapter officer and he actually partnered with another classmate and they started raising pigs and he went on and he was really competitive and FFA, our FFA organization had speaking contests.


Kevin Fochs (11:28):
He went to national convention as the state winning speaker and competed nationally in a speaking event. And wow got elected to, to state office in FFA. The president president Clinton at that time came and toured Montana when he was a state officer. And he was one, one of like four people that got to spend a couple days with the president showing him agriculture in Montana. Nice. He went on Montana state and, and, and he got into vet science and he, he met a gal and was in vet science, ended up marrying this gal. He’s now managing the farm and ranch of his wife’s parents who retired. And he runs a 10,000 acre ranch in Montana growing grain and hay. Wow. Livestock and yeah. So pretty cool story. The, the highlights of that story when he got married, he actually asked, asked me to stand in. So


Sam Demma (12:36):
Was that’s amazing.


Kevin Fochs (12:39):
That’s yeah. Success story didn’t have any interest in agriculture whatsoever, but you, you know, impacted him and showed him that there’s opportunity in that as a career. And


Sam Demma (12:55):
That’s amazing. So when, when you think back to that first week of school, and this might be a long time ago, so I apologize for the pressure, but when you, when you think back to that first week that he was in your class, what do you think made him wanna stay by the time Friday came around, but you know, was it just the introduction that week and he might have been interested in the subject. Do you think you did some things that made him feel more welcome and involved, or what do you think by Friday made him not bring that slip to you and have you sign it?


Kevin Fochs (13:27):
Don’t know, I guess hopefully that, you know, I, I always tried to treat all kids with respect and, you know, care about kids. You know, I was accused of spending more time with my students sometimes than my own kids, which I don’t, think’s a bad thing, you know, so I kind was a father figure to some kids, you know, because they spend a lot of, a lot more time, a lot, some, some of ’em probably spent more time with me in class and on FFA activities than they did with their parents. A lot of ’em, but, you know, just welcoming. And I think you know, the nice thing about teaching agriculture was that it’s an elective. It’s not a required course, like some academics. And and, and there was a lot of variety. I really tried to show kids the big picture of agriculture when they were freshman.


Kevin Fochs (14:19):
We did a lot of things. You know, I actually, one thing I did was kinda unique is I actually gave them a list of, of materials of subject units that we were gonna teach. And I would let ’em vote on them, I would say, okay, we’re gonna, I’m gonna teach you most of this stuff, that’s on the list, but I wanna see where your interest flies. And so you know, we had animal signs and plant science and computers and mechanics, little stuff like welding carpentry. And, you know, that’s the neat thing about agriculture. You teach a lot of different subject areas. And so, so I’d give them a little buy in because they thought, you know, that they were, you know, getting to choose what they wanted to learn. Some, you know, that’s a, but most, you know, the one thing I wouldn’t give ’em a choice on, I would preface that too, is, is I had public speaking down as one of one of their choices. And that usually I got the worst voting, you know, nobody likes to public speak, but I would say this one is probably gonna get the least number of votes, but you’re still gonna do a speech this year, you know? And I made all my classes and good speeches during the year. So


Sam Demma (15:34):
That’s awesome.


Kevin Fochs (15:35):
All my classes. Cause I just, it’s just a, it’s a scary thing for people to speak. You know, they say it’s a big fear of people, but I think it’s really important that sometime in your life you’ll have to stand out in front of somebody and speak,


Sam Demma (15:50):
Yeah. Whether it’s one or 50 or thousand, it makes no difference getting up in front of someone and speaking, whether it’s one on one or with a bunch of people is a fearful thing to do. But I would argue it’s also one of the most important skills. Like you’re saying whether you want to get a job or whether you want to make sure you can ask that girl or guy out on a date I mean, can use in every capacity. Right?


Kevin Fochs (16:14):
Exactly. Exactly.


Sam Demma (16:16):
That’s a


Kevin Fochs (16:17):
Brilliant, you’re always,


Sam Demma (16:18):
That’s a brilliant idea though, having your class vote on the subjects or the chapters, like maybe you have a whole year curriculum, but instead of doing it in the way that you wanted to organize it, you, you could even yeah. Get the kids to vote on it and then whatever ones they wanna do first, you just put those the, you know, the start of the school year and work through it. I think a lot of teachers listening to this will love that idea and maybe even implement it in their classroom. So thanks so much for sharing this year and last year, and hopefully not the year coming have been very different than the rest of education up until this point in time. What are some of the challenges you’ve been faced with personally and how have you tried to overcome them?


Kevin Fochs (16:59):
Yeah. You know education, I think so, you know, it seems like budget is always an issue. I guess you learn to live with that. You do things that, that you can to, to supplant maybe some of the money that you don’t don’t have. You know, I wrote a lot of grants and my, and continue to write grants to support the programs that I’m doing now. So trying to alleviate that, you know, finding good support from community, I had a real strong alumni group that supported a lot of the activities that we did and they would financially support a lot of the things that we did with our, at least with our FFA organization. So that was good. You know, the, the COVID challenges that we’re facing is, are huge. You know, I actually worked in my house for 16 months. I just, realistically just came back to my office just a month ago.


Kevin Fochs (17:59):
So it’s been a challenge and I applaud the teachers that are, that are out there in the trenches trying to teach in this atmosphere. I, you know, it’s, you know, I told somebody, honestly, I told somebody if, if I was still in the classroom trying to teach what I taught to my kids, you know, agriculture’s a lot of hands on stuff like welding. And you know, we had a greenhouse where I, where I taught. So we worked in the greenhouse, grew plants and you know, we were actually raised chickens and used them in the school, we school farm. So we did some interesting things, but a lot of hands on skills and how you, you know, how you become innovative and are still able to teach those hands, this, but, but, you know, we’ve, I’ve operated in that climate, you know, the last two years we, we did our state FFA convention virtually, and we’re one of the first states in the, that put on our convention.


Kevin Fochs (19:16):
Granted we have a, we have a small membership in our state. So we have some advantages that way, but, but it was, you know, just stepping up and saying, Hey, we’re gonna make this happen. Kinda goes back to that, no such word as I can. You know, we just we’re gonna make it happen and do what we can and that’s what we did moving forward. And I think they were successful. You know, it brought some things to light that I think are positive. In Alaska, we’re such a we don’t have a lot of roads in our state. You know, the Western part of Alaska is pretty much you get there by a boat or plane or in the winter, you know, you take snowmobile up the river. So a lot of the villages and a lot of the, the communities are, are really remote.


Kevin Fochs (20:08):
So the thing that I see is I think we’ll deliver some of our future events and our conventions and our leadership events, I think will deliver them remotely and in person. So we’ll be able to provide some opportunities for kids that maybe weren’t able to do that just because of the distance. I mean, here’s, here’s a crazy story. I had a FFA chapter in cake and they came to our state convention. It cost about $7,000 to travel to our state convention. wow. If you could believe that. I mean, that’s normally what, you know, in Montana, that’s not even, I wouldn’t even pay that kids to, to, you know, national convention in Indianapolis. So, so, you know, huge, you know, two taking plane fair and taking another plane to get here and then, you know, yeah, just huge amount of expenses. So, so, so those barriers with travel are huge.


Kevin Fochs (21:13):
So, you know, being able to look at things a little differently and deliver some things remotely, I’ll good for us out. We saw a huge impact. I mean, we, you know, our convention had numbers in this. Well, you know, when you look at Facebook, we had over 8,000 people accessing some of the events that we were doing in our convention. And normally we have 250, 300 people at our convention in attendance, so, wow. So definitely reached a lot of people that weren’t, we hadn’t reached before. So that’s pretty neat, you know, so we’ll, we’ll look at that as we move forward.


Sam Demma (21:52):
Nice. Ah, I love that. And I would assume it’s also harder to get the word out maybe this year about FFA, but I remember on our previous phone call, you told me that you’ve still been able to keep the groups going and most of the chapters are still running in schools. And since you started, you know, you went from a couple FFA chapters to, I think you said 18. Is that how many are currently in Alaska?


Kevin Fochs (22:12):
Yeah, we started with six and when I first took this job and had like round, we had our actual membership was a 17 and we’ve grown our membership over 500 and we grew to 18 chapters. We’re actually had some, we’ve lost some members. I’ll be honest with you. We lost some members and lost some chapters is last couple years with COVID. So yeah. So we’re trying to rebuild that because there’s still that in person, there there’s a need for people to meet in person and have that relationship, I think, to draw new members and, you know, and just show kids what we’re about. So,


Sam Demma (22:55):
Yeah. And I hear, I hear you have a huge team as well. Is that true?


Kevin Fochs (23:01):
Oh, oh, as far as I, I do have state officer team, you have five state officers that help conduct our activities across the state. We’re just gearing up for things that we will go out and visit chapters this fall and do activities with them workshops. Matter of fact, they’re coming in next week to do those workshops, that training. Oh, great group. Great group.


Sam Demma (23:27):
Awesome. And if you could go back and speak to your younger self and give yourself advice on education, on teaching, on working with young people, knowing what you know now, and based on the experiences you’ve had over the past 20, 30 years, what advice would you give a younger self?


Kevin Fochs (23:48):
You know, that’s probably comes more from a personal side was I’m kind of a workaholic. So that was pro I guess if I had to do it everything over again, I’d probably to devote more. I’d take more time to, to be with family and do things that were personal. My work was and still is kinda my life. So, so it cost me, you know marriage. So yeah. So if I was gonna talk to people starting out, I’d say that, you know save some time for your personal life. That’s, that’s very important. So,


Sam Demma (24:32):
Ah, thanks for sharing that. I appreciate that. That’s it’s honest and I appreciate the, the honesty. Awesome. Kevin, thank you so much for doing this really appreciate you taking your time to come on here. Means a lot, and I know that educators listening took away some great ideas and hopefully can implement some of them as well. If someone li is listening to this and wants to reach out, maybe just send you an email or just, you know, get in touch with you, what would be the best way for them to do so?


Kevin Fochs (24:58):
Yeah, they can, they can share email me my emails, my last name’s pronounced Fox, but it’s spelled F O C S so it’s K Fox, alaska.edu, so, okay. And yeah, they’re welcome to send me an email. I’d be happy to talk to ’em, you know, I’ve done presentations for teachers that are just starting out and always enjoy doing that. Cause you know, they ask a lot of good questions and you can relate some, some stories, you know, that things that you’ve done, that you do different and


Sam Demma (25:33):
Love it. Yeah. That’s awesome. And they’ll see your beautiful HBAR mustache as well. They choose to book you but awesome. Thank you. Thank you so much,


Kevin Fochs (25:43):
Paul. You know, can I close with one thing though?


Sam Demma (25:46):
Yeah, please.


Kevin Fochs (25:47):
You know, and may I’m at fault too, you know, I had my youngest daughter, she, she was talking about she kind of said she didn’t wanna go to college. And you know, I had a college professor that retired from the university and even admitted that maybe sometimes we, we look at college as you know, we all want our kids to go to college. We all want them to get a college education. Like my mom consistent that I do. And I think that’s good, but I think there’s some, some some other opportunities out there that we need to pull from too. I think there’s some technical schools and other career choices that, that are easier to attain and, and are, are really rewarding careers and good paying careers. You know, my daughter, I insisted that she, she go to college and she was like, she’s kind of she’s hardheaded like her dad, you know, she said, oh, I’m gonna go into the military.


Kevin Fochs (26:43):
And I says, well, that’d be good. You can get an education in the military. That’s alright. You know, and, and she thought about that for a while. And she says, no, I’m not gonna do that. She goes, well, I’m, I’m gonna become a hairdresser. And I says, well, that’d be a good way to pay for your college. You cut hair while you getting your education. And then she, she was indignant, you know, my oldest three kids went to Montana state and she was indignant that she wasn’t gonna go to Montana state and follow in her older brothers and sisters footsteps. So she was she’s insisted that she was gonna the university of Montana. And in, in Montana, that’s kinda, there are rivals, you know, in football and, and our big rivalry between U of M and Montana state. And I says, well, okay, I suppose, you know, I was like, honestly, didn’t want to go to U of M, but I says, why don’t you as a senior, why don’t you go check it out and go to their orientation?


Kevin Fochs (27:42):
And so she did, and she came back and, and and she said, dad, I’m not gonna go to U of M I didn’t like it up there. So I’m gonna go to Montana state. So she did. And she started out and you know, getting the college education probably because I had forced her. And then she decided that she was gonna just get a two year degree in accounting. And, and she went to, you know, gall college there and got her accounting degree and is doing real well. She’s now sales manager for state farm insurance agent. So she, you know, is doing extremely well, you know, started off making more money than any of my kids that went, got a college education and, you know, like job and stuff. So, so I think, you know, sometimes maybe I don’t fault parents wanting their kids to go to college education, but sometimes they need to listen to, cause there was a lot of good occupations out there that kids can get. And I saw that, you know, teaching too, I had a lot of kids go to technical schools and go to two year programs and, and doing very well and enable to come back into their own communities and work and live and, and make a good living. So just a side note,


Sam Demma (29:01):
Oh, I appreciate you sharing that. I’m also someone that took a very different path. I went to school for only two months actually, and then decided to postpone my education to pursue all the work I’m doing with students. And back when I first started and told my parents that they would’ve thought I was absolutely crazy, in fact, they did. Right. you know but it’s important. I think that, that we love what we do and to love what we do. We have to sometimes go against other people’s opinions initially. But hopefully at some point in our future, it pays off. Right. yep, exactly. And I, I appreciate you sharing that, especially now there’s so many opportunities that didn’t exist, you know, 50, 60, 70, a hundred, 200 years ago. Like they, and, and some of them don’t even make sense unless you’re a student growing up right now and experiencing them first end. So yeah, it’s such an important thing to share. Cuz one thing that you say to a student could stick with them for the rest of their life. You know, you, you tell a student something about not being able to do something or being more realistic, and that might be the one thing that changes their future career choice and, and you don’t even know it. Right. So


Kevin Fochs (30:12):
Yes, funny to say, but that I, you know, I was a good student. I, I got good grades all through school and through college and I got one D in in college and it was in a, and it was in a class called introduction to agriculture education and it was introductory class for, for people to become teachers and agriculture. And it made me dang mad that I guess maybe that’s, part of the reason I ended up being a teacher is I was like, God, I can do this. You know, what do I get a D for


Sam Demma (30:46):
ah, I like that. Oh yeah. And sometimes when people say you can’t do something, it also gives you a little spark or fire to, to prove that person wrong and to continue pursuing the thing that you want to do. Or prove yourself right. You know, you overcome the challenge of not doing so well and now look at you, you know, 30 years later, but oh, that’s awesome. That’s awesome. Oh, amazing. Thanks for sharing that story. Any other things come to mind? You wanna, you wanna share with these educators listening before we wrap up?


Kevin Fochs (31:14):
Oh, I think that’s good. I, you know, I could go on and on and tell stories, but that’s probably enough stories. If they wanna get ahold of me, I’d be happy to talk to ’em too. I, you know, I, I will say that I applaud all the educators, you know, for what they do the time they spend with kids. And I guess when you look, there has to be some rewards besides money because they don’t get well paid for what they do, you know? So I applaud, I applaud you for, for the last two years of being able to get through the, the dilemma that you’re faced with and change the direction you you’ve been, you know, teaching the way you’ve been teaching. So still be able to do that.


Sam Demma (32:00):
Yeah, they appreciate it. I can tell you that for sure.


Kevin Fochs (32:03):
Thank you. Thank you for inviting me.


Sam Demma (32:05):
Yeah. Thank you for coming on. This has been awesome, keep up the great work. Don’t retire soon ’cause we need you too. Kevin. totally joking, but yeah. Keep up the great work. Stay in touch and yeah. You know, I look forward to hearing all the cool stuff you continue to do over in Alaska.


Kevin Fochs (32:21):
Thanks.


Sam Demma (32:23):
And there you have it. Another amazing guest, an amazing interview on the High Performing Educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review so other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show; if you want meet the guest on today’s episode, if you wanna meet any of the guests that we have interviewed, consider going to www.highperformingeducator.com and signing up to join the exclusive network, you’ll have access to networking events throughout 2021 and other special opportunities. And I promise I will not fill your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Kevin Fochs

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.

Doug Primrose – Leadership Teacher & President of President of BC Association of Student Activity Advisors

Doug Primrose – Leadership Teacher & President of President of BC Association of Student Activity Advisors
About Doug Primrose

Doug Primrose (@djprimrose) is currently in his 23rd year of teaching. He has been at Yale Secondary for the last 15 years, and teaches Student Leadership and Law 12. He was Chair of the BC Student Leadership Conference in 2015, and Co-Chair of the Canadian Student Leadership Conference in 2019.

Currently, Doug serves as the President of the BC Association of Student Activity Advisors.  In his spare time, he coaches rugby at Yale Secondary and the Women’s team for Abbotsford Rugby Club.  In 2020 he was nominated for the Abbotsford Hall of Fame in Coaching Category. 

Connect with Doug: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

Listen to the episode now on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or on your favourite podcast platform.

Resources Mentioned

Yale Secondary School Website

BC Association of Student Activity Advisors

Canadian Student Leadership Association (CSLA)

Canadian Student Leadership Conference (CSLC)

Abbotsford Rugby Club

The Transcript

**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. Today’s guest is Doug Primrose. He is currently in his 23rd year of teaching. He’s been at Yale Secondary for the past 15 years and taught student leadership and law 12. He was previously the chair of the BC Student Leadership Conference in 2015, the co-chair of the Canadian Student Leadership conference in 2019, currently the President of the BC Association of Student activities and Advisors, and he also coaches rugby at Yale secondary and the women’s team for Abbotsford rugby club.


Sam Demma (01:15):
He’s actually selected in, in 2020 for the Abbotsford hall of fame in the coaching category. Doug has a wealth of knowledge to share when it comes to student leadership and coaching, and I’m so excited to give you some of that knowledge today in this episode. So enjoy, and I will see you on the other side. Doug, welcome to the High Performing Educator podcast, huge pleasure to have you on the show here today. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit of context behind how you ended up doing the work you do today in education?


Doug Primrose (01:47):
Yeah, so I went to high school here and grew up in in Abbotsford BC and I’m a teacher here at Yale secondary School, and I actually graduated from the same school here that I, that I teach at. So I was at a few other schools in between, but yeah, so growing up, I didn’t have any intentions of being a teacher at all. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. I think like a lot of kids, they kind of graduate and not really quite sure and just try to get the feel of things. So, so I traveled for a few years and then kind of got back into it, worked a few different jobs and got back into it by helping one of my mentors; when I was a kid, a teacher who had a big influence on me and I started helping him coach rugby. So I really enjoyed it and he, he kind of said, you know, why don’t you go through and be a teacher since you seem to enjoy it and that’s kind of what I did. So I started a little bit later than in most, I guess, but glad I did.


Sam Demma (02:44):
That’s amazing. Take me back. You said, right when you finished high school, you traveled for a few years. What, tell me more about that. Where did you trave; like where did you go?


Doug Primrose (02:54):
Not all at once, but just yeah, different trips. So I’d work for, you know, a while. And then I take off and go backpack for like four months, like, you know, around Europe and nice and places like that. And, you know, went down to the states a little bit. And so just kind of did that where I work and then travel and work and then travel and, you know, with some friends and, and then, and things like that. So, and then probably right around 22 or so, I started working more full-time and then going to night school. Nice. Just to start chipping away at some classes. And before going back to school, full-time to be a teacher


Sam Demma (03:31):
And the teacher who you helped coach. Tell me more about that person, where, where you said they had a big impact on you. Like, what do you think they did specifically that, that made a big impression on you? Like why were you drawn to that one individual?


Doug Primrose (03:46):
Well, I think a couple things, one is he just always had time for us as, as students and you know, we, we saw how much work he put in and, and we saw how much he cared about us and, you know, we, we could see that as kids and you know, he was my rugby coach, but also my PE teacher. And and he had a lot of patience there’s times when we I’m sure let him down as kids. And but he, you know, got us to learn from it and and never, never really kind of gave up on us and, and, and kept, kept working with us. So, like I said, I wasn’t really too sure what I was gonna do after high school, because I was you know, I wasn’t the best student. So I really university to me wasn’t even something that was entering my mind, but he, he encouraged me and said, this is, you could definitely do it and just put your mind to it. And so, yeah, he was just one of those guys that, you know, all the students really liked a lot because of how involved he was in our kind of school culture.


Sam Demma (04:48):
Ah, that’s amazing. I I’m just, I wanna zero in on him a little more just for a second if that’s okay. Because I feel like, you know, the people in our lives that have a big impact on us, like we can learn from them as well, you know? Like so when you say, you know, he always made time for the students, what did that look like? Was it just setting aside time to have conversations? Like what did that look like back when you were in, in, in his school?


Doug Primrose (05:10):
Yeah, for sure. And time for conversations somebody could go, go to if you had any kind of issues and he would always have the time for you. Just the amount of work he put in as you extracurricular activities you know, through coaching and somebody who was just always involved. And and he didn’t, he was one of those teachers back in the day when you know, there’s all these different types of groups in the school, like social groups and, and every, everyone just really liked him. Like he really crossed all different groups there. It wasn’t just the sports guys who liked him or, or this it’s just every, every, he just had time for everybody. And you know, I think we just really, you know, were drawn to that and just just the amount that he cared for for students and, and always wanted to try and go an extra mile to, to help them out and understood also that sometimes students aren’t at their best during certain times, and there’s growth there’s growth moments, and he would take the time to help you through these things and not quickly just judge you and, and kind of write you off, you know?


Sam Demma (06:18):
Yeah. No, it’s so important to make sure that someone feels seen and heard. Right. And then listen to what they’re saying. Yeah. Take me back to when you were, you know, 22, 23 and you know, you come back from traveling and working full time and you get this opportunity to coach the rugby team. Like how did, how did that all come about? Did he approach you? You are, are,


Doug Primrose (06:38):
Yeah, so he, he did approach me. He you know, it’s always nice to have extra help when you’re coaching teams and you know, I would always come back and visit him after high school. Like when I was back in town or I had some time I’d come by school and, and then he, he’s just said, Hey, you know, I’m on my own this year. Coaching, coaching rugby, and could really use some help. So if you got some time it’d be great if you could just come by and, and gimme a hand. And, you know, I was a little bit more mature then at, at, you know, 22 or so. So there’s enough gap between me and the students as far as getting them to, to listen to me and stuff. So, so he had me come back and I just helped them out. And then I just carried on from there and help them out pretty much every year from there on out until I started teaching myself,


Sam Demma (07:23):
I know sports was also a big part of your own personal life, you know, playing rugby and yeah. And, and, and sport world. Do you find a correlation between coaching and teaching and do you think there’s some skills you’d learn from coaching teams that apply in the classroom? And I’m just curious if there’s, like you think there are some intersections between being a teacher and, you know, being a coach.


Doug Primrose (07:41):
Yeah. I think for sure you know, just preparation for one thing to to, to prepare students for a game or to prepare, prepare students for, for different things in your classroom. So making sure you’re prepared the relationship component you know, really get, and to know your students and getting to know your players. Mm. You know, the, the saying is, as a good coach has to make sure they understand how each player is motivated and treat them all kind of differently. Right. Yeah. And depending on their personality, well, it’s similar in the classroom. You gotta kind of get to really know your students and, and kind of what works for them and what doesn’t. And so I think there’s definitely some correlation there. And then I think also just that I think I came into teaching with a lot more confidence because of the experience in talking in front of big groups and, and you know, getting kids attention and things like that. So I think it definitely helped me with all the experience I had outside of the classroom, in the, a coaching world before I became a teacher. I think if I would’ve gone in straight outta high school, without that experience ahead of time for me, I don’t think I would’ve been as successful at it, at least not at the beginning.


Sam Demma (08:52):
Yeah. No, it makes a lot of sense. That’s yeah. That relates to my experiences with sport. And I can say that I, I think sports add so much and whether it’s playing in a physical sport or just engaging in any hobby, you know, playing music or doing something you know, besides the classroom work, I think it really adds to your, your character and your reputation, you know, building skills and move being on past high school. Yeah. Which is awesome. Your own educational journey. So, you know, you, you start coaching with this teacher you’re doing night school classes. Yep. At what point did you start teaching and bring me back to that first year, what did that experience feel like?


Doug Primrose (09:32):
Yeah, so I eventually did my, you come sorry, somebody’s just coming through that’s okay. I eventually did my practicum and then I I did it here at the school at Yale, and then went into my first year I was doing I actually worked in a severe behavior program. They called it, got it. So that was a program for students that weren’t available or weren’t allowed to go into any other school in the, in the city. So these were kids that had a lot of different needs. So you know, were, there was a lot of the kids had some real substance abuse issues and some real family problems and things like that. So I spent my first three years there and that was really great experience especially kind of being in my first, first job.


Doug Primrose (10:20):
I had a guy who I worked with was who had some experience that you know, also really helped me out a lot as a first year teacher and kind of showed me the ropes that way. And you know, going to see what some of these kids were going through. I think really kind of helped me throughout my rest of my career, putting things into perspective and understanding that you know, there’s, these kids come to school and some of them have a lot of things going on in their life that that we just don’t know about. Right. Yeah. So that was my first experience. And yeah, it was great. It was the school, I would’ve probably stayed in there, but the school ended up going, turning into a middle school. Mm. So it went down to grade six, so they, they moved the program somewhere else. So


Sam Demma (11:02):
Got it.


Doug Primrose (11:02):
Then I went into to another school Robert Bateman, secondary, and I was there for five years and, and taught some law and social studies and and it was great, great experience as well. And then I’ve been at Yale here now for, I don’t know, I think it’s like my 15th year or so. Now’s here student leadership that’s and student leadership in law 12.


Sam Demma (11:26):
Nice. Yeah. That’s amazing. And yeah, you know, thinking back to that first year, you intrigued me when you started talking about the different things that students ha can have going on in their lives that, you know, as educators, you might not even know about out of all the students you met over those three years, was there any transformational stories, you know, of a student, you know, really struggling and then getting to a, a more positive place? And the reason I ask is because I think at the core of, you know, an educator’s passion for teaching is the ability to positively impact a young person, right? It’s you have this ability not to, you know, change a student’s life, but to plant a little seed in them that they might water themselves, you know, three, four years from now, and you can have a huge impact. So were there any stories of transformation? It might remind another educator are listening, why this stuff is so important, why teaching is so important, and if it’s a very personal story or like very serious, you know, feel free to change their name or use a random name just to keep their identity in.


Doug Primrose (12:25):
Yeah, we had a, we had a few actually you know, just a quick one that comes to mind is does Derek, he I, the way we got him into our program was we have a, we had this thing called the Husky five back in the day, and it was a five kilometer run that the whole school would do. I think some students probably do like a Terry Fox run or milk run or things like that. So we had the Husky five, and then when you finish the finish line, they had a table there and they would hand you a freezy when you finish on. Well, all of a sudden this kid comes ripping through, on his bicycle and grabs a handful of freezes and just starts pedaling. So we kind of you know, chased the kid down a bit and, and, and said to him, Hey, you know, would you go to this school?


Doug Primrose (13:07):
And he’s like, no, I don’t go to school. I’m, I’m not allowed to go to school. And so then we started talking to him a little bit and found out that this kid had gone to school in like three years. And he was I think grade probably about grade eight age. And the reason why he wasn’t going to school at the time, was he the only way he could get there by taxi. And I guess he assaulted the taxi drivers multiple times. So they refused to drive him anymore. So we ended up figure things out with social workers and things like that. And we got him in there. And I think just with the right structure, the way the program was for him he did fantastic. And he, he ended up starting where he would only come and see us once a week.


Doug Primrose (13:49):
And then he went to half days, and then he went to full-time where he was also in some other classes like PE and our, and things like that. And anyways, we would have the kids up until they were about 15 or 16, and then they would carry on to the other school after us. And about two years later, he sent me well, he phoned me, phoned me in my classroom when I was working at Bateman. And and let me know that he was graduating tonight and just wanted thank us for, you know, getting him back in school. And yeah, so he, and he’s done quite well. He’s actually a, a DJ now. And I keep in touch, keep in touch with him through social media. And we’ve got a few of those now where I’m still in touch with him, thanks to social media and you know, the kid there’s some now are, have kids of their own and you know, have good jobs and, and are doing quite well. So I think that that grade eight to 10 period in their life was real tough for them. And they could kind of go one way or the other there. And some of them definitely chose the wrong path, but some others we were able to really help out and get them through that hard part when they just needed to mature a little bit more to get them through the next chapter of their life. So, yeah,


Sam Demma (15:06):
That’s an amazing story. I’m, I’m sure the, the emotions come bring true. And you feel ’em again, when you talk about it, probably it’s a, yeah, it’s a cool, it’s a cool example. And it’s, you know, it’s one of millions of, of stories that educators share with me every time I chat with them. And I think what’s really cool to think about is, you know, these are the stories that we know of, but there’s so many more that, you know, they never tell you the impact you made. And it’s there though, right? It’s still, it’s still real and it’s still there. You just might not hear about it.


Doug Primrose (15:36):
Yeah, we, and we had a very supportive school. It was atmosphere junior. It was called at the time. And, you know, it was it was very supportive you know, administration, which is important. And they really wanted to see these kids succeed as well. We had another student he started playing rugby and we ended up going on a tour to UK. So we went over to England and Wales and did a rugby tour. And there was absolutely no way that this one student who was in our program could ever afford to do anything like that. So the school was able to help him out and he was able to go on this rugby tour for two weeks and we were billed over there and he was bill with families. And you know, the, for a chance for this kid, who’s probably barely been outta Abbotsford to all of a sudden going on a trip overseas to, to London and Cardiff and all these great places. And the billet families had the nicest things to say about the way he, you know, his behavior and his politeness and, and everything. So it’s just nice to be able to see, you know, those kids get those opportunities that, and he probably has never been anywhere since. Right. Yeah. So that was just a big, cool experience. And the school was really able to help him out to be able to do that trip. And you know, it’s, it’s, I think that’s just so important for, for some life changing type things.


Sam Demma (17:00):
And, you know, when we’re thinking about students in the classroom as well how do we make them feel seen, heard, and appreciated? Like what can we do as educators to make sure that they feel like they’re a part of the classroom can community? Is it, yeah, I’m just curious. What are your thoughts?


Doug Primrose (17:17):
Well, I think the biggest thing is, is a relationship. And that’s what I always tell, like student teachers that work with me is the, they can teach you all the different tools in in your university classes about classroom management and seating plans and all these different things. But the number one that for classroom management and is just building your relationship with your students, cuz when the students respect you and like you and enjoy being there, then then there tend to be a lot better behaved and they seem to be more engaged. So I think the big thing is relationship and I, one of the thing I always try and one thing I always tell student teachers is try to make sure, you know, one thing about every student in your class. So whether or not I know that this student he plays baseball this student she does dance every night this student you know, they have sibling that I had two years ago and blah, blah, blah.


Doug Primrose (18:12):
So, so I just try to make sure I know something about them. So when they come in you know, I can say, you know, Hey, how how’s it going? Did you guys have a baseball game last night? And that’s all of a sudden you have that conversation. And I think that’s just really important to try and make sure to know them and then they, they appreciate that, I think as well, that relationship part. So, and then if they do have some issues, then they might be more inclined to open up a little bit more if they have that relationship with you.


Sam Demma (18:42):
Yeah. There’s, there’s a gentleman named Jeff Gerber. You probably know him. He’s like, you know, I know Jeff. Yep. He always says the biggest ship. I think the biggest ship in leadership is a relationship. Yeah. And I think it’s so true, you know, it’s, it’s so true. But on that topic of leadership, I know a couple years ago, you know, you guys hosted the Canadian student leadership conference billed, you know, close to a thousand students from different, you know, areas, what was that experience to like doing that and hosting it and you know, bring me back to that moment.


Doug Primrose (19:16):
Yeah. It was amazing. It, obviously it was a ton of work and some stressful times, but it was absolutely an amazing experience. So the planning starts about two years ahead of time. So we put the it in for, for us to be able to host it and we hosted it here at Yale secondary, but it was a school district hosting. So it was the Abbotsford school district that was the host committee. So we had students from all the different high schools in Abbotsford bepi leaders. And then we had teachers from all the different high schools help out as well. Administrators, teachers, EA everybody kind of chipped in. But yeah, it was a huge undertaking. But the week that we put it on, it went really smooth lots of good preparation. And the biggest thing was our team.


Doug Primrose (20:07):
We had an amazing team of, of staff that volunteered tiered their time to put this conference on and, and volunteered many, many hours. You know, if you think like we had, you know, one person, his job was in charge of building, finding bill at homes for 750 students. You know, we had another person, her job was to put a committee together to, to feed a thousand people every single day and a, a in a quickly manner. You know, we had a sponsorship committee who they went out and found sponsorships and it was mostly you know, it was retired teacher or retired principals some, also some people from the community and they just all jumped in and, and really took on and did a great job. So we had just an amazing team. And that’s what I really learned was, you know, there’s no way we could have done this without the support from everybody who who chip in and, and so much of their own time away from, from school.


Doug Primrose (21:07):
But I think one of the reasons everyone was so happy to volunteer was they just saw the value of it and what it, what it did for kids and the memories that these kids would have would be a lifetime a memory of this conference that they helped put on. So I think it was just a real, like I’ve had some of the teachers who’ve taught for over 20 years, to me, that that was the, the most, you know, enjoyable and the most satisfying thing they’ve ever done as a teacher was being part of that conference and the putting it together. So, yeah, it was it was great. Unfortunately, it was the last one because until, until they start up again. But it hasn’t been one since because of the co with stuff, but


Sam Demma (21:48):
Hopefully soon, hopefully I’ll see you at one of them.


Doug Primrose (21:51):
Yeah. They’re gonna, they’re gonna be doing an online one I believe in September. Okay. And then they’re hoping for 20, 22 to go back to, to live


Sam Demma (22:00):
Nice. Oh, that’s awesome. Very cool. And you know, the current situation you alluded to it with COVID is it’s been pretty challenging and, you know, you think are some of the challenges schools are facing and maybe some of the challenges that even your school has faced since the, the whole thing unfolded in March.


Doug Primrose (22:18):
Yeah, it has definitely been challenging. And I think us leadership teachers even have a bit of an extra challenge because you’re, you’re really trying to maintain school culture and maintain that positivity around the building. And it’s very difficult to do when a lot of your functions are getting canceled and grad is getting canceled and, you know, it’s tough to kind of keep these kids positive and motivated and still wanting to do things. It’s you know, I have my grade 12 class going on right now in my grade 12 lead class and, and you know, you’re here talking about, okay, what can we do to, to do some CU, some culture events to have some fun. And then they find out that day that their prom just got canceled. Right? Yeah. So it’s, it’s very difficult. But you know, the students, they persevere and they handle it quite well.


Doug Primrose (23:10):
They, they carry on and, and hats off to them. As far as challenge in our school, it’s just, you know, I know every province is different, but with us in BC right now, we’re not allowed to mix at all. So you have to stay in your own class, which is your cohort. We have a three hour class in the morning and then nothing in the afternoon, so we don’t have a lunch hour. So we can’t do any events during that time. So we’re like for an example, right now we’re planning a pep rally for Thursday. Obviously, you know, our school’s quite well known for its pep rallies and how crazy they are, but this one’s obviously gonna be a lot different. So we’re doing some, some virtual stuff, some games that we can do virtually in their cohorts and put some videos together, some fun videos and, and that, so we’re still trying, and we’re trying to make things go.


Doug Primrose (23:59):
We, we always have a big singing competition here every spring. It’s called all, and we’re still gonna try and do that. We’re just gonna have to do it different. And that’s kind of our saying this year is we’re still gonna do it and we’re just gonna do it different, love it. And but one thing that we have done, I think a good job of this year is we’ve, we’ve done some really good things in the community. And that’s one of the things that the students have done a little bit more of is, is just reaching out to the community. And one thing that we did, which was pretty cool is they, they applied for these grants that the city of Abbotsford and the community foundation put together for COVID. And how can you make people in the community?


Doug Primrose (24:44):
Basically how, how can you engage with them during COVID time and communicate with them? So my students applied for these different grants and they all got approved and they, they started doing pretty cool things like one group. They put together these little care packages for kindergarten students where they get a t-shirt and some decorating things, decorated shirt. And so they gave those to all those students. They took you know, some care baskets down to ambulance drivers, fire police, all the first responders and did that. So they did some things for our, we have a, a teen kind of outreach type program here in Abbotsford. And they put together like little toilet tree bags and stuff to give to the student the kids in the community that might need those. And, and we’ve got out and done a lot of different things at the parks and cleaning up and just outdoor activities and stuff like that.


Doug Primrose (25:42):
So we we’ve been finding some pretty meaningful things to do. And, and I think part of that too, is like with me, one of my things with teaching leadership is I, I really want the kids to come up with their stuff and I really want them to be the ones to do it, and they take ownership over it because when it, when it works out, which it, you know, usually does the the, the, they feel so much more gratifying to them because they’re the ones who really put this together. So when they applied for those grants and they all got approved you know, they were pretty excited cuz they’re the ones who did all the work to put that grant together. It wasn’t me. Yeah. you know, when they go and deliver stuff to the Abbotsford police and Abbotsford, police puts a thing on their Instagram, thanking the Yale leadership students for, for what they did, you know, you can just see that they feel so great about about that because they’re the ones that did it. It wasn’t just me doing it and telling them to do it. They came up with it all. And I think that’s one of the important things when you’re talking about you relationships and stuff is let you know, let the kids are pretty good at at coming up with some great ideas. They’re better than I am during COVID coming up with ideas. So we get them to, so,


Sam Demma (26:55):
Ah, that’s awesome. And I feel like when you give someone more responsibility, they, they feel more part of the group or community, right. Yeah. If they feel useless or like they’re not doing anything, they might not feel like contributing or, you know, using their creative ideas. So I think it’s a, I think it’s a great thing to do. If you could take


Doug Primrose (27:13):
And, and that’s sorry, that’s a, that’s a big part of our program is the community part. So we talk about like pep rallies and stuff like that, but even a non COVID year, we do a lot of community stuff and I think that’s really important. They, they enjoy that just as much as they enjoy the, or maybe even more the stuff that we do in school. Because they don’t think they, a lot of times kids want to do things and they want help and they wanted that, but they just don’t know how to go about doing it. Yeah. So you just kinda steer ’em in that direction and then they get into it. Now, the other great thing is, is when students graduate from here I still see them doing things in the community, volunteering, putting together nonprofits into their adulthood, which is pretty, pretty great because that’s something that they did here at the school that they’ve carried on. And


Sam Demma (27:58):
Yeah, it was like a launchpad here.


Doug Primrose (28:02):
Yeah. Yeah. It’s great.


Sam Demma (28:03):
And if you could take me back to year one year one, Doug, and speak to your younger self with all the wisdom and knowledge you have. Now, what advice would you give yourself? If you could have that conversation?


Doug Primrose (28:16):
Oh man. I, I think my, my problem was when I went through school and stuff, I, I don’t think I really had the confidence. And you know, it wasn’t, I think school was just so different back when I went there wasn’t as many opportunities and you know, like I think like if I had a class like my leadership class or other leadership classes that are out there in the, at all these different schools I think it would’ve been really good for me cuz it would’ve kind of got me to come outta my shell a little bit and have a little bit about more confidence. You know, a lot of the things I did when I was a kid I didn’t do things in class because I was just, you know, worried about maybe what people would think of me or maybe I just felt like I wasn’t gonna do a good enough, so I just didn’t do it at all. Right. so my advice to me would be like, get involved, get more involved in, in school activities and more involved in extracurricular activities other than just play a sport. And, and yeah, just have that confidence to kind of put yourself out there a little bit and move more.


Sam Demma (29:27):
That’s great advice. I, I feel like I’d give myself the same advice as a student. If I could go back cuz I, you know, like yourself, I only played soccer. You know, I was wanted to be a pro soccer player. I didn’t get involved in student leadership, student council, no extracurriculars. The only thing I did was play on the school soccer team and you know, play soccer outside of school and it, if it didn’t relate to soccer directly, I didn’t do it. And I feel like it limited me slightly. And so I think your advice ring shoe, not only for, you know, younger Doug as a teacher, but also, you know,


Doug Primrose (29:56):
Oh, sorry. I thought you meant me as a student.


Sam Demma (29:58):
No, that’s okay. I


Doug Primrose (30:00):
Was sorry. I was one back to my younger Doug as a student younger Doug as a teacher. Yeah, I, I, the thing is, is my first, my first job I was telling you about yeah. Was just so different, different, it was not really like a teaching type job. It was more like a management type job where you’re managing all these different kids and got it. You’re dealing with, you’re dealing with social workers and, and outside agencies and, you know, like the actual teaching part was was not you know, a whole lot. It was more just kind of you know, building those relationships with those kids and things like that. So I think that would be a big part of it. You know, get work on those relationships a, a bit more like right from the start. I think I learned that from the teacher I worked with he did a really good job of building relationships with those kids.


Doug Primrose (30:51):
Nice. I think also I think I, it took me quite a while to get involved in a lot of the extracurricular stuff. Like I did coach rugby. Yep. But I didn’t, I wasn’t involved in a whole a bunch of other different things that were going on in the school in my first few years. So I think get involved a bit more, but yeah, sorry. I thought you meant when I was in high school there, but because I definitely didn’t get involved in much when I was in school. And if I think I could do it again, I think I would try to be more involved in the activities that are going on in the building.


Sam Demma (31:21):
You and I both. I, I appreciate you sharing it. It doesn’t hurt to get advice from both perspectives so I appreciate you sharing both. Well, this has been a great conversation. If, if someone is interested in reaching out to you and chatting more, what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you?


Doug Primrose (31:37):
Yeah, they could just you know, send me an email or it’s on our school website; Yale Secondary School in Abbotsford. Awesome. but yeah, it’s it’d be great. It’s one of the great things about our leadership community that I’m in here is that we all just you know, from right across the country, we all kind of know each other and talk to each other, and get different ideas and, and bounce ideas off each other. And especially for those new leadership teachers or new teachers in general for them, don’t don’t hesitate to, to reach out to some of the people that have been doing it for a while, and we’re always willing to help out and do what we can. And, and I tell you, I, I learn so many, every time I go to these leadership conferences, I learn so many ideas from the from the new teachers. Because they got a whole different kind of perspective, and especially with COVID now I’ve learned a whole bunch of new technology things that that I, I, I couldn’t do before. So apparently you can teach old dogs new tricks.


Sam Demma (32:38):
Hey, don’t call yourself old yet. Awesome. Doug, thank you so much for coming on the show. I appreciate it. Keep up the awesome work and we’ll stay in touch.


Doug Primrose (32:48):
All right. Thank you very much.


Sam Demma (32:49):
And there you have it. Another amazing guest, an amazing interview on the High Performing Educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review so other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show; f you want meet the guest on today’s episode, if you wanna meet any of the guests that we have interviewed, consider going to www.highperformingeducator.com and signing up to join the exclusive network, you’ll have access to networking events throughout 2021 and other special opportunities. And I promise I will not fill your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Doug Primrose

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.

Jason Schilling – President of the Alberta Teachers Association

Jason Schilling – President of the Alberta Teachers Association
About Jason Schilling

Jason Schilling (@schill_dawg) was elected president in 2019 following two years of service as vice-president and more than eight years of service as district representative for South West. Prior to his election as President of the ATA, Schilling taught English and drama teacher at Kate Andrews High School, in Coaldale, where he worked for 17 years.

Schilling is a proud graduate of the University of Lethbridge. Schilling’s assignments as president include chairing the CTF (Canadian Teachers’ Federation) Committee, serving
as a member of the Strategic Planning Group and the Teacher Salary Qualifications Board, and acting as Provincial Executive Council liaison to the English Language Arts Council. He also represents the Association on the CTF Board of Directors.

Connect with Jason: Email | Instagram | Twitter

Listen Now

Listen to the episode now on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or on your favourite podcast platform.

Resources Mentioned

Alberta Teachers’ Association (ATA)

English Language Arts Council at the ATA

Kate Andrews High School School Website

Drama at the University of Lethbridge

Canadian Teachers’ Federation (CTF)

The Transcript

**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 for today’s interview with Jason Schilling. He was the elected President in 2019 for the Alberta Teachers Association, following two years of service as vice president, and more than eight years of service as district representative for Southwest. Prior to his election as president of the ATA, Schilling taught english and drama at Kate Andrews High School in Coaldale, where he worked for 17 years. Schilling is a proud graduate at the University of Lethbridge, and his assignments as president include chairing the Canadian Teachers Federation Committee, serving as a member of the strategic planning group and the teachers salary qualifications, board, and acting as provincial executive council liaison to the english language arts council.


Sam Demma (01:27):
Ah, that’s a lot of words. He also represents the association on the CDF board of directors. All that aside, Jason is an awesome human being with a lot of wisdom to share. I hope you enjoy today’s episode and take something valuable away from it. I’ll see you on the other side, enjoy. Jason, welcome to the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show today. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit behind why you’re so passionate about the work you do in education?


Jason Schilling (01:56):
Well, thanks Sam for having me in it. I really appreciate the opportunity to be here and have a conversation with you today about the things that I love, which is education and teaching, and I’ve always found teaching to be a joy. It’s one of the things that has been a great fit for me as a profession because I, I love working with children. I love working with students and helping them in the capacity of helping them grow and learn. I teach english and drama. Those are my two main areas. I am a drama major actually, but you can’t always find a drama job so you end up teaching other things as well. But I fell into English because there’s a, there’s the way those two really marry together quite nicely and, and things like that as well.


Jason Schilling (02:38):
From the Lethbridge area, I taught around Lethbridge my entire career and it’s started off in a small school in Vulcan teaching junior high and then worked my way up into high school. Then I switched to where I was teaching before I became President at Kate Andrews in Coaldale. And when I became president of the association, I had to go on leave from my teaching job and relocate to Edmonton in order to do this work and I knew that was a factor that I’d have to do in my life, but the day that I had to leave my school was one of the hardest days of my career because I, I built these relationships up with students and colleagues and the community over 17 years; and so then when I left, it was, it was pretty hard. And I miss teaching every day, but it’s also a really good reminder of why I do the work that I do now as association President.


Sam Demma (03:30):
I love that. And if you take me back to, you know, younger Jason, not that you’re old or anything, but like, you know, Jason right before St. Art in your career as a teacher how did you know that that was the path for you? Was there educators in your life that directed you down that path because they thought you had those associated characteristics and skills or from a young age, did you just know, you know, this is what I wanna do. Like, you know, gimme more context on how you landed in this profession.


Jason Schilling (03:59):
No, that’s a great question. When I was in junior high, you know, I was that typical kind of socially awkward little weird kind of kid in junior high, right? Yeah. And so I had this really great language arts drama teacher in grade seven. And I just always thought in my mind during that point, this would be all right. That would be a cool job, you know, and, you know, she was really great. And she, she worked with us really well and I felt it was one of the first times I remember in school feeling like somebody saw me. Right. Mm. And, and, you know, I had great teachers all through school, but this was a, you know, this, I was just something about this teacher that really kind of, kind of hit that mark. And that’s always in the back of my mind, but it was interesting when I went to university, I was a marketing major.


Jason Schilling (04:47):
I was going to get into advertising. That was my, my initial plan. And I remember, you know, university left bridges where I got my undergrad degree. It’s a liberal arts university. So you have to take all of these other subjects within the list requirements as they like to detail of them. So I ended up taking drama, which I never taken drama before. I was too shy. I was too chicken to do it as a junior high kid, no way would that ever happen. And I just remember my prop, I had there just said to me, he goes, this economics marketing thing that you’re doing, doesn’t sit you on you. Well, it doesn’t fit you, you well. And the drama class was just super easy. And then he, he tapped me on the shoulder to be in the main stage production at the university.


Jason Schilling (05:29):
And just from there, I, I changed my major. I got into drama education because it was a way to to take sort of the things that I, I really enjoyed working on. I think students really grow through the fine arts courses especially in drama. I’ve been able to, to work with students who are super shy and awkward. Like I was as a, you know, junior high kid and put them into a, a, a play where they just shine and they come out of their shell and they, and you see this growth and it’s phenomenal. And, and you kind of learn that through university when you’re working on that with students. And it just sort of came from there. And once I got into that sort of drama education part in university it changed the whole dynamics of going to university. It was suddenly became much easier. It was a joy to be there. The work was hard and the hours were long, but I didn’t mind doing it because it was, I was doing something that I love. And I, I’m very fortunate that I had on people who kind of pushed me in that direction to, to do that because you know, I, you know, some days are hard, but it’s what you love. And so you just keep doing it. So it’s great.


Sam Demma (06:32):
You, you mentioned that the day you left your school to move into the, you know, this president role of this association was one of the toughest days of your life. But that reminds you now why the work you’re doing is so important. What do you mean by that? Tell me more about the work you do now and how it relates to education and why you think it’s so important.


Jason Schilling (06:52):
Well, part of my role as, as association president is that the ATA you is you know, part of our mandate is to promote an advanced public education in Alberta. Nice. And I’ve just seen the benefits of public education for my students myself you know, I’ve gone to public school. All my university degrees are from pub arcade or from public universities in Alberta. I just know the benefits of public education and we need to fight for it because I always believe, and I’ve, I’ve said this a few times in other places as well. I think you, you fight for what you value and what you believe in. Hmm. And that’s why this role is important to me, it’s challenging. There’s some good, like everybody else, there’s some good days in there some bad days. But I carry with me, you know, that it experience of my, my teaching career. And I’ll end up probably going back to teaching once I’m done with this role as well with my colleagues and my students, and just knowing that education’s important to them as well, because they value it and they believe it as well. And I took a bunch of my mentors that I had in my classroom that I have collected over the years, and I have them in my office in Edmonton, because they’re just there as a visual reminder as well of the reason why we’re doing the work that we’re doing


Sam Demma (08:07):
Beautiful. And COVID 19 introduced some interesting challenges not only in, you know, every school, but I’m, I’m assuming also in the association and everywhere could the world, what are some of the challenges that have, that have come up and how have you and your team trying to tried to address them and overcome them?


Jason Schilling (08:28):
Well, definitely. And it’s been, it’s been a huge challenge and a difficult year for teachers and even staff working at the association because every way that we’ve normally have done things has changed and has been altered. And the things that we thought would be temporary have become sort of these permanent mainstays in our lives right now. And, you know, we still have lots of pandemic ahead of us. And so we’ll still be doing these things for, for months to come, even though vaccinations are coming, but we’re still seeing an increase in, you know, variance and other things around that as well for teachers, they literally had to change how they were interacting with their students overnight when classes were canceled last March. And they did a phenomenal job. Some days weren’t great. Some things worked, some things didn’t work. It was hard to connect with all of our students because one of the things I think the, the pandemic EC has done as well is highlighted the inequalities that we have within our system.


Jason Schilling (09:19):
Not every student has access to technology, not every student is able to you know, connect at home because they might be sharing a computer with their parents and their siblings, or, or just a multitude of things that came up, you know, poverty, income, security, all sorts of came up with this as well. And so that was a lot, a big challenge for us to manage at that time and still to do that at this point, as well as trying to deal with health protocols and now, you know, close it or schools that might have to close because they have a COVID case and moving everybody online, then coming back in for myself as a, you know, president, I usually tens of thousands of kilometers a year. Yeah. And so it’s it’s a little bit of isolating in that fact that a lot of my work has done sort of how we’re talking today through zoom. But you know, it’s, it, you just keep doing it, you just get up and you keep working to make sure that you’re connecting and engaging with members and being able to hear what they’re saying in terms of their experience, and then turning around and advocating for them down the road with you know, ministry staff and such.


Sam Demma (10:23):
And I also believe that every adversity challenge, you know, also plant there’s a seed somewhere planted of an opportunity within that adversity year challenge. And, you know, one of them is to create more, you know, equitable school. I’m curious to know what are some of the opportunities that you’re seeing as well, or the shifts that you’re seeing that you think are great and are good to be having in conversations that are happening within schools and within the association?


Jason Schilling (10:51):
Well, I know through the last little part in March and June, where teachers were working online, a lot of collabo between teachers in terms of making, you know, talking to one another and their school leaders or principals about connecting with kids and connecting with parents and making sure that lessons were being delivered. And it really started to spark a conversation towards the end of the school year about assessment and what are we assessing in school and what are the things that we need to be assessing in what’s a priority and what’s important. And those are really good conversations to have, because teaching it to me is always reflective, look back at what you’re doing, where you’re going with with things like that. And then to analyze that. So the, the conversation around assessment has been a really good one. Like, do we need to have diploma exams and provincial achievement tests?


Jason Schilling (11:37):
Like, are they capturing what students are truly learning? And we know that they don’t. And so to keep those things going forward is important. And it’s also really highlighted, I think the importance of relationships, we know that relationships are key when it comes to teaching with students, with each your colleagues in the building with their parents in the community that really highlighted that over this last year. You know, I talked to teachers who they don’t like having to go online because they want to be in the room with their students face to face, even though they’re wearing a mask and have to do, try to do social distancing as best as they can. They still want to be in that space with their students, working with them in that capacity, because trying to connect with people is really difficult through a screen.


Jason Schilling (12:20):
And for a variety of reasons you know, some kids might not turn on their cameras and and things like that. So that makes it even harder. And we also kind of learned, you know, the inequities that we have with some of our students and that we have a greater need in terms of society to address those things such as poverty even connected to the wifi is one of them. And of course, I think one of the biggest conversations that we’ve been having and still need to have in the future will be around mental health and supports around mental health as well.


Sam Demma (12:52):
I love that. And you, and we’re living in a time where students bedrooms have been transformed into the classroom, and some students are rolling outta bed and turning on their, you know, computer to join class. And it’s just as stressful and difficult for the teachers sometimes. And I would even assume yourself, like, I, I’m not sure if you’re, you’re doing this interview from an office or for, you know, from a place in your home, right. You have beautiful pictures behind you and it looks great which is awesome. You have a nice microphone, which is great. But how do you balance that work in life when they’re both? So, you know, closely intertwined personally? I just, just a very curious, personal question.


Jason Schilling (13:27):
No, it’s, it’s, it’s a really a great question because I’m actually, yeah, I am talking to you today, actually from my apartment in, in Edmonton. So I I’m working from home today because I’ve had that, that luxury being able to do that, but I do go to the office quite a bit as well, just to find that balance and that normality in life, I think COVID is really altered a lot of the normals that we, we normal. We, I’m gonna keep saying normal over and over again. Yeah. It’s gonna alter, it’s all altered the way that we’ve done our lives professionally and personally. And so I do go to the office just because some days it’s easier to, to do that, the work that I need to get done that day there, but also it allows me periodically to see other human beings.


Jason Schilling (14:10):
Right. So I might, you know, I try to time things sometimes with my assistant, because maybe there’s some, some documents I need to sign, or we need to talk about some things that are in the, the plans and works like that. So we try to, to focus that as well, or if we have a big media event such as the curriculum was just released here on Monday some of the com the communications people might come into the office as well. And, and then we’re able to do that work together because it’s easier that way. So finding that balance is it’s hard it’s because when you’re working from home and I’m not sure about your situation, Sam working from home, your work is just sitting on the kitchen table. Yep. Right. And it’s always there. And so you just end up working longer and, and, and things like that. And it’s, it’s important to find balance and to, to, you know, get outside and, and do the things that you can in a safe manner that are, are protecting yourself and others.


Sam Demma (14:59):
It brings, it brings the conversation back to that topic of mental health, right. Addressing student mental health, but also staff and human, mental health, the whole, the whole world should be addressing that. What do you, you think is important around, you know, addressing mental health in the next couple of years? Like, what do you envision or think should be happening more in schools to support that in relation to students and staff?


Jason Schilling (15:22):
Well, that’s a great question. And I think it’s a great question that a lot of us need to have conversations with our elected officials about because you know, I’ve, I’ve insane that I don’t think anybody is untouched by the effects of the pandemic. Some will feel it differently than others and that’s just human nature. That’s the way that we are. But I think one of the things, you know, coming from a small rural school is you, we would only have a counselor in our building maybe one day a week. Right. But the, the the effects of the pandemic make, or the mental health needs of our students, they come to school every day. And so we need more support that way in terms of having counselors in buildings working with students helping staff as well in terms of the support that they have.


Jason Schilling (16:05):
I mean, staff are able to access health benefits if they have them substitute teachers don’t necessarily have those support, but other staff do, and to make sure that they’re, they’re taking care of themselves and getting over the stigma of taking care of your mental health as part of your health, I’ve always been saying to teachers through this whole time, and I, I’m a victim of it myself, you know, it’s okay not to be okay. And it’s okay to have bad. I have them too, but just work and, and, and chat with people and try to support that and, and making sure that you’re taking care of yourself. That’s key. And we also need to make sure that you know, government is providing those means of support for that and making it a priority as we move forward.


Sam Demma (16:50):
I agree. And I’ve experimented with some like, different things like meditation, and, you know, there’s stigma along with that too. Right. Like, you know, just talking about mental health is, is it shouldn’t be, but it, you know, historically has been a touchy topic. But you tell someone, oh, I’m meditating. And you know, my friend’s like, what are you a monk? I’m like, no, what are you talking about? Like, this is something that I do to quiet my thoughts, quiet my mind, and start my day off on the right foot. And I think it’s so important to normalize those things in schools. Like I, I don’t know. Do you think in the next couple years, wellness will be like a, you know, something that’s very implemented in schools and social, emotional learning.


Jason Schilling (17:29):
Yeah. I think we need to make the idea of wellness as, as normalized as part possible that these are just the things that I do, whether you meditate, I run, right. And so you know, I get out there and I strap my shoes on and I, there’s not a, I say, there’s not a, there’s not a problem. I can’t solve on a good 10 mile run. Nice. And and things like that as well. And I’ve actually even said to students in the past, you know, I could have marked these assignments, but I went for run instead. Just because I’m going to be a much happier teacher for you today because I went for a run yesterday and I’ve actually had students in the past. Sometimes that we’ve, if I’m might be having a particularly cranky day, they’ll like, could you go for a run today when you’re done school?


Jason Schilling (18:12):
And, and then maybe when you come back tomorrow, you might be a little bit more pleasant and I’m like, duly note it. So, I mean, we all have those things in there that we, it just, we have to make this an ingrained part of our life and know that wellness is important for us in all aspects of our lives. And the pandemic is really showing that as well, because it’s really highlighted the things that we’re missing from our lives, maybe in terms of personal relationships and our professional relationships, and then trying to find a way to rectify that so that we can just be better or happier as we move down the road.


Sam Demma (18:45):
I agree. I totally agree. And, you know, we, we mentioned relationships earlier and how, you know, that’s one of the things that you noticed, you know, as a, something that’s super important that came up during COVID 19 and maintaining relationships how do you think we continue building relationships virtually? Is it by just, you know, phone calls and checking in with the teachers and, you know, having them check in with their students, like, yeah. How do you think we build those relationships?


Jason Schilling (19:11):
Well, ideally, I mean, in person is always gonna be better. Yeah. I mean, we, we do have these virtual things and there’s ways to, to stay connected with that. I don’t know you know, I talk to a lot of my colleagues and, you know, my friends and family I’ll do the zoom thing, but periodically I just like to pick up a phone yeah. And just call somebody. So instead of, you know, I always say if my email chain gets more than five, I’m phoning that person just to talk to them about it because after a point you just lose that. And so it’s hard and it’s not ideal, but you just do the things that you can do. And I know Christmas holidays was difficult for a lot of people and I didn’t have the chance to spend it with my family for the first time in a long time. And so we, we still managed to have Christmas dinner. We just did it by FaceTime. And we were kind of weird at first, but then at the end it was, it wasn’t bad. It was okay actually. And it wasn’t, it wasn’t too bad. And, you know, when it came dishes time, you could just, instead of having to do them, just click end then,


Sam Demma (20:09):
And then you put on your shoes and went for a,


Jason Schilling (20:12):
Yeah. I’m not sure it’s Christmas time. It was kind of cold, but I don’t know if I would,


Sam Demma (20:17):
So, yeah, that’s awesome. That’s amazing. And you know, if you could give advice, there’s educators listening to this right now who maybe burnt out right now, who may also, you know, couldn’t see their family for Christmas, who, who have been question whether or not the work they’re doing is making a difference. And, you know, they may even be thinking about, you know, leaving or quitting. You know, what advice could you share as someone who knows how important education is and educators are on the lives of our youth? What advice could you share that might be helpful? You know, imagine you were talking to a friend of yours, who’s a teacher.


Jason Schilling (20:50):
Well, and I have these conversations with teachers all the time over this last year about feeling overwhelmed or burned out by the requirements and, and things like that, of what they have to do, or working with the health protocols or carrying the stress of, you know, trying to keep a class of the 30 kids safe through the course of the year so that they don’t get ill. Is that time it’s okay to, to step back a little bit from the pressures and it’s okay to say no to some things, and I’m, I’m not, I’m not doing that. Or I’m not running book club this year. If I was at school, actually in the classroom right now, there would be no way I’d be doing a drama production this year. Just on top of everything else that needs to be done. It’s okay to take a break from that stuff.


Jason Schilling (21:33):
It’s also, I would just say, you know, talking to people we sometimes get stuck in our heads over things, or we, we, we see a lot of negativity maybe within social media, stuff like that. And, and it’s hard to put that down but to put it to, to try to find ways to support mental health and, and things like that as well. And also talking with your colleagues, because if you might be struggling with some aspect on something, they might be as well. And just finding ways teachers work very well collaboratively. And so finding that space in that time, I was really appreciative of this last year. We had a couple school boards in the fall, actually changed a couple of their PD days into just wellness days and just gave everybody the day off. And it was around the remembrance day weekend.


Jason Schilling (22:18):
And I thought that was a really good approach. Not saying, okay, well, kids, you have the day off teachers, you have to do all this extra work. And they just said, no, here’s the day off. And so I think that’s important for employers as well to, to look at what’s happening and saying, okay, we need breaks. Let’s not try to cram everything in cuz this year’s not normal. And I’ve always cautioned people from normalizing this year. Nothing about this year is normal. Nothing about the way that you’re teaching is normal. And it’s okay if you don’t get to everything because a resilient I’ve, you know, I’ve taught for English 20, 30 for 20 years. I know what I need to do in the curriculum as a professional to make sure that my students are reaching the outcomes that they need to have in order to move on to the next grade, teachers are professionals and they’ll do that. And so it just, you know, having that conversation with them and saying, you know, it’s all right, it’s, we’re all in the same boat together. And, and to just reach out that way. So


Sam Demma (23:13):
I love that I was talking to another educator the other day and, you know, we were, you know, talking about the situation, but trying to make it a little more lighthearted by like laughing about some things. And she said, you know, we’re all in the same boat and the boat’s the Titanic. I was like, relax. Like I, I know I totally get it. And you know, like yourself, I’ve had lots of conversations on this with this project on this podcast. And yeah, I think it’s important to have those people in your life that you can talk to and have conversations with and realize that it’s okay to take a day off. I’m curious to know personally what is, what is the first thing you’re looking forward to once this passes blows over the world opens up per like what is the first thing that you’ll be doing at that moment?


Jason Schilling (23:58):
Joe, what’s funny is I’m, I’m often known for not being a hugger. And so I, you know, when I keep saying to people, when this is all over, I’m still going to keep that six foot rule away from me at all times. And there people are like, we are gonna give you a hug. That’s great. I think it’s one of those things is I’m just looking forward to being able to spend time, you know, with my parents and my family. And, you know, I have a sister who lives in the states and that, and being able to see them in and for probably well over a year now. Right. And so just getting to, to be around people in that capacity, we’re, you’re just not afraid at the time and, and, and stuff like that as well. So that’ll be the biggest one. Yeah, yeah.


Sam Demma (24:40):
Yeah. You know, as long as everyone stays six feet apart, right.


Jason Schilling (24:42):
As long as there’s just not some big hug I’ll be working with.


Sam Demma (24:46):
That’s awesome. Jason, thank you so much for taking the time to chat today about education and you know, it’s important and why you’re so passionate about it, and some of the things that you’re observing and seeing. If someone wanted to reach out, you know, send you an email you probably already have a lot of those, but if someone did wanna reach out to you, what would be the best way for them to get in touch and maybe have a conversation?


Jason Schilling (25:06):
Actually the best way is just through email and it’s just jason.schilling@ata.ab.ca. And I always, I always say to teachers, I try to get back to everybody. Even the hate mail that I get, I always respond to those as well but not always as quickly as I would like to sometimes; just always depends on what’s going on.


Sam Demma (25:28):
Sounds great. Again, thank you so much. This was awesome and I look forward to staying in touch and watching the great work you do.


Jason Schilling (25:34):
You bet, Sam. Thanks very much. I appreciate it.


Sam Demma (25:36):
And there you have it. Another amazing guest, an amazing interview on the High Performing Educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review so other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show; f you want meet the guest on today’s episode, if you wanna meet any of the guests that we have interviewed, consider going to www.highperformingeducator.com and signing up to join the exclusive network, you’ll have access to networking events throughout 2021 and other special opportunities. And I promise I will not fill your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Jason Schilling

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.

Eleanor McIntosh – Founding member of the Ontario Alliance of Black School Educators (ONABSE) and the Principal of Ajax High School

Eleanor McIntosh - Founding member of the Ontario Alliance of Black School Educators (ONABSE) and the Principal of Ajax High School
About Eleanor McIntosh

Eleanor (@Eleanor27332035) is a secondary Principal within the Durham District School Board. She holds a Master’s degree in Educational Leadership and Administration and undergraduate degrees in Biochemistry and Kinesiology. She is an advocate for youth and the community.

Eleanor is one of the founding members of the Durham Black Educators’ Network (DBEN) since its inception in 2005. She has held executive positions of Treasurer, Vice-Chair and two terms as Chair. Eleanor is a founding member of the Ontario Alliance of Black School Educators (ONABSE), where she lends her skills and experience to inform policy and programming for educators across the province.

Eleanor has been a panellist and presenter at 30 different speaking engagements and conferences since 2012. She has appeared on CTV, Rogers TV, and a variety of Metroland Media local newspapers. An avid global traveller, Eleanor has visited over 25 different countries around the world and is happy to call the Durham region home.

Connect with Eleanor: Email | Twitter | Linkedin

Listen Now

Listen to the episode now on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or on your favourite podcast platform.

Resources Mentioned

Durham Black Educators’ Network (DBEN)

Ontario Alliance of Black School Educators (ONABSE)

Durham educators call for more inclusivity in wake of George Floyd’s death (Global News)

Ajax High School – Durham District School Board

The Transcript

**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):
Eleanor welcome to the high performing educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here today. Please start by introducing yourself.


Eleanor McIntosh (00:08):
Yeah, for sure. So good day, everyone. Eleanor McIntosh here, my pronouns are she her and hers. I am excited motivated, inspired to be here today for this podcast. I’m a principal in the Durham district school board at Ajax high school where I’ve been for the last five, almost five years doing, doing the good work, getting into some good trouble.


Sam Demma (00:37):
Why education? What drew you to teaching and education as a whole?


Eleanor McIntosh (00:42):
So interesting story. My pathway to education was not direct by any means. I, I always tell people that I kind of fell into it because I never really saw myself as an educator education found me. So after my post my undergraduate post-secondary adventures, which are more, mostly geared in the sciences, actually, that’s my undergraduate degree. I decided to put a pause in my life to try and sort things out, I guess you could say. And I traveled, I took I took a job teaching English, a overseas through the a program called the jet program, the Japan exchange and teaching program. So I applied got shortlisted and then got accepted to the program. And off, I went on my adventure to Asia. So I spent two years in Japan where I had never been that far away before, but, you know went along with many other educators from Canada and around the world and found myself in a small little town kind of like Pickering or Ajax in the Durham region.


Eleanor McIntosh (01:59):
And I taught English in a large academic high school cuz they do, they, they stream there in Japan. And in that experience I found my calling. I loved teaching. I loved connecting with kids. I loved being in a classroom and English is not my background, but I had to figure it out. And it wasn’t about the English, right? The English was just a part of it. It wasn’t about the English, it was about the connection and, and being in community and all, lots of other different things. And so it’s because of that experience that I applied to teachers college here in Ontario, came back and became an educator.


Sam Demma (02:42):
That is so awesome. Would you other educators who are teaching now or thinking about teaching to travel international and if so, why?


Eleanor McIntosh (02:53):
So again, a really good question because it was because of this experience that I really often encourage students and educators to travel and to use international travel or education as a gateway to learning and building, building our personal selves and verse building character because I really, we found that that experience, it, it was for me life changing. I will say that I say that all it was life changing for me. I grew as an individual. I grew as a professional at the time I didn’t really see myself at the professional, but I really grew into my professional self. And, and, and so, you know, I often talk about my international education experience as a stepping stone to to whatever you want to learning to growing. And I talk a lot about that, especially with students who are unsure, you know, take a year go and see, because you can gain so much from traveling around the world and connecting with people, which is what I found.


Sam Demma (04:06):
That’s so amazing. I found similar experiences traveling not to teach, but to play soccer. Yep. At the age of 13. So I think travel opens your mind and eyes to many things you might not hear or see, and it changes your perspectives. It gives you more tools to see the world through.


Eleanor McIntosh (04:27):
It does. It does. And it’s, it’s amazing. I think probably there was lots of aha moments in that, in that traveling. I was there for two years. Like I was overseas for two years. Didn’t come back to the Western world for two years. Because why I could come back, I’m gonna be back here eventually. Yeah. But you know, I really, I really saw the value of perspective because the world views the west their differently than the west views, the rest of the world. So that was eyeopening for me.


Sam Demma (05:09):
Tell me more about that. How does the rest of the world view the west versus us?


Eleanor McIntosh (05:15):
So we are very, as a Western society, we’re very, we’re new compared to the west of rest of the world, right. Because our, our civilization started much later than, than other countries. And I think we’re a little bit arrogant in the way that we believe the rest of the world operates or a ESP for the rest of the world to operate. And so it’s very Western centric. So, you know, it’s like the west is the center of the world and everybody else operates based on what the west does, but oh no. You know, you know, the west has its own ways of functioning and, and operating. And, and I found in particular I often got confused for being American. And so I was interrupting notions of discrimination and, and viewpoints of Americans or black Americans, even when I was traveling overseas.


Eleanor McIntosh (06:13):
But the minute I said that I was Canadian boy, the, at the viewpoint change. So the world welcomes and sees Canada as a very big partner for it around for its, for its citizens and a global participant positive global participant. Whereas it doesn’t view the Americans in the same way. Exactly. And so there was a lot of hate coming, you know, I, I heard a lot of hate for the west and we, you had to kind of separate Canada and America a little bit because really that hate was about America a lot. Right. Wow. So it was, it was really I opening yeah. Really eye opening.


Sam Demma (06:59):
Speaking of perspectives and the importance of gaining more, I’m grateful that lots of perspectives that have been very underrepresented are starting to, you know, hopefully bubble to the service and have over the past two years especially in the communities of a diversity equity. And you’ve been a champion of pushing that message forward as much as you can. What do you think are some of the challenges that have existed and to this day still exist, that you’re really passionate about speaking up and, and trying to make a change in that you think are underrepresented perspectives.


Eleanor McIntosh (07:38):
Really great question. So a couple of things come to mind I think for a long time education, public education was allowed to be ignorant yeah. To the realities of what was happening in its communities, where it was centered. You know, it was always seen as the powerhouse and there was a very clear, defined way of operating and still it’s still there. It’s absolutely still there. And so you know, George Floyd, the, the incidents and George Floyd a couple of years ago, I think served as a real catalyst for the world to wake up and for education to now participate in interrupting biased practices, discriminatory practices that have been going on forever and still continue. So it really allowed us to will no longer be silent. So those who were on the margins who were working in education, it gave them voice mm, gave them a space it gave and not them cuz I’m included in that.


Eleanor McIntosh (08:52):
It allowed us to advocate for the change that we knew we wanted to see for so long, but really we were silenced for for years. And I will say that specifically about my work in education. I never really saw a, an avenue where I could participate in challenge notions of, of racism, discrimination, oppression in the system. I felt that I really had to maintain the status quo because if I chose to speak up, then there, I would be for lack of a better word blacklisted, I would be I would limit my career possibilities, right. There would be, there would be impact to me personal impact and professional impact to me. But as the doors have widened more and more examples come to the forefront that have allowed the conversations of equity and diversity and more specifically anti-oppression to find its way into learning spaces.


Eleanor McIntosh (10:09):
And that was nothing that we ever wanted to participate in before you might have seen pockets, but they were quiet pockets. Yeah. They were people that would close their doors and do their thing quietly. But now people have opened their doors and let that freedom out into the entire school community. And that is bringing students joy because we’re not, we’re no longer harming, we’re not harming kids anymore. That harm. You’re giving students voice. You’re giving them the opportunity to say, no, I don’t want my education to be like this. I wanna make sure that it’s going to resonate with me fully and, and allow me to be my full self.


Sam Demma (10:54):
And represent the whole truth.


Eleanor McIntosh (10:58):
100%. Cause we were speaking partial truths for a long time.


Sam Demma (11:01):
There’s a book by Martin Luther king Jr. With the title. Why we can’t wait, it’s something, I might be butchering it a little bit, but it’s something along those lines. And the whole book is amazing and it talks about a lot of the movements he engaged in and why now was the time for change and why? Like we can’t be patient anymore. And I’m curious to know why you believe the reform that’s happening currently in education and, and hopefully continues to happen throughout north America and all over the west. Why is now the time and why can’t we be patient with this stuff anymore?


Eleanor McIntosh (11:36):
We can’t be patient because all kids are not succeeding. Mm.


Eleanor McIntosh (11:43):
All, all students, that’s what publication is grounded in. Yeah. Right. The success of all students, Nelson Mandela talks about that education is the powerful equalizer. Right. But it hasn’t been yeah. For so long. And so we can’t wait for more and more students to be harmed for black students, particularly black males to be pushed out of the system to end up into this pipeline into activity because they don’t feel a sense of belonging that no one is there advocating for them. So you’re right. We can’t wait. And sadly for those who hold privilege and those who have, have garnered that privilege through just by who they are, we can no longer allow those loud voices to control the outcomes of students cannot. Right. It’s time now for those who have been silenced underrepresented or marginalized to bring those perspectives back to the forefront so that we are there to, to advocate, that’s what public educators are for. They’re there to advocate for all students, not just some and the ones on the margins need us the most. And so we need to stand up for them. Now, the data’s clear, kids are not succeeding and we can’t do it anymore.


Sam Demma (13:11):
It seems like the motivation and motivation is very fleeting because it might last for a minute. It might last for a month. It might last for two months, six months. Yep. But the motivation and excitement of something happening in the world and our initial reaction seems to fade very fast. Yes. How do we sustain this change? How do we move away from motivation and decide to commit and discipline ourselves to follow through with these things? Even when it’s hard, even when the doors are open and the conversations are extremely uncomfortable, I’m not asking you for the key of this whole solution here, I’m putting on the spot, but how do we bring this back to the forefront of the conversation and continue it?


Eleanor McIntosh (13:59):
Yeah. I mean, I think there’s a, there’s a number of different ways that that can happen. From a, from a professional standpoint, I think it’s, it’s twofold, right? So from a professional standpoint we have a responsibility in schools, right. And so for this question leans more towards what is our responsibility and, and not just, not just in the way that we believe that this should be, but what is the legal responsibility? Because there is a legality, right? What is the legal responsibility that we have to make sure that this that we’re not closing these doors, that we’re keeping that at the forefront, right. So that’s the first thing. And there’s been a couple of really strong moves made by the government in order to make sure that, that that, that responsibility is clear for educators. And I’ll give you an example.


Eleanor McIntosh (14:55):
So one example is, is that the Ontario college of teachers has now advised it has now become as part of the education act that discriminatory practices are now an act misconduct for educators. That’s a bold move. That was a necessary move to legitimize the work and keep that responsibility very ever present for educators. Right. they’ve also put out an advisory relating to anti-black racism, right? Again, another bold step that allows for that high level of accountability for educators. Right. So no longer. So now as a system, we have some, some very clear lines to lean on, right? Should people decide that they no do not want to participate, that they want to give up their responsibilities to the students that we serve. Right. but I also think it goes deeper than that because we have to also lean on ed administrators, like leaders in the right leaders, leaders have to participate in, in making the space for this change to happen.


Eleanor McIntosh (16:07):
Right. We are part of that responsibility because we are also we’re educator at heart. And so from, from middle to upper management and the executive level, how are we making sure that the policies, procedures and frontline work of leaders make sure that we are advocating, educating, building awareness, right. With our staff so that it doesn’t fall to the wayside so that our, our educators feel not just empowered, but confident to entertain and engage in conversation of injustice in the classroom. Right. Because it’s not just about teaching you know, literacy and numeracy, that’s important, but we want to make sure that we are creating a world that we, that is not reflective of the current day. We wanna create a world that is reflective of what we want to see in the future. We do that through opening up these conversations in the classroom.


Eleanor McIntosh (17:21):
Right. And so that, I think it’s so it’s, it’s multiple things. And then on a personal level for people, people have to also feel as though that they are not comp that they’re not complicit in racist practice or discriminatory practices. Right. So, you know, you know, they have to choose to educate themselves, right. So how do they, how do they, why, why would I, as an educator, as a human being choose to participate in, in learning more, right. People don’t want to feel as though that they are creating barriers for people or upholding white supremacy. They don’t wanna feel that way. And so it’s also playing into people’s compassion and right. We wanna make sure that people understand that justice is for everyone, from every location, from every identity. And so by putting that and making that as a priority, right. Going, leaning on the moral compass, if you will, the compassion that everybody holds, I think it’s how you also get to educators or people to buy in right into these circum, into these conversations, even when it’s hard. Right? Yeah. Even it’s hard.


Sam Demma (18:40):
It sounds like we really can’t afford spectation or spectators anymore.


Eleanor McIntosh (18:46):
You can’t, you can’t afford to be a bystander anymore. Yeah. If you’re a by, in, or someone’s gonna call you out, like this is the thing now, right. People aren’t gonna stay silent, somebody’s going to call you out. And I have had to on many occasions, you know, engage in conversations, sometimes difficult conversations with staff about something they may have said or whatever. And again, not ill intention. I would never think that anybody is doing something maliciously. We are gonna make these mistakes, but it’s up to me and, and everybody else in the building to make sure that we are all moving this forward together, nobody left behind.


Sam Demma (19:26):
Hmm.


Eleanor McIntosh (19:26):
Nobody left behind.


Sam Demma (19:28):
What have you found helpful in terms of educational resources? So there’s an educator listening right now who is mentally deciding, not because they’re just motivated due to your passion for this topic. Yep. But they’re mentally deciding right now. Okay. I don’t wanna bystand I don’t wanna spectate. I wanna join this conversation and participate. Where should they start with their own self education or what have you heard, or even read yourself or heard other educators reading, going through, watching to learn more about the situation to inform themselves?


Eleanor McIntosh (20:07):
So reading is a lot of what I’ve been doing over the past little while, and also, you know, encouraging my staff to read as well. Right. Yeah. And presenting them with choices and options to help build their awareness cuz you’re right. We can’t do it all right. As I so a couple of, so in terms of titles, you know me and white supremacy by Lelas Asad white fragility, lot of, so I read white fragility by Delo. So a lot of DeAngelo’s work. A lot of Kent’s work you know, anti-racist education. Anything by Kent DLO Leila, sod is all very important readings to participate in because it allows us to connect with that personal side of us and push a little in terms of our thinking around what it means to be just a human being, not even just for educators, just a human being. So those are some of the things that we’ve engaged in here. And then of course there’s any number of videos and media pieces that are all put together by again, people who are doing this work that allows us to build more awareness about the issues that are at the, the forefront of this. Right.


Sam Demma (21:25):
Yeah. Awesome. Thanks for sure. What personally on all fronts of life and education, not only with this topic, but what keeps you personally motivated and hopeful to show up every day with your energy and continue doing this work?


Eleanor McIntosh (21:40):
Yeah, so a few things, when I, I decided to become an educator, I came back to Durham where I part when I, where I went to school and, and was raised, I came back to Durham because I wanted to make sure that other students who were in our system didn’t have to experience some of the injustices that I experienced as a, as a young woman. Mm. The young black woman growing up in, in the Durham region. So it was really important for me to be active as an active advocate, right. To interrupt those, those injustices, that was really important. You know, I wanna make sure that I’m actively participating in state in change and not being complicit. And that, that, that, those aha moments, those, that feedback I get from teachers, from students that what we are doing is working definitely keeps, keeps the fire lit for me.


Eleanor McIntosh (22:41):
Mm. You know, when I hear that positivity, when I hear, you know, student voice coming to the forefront, definitely that that warms my heart. It really does to know that I’m, that I’m making those connections really strongly for, for our students. When I, when I see a student turn the corner that’s huge, huge for me because I I do this work for students. I do this for that next generation who is going to do amazing things very much like yourself, Sam, right, who are doing these amazing things that you know, 10, 15 years ago, we couldn’t even imagine, right. It is students that are going to create change for the future, right. We, it is, it is, it is this generation, your generat that, that are going to make that change. And so it’s really important that we empower them to do so. And the last piece in particular is at some point in my career, I became a parent and I have a young daughter a young queen. And you know, I definitely, I’m a young queen. And you know, I wanna make sure that the path is very clear for her coming in, into a system where I know there is injustice. So she is my light every day. And the one who helps to make sure that I am staying focused on the work that needs to be done, because I don’t wanna ever ha have my daughter to come home and tell me that she wants to have blonde hair and blue eyes again.


Sam Demma (24:24):
Amen. That’s awesome. Thank you for sharing that.


Eleanor McIntosh (24:28):
Yeah, no problem.


Sam Demma (24:30):
If you could if you could take all the experience you’ve had in education, bundle it up, walk back to when you first started teaching, tap yourself on the shoulder and say, Hey, this is what you need to hear right now. What, what advice would you have given your younger self?


Eleanor McIntosh (24:54):
Yeah, that’s another good question. I always, I always ask myself, I have learned, I, you know, when you, when you know better, you do better. And I, and I definitely have done better. So I was gonna go back to myself. I would definitely say, make room for, to connect with students, build community it’s community that signals belonging and value for kids. When you have that belonging and value, you get engagement. When you have engagement in the classroom, learning happens when learning happens, success happens. So I would make sure that I would tell my younger self to put aside. There are times when you need to put aside your plan and you need to make sure that you are bringing conversations that matter into the classroom.


Sam Demma (25:48):
Mm.

Eleanor McIntosh (25:49):
I really wanna encourage, I would really spend that time. I was a math and science teacher. So sometimes it can be very linear right in the way that we think. But I think, you know, sometimes we have to take risks, right? I I’ve, I’ve become a risk taker as I’ve, as I’ve matured in the profession. And I would, I would try to take more risks a little bit. I would try to make sure that I’m also using my voice, cuz I didn’t use my voice in those early years. I was too worried. I would use my voice as a vehicle and a platform to advocate even when it was difficult. Even when I fell, felt scared, even when I was fearful.


Sam Demma (26:32):
That’s awesome. Right.


Eleanor McIntosh (26:34):
I would do that.


Sam Demma (26:35):
Thank you so much for taking the time to come on the show. Talk about your experiences, talk about your beliefs and philosophies and share some important follow up on all the things that have happened over the past year or two years. If someone’s listening, wants to reach out, collaborate with you, ask a question, brainstorm some things. What would be the best way for them to get in touch with you.


Eleanor McIntosh (26:59):
Best way is to reach out to I’m not see super huge on social media to be truthful. So I’m on LinkedIn. That’s the one platform that I’m on. So you can look me up on LinkedIn for sure. And then look me up at Ajax high school for now or through the DDSB email’s always great. I’m always open to doing the good work and getting into good trouble with anybody who wants to do that.


Sam Demma (27:22):
Cool. Oh no. It’s thank you so much. Keep up the great work and we’ll talk soon.


Eleanor McIntosh (27:26):
Sam, it’s been a pleasure. Thank you so much for having me on the show.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Eleanor McIntosh

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.

Patrick Schultz – Director of Education, Director of Technology Integration at Business Professionals of America

Patrick Schultz - Director of Education, Director of Technology Integration at Business Professionals of America
About Patrick Schultz

Prior to joining the National BPA staff, Patrick Schultz had a very successful teaching career in Career and Technical Education with a focus on Computer Science and Cybersecurity.  Under his current role as Director of Technology Integration, Patrick is responsible for technology infrastructure development, multiple education initiatives, and establishing/growing partnerships around technology.  

With over 15 years of combined teaching, industry, non-profit, and student organizational knowledge, he brings a unique perspective to building opportunities for those looking to enter the fields of finance, business, and/or informational technology.

Connect with Patrick: Email | Website

Listen Now

Listen to the episode now on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or on your favourite podcast platform.

Resources Mentioned

Business Professionals of America

Career and Technical Student Organizations

Nicholas Sparks (author)

MICE – Michigan initiative for cybersecurity education.

The Transcript

**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):
Patrick welcome to the high performing educator. Huge pleasure to have you on the show. Please start by introducing yourself.


Patrick Shultz (00:09):
Hi, my name is Patrick Schultz and thank you Sam, for having me here today. Currently I am the director of technology integration and director of education for Business professionals of America, a premier career tech student organiz located primarily in the United States, but also reaching into Guam, Haiti, Puerto Rico China, and a few other countries on the side of being those two director roles which we’re gonna dive into. I’m sure here talking about what we do on a day to day basis. I am also the CEO of a 501 nonprofit that focuses on cyber security and it education training for both students and teachers throughout the us.


Sam Demma (00:55):
How did you get involved in BPA and what are your responsibilities today?


Patrick Shultz (01:02):
Yeah, great question. So I got involved with BPA originally as a classroom educator, I taught in bay city, Michigan computer science, software engineering, website design, and pretty much anything else in the it media arts platform. As part of that, one of our responsibilities was to become a local chapter advisor that involves getting students prepared for competitions. It involves getting students built in and learning their own leadership potential and tracking a lot of community service work not just in local community, but also in ways that they could engage both nationally and internationally through virtual opportunities as well. My journey through BPA has been a very interesting one over the course of almost 17 years now after being in the classroom or while I was in the classroom, I did teach in that program for approximately 14 years.


Patrick Shultz (02:03):
While I was in that program, I had an to travel to regional competitions, state competitions in Michigan, and then also through multiple large scale cities throughout the United States. And essentially what we have in those cities at the national level is called the national leadership conference. As students work in impeding through nationals and working through that, I got the opportunity to meet some of the national staff the current director of education at the time. This goes all the way back to 2009. We were talking about competitions and I didn’t realize who they were, but we were talking about some of the challenges and ways that we could improve some of the competitive event in little to be known. She was the actual national director. So we were able to work through some, some different things via email.


Patrick Shultz (02:56):
And then I was invited out to do some work alongside some key educators throughout the nation. And, and each state gets to send one to three individuals to a group that’s called C a C or the classroom educator advisory council. So in the work there that I was able to do, I helped take a look at for multiple years in an unofficial role into the it events that we looked at in our platform. And then an opportunity opened up where I could become the official Michigan representative on the group. I was there for six years doing that and then turned from that opportunity after those years of, of working on so many different events and being a competition author, I was able to work my way through and I applied for the board of trustees at the national level my first year I was just a general member at large.


Patrick Shultz (03:51):
I was able to look at our strategic long range plan that hadn’t been updated in multiple years. So we put together a 1, 3, 5 year model for where we wanted to take the organization. And then my second year of the board, I was the vice chair elected by my peers. And then my third year I was elected as the chair of the board. Really opened my eyes to multiple different positions. What the national staff really endures throughout a year. It always seemed like they put on this big conference, but what else happened throughout the years? So I was able to really gain, you know, crucial insight to that perspective from staff, taking a look at governments and everything that went into all of the decisions that a board would make it an national nonprofit. And then combining with my teacher experience as a local advisor, it was sort of, I hadn’t really not experienced every angle.


Patrick Shultz (04:51):
So with all of that experience, there was an opportunity to work on the national staff after I was the board chair and there was a job opening into a job posting. So I applied for that, and that was for the director of technology integration. And then after a year of doing that, then I’ve moved into now the director of education. So that’s a long story for sure and my journey to get where I’m at. But right now my current roles of director of ed and director of technology, the integration, I oversee all of our technology solutions, our platforms also oversee all of our education partner competitions, our competitive event platform across six different assessment areas and career pathways, as well as taking a look at building out standards, certification and really just trying to grow and make sure that we’re staying at the forefront with new competitions and staying on par, if not ahead, of where the industry’s headed,


Sam Demma (05:55):
It’s such a fascinating organization that’s doing such important work. What would you say is the most rewarding aspect of working with BPA?


Patrick Shultz (06:06):
Definitely it’s, it’s getting to know and working with students and, and educators around the world. So it’s this past couple of years, you know, has been very tough for many people. Definitely through the coronavirus, the pandemic a lot of education was really flipped on its head in terms of delivery models. So utilizing my tech background as well as my education knowledge, we were able to go forward and still provide the same opportunities for students. We were still. And in many cases, we actually opened the door to new opportunities that rural students or others who may not have been able to attend all of a sudden have this platform that they could connect with. In the past two years, I was able to connect with more advisors and students than I think I ever did as a classroom educator, just because I had open platform to 45,000 members within our organization.


Patrick Shultz (07:06):
We successfully assisted at the national level over 85 regional and state leadership conferences across 30 different states. So that was just something really, you know, unique. It was really rewarding to get to know everybody. And, and ultimately there there’s a ton of work that goes into what we do, but it’s always about hearing the stories about how we’ve impacted individuals lives, how BPA as a whole has been able to show a students that they can have a career pathway in business or it marketing communications, health admin and in the end, it, it really shows them what they’re capable of. It builds that self confidence platform through our leadership development and, and in some cases too, something that is just as rewarding as showing someone their path of where they want to be is also showing them where they don’t want to be. You know, and, and it’s really cool to see students say, you know what, I did this competition. I don’t ever want to do this again. And that’s awesome because we help them find their path. And then they take in and move down a totally or plan that we know they’ll be successful in with the, the life skills and the basic core knowledge that they get from the organization.


Sam Demma (08:28):
And at what point through your own educational journey and career, did you found mice? And maybe you can explain the acronym and why you’re passionate about that work as well.


Patrick Shultz (08:41):
Yeah, absolutely. So mice is the Michigan initiative for cybersecurity education. About six years ago, I had the opportunity to work at the federal government level in a, a project called nice, the national initiative for cybersecurity education. I was their K12 co-chair of a, a federal working group identifying resources and, and best practice trends in cybersecurity and it education for a three year term. And when that term was over we brought everything by back into Michigan that we have found, but what we noticed was that there was a lot of ideas, but there wasn’t a one stop solution to try to bring everything together. It’s, it’s always easy to say, yes, let’s start this program and then you have to think, well, okay, who’s gonna teach it. Who’s gonna implement it. Are they trained? Plus in Michigan at the time, we did not have a certified career tech ed program for cybersecurity.


Patrick Shultz (09:43):
So there was a group of individuals who are my co-founders in mice. What we took a look at doing was writing a state standard program. So we modified it or, or implemented it as a carbon clone of what was done at the national standards, but then we threw in the auto automotive industry. And some of the other areas that are highly unique in, in Michigan is our core of manufacturing. And we built out the statewide program. And then we pitched it to the state department of education. And what’s always interesting when he’s start talking to higher education or department of ed, is that it typically takes a year to get the process rolling. And then another year for planning and then a third year for implementation. They were all on board with this within three months from start to finish.


Patrick Shultz (10:32):
We had a full program integrated. We had the standard there and then we also immediately had the thought process of, okay, now it’s there. What do we do? So we had already predesigned out quarterly trainings for teachers that were interested in cybersecurity and it we’ve specialized so far now in converting educators who may not have anything to do with it. So we we’ve got a lot of English teachers or business teachers that we converted into it teachers. So far we’ve worked with over 70 different school districts in Michigan. Wow. And that was just within the first year. Mice has been officially an organization for five years. And over the past two, we’ve also expanded into Oklahoma, Texas, Ohio Illinois, Indiana California, and a couple other states throughout the us. But ultimately there there’s three main pillars of mice.


Patrick Shultz (11:33):
One is to develop teacher training models that can be replicated across other states. The second one is to build a learning management system that has customized courseware that is open for all career pathways in it, whether it’s cyber, computer PRI computer programming networking hardware. And then our third pillar is taking a look at consulting and designing programs. Michigan is what’s known as a local control state, meaning that every local district gets to make the choice, as long as they meet the statewide standards, how they’ll implement what text they use, what curriculum materials to implement with that comes a challenge that everybody is absolutely unique and there is nothing that is done the same way between two different districts. So we take a look at our consulting side as identifying what they currently have, where we can fit in additional and information, how we can modify it with the ultimate goal of building a pipeline from preschool, kindergarten, primary grade, all the way through the 12th grade system. Hmm. So it’s, it’s interesting to see how each one works but ultimately we’ve impacted on average about 6,000 students, a across those districts that are specializing just in it throughout Michigan, over the PA or on average per year,


Sam Demma (13:01):
That’s amazing. You, it seems like you hold different roles of governance in different organizations your journey as a leader, along the path, what resources have you found helpful? Who have you looked up to and learned from, and what do you think makes a, a strong leader?


Patrick Shultz (13:22):
Well, I I’ll start that and come back to the strong leader aspect in a minute. For me individually my parents were definitely a huge influence on me. My, my dad was in, in computer science, he worked for general motors and recently retired working for autonomous vehicles. So that’s where I get my tech background from nice my educator side. My mom was a preschool teacher for many, many years. And then when I got into high school, she backed off from just to be able to, you know, work through all of the schedules between my sister and I from the multiple sports that we played and working through, you know, getting us to where, and luckily we were, she was able to do that to be with us at all times, but it really instilled in me to always take the risk, jump to the next step and just keep pushing as much as possible.


Patrick Shultz (14:16):
My journey is, is really an interesting one. I, teaching and education was never my first choice. Mm. I, I really wanted to be a brain surgeon or an astrophysicist. And that’s where I started school. I that’s where I was headed towards. And I can expand on that later in terms of, you know, how I ended up in education. But when it comes full circle, you know, there was a lot of individuals who were very influential in my life. I had an English teacher Carol Young, who always just taught you to think outside of the box. She, she believed in you, no matter what, I mean, even if you were being the absolute troublemaker I mean, I remember seeing friends and, and even myself sometimes, you know, we didn’t behave well. We were young and, and working through the process, but she always just saw this vision in us that we never saw in ourselves.


Patrick Shultz (15:13):
So people like that really make the difference. And when you really take a look and think back at it, and for me, reflecting on your question about what does it take to be a leader is, is it’s a few things, one it’s initial drive. It’s just the want to make a difference. I think that’s so huge in it because I don’t know if there’s one cookie cutter shell to, to define a leader because you can, obviously you can have leaders that are global. You can have leaders that are in a community, and they’re just happy with where they are. They don’t need to have that, you know, worldly acknow of where they’re going. The second thing with leadership in me is that you just have to be authentic as long as you are doing it for the right reason, whatever that reason you might believe in, and you don’t lose sight of that, then I think you end up leading down that path and you’re going to make a difference in people’s lives.


Patrick Shultz (16:12):
And, and the third one is just listening to your environment. You know, there’s so many times where you can get caught up in everything. That’s just going on, you know, whether it’s politics or you listen to, you know, if you’re leading a group of 10 people, there might be, well, there is 10 different voices there. You might have many different opinions. You might have many agreements, but ultimately you have to listen and you have to keep your ear to the ground. And, and you have to make decisions eventually where you may not know all the facts, but you know, what is right based on your own feeling, your gut, your vision, and that that’s where you want to take things you know, to move in it. And that sort of goes back to me and how I ended up in education is it just felt right. You know, it, I always wanted to make a difference in, you know, helping others and looking external. And I try to start every single decision that I do was with, with how will this impact someone else if it costs me 50 hours, but it saves someone else one hour of time, I’ll do that all day long. That’s, that’s just the way that I’ve always believed it.


Sam Demma (17:27):
I love that. I I’m intrigued by your explanation of gut feelings, because a lot of the big decisions that I made in my life, I believe came from my gut and the way that I felt about it. And sometimes those decisions don’t make the most logical sense to others, but it, you know, it feels right for you when you’re Teeter tottering on making one of those decisions or in front of a big decision, what do you find helpful to help you pull the trigger?


Patrick Shultz (17:58):
Well, I live by the motto in the, the quote where mantra of sir Richard Branson, someone offers you an opportunity, take it. You can figure out how to do it lay. And even if they don’t offer you the opportunity, you can offer yourself the opportunity at any time. And, and if you live by that, then you won’t ever look backwards and say, I should have coulda would’ve, you know, and if you’re, if you fail, you didn’t fail. You went forward. And, and in very, you know, I, I know there’s circumstances, obviously you can take a huge financial risk. You can lose a lot of money. You can go through that part, but in the end you might get set back, but you’re also gonna have a knowledge base to expand that even further and to grow faster through that entire process. So I think, you know, for me, it’s taking a risk.


Patrick Shultz (18:52):
It it’s risk is how you look at it. If you look at risk as being negative or, Ooh, I shouldn’t do that because of this situation, it’s hard for you to move forward. But if you look at risk as an opportunity, and you say, Hey, I might do this, but I not making. And that’s okay. You know, it’s traditional marketing, you make 10 phone calls, you probably get one lead that one lead could be the difference maker. And it also goes to, you know, a perspective of never being afraid to, to just fail. It, it, there’s so many different aspects of failure in, in weakness as what is perceived as weakness. So it’s, you know, if you look at a traditional SWAT analysis, you’ve got strength, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats which, what SWAT stands for, you know, anytime that you realize that your weakness and your threat are really your opportunity to and move forward, then you’ve, you’ve, you’ve really changed your mindset in, in part of it, cuz otherwise any company or any individual entrepreneur, if they looked at a market analysis and it’s oversaturated, we’d never come up with a new, the new product or we’d never come up with that new you know, transition to where we’re gonna head next.


Sam Demma (20:16):
What a good way to position that whole idea of failure and looking at risk as a positive thing. One of my inspirations as an American rapper named Russ who at the age of 15, decided he wanted to be one of the biggest artists in the world spent 10 years in the basement, a clothing store on a couch, making music made 94 songs, 11 studio albums build no fan base. And in the 11th year became one of the biggest independent artists on the face of the planet. And when asked in an interview, the best piece of advice he’d ever received, he said, what if it could turn out better than you ever imagined? And that sentence really reminded me of what you were saying about risk and it being an opportunity. It really just depends on the frame of mind that you’re in. When you look at the situation, I’m really curious to know where you see yourself within BPA within mice in the next five or 10 years. And this is obviously a big question, but what are some of your big goals that you hope to see come to life?


Patrick Shultz (21:27):
Yeah, well, I, I can start it by saying that it doesn’t matter what the title or what you know, what the position I’m in is as long as it’s making the difference. That’s where I want to be, you know, eight to 10 years for, from the mice perspective, I want mice in all 50 states. I wanna be in Canada, Mexico, Japan, China. I want it to just explode because I want the message and the opportunity to explode for students. It it’s not necessarily, but I, I mean, I’m not gonna lie. I’d love to be making millions and own a small island. And that’s where I wanna be in 10 years. But ultimately it it’s really the difference. For BPA within three years, I want to be in five new countries, I want to have BPA have double or triple the membership. And I wanna be able to have a system that has self support to be able to help identify and build out new instructors, because one of the biggest challenges that we’re gonna face globally, isn’t economical.


Patrick Shultz (22:34):
It it’s going to be an education or educator shortage that’s going to happen and occur. Cuz we have a number of individuals who have done their time. They have put in multiple years, multiple decades and they’re frankly burn out and it’s time and, and there’s going to be a very large shortage in terms of educators coming in. So that’s a big part of it. You know, it’s interesting too, when you bring up Russ and in, you know, the presence in, in how everything is cuz opportunity present itself, when you least expect it, if you go through life constantly waiting for that next moment, instead of making that moment or letting it happen you’re gonna live a little bit of, of doubt in yourself sometime, you know, or fear or anxiety because you’re always gonna be waiting and looking at it from a of, well, it’s not happening for me yet.


Patrick Shultz (23:33):
Well, that doesn’t mean that it’s not happening. It just hasn’t come to fruition. So it’s, it’s in work, it’s in progress. So you know, when I look at BPA in my career at BPA, did I ever think that I would move from a classroom educator all the way up to working for the national staff? I can’t say that I did. I’ve, I’ve loved the journey. I’ve loved the adventure. I’ve been able to work with so many dedicated educators and, and business professionals. I I’ve met CEOs, I’ve met custodians, I’ve met everybody throughout the process and they all have equal and important roles as you look at the full journey. I, myself, I would, I would love to be in a position that’s able to continue to make this decisions and move the organization to be really a model for global development and student success.


Patrick Shultz (24:36):
And, and honestly, I don’t, I don’t know that I need a title or that you need the title to be able to do that. Cuz you can make often you can make such a difference from the side and it doesn’t have to be from the top. Or even behind the scenes in certain things. There’s often many projects that I work on that I get called in for a quick solution or that, and, and it’s just that you do the solution, you give it back to ’em and then they’re able to move on and nobody ever knows where it came from and it’s perfect. It’s, it’s okay to happen in that way. It happens all the time. But yeah, you know, I’d love to be a philanthropic leader, you know, and build a a massive wealth that, that combines itself with other communities in, in really targets at risk youth in, in some really underprivileged areas, areas that we currently work with too.


Sam Demma (25:32):
So awesome to just hear some of the ideas, I appreciate you sharing, you have a quote on your Seren for everyone listening, who doesn’t actually see us and it reads, if it comes, let it come, if it stays, let it stay. If it goes, let it go. What does is the significance of that quote and what does it mean to you by Nicholas Sparks?


Patrick Shultz (25:51):
Yeah. You know, the quote really means that change happens. You know, when it comes, allow it to come, it, it could teach you some, some really positive life lessons, you know, change brings with it challenges, but it does bring solutions. If, if what you’re going through the, the second line, if it stays, let it stay is it’s okay to not force change. You know? So if you’re looking at something and it works, you don’t always have to reinvent the wheel just to make it a different way or fit. It might just work. So the platform may be in my mind a solution that could, could be better, but there’s bigger fish to fry or bigger things to take a look at. And if it goes, let it go, you know, it’s one of those things. It, you can take that in a lot of ways.


Patrick Shultz (26:41):
When nobody likes loss nobody likes seeing people walk away or rolls be reduced. But when I look at that in my, what it really means is, is go with the flow. You know, there’s many times where the change that comes is going to come no matter what, and you can’t control it, you have to just let it sort of go and let it play its course out in certain times you have to be there to support everybody on your team so that they’re able to do their jobs and be able to, you know, help others and work through it. And everybody does take it a little bit differently too. So you have to let it roll off your shoulders. Sometimes you, you know, someone might be upset. That’s okay. They might walk away. That’s okay. You will get through it no matter what that’s, that’s the big part, but it may look different and that’s okay. You know, for it to take a look at that way, but that’s really, you know, it’s deep, but there’s really those, those three different parts of it. And Nicholas Sparks is one of my wife’s favorite authors. So he he’s written some excellent books over the years. But just go with the flow.


Sam Demma (27:54):
I like it. A good friend of mine used to say Kura, if it’ll be, it will be. And I think that really sums up that, that quote, which is why it’s stuck out to me. If you could take the experience, you’ve had the knowledge and the wisdom over the past, however many years you’ve been working in education, travel back in time, tap young, younger, pat, not that you’re old, but tap younger pat on your shoulder and say, this is the advice I wish you heard when you were just getting started in this field in vocation. What would you have told you young yourself?


Patrick Shultz (28:29):
I definitely would’ve. It, it would’ve been my third, you know, option of leadership is listen more. I think that when I was younger, I would, I was definitely a go-getter I’m still a go-getter. But I didn’t, I impactfully listen to those or my environment all the time. I think that that would be something to definitely go back and tell myself to just sort of live in the moment and again, ears to the ground experience, what you’re experiencing. You don’t have to rush through it to get to the next phase or the next step in your career. And the other thing that I would definitely go back and do and tell myself, and I wish everybody could always tell themselves this. When they look back is you have to trust in your own ability. You know, there are many, many times where you are correct or your ability is good enough, but the human psyche takes over so often and tries to cast doubt in yourself or in the project you’re working on or even in a team.


Patrick Shultz (29:35):
You know, there’s, there was times too where, you know, you may be the strongest link on the team and there’s times where you may realize you’re not the strongest, but what you have to realize is how to share the responsibility or to pick up the others who are on your team you know, and help them along in the process. But at the same time, you do have to have discussions that are tough. And you have to have you know, a lot of faith in those around you to be able to move forward with a lot of the projects in, in the way that, you know, they need to be done. And it might not be your way, you know, that’s the other thing too, is I, if I could go back 20 years, I would tell myself that your way is not the only way, you know, it, it takes everybody, I think, quite a bit or a lot of time in life to realize that other solutions are, are awesome and that you know, they open your eyes to a different perspective to help you improve and grow to it.


Patrick Shultz (30:38):
I’ve always been a lifelong learner. I mean, I can’t get enough. I’m a knowledge hound where I sit on Wikipedia, I’ll sit and read you know, books, not it, it’s more like sitting and reading a dictionary almost. So just work, looking up word of the day and going through all those things. Yeah. I can’t get enough of, of that education piece, but I would tell myself to slow down and just enjoy the right two.


Sam Demma (31:03):
I love it. Thank you so much for taking some time here to share your experiences a little bit about yourself, some of your philosophies, if someone wants to reach out, ask a question or help you expand to Japan, China, or any of the other countries you mentioned, if they’re in the position to do so, what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you?


Patrick Shultz (31:23):
Yeah, the best way to get in touch would be to reach out, to support@bpa.org. That’ll come right to me and we can work through any challenges, structure, ideas even people, if they don’t want to talk BPA, they can talk mice, they can talk general knowledge, you know, just pick the brain. That’s, that’s where I think the collaboration amongst everybody always comes in. And you know, I’d like to just leave this with my favorite quote of all time. When my when I started teaching there was a track coach that I coached girls track with. And he always used to say this, and I never really believed it until four or five years into teaching, but the quote is still unknown to this day. I don’t know who created it other than him. But the quote is good. Better, best, never let it rest until your good is better and your better is best. And if you live by that motto in every single situation that you look at, no matter what the project, no matter what the assignment even if it’s just getting up out of bed out a day, when you’re having a bad day, take the good, make it better. And eventually the better will become the best that you could be. So that’s where I’d like to leave it with you for today.


Sam Demma (32:36):
Thank you so much, pat. Thank you so much, Patrick. Keep up the great work and we’ll talk soon.


Patrick Shultz (32:42):
All right. Thanks a lot, sir.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Patrick Shultz

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.

Christine Bays – Executive Director at the Unsinkable Organization

Christine Bays – Executive Director at the Unsinkable Organization
About Christine Bays

Christine Bays (@ChrisMBays) is the Executive Director at the Unsinkable Organization. After a 10-year career in Communications, Christine worked alongside Silken Laumann on the build and launch of Unsinkable in 2019. Since, the organization has reached 40 million people across the globe with their stories, resources, and events. 

Christine is passionate about knowledge mobilization, making a social impact, leadership, building community, and disrupting the mental health industry. When she’s not celebrating and supporting the humans of Unsinkable, you can find her navigating the messy and beautiful life of parenthood.

Connect with Christine: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

Listen to the episode now on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or on your favourite podcast platform.

Resources Mentioned

Unsinkable Organization

Unsinkable Youth Student Event

Psychology at the University of Toronto

The Transcript

**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. Today’s guest is the executive director at the Unsinkable organization; Christine Bays. After a 10 year career in communications, Christine worked alongside Silken Laumann on the build and launch of unsinkable in 2019. Since, the organization has reached 40 million people across the globe with their stories, resources, and events. Christine is passionate about knowledge mobilization, making social impact, leadership, building community, and disrupting the mental health industry.


Sam Demma (01:12):
When she’s not celebrating or supporting the humans of Unsinkable, you can find her navigating the messy and beautiful life of parenthood. Christine is a genuine, kind human being. We had a phenomenal conversation and she shares so much important and interesting knowledge on today’s episode. I hope you enjoy this, and I will see you on the other side. Christine, thank you so much for coming on the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here today. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit about what you do and why you do it?


Christine Bays (01:48):
Yeah, for sure. Sam, thank you so much for having me on today. As you said, my name’s Christine Bays, not Miss Bays; do not call me Miss.Bays. I am a 30 something Mama with a very busy career. I’m executive director for the Unsinkable organization, which is a nonprofit founded by Silken Laumann, and I do it because I love it so much. I, I really started my career in public relations and communications, and found myself in a place where I loved the work that I was doing, but didn’t love the purpose of why I was doing it. So I really wasn’t pumped to kinda like jump outta bed every morning and promote software. So, you know, when I had an opportunity to meet Silken and work with her in the capacity that I was in mental health, and kind of helping people reach their full potential and talking about wellbeing, I just fell in love with it. And I knew that I needed to make a life shift and I took a chance and I did it. And here we are almost three years later.


Sam Demma (02:57):
I, I noticed you also studied psychology and I’m, I’m curious to know where your, where your interest in it came from.


Christine Bays (03:04):
Yeah. Oh my goodness. You vetted me. Awesome. Yeah, so I did, I did my undergrad in psychology for me. I think I’ve, I’ve always just had an interest in human beings. I had a difficult childhood and, and I really just wanted to understand myself and my surroundings better. I think I felt like you know, for the first chunk of years of my life, or really didn’t have a lot of control over my environment. And I think for me going into psychology, it felt like I could learn and kind of like take back some of that power and, and potentially help people. So the goal was always to be a psychologist. However, I could not pass statistics to save my imortal soul. So I switched, I switched gears there, but yeah, that was always the goal to help people.


Sam Demma (03:53):
I love that. And having personal challenges is something that is extremely relatable. We all have them like every human being does. We all face them in very different capacities. You don’t have to get into details, but do you wanna share a little bit of your personal story?


Christine Bays (04:09):
Sure. Yeah. So, so I grew up I had a single mom growing up. She was a teenager when she had me, so there’s like first layer of difficulty along our Merry way. And then she met a man who was my stepfather who was like really quite abusive. So for the first seven years of my life, it was pretty scary and pretty unpredictable. And, you know, it took me a really long time to like, come to terms with that, that, that was actually like true trauma and like truly difficult. I just normalized it and pretended that it didn’t happen. And it wasn’t really until I started working with silk and for the organization and like hearing other people’s stories that I was able to say like, aha, like that actually wasn’t normal. Yeah. And that was hard. And that was hard. Right.


Sam Demma (04:59):
That makes a lot of sense. And no, I appreciate you sharing that. And through that journey, like what prompted you down a different path? Like I know you’ve met silken and, and, you know, started doing unable work now, but were there any lighthouses in the darkness that helped you along the way when you were struggling that you think might help others?


Christine Bays (05:18):
Oh my goodness. Yeah. So definitely like you make the decision early on. It doesn’t happen in your thirties after you’ve. I mean, some people do, but I think for me, I made a decision very early on that I didn’t want to be a product of my environment. I wanted better for myself. And so like the first thing really, and truly that I did was surround myself with good people. So I grew up in a small town, north bay, Ontario. Nice. And I, yeah, love it. So I surrounded myself with good human beings and good solid friendships and just kind of like stayed on that path. And, and, and I guess like really did choose a path of, of love and healing without even realizing it. And, and I really didn’t start struggling until about eight years ago when I had my first panic attack.


Christine Bays (06:10):
And so I, I was kind of going along pretty well and like was running, I think in a lot of ways and not realizing like I probably had like low grade anxiety that I was like partying away or drinking away or, you know, doing like low level destructive stuff to like, not deal with what was going on. And then it wasn’t until I became an adult. So to speak that I, you know, had to pause for a moment and everything kind of caught up to me. So then it was like, then the, the journey really started for me then


Sam Demma (06:39):
It was when you transition from Christine to miss in this band. And for literally,


Christine Bays (06:45):
Literally yes.


Sam Demma (06:47):
And for everyone, who’s wondering why we rented that twice. Do you wanna explain,


Christine Bays (06:53):
Oh my God, this poor girl. Yeah. So I, I spoke at a university event I guess a month ago. And one of the young women had tried, was connecting with me on LinkedIn about an internship opportunity. And she addressed me as miss FA, which is lovely and respectful, but I, I tweeted and say, I already made fun of me that I was like, I read it. And then I was like, excuse me, while I go ugly cry to an old cassette tape and really hunt for my blockbuster card, because just threw me back. I was like, oh, I’m like a real blown adult lady. I’m a misses.


Sam Demma (07:24):
That’s so awesome. In the spirit of going back, I want you to take me back to the moment you met silken and sure. And like, where did your vision, where did your vision come from to work with her and, and to do all this amazing work together? Like what, what, tell me this initial experience.


Christine Bays (07:43):
Okay. So I was on mat leave number two loving my children, but bored out of my brain. And someone that I went to my public relations course with had posted in our Facebook group at Olympian silk. And Laman was looking for someone to work with in like a social media capacity. And so I commented, we were introduced really, really headed off. And so initially it was really only supposed to be this like position that I would do a few hours a week. I would help silk in with her advocacy work. And it was just really cool opportunity. Let me first just say she was like, I’m at this place in my life where I wanna give back. I don’t want anything from it in terms of like monetary gains, I just wanna make a difference. So I was like, well, this is really cool because I’d mentioned before where I was like, not pumped to like jump outta bed to sell software, but this, I was like, okay, this is something I can use my for and really try and make a difference with this person who has like incredible vision and like just really, really beautiful stuff to say.


Christine Bays (08:48):
And so we started working together and, you know, she’d mentioned that she had this idea for something, but wasn’t really sure what it was. And it kind of just organically grew into this idea where it was like, okay, Silicon you know, she’s writing all these pieces for different organizations and third parties and getting in newspapers. And I was like, what, you know, you have the voice and the profile and the platform like to create your own, like why have you never created your own? And, and so it kind of just like started that conversation and, you know, she’s like, I’ve always wanted to, because for silken, you know, she had tons of adversity, tons, you know, this amazing story and went her whole life, hearing other people’s stories and, you know, wasn’t sharing them in a larger scale. And so that’s really like where unthinkable started with this, this, you know, want for people to hear these incredible stories.


Christine Bays (09:42):
And so it, it really just started off with like the two of us being like, okay, are we gonna go for this? Okay, we’re gonna go for this. And, and it was like, do we have a business plan? Okay. We’ve got this business plan. And like, I remember so many people being like, okay, so like what, what’s your target demographic? And, you know, we’re like humans and they’re like, it can’t be humans. Like it needs to be like women ages, like 20 to 25. And we’re like, no, no, no, we’re just gonna go for this thing. So we went for it and it it’s definitely blown up and, and grown from there.


Sam Demma (10:13):
So how did you meet her though? Was it at a conference? Like were, how did you cross, how did you cross paths?


Christine Bays (10:19):
So it was, it was through that, that friend who had worked with Silken at an agency. So she’d worked on I believe it was like a Samsung app. And so he introduced us, we spoke on the phone really hit off and like, I didn’t even meet her for such a long time. Like that just goes to show like the powers of tech ’cause she lives in Victoria. So we were just working on the phone like every day, just talking to each other and zooming and FaceTiming. And then yeah, when I met her, finally, it was like, I feel like it was like at least six months into us working together. Yeah.


Sam Demma (10:49):
And what makes you personally passionate about the work? Like I would suppose that now you wake up and you jump out of bed and you’re excited. What’s the difference?


Christine Bays (10:58):
Yeah, no, totally. I think it’s like, it starts off with like where we started, I think today, which was me wanting to better myself, but also like this need to help other people. And, and then me being like, okay, I’m probably not cut out to be a psychologist and actually, so looking joked about it, she’s like you would be the worst counselor ever. She’s like, you’re so a type and aggressive and I’m like, OK. But I think it’s like, I’m, I’m meant to be in the role that I’m in, like in terms of like, you know, who I am as a person and what I bring to an organization. But like now I kind of get to do both right where it’s like, I get to help people, but do it from a place of like leadership and business. And so yeah, for me, it’s like every day I get up knowing that you know, it sounds corny, but like I’m gonna help someone today or I’m gonna create a plan.


Christine Bays (11:53):
That’s gonna help 10 people down the road. And I feel like it just, it comes from like a really honest and natural place for me. So even like in the beginning, when I was just writing social content before we had a social person, like it came from me. So it was like, you know, if I’m writing content on like how to battle anxiety and like how to be okay with the darkness or a feeling like that’s not coming from like psychology articles, I read like that’s coming from me and that’s coming from silken. So I think like, it really is just like, it’s been almost like a pulse for what’s going on in my own personal life.


Sam Demma (12:26):
That’s amazing. And what does the work look like now? I’m sure it’s like shifted a little bit. Like what do you, what do focused on? Yeah.


Christine Bays (12:35):
Yeah. Okay. I laugh because, so like initially it was like writing, writing’s my passion. I love like I’m a creative. I love doing all of that stuff, but as my role has shifted, like it’s a lot of like liability and lawyers and accountants and like the stuff that like, oh, I don’t really wanna do, but silicon’s like, but you’re so good at it. And I’m like, yes, I am good at it. So I think it’s like, I try to make sure that I pull myself back into, like I said, the pulse of the organization. So I still work closely with, you know, program managers and our social media manager and like, you know, I’m starting to do live. So I’m kind of speaking to our community champions and getting involved in like the humans of the organization. So it’s not just involved in like, you know, the workings of running the organization. And of course, because we’re a startup and a very small team, like it really is all hands on deck for a lot of it. Like I do get pulled into a lot of different things, but you know, as it stands right now, I think it’s, it’s really just like a balancing act of like there’s 12 different things going on and I’m kind of doing a lot of all of them. So I get to do a lot of things, I guess, really to answer.


Sam Demma (13:46):
That’s amazing. And what are the different vessels or the different ways that unsinkable has an impact on the community on young people, your target market of humans.


Christine Bays (13:57):
Target market of humans? Yeah, totally. So the way that I like to describe it is the storytelling platform really is like the core, the nucleus, the catalyst for everything else that we do. So for people listening that aren’t familiar with the organization, we started off as a storytelling platform. So we managed to convince 60 said humans to share their most vulnerable stories with us. And it really was initially just Canada, but it ended up being global. So 60 amazing people came forward, shared their stories. And now it’s grown and more people are doing that. So as I say, like, are the catalysts, so it’s the catalyst for everything else that we do in terms of like creating events, creating community, creating programming, creating resources. So I think it’s really a catalyst for both sides when you’re looking at people coming to the organization.


Christine Bays (14:51):
So people coming, they’re engaging with a story, they read a story and then they’re like, oh yeah, actually like this like anger, irritation I’m feeling is anxiety and they have this aha moment. And then they realize they need some help with anxiety. And so we like to say like, okay, we have resources for you. We have a community of people who are also struggling with the same thing. Hey, like there’s some programming coming up or have you thought about this different events? So it’s the catalyst in that way. And then on the internal side, which is like where my heart and soul sings is working with the storyteller. So when they share their story, they’re in like they’re part of the family. So it’s not like a newspaper where like, Hey, can you share your amazing story? We’re gonna blast it all over the internet for a week and then never talk to you again.


Christine Bays (15:36):
It’s like, no, like these are people that it’s true, right? Like these are, we care. It’s not just the story that we want. We want that relationship with the person and we keep them and we do call it a family and, and we, you know, continue to help each other and take care of each other. And a lot of those people, and I would say actually, most people that come in and share their stories, they leave advocates, they leave advocates either for themselves or for other people who haven’t yet found their voices. And so I think like, that’s the beauty for me. That’s why I love it so much because you watch people just grow through telling their stories and then, you know, we keep those relationships.


Sam Demma (16:14):
And is there work with schools as well? Like I, I think a few months ago, maybe five months ago there was like a, a huge email blast about programming in schools. And I’m curious to know if that’s a, something that the organization is still looking to do or if, if it happened or tell me more about that.


Christine Bays (16:30):
So we haven’t like in any real way broken into schools. Right. So the email blast you might be thinking about was probably the CTV show that we put on in support of kids’ health phones. So we were email blasting, like all the schools in Canada, basically to be like, your kid needs to watch this because it was like this incredible production that our tiny team put on with the help of like a whole bunch of other people, of course, to pull that off. So that’s probably what that was. We we’ve also had in September we had a university event, so that might have been something as well where it was for first year university students, basically just to like adjust to the mayhem of attending first year in a pandemic. Yeah. Which nobody could say they’ve experienced. So but yeah, it’s, it’s definitely on the radar. But again, because the size of our team and the different, you know, magnitude of things we’re trying to do, there’s really no timeline on that right now.


Sam Demma (17:27):
Yeah. It makes total sense. How, how do you personally manage the amount of work and passion you have for unsinkable with raising your kid and staying healthy?


Christine Bays (17:37):
I drive my family insane really is like the short answer to that. Yeah, no, it’s, it’s a balancing act and, and I do struggle with it. I think it’s like my number one struggle because it’s like, I wake up thinking about it and I’m also like equally as passionate as of a mom. And so I think like, as a woman, I really struggle with like wanting to be that mom. That’s like, I’m gonna sew up your costumes and we’re gonna bake cookies and we’re gonna put on a magic show and we’re gonna run around the yard. But then also I’m gonna take over the world with this organization as well. And then also try not to die in the middle of that from like really like not taking care of myself. So I think like, what I will say is, and what I’ve come to is like, as a woman, like you can, or anybody really, like, you can have everything just not at the exact same time. So I think it’s like, sometimes I’ll find like I’m really killing it at work, but then like, my kids are like, mommy, like I, you know, I haven’t heard from you in a while. And then like, if I’m doing both of those, then I start to not feel so well. So it really is just trying to like, make sure that I haven’t left any of those three pockets for too long.


Sam Demma (18:43):
Hmm. I love that. That’s a, that’s a great explanation.


Christine Bays (18:47):
I don’t know if it’s, I don’t even know. Like, I don’t even know if it’s actually going to work out. Like, certainly sometimes I feel like the balls are going to fall. Like yesterday. I, you probably saw my tweet, but I drove my kids to school and no backpacks and you know, that’s, that’s just me, like as a mom, a few weeks before that I locked both my kids in the car at school. I had no phone, I had nothing. I was just like standing out in my sweatshirt and then I had to go ask people to like, help me break my kids outta the car. And it’s, you know what it’s just like, but they love me for it. Like they think I’m hilarious, you know? Like, and so I just need to be like, okay, this is who I am.


Sam Demma (19:22):
What do you, that’s so funny, first of all I’ve locked my keys in cars multiple times and it’s an old their car. So there’s no like, you know, because your keys are in the car, there’s a special feature where the doors don’t lock. And I have call CA it’s like private, the doors open kind of a similar experience. Yeah.


Christine Bays (19:40):
Yep.


Sam Demma (19:41):
What do you think though is the biggest opportunity that exists in the space of education and with young people today? You know, I know there’s challenges and everyone talks about them all the time. What do you think are some of the opportunities though that exist,


Christine Bays (19:58):
Like in terms of like where one could go with their career


Sam Demma (20:02):
Or how we can impact young people as teachers, educators as an organization?


Christine Bays (20:08):
Yeah. Yeah. So I think like, so also just so I will preface this with, before I started before we launched UNS sinkable youth, I was actually quite uncomfortable with the idea of working with youth because I’m at this age where like 50 year olds understand youth because they have them and I’m at this sweet spot of like being so far away from my youth that I’m actually like feeling quite disconnected from youth. But so it’s been a great experience relearning, but I will say like the, most of what I’ve heard is like, we just need to listen to listen to what’s going on more and like less of like, okay, we’ve been through this, we know better. And like, this is the way it is. It really is just about like understanding what their experience is. And for a lot of times, like they just wanna be heard. And, and even like in some of the university events where it’s like, just giving them an opportunity to be heard and, and, you know, just be able to answer their questions based on like what they’re really saying, not based on like what I think they need to hear and what they need to know.


Sam Demma (21:13):
Ah, that’s awesome. I love that. That’s, it’s great advice because I think a lot of the times I’m not a parent, but I think a lot of the times as parents are as superior, you know, superior people to a young person in age, they try and, you know, in part their wisdom on, yeah, this is what you should do. And this is what I would do. And I think sometimes young people just don’t wanna hear that, you know?


Christine Bays (21:34):
No, I know I didn’t. And, and I think like that’s like, I, I really actually, I love working with young people and I’m, I’m so energized by them. Like every time that I’ve spoken, like, I, I did a humble thing a couple weeks ago and I’m just blown away by the young people right now. I don’t think I had anywhere near the level of self-awareness that young people have now. Like when I was 20, I, you know, I really, really didn’t. So I think like giving them so much more credit than, than people do, you know, where it’s just like, I was inspired by them. I learned from them. And I think like, like I show up not feeling superior more. So feeling like I, I can learn from them as well, where it’s like, you know, it’s an experience for me in the same


Sam Demma (22:19):
Tony Robbins used to say, or probably still says it to be honest, but I’m pretty sure he said one time that you can learn something from every person you meet and, you know, maybe your, you know, maybe they’re not gonna be better at PR than you are. But maybe they’re better at dancing and you could learn something about dancing from them and every single person because of their unique makeup, they have specific passions, right. Yeah, they’re probably well more well versed in than we are. And so if you approach every totally without open mind, you end up learning something very unique from each person. Curious to know, like, what is next for you? What is next for unsinkable? Like where do I see Christine in five years?


Christine Bays (23:03):
Okay. So definitely, definitely still an unsinkable. There’s no question about that. I’m not going anywhere. But for UN in syncable specifically, we are in grow mode right now. And like, I think our, my biggest challenge right now is trying to build capacity on our organization for all these incredible opportunities that come up. Like, it’s, it’s a great problem to have, but it’s a problem, nonetheless. So I think like in five years from now, I know that we will be doing exactly what we’re doing right now, but we’ll be doing more of it. We’ll be doing it better. We’ll be stronger, we’ll be faster. We will be more efficient. And, you know, I think, yes, we’ll be helping more people, but I I’d like to see us helping more people on a deeper level. So I think like one thing that’s, that’s new this year, that’s on our strategic plan is is that we really wanna be more program focused.


Christine Bays (24:00):
Whereas we, you know, we started out as like that, not a blog, but people would call it a, we call it a platform. And so now we really wanna make sure that we have program offerings for people. And so we’re piloting two right now, one for kids, one for adults really focused around general emotional health. And we’ve got some really exciting things coming up that are a little bit more specific in terms of, of topics. So one for bipo youth and one for youth with disordered eating. And so, yeah, there’s, there’s a lot coming up for us for sure.


Sam Demma (24:30):
Ah, that’s awesome. And if someone listened to this conversation, and is excited or loves your energy what would be the best way for them to reach out to you and have a conversation?


Christine Bays (24:41):
Yeah, social media probably. So Twitter, I am the stacked on. Okay. So I would say yeah, on Twitter.


Sam Demma (24:49):
And your handle, is it just Christine underscore?


Christine Bays (24:52):
@ChrisMBays


Sam Demma (24:54):
Okay, perfect.


Christine Bays (24:55):
Yep. Yep.


Sam Demma (24:56):
Awesome. Christine, thank you so much for coming on the show today. I really appreciate it. I look forward to staying in touch and seeing all the amazing work that happens behind the scenes and we’ll talk soon.


Christine Bays (25:07):
All right, sounds good. Thank you.


Sam Demma (25:08):
And there you have it. Another amazing guest, an amazing interview on the High Performing Educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review so other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show; f you want meet the guest on today’s episode, if you wanna meet any of the guests that we have interviewed, consider going to www.highperformingeducator.com and signing up to join the exclusive network, you’ll have access to networking events throughout 2021 and other special opportunities. And I promise I will not fill your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Christine Bays

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.

Phebe Lam – Associate Vice-President, Student Experience UWindsor (Acting) 

Phebe Lam - Associate Vice-President, Student Experience at UWindsor
About Phebe Lam

UWindsor alumna Phebe Lam (@Phebe_Lam) (BSc 1995, BA 1997) began a two-year appointment as acting associate vice-president, student experience, on March 22. Dr. Lam earned master’s and doctoral degrees in psychology from Wayne State University and has been teaching at the University of Windsor since 2015.

In addition to teaching the “Mentorship and Learning” course, she has helped to expand the reach of mentorship programs across the Faculty of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences and developed new student advising and support programs, including online projects such as the Pathway to Academic and Student Success peer mentor program and the Reach Virtual Online Peer Mentor Support. Lam has also served several roles in support of the Student Mental Health Strategy and as chair of the Senate Student Caucus.

Connect with Phebe: Email | Twitter | Linkedin

Listen Now

Listen to the episode now on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or on your favourite podcast platform.

Resources Mentioned

BIDE Institute UWindsor

Drew Dudley Leadership Speaker

Wangari Maathai (Environmental Activist)

The Transcript

**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 (00:02):
Phebe, welcome to the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here, please start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit about why you’re passionate about the work you do today.


Phebe Lam (00:13):
Well, thank you. Sam, it is, you know, a pleasure to, to be here with you in this moment. And you know, I’m very, very, very grateful for this opportunity to share some of my, my experiences. So my name is Phebe Lam. I by trade I’m a psychologist actually starting off as a educational psychologist. But you know, let’s maybe take a, a few steps back. My undergraduate degree was in, in science and, you know, pre-med, I, you know, thought I wanted to become a doctor. But things didn’t end up that way. I think pretty much within the first week of school, I knew that, you know, there was something else for me and that road you know, was, was something that I might have to, to put aside. And so when I finished my general science degree I switched over and and completed my psychology degree and really felt that that was, you know, you know, my, my true love you know, ever since my first memories as, as a child is, you know, always wondering, you know, why, why did that person say that?


Phebe Lam (01:32):
Or why did that person do that? And we know, you know, psychology is a science of, of human behavior. Right. And so that always fascinating me. And so I was, I was truly in, in the right place in psychology. And so I went on to do my master’s degree in marriage and family psychology at Wayne state university in Detroit, Michigan. And then went on to do my PhD in educational psychology. And so I’m a licensed psychologist in the state of Michigan and practiced there and worked at Wayne state university in the school of medicine for about 15 years in mostly health psychology and also doing in working in a immunology clinic working the specifically, specifically with children, adolescents, and young adults and their families infected and affected with HIV.


Phebe Lam (02:32):
And so that really, you know was the kickstart of many of the things that I’m I’m doing today was from the, those early the experiences working with some amazing clients, amazing families that, that really inspired me to, to, to who I am today. So, and then 2015 I I started working for university of Windsor going right back home, full circle, and working in the faculty of arts, humanities, and social sciences teaching doing administrative work, but working in student support creating initiatives for students for engagement for, for retention. And then also I taught a mentorship and learning course, which also was another moment that sort of redirected my journey in education and really sparked again, a lot of the things that I I’m doing today.


Phebe Lam (03:39):
And so where I’m at now I am in a acting associate vice president role of student experience. And I started that this year actually in March and it’s been quite the journey. So, you know, when you’re least expecting things to happen, they always happen. And I’m very grateful that I had the courage to, to take this on because there’s no looking back and I’m here today and I’m excited and really looking forward to them, many things that I can still do for, for the university community as well as beyond that. So that’s sort of in a nutshell.


Sam Demma (04:28):
That was an awesome response. Let’s backtrack to the transition from medicine to education. How did that transition happen? What prompted you to get into working more so into schools?


Phebe Lam (04:42):
Okay. So you know, I, I’m gonna give a, a little example and I might be dating myself by, by doing this, but that’s okay. I, I own it and I’m proud of it. So back in the sort mid eighties and late eighties, early nineties Kodak, the company had commercials and they were, you know, this Kodak moment, right? And the whole commercial was, you know your true colors, your true colors, you know, let your true colors shine through and, you know take those opportunities. And so throughout my life, I looking back, I had all these sort of codes, exact moments where they, you know, really changed, you know, my direction in, in life. And so so going from, from thinking about a career in medicine to, to education and psychology the turning point if I had to pinpoint was when I almost blew up our science lab because my partner and I, we didn’t know that our buns and burner was on and it was on, and suddenly the the GA at the time said, you know, I think we smell some, some gas and everybody’s looking at each other.


Phebe Lam (06:02):
And I looked at my little buns and burner, and I, I saw that it was indeed on, but with no flame. And so at that moment, we, you know, I kicked into action. I, you know, we turned it off. But inside, there was a moment where I thought, you know what there’s something more, and me sitting in this lab full of anxiety, full of stress, because I didn’t know it was my first year, first lab. I didn’t know where, what I was doing was unsure, but at that moment, because of that, I don’t know if it was the stress. It was that moment where some light turned on and I said, okay, Phoebe you know, hang tight. There’s something out there. And so from there on, I was always looking, always listening, always, you know, trying to you know, maybe you can sum it up as being just curious, curious as to what my journey should be.


Phebe Lam (06:59):
And so, as I was curious, talking to more and more people you know, learning and seeking out mentors it led me to, to hone in on, you know, how I love and I thrive to be in the environment where there is that learner teacher or mentee mentor relationships and, you know, supporting people in their darkest moments really, really touched me. And so then I knew that, you know, psychology and education was something that I wanted to head into. And at that moment, I still didn’t know what, you know, what, where that was going to lead. Right. But I was very open to those opportunities. And and here I am.


Sam Demma (07:48):
Steve jobs has this quote, and I’m gonna read it off of my phone because I shared it on Twitter recently. He said, okay, your work is gonna fill a large part of your life. And the only way to be truly five is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. And if you haven’t found it yet, keep looking, don’t settle. And based on what you just told me, it sounds like that little quote that Steve shared, it was at a 20, a 2005 Stanford commencement address sums up what sounds like your journey in education. It sounds like you were curious to find the thing you loved and that curiosity just kept pulling you forward. Where do you think absolutely. Where do you think that curiosity kind of comes from where you always, some, one that was interested in things growing up or was it cultivated?


Phebe Lam (08:46):
You know, a part of it was always interested, you know, and always curious of the things that I didn’t know. Mm. And very early on my especially my father really instilled in, you know in, in myself the, the desire and that passion to always be curious, you know, always ask questions. And as I’m speaking now, I can’t even think back to my grandparents who, who you know, had also very close relationship with. They would always, you know, we would always talk about or they would share their stories with, with me. And I was always very curious and very good listener. I think I mostly did a lot of listening more than asking questions. I don’t believe that I was that kid that asked a lot of questions. Right. I was always the, the, the observer, the, the listener and, and taking everything in and then, and then reflecting in the processing on that.


Phebe Lam (09:54):
But I, we really enjoyed stories, you know, listening to stories. I mean, that’s how I learn, learn the best. And that’s, you know, part of my teaching is through telling stories and listening to people’s lived experience. Wouldn’t it be great, Sam, if, you know, everybody could write their own story, you know, and we could tap into someone’s journey. And I think about that when I teach, I think about that when I mentoring students and working with students is, you know, taking that time to say, Hey, you know, what is your story? You know, what were your experiences? Because it’s not until I understand and hear those stories that I can be, be here to help support and, and truly understand, and, and, and listen and appreciate where they are in that moment when I’m with them. Yeah. Oh, I hope I answered that question.


Sam Demma (10:50):
You did, you did the importance of stories is connected to this idea of, of the importance of mentorship. I’ve had many mentors in my life who thinking about it now taught me so many things through the sharing of experiences and stories that they went through, which is why I think it’s so important to have somebody in your life who can mentor you, who can have your best interests at, and also be willing to invest some time into sharing some of their own experiences and learnings with you. You are a big fan of mentorship, helped turn it into even like a curriculum. And course, can you talk a little bit about that?


Phebe Lam (11:32):
Absolutely. and, you know before I start talking about it, you know, I use a lot of word interchangeably and I, and, and words are so incredibly important because, you know, I used to think about, you know, the, the education as the learner and the teacher, and now I’m finding because of, you know, that Kodak moment or that opportunity to, to head down you know, teaching this course mentorship and learning has led me to think about, you know, re or unlearning and relearning what education and what teaching really is. And for me teaching is actually mentoring because it’s not, there’s no boundaries. You know, when the class is done where you’re done taking my course, that relationship continues on. And I tell this to my students all the time, even my, anybody who I I’ve ever worked with. And a past teacher or professor you know, Dr.


Phebe Lam (12:35):
Clark Johnson back in my grad school days, he said this to all our students, you know, your tuition with me is good for a lifetime. Hmm. As long as you can find me, I’m here for you. And I offer that to all my students. I mean, you find me, I I’m here to support you. And through the, you know, 20, some odd year as of post-secondary teaching I’ve had students come back to me. I may not remember them you know, but I, you know, I I’m there. And so, okay. So leading into the mentorship. So in 2016 I was given the opportunity to teach a course called mentorship and learning. And it’s a fourth year level class that that teaches third and fourth year students to become mentors in a first year course in the faculty of arts, human to use in, or social sciences.


Phebe Lam (13:36):
And these mentors are in a majors only. So if you’re a psychology major, you would mentor in the first year psychology course. Okay. And so this class actually began in 2005 co-founders Tina Dr. Tina pules and professor Tson bacon. And so they gave me the opportunity to teach this class. I did not know what I was getting myself into. I mean, I did some work with mentoring in HIV where we would have doctors and nurses and staff at the hospital be mentors for, for, for, for children in, in our clinic. But this, you know, teaching mentorship, like I know about mentoring, but, you know, so I kind of just dove to it and said, you know what? I trust that they chose me. And you know, I’m gonna trust this process and I can tell you Sam it has changed my life, you know being a mentor and a mentee.


Phebe Lam (14:41):
It, you know, first year students that come to university is a transition period, and we know that they’re at risk, right. And so having these mentors who are their peers is incredibly important, right. We’ve seen the, the statistics in retention, but more importantly, this class is for these, you know, 25 to 50. Now we have about a hundred students mentors to foster and to to help them to grow in, you know, leadership and becoming mentors for the rest of their lives to seek out mentors to be mentees, but to also be mentors themselves. So, yeah. And and many of the students that I’ve taught over the years you know, they’re working alongside me in the office of student experience even right now. So these are relationships that have continued on. Yeah. And will continue on,


Sam Demma (15:41):
Did the BIDE Institute come to life with students in that class? Or tell me a little bit about the origins of the Biden Institute as well.


Phebe Lam (15:50):
Okay. yes. So the by Institute B I D E stands for belonging, inclusivity, diversity, and equity. And this is a student led student run initiative that focuses on those four pillars, belonging, inclusivity, diversity and equity, and the co-founders of these, this Institute are two two of my students who went through the mentorship and learning program. Cool. And I knew, you know, you know, when you see you know, the potential in, in, in, in students you know, my first, my first, you know, thing to do is to, to grab a hold of them and say, Hey, listen, you, you, you know, this is, this is a great opportunity. And actually they came up with this opportunity or this initiative I said to them, you know, back in may, I said, listen, you know, I wanna do something for the students.


Phebe Lam (16:50):
And, you know, it’s not me, it’s gonna be students working with students, students coming up with these initiatives. And within two months the Biden Institute came up and and we’re very excited to kickstart this very unique Institute for students. Basically it’s a platform where students can come to together share their experiences, share what they know, share their passion through conversation, through activities and providing a safer and brave place for them to be able to see their, their creativity, see their thoughts come in to to, to life and to be able to to, to, to build their legacy every day.


Sam Demma (17:44):
Hmm. It’s amazing. If someone is interested in learning more about the Institute, does it have a web URL or a, a page that someone can search to read about it?


Phebe Lam (17:54):
Yes. Yes they do. Yes, they do. Sorry. Yes, we do. So if I can share that link with you you know, after yeah.


Sam Demma (18:05):
Awesome. Amazing. And what the does the day in the life look like in your current role and position you’ve done, you know, various different things. What, what does the day in the life look like now?


Phebe Lam (18:20):
Oh, wow.


Sam Demma (18:21):
That’s a tough one.


Phebe Lam (18:22):
Oh, no, it’s it, yes. It, it’s a, it’s a tough one, but it’s also really exciting just, you know, it is every day of you know, how can I even sum it up? It’s it’s leadership in a in a, in a way that I didn’t see leadership as it is the way that I see it today. And so, you know, just a few points, you know I’ve really learned that, you know, I don’t have to have the right answers and just the thought of that gives me freedom, right. Gives me freedom to, to be curious, because that’s also freedom. And, you know, understand that the power in leadership comes when we share it and we support it in others. And a large part of what I do is is, is fostering our future leaders and having students working in my office.


Phebe Lam (19:30):
Now I have, you know, this office has, you know five directors that are are, are so wonderful. And, you know, when I look at the work that they do it’s the commitment, you know, it’s their it’s, I see the inspiration that they have in them and the passion that they have in them to really serve the students, because they want to make, you know, this community this world a truly, a better place. And, and again, you know, that leaving that legacy be, be behind, right. As, as we move forward you know, in the day in the life, you know, every day is about being vulnerable keeping in check with who I am being aware and constantly reflecting and and assessing where I am where others are and to meet others where they are not expect to, to come to me and be at my place, but for me to put forth, authentic and genuine effort to go to where they are and to meet them where they are and see what our student needs are and what what needs are for those who work alongside me and to nurture that.


Sam Demma (20:54):
Awesome, something that I believe is important is being a lifelong learner. And you strike me as someone with curiosity, who is always looking for new ways to grow and learn new things over the course of your career, have you found any books or resources or courses or things that you had went through that were extremely valuable that you think if other educators had the chance to read, watch, or experience would also be helpful for their personal development?


Phebe Lam (21:29):
Absolutely. So I have a, a few a few a few videos or a few individuals that, that again have really impacted my view in perspective in not just, you know, education or teaching and learning and not just in mentoring and leadership, but for every day. Mm. So you don’t have to be a teacher or you can be a child or anyone, you know, I mean, there’s seven point what 8 billion people in this, in this world. And we’re all unique living beings, right. Each with our own lived experiences. So so yes, there are, there are the first one is Drew Dudley. He is a, you know, leadership speaker and he speaks to everyday leadership and the lollipop moment, how we should be creating impact every day through not just the big stuff, because most of us are not doing those big grand things, but those everyday leadership opportunities by, you know, as simple as acknowledging what somebody’s done for you, and those are those lollipop moments, and I’ve really done a lot, made an effort to do that more and more.


Phebe Lam (22:49):
And week I, I, I look back and reflect on my life and think, oh, you know what, at this moment, this person made a huge difference in my life. And it could have been easy as a, a, a, a constant smile that this person always had. And I, I went back and I acknowledged that, and, you know and that’s been really great. So ju du lead the everyday leadership, his Ted talk really really impacted me. The other person that’s really impacted myself is Dra woman’s right. A, she won the she received the 2004 Nobel peace prize for her work. And she speaks to the story of a hummingbird and where, you know, a hummingbird is in this huge Flos and this Floris is consumed with fire, and all the animals have, you know, come together and are, is looking with, at this floors burning and feeling, you know, very overwhelmed and powerless, and, you know, not knowing what to do, except for this little hummingbird and this little hummingbird, you know, said to itself, well, I’m gonna do something about this fire.


Phebe Lam (24:04):
So it flies back and forth to the stream and brings with this little beak, a tiny droplets of water and sprinkling onto this huge forest fire. And all the animals are, you know, animals bigger than the hummingbird, you know, said to this hummingbird, you know, what are you doing? You know, you’re so small, this fire is so big and your wings are so little, you know, you only carry a drop of water at the time. Like, what are, you know, what’s that gonna do? And, you know, this little hummingbird was not at all discouraged. And it turned to these, these animals and said, you know, I’m doing the best I can. Mm. And, you know, I, I carry that with me. And I shared, you know, this story with, with my students all the time, as I, you know, we can just do the best we can, you know, and and that’s enough.


Phebe Lam (24:52):
Right. And, you know, and it’s okay to be that hummingbird because there are other hummingbirds around who are doing this exact same thing. And, you know, we, we, we can, you know, we see each other and together, you know, is better. And you know, as, as small as you think that you are, or maybe you may feel insignificant, you really are not you know, you just need to do the best you can and to, to be able to reach out for support when you can. So those are, you know, the two you know, two little videos, short videos that that really has, you know, impacted my journey and has really, you know, given me some clear direction. I always go back to, to those two things. You know, especially when times are challenging and when times are difficult.


Sam Demma (25:43):
That’s amazing. Those are both two awesome resources. I’ll make sure to link them in the show notes and on the article. So you can watch those if you’d like as well, Phoebe, this has been a really enjoyable conversation packed with so many experiences and ideas. If someone wants to reach out, send you a message, what would be the best way for them to get in contact with you?


Phebe Lam (26:07):
My email at the university of Windsor I’m also on LinkedIn. I have to do better with that. Not as I don’t keep up with that as, as much, but that’s one of my goals for 2022. But yes, my email is, you know, Phebe.Lam@uwindsor.ca


Sam Demma (26:28):
Awesome. Phoebe, thank you so much. Keep up the amazing work. Keep being a hummingbird and making everyday impact. And I’ll talk to you soon.


Phebe Lam (26:37):
Thank you, Sam. Thank you again for this opportunity.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Phebe Lam

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.

Jennifer Lemieux – Teacher, Guidance Counselor and Student Leadership Advisor

Jennifer Lemieux - Teacher, Guidance Counselor and Student Leadership Advisor
About Jennifer Lemieux

Jenn Lemieux (@misslemieux) feels blessed to serve the staff and students at St. Peter’s Catholic Secondary School in Barrie, Ontario (SMCDSB). She has been a teacher, guidance counselor, and a student leadership advisor. As an educator for the past 22 years she continues to be inspired by the students and staff she works with.  

Her favourite quote is by John Quincy Adams, “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more, you are a leader.”  The actions of educators have a large impact on the lives of students, families, colleagues, and the community.  As educators, we are gifted with many opportunities to be able to inspire others to dream, learn, and become more. It is one of the most amazing jobs in the world!

Connect with Jennifer: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

Listen to the episode now on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or on your favourite podcast platform.

Resources Mentioned

St. Peter’s Catholic Secondary School

Ontario Student Leadership Conference (OSLC)

Youth Leadership Camps Canada (YLCC)

Canadian Student Leadership Association (CSLA)

Canadian Student Leadership Conference (CSLC)

Thinkertoys: A Handbook of Creative-Thinking Techniques

The Transcript

**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. Today’s guest is Jennifer Lemieux . I met her a couple years ago, presenting at a conference in Ontario, known as the Ontario student leadership conference. She was one of the teachers that were in my breakout room and we stayed connected and I thought it’d be really awesome to have her on the show.


Sam Demma (01:00):
She has such a diverse experience in teaching. She’s a teacher, a guidance counselor, and a student leadership advisor, and also an Ontario director of the Canadian student leadership association. Her teaching roles occur at St. Peter’s Catholic secondary. She lives out in Barrie and she’s a part of the Simcoe Muskoka Catholic District School Board. I have an awesome conversation with Jennifer on today’s episode about so many different topics and her philosophies about teaching and education. And I hope you truly get a lot out of this interview and reach out to her towards the end when I, when I give you her email address. So without further ado, enjoy this interview with Jen and I will see you on the other side. Jenn, thank you so much for coming on the high performing educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself and sharing the reason behind why you got on why you got into education?


Jennifer Lemieux (01:56):
Well, thanks for having me. It’s an honour to be here. You’re doing amazing things, so that’s pretty awesome. I just got noticed that my internet actually is unstable so that’s how this goes. Why I got into education? Well, when I was young, my mom was a teacher, so that’s sort of where some of it, I guess would’ve begun. She taught elementary school. So we’ve had our share of being in classrooms; helping mom out. In high school of my history teacher, Mr. Adia, he was one of my inspirations in becoming a teacher. He was just an amazing individual who could inspire us to do awesome things with history and I actually majored in history and then ended up, it was either law school or education. Those were my two sort of goals. And after three years of school I was liked, I really wanted more and education was calling my name and so that’s where I begun. And I’ve been at the same school, this is going on 22 years. I haven’t had to leave and so it’s been a pretty awesome experience.


Sam Demma (03:06):
That’s awesome. And at what point in your own career journey, did you know that you were gonna be a teacher? Like, was there like people who pushed you in this direction? Did you know it since you were a little kid or how, how did you make the decision that it was gonna be education?


Jennifer Lemieux (03:25):
I don’t think, I mean, I just loved always. I mean, coaching when I was young doing thing with youth and, you know, it was just part of a natural habit to, to want, to help people. And though I think, you know, having the inspiration of, of course my mom and Mr. OIA was, was lovely to have and just wanting to be able to make a difference in the lives of people. So that was that I think was my go to.


Sam Demma (03:53):
I love that. And if you could pinpoint what the things were that Mr. O did that had a huge insignificant impact on you? Like, what would you say was it that he tried to get to know his students and build relationships? Or what was the main thing he did that made you feel? So, you know, stern, a scene heard and appreciated and inspired you so much so that you wanted to get into education yourself.


Jennifer Lemieux (04:20):
He was definitely human first teacher second. Right. So, so you could see those connections. He tried to make, I’m also from a fairly small town in Northwestern, Ontario, and he was also my driving instructor. nice. And he taught me how to drive . So he just, you know, sometimes people, he didn’t coach me he did coach golf where we were from. But he was just, just authentic and human and he cared and he challenged our thinking. And so it just was a great relationship we had.


Sam Demma (04:54):
Hmm. That’s amazing. And funny enough. He was also your, your driver’s teacher, you were saying, it sounds like he was a teacher in all aspects of life.


Jennifer Lemieux (05:03):
You betcha.


Sam Demma (05:04):
That’s awesome. Very cool. And so then you grew up do you still stay in touch with him today? Do you still talk to him?


Jennifer Lemieux (05:13):
I’ve seen him because I still have family in the small town we were from actually just saw him. Last time I was home in the grocery store and just had a little convers and with him, you know, in the aisles of the grocery store, I mean, that’s not a, a constant communication, but he knows he was pivotal.


Sam Demma (05:30):
Yeah, no, that’s cool. I was gonna say sometimes teachers see the impact that they, that they’ve created. Sometimes they, they don’t see it. Sometimes it takes 25 years for a student to turn around and, and let the teacher know. And I’m sure you of that, I’m sure you’ve, you know, had stories of transformation and maybe some that are, you know, 10, 15 years out of school and then they come back and they, they speak to you and tell you about the impact you had. I’m curious though out of all the students that you’ve seen transform due to education, maybe not directly in your class, maybe in your class or on your sporting teams do you have any stories that really stick out that were really inspiring? And the reason I ask is because another educator might be listening, being a little burnt out for getting why they got into education in the first place. And I think at the heart of most educators it’s students, right. They really care about young people and the youth. And so do you have any of those stories of transformation that you’ve seen that really inspired you? And if it’s a, if it’s a very personal story or serious story, you can, you know, give the student a fake name. just to keep it private.


Jennifer Lemieux (06:35):
Well, I mean, there’s, there’s many in instances. I mean, I wear two hats right now. I still teach classes, but I’m also a guidance counselor. Nice. so you have, you have two sort of different things to look at. I mean, as a teacher, you work with your students and, and I just love to see them gain their confidence and grow. I mean, I taught history. Then I went in and taught psychology G and so I say, I teach the life courses. My husband says I don’t teach the real courses of math and science. So I like to think leadership is life and psychology is life. Yeah. And just watching some of the students, especially in the leadership classes that they come in and they’re not really there. Some are make it, and they don’t know why they’re there and just a watch their confidence grow throughout the time you have with them.


Jennifer Lemieux (07:22):
I mean, we’re in the business of human connections. Yeah. I struggle sometimes to really think about, you know, I’m a, a task person and I like to do my tasks. And, and so I really have to consciously think sometimes people first tasks later same with, I think all teachers, we need to think students first curriculum later, mm-hmm . And I know a lot of my colleagues probably agree with that as well. But it’s really hard to do that sometimes. And so, I mean, I’ve watched students who have passions in their high school career go in, I mean, I’ve got one student working at Google in Cal now. Wow. So he’s working, he’s working there in high school. He was that kid who created websites, created videos for the school. Nice. So, you know, you have these kids who have their passions and to foster them and provide those opportunities and let them grow.


Jennifer Lemieux (08:14):
Those are some big transformations you see in kids. And then you also have the kids that, you know, have no family support and no, you know, they rely on the caring adults in the school to be their family to speak and to help push them to grow. Right. And you have those kids too, that have a lack of confidence or are the introverts who join your classes and you give them opportunity to try to shine, even though they don’t wanna do those presentations, you know, you provide some safe parameters and boom, off they go. So, you know, to say that there’s one specific, there’s a lot in the very many categories, if that makes sense. Yeah. That we can, you know, providing, I like to think we provide opportunities for students to grow. Yeah. In the very different capacities that we have. Right. And I, you know, kids come back and say, thank you so much, like you did this. And I’m like, all I did was provide the opportunity. You took it. Yeah. And you lost them. Right. So that’s sort of where I like to think we have the huge responsibility and opportunity for, to provide opportunities for our students to, to flourish and blossom.


Sam Demma (09:28):
What does and support them. Yeah. No, I agree. What, what does providing the opportunities look like? Is it a, to cap on the shoulder? Is it an encouraging, you know, word? Like what does that actually look like from a teacher’s perspective?


Jennifer Lemieux (09:42):
Well, it varies from giving them opportunities to attend conferences, right. To actually plan and execute and deliver a full event from start to finish, to provide them your full trust that you believe in them that they’re going to be able to do. Right. I mean, I had one student, we have a massive event in our school called clash of the colors and it’s a big, loud, crazy event. That’s four extroverts. And this one student had entered my grade 11 class and was like, but I’ve her bin. And I’m like, that’s okay. Right. Mm-hmm so how do we make you go? And so she was like, well, I don’t know, like maybe a board game room. And so we were like, okay, let’s create a board game room. And so we created this board game room and, you know, we ended up having kids that we never had and she then felt included.


Jennifer Lemieux (10:37):
Right. So she, she spoke up, had the courage to say, yeah, well, you know, I’m in this class and here we’re planning this thing I’ve never attended. Right. And I also had the flip where I had a brand new student come in last year or two years ago cuz COVID he came in and has no idea what our school culture is about and he’s lumped into a leadership class. Right. And he’s just like, yeah. Okay. And he ends up leading an entire assembly when he really knew nothing that was going on. Wow. You know, and I’ve had an ESL kid come in who couldn’t speak English. So basically they were put in my class for socialization and just to watch the, the student engagement and the support and students helping each other. I mean, those are the opportunities we get to provide for them to build confidence.


Sam Demma (11:28):
If that makes sense. Yeah. No, a hundred percent. You’re you are the person that provides the opportunity for growth, whether it’s the planning of an event, whether it creating inclusive opportunities where everyone, whether introvert or extrovert feels included and can use their specific gifts to make a difference in the school. That makes a lot of sense. And I, I appreciate hearing a little bit more about your philosophies. I, if we wanna call them that, you know, I think that everyone builds their own personal philosophies based off their experiences. And it sounds like one of the philosophies you have around education is that, you know, humans first curriculum, second, like you were saying, and I’m curious to know, what other philosophies do you have around education? Or what other things do you believe, you know, over the last 22 years of, of teaching that you think might be beneficial to reflect on personally, but also to impart upon another educator listening right now?


Jennifer Lemieux (12:23):
Well, one of my biggest flus, I have a few that are speakers. So Mark Sharon Brock, he used a quote that I order forget to leave things better than you found them. Mm. Right. So he uses it cuz that’s apparently how we use leave camp sites is better than how you found them. Nice. Right. So I heard him say that in a speech one time and I was so excited to actually see him at an Ontario student leadership. One like conference one year I was as like a kid, like meeting their idol anyway, nice. I use that now even with, with the kids at school and and just as a philosophy in general, to always try to get them to leave our school better than they fit as well as people. Right. So to just try to leave the people and places better than you found them. And that is something we, I do try to impart when I meet people is to try to do that. Right. So that’s, I mean, not a huge philosophy per se, but it, it was a line from him that I won’t ever forget that has stuck with me and is now in my day to day living.


Sam Demma (13:38):
Yeah. I love that. I it’s so funny. You mentioned Mark Sharon Brock a few months ago. I just picked up my phone and called him and his wife. Wow. Yeah. His wife answered the phone and she’s like, hi, and I can’t her name now, but it was on his website on the contact page. She was holding up a Phish on the contact page and we had a beautiful conversation. And I, I said, you know, you know, would it be crazy to think that mark might talk to a young guy who’s 21 years old who just has some questions? And she’s like, let me check. And she put me on hold and she called his office and he answered the phone and, and gave me his time. He gave me 30 minutes of his time, answered a bunch of questions. And I just remember thinking to myself like, wow, this is someone who owes me, nothing who doesn’t know who I am, who just took 30 minutes out of their very busy day to just share some wisdom. And I, I, I sent them a handwritten thank you note for, for, for giving me some time. But I think that that relates also to education that when we give students time to, to make them feel seen, heard, and appreciated when we go out of our way to show them that we care. Despite the fact that we all have our own busy lives, it, it makes a huge difference and a huge impact. I’m curious though, it’s


Jennifer Lemieux (14:55):
A nice bike story right there.


Sam Demma (14:57):
So for everyone who doesn’t know what that is, you wanna summarize it?


Jennifer Lemieux (15:03):
Oh, mark. always talks about nice bike. How he was at a big bike, I guess, convention, I guess. Yeah. And all you have to do is, you know, come up to big Burley guys who drive bikes and say nice bike and they kind of don’t seem so intimidating anymore. Yeah. it was a nice bike story.


Sam Demma (15:23):
That’s awesome. I like it. it’s so true. Right? A little, a little compliment, a little, a little appreciation, I think goes a, a really long way for an educator who’s listening right now and might be in their first year of teaching. right. During this crazy time, knowing what you know about education and about teaching and the wisdom you’ve gained over the past 22 years, like, what would you tell, like, imagine it was your yourself. Imagine if you just started teaching now, but you knew everything, you know, what would you tell your younger self as some advice?


Jennifer Lemieux (16:01):
Well, it’s interesting. Cause I remember being in teachers college and they like to tell you, you know, to set that stage when you enter that room and don’t smile until Christmas and all of those sort of things. And I would yes. Agree that there needs to be structure and parameter in a classroom and boundaries. But I also think it’s okay to be you and be your authentic self. I remember teaching an ancient history course and I never studied ancient history. I mean, I had, you know, American history, Canadian history and they plunked me into one of those and I was struggling in this grade 11 course knowing nothing. And I had to not lie to them. Right. Like it was like, okay, we’re gonna learn this together. We’re going to be okay. You know, because they’re going to see through you. So if you, you can be your authentic self.


Jennifer Lemieux (16:57):
I think sometimes we’re scared to let students see we’re human. And one of the first things I always try to remind them on the first day of school is yes, I’m your teacher, but I’m a human being. Right. And I have two rules in my classroom about respect and honesty and just, just be you because we just need to be us and be our authentic selves as scary as that is. Right. Yes. Again, we have boundaries. Like we don’t talk about what we do outside of school and you know, our lives to an extent, but for your, your personality and what you’re comfortable with. I think it’s fair to, to share some of those things with students and be okay doing that. It’s not about don’t smile until Christmas, at least in my world now. Right. When it, you know, when I first started, I think I was a bit scared and to lean on lean on your peers, like lean on people that have been there a while that are willing to help. Because it’s a pretty, pretty powerful thing. If, if you can be mentored, had huge mentorship in my career. I look at like St. Saunders, Phil Boyt one of my old athletic director partners I mean, they’ve all mentored me, right? Dave troupe was a huge mentor of mine, Dave Conlan. So they’re, they’ve all gotten me to be a better person and a better educator. And you want to be able to rely on those things and not be afraid to be you.


Sam Demma (18:30):
Hmm. That’s awesome advice. That’s such, such great advice. You mentioned that you created two rules in your classroom. Can you share exactly what they are and when you, when did you create those? Was that something that you started right when you first started teaching or did that, was that created some years in?


Jennifer Lemieux (18:46):
Oh, when I first started teaching, I of course had every rule they tell you to do. Right? Yeah. And like, and sign this contract. And then later as I developed, it was, I mean, honesty that was rule number one, be honest to yourself, me and everybody else. And if you know, your homework’s not done because you were too tired to do it, or you just didn’t get it done. Or it was a bad night. Don’t lie to me. I don’t wanna be lied to. Mm. Just tell me life is happening or something’s going on, you know, don’t have your parents write me a note. That’s not telling the truth, you know, try to just be, be real. And of course, to me, respect encompasses everything being prepared as a student. So again, I’ve remind them to respect themselves, to respect others. And of course it’s a mutual respect between all of us and, and we’ll get along.


Jennifer Lemieux (19:40):
Right. And sometimes you have to have those tough conversations with kids. I remember where a uniform school and I remember one student didn’t really love wearing her uniform. And so we butted heads a lot. Mm. Right. Because I was following the rules and that was not, that happens sometimes. And so often when that happens, students think you’re targeting them or you’re after them. And I always try to remind them, it’s the behavior. I’m not impressed with. It’s not their personality. It’s not them. Right. It’s their behavior. That’s not driving with me. And so I ended up having a tough conversation with that kid and we ended up figuring out a way to, to exist and coexist and be okay. Right. Because it’s not the behavior. It’s, I mean, it’s not the person, it’s always the behavior. I usually, you know, don’t, don’t like, so if you can separate that with students too, I find that’s helpful.


Sam Demma (20:33):
Right now there’s a ton of challenges. But in the spirit of leadership, we always try and focus on the opportunities. And I’m curious to know, from your opinion and perspective, what do you think some of the biggest opportunities are right now in education?


Jennifer Lemieux (20:51):
Well, in trying to stay positive, I think some of the biggest opportunities we have right now is challenging our creativity. We are being forced to, to change the, the things that we know to be right. So our course is how we deliver them. When I speak to many staff, they’re, they’re a bit challenged and discouraged that they’re having to destroy their big, awesome courses because they just can’t do the same in person activities and things just aren’t the same. And so we have an opportunity as educators to use different tools jam boards Google interactive, Google slides with para deck. So we’re using a lot more technology and having to force ourselves to be a bit more creative than we’ve ever been when it comes to teaching the things we love to teach. And of course, we’re, you know, challenged to keep our, our person surveillance up and just to keep plugging away. But I think we have to look at, you know, while we’re facing all of these challenges, now we are still growing. And we have the opportunity to become better differently. Yeah. If that makes sense?


Sam Demma (22:04):
It does. It makes a lot of sense. And I love that. And the piece about creativity D is so true. I actually, right now I’m reading a book, it’s a handbook that helps you become more creative. It’s called thinker toys. And the whole book is about different strategies and techniques to bring creativity out of you. The author believes that creativity isn’t something that you, you are born with, but it’s something you can create within yourself. So it’s an interesting book and I think it’s so true. Everything’s changing. The world is changing, which is bringing out so many different ideas and so many different innovations and I think education is at the forefront of a lot of it. Awesome. This has been a phenomenal conversation. If someone wants to read out to you, ask you a question, have a phone call, bounce, some ideas around what would be the best way for somebody to get in touch with you?


Jennifer Lemieux (22:59):
Well, I’m not really active on Twitter, but I have a Twitter @misslemieux but my school email is probably the most frequently thing I access. So that’s jlemieux@smcdsb.on.ca, it’s for the SIM Muskoka Catholic district school board. That’s what the SMCDSB stands for. Yeah, I don’t know if it’s been helpful, but that’s, that’s who I am and how I roll.


Sam Demma (23:32):
Thanks, Jen. Really appreciate it, you did a phenomenal job.


Jennifer Lemieux (23:35):
Thank you for the opportunity.


Sam Demma (23:37):
And there you have it. Another amazing guest, an amazing interview on the High Performing Educator Podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review so other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show. If you wanna meet the guest on today’s episode, if you wanna meet any of the guests that we have interviewed, consider going to www.highperformingeducator.com and signing up to join the exclusive network, you’ll have access to networking events throughout 2021 and other special opportunities. And I promise I will not fill your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Jennifer Lemieux

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.

Steve Bristol – Assistant Head of School for Enrollment Management and Strategic Planning

Steve Bristol - Assistant Head of School for Enrollment Management and Strategic Planning
About Steve Bristol

Steve Bristol is the Assistant Head of School for Enrollment Management and Strategic Planning at the Hun School in Princeton, New Jersey.  He is a coach, mentor, and someone that deeply cares about the success of the young people in his school.  

Connect with Steve: Email | Linkedin

Listen Now

Listen to the episode now on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or on your favourite podcast platform.

Resources Mentioned

The Hun School Website

US College Expo

Maine Summer Camps

Who is Gary Vee?

The Transcript

**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 great episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker Sam Demma. Today we, you have on someone that I met through an event called the US college expo. He was one of the US admissions representatives who was speaking to students about how they could pursue their education in the States. And he is the director of admissions and financial aid at the Hun school of Princeton in New Jersey.


Sam Demma (00:59):
He is also a former coach, a mentor, and someone who really cares deeply about the success of his students. It’s very evident in this episode that Steve Bristol, today’s guest has a mission to help as many students as he can while also, you know, keeping himself young by being surrounded by the contagious energy of today’s youth. I hope you enjoy this episode as much as I enjoyed recording it, and I will see you on the other side. Steve, thank you so much for coming on the High Performing Educator podcast. It is a pleasure to have you on here. Start by sharing a little bit about who you are and why you got into the work you do with young people today?


Steve Bristol (01:38):
It’s my pleasure Sam. Thanks for the opportunity to, to chat with you. I’d love to give you an altruistic reason about why I work in schools and, and how I wanna shape the youth of America and of the world so that, you know, they’ll take better care of the world, and all of that, but really my motives are pretty selfish. It keeps me young. Oh, working with kids is, you know, it keeps you in touch with your own youth. I, I took a couple of years in my career where I went and I worked business schools and in those four years, I think I gained 15 pounds, my eyesight went, I had to start where and glasses, you know, that lifestyle just didn’t work for me. I felt like I’d aged 20 years and four years. And so I came back into schoolwork because it does keep you energized and keeps you young. So my motives are, are purely selfish. I do care about the future and I think kids are, are gonna lead that charge. But but I can’t be as generous with that as I probably should be.


Sam Demma (02:46):
That’s awesome. I love the authenticity. I’m curious to know, at what point in your own career search, did you make the decision? Yep. I’m going to work in education. Was there a defining moment or was it just a progressional choice? Yeah,


Steve Bristol (02:59):
There was actually was a kind of a moment there. I’m a product of the system. I went to a, a, an independent boarding school in, in the us nice for high school. And as I worked with a college counselor there who was helping me sort of decide what kind of colleges to go to. And, and at one point, you know, I was a little bit lost and , and he said, well, you know, what would you like to do after college? And, you know, at that point, I, I wouldn’t been exposed to very much. So I said, yeah, maybe I’d like to come back to a place like this and, and teach and coach. And he said, well, in that case, you know, go here, come back in four years and I’ll give you a job. So that combined with I did a, a lot of summer camp work as a teenager. And and so you get sort of your experience working with kids that way and living with them. And, and so when I did graduate from college, I, I went right into boarding school work where I ran a dorm, coached a couple of seasons and taught classes. And so I, I was the stereotypical, triple threat. They call it boring schools where you do a little bit of everything.


Sam Demma (04:08):
That’s awesome. Tell me more about the summer camps. Were you young when you did those? Not that you’re old now, but well


Steve Bristol (04:17):
yeah, I started working summer camp camps, probably in maybe 11th and 12th grade. I think I started, I did it for I was a camp counselor for three or four years, and then I took some time off and I came back and sort of became an administrator and ultimately became a co-director of a, kind of a traditional summer camp in Maine, which, you know, little SPO, little waterfront, little camping trips, you know, a very sort of, you know, very boarding school-like kind of place where you, you want kids to have a balanced experience and, and, and get exposed to a lot of different things. One of my worries with our kids today is that they, they need to be specialists. They need to be great today. You know, as eighth grader, they need to have found their passion and pursued it and, and be a young little expert. And, and I would rather kids keep trying some new things and to continue to be beginners at things for as long as they can. And I think summer camp and school can do that for kids.


Sam Demma (05:23):
No, it’s so true. There’s advice that this marketer, Gary V always gives, and he says, you don’t have to find what you like right away. That’s why when you go to a buffet, there’s a thousand options. And the way you figure out what you enjoy is you take a little piece of each little bin, you try it and you stop eating what you don’t like, and you keep eating what you do like, and yeah, I think sometimes kids limit themselves to one little portion of a buffet instead of trying all of it and


Steve Bristol (05:47):
Absolutely true. I, I actually used the buffet analogy in my own work here as I talk to families and I talk to them about, you know, hun, where I am now being a, a, a buffet where, you know, there’s lots of different clubs and activities and sports and music and art and all of those things who knows what’s gonna capture your attention. And, and if, if there’s anything we learned, it’s, you know, kids are gonna change as they grow up. They, they don’t need to lock in quite so early.


Sam Demma (06:16):
That’s so true. And right now at hunt, I know there’s some very unique challenges that all schools are facing. And I’m curious to know someone recently told me the state of education is like throwing spaghetti on the wall and seeing what sticks . And I’m curious to know out of the spaghetti, you’ve already thrown in the challenges you’re facing, what seems to be working really well. And what are some earnings you’ve also had.


Steve Bristol (06:39):
It’s a great question. And, and it is, and the spaghetti analogy I think is, is a pretty accurate one. there’s a little more thought behind it before we throw it, but yeah. You know, obviously, you know, the hunt school, Princeton, where I am now, we’re a, we’re a boarding in day school in Princeton, New Jersey. And so we have local kids who are day students. We have domestic borders. So kids from around, you know, 18 different states in the us. And then we have kids that come from, you know, 20, we’ve got, these are trying to manage. What we’ve done is we put our kids into two teams and they come to school on alternate days. So kids come every other day for in-person classes and that’s reduced the density in our classrooms. A lot of our international kids are, are studying virtually and they’re logging in from home and attending classes that way.


Steve Bristol (07:44):
It’s, it’s a phenomenal challenge for teachers that are on the, the, the ground floor of this that are standing in a classroom with, you know, five kids sitting at a table in front of them and another seven kids on a screen behind them. And, and how do you serve both of those groups and, and, you know, and work intentionally in our classes are small and we, we want to give personal attention. And so they’re trying to engage all of those kids into the conversation and into the class, and, you know, and, and into practical work, instead of, you know, the old kind of teaching where the teacher just lectures and the kids take notes, we’ve moved pretty far away from that to where our classrooms are really dynamic and active and interactive trying to do that. Both virtually and in person at the same time is I think is a phenomenal challenge on top of that. You know, we’ve gotta keep everybody safe. You know, we, we’ve got, we’ve put in a phenomenal amount of safety and health protocols. We all get screened every morning before we come to school. Yeah. You know, I get my temperature checked and I get a little bracelet that the screener gives me that says, I’m, I’m good to go for today. But it’s, you know, the health and safety piece is, has dominated our work all summer long and, and on a daily basis.


Sam Demma (09:07):
Yeah, no, that’s, that, that makes a lot of sense. Things are definitely changing really, really fast. And sounds like unschool was doing a great job of adjusting on the fly and trying to still be of service to students as much as they possibly can. I’m curious to know when you were a student, did you have someone in your life who like maybe a coach who guided you, who pushed you that helped you when you were at a low point in your life? There might be a coach that sticks out in mind. And the reason I’m asking is I’m curious to know what that coach did for you, so that other educators listening might think about doing the same thing for their students.


Steve Bristol (09:45):
Yeah. I, I, I have a very specific experience that really set me in a lot of ways. It’s been the foundation of my own teaching coaching. I was a senior in high school and, and was a pretty serious soccer and lacrosse player, but I didn’t really play a sport in the winter. I’d done a little basketball, but, you know, I peaked on the JV team I think was as good as I ever got. And the athletic director came to me one day and asked if I would help coach the freshman basketball. They had a lot of kids out there. They had a teacher that wasn’t really, you know, he was more of a science teacher than a coach and, and kind of needed someone out there to help keep order. So, because the athletic director was also my advisor, I thought it would be a good idea to, to sort of do whatever he asked me to do.


Steve Bristol (10:34):
He where I knew it, I was coaching my own basketball team and we had a group below the freshman, you know, sort of freshman B is essentially who I was coaching. So these are the least athletic kids in the school. I’m doing it in a sport where I don’t feel a tremendous amount of confidence. You know, it, it was a recipe for disaster. So we went to our first away game and the athletic director drove the van and, and brought us there. And, and he just sat in the bench and he didn’t say a word the whole time, and I never shut up. I mean, I talked those kids through every step, every pass, every shot, I was just a, a constant voice in their ear in, in, you know, my trying to help them, you know, be successful and win the game and do all of those things.


Steve Bristol (11:22):
And, you know, when the dust settled, we, we lost by about 40 points. It wasn’t even close to being competitive. And I, you know, I’m destroyed, I, this is my first experience. It’s very public, you know, all, any coach knows, you know, your, your work is public. And so when you have a bad day, you know, there’s people watching. And so I’m kind of hanging my head and the athletic director came over to me and he said, you know, you actually did a pretty good job. He goes, but you make the kids nervous. You talk too much. Sometimes just let the kids play. And that idea that sometimes just let the kids play mm. Has guided, you know, I’ve done a lot of coaching since then and have had a fair amount of success and not every day was like that. But I can, I can think of specific games where I used that advice, where I realized I kids are doing a great job. They didn’t need me to keep coaching. The part of my job was to step back and let them be successful. It was about them, not about me coaching a win, and, and to tell yourself in those moments to just be quiet and just let, what you’ve been hoped would happen happen. Yeah. But I think coaches and teachers forget to recognize.


Steve Bristol (12:37):
And as a parent now, sometimes I gotta let my kids play and sometimes they’re gonna fail and fall and all of those things, but, you know, that’s part of teaching. And part of teaching is knowing when to keep your mouth closed and just let kids experience things.


Sam Demma (12:52):
I love that so much. That’s, that’s an amazing piece of advice. And have you in your role now maybe you can even talk about this as a coach or as a head of enrollment. Have you used that same advice personally with your students and have seen any massive transformations or some students that have been deeply impacted the same way your coach impacted you? And if there’s a serious story about how someone’s life has been changed, you can change their name for privacy reasons, but the reason I’m digging for it is because an educator might be listening right now. Who’s a little burnt out. And I wanna remind them that the work we do in education and coaching it has the power to transform lives. So if you have any stories that this take out to you it would be cool to hear. And so,


Steve Bristol (13:37):
And, and I think particularly as, as you say, under these circumstances, this is really hard. And the challenge for teachers under the best of circumstances is you don’t typically see the results yeah. Of your work. You know, you’ll have somebody come back 10 years later and tell you how impactful you were and things like that. And, and but in the moment there’s days where it just feels like I’m not making a dent here, you know, they’re, they’re just coming back. And they’re the same kids today that they were yesterday, despite everything I tried to do. So I think my best advice, advice to teachers is, is to remember, there’s a long game here. Yeah. That you, you, aren’t gonna change kids in a day, but being steady and being consistent and approaching your work with their best interests at heart does pay dividends. And, and part of that is you just have to trust that, that it will.


Steve Bristol (14:37):
For me personally, there, there’s been a lot of times where, you know, kids have come back and, and surprised me in, in what they’ve remembered that I said at one point, or, you know, a lot of times it’s embarrassing stuff where they’ll say, oh, I remember that time you did that. And I’d be like, yeah, those were the things I’ve tried to forget. . But I had a, a, a tremendously talented and had a really, really difficult time. And , and he, and I had sort of exchanged messages and I didn’t realize the extent of it. And he came into my office and, and began to talk to me about things where I could really tell something was very, very wrong and, and I didn’t realize it. And after he left his mom called and as a woman, I had a really good relationship with, for many years and, and said, I’m so sorry.


Steve Bristol (15:33):
I didn’t, you know, I didn’t tell you in advance, so you could be prepared. Mm. And what we found out is he, he was bipolar and they didn’t know it. And that came out and he was home from college with nothing to do. And, and I said, well, come to look, cross practice every day. And you’ll be my assistant coach, and you’ll stand next to me and you’ll learn how to coach and work with kids. And, and he came every day and, you know, he, as he’s learning to adjust to his new situation and medication and things like that, he had safe space to come to every day. Mm. And, you know, and to this day, you know, he’s the father of twins and in his, you know, probably mid thirties we still talk about that spring. You know, we’ve stayed in touch, he’s in great shape now. And he tells me, his mom still sends me a note once a year, that says, you know, you changed his life because you, you took him in when, when he was lost. And, you know, it was, to me, it was sort of an obvious thing to do. He is a great kid, you know, I love having him around. And, and, but it was at a time in his life when he needed somebody to invest a little extra in him.


Sam Demma (16:43):
I love that. That’s an amazing, it’s an amazing story. And you mentioned, you know, small actions in there somewhere. My teacher, Mike always told me, you know, small, consistent, massive changes. Absolutely. And it applies to education. It applies to mentorship with young people, and it just applies to everyday life, whether you’re trying to change something personally or something in a school or student’s life. If there’s a, that’s


Steve Bristol (17:07):
Interesting, I think one of the big to do is to sort of teach through the positive as opposed to the negative. I think we’re all very quick to point out when kids make mistakes and candidly, that’s really easy to do. You know, I, I can, I can watch a field hockey game and tell you when somebody makes a bad pass. I don’t have any idea how to teach someone to play field hockey and I can think the more we start to celebrate the positives that kids do and teach through their successes. That’s where I think we start to really generate a lot of momentum. And if we spend all our time just pointing out when they make mistakes, well, then that’s what they’re gonna hear.


Sam Demma (17:48):
Hmm. No, that’s so true. And on the topic of great advice for educators, if someone’s listening, who is maybe teaching for the first year and thinking like, what the heck did I sign up for? This is not what I was expecting. What advice would your current self have to give your past self or someone else listening?


Steve Bristol (17:58):
Boy, that’s a really good question. My when I started, I think it, it was, as I sort of said earlier, it was all very personal to me. Yeah. It was, you know, am, am I a good teacher? Am I doing this? Are, are they responding to me? It was very me centric. Mm. And I think, and you know, obviously, you know, you look at it now, it’s, you know, you have to get to know your kids and, and get to know them personally. So that when, you know, I, I talk about working in boarding schools as sort of being, you know, a surrogate parent. And, you know, when my kids come home from school and they’ve had a bad day, I know it.


Steve Bristol (18:49):
But before they’ve even opened their mouth, I can read their body. I can feel it in the air that this was not a good day. And we’re, we’re gonna have some work to do tonight. If teachers can get to that point with their kids in class, where you can kind of read their body language and know when they’re with you. And when they’re not boy, you can ha you know, now you can create an at fear where they can be comfortable, and if they’re comfortable, they’re gonna find a voice. And when they find that voice, they’ll start to engage with each other. And that’s when, you know, that’s when the magic happens and finding a way to make kids comfortable in your class as opposed to uncomfortable. And I think when I started teaching, I wanted them to be uncomfortable because I was so uncom, I, I just needed to control things, making sure they’re comfortable.


Sam Demma (19:40):
Hmm. That’s a great piece of advice. If I was teaching right now, I would say, thank you. good. That’s amazing. And if anyone’s listening and they, they’re inspired by this convers, they wanna reach out, maybe bounce some ideas around, or get some coaching advice from a former or former or current basketball coach. What would be the best way for them to reach out?


Steve Bristol (20:02):
I’d love doing that and I love, you know, as you can tell, I love talking about education and would welcome anyone that wants to reach out on anything. Along these lines, you know, you can reach me through the, the Hun school website at www.hunschool.org and under the admissions tab. There’s a, a funny picture of me in my email address. Or my email is SteveBristol@hunschool.org, and would welcome strangers, reaching out love, talking about this stuff.


Sam Demma (20:32):
Awesome. Steve, thanks so much for taking some time today to chat. It’s been a huge pleasure.


Steve Bristol (20:36):
My pleasure Sam. Thanks so much for creating the opportunity and, and sharing all of this information with, with folks. I think it’s real important today.


Sam Demma (20:44):
Cool. Thank you. And there you have it. Another amazing guest, an amazing interview on the High Performing Educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review. So other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show. If you want to meet the guest on today’s episode, if you wanna meet any of the guests that we have interviewed, consider going to www.highperformingeducator.com and signing up to join the exclusive network. You’ll have access to networking events throughout 2021 and other special opportunities. And I promise, I will not fill your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Steve Bristol

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.