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Cooperative Education

Katie Lewis-Prieur & Sarah Abrams – Consultants at the Ottawa Catholic School Board

Katie Lewis-Prieur & Sarah Abrams - Consultants at the Ottawa Catholic School Board
About Katie Lewis-Prieur & Sarah Abrams

Katie Lewis-Prieur (@klewis_prieur) has been in education for more than 25 years, many of it in the classroom teaching English and Drama before working in system-level positions at the Ottawa Catholic School Board.  She is blessed to be part of the Specialized Pathways team as the Experiential Learning consultant for K-12.

Sarah Abrams(@SarahMAbrams) has been with the Ottawa Catholic School Board for the past 22 years.  She spent the first 20 years of her career as a high school teacher and Guidance Counsellor and is currently the Guidance and Pathways Consultant for the board.  Sarah is passionate about helping students discover their pathway and supporting guidance teams in breaking down barriers for students to access whatever post-secondary path they wish to take.   

Connect with Katie: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Connect with Sarah: Email | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Ottawa Catholic School Board (OCSB)

Specialized Programs – OCSB

New Teacher Induction Program (NTIP)

Carleton University – BA in Journalism

Brock University – BA in English Language and Literature

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 we have on a pair of guests, not just one person, but two people, two very incredible influential people that I’ve done a ton of work with, but are also just phenomenal human beings that I call two of my friends now. We have on Katie and Sarah.


Sam Demma (00:59):
Katie has been in education for more than 25 years. Many of it in the classroom, teaching English and drama before working in system level positions with the Ottawa Catholic School Board. She is blessed to be part of the specialized pathways program team as an experiential learning consultant through K-12. But the reality is she’s actually moving on to a new position. So stay tuned because maybe we’ll do a follow up episode with her next year and her partner in crime Sarah is also on the show today who has been with the Ottawa Catholic School Board for the past 22 years. She spent the first 20 years of her career as a high school teacher and guidance counselor, and is currently the guidance and pathways consultant for the school board. She is passionate about helping students discover their pathway and supporting guidance teams in breaking down barriers for students to access whatever post-secondary path they wish to take.


Sam Demma (01:49):
The two of them bring together a wealth of knowledge. I was a part of one of their career fairs about six months ago now, or maybe four, three months ago and they do such amazing work. So I hope you enjoy this episode as much as I enjoy chatting with them, and I will see you on the other side. Katie, Sarah, welcome to the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you both together on the show. This is the second time only that we’ve had a group of three on the show. So I’m, I’m super excited about it. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit about why you’re so passionate about the work you do in education today. And Sarah, feel free to kick this one off.


Sarah Abrams (02:29):
Well, hi Sam. I’m Sarah Abrams. I work at the Ottawa Catholic School Board and I am the guidance and pathways consultant. So I work with the guidance departments across our school board. And I’ve always loved teaching. I love working in a dynamic environment like a school where every day is different. You never know what, what is gonna come at you that day. There’s not too many jobs where you can participate in dressup days and spirit weeks and, you know, take kids on field trips and watch watch them learn new things and get excited about things they didn’t know. And so, and also building the relationships with those young people and with my colleagues has inspired me. So, you know, for me, education has always been my passion and I love everything about it.


Sam Demma (03:15):
Love that. Awesome, Katie what about yourself?


Katie Lewis-Prieu (03:19):
Well, thanks for having us on today. I’m Katie Lewis-Prieu and I’m the experiential learning consultant for K-12 for the Ottawa Catholic School Board, and I get to work every day with people like Sarah. The reason I’m doing this job is because I think kids getting their hands in and doing practical work and exploring careers is something that’s gonna change their life, and I’m just privileged to be a part of it.


Sam Demma (03:44):
Mm love that. And when you guys both come together, you create a power house of a team and I I’ve seen the impact firsthand. What are some of the projects that you’ve run this year? Things you’ve put on and worked together and, and created that been really passionate about, or, or that went well, I know this year has been challenging. We’ve, we’ve been limited in many ways, but I feel like there was also some opportunities and you’ve taken advantage of those. And Katie, maybe you can answer this question first.


Katie Lewis-Prieu (04:12):
I think this has been an incredible year for us in spite of the pandemic. It’s my first year working as a team mate with and so it’s been incredible just to build that relationship and to see what we can do. And we usually start with what we’re trying to accomplish before we set out what our goals are. And so this year we had a nice kickoff at the beginning of the year with OCSP career week. And it was one of those weeks that had been doing well and things were happening in schools, but when the pandemic hit a huge challenge, right, because you can’t have all these presenters coming into your school to talk about their post-secondary programs or entry into the world of work. And so that was our, our first major challenge that we hit this year because we knew it was still really important for students to be able to explore these careers. So we decided to, to tackle it head on and to create a really dynamic week where teachers and students could access all sorts of activities career panels really great resources for them to leverage. And so that was, I think, our first success.


Sam Demma (05:25):
Awesome. Yeah. That’s great. And Sarah, maybe you can touch on some of the other things that have happened this year. I’m sure there’s a bunch of other things happening behind the scenes every day, each and every day


Sarah Abrams (05:35):
There absolutely was. And, and a big part of what we wanted to do was figure out how we could bring this rich experience, financial learning, and, and also one of our goals is to, to bust pathway myths. So we also, we want students to know that college and university, aren’t the only options for them that some students will go directly to the world of work. And some students will go into apprenticeship program. Some will take a gap year and, and that’s one of our big missions is to bust those pathway myths. So one of the things we did was we have created with a community partner on fee career panels. And we’ve had several of those throughout the year, this year. And the pandemic has actually opened our eyes to the possibilities with this. So in prior years you would have this career panel at one school, you’d only be able to reach a few students, but because we were in the pandemic, we had to reach rethink things. And we were able to do them virtually and bring in hundreds of students. So hundreds of students have been able to learn about careers in manufacturing and the arts in English in all kinds of areas that maybe they wouldn’t have done before. So that’s been an excellent opportunity for us.


Katie Lewis-Prieu (06:49):
And if I can just add on if, if you are not aware of the careers that are out there, how can you possibly know that this is something that you want to explore? And I know your messaging, Sam has always been go out there and taste things like it’s a, a banquet or a buffet. And that’s definitely our message as well.


Sam Demma (07:07):
I love that. And I was gonna say, you know, Sarah, you mentioned fifth years and, you know, MIS myth busting, well, if your name’s Sam DEMA, you would take a fifth year of high school, a gap year after the a fifth year go to college for two years, drop outta college and then get into the world of work after, you know, three years of trying to find things and, and figure things out. So it’s, the work you’re doing is so important and I think it needs to happen in, in every board and hopefully it is happening in every board and keep doing it because we need it. I’m curious though, we start this conversation and asking both of you, you know, why are you passionate about this work? What led you down the path of education? Like, did you have teachers in your life who deeply inspired you to, you know, take on this path or did you just stumble into it by a mistake and have been here since, like, I’m curious to know why you’re working in education today and, and Katie, maybe you can kick this one off.


Katie Lewis-Prieu (07:59):
Well, when I was little, I used to parade around in my backyard pretending I was ginger from Gillin island. So I knew that I wanted something that was engaging. I thought I was gonna be an actress when I was really little and there just weren’t the, the career classes to support that there was no ran a class in my high school when I went to school. So I had to look for something else. And being an actress just didn’t seem reasonable at the time. So I thought I want to work with people. It was just a part of who I was that I, I definitely not a solitary person. I, I like to collaborate. And so teaching in journalism were the, the two things that really grabbed me with the limited, you know, exposure to career exploration that we had at the time.


Katie Lewis-Prieu (08:48):
So I ended up actually doing a journalism degree at Carleton university. And then just as I was about to graduate from that, we were in the middle of a recession and I thought, well, I’m just not the type of person to sit back and do nothing. And I thought, well, I’m gonna go in and I’m gonna finish my English degree. And while I was doing that, I thought, you know what? I actually really like how much more collaborative being a teacher was. Cause there were a lot of people trying to scoop each other in the journalism program. And I thought I’d rather work with people as opposed to trying to top them. So that’s definitely how I started heading into teaching and was a high school teacher and taught English and civics and drama for many years before I started working at the school board. And did two terms as the arts and indigenous studies consultant. And last year had the great opportunity to sit in a leadership role for a year while my colleague was on leave. And then this opportunity opened up for experiential learning and I jumped right at it, cuz I thought this is exciting.


Sam Demma (09:54):
Cool, awesome. That, that, you know, I was gonna ask you, but I didn’t want to age you there. Let’s What’s Gilligan’s island ,


Katie Lewis-Prieu (10:03):
You’ve got to be kidding me. Gilligan’s island was the bomb. When I was a little kid, it was a little show and Gilligan was stranded on an island with six castaways. And one of them was bombshell actress who walked around everywhere in an evening gown on this deserted island. And so she was just it for me when I was a little


Sam Demma (10:25):
Kid, I love that. I’m gonna, I’m gonna go earn some brownie points with my parents with that one later


Sarah Abrams (10:30):
And


Sarah Abrams (10:32):
Sometimes we still have to tell Katie not to wear her ball gowns to work, but


Katie Lewis-Prieu (10:38):
You can’t see what I’m wearing down below. It could be, you know, heels in a full skirt.


Sam Demma (10:43):
I don’t know if you can hear it, but the whole crowd’s laughing. it’s awesome. Sarah, you know, what did your journey into education look like?


Sarah Abrams (10:55):
Mine was similar in some ways to Katie, but, but also a little bit different. I always have wanted to be a teacher, so I did follow a very linear pathway, which is something I’ve, I’m trying to bust for a lot of students. But I think part of that was because I was number one, a bossy older sister, and I had a much younger brother and he was my first student. So when I, I was about 10 and he was four, I was making him sit down and listen to me and I was teaching him to read and teaching him everything I wanted to teach him. And then the other thing was that I had a lot of family members who were in education, so that influenced me greatly. And, and I probably can remember every teacher I’ve ever had. So I really, for some, and it just, it just called to me from a young age.


Sarah Abrams (11:42):
But throughout my career, I’ve really realized that within teaching you can do so many different things. So I have, have not been static. I started out teaching history and English in high school and, and I was very much a yes person. So I was tapped on the shoulder and they’d say, we need someone to teach parenting. And I would say, okay, we need someone to teach hair styling. Okay. and so I’ve done a lot of different things within my school which culminated in a position as a guidance counselor, which I absolutely loved. I would, I could do that forever. I loved working with kids in student services, but that also then led me to this position at the board, working with the guidance teams from all of the schools. So I think education is a nice career because there are so many different things you can do. You don’t have to just stay in one path. There are a lot, there’s lots of opportunity for growth and for learning. And that’s been great for me.


Sam Demma (12:38):
I love that. And one of the most pivotal people in my high school career was my guidance counselor. She had countless conversations with me and my parents miss Diana. Yeah, Diane, her last name’s escaping me right now, but she, she would help me because my pathway was, I was trying to go to the us for soccer. And like, I can’t remember. I had probably, probably at least two dozen meetings with her in my last year of high school to try and figure things out for NCAA. So it just goes to show that every role in a school, whether it’s in the physical school or as a consultant, plays a huge role on impacting young people. And I’m curious to know, because I know you’ve, you’re not directly in touch with students, but you probably hear a lot from the schools and the principals. What do you think some of the challenges that schools and students are facing right now? And we won’t stick on this question too long because I don’t wanna get negative, but what are some of the challenges you think we’re facing and maybe Sarah, you can kick it off and then I’ll pass it back on to Katie.


Sarah Abrams (13:40):
Well, for me, and I think this would be similar for guidance folks. I can speak sort of for them a little bit. It’s the building relationships piece. I’m all about building relationships. I like building relationships with the counselors that I work with and the teachers that I work with. And as a counselor, I L loved being able to call a student into my office and have a chat and, and you build relationships with those students and that’s what, where you build the trust as well. And so with COVID and having to shut down and then start and shut down, and then we have some students going completely virtual. It is very, very hard to kind of keep those relat ships going and build new ones. So for me, that’s probably the biggest challenge, I think right now, due to COVID. I mean, lots of people are, are facing lots of personal challenges in lots of different ways, but in terms of my career, I think that has been something that I’ve really had to be conscious of and figure out how to build relationships in different ways. And I think teachers and counselors, schools are doing the same thing.


Sam Demma (14:38):
Yeah, no, I agree. Yeah. Katie, what, what do you think?


Katie Lewis-Prieu (14:42):
Well, my job is experiential learning consultant and challenge. It’s pretty hard when you’re on lockdown to, you know, when you, you start thinking about, well, what can I do? So for sure, there’s been a lot of pivoting and it’s hard. I think of just our, our theater students alone, because it’s something I’m very passionate about. And those students aren’t in most cases, not getting the opportunity to have that full theat or experience where you’re under the spotlights you’re you know, in scenes with other people, even just the, the, the acting piece where you can’t even make physical contact with someone to, you know, if you’re seen as telling, you’re trying to get somebody to snap out of it and the scene, you would normally be shaking them. You can’t do anything like that. So that was a huge challenge coming in. And I do worry about the mental health of our students as well, cause we’re social beings. But I think what Sarah was describing with those relationships is just the, the key to everything and, and still trying to give students opportunities to connect with the outside work world through things like learning partnerships has become crucial this year.


Sam Demma (15:58):
Hmm. And along with each challenge comes some form of an opportunity. I would, I would suppose that one of them is technology. You’ve probably learned a dozen new skills and tools. I mean, you’re wearing, very, no one can see it, but yeah, it looks like a pair of gaming headphones and I wouldn’t say you’re a huge gamer or who knows, you know,


Katie Lewis-Prieu (16:22):
You’d be right Sam when I play Mario Cartt my children laugh at me.


Sam Demma (16:28):
Yeah. So what are some of the opportunities you think have arise from the situation this year are some of the things you’ve learned that have been really helpful and we’ll start with Katie.


Katie Lewis-Prieu (16:41):
Well, I think Sarah alluded it to it earlier. Just the opportunity for the reach, like, you know, whereas you might have had an individual teacher setting up a session in their class where they had a guest speaker coming in, we’ve had these opportunities to do things like career panels where, you know, if we had I think one of the ones we ran for one of our other initiatives OCS B steam week, I think one of our career panels, we had over a hundred classes that’s classes wow. On the call. So in that one, I think we had three different panelists. So students were hearing from three people quick, 45 minute meet where the teacher is, you know, getting a chance to engage in that career exploration with their students. And then all sorts of crazy fun stuff have, has come out of those calls as well.


Katie Lewis-Prieu (17:37):
And I think it’s opened up our students and teachers to further inquiry. Us doing OCSP steam week actually came from the challenges that we faced with OCSP career week. And it grew into something huge. And there were a lot of teachers, I think, who, because they had opened themselves up to technology, also opened themselves up to new things like learning about stem or steam subjects. And so I think there’s just been enormous growth for everyone throughout the process and technology is allowed it, I mean, it can be so frustrating at times when things aren’t working out, but what an opportunity to reach so many more people. And also to have fun, we set up all these challenges as well. For OCS B steam weeks is stem challenges where students were doing these rub Goldberg machines. And I don’t know if you know what they are, but they’re like a chain reaction thing where they’re, you know, setting up slides, like, you know, maybe a ruler in a marbles going down there and it’s gonna hit something else and pop into something else. And we just loved seeing these students with that whole perseverance piece where they were setting up their systems and it didn’t work the first time, but they kept going. And then when you see those videos and you see their face and they are so proud of themselves, that they got it to work. That’s a huge thing.


Sam Demma (19:09):
Yeah. Oh, I, I agree. I totally agree. It’s funny, those, those contraptions, I think they happen in physics class. I might be wrong, but


Katie Lewis-Prieu (19:19):
, we had kindergartners doing it as well. Wow.


Sam Demma (19:22):
yeah. That’s, that’s awesome. So cool. Yeah, I remember it feels like yesterday I was in grade 12 and my buddy was making one for his grade physics assignment. Sarah, what do you think? Like what, what are some of the opportunities that you’ve seen arise outta this crazy situation?


Sarah Abrams (19:38):
I think I, I think Katie’s answer was bang on, but, and just to add, you know, or to, to echo what she’s saying. I think the challenge of as a history teacher, too, I think of challenges in the past, the great, the world wars with any big challenge that a society faces comes the opportunity for growth and creativity and some of our, our most amazing achievements and accomplishments come out of those tough times that we face as a, as a, as humanity. And like the, the growth in technology, especially among educate, I think is something that I have never seen before in my whole career. It’s and it’s because it was necessary, right. It was something that teachers had to do and, and we had to do as well. I’ve never learned so much about technology as I have in the last year.


Sarah Abrams (20:26):
And so I think that’s just opened up the doors to so many different things. One of the things Katie and I are involved in right now is providing, working with our partner, Algonquin college, providing our students with different virtual workshops on coding and using laser cutters and a 3d printing. And it’s all virtual, but the kids are able to learn how to do this stuff on their computers. And then at Algonquin, something will actually be 3d printed or laser cut or, or whatever. And the teachers are learning this too, and it’s making teachers more comfortable with all of the new technology that is up and coming. So I think if you look at it with a positive spin, there are a lot of challenges, but a lot of growth has come out of it.


Sam Demma (21:13):
Yeah, no, I couldn’t agree more. I think it’s, it’s great growth. Like it forced, it’s forced growth almost like you grow up as a kid and you hit your growth spurt and then you stop growing. It’s almost like we’ve been to grow more at past that point. And it’s painful. You have aching pains from the new growth spur. And not to say that the challenges aren’t there, cuz they are like, it’s a crazy time and people are struggling, but it’s cool to focus on the positives for a second. You know,


Katie Lewis-Prieu (21:42):
And neuroscience tells us that we need to be lifelong learners. We need to keep bill holding those neuro connectors. So as, as tough as it has been, and it has been tough for some people like just the new skills that we are picking up this year are definitely something to be applauded.


Sam Demma (22:02):
Yeah. No, I agree. Totally agree. And you know, I’m curious to know when you were both students, so think back what are some things that educators in your life did for you that had a huge impact? And I’m, I’m curious to know, maybe you can pinpoint one teacher in something they shared or did. Because I think educators sometimes underplay the impact they have because they don’t see it sometimes. And with this story you can share about how they’ve impacted you it’ll remind educators that they’re having an impact on their own students and also give them some ideas on what’s important in the classroom. And Katie, you seem like you had an aha moment. So oh,


Katie Lewis-Prieu (22:43):
A hundred, a hundred percent. I had an incredible English teacher when I was at St. Joseph’s high school called Mary Lynn Oche. And I had her for a bunch of years at a time cuz it was when Catholic education was just starting to get the funding. And I remember we were studying Hamlet and she would not give us her opinion on whether Hamlet was mad or whether he was putting it on. And I remember being so upset at the time that she wouldn’t tell us her opinion, cause I really did value her opinion, but it was so smart of her because it forced us to use our own critical thinking skills and to make our own mind. And that has stuck with me. And she’s also one of the people who let me teach a class about journal is one of my independent study projects. And that certainly was one of those key things that made me think, okay, do I wanna go into journalism or teaching and gave me a sense of confidence that you know, I could be engaging in front of a class and, and it was just a little thing that she did by letting me try something out that had a major impact on me.


Sam Demma (23:55):
Wow. Love that. I love that it’s like giving you a responsibility almost absolutely. To succeed or fail and either, or it would’ve been a success,


Katie Lewis-Prieu (24:03):
But with support, with support, you know, we talked about what it would look like and it wasn’t something so hugely overwhelming that I couldn’t be successful at it, but I also got good feedback. And to me, that’s, that’s an enriching, deep learning opportunity.


Sam Demma (24:19):
Love that. Love that. Sarah, how about yourself?


Sarah Abrams (24:23):
When I think back, I, like I said earlier, I can remember every teacher I had and I think each of those people had an impact on me at some point, but I do remember in particular, a grade eight math teacher and I, I wasn’t the best math student. But she always took the time with students at lunch or after school. And she was very friendly and really encouraging. And her name was Phyllis Perry. And I still think about her sometimes. And I think I wrote her a letter actually, when I became a teacher thanking her for what she did. But one of the things I think back at is I don’t remember the lessons I learned. I don’t remember the curriculum from each of those teachers that I had. I remember other things remember, you know, what they talked about or how they made me feel mm-hmm or you know, those kinds of things. And I think sometimes as teachers, we forget that it’s not all about the curriculum. It’s about that relationship building and it’s about the impact of caring adult can have on a student. And for me, those are the, when I think about the teachers I had, it was it’s really the ones who were the most caring adults in my life that, that really stick out.


Sam Demma (25:31):
Yeah. So true. So, so true. And it’s funny cuz I’m reflecting now asking this question on my own experience and teachers who change my life, did the same thing that you’re sharing now. Like they, they took the content and personalized it for every student in the class. They knew what we liked. They knew our hobbies. They, they took the time to get to know us. So I think it’s great. Yeah. It’s such a, those are all great examples. And if you could go back in time and speak to your younger self, you know, the first year you got into education, what advice would you give your younger self, knowing what you know now and yeah, Katie, you can,


Katie Lewis-Prieu (26:08):
You can


Sam Demma (26:08):
Go first.


Katie Lewis-Prieu (26:10):
Well, I remember being terrified, absolutely terrified when I, I started teaching, I didn’t have the educators in my family like Sarah did. So I really leaned on the colleagues who were at school with me. One practical piece would be not to pick up every single thing I assigned because I remember hitting Christmas and just being in tears because I had a stack of paper this high that I had to get through. And mark and I, I had gotten so busy that I wasn’t keeping up with it and it was overwhelming at the time. And I remember just being in the laundry room and crying. Aw. But it was, you know I look back and I got through it and you, you really do lean on people to give advice to you. And we’re a learning community mean if you know, a school is working well and functioning well, you’re not teaching in isolation, you’re teaching as part of a team and that collaborative piece.


Sam Demma (27:11):
Yeah. Love that. Love that great advice. Sarah, how about yourself?


Sarah Abrams (27:18):
I think for me too, it’s, it’s probably a little bit about, you know, do don’t, don’t worry as much about the curriculum. The curriculum is super important, but be yourself. I, I remember when I first started teaching, I thought, okay, I’m, I’m young. I need to go in and I need to be, you know, a mean teacher. I need to lay down the law and I need these kids to know that, I mean business and, you know, that’s the only way that they’re gonna pay attention and learn. And, and I learned very quickly that if you try to be something you’re not, students will pick up on that very quickly. And when I actually was comfortable enough just to be myself and to, you know, I’m, I’m naturally sort of a caring, motherly kind of a teacher and, and every teacher has their own style and, and every style is good. But that was my style. My style was not to be the hard nose, you know, strict disciplinarian and it worked better for me. I found my students responded better to me when I was authentic. And and when I just, just went in there as, as myself and that has worked really well for me.


Sam Demma (28:23):
Hmm. Love that, love that. Those are, I get a different answer every time I ask an educator so thank you for sharing. It is cool to see the different, you know, the different answers and examples and I appreciate you sharing. This has been a great conversation. It’s already been almost 40 minutes, so thank you both for being here and sharing in this conversation. If a teacher or an educator wants to connect with you, like what would be the best way to reach out and Sarah, maybe you can share first, you can share maybe a Twitter or an email address, whatever you prefer.


Sarah Abrams (28:52):
Well on Twitter, I’m @SarahMAbrams. So that’s definitely a way that people can connect with me, Sarah with an H and Abrams with no H and we can, we can share that with you later. And my email, absolutely. I’m happy to answer emails and it’s sarah.abrams@ocsb.ca.


Sam Demma (29:13):
Awesome. Katie, how about you?


Katie Lewis-Prieu (29:15):
And it would be the same two ways for me also on Twitter. I’m @klewis_prieur. And my school board email is katie.lewis-prieur@ocsb.ca.


Sam Demma (29:41):
Awesome, love it. Well, Katie, Sarah, thank you both for coming on the show. It’s been a great conversation. Keep up the amazing work and I will talk to you soon.


Katie Lewis-Prieu (29:50):
Thanks so much for having us; this is an honor.


Sam Demma (29:53):
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 Katie Lewis-Prieur & Sarah Abrams

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.

Tina Noel – Experiential Learning Coordinator Renfrew County Catholic DSB

Tina Noel - Experiential Learning Coordinator Renfrew County Catholic DSB
About Tina Noel

Tina Noel (@tlnoel) is the Experiential Learning Coordinator at the Renfrew County Catholic DSB. She is responsible for providing the students on her board with learning opportunities and hands-on experiences that will help them develop the skills they need to create the futures they desire.

She is also the board lead for the OYAP program – Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program – and spent many years working in the co-op department. Throughout her career, Tina developed three guiding principles that she believes are the cornerstones to a successful Career / Coop Placement.

One – Integrity

  • In simplest terms – Integrity means doing the right thing even if nobody is watching.
  • Do what you say and say what you do – your integrity and reputation are at stake!!!

Two – Own It!

  • What went wrong, how can you fix it and what will you do to not let it happen again.
  • Take responsibility for your actions. Do not cover up repetitive, bad behaviours with excuses. Understand the difference between excuses and reasons.
  • Remember – mistakes are a part of life and are necessary for us to improve and change behaviours. If you keep making the same mistake – it is no longer a mistake rather it becomes a habit.
  • Try to understand that parents, friends, teachers, supervisors and co-workers see through excuses!

Three – Choices

  • Every choice has a consequence – can be good, bad or even ugly!
  • Remember – only you know whether or not you can live with your choices. Some choices are very, very small but others can be life-altering. Take the time to make choices that you can live with.
  • Begin to back away from peer pressure in making some choices that might negatively affect your success in your job or career.

Connect with Tina: Email | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Specialist High Skills Major (SHSM)

Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program (OYAP)

Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre (OCDC)

12 steps of rehabilitation

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):
Tina welcome to the high performing educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here this morning. Please start by introducing yourself.


Tina Noel (00:10):
Hi and thank you for having me. I’m Tina Noel, the experiential learning coordinator, OYAP and SHSM lead with the Renfrew County Catholic District School Board in the beautiful Ottawa valley situated between North Bay and Ottawa.


Sam Demma (00:25):
What got you into education at what point in your career did you realize this was the vocation and calling for you?


Tina Noel (00:34):
Interesting enough. The fact that my career ended up bringing me into guidance. I, in while I was in a high school, I had a guidance counselor as they did back then tell me that I, well, I did well in math and I did well in business course as well clearly means that I should become an accountant. Well, I never put anything any thought into it. And so I thought I pursued that and clearly recognized that I did not wanna sit behind a desk with numbers and started looking at where I, where my strengths were. And it started leading towards working with youth, not necessarily children, but so that I worked my way towards high school. And yeah, that’s kind of, it


Sam Demma (01:24):
Was guidance the first position you worked in a school building and what was that experience like?


Tina Noel (01:31):
No guidance guidance tends to be that old idea that you have to have worked in schools then you kind of work your way up into guidance, but no, my, my actual first job that I graduated 1993 from teachers college. Lakehead and I, it was very difficult to get into teachers college back then. And it was the year of the social contract which means I was hired by Duff appeal, Catholic board, but they basically released the bottom, like 10% of their staff and put them on supply teaching and then I couldn’t move to Toronto. So I moved back home and started looking for work. And I was given a half position at an all school to start the alternative program. And we had nothing of that. So now I’m a young teacher and I built it from the ground up and it became, it’s still a viable program now.


Tina Noel (02:30):
And I did a lot of outreach with Ontario, which is now currently Ontario works, probation, drug, rehab, incarceration. I worked with a OCDC, and I basically reintegrated a whole bunch of students back in to regular school. And it was the most rewarding job and highly, highly recommend that for any teacher in that you, before you, you think about subject matter, you think about relationships with students and there’s always a pushback and most at risk youth have a huge guard up and you struggle to break down that wall. And the only way that you ever break it down is with trust and teenagers. See through people that, that are not sincere very, very quickly. And it was, it gave me the ability to then become a student success teacher and then moving into guidance. And I did co-op. And so all of that takes that extra, really getting to understand your student.


Sam Demma (03:39):
And somewhere along the line, you also shook the hand of Oprah. Oh, is, is this a true story? And can you please explain why, where that tweet came from?


Tina Noel (03:52):
Well, somebody posted who was the most famous person yeah, I’m a, I, I follow politics quite a bit and I was a, a huge follower of Oprah. And then she was talking about this young Chicago politician by the name of Barack Obama. And so I was kind of intend on just completely following it. And she was having him on as his political career was going. I thought, oh, I need tickets. If I ever get tickets to Oprah, maybe I will be able to, to hear him speak and whatnot. But anyway so it was 2001 and my girlfriends and I we just, I was homesick one day and I kept going and phoning and I sure enough got through for tickets. And they said, we’re putting on a special show on a Monday. And that would’ve been a travel day for me to go to a conference that it needs to be at for the ministry on the Tuesday in Toronto. So my, my superintendent said, you know, like whatever, then you can just travel from there into Toronto. And it’s exact you what I did. And we went down there and where she comes out on her previous show she comes out behind the doors. Our seats were right there at the top, right by the doors she came through and I shook her hand and we were able to, so it was pretty, pretty neat.


Sam Demma (05:18):
That’s awesome. I had to ask you that question, but yeah, right before I did, you mentioned the importance of building trust with students as someone who has worked with so many students over the years, what do you think is the best way to build trust with a young person?


Tina Noel (05:42):
Sorry about the announcements. Listening to students they, they really, truly want to be heard. And from that, and I’m not saying that we all should just stop what we’re doing to listen to them, but like don’t offer, like, don’t try to fix it without listening to them. Mm. And once you do that and you can, you can pick out what they’re trying to say, and then you kind of break down all of the, the kind of rhetoric, and then you kind of get to the core and you, you pick up things that resonate with them, or you pick up things that are interest to them, and then you try to make a shared conversation. And and don’t, don’t forget about yourself being vulnerable. They often think that, you know, as children in elementary school will look at their teachers as having everything together. And, oh my God, they know, you know, we can’t, we can’t be that for everybody. And we have to make sure that students see us as humans first and that we care and then we’re able to educate.


Sam Demma (06:57):
Hmm. That’s just a good philosophy. It’s like coaching, you would learn in coaching that the most powerful tool you have is the questions you ask, which is not giving advice. It’s asking questions to listen more. And I think it’s the same in, in teaching and guidance. At some point in your career, you also transition to experiential learning. How did that occur? And for someone who has never worked as a experiential experiential lead learner, can you explain a little bit about the role?


Tina Noel (07:29):
Well, I co-op is your basic experiential learning activity. That’s been in high school. So I, I was asked to move into co-op very quickly one year, and then I started assuming the role of the OYAP lead, but our board is so small. So I was both I was a systems person being OYAP, but still a classroom teacher doing the OYAP sorry, the co-op portfolio. And co-op so you to have a little bit more flexi flexibility that you’re not in the school every day and set times and running the BES. So you basically have am PM call for full day. And a lot of the OYAP students obviously are in co-op. So I started doing that. And then the SHSM program came about in the province month. And so I was working with our then student success principal, and they started expanding my portfolio to take on SHSM.


Tina Noel (08:31):
And so I I’ve been in SHSM from the very, very beginning meeting. So I’ve been with the program and understand how it’s grown in and the importance of it. And so now I had OYAP now I had SHSM and I was still trying to do then student success and overseeing guidance. I was a guidance department at, and it just got to be a lot. So the board then created a systems program with all of those portfolios at, at the exact same time that the ministry brought out an El position. So our board truly did create that umbrella system where all exponential learning and all support programs for in school. We were under one umbrella.


Sam Demma (09:17):
That’s awesome. For someone who doesn’t know too much about SHSM, can you explain a little bit behind its program and purpose?


Tina Noel (09:27):
Yes. SHSM program, the specialist high skills major basically was born out of other boards doing these meat programs. And so, oh, look what they do. And I remember one of the Kingston boards did guitar building, and then they would and then they kind of moved it into the music program. So it was kind of a whole follow through, but the ministry knew the, the importance of that, but they needed to create curriculum around it and, and a system, so it fit into for funding. And so then they started looking at, so the Kingston board, limestone board used to have what was called focus programs and around an idea. So then the ministry came up with specialist high skills majors. And from that it’s grown and they started looking at general program names specific. And then what courses would be the majors and the minors and, and setting up kind of the funding parameter in the scale of the funding.


Tina Noel (10:34):
And we’ve had great ministry people. And the neat thing with the SHSM program is the people at the ministry who are, are the contacts for all the SHSM leads are as passionate about SHSM as the, the people at the grassroots. And that includes our classroom teachers because our programs each have a program lead. And if it wasn’t for them, our programs wouldn’t work. We can do all what we want at the, the board level. And the ministry can all do what they want. But I’ve often said if it’s not the grassroots, if the teachers are not there and passionate about it, the programs are not viable.


Sam Demma (11:16):
Chisholm specialists, high skills major was an option in my high school as well. And one of my biggest regrets was being so focused on sports that I didn’t get involved.


Tina Noel (11:28):
Yeah. And they do have they do have health and wellness with a sports focus. So yeah, but you might not be sitting here if you did that, cuz you might have gone into some medical.


Sam Demma (11:39):
Yeah, you’re totally correct. One thing I really enjoyed chatting with you about were your three, three principles towards having a successful co-op placement that you share with all the students you help place in co-ops over the years. Can you share a little bit about those three principles and why you think they’re so important.


Tina Noel (12:01):
As I, as I have come coming near the end of my career, I go back to this lesson and this lesson is my favorite because it holds so much of what I feel has resonated with me in my career in working with youth that I can pass on for the students themselves to take on. So the three guiding principles, number one is integrity. Number two is own it. And number three is choices. So number one, integrity in simplest terms, integrity means doing the right thing. Even if nobody is watching do what you say you are going to do, your integrity and reputation are at stake. And we often say in the OWA valley, because it’s such a small town and, and we have a lot of small towns instead of one major center. Yeah. And there’s not one degree of separation. Mm. And people know in high school, if you do something, you, you often get labeled with it and we can break down labels, but you don’t want it to be at your own doing.


Tina Noel (13:07):
And you, you, you try to mitigate risk through integrity and, and setting up, not often said to the students, nobody ever came to their co-op interview or a job interview and said, okay, I’m gonna start to be late. I’m gonna not really care. And and then I’m gonna just be absent. So can I still get the job? And I often said, everybody comes in there on their best behavior. We’ll stay at that best behavior. That’s integrity number or two is my, my favorite and the students kind of I’ve used it so often. And I always hold up. My two fingers like own it. Number two. And in the yearbook one year they often put quotes beside what the teachers often said. And of course, right beside my picture and the yearbook is own it. And so it basic take responsibility for your actions do not cover up repetitive, bad behaviors with lame excuses, understand the difference between excuses and reasons.


Tina Noel (14:04):
Remember mistakes are part of life and are necessary for us to improve and change behaviors. If you keep making the same mistake, it is no longer a mistake rather becomes a habit. Try that, understand that parents, friends, teacher, supervisors, and coworkers see through excuses. And I often said, I have to give the, the respect to one of my colleagues. He met the students at the door and always greeted his students fantastic math teacher. And when the students came in, he would mention, Hey, you haven’t handed in this assignment or whatnot. They would begin with these great big long as they often do. They go rambling on as if they’re writing a novel and he would just look at them and goes, oh, that sounds like an excuse, not a reason.


Sam Demma (14:49):
Mm.


Tina Noel (14:50):
And it just, and so then for me, I often held up my hands and said own it. And then we kind of, we got to it. And number three is choices. And this is the science based kind of understanding. And I often say, and as every choice has a consequence, it can be good, bad, even ugly, just like inside every action has a counter reaction and only we can control what that is. In most cases, when it comes to our own behavior, remember only, you know, whether you can live with your choices. Some choices are very, very small, but others can be life altering, take the time to make choices that you can live with begin and to back away from pre peer pressure in making some choices that might negatively affect your success in your job or career. And it’s the choices can change the trajectory of some child’s life instantly.


Tina Noel (15:48):
And we often sit back and read the very difficult stories. And over my 30 years in education, sadly, I’ve, we’ve gone to too many of those. And I’ve often said to the students, let’s, let’s control what that is. And it’s not about bubble wrapping them. That’s not where I’m at, but cuz I’m totally about living and the students. And we often say about success comes with risk, but risk doesn’t have to be dangerous risk. Doesn’t have to be behavior altering or reputation altering risk. You can, you can mitigate risk, instant making good choices anyway. It’s. Yeah. And I, I often said, and there’s one really neat example of the choices a student showed up at my door for coop and I turned around and looked at him. I go, what are you doing here? And he goes, I, because he should have been at co-op and his co-op was at a manufacturing place and it was a far piece wait.


Tina Noel (16:55):
And he goes, well, I’m here. I need to go to the JP. I go, what for? And he goes, well, I might need a letter from you to say that I need my license to drive to co-op. And he goes, I got another speeding ticket. I went, what you should have only ever gotten one. Mm. He said, what do you mean? I said, if you, you can afford to pay the one or you can afford, then you change your behavior. We’ve talked about this. And he goes, well, it’s my third one. And I think I’m gonna lose my license. I said, well, I can’t do anything about that. And I get up and I, he handed me his ticket at that time and I get up and he goes, well, where are you going? I go, well, I’m gonna go to the photocopier goes, what are you doing with that for I, cuz I’m gonna photocopy and I’m gonna do you a favor. I’m gonna laminate it and I’m gonna attach it to your visor. And every time that you wanna put your foot on the gas, over the speed limit, you’re gonna look up and you’re gonna see that. And you’re gonna realize, can I afford that? And Kim, do I need my license? And that’s, what’s gonna alter your behavior.


Tina Noel (17:57):
I can’t afford a ticket or I don’t wanna spend my money in ticket. So I don’t. Yes. Have I gone over the speed limit? Yes. But I’m not going to go that far over the speed limit. Yeah. Or whatever. Yeah. So


Sam Demma (18:10):
These are awesome principles. I really resonated with all three of them. When you think about the own it phrase do you have any examples or stories you can remember of students who have done a great job owning it? Meaning they walked in, knew that they didn’t really meet a recommend didn’t really meet a requirement and they said, miss I’m gonna own it. Here’s the truth.


Tina Noel (18:38):
Well, they, there was one student. I, I was dealing with one student in my classroom and then he had come down, sorry. I met him outside my office in the hallway and I’m talking to him and he was going on and on. And there was a doorway just to my left. And two students were coming through and as he was going on and I just lifted the two fingers up and I just went rule number two. And he goes, what’s that? And I, you couldn’t have time to perfectly a, a student that had just finished quote with me. And the first semester was walking by and I, I did the two fingers up and he goes, well, what’s rule number two. And the student turned around and he goes own it. And, and the student other looked at ’em and the two of them start to laugh because it’s just, and the student turns around.


Tina Noel (19:28):
He goes and he goes, just own it now. And it was just, and he just looks at me and I go, the only way we’re gonna get your problem solved is what did you do wrong? How can you fix it? And how is it never gonna happen again? And in the own, it, those are the three questions that allow that gives students the kind of the framework to help own it and, and owning it is something we need to teach. And because as students develop their well, their, their life experiences, they need to try to categorize them. And we just don’t, they just don’t wake up and own it by giving them the framework. They have to tell me what went wrong. So by, by admitting it, and it’s the first thing in the 12 step of any rehabilitation for, for for drugs or alcohol that the, any, any of the 12 step programs go with.


Tina Noel (20:33):
So we need to own it. And by stating what the problem was, and by seeing what we can do to fix it helps us say, we’re sorry, and realizing how it can never happen again. That changes behaviors. Mm. So the framework in the own, it gives teachers an explanation, sorry, the framework to help that, that line of communication. So it’s not me always fixing it for them. They have to fix it themselves. Mm. So, so it’s that gradual release of responsibility. And they always, they always want, they’re always a big, tough grade, 11 and 12 students until they’ve done something wrong. Yeah. And then they ask for help, but my help always came with helping them, not the situation. Yeah. I always said, I wanna help you fix it. And that helped create trust.


Sam Demma (21:34):
It reminds me of the phrase, teach a person to fish, not give them a fish. You know, not that you’re teaching people fishing, but the general principle is the same. You’re giving them a skill and that they could use long after they leave your classroom.


Tina Noel (21:53):
Or, yeah, exactly. And I had one student who came in and often students get released from co-op and the balance of a co-op teacher is providing credits and graduation opportunities and skills with protecting the employers and future opportunities for other students. So if the employers then get tired of the co-op students. So I often say to the students, before you get another co-op placement, we’re gonna do the own. It we’re gonna go through the framework because I can’t give away these co-op. And of course the students started saying, well, I was late. And then they often said, it’s surprising. It’s such, well, they don’t like me. I’m like, what? Mm, no, no, no. Let’s no, no, let’s back this up. And even kids that, that have problems with classroom teachers when they, they’re not handing in assignments or they’re not doing well on tests or whatnot. Well, they don’t like me. Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. And so I used the own it when I was student success teacher as well.


Sam Demma (22:58):
Ah,


Tina Noel (22:59):
And it worked in there as well because that emotional guard, it’s always easy to blame everybody else. So how do we take our actions back? And I’m not sitting here talking as if I’ve done that completely in my life because I have not. So I often do it to myself and my poor child, my own. I only have one child, my son, and it’s hard as a parent and you’re taken off multiple hats and I’ve used the own it with him. And he goes, and he would remind, I’m not one of your co-op students, mom.


Sam Demma (23:36):
Well, one of the things I was gonna say was these three principles, one beautiful thing about them is they apply to any situation in everyone. Not only co-op students, although definitely you’d have some challenges trying to share with your kids, but I appreciate you sharing.


Tina Noel (23:53):
And it interesting enough in, in, in the whole narrative of what’s happening in society today with these bipolar things and in, and rule number two, kind of goes for that as well. And, and, and by doing it, it actually will help the divide in society.


Sam Demma (24:13):
Yeah.


Tina Noel (24:14):
Anyway,


Sam Demma (24:15):
I agree. And rule touch on rule number one quickly as well. Integrity is so important. I also look at integrity as a way to build self-esteem because integrity is not only, you know, committing and promising to doing what other people, what you promise to others, but it’s also committing and, and following through on doing what you promise to yourself, the promises you make that no one else knows about. For example, if I tell myself I’m gonna exercise or I’m going to do my home work tonight at 4:00 PM and I follow through, I slowly start building self-esteem and confidence. So I think your rule, your, your first rule here of integrity is one important for your reputation and future careers. And secondly, and arguably even more importantly for your own self-confidence and self theme. So I think these three rules are extremely helpful, and I appreciate you bringing them together to share them today on the show. If you could kind of take your experience throughout education over the past 30 years, go back in time, tap Tina on the shoulder, in her first or second year of education and say, Tina, this is the advice that I wish you heard when you were just getting started. What would you have told your younger self?


Tina Noel (25:37):
Balance, the focus of your job to understand first and foremost, students come first? Mm. And nothing has at greater than the current pandemic we’re in.


Tina Noel (25:54):
I I’ve had a very difficult time with, with integrity of, of some teachers when their statements during a pandemic start with the pronoun. I, and I, I have a hard time understanding that because I spent 30 years making sure that students were number one and people often said, you know, you you’ve worked nights, you’ve worked weekends. And people said, well, how did you become a, a coordinator? And I, I often said, I just, every time they gave me a job to do, I, I kind of went there and beyond, because it was always the nice thing about all these programs that I’ve worked with. They’re, they’re completely student focused. I brought in the new curriculum in 99 to 2003. And I, I was on the sit team and then I worked for the board and then I came out and so they knew that I had integrity. They knew that I would work hard and do that, but in all of it in especially assessment inal, which is my favorite part of the new curriculum.


Tina Noel (27:21):
I, yes. So with these teachers, with the, starting with the eye, not having students as their focus has been really upsetting because in all the jobs that I’ve done, the students were, oh yeah, the assessment in the valve, part of it, the new curriculum allowed us to make sure that there was room for success. Mm. And that a, a mark given or attendance that, that the teachers had to work. And yes, they have, please. I, I have so much respect for teachers that teachers have worked so hard to try to figure out where the marks are coming from. And there’s been huge debates over, you know, the, the watering down of assessment eval, but ultimately the teachers that really, really care and have that integrity to the profession underneath see the value of students being successful. Mm. And no, a 60 for one student doesn’t mean the same as a 60 for another, but it might have altered their life or might have given them that, that glimmer of hope.


Tina Noel (28:30):
And that’s where we’ve done it. So we’re starting to teach the whole child, not just the brain of the child. And that’s all what integrity is about. And sadly, the pandemic in peeling back the onion has, has made me recognize that I, I don’t like seeing teachers that don’t put the student first and it’s been difficult because people have struggled with the pandemic and I have as well. And my whole, I never wanted to come outta my career with a dip. I, that I wanted to come out straight on working hard, wanted to be around the province, bringing back all these need ideas to my board and working really hard. And of course this has slowed everything, but in it all, I still, we still are getting students in level ones. I’m still working hard for my board. I’m gonna work hard right. To the end.


Tina Noel (29:27):
And, and that’s an integrity and the integrity to always put students first. And that’s what I would say to my younger self don’t ever, ever lose focus of that on your most difficult day, when you’re trying to plan that lesson on Sunday night, when your young children are sick, or you’re doing all of that, just imagine what it’s like for a child who’s trying to learn and what you mean for them as a teacher and that, that relationship and that integrity of you tell, saying that you were going to be there to change these lives of these children will let stay focused on that. And, and the respect that you have for your employer. And they’re not, there’s not a they, and oftentimes in any organization, people will say, well, they, they, they, well, there isn’t a, they like we’re in this collectively together. They have to make choices. What’s best for an organization. And, and, but ultimately as a classroom teacher and as a teacher, your, the integrity that you have to your profession is student focus.


Sam Demma (30:36):
Hmm. I love it. Tina, thank you so much for again, coming on the show, you could feel your care and passion for this work, and it really shines through, I appreciate you coming on here to talk and share if an educator is listening and, and wants to reach out what would be the best way for them to get ahold of you?


Tina Noel (30:55):
They can they can reach me through my email and then we’ll take it from there to see a, their lines of communication. And my email is tina.noel@rccdsb.ca, Renfrew County Catholic District School Board.


Sam Demma (31:19):
I will make sure to include it on the article as well. Just so there’s some easy access. Thank you again for doing this. Keep up the amazing work. And I look forward to working with you and talking soon.


Tina Noel (31:31):
Thank you so much, Sam.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Tina Noel

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.

Martin Tshibwabwa – Resource teacher from grade 9 to 12 at Notre Dame

Martin Tshibwabwa – Resource teacher from grade 9 to 12 at Notre Dame
About Martin Tshibwabwa

Martin is the resource teacher at École secondaire Notre Dame in Woodstock.  He is extremely passionate about special education, student success and gardening.  If you get a chance to speak with him, definitely ask him about the peppers he’s growing 🙂 

In this episode, Martin shares a little bit about his own journey into education and why he walked away from a career in medicine to do what he is doing today. 

Connect with Martin: Email

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

École secondaire Notre Dame

Specialist High Skills Major

Specialist High Skills Major in Health and Wellness

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 on the podcast is Martin Tshibwabwa . Martin is the, he’s a grade 9-12 resource teacher for École Secondaire Notre Dame, a secondary school named Notre Dame in Woodstock, Ontario. He speaks French as well. I met Martin after he reached out to do a SHSM (specialist high skills major) presentation for a group of students at his high school.


Sam Demma (01:09):
And since then we’ve worked together twice, but we’ve had many of conversations about his farm, about his his upbringing in a different country, about him studying medicine and walking away from medicine. And you’ll hear a lot about a bunch of those things in today’s podcast interview; but all in all, Martin is a very heart centered educator. He’s someone who really cares about his work and the students he’s working with. And I know you’ll feel that in today’s conversation. Enjoy it, and I will see you on the other side. Martin, thank you so much for coming on the High Performing Educator podcast. First of all, huge pleasure to have you on the show. Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me 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 with young people today.


Martin Tshibwabwa (01:54):
Perfect. Thank you for having me here on the show, Sam Demma. I appreciate the time and the opportunity to be on the platform. So a little bit about myself, a little history about my journey to education is first of all, I just have under seven years in the education field. And for me, learning and teaching is about inspiring the next generation. Passing on what I’ve learned, and passing it on to the next generation for them to take my craft and knowledge and build something out of it. Doesn’t replicate the exact same way, but they can inspire themselves from me, or surrounding staff members around me, and take that as a measuring stick to help them guide them through the education path. And prior to coming to education, actually my first role path to a profession was medical school.


Martin Tshibwabwa (02:47):
So I did two years of medical school down in the Caribbean, in the Antigo. So I did two years there and my second year out of burnout and I decided to a time out, come back home and reset the batteries. And during that time, when I was at home, it was a four month break, but that four month felt long, cuz I wasn’t doing nothing. I really told myself, you want mind, you go home. You shut down. Don’t think about nothing. So while I was at home, I became bored and I started looking at what are other options that I out there because while in undergrad, my mind was so settle med school. I had attention to other areas. So while at home, during those four months, I looked at different areas and education came about and I looked into it. I said, you know what?


Martin Tshibwabwa (03:33):
It was in December of 20 12th. I said, I’m gonna apply. I had missed. But I said, I’m going to apply. As I shot in the dark and I applied for September, 2014, I told myself, I get in, I’m returning. I’m gonna go to education and I’m not gonna go back to med school. I’m gonna take a break from med school. And then if I have education down, I’ll probably be considered med school. So I went to education. I got in for September surprising. So I put in my time in the education program, I did the practicums and I loved it. Cuz when I went to Medco, I actually wanted to become a pediatrician. Hmm. So when I finished my first term of teachers college, I told ’em you can place me anywhere for a practicum from kindergarten old, grade 12. I don’t mind. Surprisingly, the first posting that comes up to me is kindergarten.


Martin Tshibwabwa (04:28):
It works out well, cause I always wanted to be a pre yeah. So I went in there, took it. It was, it was a big challenge. Like I, I really respect teachers that teach kindergarten because we, we tend to overlook it. We think that it’s more play. They’re not learning. But one thing I’ve noticed is actually even us, we learn by play career plays different. For example, we have group work, which is still a kind of play, but there’s a theory behind it. And when you compare to kindergarten, yeah, there’s a different, there’s different type of learning centers, but yeah, the kids are learning through play. For example, the learning, how to share without knowing that they’re actually learning something life skill. And that’s pretty much my journey. So once I was in after completing my degree in education, I look back at the scale.


Martin Tshibwabwa (05:16):
Is it worth going back to, to med school or did I continue education? I evaluated the two and I told myself, you know what, going back, it’s true. My passion was med school, but this new passion has become my new career plan. So I told myself, you know what, plan B actually better the plan a and I stuck it out and up to now, I’m still in contact with guys and girls that I was in med school with. And I spoke with them the upon graduation. So let’s say two years after I left the island of vent, a few of my folks that I spoke to, they actually told me all money. You actually did a good decision to lead med school and go to teachers college because we’re still a here grinding in your career. Mm, same time I was happy for them because they toughed it out for the ups and downs in med school. And they’re still going. And every time that we sit back and we look back and we talk to each other, we’re both, we’re all always happy for each other. Although I was able to start my career world ahead of them, they started late. Although they still trenches. Yeah. Now playing the encouraging role when I’m telling you guys keep going, keep going. So it’s pretty good.


Sam Demma (06:22):
That’s awesome. I, I re resonate with you on such a deep level because what I’m living right now is my plan B. I thought amazing. Sam’s gonna be a professional soccer player. And that was the thing until the injuries came. And I kind of like, you went on this discovery of a journey, try and figure out, you know, what the heck is Sam gonna give a value to the world? And yes, now I think I’m living that out through the work I do with, with students and young people. I’m curious, where was home for you? Was the, was Antigua home or did you just decide to do your, your work there?


Martin Tshibwabwa (06:55):
So my parents are from the Dr. Democratic Republic of Congo, nice


Martin Tshibwabwa (07:00):
Myself. I was born in Zambia and as Zambia, my parents moved to Canada or went to Europe and Canada. And ever since we moved to Canada, home has been Hamilton comes in home for me. And now I recently relocated back. I live in Branford. So Branford is my new home and way Howt came about was in my third of undergrad, I applied for med school in Canada. I applied at mass university where I did my undergrad nothing on Ontario, school of medicine and then bury and also U of T. And I told myself, switch out in the dark. If I don’t get in, I’m gonna go to on the islands. Nice. I didn’t get into Canada. Then I looked on the map at different schools. I evaluated the pros and cons. And the reason why I picked Antigo was because it was a direct flight versus flight. So that was the reason why I ended up in Antigua. And honestly, I spent two years there in I only have good things to say about the islands, honestly, of course there’s ups and downs, but everywhere you go as a foreigner, you gotta face those obstacles, which is part of the journey


Martin Tshibwabwa (08:07):
That you embrace it.


Sam Demma (08:08):
Yeah, that’s awesome. And right before we started recording today, you, you told me that you spend your summers farming, where did your love and passion for farming come from and how does this play into the picture?


Martin Tshibwabwa (08:20):
Once again? So being in Antigua, everything’s important from Miami, from the United States or to the island. So produce fruits are expensive. If you want to live, like we live here in Canada or in the United States, you gotta go on the height and for marketplace, like if you wanna live as a local, you go to the market, you get your goods. Then what I noticed was one of the stands where I used to go all the time was actually a couple. So the wife worked at the market and the husband worked on the field. He’d bring the goods all the time and I’m regular there. So she told me if you ever want a deal on produce, come help us on the farms. And I said, Hey, sure. On my days off I can come. I usually took Sundays off from studying. So studying over there is usually a beach day. It was early Sunday morning. I go would help out of the farm. And then while being there, it became therapeutic because I did enjoy gardening, but I didn’t take it as seriously as like I wouldn’t put the entire day’s worth of gardening. Got


Sam Demma (09:27):
Got it.


Martin Tshibwabwa (09:28):
Being over there on the island and working on the garden, seeing what goes into the labor. And that goes into the dedication and the discipline. I had a big admiration for it. So what happened is in returned instead of buying produce, my labor was giving me free produce. I didn’t have to buy no more produce. I see.


Sam Demma (09:51):
Yeah.


Martin Tshibwabwa (09:52):
Then when I shut down on the island, when I came back home, I have access to a garden community garden. So I got involved into it. And what I was doing is I was growing these vegetables that we don’t find in Canada. For example, the scotch buned hot pepper. It’s pretty much a delicacy in every Caribbean dish, especially vegans like it’s the too hot pepper. It has a strong aura, which if you put it in a stew, your whole house will smell like it.


Sam Demma (10:24):
Nice.


Martin Tshibwabwa (10:25):
I was lucky enough that when I was in anti brought back, some of those seeds seeds are authentic. They’re not something that’ll tell you SCO button, but then when you grow, you realize that the, so I was growing it when I first got, when I first finished teacher’s college, my first year of the teacher’s college, I had a summer off. So that’s what I started doing. And a few of my friends came over and then they realized that the scent in my food was different. Told them no, I grow my own peppers. And Hey, mark, we buy some off from there. They’re the ones that actually encouraged me to get into bigger, large a larger plot. So I spoke to a farmer here in town, in flame, bro. And they allowed me to get some space. So I’m leasing space right now. That’s what I do during the summer. Just growing D crops that I brought back the seed from the Caribbean.


Sam Demma (11:16):
That’s awesome. That’s such a cool, yeah. It’s such a cool passion project to have.


Martin Tshibwabwa (11:20):
Yeah. So it’s amazing how things worked out. Like I was an anti for one thing, but then I picked up something else into farming. Then when I came back home, got into teaching, had the summers off. But during my summers off, I had this new passion that I do active, which is farming.


Sam Demma (11:35):
That’s awesome. Love it. And yes, I think what’s so cool about that is that you went to Antigua for one reason, which was education. And you came back with this hobby, which is now a part of your life every summer, and exactly, you know, sometimes we’re close minded and we don’t see these other opportunities or hobbies. But when we’re open-minded in every experience, we find these things that we, we might love and enjoy that we didn’t even expect would happen or, or we would develop. And now what’s your role today? So explain a little bit about what you do right now with your school. So tell, tell me a little bit about the journey about it went from kindergarten class to working in the role you’re in right now.


Martin Tshibwabwa (12:17):
Yeah, so kind as I said, now, I’m in I’m a high school teacher. I teach life skills nutrition, human development. And I’m also in, in charge of the specialist high skills major here. And we specialize in excuse me, I’m figuring French. We specialize in health and wellness. Nice. And as I did mention earlier, I am in a French high school. So when I first started was in kindergarten, I enjoyed it. And then my second intern, my second practicum was on the high school side. And once I got into high school, I loved it because I could be bolder with the students versus kindergarten. You can’t be bold, but you can’t be too bold on the kids either. So I found that I was having a challenge fighting in the middle between when you become bold and too bold for the kids.


Martin Tshibwabwa (13:09):
But when I high school, the switch was quick to be done. And one thing that I, I do find on the high school side is I’m able to create opportunities and experience for a life skills for the kids, by providing them life skills, help them character build through and Chisholm. It’s, I’m able to invite people like yourself, sorry, speakers like yourself. Like early, when we did in January, the students were able to speak to student that they could relate to. And speaking with you, you’re able to show students that, yes, you’re a public speaker, but there’s work that goes into it. Mm you’re. Able to show them the truth behind the grind. And that’s why I do admire a lot about the Chisholm program. Yes. As a teacher in front of the classroom, I can explain to them how it takes time to accomplish great things.


Martin Tshibwabwa (14:03):
Mention yourself a small, progressive step that bring you toward success. Yeah. When students can see that coming from somebody else outside from the education world, they see the truth beyond the grind is very appreciate. So being on the high school side, especially in grade 11 and grade 12, they had a crossroads where they don’t know where they want to go. And then that brings me back to my, where I was so centered on med school and focused on something else. And then being able to withdraw and shut down and gave opportunity to look at now with the program, bringing guests like yourself, it’s opening the eyes to students of what else is out there. Whereas they can also explore in order to be successful or whatever craft they want to take. And the other thing that I also do notices attitude. Attitude is important. Yes. You can have hard work. You can be dedicated, but if your attitude and approach is not right, you can achieve anything.


Sam Demma (15:04):
Yeah. I love that. And why are you personally so passionate about life skills? Like you could, you could be teaching farming, you know, like you could be teaching courses, anything. Why, why life skills?


Martin Tshibwabwa (15:17):
Well, life skills first would, it helps to build confidence. Mm. Have life skills. In my opinion, you cannot accomplish much. Cause life skills goes from just starting with body language, your body language, where you are, but on people, the way you have a conversation with people, if you do not express yourself properly. Yeah. For example, like there’s some kids especially when I start my first lesson, like to tell students to find five artifacts that represent themselves so I can get to know them and five things that mean something to the so five things or five artifacts. So I get to know who they are, where they come from. And the reason why I do that is just to create a sense of community. Just, just like yourself. I want to get to know you, you know, just a student in my classroom. I want, I want you to be a buddy of mine. But at the same time we still have that student teacher relationship.


Sam Demma (16:09):
Accountability. Yeah.


Martin Tshibwabwa (16:10):
I wanna show them that I’m a co-owner with you. Yes. I’m your teacher, but I’m a co-owner with you. And it goes back and gets my point of attitude because I, I see a lot of students when you talk to them, they don’t have respect for authority. And that’s why I show them that life skill comes in. For example, I also remind, although my colleagues, especially teachers that enter and tell ’em one thing to realize, first, when you do talk to students is you don’t know what the kid went through the morning when they woke up. Mm. You might see some students that don’t respect authority, but you don’t know maybe the way you, you elevated your tone or might of them suddenly happened back home. So one thing I try to explain to other professors, I mean, other teachers and remind myself also when it comes to life skills is to approach students from a calm tone. Yes, we want authority, but we have to remind them, I understand that something might be going on. But one thing that I wanna do is to IM empower you. And by IM empowering you, I want to teach your life skills and also put character build in you.


Sam Demma (17:21):
I love it. And something that goes hand in hand with teaching a subject like life skills and sharing these things with young people is growth and transformation. And right now there might be an listening. You might be listening right now you know, addressing the listener. They might be listening right now thinking, I don’t know if I’m gonna teach next year. Like this, this new virtual reality is, is difficult and it’s different and I’m not sure about it. Can you share a story of student transformation that you have seen? That’s been really impactful and it could be a student that was in your class or a student that you know of. And if it’s a very serious story with tons of adversity you can change the student’s name. So it remains, it remains totally private.


Martin Tshibwabwa (18:06):
Sure. Well, it’s, especially at the beginning of the pandemic when we had to T into e-learning yep. A challenge for everybody. I bet within yourself as a speaker virtual was it brought it on ups and downs, but that’s where you you really go back to the drawing board. You review the board drawing board and you see what adjustments can be done. You execute new task and new challenges. So to my other fellow teachers that are listening, what I would do is what I did personally was I told the students right away, Hey guys, you know what? This is new territory for me. I have no clue what’s going on. If some of you have skills, when it comes to manipulating computer software, let me know. So them that, Hey, I am human. I don’t know either. And you’ll see. It’s like, so they’re shocked. Another thing that I enjoy doing too, is when I tell ’em, I don’t know, I show them, teach me, show me how to show me how it’s done, what I’m showing them that, Hey, I’m becoming with you something as well. And another success story that I have with my students, what I did in the course in the human development was


Sam Demma (19:19):
I have to interrupt you for one second. No worries. Hold that thought. When you said, teach me. I think it’s the most, I think those are the two most powerful words you can ever use because when you, someone, and you say, teach me, you’re humbling yourself. Right? And, and you’re showing them like, you have some information that may be superior to what I have, and I would love to learn from you. And, and that gives a young person, empowers them to, to want to learn deeper, to share those things with you. And I just wanted to highlight that because I think, you know that sometimes the teacher learns just as much or even more than the student. And exactly. I just, I wanted to share that, but continue what’s that second example.


Martin Tshibwabwa (20:00):
Exactly. And so the other example I was gonna bring up to you is when we started e-learning, a lot of them were not turning on their cameras, and I never told them once to turn on their cameras. But then when I started to show them, I was getting more comfortable with the platform and I was showing them that, Hey, I understand that your priorities right now, being able to be virtual gives you priorities to go to work. I don’t mind, but as long as you logged on, have no problems. So I had some students who would start taking their during works hours. Mm. I never questioned them. But one thing that I always did with my students was I asked them at the end of every lesson, what can I do better? Mm. And when I asked them that they all say, no, you’re a great teacher. I’m like, okay, I’m a great teacher, but what can I improve better in my lesson? How can I address the topics better? And I find that asking them that feedback, it catches them off guard and they, they get more involved in the topic.


Sam Demma (21:00):
Yeah.


Martin Tshibwabwa (21:01):
Teach, asking them to teach me something and asking them for feedback versus giving them feedback all the time or after a test. What I can, after reviewing a test of answers with them, I ask them were the questions fair? Did you find any trick questions? If those tricks, tell me, what do I have to change? Or just, and you can just see, like the light bulb just lights up, like, whoa, what’s going on here? Like this doesn’t usually happen. You


Sam Demma (21:27):
Mm. That’s such a, that’s such an important that’s such an important question to ask. I remember being in high school and sometimes getting some tests and getting questions and thinking we never, like, we never even talked about this. We didn’t learn about it. Like, how am I supposed to answer this? And, you know, most of the times we bring it up to our teacher, but it’s, it’s past the, to test now and he’d say, oh, well, you know, we covered that. And you know, that goes to show that, you know, the, the teacher and, and some of those experiences, you know, didn’t prioritize the learning of the student. They just prioritized the questions on the test. And so I think that practice of, of asking you know, for feedback, but also were there any trick questions? It allows you as an educator to ask yourself, how can I improve the teaching aspects of this, this specific topic. So it lands next time and they’re, they feel more capable to answer those questions. Exactly. That’s such a good philosophy. I love that. And did you develop these kind of concepts yourself, or you inspired by other educators? Where did your philosophies on doing these things come from?


Martin Tshibwabwa (22:29):
Honestly, I was inspired just from as you said, being a student in the classroom and just, it seems like it’s just a one way conversation where the teacher is in the magistrate position. Yeah. Bring information to you and you almost feel like you’re just a an empty vessel, just waiting to be filled.


Sam Demma (22:48):
Yeah.


Martin Tshibwabwa (22:48):
Information. And then that information get tested on the paper. And there’s no feedback from your part. You know what I mean? So it’s like, if that’s the case, just gimme something to memorize at the begin the semester and tell me I’m gonna quiz you on it. Versus when you get your, your, your your classroom or even your panel, even yourself, when you do a presentation, you like to get your crowd involved in the presentation. It’s not, you’re filling them with information. And then at the end, that’s it, that’s all questions answers, that’s it? That’s all. But no, when you get them involved, implicated, you’re building confidence in them and instilling them the fundamentals and also reinforcing confidence for them to just be more vocal versus being expecting.


Sam Demma (23:32):
Yeah, I agree. I totally agree. On the topic of, you know, educational education philosophies that you have and principles that you, you know, you live by, if you could give your younger self advice, meaning you could talk to year one, you know, the year, the first year that you started teaching, knowing what you know now, you know, and being a student for the past seven or eight years that you’ve been teaching, what advice would you give your younger self?


Martin Tshibwabwa (23:59):
Wow. I’d tell myself the younger self ask a lot of questions. Hmm. Just say, you don’t know. Don’t don’t improvise right away. Just say, Hey, you know what? I don’t know. I need help.


Sam Demma (24:15):
Mm.


Martin Tshibwabwa (24:16):
And just to ask a question to be a sponge and to take in all information that you can, and when you know something share. Cause that’s one thing I did realize in educat. I always tell myself, I write a thesis today. My thesis type would be teachers who bully other teachers.


Sam Demma (24:32):
I don’t,


Martin Tshibwabwa (24:34):
Yes. We do point the student to point. We do point out fingers to the students a lot because we are around them a lot. But we tend to forget ourselves teachers as do feel. We bully ourselves a lot. For example, my first year for education, I could ask somebody for a resource asking a resource. You almost feel afraid because you don’t know what answers you’ll get. Some teachers will tell you. Yeah. You know what? I’ll email it to you later on you go check your email, but it’s still nothing. You check your email and hour later, still nothing. I’m just asking for help. For me. Anybody asks me for something I’m giving you. And I even tell that, Hey, if you can make it better, please do. And if you find to teach, please let me know. So that’s one thing I would tell my younger self. Don’t be afraid to say, you don’t know. Don’t be afraid to get your work criticized because critical thinking is important. If someone can be critical about your work, it shows that, Hey, you do have room to proving. You’re not just at a dead end, cuz if you just at a dead end, then why education’s about learning every day, constant marathon, it doesn’t stop. So that’s one thing I’ll talk myself. Don’t be afraid to ask, share, and be a sponge.


Sam Demma (25:45):
I just want to take a second to applaud and appreciate you for your open-minded philosophies. Like I think that these apply not only to education, but in any profession someone might be in and they’re beautiful things to impart in the minds of young people. The day you stop learning is the day you stop growing. And it, it’s also interesting that like ancient philosophers, like Socrates and stuff, they used to say things like I know that I know nothing. And you know, people who assume that they know everything, you know, eliminate themselves from new learning. And so I, I love these philosophies and thank you so much for sharing. If another educator is listening to this and wants to reach out to you and have a conversation, what would be the best way for them to do so?


Martin Tshibwabwa (26:32):
Email, I’m always on email. Email is the quickest way to get to me.


Sam Demma (26:36):
Perfect. Can you just spell it out for anyone who’s listening?


Martin Tshibwabwa (26:41):
So my email; I shall give my personal email. My personal email is tshimart@cscprovidence.ca. So I repeat it again; that’s tshimart@cscprovidence.ca.


Sam Demma (26:59):
Awesome. Martin, thank you so much for calling on the podcast here today. Really appreciate it and look forward to the next time we get to see each other on a zoom call.


Martin Tshibwabwa (27:07):
Definitely, I’m looking forward to it.


Sam Demma (27:10):
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 Martin Tshibwabwa

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.

Natasha Daniel – Program Coordinator at MCG Careers Inc and Certified Career Development Practitioner

Natasha Daniel - Program Coordinator at MCG Careers Inc and Certified Career Development Practitioner
About Natasha Daniel

Natasha Daniel is a bilingual (French and English) project manager in the Youth Skills and Employment Program at MCG Careers.  A Certified Career Development Practitioner, Certified Work-Life Balance Coach, Certified Strengthening Families Coach and a Trained Trauma-Informed Community Facilitator with a strong passion for community and working with people.

Her passion for empowering others began while working as a Trainer and Restaurant Manager for Burger King Canada, working as an Educator in an Adult High School and working in Human Services managing programs. 

In 2013, after several years of gaining expertise in Program Management, Career Development, Family and Youth advocacy in Montreal, her family relocated to Edmonton. Joining MCG Careers in 2013 with a wealth of knowledge she believes her career has further evolved in program management and process managing while empowering youth to increase their strengths, become more resilient and accomplish goals through the REBRAND PROGRAM.

She is motivated and driven to excel by incorporating a hands-on approach. This allows her to focus on the needs of others and their potential which results in stronger engagement, trust and stronger relations with stakeholders and the community. She loves bringing awareness and educating individuals in areas related to career and employment, mental health and any aspect to enhance one’s wellbeing.

Passionate about human relations and volunteering, she is instrumental in bringing strategies and resources to Non for Profits by serving on different boards and volunteering on Youth projects.  Natasha enjoys learning and is constantly broadening her knowledge through training and certifications. Natasha spends time honing her creative skills by writing poems and loves working around fun people.

Connect with Natasha:  Email  |  LinkedinTwitter

Listen Now

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

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Natasha Daniel
Resources Mentioned

MCG Careers Website

The REBRAND Youth Development Program

Small Consistent Actions TEDx Talk

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):
Natasha welcome to the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here today. Please start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit about the journey that brought you to where you are today.


Natasha Daniel (00:13):
Thank you Sam, for having me. So my name is Natasha Daniel and I work at a wonderful company called MCG Carrer as an employment center. And I am the youth program coordinator for our program called rebrand. And by the name rebrand, it gives youth an opportunity to rebrand themselves to really change their lives. And it’s a great journey to be on working with youth, supporting them and encouraging them to really be the best that they can be, and really be empowered to realize that, you know, the world is out there, that they can conquer. So that’s called REBRAND. So what led me to the journey of wanting to work with youth and when we say youth, the, the category of the clients that I’m working with there are between the ages of 17 to 30. So that’s the federal go? My definition of youth.


Natasha Daniel (01:03):
And you know, I started working with you very early in my career as a trainer and manager for burger king several years ago. And I had the opportunity to really hire and, and train youth to just maybe in their part-time jobs as they were accomplishing their ed educational goals. And I moved further from there into working in an adult high school, again with youth who are trying to accomplish a high school certification and stuff like that. And, and really seeing that youths need support and that youths are smart. They are innovative, they’re creative and they’re open to challenges and experiences. So that really empowered me to wanna continue working with youth then fostering an opportunity to support them into their career and employment journey.


Sam Demma (01:52):
That’s awesome. So bridge the gap between burger king and MCG careers for us, what was the journey in between that brought you to MCG?


Natasha Daniel (02:01):
So burger, I was my first career, my first employment opportunity in Canada. So I started off with cashier, but I have the passion for learning and I always wanted to be a teacher when I was younger from since elementary school, because I had a wonderful male elementary school teacher, nice. And my passion for learning and reading and all of that. So when I was burger king, I took time to learn everything on the job. So which within two years with working in a company, I was a shift supervisor because I really learned everything that they had to do like managers did and on the operation of the business. And then I just worked my way up into becoming a restaurant manager. So having an opportunity to hire youth more, also youth to wanna work in a fast food you know, in a fast food restaurant, I want, want to get that opportunity to have extra money while they’re studying so high school youth or post secondary youths.


Natasha Daniel (02:55):
And then from hiring, then I started training as a corporate trainer for burger king. So Alberta was one of my places I came to for a couple months to train people. So that’s kind of my part in terms of with youth and then going into when, when I, whilst I was studying for my post-secondary, I went into adult. So working again in the, in the education facility where you are helping people to learn and helping people to get their educational goals and stuff like that. And then I transitioned into community. I used to be a big brother, big sister at, for boys and girls club for many years. Nice. And being a big sister all also really empowered me and, and, and helped me to really understand that younger people need some additional support. And I taught about what can I bring from my experience?


Natasha Daniel (03:49):
What can I bring from my background? What are the values that they have that also Correl to my values and how could I empower them? So always working the community and working families. I had the opportunity to work with families and interventions in the school and child and family services and stuff like that. So again, I saw that, you know, sometimes as a child you mightn’t get the foundation that you need, but when you get into your youthful age, you’ll still require some of those foundational skills to help youth get into a stronger adulthood and life management. And that’s how I’m here at rebrand right now.


Sam Demma (04:29):
I know it makes you upset when people don’t treat youth with the same respect and I guess, general treatment as they might another adult. and I think what’s really awesome is you explained earlier that you, weren’t only focused on people getting jobs and working shifts at burger king, but you were also making sure they focused on their education. Can you tell me a little bit more about that?


Natasha Daniel (04:55):
Yes. And I, I think sometimes in society older, you know, adults, so people in general, sometimes we underestimate the power that a youth have. And we also, there are a lot of biases against young people also, you know in society. And I believe that how could you just be open to learning about a youth and learning that a charity that they come from and how they can contribute to society and how you can support them? So, one of the things I know that was imperative for me was I work at burger king, as education is very fundamental or at least acquire high school education on the first level is important to, you know, looking at a career path possibility or helping you with your learning goals. But I, when I worked at burger king, I wanted to make sure a part-time job wasn’t, you know, the main focus for everyone, you will have to have that life balance.


Natasha Daniel (05:50):
So I believed in life balance from really early. So I supported the students who were to get that life balance by, you can make your money part-time or full-time work, but you can also go to school. So in the, at burger king, we had a lot of post-secondary college students, and I would have them, we kind of opened a little tutor session within our diet, within our our work employee room. And they were free to bring their assignments. And I kind of them with another worker who in college could help so that they can get support and help with their assignments as they were going through high school. And that’s just because also some of the youth, they didn’t have that support at home. It’s very difficult when your parents are just trying to make money to put food on the table. And especially if it’s an immigrant parent also, they really sometimes don’t understand the whole structure of the Canadian system. So their goal is just that I need to feed you. I need to keep the house going, but what about all of the other needs and needs? And looking at the challenges that your, your child might have. And a lot of them didn’t have that knowledge and didn’t have that skillset. So that’s where I kinda stepped in from that early, early times, being in burger king and moved on into community and stuff like that.


Sam Demma (07:03):
Your experiences in burger king, in different community organizations and clubs has all led to the perspective that you have in working with students in rebrand. Can you talk a little bit more about the rebrand program, why it’s so close to your heart and what’s compelled you to continue working on it for the past eight years?


Natasha Daniel (07:25):
So rebrand again, you know, be why is it so close to my head when I came from Montreal to Edmonton and got a job at MCG, they had this beautiful program and it’s so really one of the foundational programs and I, that MTG offers. And I think it’s about 15 years in ENCE in the, in our current employment center. So there’s a great knowledge about the program in Edmonton is a program that a lot of agencies and support workers and stuff they know about because of the strength of the program and how the program helps you. So with looking at rebrand and going through many cohorts and many you know, participants with different challenges and experiences and background, you understand that really youth, they need the support and they need to really be allowed to have the resiliency. And they need that part where they see that there’s more to life in the world, or there’s more to what I could accomplish.


Natasha Daniel (08:24):
And I always say to my youth, like, how do you define accomplishment? Not don’t define accomplishment by society’s, you know, definition of accomplishment, because what did, what have you done? It doesn’t have to be that you’ve gotten a trophy, or you was, you, you were in the, you know, the football team or you had a scholarship and many of them do, you know, they had those, but what other accomplishment, how, what, how do you see accomplishment from your, your perspective and how can you think out of the box and bring those skillset to your life? So with rebrand because rebrand, we allow them to have many experiences in the program by having a mixture of, of training that they don’t get in school. So we focus on the life management and with the life when it comes with the basic things about budgeting, the basic things about, you know, those communication skills, the basic things about being more self aware.


Natasha Daniel (09:22):
So, you know, who are you and what can you bring to the table and how, you know, what part, what are your goals that you wanna accomplish? So we focus on those great ma life management skills now at COVID and a lot of youth, they go through mental health challenges, and sometimes they’ve gone through those challenges from early childhood and, you know, not having the right supports, the challenges, the mental health challenges increase and increase and increase. Yeah. So really getting them to understand that, yes, you can have a mental health challenge, but what is the best strategy that you are going to incorporate? And what supports do you need to really cope with your mental health challenge? Because not everybody who, you know, you do have coping skills when you have mental health and sometimes society label, you, you have mental health, you depressed, but with that, the, you can still achieve something as long as you have the, the right strategies.


Natasha Daniel (10:21):
And as long as you have the support, so rebrand provides all of that to the participants. And then we fo we help them to focus on employment. What skills can you bring to an employer what’s out there that you would like to learn on the job? You know, what are some of, of the values that you have that another employer might, you know, wanna bring into take you on because that value kind of meshes with their work value. And then what are your long term goals? So what are your current goals? So what are your employment goals, or, you know, so what do you wanna go back to school? What would you like to do? So helping them to really have a broad rate of experiences through training, through you know, sessions like having a good motivat speaker, like you, you know, through financial literacy programs first aid, computer programs, computer training, and volunteer experiences, and just basic, you know, everything their experiences an adult might have, or have had to bring them to a successful journey. That’s what we brand helps them. And then we support them in all aspect, as they’re, you know, being trained and gaining more of self and becoming, you know, looking at the path that, oh, I needed this to help rebrand my life to start a new journey.


Sam Demma (11:39):
The name is so appropriate for the purpose of the program, which is so cool. And I’m honored to have been a part of a few of them. And another one this week, I’m always super excited. One thing that I love about the program is the diversity. It seems like the students all come from very different cultures, different walks of life. How do you get through to students, you know, from the get go and make sure that they understand it’s a safe place where they can be themselves and share the truth. Even if it’s one that’s a uncomfortable to talk about.


Natasha Daniel (12:14):
I, I, I believe for myself, it’s just, I’m open. And, and I, I say, you know what being open is the first time. So I’m no longer youth, but I was a youth at one point in time. And I know some of the experiences that they might have might have be maybe a similar experience that I had, or also by my dive first experience in working community, working, you know, with intervention services and all of that, all of the prior work that I’ve done, you know, I let them know that it’s okay. That as a youth, that everything wouldn’t be smooth it’s okay. That you are gonna make challenges. It’s okay. That because you didn’t critically think about the consequences that, you know, like hitting someone in the head, you didn’t critically think about it, and then you gotta arrest for that.


Natasha Daniel (12:58):
And then you got a criminal record is okay. You know, and because of the challenges that you have, it doesn’t mean that your life stops right there. What it is is that, how can you cha take those challenges and make them into opportunities? So when they, when I connect with a youth, you know, it’s just to see I’m here to support you. And let’s have that open dialogue. Let’s talk about, just be upfront, put it on the table, lay on the table. I’ve heard it all. Like I tell him, I’ve heard it all. There’s nothing. I think that you would come and tell me that like might be a shocker with working with youth you know, from the different backgrounds and different challenges. I had a youth who came to Canada from from a, from the con African continent. And this kid was so resilient.


Natasha Daniel (13:46):
And when he had a story of this kid, he was a war soldier at 13 years old. And they him to kill someone and he didn’t want to. And he ran away. He ran from two weeks, no shoes on his feet, in the jungle for two weeks. Wow. To get to the border of another country for safe Haven. Wow. And this kid came into the program, was really resilient, you know, new immigrants. So he had to learn a lot, but he took to the supports and that, that, you know, everything that the program was offering, he got employment. He got a hand of learning how to understand money because his things that I need to work as I had to money for my mom, I need to take care of my family. And then, you know, two, three weeks into the program, he had one of those days where, you know, he was himself and I’m like, what’s up, he’s always a child.


Natasha Daniel (14:46):
He’s like, you know, I just got worried. One of my best friend got killed, trying to escape and trying to leave, you know, the, the world off that they grew up in with all of the hardship and he felt really guilty. And I says, you know what? It’s okay. It’s okay. Because he felt that I got freedom, my friend didn’t. Mm. And I says, you know what? Take a mental health day. It’s okay. You can go home. You can probably go, just call your mom or talk to the people that you need to support from culturally. And when you feel better, come back tomorrow. And so some of these are just some of the small things that allows, because when you give them those kind of supports, then they’re able to start planning the next step forward. And he moved on into employment. And a couple weeks ago I was outside and he is like, Natasha, Natasha.


Natasha Daniel (15:34):
I’m like, who is that is me? Like, what are you doing? He was doing skip the dish, but he’s a university student. Oh, wow. he is a university student. And he was just doing, skip the dish to make extra cash. So that’s just kind of some of the, the, the people that we experience in rebrand. And one of the things that I can say that learning working with youth is youth are so open. There’s never judgment in my classroom. They never judge. There’s so much support from one youth to the other, even though life experiences are different. They are one of the most open, hated group, I should say, within our society that a lot of people don’t know. A lot of people think that they’re lazy. A lot of people think that you’re paying for your games all day long.


Natasha Daniel (16:22):
And a lot of people think that, you know what, they, they just don’t wanna do anything. They just wanna BU around and all of that stuff. I don’t think they use the word bumming anymore. you’re showing your age, be careful. yeah. I don’t think I don’t that they would like, you know, and the thing about working with you, sometimes I say a word and like, like the other lady they said in my classroom, I’m like, what social media? Do you guys, you know apps and stuff, do you guys think that I have, and like, yeah, Natasha, we know you only have Facebook and one of them she’s like, and because you’re from the Caribbean, I know Caribbean, people love to talk to their family members and they only do WhatsApp and like, like yeah, know that, you know, on Instagram, you and I was, and I was like, whatever guys, whatever, , that’s so funny.


Natasha Daniel (17:22):
Yeah. And, and that’s to take, and, and even the fact that sometimes I said, sometimes in rebrand, I said, okay, tell me some of the I’m like, okay, well, let’s just, just, just, just, just write it down a little bit. You guys write some of the words that you say that we probably, that I probably wouldn’t know of, you know? And then they make me a whole list of kind of the, the, the, the pop culture words, and some of the regular words that they use now, so that I can be on the same lingo with them. yeah. , you know, and I think, so these are some of the things that, so for me, it’s just being open with them and making them, letting them know that you know, I’m not here to judge you. I want you, so I never forget that I was a huge, and I know we gonna all, sometimes we messed up.


Natasha Daniel (18:06):
Sometimes we make mistakes. And sometimes we, I says, you know what? I know. I know the days where, when I was in university, cuz I lived in Montreal and New York was right there, leave Montreal on a Friday, go club in Friday, Saturday sat up until Sunday night, you drive back into Montreal, you go to Tim Horton’s bathroom, wash up, you run to class. And then when school is finish on a Monday evening, you crash I’m like, and they were like, what? I’m like, those are some of the experiences, but how do you do things positively? You know, you can still experience live, but how do you do it in a positive way that it can help you increase your life management and become more aware of the part that you wanna go? You know? And every journey is a different journey. There’s so many, you know, youth and rebrand mental health, as I say you know, one of my rebrand pats was actually just from 2019 and this came, he came through the foster care system.


Natasha Daniel (19:09):
And when he came into rebrand, a smart kid, oh my gosh, like, cuz he has all, one of my, one of my coworkers say he reminds of Scooby duke because he was like, you know, bigger than my parents. But he was so he is such a smart kid and he would be there in the classroom. You teach him and is part of his ADHD and all of this FST and everything. But he’s there, he’s probably building a website, but he can tell you everything that you just said. And he wanted to go when we were part of the coach is looking at where do you wanna go? He says, you know, I really wanna do physio, arts. I wanna become a pilot, but I can’t afford it. And I says, but do know that there’s a program here in Alberta because you were in care, they can pay, you know, they can help you with your supports for education. I got him connected. We get to, we apply, we did the forms, we did everything. And he went forward into doing his assessments and everything to go to school as a pilot. So this is 2019 two weeks ago, cuz I’m not on Instagram again. he sent my other coworker, a video on Instagram to give to me, he was crossly he was flying cross Canada. Wow. yeah. And she came and she’s like, look at this. I’m like, what is that? And she’s like your student gauge. I’m like what? She’s like. Yeah.


Natasha Daniel (20:40):
He’s I on Instagram. And he was, he got yeah. And is accomplishing his goal of becoming a pilot. Wow. And this was 2019. Wow.


Sam Demma (20:54):
It, it sounds like the program really helps students lay the foundation for future success.


Natasha Daniel (21:01):
It does. And, and, and, and there, and no there’s by no means I wouldn’t say some of them drop out, but with me I am a high achiever. So from the get go, I, you know, they know that they have all of the supports that I said to them. Like, you know, I’m not working for you. We are working together. Yeah. And that’s my mantra when they come in, like I’m not working for you, we are working together. So with that, we, we have I used to have 12 for, for every four and a half months now I have 10. And for the most part I have eight, eight successful achievers all the time. Nice that they would go through the program, they would go into employment and figure their life part. And the thing about rebrand, because some of them who’s not completed high school cuz there’s a percentage of non high school completers.


Natasha Daniel (21:48):
They probably in school had negative experiences. Yeah. But coming into rebrand, it gives a different shift. Hmm. And then they, so, so for many of them, and I remember one of my UT said, you know what? After being in rebrand, I realized that I can go back to school now. Ah, because they have a lot of assignments that they’re given. There’s still some of the written work and the teamwork where you have to collaborate to the team and come up with ideas and, and you know, and also your critical thinking, what do you bring to this case study? So they do have work. That’s not structured like school, but they do have some work together increasing their knowledge and to get them to really articulate on pair with, you know, on the computers or whatever, what they’ve learned or how they would approach something.


Natasha Daniel (22:36):
And that helps someone who probably had a lot of challenges in school, realize that, you know, what, if I really am motivated and I can recommit myself, I can go back and complete my high school. So that’s one of the things that I know of, of a couple people who struggled in school and coming through rebrand and they realized that, oh, okay. And one of the things they always said, why did we learn this at school? Why did we learn this at school? And I says, you know what, sometimes school doesn’t, but you have the opportunity where you are here to, to, to get supports. And when we talk about what we are looking at now, we have mental health counseling that they can, you know, that we have a counseling session services that that we, the program pays for. They have also supports when they get employment.


Natasha Daniel (23:26):
So everything to remove the barriers from, you know, to keep them out of work. So they have so support for clothing to get them into employment. They have supports, they get bus tickets and stuff like that to help with the transportation. So every little thing that might become a barrier for a youth to not get in a job or not faking a job, the program tried to decrease those barriers. And then another, the other bigger support for them is that in comparison to a youth who has a job search on their own, we help with some of the employment connection. So if you are in the pro, if you are my participant in the program and I’ve seen your computer skills, I get a test, your time management. I know that you ha you have great communication skills. I know that you have a lot of leadership skills.


Natasha Daniel (24:10):
I, when we are looking for employment for them, I would market you to an employer and say, you know, this is such and such. I remember one of my UAN, she had some trauma was going to post secondary. And she stopped because of you know, being a domestic father and relationship. But then after she bounces back with con and all of that, and she she got with one of the employer connections I made. And he left her after three weeks to manage his driving school and insurance business. Wow. Because she had the skills. Yep. But its just that she didn’t know how to really formulate those skills into the language and then demonstrate them in the workplace by having that opportunity. And she excelled at her at her job and she’s still there today, you know? So that’s one of the things that we do with Reba when we have employers who we know, and especially when it’s an employer who have a hat for community, it makes it so much better and so much easier to really support a you to say you could accomplish all of this.


Natasha Daniel (25:15):
You know, I’ve had youth who came into the program and they got promoted from just being a regular employee to manager, warehousing manager. And so getting them to really become more self aware is one of the goals of the program. Because when they’re more self aware, we focus a lot on their strength. And that’s my thing. I wanna focus on your strength. I know you messed up a lot, Sam, but that’s not, that’s not who you are. You know? And my thing I also say to them fail means your first attempt in learning. Mm. So what did you learn from that? What did you learn from the jobs when you wouldn’t get up on time? What did you learn from, you know, and again, and I say to you, Dr. I know that when you don’t have anything to look forward to, you can go to bed at 2:00 AM in the morning, 3:00 AM in the morning.


Natasha Daniel (26:06):
When I try position from Montreal to Edmonton, that was my life. Cuz what, I didn’t have a job. I didn’t have to get up early to go anywhere. So I would stay up and I would be job searching at 2:00 AM, go to bed at three sleep all the way through, get up at 2:00 PM cuz I know my husband’s about to finish. And that’s how I, so it’s natural. And I think people have to admit to all of these things because it’s be, you know, adults do. I did it like I, them, I did it because I didn’t have any set schedule. I didn’t have any programs. I didn’t have anything to look forward to. Hmm. So I know that a you as a youth might do stuff like that, but how do you not stay in the moment? How do you not stay and dwelling it and look forward to something else?


Natasha Daniel (26:57):
And that’s what weand helps them to do. Look forward. I remember I had a tute rebrand. He was gonna have an assessment to join the program and he had finished full secondary doing graphic design. So website design and he forgot his appointment at 6:00 AM. He left me a message and he said, Hey Natasha this is Nicholas. I can’t remember what time is my appointment. But I’m now about to go to bed. Don’t call me during the day, cuz I’m going to bed at 6:00 AM, but you can text me and let me know what time is my appointment. Mm. So then I did call him later on in the day and I says to him, you got the oddity to tell me, don’t call you cuz you’re just going to bed. And, and that’s again, 6:00 AM. He’s going to bed because he’s still of all night playing for your game.


Natasha Daniel (27:49):
And I said to him, you know what, if you want to be in rebrand, you have to change the sleeping habits. Mm. The program is about to sat in two weeks. You’re gonna be in the program. I need you to start going to bed at a regular time. Yeah. So you can be in class by eight 30. Yeah. And you know what? He did it. Then he got his job as a first, as a, as a graphic designer. We got him this job, the kid was so happy and he called me a couple. I think it was last year. And he’s like, I missed you. I’m like, no, no, no, no, no. Don’t miss me. Stay on the job. and him, he, he was so happy to get because after he graduated from post secondary, for two years, he had, was doing nothing, playing for games.


Natasha Daniel (28:32):
He was so happy and was driving well in the job that he moved closer. So he to the employment. So he would have a for time. And I would say, I says, no, don’t call me. Don’t miss me at all. Don’t miss me, me stay on the job. And that’s just some of the small changes that’s required for you. So me saying to him, we adjust your sleep in habit. Because again, if you’re going into employment, I don’t think you’re gonna start. You know, you have to be depending on what way you wanna work, you have to be grounded to really be successful by just doing small, consistent action, which is one of your words. Yeah. Thank you. Consistent actions. Yeah. also a word that I like to tell him now and that small, consistent action is that adjusting my sleep in time. That’s all he needed. Yep.


Sam Demma (29:22):
Be successful. That’s awesome. I, we could talk for like two hours. Thank you so much for taking the time to share some of your stories. One last question. If you could speak to younger Natasha, not that you’re old, but if you could speak to, you know, first year working in the rebrand program, but with the knowledge and experience, you know, now what advice would you give your younger self?


Natasha Daniel (29:49):
What advice I would give my younger self and the advice I would give my younger self is from learning from the rebrand participants. I would tell myself right now, you know, take on more, get out of my comfort zone. Mm. Because I remember like I’m a personal even, you know, I, I get comfortable in my zone and then you know, that’s my zone. Oh. I would tell myself also shine myself, more shine, more like, you know, I write poems, I love writing and stuff like that. And everybody’s like, why don’t you? We didn’t know you. Right. We didn’t know you. Right. why don’t you publish a book and, and that’s just me just staying within my zone. Yeah. You know? And, and so I, soon as I write my poems and I share them more often, so that’s what I would tell myself, just be, get out of the comfort zone.


Natasha Daniel (30:37):
And, and, and this is what this generation of youths are teaching me how open they are and how open they are to new experiences. And not even just owning new experiences, how open they are to each other, like, you know, working with youths who are diverse cultural background, youth who are L G B T youths who have, you know you know, being maybe a criminal record history, two in a gang and they just embrace everybody and they just open to the experiences mm-hmm . So I would, that’s what I would tell myself as a younger, you know, back a youth back, you know, just younger again, like just be open, be more open. Now I became I’m open right now, but you know, if I, if it started back then, like, you know, the younger Natasha, I think I would’ve been like I would, I flourish. Well, I think I would just be like, Hmm That’s awesome. That’s what, and that is just all from, from the experience of working with youth and also you know, I, I, I tell them this now. And it’s just because from my experience was said, don’t let others define who you are. Don’t let others define who you are. You define who you are, because at the end of today, you would want, that has to live with you and not others.


Sam Demma (32:09):
Natasha, this has been a great conversation. Thank you again for taking the time to come on here. I really appreciate it. I look forward to future programs and working with you and the students keep up the great work, happy holidays. And we’ll talk soon.


Natasha Daniel (32:22):
Thank you, Sam. I do appreciate you. You know, I appreciate just, just the work that you’re doing to empower others and, and, and sharing your story. Like I was, you know, the other day when you sent me sent me the, the invite my son who’s nine. He was like, who’s the guy, like I’m gonna do a podcast. And so then he, I, I said, listen to his video, my son listened to one of your TED talks. Oh, wow. He’s into the he’s nine years old. He’s into stuff like this. And then he says to me, mommy on Saturday, he’s like, did you do the podcast?


Sam Demma (32:54):
That’s awesome.


Natasha Daniel (32:55):
And you know, and I, and then I, I was to him. Yeah. So Sam, you know, I think he used to, he used to play football and then my son, he corrects me, like he says, mommy, you know, he played soccer. was not football.


Sam Demma (33:11):
He’s attentive. That’s good.


Natasha Daniel (33:13):
yeah. Oh no, no. I, I was like, so I said to him, you know, like, so that’s just to show you, I don’t a nine year old kid is also empowered by what you do. Ah, thanks for sharing that. So I would just say, you know, keep up the good work and the fact that, I mean, coming from Reeb, right. Again, when you come and speak to our youths, a lot of you, they don’t see youths who can bring and shed light to a lot of what they go through. Mm. And this is what, from having you into rebrand from having a young computer instructor, we as MCG, make sure that we have, we get them to get that balance. Yeah. So that they’re not just learning from our experiences, but they also, so learning from people who are dear generation and people who can really identify to what their struggles and what their challenges are, you know, within living in the 21st century as a young person. Yeah. So thank you again for the good work that you’re doing. You too.


Sam Demma (34:19):
You too. And thanks for sharing those stories! We’ll talk soon.


Natasha Daniel (34:22):
No problem. Thank you.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Natasha Daniel

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.

Nicholas McCowan – Lenovo’s Visionary Teachers Award Recipient

Nicholas McCowan – Lenovo’s Visionary Teachers Award Recipient
About Nicholas McCowan

Nicholas McCowan (@NJMcCowan) teaches at St. Joan of Arc Academy in the Toronto Catholic District School Board and teaches Science, Leadership and Student Success.

In 2019, Nicholas was the winner of Lenovo‘s prestigious Visionary Teacher’s Award which earned him a set of VR headsets for his classroom. His submission focused on the socioeconomic limitations students face, along with the challenges associated with assimilating to a new country, as many of his students were newcomers.

Connect with Nicholas: Email | Instagram | Twitter

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Resources Mentioned

St. Joan of Arc Academy

Visionary Teacher’s Award

Teach Me Toolbox

Teachers Meet Teachers

Bubba Gaeddert – CEO and Founder of the Varsity eSports Foundation

Google Expeditions

Minecraft 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 (00:00):
Do you want access to all the past guests on this show? Do you want a network with like-minded individuals and meet other high performing educators from around the world? If so, go to www.highperformingeducator.com. Sign up to join the exclusive network and you’ll get access to live virtual networking events and special opportunities that will come out throughout 2021. I promise you I will not fill your inbox, you might get one email a month. If that sounds interesting. Go to www.highperformingeducator.com. Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker Sam Demma today’s guest is Nick McCowan. Nicholas is a teacher at St. John Arc Academy in the Toronto Catholic District School Board. He teaches science leadership and student success, and he is also a tech wizard. He helped an entire classroom at John Vanet experience visiting the national space station and traveling through exotic places throughout the world, using the Lenovo virtual reality classroom set without even leaving the classroom.


Sam Demma (01:11):

St. Joan of Arc Catholic Academy became the first school in the TCDSB to use this virtual reality kit. After today’s guest, Nick won an essay contest put on by the big tech giant Lenovo, and he believes that using technology can empower students who are new to the country and who may face social stigma. As a result, he is a phenomenal educator, phenomenal human being. He also runs something called Teach Me Toolbox, which is an Instagram page and a platform that shares tips that you can add to your teacher toolbox. He does so much to empower and educate and inspire his students. He is also a world experiencer. He loves traveling and he’s super passionate about the ocean. Anyways, without further ado, let’s get to the interview with Nick. I hope you enjoy it. And I will see you on the other side, Nick, welcome to the High Performing Educators podcast. It’s a huge pleasure to have you on the show here today. Why don’t you start by sharing with our audience who you are and how you got into the work you do in education now?


Nicholas McCowan (02:17):

Okay. Thanks for having me on Sam. It’s a pleasure to be here. So my name’s Nick McCowan. I taught with the Toronto Catholic District School Board for this is now my 10th year nine years at the school that I’m at. Generally I teach science and leadership and student success. So I wear a couple hats at the school. As a lot of us tend to do these days. I got into this work, I guess this story goes all the way back to high school. I had one particular teacher as I think a lot of educators can, can relate with this. They all had that one teacher that inspired them. George Robel at Cardinal Newman in a grade 12 history class. What he did was he, he brought in his, his dad just randomly and this, like, he sort of like crunched over old man walked in, didn’t say a word rolled up his sleeve and showed everybody the number tattoo on his forearm. And he had been a prisoner or in one of the concentration camps during world war II. And that experience just really like that got to me because I think, you know, that was the aha moment. Like what was in the textbook was real. And I think when that, for me, that experience was where I wanted to, to do that. I wanted to give people that experience. So that was sort of the main driver from me amongst a lot of other influential experiences as I went through my educational career myself.


Sam Demma (03:45):

That’s amazing. Yeah. Yeah. It’s so cool because I have that teacher for me too, and I don’t do, I mean, I’m not working in formal education as a teacher, but I’m, and I’m, I’m aspiring to impact students in, in different ways and doing so virtual right now. What other character traits did your teacher have, you know, in your, in your, in your history class that really made an impact on you? Cause I’m sure along with bringing in his father, there was other things he did for you that made his class your most memorable class?


Nicholas McCowan (04:15):

I think he was available, you know, he, he wasn’t just a teacher. He, he, he made himself readily available in the class and outside the class and, and he talked to us, not at us. And I think that that’s a valuable distinction that a lot of teachers, sometimes when you like in different stages of your career, or even just day to day, we we’ve something happened at home and we forget to talk to the students mm-hmm instead of at them. And I think that, you know, especially now given all the restrictions we’re going through and the challenges we’re going through, it’s an important lesson to, to remember. And Robo was so good with that. I mean, he would pull you out of class when he knew you were having a bad day and ask you what was going on. He would sort of just E even down the hallway, kind of engage you with something that you mentioned in class, which empowered us. Right? Mm-hmm he was listening to what we were saying. So I think that that was sort of the most valuable thing that he offered us as well, was just the fact that he listened and, and was genuine with us on a, a day to day basis.


Sam Demma (05:18):

No, that’s awesome. And it’s funny when I think about Rob and my teacher, Mr. Loud foot, very similar. He tried to meet each student where they were at, meaning he would take his overarching lesson and try and apply it to all of our lives individually. So one kid loved fashion. He would talk about the ability to make an impact on the world. Through fashion. One of us loved sports. He would talk about the importance of using the platform you build responsibly to make a difference. And what’s crazy is that their, their preaching was backed by life experience and action. So like my teacher told us small actions make a massive change, go in the community and try something. And I didn’t know it, but he, he, for 20 years along with other colleagues of the school were organizing the food drive. And when he, when he retired from the school board after 20 something years or 30 something years, they had, they had donated over a million pounds of food. And I didn’t know that. And he did that. And I’m sure your teacher the same way, you know, showed interest in all of you guys and behind the scenes was like very calculated and, and very intentional about doing so how do we, how do we be intentional and make students feel seen and heard in this virtual world you know, with all the challenges that are being faced?


Nicholas McCowan (06:39):

I, I think the important thing is to remember that as educators, like we really have that role of a hero, right? I, I think that you can’t underestimate how much the kids are watching and how much they’re listening. And even if we can’t observe it as readily as we can, and during like regular teaching and having the students in front of us, we have to remember that they’re still listening and they’re still observing everything you do. So, and it’s even more important. And I mean, we’re constantly bombarded by warnings from our school boards, like, Hey, you know, dress the right way, have the background the right way, have, you know, have all, all your ducks in a row so that you can’t get in trouble. And, and the phrasing of that has kind of made people paranoid. So we have to under like still address those kids and be impactful from behind a screen, which has like been.


Nicholas McCowan (07:34):

I don’t know, we’ve had a whole new set of challenges given to us, and we’ve really had to adapt so quickly. So I guess some of the ways that we’ve done it is by using some of the amazing tools that are available. I, myself am a pretty tech savvy guy. So we’ve I’ve been doing this for a long time. A couple years ago, 2019 Lenovo Canada gave me the visionary teacher of the year award for some of the work we we’ve been doing with our VR project. At school, we, we were doing the virtual classroom two, three years ago using VR helmets to give students student voice at the particular school that I’m at, we’ve got a lot of new Canadians and allowing them to use tools like Google expedition which is a fantastic tool that we can get more into if you’d like.


Nicholas McCowan (08:25):

But essentially it’s one of the VR programs that you can go to anywhere in the world, see different environments. And you know, like for a kid, who’s just come from the Philippines who doesn’t have a handle on the language who doesn’t know the environment he’s coming, and he doesn’t have any friends in the class throw that helmet on him and show him his street in Manila, that kind of power from that experience is huge. And that just, that opens up so many things because now kids in the class can be like, Hey, I lived right around the corner from there. And that gives him the power to say, I now have the commonality with the kids in my class. So those kind of tools that we’re, we’re dealing with, you know, we are restricted because we can’t put the helmet on them, but we still have the ability to use similar tools from behind the screen. And it’s important to keep digging and not make it full. Do you know, like we, we really can’t just send an email like here, do questions one to 10, you gotta make it as engaging and interactive as possible. And that’s when you really grab the student’s attention.


Sam Demma (09:26):

Where did the, where did the curiosity come from for you to develop your tech skills and dive deep into to these?


Nicholas McCowan (09:39):

I would say experiential learning opportunities is, is it bad to blame Sega Genesis or like, or PS, you know, PS one through four, you know, like I think actually a lot of it came from gaming, man. I think you know, as much as a lot of parents ride the kids for gaming, I think more and more, those are the kids that are tech savvy that are, are winners when it comes to this online engagement. And I’ve seen a lot of kids become wizards with using some of the tech tools that are out there. They’re so, so better versed at it than we are. And I think that that comes from that, that kind of similar back that, that gave me that that love for it. It was no nobody in particular, but I, I guess I’ve always really taken to it. I mean, being at UofT and being at Trent University and at Ottawa doing all the degrees that I’d done, you, you, you’re doing labs, you get these opportunities to play with electron microscopes. And I mean, we’re all kids at high, right? So when you get these tools, like why not engage fully? And I love offering that opportunity to the students.


Sam Demma (10:43):

I just recently on the high performing student podcast interviewed a director of something called the, the Varsity eSports foundation and his name’s Bubba. And he talks about the difference between mean talks about the difference between gaming and eSports and the stem advantages that come along with eSports. And I’m curious to know your personal opinion on that. Should educators listening, start being more open minded to the possibility of using games to build critical thinking teamwork and even, you know, overcoming challenges as a team?


Nicholas McCowan (11:18):

Absolutely. I mean what better platform than to use one that students are already familiar with? There’s no need to like teach them the skillset to use the tech, you know, so they’re already familiar with it. So they hop in running. I use a a game called no man sky for PS4. It’s not an amazing game, but allows students to explore sort of it it’s engages them with space exploration, which helps with my earth and space science class at the 12 U level. So it’s a nice little hook activity for them. And then as soon as they have that, you can start adding to programs like sky safari pro, which is a fantastic sort of telescope tool. And I think that for students, as soon as you, you pull out those, those tools, they’re already engaged as it is. So they, they love that kind of thing big time and, and hop in with both be.


Sam Demma (12:13):

That’s awesome. And for a teacher who’s listening and thinks this is awesome and wants to give it a shot, but is so overwhelmed by the idea of this technology. What is the first small step they can take to dabble their feet in the water and give some of these things a small try?


Nicholas McCowan (12:31):

I think the best thing to do is to ask the students, ask the students, to show them what they think is best and do a quick little poll. The kids are, well, I should say students because, I mean, I got kids that are up to 18 but they’re watching the videos on like Twitch and, and watching all those streams, right, where ki people are playing the games. So a, a student would readily have, you know, a whole handful of videos that a teacher can use to, to sort of learn the basics and, and, and watch the gameplay and see whether it’s valuable for the lesson they had in mind. So I would start there with that. But a lot of the S resources that were being given by our particular board, we’ve got a great 21st century learning team that is all about a listen.


Nicholas McCowan (13:18):

If you guys have some sort of tech tool that you wanna use, go for it. We, I mean, we even got a Minecraft license so that we can use Minecraft for some of the for some of the tools in elementary. And it’s, it’s going from math to English all the way over to history. I mean, the, it, it’s pretty amazing. I think a, another, one of the valuable tools that we were talking about earlier, Google expedition, one of the things that they can do with that. And I know like for an English teacher, the chance to use a lot of tech is, is not always there. It, it tends to be more like a, a stem teacher that has the availability. One of the experiences students can have is, is being the ghost of Macbeth in the play and watching the play virtually from the stage. So, I mean, you can actually experience Shakespeare, which is the way it’s supposed to be, right? So you have students that are, are so accustomed to just opening up that small little book and reading along in class. Now you can actually live the experience, play on YouTube VR or on on this like Google expedition platform. So really the, the learning for the teacher is not that onerous. So it’s actually pretty straightforward and there’s lots of great tutorials online.


Sam Demma (14:34):

So what you’re saying essentially is teachers can take their kids on a class trip without leaving or going on a bus.


Nicholas McCowan (14:44):

Well, it’s, it’s cost effective. I’ll tell you that. We, we we’re we do that all the time in my environmental or biology classes, earth and space. I mean, talk about bringing the experiential learning to the classroom, because I mean, another one of the hats I wear, I work Fori academy. And we take students down to Belize and Costa Rica for the summer. And I mean, the very first day in class, we, it in class is a loose term because we actually take a, a skiff out like to the coral reef. And we jump into the coral reef and dive with sharks and, and Ray, and actually engage in discussions about biodiversity. And there is no better teacher, but obviously that’s an experience only a few can afford. So these VR helmets and, and this kind of technology allows that integration into the learning and when it comes for free, I mean, it’s, it’s a win-win situation, right?


Nicholas McCowan (15:41):

Like the kids are all in as soon as they can do that. Another interesting facet of that technology is, I mean, you can, some of the AR the augmented reality stuff that they can do too, is I can now put a shark in the middle of the classroom virtually via an iPad. So I can have a camera showing the class input, the shark, and we can dissect it like layer by layer, you know? And, and I think that that kind of experience for the students is, I mean, you can’t touch it, right? Yeah.


Sam Demma (16:09):

You can even do that in real classroom, unless you were thinking about it, you know, at least virtually, maybe more teachers are open to the idea of giving this a try now. That’s so cool. And what’s the difference between virtual reality and augmented reality in a very layman’s terms.


Nicholas McCowan (16:26):

Okay. Quick virtual reality will be a full immersive 3d experience. Okay. so if you want to go down the backbone of a DNA strand and look at all the different nucle or the nucleic acids, as you go down in the phosphate backbone, you can actually engage and manipulate the environment. Whereas augmented reality will be a 3d image that you can insert your, your camera’s ex view. So if you take a picture in a hallway or you have students sort of holding up a mitochondria or whatever it is they’re looking at it it’s, it’s something that they can actually manipulate in, in the virtual world, so they can spin it around with their hand. They can actually touch certain parts and information can, can pop up. So it’s a full, fully engageable learning tool that’s in that virtual world. So AR is that 3d image and VR is that fully immersive experience.


Sam Demma (17:30):

Okay, awesome. This is really, really interesting, and I’m sure there’s gonna be some and teachers who are very curious to learn more and hear more, especially from you. And we’ll, we’ll ask you to share some contact information at the end, but I wanna know in all the years you’ve been teaching, you’ve learned lots. You’ve obviously gained a lot of wisdom. If there’s an educator listening who is just getting into this, or they feel like they’re starting from the ground up, because it’s so changed and different this year what pieces of advice could you give your younger self or that new educator based on what you know now?


Nicholas McCowan (18:06):

I think the, the first thing, like when you, when you, we all start our careers, we, we really want to be that teacher, the one who students like really, they love our classes. They, they want to engage in all our lessons and we want to be the superhero that, that we all sort of start out as. And I think that we, we burn ourselves out so quickly at the beginning because we’re trying to be perfect. Mm-Hmm . And I think that the, the important message is that there is zero need to be perfect at the beginning of your career. We were all there and we all had to start building those courses and, and from scratch. And, you know, I think that not having it done the best way the first time, give yourself a break and don’t take it home with you.


Nicholas McCowan (18:52):

We are notorious overthinkers and teachers work like beyond the hours of the classroom. And I think that, you know, the, the mental stresses of, of that kid who didn’t eat in your class that day, and you worry about what’s going on at home, you, you still want to have that on the back burner, but don’t stay up till two in the morning overthinking how you’re gonna solve that problem, because it’s a group effort. And I think if you keep home and the student, most importantly, I think that that’s where those solutions start to come. So don’t kill yourself, trying to do everything. You know, I think where we’re sort of forced into this business and, and teachers were in the business of knowing so don’t kill yourself if you miss the, if you miss an answer on the board, be open about admitting that, hang on.


Nicholas McCowan (19:43):

I don’t know. And let me look it up for you and let’s learn together. Because each semester you got 30 new people in front of you, and, and you’ve got that times, you know, however many courses you’re teaching. And even if you taught it the same way, and it was successful for, you know, eight straight semesters, maybe these 30 need a brand new take on things. So be open to the new buzzword that we keep getting be flexible. So, you know, like, so be flexible in your own pedagogy and, and in your own lesson planning and curriculum delivery, because it’s really important to know that being perfect. Isn’t the, the be all and end all when you’re delivering curriculum. It’s, it’s good to have that idea in your head.


Sam Demma (20:28):

I love that. One of the pieces of advice I always tell students to is don’t, you know, don’t be afraid or shy away from asking for help. And I think right now it applies to educators more than ever. And there’s this one story called the Oracle of Delphy and it’s a story. It’s an ancient philosophy story about Socrates and an Oracle telling him you’re the wisest person in the land. And he says, no, I’m not. And, and so he goes around to talk to all the other philosophers and asks them, what do you know about life? And they all give him these, these definite answers. And at the end of all of his journey, he realizes, wow, think this Oracle might be right, cuz I’m the only one out of all the philosophers who said, you know, I know that I know nothing, and that’s why I continuously learn. I think educators are the perfect example of that because like by nature, you’re perpetual learners. Like you, you never stop learning. And right now is a chance to just learn a ton more and almost take the role of the student and the teacher, which I think is awesome and presents a cool opportunity. And if, if someone listening wants to be a perpetual learner and dive more into VR and technology and maybe have a conversation with you, what would be the best way for them to reach out and do so?


Nicholas McCowan (21:43):

I think right off the bat, I mean, email is a quick way to get in touch with me. Anyone who wants to ask any questions about what we’ve talked about?


Nicholas McCowan (21:56):

Well also I’m part of two other Instagram initiatives where I’m part of a group called @teachersmeetteachers. It’s not a dating site, it’s for for teachers to share resources and ideas and I’m it’s, it’s given me so many outlets to either share some amazing resources that I’ve found or engage in conversation with teachers or experiencing the same challenges. So give them a follow and coming up right now me and another teacher of mine, we’re starting up a new page @teachmetoolbox. And we’re gonna be putting up sort of valuable resources that will really help you get through the COVID times right now. So give those two a follow if you can.


Sam Demma (22:52):

Awesome. Perfect. Nick, do me one more favor and repeat your email one time and cut out a little bit.


Nicholas McCowan (22:55):

Sorry. Yeah. It’s nicholas.mccowan@tcdsb.org.


Sam Demma (23:10):

Nick, It’s been a pleasure. Thanks so much for coming on and maybe I’ll see you in person VR pretty soon.


Nicholas McCowan (23:15):

Let’s hope, man. Let’s hope, man.


Sam Demma (23:18):

Yeah, you’re welcome. 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 call 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 Nicholas McCowan

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.

Ian Howcroft – CEO of Skills Ontario

Ian Howcroft - CEO of Skills Ontario
About Ian Howcroft

Ian Howcroft (@IanSkillsON) is an action-oriented leader and decision-maker with a focus on customer needs and service. He is the CEO of skills Ontario and one who can lead a team and is able to build consensus to maximize and leverage the strengths of team members to the overall benefit of the organization. Ian has a strong background and interest in advocacy, government relations, public policy, legal/regulatory issues, administrative law, and human resources.

Connect with Ian: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Skills Ontario Website

Volunteer Opportunities with Skills Ontario

Ontario College of Trades

Trillium Network for Advanced Manufacturing

Ontario Centre of Innovation

Hopin Event Software

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 on the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. I had an amazing conversation months ago with Shelly Travis, who is the, the state president, the national director of skills USA, which is a career and technical skills student organization. And after the conversation ended, she gave me the name Ian Howcroft to follow up with and hopefully get him on the show as well.


Sam Demma (01:06):
Ian is the CEO or Chief Executive Officer of Skills Ontario, an organization dedicated to promoting skill trades and technology, careers to young people. We have a phenomenal conversation on how COVID affected their operations and what they’ve done to adjust and pivot. . You probably all hate that word by now, but we talk about how he’s pivoted his organization, how they’re continuing the work they’re doing and still making an impact on the lives of so many young people and students. I’ll see you on the other side of this interview, enjoy. Ian, thank you so much for coming on the high performing educator podcast. It is a huge pleasure and honor to have you on the show today. Why don’t you start by sharing a little bit about yourself and why you got into the work you do with young people today?


Ian Howcroft (01:53):
Well, thanks Sam, I appreciate the opportunity. I am with an organization called skills Ontario. We’ve been around for just over 30 years and our raise on debt is to promote skilled trades and technology careers to young people. I got interested in that from my former job at an organization called Canadian manufacturers and exporters. I was there for almost 30 years in a variety of capacities, but every year I was there, one of the top three priorities, and usually the number one priority was a skilled shortage. We’re not gonna have the skilled workers for the future. How can we make relationships with schools and other organizations to promote skilled trades? So I was always involved in that and I ended up on the board of skills Ontario. And when the opportunity came to take over as CEO I was contacted and thought this would be a good opportunity to talk about solutions and things that we can do to help move things forward and create a clearer pathway for young people to understand what the potential is, how they can follow their path of, of career aspirations and how we can do some linkages with business and better engage them and also wanted to do things to promote to young people, but also part of that was getting to their parents and getting to some other audiences because they have a huge impact and influence on their kids. And many of them don’t know what the real opportunities are with regard to a future in skilled trades or technology careers. They say go to university not knowing what the full opportunity is. So we’re trying to dispel some myths and create some realities about the positive aspect of a career in skilled trades and technology careers.


Sam Demma (03:21):
Did you know when you were working in manufacturing that one day you’d be in an organization running an organization like Skills Ontario did you plan to do this when you were younger or like when was the moment when it was like, whoa, I’m making this shift and I’m, I’m gonna make this pivot?


Ian Howcroft (03:38):
Well, I was I, I thought when I went to Canadian manufacturers, I would be there three to five years get some experience make some contacts and move on, but that organization afforded me a whole lot of opportunities to do a whole lot of different things from, from membership business development, policy work speaking dealing with a whole variety of manufacturing related issues, one of them and skills. So I ended up staying there for almost as I said, 30 years, but my role changed and the issues changed and my passion continued to grow. So I also realized at some point I did not want to retire from an organization that I started with. So I was keeping my eyes and ears open for opportunities that I had an interest in and passion for myself. So when this one came up, I thought this is something I should look at. And and, and I did thankfully and I’ve been there for about two and a half years now.


Sam Demma (04:29):
That’s awesome. So cool. And I’m sure the first year working there with working with skills, Ontario has a, has been a lot different than this current year.


Ian Howcroft (04:38):
Yes. Yes. And when I started there, I thought there’s huge challenges, always with challenges come opportunities. And we got things moving forward. We had a lot of staff changes. We were trying to do things a little differently. Last year we’re off to a great start. And then we experienced here in Ontario, the labor disputes for the teachers. I thought to myself, what could be more challenging? The teacher dispute for like skills Ontario, nothing could be more frustrating. Nothing could be more problematic than that, but I was proven wrong again, as we got into the pandemic in March and that just changed everything we could deal with the teacher strike. We would work around that, but the pandemic just caused us to go back to basics and say, what do we need to do? How can we do that? Given the restraints the constraints and the realities that we have to face knowing that the health and safety of, of students staff and everyone was the number one priority.


Sam Demma (05:30):
Hmm. I like how you said with every challenge though comes an opportunity. And I wanna focus on that for a second because what we focus on grows, what opportunities have you seen along with the challenges in co of it right now?


Ian Howcroft (05:43):
Well, I, I think we’re learning new and, and different ways to better engage our staff and, and our audiences. We’re not allowed to hold in person events right now, which is a challenge when you’re trying to promote skilled trades. You want to have that hands on experiential opportunity, but we can’t do that. So what we did was pivot and started offering everything online, virtually remotely tried to have an experiential component to that, so they could do it in the classroom or, or, or do it at home. But we were, I think being very, as I like to think innovative and creative is how, how can we make this a meaningful experience? How do we get the, the interaction there? So we were able to link in with with students and with parents when everyone is in lockdown at home, we came up with a skills at home program.


Ian Howcroft (06:27):
Here’s something that parents can can learn from and watch encourage their kids to take part in it. The first one was a, a rollercoaster challenge using materials. You could readily find at home, build a rollercoaster and see how long you, you keep a marble in the air for, or on the roller coaster for. So we started looking at how we can do things to continue to engage our audiences, to continue to engage our partners, and also work with our main partner, the, the government of Ontario to deliver what their message was, was there’s an important opportunity and we need skilled trade. We need technology people and this is an opportunity for, for skills on Ontario to really come in and, and fill that, that vacuum that was left when everything else was being shut down.


Sam Demma (07:07):
That’s awesome. A lot of people have told me recently that the state of education right now, or anyone who works in, in the educational industry is like throwing spaghetti against the wall and seeing what’s the, and,


Ian Howcroft (07:20):
And I, and I think, you know, we’re, we’re all trying different things. We’re all faced by the, the same challenge. So how do we, how do we do something that’s still gonna be impactful, still gonna create a learning environment for kids. And I know the, the teachers and the boards of education and the other partners involved are, are trying on to do everything they can to make it still a meaningful year for them. But it is a, it is a challenge, but I think as you said there’s creative ways to come up with new ideas and opportunities to, to address some of these challenges. One thing I’d just like to add is that with the remote delivery of our programs, we found out that that’s not something we’re gonna stop when the pandemic is over and we can go back to in person. We also think there’s still an important complimentary role to have remote delivery and virtual delivery. We’re able to engage everybody around the province. Whereas sometimes it might have been a geographic possibility for someone to attend an event or to come to a competition or to be in something that we’re doing a, the remote delivery allow us to engage them in a whole different way. So we’re gonna continue with that and use that as a complimentary program for for moving forward after the pandemic.


Sam Demma (08:29):
And it makes the presenter more easily and readily available. Like last week I did three presentations, one in Saskatchewan, one in New Jersey, one in Toronto, all from my bay. Like there’s no, you know, it’s, it’s from a delivery and an audience perspective. There’s so much possibilities in the virtual world. Tell me more about some of the things that have stuck. I love the skills at home, the, the challenge to build a roller coaster. What else have you experimented with as an organization over this time that has worked well so far?


Ian Howcroft (09:00):
Well, some of the things that we’re doing now we were talking about, but we moved forward a lot more quickly. We talked about having a podcast, but hadn’t yet done that. So this allowed us the opportunity to create the podcast. And one of our folks guy named Dan Cardinal put together a podcast. So we’re doing a podcast that we’re using to promote skilled trades and highlight individuals, highlight partners, highlight people that have gone through and become a, a skilled trades person and what they’ve done, how they overcame some challenges and are now leading a satisfying career and doing, doing really well. We, in the summer run something that we call our the summer camp program. We did about 25 camps around the province. They were in person weeklong camps. Couldn’t do that this year. So we said, if you wanna provide again, that opportunity for kids.


Ian Howcroft (09:46):
So we came up with 35 different camps and they were half day, full day or two day events. And we engaged twice. As many kids had over 800, approximately 800 kids involved in our summer camp program, which is almost twice what we would normally have and the results that we got, the evaluations we got were even more positive than what we’d had in the past. Now, our event, our, our evaluation in the past were very positive, but these ones were were even more positive because it allowed more kids to get involved in a whole variety of things and try things at home. Some were like tutorials, how to fix a bike, how to change a bike tire or, or a bike chain, but others were doing some, some cooking or baking at home. So we tried to make sure there, there was something there for everyone. So even when we go back to our in-person camps, we will have the complimentary virtual camps for those that can’t make it to a college, or can’t make it to one of our sites where we’re hosting an in-person camp. So it’s been a, a great experience in that regard. And we’re using that to, to learn by and move forward with. Oh,


Sam Demma (10:43):
Oh, that’s awesome. That’s really amazing. And, you know, despite the challenges, skills, Ontario has done an amazing job, it seems at, at pivoting. But I’m curious to know, are there any challenges that you have learned from cause we talked a lot about what what’s worked really well. But I think with any challenge, there’s great learnings. Like what is, what are some learnings that you think might be beneficial for other educators to hear about this new world?


Ian Howcroft (11:06):
Well, in, in general, I think what I’ve learned or had reconfirmed is don’t just go on assumptions. Mm-Hmm that, oh, that won’t work or this won’t work try things. And if it doesn’t work, adapt it, change it modify it, tailor it because if you just say, so that won’t work or that hasn’t worked before, I don’t think this will work. You’re gonna limit yourselves. Whereas if going with the more positive attitude and say, let’s let’s, what do we wanna do? Let, let’s try this. And if it’s not working or it’s not resonating with the audiences, partners make some, make some changes and, and don’t, don’t be afraid. This gave us an opportunity. Let’s try things. We we’re all in new territory here. So we don’t have to worry about, about failing. We everybody’s floundering.


Ian Howcroft (11:50):
So this, that gave us an opportunity to try things that perhaps we had talked about, but hadn’t done, but we’re able to move forward with, and, and we’re we’re as a, we have about 35 staff around the province now. And when we could get together, we did it a few times a year. But that was it. But now we’re, we’re getting together with, with teams, meetings or zoom meetings, and we’re engaging and trying to make sure we have no or, or fewer internal silos, so that we’re all leveraging what each other are doing, better understanding what each other are doing. So we may be farther apart physically, but I think we’re closer together a as teamed members and as colleagues within the organization. And I think that’s allowing us to do more and again, have more impact with our audiences, with the students, with the partners, with the educators.


Sam Demma (12:33):
That’s awesome. And I’m sure with the increased internal communications, you’re hearing a lot more about what the students want. What are you hearing as a whole organization from students right now? What is it that they’re, they’re asking you for? What are they challenged with specifically that, that you’ve heard of?


Ian Howcroft (12:50):
I think there’s a, a real appetite for information and how do I enter a skilled trade or technology career? And it’s much broader than many people think, you know, think they, they think of the traditional trades or traditional skills, but there’s like 152 skilled trades in Ontario. And we, we broader with, with technology. So we’re doing coding, we’re doing robotics mechatronics a whole lot of opportunities. So there’s a lot of interest in that, even though we’re having to do that remotely and doing the presentations virtually to the classrooms, there’s, there’s still an awful lot of interest in that. And we’re are going, we’re looking at how do we get the skills kits put together to give them that experiential opportunity at home? How do we make sure that they’re able to engage and get some experience with the limitations that have?


Ian Howcroft (12:50):
I think there’s a, a real appetite for information and how do I enter a skilled trade or technology career? And it’s much broader than many people think, you know, think they, they think of the traditional trades or traditional skills, but there’s like 152 skilled trades in Ontario. And we, we broader with, with technology. So we’re doing coding, we’re doing robotics mechatronics a whole lot of opportunities. So there’s a lot of interest in that, even though we’re having to do that remotely and doing the presentations virtually to the classrooms, there’s, there’s still an awful lot of interest in that. And we’re are going, we’re looking at how do we get the skills kits put together to give them that experiential opportunity at home? How do we make sure that they’re able to engage and get some experience with the limitations that have? So we, we still feel we have a very important role and there’s still an awful lot of interest.


Ian Howcroft (13:40):
And the Ontario government is highlighting the opportunities and skilled trades. So we’re working with our partners in business, our partners in labor, our partners in the education system to make sure that kids aren’t at a disadvantage because of the COVID limitations. We’re still able to provide them with the information to promote the skill trades and to give them information that that they can benefit from. When we were in, in, in the March and April timeframe, we tried to, well, what are the programs that we have? What are the products that we have? So let’s modify them so that we can put them available on our website or make them digitally we’ve updated some young women in, in trades. Our other programs that we have, we do first nations programming. So how do we make sure that we’re still offering relevant, impactful, and, and exciting events that will engage kids and provide an interactive experience for them?


Sam Demma (14:31):
Well, that’s awesome. That’s really cool. And you mentioned zoom calls and go Hangouts. What has been successful with virtual events? Is it doing a zoom webinar? Is it when all the students can see each other’s face on zoom? What has worked the best for you guys?


Ian Howcroft (14:48):
I, I think it depends on the event and we’re somewhat guided by what platform schools will allow. You know, Google hangout was one that I think the schools were, were using and we were getting into the, the classrooms that way. Yeah. We used WebEx for some of our larger events. We do when we have our normal competition, we have at, at the Toronto Congress center, we have about 2,400 hundred kids competing. We have almost 40,000 visitors. We hope the largest young women’s conference in Canada with 2000 participants, girls and young women and supporters, mentors, volunteers come out. So we had to gravitate towards the virtual delivery, but I was really pleased with our young women’s conference. We had about almost 1500 people sign on, lot more registered, but we have 1500 participants in our virtually young women’s conference.


Ian Howcroft (15:36):
We did a, a business summit. So we’re looking at the various platforms to continue to make sure that they’re continue to be more and more interactive and engaging for, for the participants as cuz we’re right now, we’re going to, we’re planning to do our competition virtually in the, in the spring we were won’t I don’t think be able to have in person events. And if we do, they’ll be smaller and have to modify that for the most part, we’ll be doing it virtually. So we’re looking at what’s the best platform to do that. What gives the kids the best opportunity to have an experience that they can have as meaningful, that they can win and be proud of their gold or silver or bronze medal. And how do we also use that to make sure our partners and our other supporters and volunteers are still engaged with us and realizing the value and benefits that they normally do through Skills Ontario.


Sam Demma (16:23):
Oh, that’s awesome. Really cool. There is a cool platform that was used recently with an event. I was a part of called hop in; might be worth checking out. They have like virtual booth. So a networking section where you meet one of’em with random people, there’s a main stage option, really cool stuff. And yeah, I’m sure you guys will probably build something in house and and build something really cool, but it might be worth, worth checking out. If anyone listening to this has been intrigued by any part of the conversation wants to connect with you, maybe ask some questions, bounce some ideas around, maybe they have some ideas for you. What would be the best way for another educator to reach out to you?


Ian Howcroft (17:00):
Well, I would refer everyone to our website. That has a lot of information about the programming that we’re doing. We have our Halloween spectacular skills experience based around some Halloween caution design pumpkin painting carving , a few other things around the Halloween theme. It’s all on our website as is all our other program information but that’s www.skillsontario.com. And I’m always encouraging people to reach out and contact me directly at ihowcroft@skillsontario.com. Contact information is on our website, but what we do is engage young people, engage parents, engage educators, labor and business. So we’re trying to do as much of that as we can. So I love hearing from students particularly, but I love hearing from our other partners and anyone else, that’s looking for some information about skills, promotion skills opportunities, and how they can work with Skills Ontario.


Ian Howcroft (17:51):
I just wanna point out that we have 35 staff, as I said, but we could not do what we do without our volunteers. And volunteerism is so important. We probably have up to a thousand volunteers that help us deliver our, our programming, our competitions, our contests. Again, right now we’re restricted to the virtual reality, but we look forward to engaging our volunteers in a variety of ways as we move forward, virtually as well. But also when we get back to doing our, our carbo boat races and the contest and the qualifying competitions, and again, we’ve also been able to offer a few new programs. We couldn’t do the car boat races, which have to take place at a pool and teams design it, but we’ve moved to an airplane glider contest that you can do it into schools could even do it at home if you had to. So we have a competition based on that. So there’s a lot of exciting things that are coming forward from this tragic COVID experience that we have to deal with.


Sam Demma (18:40):
Ian. That’s awesome. And thank you so much for sharing. There’s a lot of great ideas and insight coming outta this podcast. I’m sure a ton of people will, will be reaching out. Thanks again, for taking time to have this conversation, it’s been a real pleasure having you on the show.


Ian Howcroft (18:53):
Thanks, I’ve really appreciated the opportunity, Sam. Hopefully our paths will continue to cross.


Sam Demma (18:57):
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 in review so other educators like your 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 Ian Howcroft

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.

Deb Lawlor – Coordinator, Intermediate/Secondary Student Success OCSB

Deb Lawlor - Coordinator, Intermediate/Secondary Student Success OCSB
About Deb Lawlor

Deb Lawlor (@deb_lawlor) is the coordinator of student success at the Ottawa Catholic District School Board. 

Her interests include authentic learning experiences & inquiry.  She is also an avid outdoor enthusiast, photographer, traveler, optimist & cook.  In this episode, we talk about her educational journey and her travelling sabbatical. 

Connect with Deb: Email | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

6 Modern Sabbatical Ideas

Specialist High Skills Major Program

Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program

Hapaweb Solutions

Smiths Falls

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, I had the pleasure of working with back in 2019, and then in 2020, she took a sabbatical to go travel the world and she’s finally come back and I convinced her to come share some of her wisdom on the show. We talk a ton about her social sabbatical. Today’s guest is Deb Lawlor. Deb Lawlor is the coordinator of intermediate and secondary student success at the Ottawa Catholic school board. She also now has taken on the portfolio of helping to coordinate anything related to SHSM and OYAP, specialist high skills major, or the Ontario youth apprenticeship programs. And she is a powerhouse. She won’t be in education too much longer but while she’s here, we can learn a lot from her. I hope you enjoy today’s episode. I’ll see you on the other side.


Sam Demma (01:34):
Deb, thank you so much for coming on the high performing educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show. Can you start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit about how you got into the work that you do in education today?


Deb Lawlor (01:47):
Okay. Hi, I’m Deb Lawlor and I’m currently working at the Ottawa Catholic school board as a coordinator in the intermediate secondary student success department. And I have been an educator for about 25 years now. I started way back when, and I was able to leave from high school, get into university to take a teaching degree. I did my Phys ed degree first and was able to start yeah, actually with adults in the beginning, I sort of, I call it, I went through the back door to try and get a job at the time because there wasn’t anything available. And through, some people who were in a class of mine, they told me about it and I started teaching adults. So I was probably, I was in my, my mid twenties and I was actually teaching adults who were anywhere from 18 years old and my oldest student was 54.


Deb Lawlor (02:36):
I can remember Florian because he was his grandfather in my class trying to get his education after having left. I think he left like grade five, six and went to work on his farm and he was just trying to get his basic grade nine math and, and get his G E D at the time. And from there I moved on to teaching grade seven and eight. I wanted to get into working with the kids. I, I enjoyed working at adult Ted, but it was really, I wanted to do the extracurricular. I wanted to coach, I wanted to have activities beyond, you know, student council with the kids and work with them in that way. And so I was able to, to go into grade seven and eight. And from there I moved into a high school when, when St mother Teresa was opened up in the day when, when we were expand quite a bit in the Ottawa area for, for schools out in some of our outside the city areas.


Deb Lawlor (03:23):
And I taught there for almost 14 years teaching F ed mostly for anything from grade 9, 10, 11, 12 girls to mixed classes with grade 11 and 12 girls, boys and I, my last class I taught was actually a grade 10 boys class, which was quite fun. They, they, they made me laugh. and partway through that time, I started consulting at the school board as if I said consultant halftime and did that for about eight years. And after that, I moved on into being the coordinator within my department. And the section that I have is called specialized pathways, which really covers some programs for are students who are trying to get through high school and explore areas within options for them after high school, whether it’s apprenticeship going right into the workplace or if they take a college or university pathways.


Deb Lawlor (04:12):
So I have focus programs, dual credits, specialist, high skills, major or Chisholm program as we call it. And oh yeah, the Ontario, a youth apprenticeship program, which is some fascinating areas where you can really look at what are the options we can offer students today that are not just taking a class, you know sitting, listening, and, and learning, but they’re actually doing, they’re doing the hands on pieces, getting into job work experiences and finding out about what the work world would would be like in their career that they’re wanna choose and pursue.


Sam Demma (04:42):
I love that. And if you can think back for a moment to when you were younger and going through university or school and teachers college, when did you actually know, ah, I want to be a teacher. Was there like someone who pushed you down that path or did you just know at a young age that that was the calling for you?


Deb Lawlor (04:59):
It’s funny, you asked me because my path sort of, I had a very direct path and I meandered for many years and then I came back to it. So I actually, I wanted to be a teacher in grade four. I, I loved school as a kid. I wanted to that was all I wanted to do was to be a teacher. And, and then I hit grade six and all of a sudden I met somebody in my class and they were very well off. And when I looked at what she had, I wanted that and I thought, well, her dad’s a lawyer. I’m gonna be a lawyer. They’re rich. I’m gonna be a lawyer. I wanna get into them pursuing that. So from grade six, all the way to grade 11 until like took grade 11 law, and then I went, I don’t wanna be a lawyer anymore.


Deb Lawlor (05:37):
so a way too much detail and article and the, the research you had to do to look up stuff did not interest me. So then my brain went to the second thing. Okay. At the time I was in grade 11 and in grade nine, I got braces. So I went and had braces grade 9, 10, 11, 12. And again, I’m going, Hmm. My orthodontists are making a killing and not hurting people while doing it. So I thought, great. I wanna be an orthodontist. So I went down to see my guidance counselor and he’s like, yep, you’re gonna need to take this science and this science and this science and here’s, I said, oh, I don’t wanna do that. That’s not of an interest to me to take all the sciences. Yeah. And at the time I, then I was grade 12 by then I had started, I had started working at a summer camp when I was in grade 10 and I was working with kids mostly anywhere mostly preteens, like kind of like your 11, 12, 13.


Deb Lawlor (06:28):
And then I took over the program to work with kids who were counselors in training. They were the 15, 16 year old. So in working with them and I wasn’t very, and still am a strong athlete in, in my abilities. And so I was playing on all the school teams at school and it wasn’t until I finally talked to my dad. So if you talk about who was my influencer, it was my father. Hmm. He said a couple of things to me, one of the things was he, he told me, and this was really important to hear as a female back in 1980s, you, you can do anything you want to like, whatever you choose to do and to be, go for it. That’s, that’s your, your, your ability to try and do that. So that was one thing that was very important to hear.


Deb Lawlor (07:07):
The other thing was he’s, you know, I had this idea that, you know, I did well in school. I had good grades. I could be anything I wanted to be, I could apply to any program and probably get in. But when he said to me, think about this for a moment, if you’re gonna work for 30 years, you better darn well, like what you’re gonna do. And I kind of went, whoa, I’m like, yeah, like 30 years, that’s a long ti 30 years is a long time. Yeah. I have to try and imagine what I would wanna do for 30 years and was at a time when, like, people actually did the same thing for 30 years. That’s no longer the case anymore. But in thinking about that, I went, all right, well, look at your life, Deb, you are playing all these sports. You’re an athletic person.


Deb Lawlor (07:51):
You enjoy being active and you enjoy working with kids that you’ve been doing this at this camp, put the two together. And it was like, well, okay, yeah. Be a PHY ed teacher. And in my mind, at the time though, I was like, well, but you know, I could be more than a pH ed teacher, but I went back to the thought of, you had always wanted to be a teacher anyway. So it doesn’t matter what, you know, that stigma that might have been around it was, is I thought I could enjoy that for 30 years. And so, yeah, my dad was, was a very big influencer and what I could do and that I could choose anything I wanted to, whether I was male or female at the time. And also to say like, you wanna enjoy what you do. And I remember my first years of work going, I, I don’t, I didn’t work a day in my life because I didn’t feel like it was work, you know, in the beginning I, you know, I was doing with my physi and that, and I was kind of like, yeah, like I’m, I’m getting paid to play.


Deb Lawlor (08:43):
You know, now there’s a skill to making play interesting to kids and having them engaged. Yeah. Don’t get me wrong. But yeah, I, I, I really don’t feel for most of my career that I’ve really worked a day in my life in that sense that it, it it’s enjoyable. I, I love what I do.


Sam Demma (08:58):
That’s awesome. And it’s changed a lot over the past couple of years, specifically this year and something I’ve recently started to realize is that our beliefs lead to our emotions, our emotions lead to our actions and our actions lead to our results. And when we get a different world view, our beliefs change, then our emotions change, our actions changes and our results that we might even project onto our students change. You recently took a sabbatical and traveled the globe for a year, gained some new perspectives, came back to the classroom. And I would say arguably back to education, arguably more passionate, more inspired with a new clarity. Could you share a little bit about what prompted you to make that decision to travel and how it affected you as a professional in education?


Deb Lawlor (09:47):
Okay. I’ve always loved to travel. I, I started traveling in, in my mid twenties and the nice thing. I mean, it’s, it’s to double edge sword as a, as an educator, we are pegged into times that we have to travel mm-hmm. So we have to travel at March break. We have to travel at Christmas the two week time break. And then we, and we graciously have a summer time where we can choose to, to do some, some intensive traveling during that time on the flip side of that, it’s also very costly at all those high season times. But what sort of got me into wanting to pursue some sabbaticals and, and, and to travel in that way was in order to go to New Zealand in Australia. And I, and I did that on a sabbatical that I took back in oh 5 0 6. It was my first one.


Deb Lawlor (10:32):
I, I had that care at dangling in front of me for five or six years as I was on reduced pay in order to, to get to that goal. But what drove me was I wanted to see Australian New Zealand, but the time to see their summertime was in our wintertime and as a teacher, I wasn’t gonna be able to do that. Mm. And so that gave me the drive, the push to kind of go, okay, let’s try this, this sabbatical where I do a reduced pay. And it’s given, you know, I’m paid from a, that final year from my own money. And when I did that, it allowed me to see places. I, I, I had never, you know, had an opportunity to see. And this time when I went to go, my, my dream was to go to, to Asia. I wanted to go explore Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Laos, and see cultures that I didn’t know very much at all about.


Deb Lawlor (11:16):
And it allowed me to immerse myself into a place that there was new things to see there was new things to taste. There were new people to get to know. And I traveled with people who were internationally spread across the world. There was people from the UK, people from Switzerland, people from Germany, I met people who were Dutch all over the globe. And I think just that exposure to people, you start seeing other perspectives. And I’m always very curious about the education systems in other places. And you talk to them about how long’s your school day and what do your kids do? You know, what are the sports that they might get involved in? What extracurriculars do they run? How do they do that? And it was very interesting to me going to Asia because it is very different in some ways to, to how we do things.


Deb Lawlor (12:04):
I, I had a really great opportunity. This little boy in Vietnam came and, and approached me while we were wa walking between PI places on, on the tour. And we had a chance to stop. And I was sitting on a bench and this little nine year old boy came up and he said to me, is it okay if I sit and talk with you? And I said, sure. And I kind of looked around for the parent and, and the parent and his father and his grandfather was sitting on the bench across from me. And what I had ended up finding out later from my guide was that this was how a lot of the children would try and learn English. They didn’t wanna learn from their teachers who were Vietnamese. They wanted to learn from English speaking first language people. So they were often encouraged to see, seek out the tourists and have conversation to practice through English.


Deb Lawlor (12:49):
And so I was fascinated because this little guy, he knew, knew more about Canada than some of the students that I knew. And he was like, he, I told him where I was from. And he started talking about, well, your population is approximately this million, this number million. And you have a very large country, and it’s very cold there. You know, he had all these, I, you are nine years old and can tell me about my country. It was very interesting. But then to ask and say, so, you know, like, what are the types of things you do? What do you like doing at school? And he liked computers and he liked reading. And I asked him about sports and I said, physical activity. I said, do they do it at your school? And it wasn’t popular among some of the kids. And there were some things that were happening, but it was very oriented to achieving and to practicing your lessons and working on those types of things.


Deb Lawlor (13:42):
So I always find it interesting to travel elsewhere, to find out what they, what they do. And, and can we learn anything from, from other other cultures and, and, and having other perspectives. I mean, just on the, on tour itself my tour in New Zealand that followed that was, I was probably the oldest on that tour for most of the time of that tour. I was probably 20 years senior, too, to most of the people on the tour. And again, to have that perspective of youth and say, you know, how do you see these things and what do you, think’s happening in the world? And is this working, and, and why would you do this? Or wouldn’t you do that? Was very interesting. And I met a, I met another teacher from the UK and she was 32 and, you know, worked at elementary.


Deb Lawlor (14:24):
So again, something different for me to kind of probe. And I’m actually still in contact with, with three of the four of the gals that I met. We’re still on, on WhatsApp together to, to connect and talk about things and see how, how we’re doing. So the opportunities. And then, so what that brings back with me then Sam, for coming back to work is, is a, a renewed vigor about what I do and, and listening then to finding those other perspectives when, when I’m dealing with what I deal with now and making sure that, you know, there’s not somebody in the room that’s not heard mm-hmm , and if I’m not hearing a voice, I start to look for it and thinking or asking myself, well, what would this person think? Or how would this impact this person? Whereas before, you know, if you, it might have just been a bit more narrow because you haven’t had all those other different perspectives to hear about.


Sam Demma (15:15):
That makes so much sense. And would you recommend other educators listening to travel?


Deb Lawlor (15:20):
Oh, absolutely. I highly recommend I’ve done three sabbaticals over my time. Nice. And my next one will be permanent but no, I, I think it’s a great, I think it’s a great opportunity. And you know, what, you, you also don’t need to travel extensively far away. I mean, I, I went to Asia, I went to New Zealand. Yeah. Those are big, big options to try and, and get away from. But what COVID OS taught me is that you can actually explore around the area you live. I’m actually trying to, now that I’m restricted in where I can go from auto it’s like, well, what new trails can I go check out? And what are the new, I went to a grocery store the other day that I, I kept seeing fruit for a long time, on my way to my, my physio appointments.


Deb Lawlor (16:02):
And I said, I that’s Adonis. I’m like, that’s telling me something. That’s not a Sobeys. It’s not a Loblaws. You know, I thought, well, what kind of, you know, what’s, what’s the type of foods and stuff. So I went in and I, I had a, a little mini exploration, you know, for half an hour of just walking through aisles and going, wow, okay. Like in their deli, they’ve got a whole bunch of chickpeas and they have nuts and they have different produce that I couldn’t normally find in the wintertime. And I thought, you know, looking at the different culture that’s been brought into a store and it was very exciting in that same way of just going something new, something different and something to try. So I absolutely, I, I would highly recommend travel for, for anyone to do, but it, it can be travel even to another province.


Deb Lawlor (16:42):
If you haven’t explored Canada, it could be to a, to a small town. We live in Ottawa here with my board. But I mean, there’s Smith falls around there’s, Almont, there’s Kingston, not far our way, there’s these small little town Smith falls, Richmond, like you can explore, you know, and I think that it adds to when we’re lifelong learners, mm-hmm, , you’re constantly in, in education, you are a lifelong learner. Whether you like it or not, because you’re not always gonna be teaching the same courses, the same grade level, you’re gonna change positions. You might go into advance, you’re always gonna need to learn. And if you keep open to that learning, then it makes it a lot easier for, for what you’re


Sam Demma (17:20):
Gonna do. I was speaking to an educator yesterday on a phone call, Michael Kelly from the Toronto Catholic district school board. He teaches a GLE learning strategies course. And he was telling me that he has a passion for history, and that’s what he got into education be cause of. And there was this opportunity to travel to Italy with his students and show them history. And he said, by going on that travel experience, it renewed his passion and reconfirmed for him that he does love history. And it’s so exciting to him. And it’s so cool. And he said, he came back to school with so much more passion to teach it. And I think it’s the same case for you, but in a slightly different position that you’re now working in with the school board. What new challenges though, have you been faced with over the past? I don’t know, a couple of months that you’ve been placed back into this position right after a global pandemic?


Deb Lawlor (18:11):
Yeah, definitely a, a change in in experiences coming back to this, I, I wasn’t, so therefore I wasn’t in, in place working when COVID hit in, in the spring when schools were, were, were adjusting that I think part of the challenge I’ve seen is trying to find ways to make activities. And this is activities with my teachers or the activities teachers are doing with students trying to make activities that we normally would do engaging. Now that they’ve a lot of it switched online. And I, I think the screen time is a challenge. I, I think it’s, it’s very difficult for people to be on screen, how they’re in school. And then, and then they go home on, in our board. They, they flip flopping days at high school and then go home and then you’re expected to be on screen all day long with that.


Deb Lawlor (18:59):
And then a lot of what people’s personal interests and hobbies are, is to be on social media or to be online on, on their device. So, so I think that’s the, the biggest change that I’m, I’m on screen now all day long and I’m on meetings and, and doing trying to connect with teachers through Google meets or individual Hangouts, or it it’s a lot of a lot of time that just sitting. So I just, you know, before I, I got online with you, I just came from my walk outta lunch that nice, you know, get outside dress for it. It’s a little chillier there today. Yeah. but, and, and I also thinking it’s trying to reach out to our students and, and our teachers for me, cuz I, I work with our staff to, in a meaningful way. It, it’s making sure that they’re is those human connections that we still need.


Deb Lawlor (19:54):
And so something, you know that you can try and create, that’s fun. Something that, you know, is lighthearted being able to make use of time. That’s precious for people being consistent in terms of what you want to try to accomplish and be clear about things. It, it’s a challenge to try and make sure that, you know, you’re not wasting people’s time for different pieces. And then also for me in the, the role that I have is I get funding to run some of these programs. And there’s a lot of funding this year that we’re not using it for buses. We’re not using it for supply release. We’re not using it for hospitality reasons. So now it’s like, well, what do we use that funding for? And it’s trying to find ways to brainstorm and to think outside the box of, okay, I can’t, I can’t bring a, a, a provider and to give a certification to students. So what am I gonna do instead? You know, we ask, we can do it online, but it’s like, well, can I give you kits that you can have someone zoom in live with you and you guys each now all have your individual piece to build a house and to work on that and understand the, the makings behind construction and, and, and the skills that go with that.


Sam Demma (21:08):
I love that that’s an amazing understanding and how things have changed and shifted what is going really well though. I, you talked about an online system that specifically the O C D S B or the OCS B is using that’s working really well for teachers and students and helping them keep track of their it’s. I believe it’s like a Google workflow or something along those lines.


Deb Lawlor (21:30):
So ha power workspace is what we use. Yep. And teachers are able to load up all of their different materials in there. But the nice thing about Hapa is that the students it’s already set up for them when they walk into their, into their, their, they say, walk into their class when they begin their class, when they get yeah. Virtually, if they sign in and the folders for each of their courses are already in Google drive. So if they had math history, religion, and English happening, then there’s already a folder that has all their documents that they need. So it kind of removes that need for a binder. You’re not losing papers, things aren’t falling out. If the teacher knows the student’s gonna be away, they know that that information is in there to access wherever they are remotely and be able to do that.


Deb Lawlor (22:13):
And that was a, a nice thing to be able to see happen where it really, I mean, COVID, that’s a plus side of it. Is it really accelerated how quickly our staff is using it and becoming comfortable with it? Because we had to last spring when everything went, went remote, now I could see in the future that, you know, let’s say a student has a lacrosse tournament that we can misses some of their classes, right? Yeah. Then they come back and they know everything’s already in there, or they’re on their bus, taking the ride out, or they’re driving to Toronto to, to do a tournament you know, in their personal life. And then they can be worth on the stuff and not miss anything that that’s gonna happen there. And Harara allows the students to actually add cards to it. So you can actually collect evidence and, and they might have something where say, you know, Sam, I want you to add, you know, your ideas to this slide and Deb, I want you to put your ideas in this slide and each student would have a slide to add into it.


Deb Lawlor (23:06):
So now you have collaboration happening between students, even though they’re in their different places or it could even be happening in the same classroom because now you can’t touch each other’s, you know, laptops and materials, et cetera, but they can still be collaborating on the same document together. And and the assessments are done there through there as well in track so that they teachers able to see their progress as they’re working on it, to see where they’re at and whether they need some little reminders to, you know, keep going at it, or if they, you know, need feedback and get some help and they can do that electronically as well.


Sam Demma (23:37):
I love it. And you mentioned that your, your next sabbatical will be your final one before that parting day mm-hmm . What, what keeps you hopeful and motivated when working in education with young people, despite the challenges that we’re facing?


Deb Lawlor (23:53):
There’s always hope if you look for it. It it’s, I, I have an attitude of gratitude and I think that alone really gives me hope because as even, even walking outside today, I was thinking, you know what, I, I can go outside and walk. I’m not sick with COVID right now. Yeah. And I have my health and I’m in an area that I can do this in. I think that the the ability to not give up that there is that there’s always going to be something kind. I see people being kind that’s hopeful to me. So when you see simple kind gestures during your day, someone opens the door for, for you at work, you’re out in the grocery store. And, you know, you can still see the smile of people’s eyes above the mask, right. If, if you look for it, if, if you, so it’s pain attention to the little details.


Deb Lawlor (24:47):
Sometimes watching that, you know, someone’s got a real joy for Christmas right now in my department, and they’re just, every decorations are going everywhere and it makes people smile. And I think the other thing too, is just knowing that this too shall pass like it, this isn’t gonna be forever. It’s inconvenient. Absolutely. it’s, it’s depressing for some at times it’s certainly financially impacting people and, but it’s not gonna last, it will, it will be done someday. And I think you, that having that belief, knowing that it, you know, when you think of something hard that you went through it, wasn’t forever mm-hmm . And at the same time, what gives hope is that there’s other people that you can, that you can be helpful to around you. And that in itself is very, oh, very inspiring to, to see others doing that, to, to watching, you know, students making things for others, for the can.


Deb Lawlor (25:46):
I mean, the can food drives aren’t happening in the same ways that they did before, but we’re still finding people who are thinking outside the box. And I think when I see that when I see people being innovative, when I see people being creative with the situations they’ve been given, and yet seeing really neat things that they’re doing with their students, that gives me hope within, you know what’s gonna happen. And, and you sort of get pushed outside your comfort zone. But I think that gives me hope in the sense too, that we’re doing things that we might not have done. Had we not been put in this position? Yeah. You know, there’s been a lot of quick changes. People are collaborating a lot more now because they need to. Yeah. And they’re seeking help out from other people. I, I, I put an all call out to my, to my Chim leads across the province, you know, back in October when I was like, oh my gosh, I don’t know what to do with this.


Deb Lawlor (26:35):
And, and I got 13, 14 responses. And then I connected with those people by phone and followed up. And then we chatted about things. And then I went, okay, I’m not the only one dealing with this. Someone else is feeling the same thing I am. And someone else is going through something similar. And as you talk to someone, you just kind of go, okay, I’m not alone in this. There there’s others who are going through the exact same thing. And then you stop being so hard on yourself in what you’re trying to deal with because others are doing the same thing.


Sam Demma (27:02):
Yeah. I love that. And your hope is hopefully rubbing off on your hope, the listener. I hope this reminds you that there is always a perspective shift that you can have, right? That’s the whole idea of change. What you’re believing about the situation. It will change how you feel. It will change your actions and you’ll get a totally different result. Deb, if you could travel back in time and speak to your younger self, when you just got into education, what would you say?


Deb Lawlor (27:30):
Oh, so if I’m, I’m speaking to myself from my perspective now to my younger self?


Sam Demma (27:34):
Yeah. In education. Okay.


Deb Lawlor (27:37):
Don’t take it personally. I love it. I think as young educator is we take everything personally. We are upset if they don’t do the homework, the student doesn’t do their homework in our class. We’re upset when they walk out and say, I hate you. That we’re upset when, you know you, you plan this great lesson, you put all this effort and it totally bombs. And the kids think it sucks. You know? Like I, I think you can’t take it personally. You do the best that you can with what you’ve got and that’s gonna develop over time. I think part of it is I would tell myself I would tell myself it doesn’t have to be perfect. I think there’s so much, we strive that, you know, you’ve gotta have that perfect lesson. It’s gotta be, everyone’s gotta receive it in the right way.


Deb Lawlor (28:20):
And, and everyone being happy with it. I’d probably tell myself not to work so many long hours. I burn the candles a lot when, you know, and you do as a young teacher because yeah, you just, you need to you until you get the experience until you, you know, figure out what it is you, and if you’re teaching something different all the time, it’s, it’s inevitable it’s gonna happen. What else would I tell myself? I would tell myself to, to enjoy the ride. Mm. But really enjoy the ride because it, it, and I think I did, I eventually, I, I started to do that to really, to, to it’s about the journey. It’s not about the endpoint really, to, and, and not to be afraid to, well, certainly to not worry so much about the content. And it’s more about, it’s more about the skills that you’re teaching the kids.


Deb Lawlor (29:08):
And again, sort of my beginning year, my first, you know, five, six years that wasn’t in my mind as I, as I grew, and as I got more experienced, you, you start to enjoy those kids who who are the challenge, the kids who don’t agree with you, who, who will push and who have issues that you start to realize that you can help mold and help guide them. And it’s not all about having the kid who puts their hand up all the time and raises their hand and hands everything in and does everything you want them to. And doesn’t talk back to you. After a while I started seeking out the kids who I thought you’ll be okay without me, you’re gonna do fine and be all right, but you need a little more attention and, and, and you need in year and you need me to ask you, how are you doing today? You know, scale of one to 10, where are you at just doing a check in? Doesn’t need to tell me a, any information. I don’t need to know the details, but if I know you’re a four today, then I’m gonna deal with you a little bit different than if you’re at an eight, you know, and, and, and cut you a little slack and give you a little bit of room and be understanding that, Nope, you’re not gonna get that assignment into me today. And it’s not the end of the world.


Sam Demma (30:18):
I like that. That’s awesome. Deb, thank you so much for coming and sharing some of your wisdom and advice on the show here today, and some of your own personal journey through education. If another educator wants to reach out to you, what would be the best way for them to do so maybe Twitter or an email or whatever you prefer.


Deb Lawlor (30:35):
Yeah, they can, they can give me an email at debbie.lawlor@ocsb.ca. So debbie.lawlor@ocsb.ca. My Twitter handle is @deb_lawlor.


Sam Demma (30:55):
All right. Awesome. Thanks so much, Deb. I look forward to staying in touch and seeing where your travels take you next.


Deb Lawlor (31:02):
Sam’s it’s been a pleasure to be here.


Sam Demma (31:04):
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 so soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Deb Lawlor

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.

Christa Ray – Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program (OYAP) Coordinator at the Algonquin Lakeshore Catholic District School Board (ALCDSB)

Christa Ray - Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Coordinator at ALCDSB
About Christa Ray

Christa is passionate not only about teaching & guiding the next generation but also intently interested in anything related to sustainability and the environment. She is also an Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Coordinator(OYAP) at the ALCDSB. Her career path has been very rewarding so far and she always looks forward to the lifelong learning afforded by having a job in the education sector! 

Connect with Christa: Email | Linkedin

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program

Queens University Bachelor of Education Degree

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):
Do you want access to all the past guests on this show? Do you want to network with like-minded individuals and meet other high performing educators from around the world? If so, go to www.highperformingeducator.com, sign up to join the exclusive network and you’ll get access to live virtual networking events and other special opportunities that will come out throughout 2021. I promise you I will not fill your inbox. you might get one email a month. If that sounds interesting, go to www.highperformingeducator.com. Welcome back to another episode of the high performing educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker Sam Demma. Today’s guest is Christa Ray. Christa is the Ontario youth apprenticeship coordinator at the ALCDSB, the Algonquin Lakeshore Catholic District School Board. She’s passionate, not only about teaching and guiding the next generation, but also interested in anything related to sustainability and the environment.


Sam Demma (01:01):
Her career path has been very rewarding so far, and she’s always looking forward to the lifelong learning afforded by having a job in the education sector. I hope you enjoy today’s interview as much as I enjoy doing it and I’ll see you on the other side. Christa, thank you so much for coming on the high performing educator podcast. It’s a huge pleasure to have you on the show. Why don’t you start by sharing with the audience a little bit about who you are and how you got into the work you’re doing with young people today?


Christa Ray (01:27):
Sure. Thanks Sam. It’s it’s great to be here with you today. I, I’ve been in education for about 17 years now. I started at the high school that I actually graduated from and initially I was a geography teacher among a few other things, and then I jumped into guidance shortly after my career started. So I was a guidance counselor for about 10 years and then I decided to take a leap of faith and I left the school that I loved and a job that I loved and I came to the board office. And now for the last three years I’ve been working with five high schools and a couple of college, local colleges. And for the first two years, I worked with student success teachers mainly. And this year starting in September, I have a new role called the OYAP(Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program) coordinator. So those that’s rounded out the last three years of my career.


Sam Demma (02:20):
Awesome. And what made you take, tell me more about what made you take the leap of faith. Why did you make that decision? Was there anything behind that?


Christa Ray (02:30):
Oh, that’s a good question. I, I loved what I was doing in the high school and I was coaching and I was doing a few clubs, but I was getting tired and I had needed a change of scenery and had young children at home. And so I thought I would try a different venue. And it was very nerve wracking, actually. I, I didn’t, you know, normally people change jobs when they don’t like something, but I was leaving something that I really liked to the unknown. And so it, it turned out it’s been really great for not just myself. And I’ve learned probably more in the last three years than I have in the, in the full 17 years that I’ve been teaching. So it’s, it’s been a good, a good move for me.


Sam Demma (03:16):
Oh, that’s awesome. And at what point in your own career journey, did you know, I wanna work in education. Was this something you knew from a young age? Did you stumble upon it? Did someone kind of guide you in that direction? Or how did you come to that decision that you wanted to work in schools?


Christa Ray (03:31):
You know, my sister and I always had a little Blackboard in our house growing up and we would always play school as I’m sure a lot of people do. So that was a something that we just enjoyed. But I don’t think it was really until my third or fourth year of university that I had confirmed with myself that I wanted to get into education. And my main driver was was geography actually, because I had an amazing geography teacher in high school who really propelled me into not, not the world of teaching, but the world of geography. Thanks and sustainability. And I mean, I know you have your pick waste initiative. Those, those were all things that I really wanted to to talk about with students. And I felt that the, maybe the biggest way I could have an impact on the world would be to spread my love for the environment with kids. So that’s why I mainly got into it and I didn’t foresee myself getting into guidance, but that just sort of fell into my lap. And I love that just as much so.


Sam Demma (04:29):
Oh, that’s awesome. And I’m sure the first 10, 15 years are a lot different than what school looks like specifically this year. as you exhale that’s right. I’m curious. What, what is different? I mean, what, what are the challenges that you’ve been currently faced with? I know you you’ve put put in a slightly different role this year, but what are the challenges specifically that your school board is facing?


Christa Ray (04:54):
Being the OYAP coordinator? I really rely heavily on hands on activities with students you know, bill building things and talking about the trades and the importance of tools. And so that’s probably my personal big, biggest challenge would be not being able to do the traditional activities with students. We generally try and work with our two local colleges, as I mentioned earlier, and we get students bused into the colleges to see the programs there. We’re not allowed to be busing students. So we are really having to think outside the box and do some alternative planning. And I have been going into schools and I’ve been doing like smaller presentations because I’m still allowed to travel into schools. But I find even just a small thing would be students wearing masks and myself wearing a mask while I present. It’s very unusual for teachers to see a room full of masks in front of you. And you don’t really necessarily get I mean, I’m only in a classroom for an hour at a time doing my presentation. So I feel like I don’t get to know the students very well, especially when they’re have their faces half covered.


Sam Demma (06:11):
No, that’s so true. yeah. It’s so, so true. I, I know they come out with these masks and now called mingle mask, which is like a, it’s like a clear visor. Okay. But then it has other problems, like it’s not close to the nose. It’s like, it’s a whole disaster , but it might be too early to ask, but someone described to me education, like throwing spaghetti on the wall and seeing what sticks. And I’m curious to know if there’s anything that your school board has done or tried that has stuck so far. Maybe there’s maybe one little nugget or one thing you might share about teaching online or something the schools have tried.


Christa Ray (06:49):
Yeah, I, I feel like our school is still forging ahead with some plans we have to downscale it a little bit and because we can’t get together in large groups due to COVID we are targeting a smaller classroom type activities. So for example, there’s an activity that we’re going to be doing in December, just building a birdhouse with some grade seven, eight students. Oh, cool. And hopefully they’ll be able to, to put that together. It prefab kit actually from one of our local colleges and we’ll take those out and then students can build them and maybe wrap them up and put them under the Christmas tree as gifts. Nice. And and that’ll tie in nicely with when I have my OAP presentation and where I, you know, cuz my job this year is to promote the trades with students.


Christa Ray (07:37):
And oftentimes college and university pathways are really well spoken about in school with guidance counselors, but sometimes the apprenticeship doesn’t doesn’t get highlighted the way it should. So that’s one thing that I feel even though we’re not be allowed to have 300 kids in a room at a time building a bird house, we can still have 20 or 25 building. Yeah. And, and you know, we might have to sanitize things a little more frequently than we normally would, but it’s just one of those challenges that we will, we will overcome.


Sam Demma (08:10):
That’s awesome. I love that. Mm-Hmm and I wanna go back to your geography teacher for a second. What made that teacher really impactful for you? I’m sure the content was great and, and they taught it really well, but there was probably some other characteristics that made this teacher really impactful for you personally. Is there any traits that stick out when you think about this teacher that you think made it such an impactful class?


Christa Ray (08:32):
Yeah, actually as you’re asking that question, I just got goosebumps because he was pretty amazing and I still work with him. Oh fun. Because the irony is he was my geography teacher. I went away for five years. Got my geography degree, came back to the same high school and he was still teaching. Nice. So I was his student and his colleague and I just saw him the other day, but he, I don’t know, he just made learning really fun because he was a storyteller. Mm. He had a story for almost anything and everything, any of our lessons, he, he had done a lot of traveling and I just thought that that was really really interesting. And he was very passionate. Even when he talked about things, places that he had never traveled, he, he made you feel like you were there anyway.


Christa Ray (09:19):
Mm. And so I just felt like you know, that was something that he really instilled in us was to become knowledgeable global citizens. Even though, even if you’re not traveling, you can still do a lot of research. And obviously the worldwide web is really good for checking out initiatives across across the world. And I tried to do that with my students as well. You know, we talked about some of the people that really make a difference. I mean, I was so interested to read a little bit more about your pick waste initiative that you did with your friend and you know, that it’s just two high school students picking up trash. It seems insignificant, but when you get a, when you get a bit of a following, especially now with social media, mm-hmm, you find out that you can really make a difference really fast. Yeah.


Sam Demma (10:08):
So, so small actions compounded over time. Right? Small, consistent actions. exactly. Yeah. That’s awesome. And you know, your teacher had a huge impact on you. I’m sure there’s so many stories that you’ve seen of students transforming due to education. And I’m curious to know if any story that you know of, whether it’s a student that you had, or it’s a student that you’ve heard of that had a huge transformation due to the support and care of a teacher. And the reason I ask is because there might be an educator listening right now, who’s a little bit burnt out who is maybe on the edge of even getting out of this calling and, and getting into a new job or career because they’re totally stressed out, but those stories are transformation might remind them why it’s extremely important and why the work they’re doing is so necessary and needed now more than ever. And if it’s a serious story, feel free to totally change the name to John DOE or whatever. You’d like . And anyways, yeah. Does any story come to mind?


Christa Ray (11:09):
Oh, I have a few. But one in particular that really sticks out in my mind was a student that came to our high school. He was a, a grade 12 student at the time. He came from Toronto to a small town in Beville to finish up his high school diploma. And when he came to my class, he was a grade 12 student in my grade nine geography class, cuz he had failed geography a few years prior and I’d never had a Stu an old, older student in my class and I was a little worried, but I realized really soon that he became he was kind of like a role model for the younger students. So even though the everybody else was in grade nine and he was in grade 12 and about a foot taller than everybody I, I realized that he was a really good resource for me to have.


Christa Ray (11:58):
And I mean, as a guidance counselor, I could see his transcript and I knew that it wasn’t very shiny. He hadn’t been doing really well. Due to many circumstances his life in Toronto was very difficult and not to get into too many details. He, he was trying to make his life better for himself. Hence the reason why he had moved to Bellville. And so when he came I, I think my biggest mistake was kind of pre-judging him, mm-hmm , you know, this is, this is gonna be a student where I’m really gonna have a lot of troubles and I actually didn’t at all. So near the end of his grade 12 year when he had accumulated his geography credit, which is a prerequisite to graduate in Ontario. Yeah. And he had accumulated other credits. He, he, I was so proud of him and I think he was proud of himself.


Christa Ray (12:52):
And I, I told him specifically that I don’t know what I would’ve done without him because he was a good motivator. He always had his homework done. When other students didn’t, he would sit with them and ex like, say, you know, I, I like to help you, which baffled my mind because I thought that he would just stick to himself, but he literally was a, like an older role model for the students. And he helped a few other students get through my class as well. It was like having a peer helper. Yeah. Actually, and I he went on to do welding at a college program. That’s and I’ve since lost track of him. I, I always wonder what he’s up to, but I don’t know. He, he is definitely one story that sticks out in my mind and I will remember him for as long as I live, actually.


Sam Demma (13:42):
That’s awesome. That’s such a beautiful story. And maybe this podcast is a reason to try and reach out and figure out what he’s up to these days. And if, you know, if you’re listening to this, remember that these stories are not far in between that, I think so much transformation happens inside schools or even outside the school walls with conversations because you, as an educator, you take on the role of parent. Sometimes you take on the role of teacher. Sometimes you take on the role of coach. It’s like, you’re so many things to these young minds and you can have such a huge impact. And it sometimes transforms students lives, which is pretty cool. Anyways, this has been really, really awesome. If you could travel back in time and speak to your younger self, when you were just starting teaching with all the wisdom you have now, what advice would you, would you share when you were just starting?


Christa Ray (14:36):
Hmm. I think, well, I mean, you learn more and more each year. So even though I’ve been teaching for quite some time I would tell my younger self that you’re, you’re basically on a journey. You’re not gonna know all of the answers. You’re not gonna have it all figured out in your first fifth or even 10th year of teaching. And as we all are very aware of this year has thrown everybody for a loop and we’ve had to change our teaching style significantly, especially earlier in the spring when we went to remote learning. But I just think that teachers need to not be so hard on themselves. Mm. They need to you know they need to take care of themselves so that they can take care of their classrooms. Yeah. And you might not be able to get it all done in a day.


Christa Ray (15:28):
So try not to be too overworked because I know a lot of teachers and myself included, we bring our work home with us. We try to make things as good as we can make them. And sometimes we can’t have perfection a hundred percent of the time. And I think that’s probably the biggest piece of advice I’d give people is you know, doing a good job is okay. You don’t need to do an awesome job every day because it can get very tiring. And so just do as best as you can do. And that’s good enough.


Sam Demma (15:59):
I love that. That’s great advice. And I think it applies in all areas of life. Like if you’re tr if you’re trying to be perfect, 24 7, you’re gonna burn out fast. And then instead of being great each day, you’re gonna be poor on a couple of them now, because you’re not actually able to physically perform and show up for your kids. Correct.


Christa Ray (16:18):
We, we talk a lot about, sorry to interrupt. Like, we talk a lot about mental health with students mm-hmm , but we really should also focus a mental health with teachers because I know a in particular this year, a lot of teachers are feeling very strapped. Our, our schooling system right now is in an Okta master system. So yeah. Credits are being accumulated at a very rapid pace in 23 days. And that’s, it, it’s a very different reality from what we’ve been experiencing in the past. And so I think teachers need to get sleep. They need to eat. Right. they need to do something fun on the weekend yeah. To re-energize their batteries.


Sam Demma (16:59):
So, yeah, I think it’s true. Almost like a teacher retreat or something


Christa Ray (17:03):
If yes, that’s right.


Sam Demma (17:04):
Yeah. That’s awesome. Cool. Well, Christa, thank you so much for taking some time and to come on the show, I really appreciate you sharing some stories and ideas. If another educator listening wants to reach out, have a conversation, what would be the best way for them to do so?


Christa Ray (17:18):
Well, they can email me. My email is raychris@alcdsb.on.ca. And if they want to email me, I can, I can do what I can to help.


Sam Demma (17:34):
Okay. Awesome. Thank you so much. Again, I look forward to staying in touch and watching all the cool things you do with the school board.


Christa Ray (17:40):
Oh, thank you so much for having me on. I appreciate it.


Sam Demma (17:43):
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 Christa Ray

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.

Tracey Klinkhammer – Management Co-op at The University of Toronto Scarborough Campus

Tracey Klinkhammer - Management Co-op at The University of Toronto Scarborough Campus
About Tracey Klinkhammer

Inspiring students to succeed is what Tracey Klinkhammer aspires to in her role at the University of Toronto Scarborough’s Management Co-op Department. With a focus on helping students turn their abilities into exciting possibilities, Tracey leverages her diverse experience in sales, human resources and education to really partner with the students in the program to support their goals.

Starting with an engineering degree and completing an MBA with a co-op she knows firsthand the impact of integrated learning. She recognizes through her own journey how there are many pathways to get to where you want to go. Tracey believes in making a difference one student at a time.

Connect with Tracey: Email | Website | Linkedin

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

The Dream Machine Tour

Alex Banayan: The Third Door (book)

Charlie Rocket

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 special guest is Tracey Klinkhammer. Inspiring students to succeed is what Tracey aspires to do in her role at the University of Toronto Scarborough’s management co-op department with a focus on helping students turn their abilities into exciting possibilities. Tracey leverages her diverse experience in sales, human resources and education to really partner with the students in the programs to support their goals. Starting with an engineering degree and completing an MBA with a co-op, she knows firsthand the impact of integrated learning. She recognizes through her own journey, how there are many pathways to get to where you want to go. And Tracey believes in making a difference one student at a time.


Sam Demma (01:25):
This is a very refreshing and awesome human to human conversation, and I hope you enjoy it and take something valuable away from it. I will see you on the other side. Tracey, 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 a little bit behind the reason why you got into education?


Tracey Klinkhammer (01:49):
Well, thank you first for having me, Sam, I’m super excited to be here. This is very fun for me. So it’s a long story. I’ll try to keep it short, but it starts with my own passion for learning. I think I was one of those kids in school couldn’t get enough. And I had really great teachers that fed that passion. And so I was always getting pulled into, you know, extra projects and so going into high school, I think I realized how much I benefited from people investing in me. And then I started getting into peer tutoring, which led me to realize I loved teaching. I loved helping. I loved seeing my friends progress past their math tests and I was really interested in being a math teacher. But at that time when I was applying to universities, my father sort of gave me the choice of taking a math degree at my local university, which is a great university or fleeing the nest.


Tracey Klinkhammer (02:40):
And I could go anywhere in Canada if I took engineering. And so that was a very it was an easy decision for me. And so he said it wouldn’t close any doors and it was, it’s a great degree. Engineering’s a great degree. Mm. But I didn’t wanna be an engineer, taught me a lot about problem solving and so on. And every year my dad would say, do you, how’s it going? No, I don’t wanna be an engineer. So the only door it did close though, was teachers college. Funny enough so I had to figure out, okay, so I can’t get into teachers college. What can I do? So I did what we did back then before phones and surfing, I turned to the smartest girl in my class and I said, what’s your plan? And she talked about doing her MBA and talked all about this thing called co-op, which I didn’t know about co-op at that time.


Tracey Klinkhammer (03:25):
And so, you know, walked over to the payphone. That’s dating myself and says people probably like payphone, who is those? And then I booked an interview and, and did my GMAT and got into the MBA program. Mm. So I, I didn’t quite get into formal education until five years ago when I did join U oft. Nice. But what I realized as I became an HR professional and I took some time off and did some training on the side, I realized I was always about people enablement. And so even, you know, if you, about what education is, it’s really about giving students the tools they need to be successful. And I took that mindset with my HR jobs. And then finally this opportunity because I ran recruitment programs across the country and I was in talent acquisition. And I, I realized the value of co-op. So then I brought people in and I started partnering with the ship Toronto Scarborough and realized it is an amazing program, amazing students, amazing people. And so for three years, I basically saw the value of co-op as we brought on students and then eventually transitioned to being part of their team. So that was a long story, but I’m currently at the university of Toronto and, and I work in the business program supporting students who are in co-op.


Sam Demma (04:45):
What, what prompted you to make the jump from HR job to UFT? Like, was there a defining moment in your story that you thought it’s time for me to move on from this? Or why did you decide to switch?


Tracey Klinkhammer (04:57):
I think I just got to a point in my career and I think this is a really important thing they always talk about with students. I think sometimes there’s a pressure to feel this, you know, what success looks like and to sort of follow a certain pathway and the pathway tends to be vertical. And so a lot of students, you know, when they look at definitions of success and they look at creating pathways for themselves and modeling, you know, other people, what they tend to see as vertical progression. And I think I just got to a point in my career where I, I really stopped and thought, you know, what’s really important to me. Why am I in this job? What do I wanna get out of working? And and the answer was really about making a difference. And so not that I, in my other job, I, I loved my job.


Tracey Klinkhammer (05:40):
I, I wanna say, you know, I loved working for the cup that I worked at. I just thought that I had a chance to really affect change one student at a time by, by getting into a university setting. So, and it really did feel full circle. It really did feel finely, you know, after all these years getting into a formal education setting, which I had talked about wanting to do when I was in high school. Mm-Hmm . And so it, what I didn’t also tell you is I did sales in between there too. So, you know, sales…


Sam Demma (06:09):
What did you sell?


Tracey Klinkhammer (06:10):
I, I sold, but don’t tell anybody I called my grandma. I like, oh my grandma. I said, grandma, I got my first job. And so, yes, I’m still in drugs. I worked for AstraZeneca, so, oh, wow. I did. And so I brought on because I couldn’t get an HR job because I didn’t have the experience. And so someone said, well, get a sales job, understand the products, understand the people. And then you’ll be able to support them in that HR function. But at the time that I got into and sales taught me a lot about, it’s funny, all my jobs gave me bits and pieces. That helped me be a good advisor, cuz that’s basically what my role is. It’s kind of advising. So sales taught me about listening and the importance of really understanding need and really, you know, under taking the time to gather requirements and really understand, you know, pain points and how you can really help someone through that. So I actually think sales experience hands down for anybody is a great fundamental experience. I think everybody should do sales at one point in their life.


Sam Demma (07:10):
Yeah, I agree. I agree. I have, I have a coach.


Tracey Klinkhammer (07:13):
Right?


Sam Demma (07:15):
so I have a coach and a mentor who spent half of his life selling surgical equipment and he is now a speaker and he’s been speaking for 25 years and he teaches me everything. He knows about sales and like that’s one of the most important things, but he helps shift my mindset from, you know, thinking about sales as selling to serving, like you’re mentioning about understanding people really on a deep level and what they actually need. And if you are, are the person to help them. And it’s, it’s so true. It’s, it’s so true. It’s funny that you mentioned that now it’s come full circle as you got into a classroom, because you mentioned that you were a student who always wanted more mm-hmm and it seems like your daughter is too, because you’re in her bedroom and behind you on the wall is a chalkboard . Yeah. Which is like that’s so cool. Like having a chalkboard in your bedroom. That’s amazing. What do you think led to you being that student that always wanted more? Did you have people in your life who stressed the importance of education? Was there teachers who played a fundamental role in your life?


Tracey Klinkhammer (08:12):
I think it was to be really honest. I think it was my parents. Yeah. particularly my mom, she didn’t have our access to higher ed. Okay. And I think, you know, growing up with her circumstance, I think she realized she, my parents are phenomenal have given me like their, you know, amazing role models. But I think for my parents, it was like when you go to university, not if it was always higher, ed was always part of our conversation. Now, funny enough, they never actually pressured me. It all came from me. I, I really drove myself. My parents were not those hovering parents. They never helped me with my, like, this is not a bad thing. This is a good thing. They didn’t help me with my homework. They didn’t check up on me. I was really motivated to, you know, manage my work, ask for more.


Tracey Klinkhammer (08:58):
They, they looked for opportunities and supported those opportunities when they came up and when, you know, teachers approached them and they were so supportive, but it really did come from me. And I, I think it was those teachers that took the time. Cuz now that I’m on the other side of it, I realized that the E easier thing for them to do, would’ve just been to do the basics mm-hmm . And I think about, you know, my grade six teacher going up, she knew I love language and she would create these special, extra you know, study guides for, you know, crazy words and how to use them. And I love that stuff. And I look back now and I think, oh my gosh, she did that all in our own time. And that’s, that was really early on. And even in grade one and two, I was taken out with seven other students and we stayed with the grade one class in grade two and we worked on special projects.


Tracey Klinkhammer (09:46):
And again, they were really that would’ve been like the easier thing to do. Would’ve just been to let us all kind of go with our cohort, but they kept us separate. And so early on I realized, you know, if you sort of demonstrate and, and show that passion, that you really can find people in your life that wanna feed that. And so definitely teachers have a, a big role to, to play in that. So, and in high school too, same, I could go there’s a lot, you know, that that’s that I realized. And I don’t, that’s what I don’t think people like, I always tell my kids cuz they’re in high school and one of them’s in grade eight and I always go back to those teachers that made a difference cuz I know the difference they’ve made cuz my, my kids are talking about them and I thought you have no idea how transformative your experience in the classroom was for my kid. And so I’ve really tried to instill in my children and for anybody that’s listening, you know, it’s a great thing to do. Gratitude is huge. It’s a really, it’s an easy gift to give it’s free and it’s a, a great way to give back. Now I feel like I have to go back and call my grade six teacher I feel like I have to go back and tell my grade one grade, two teachers. You know, thank you. Thank you.


Sam Demma (10:53):
Well, I appreciate you sharing that because you know the educators that are listening to us right now, it’s also a reminder to them to note that sometimes students don’t tell you these things. No that you’re, you know, you could be making a huge difference, but not hear about it for 30 years. And no it’s important to, to understand that that doesn’t mean you’re not making an impact. The impact is still there. It just might take a while for you to see the F roots of it. Or you may never see it, but know it exists. And I just think that’s important to stress as well, because you know, you know, maybe the student didn’t have someone like yourself telling them, you know, be grateful and tell your teachers, you appreciate them, but the students really do. And I I’m sure you even see that in your role at U F T you know, like I’m, I’m sure when you give advice to students you, you help help them find the answers to questions that they have not by telling them what to do, but by helping them explore themselves, I’m sure they’re super grateful.


Sam Demma (11:47):
Do you have any stories of, of students at UTSC that, that you know, you keep, you keep in the forefront of your mind maybe when you’re feeling a little down or you know, a little beaten up?


Tracey Klinkhammer (11:57):
Well, this has been a rough year. I will tell you this year has made, you know, has been made better. I work. This is one of the best programs in the country. Yeah. I am so proud to work at U oft and I love the students that I work with and they’re their teachers. I’m always learning from them. And for me, I don’t do it for the gratitude truthfully, like that’s, that’s a bonus. And what, what really moves me is when I actually see them achieve their goal mm-hmm and help them figure out what that is like, what you were talking about. It’s really unlocking their pathways. I think every young person when they’re sort of embarking, and this is the time of year now where students are ex accepting their college and university applications and thinking about what’s next for them. And I always think it’s really important to understand how fluid those, those goals can be.


Tracey Klinkhammer (12:45):
And, you know, helping a student understand through reflection and through their own growth and learning, you know, to really tie into what’s important to them and understand, and it can change along the way. So the best part of my job is being with the students. That’s what I love about working with the business program, cuz I’m with them from the beginning to when they graduate. And that change is so amazing. Cuz some students come, they have a plan, they execute on the plan. That’s great. They graduate. And that all went to plan. There are some people who had a plan and the plan is not what they I’m sure I can see you. Right? Yeah. I think more students feel like you do Sam, but that’s not how I thought my plan was gonna go. Yeah. And so that’s a really cool thing to be a part of too, because then I, you know, then I’m more, that’s back to the consulting thing and the advising, which is about listening and themselves reflect and figure it out.


Tracey Klinkhammer (13:36):
And cuz I think they ultimately know where they wanna go. It’s having the confidence and the, the belief in themselves to do it, especially when they’ve experienced some failure because news, flash, you know, everybody at some point we have a lot of great students and I always tell them it’s for, for a lot of students, they real, haven’t experienced a lot of failure in their life and that first experience can be really painful. And and there’s a number of ways students react to it. I think they, this is gonna sound weird, but I think it’s such a great thing. I think it’s such a great teacher. And resiliency is one of the most important things. I think a young person can learn and help successful through their, their time.


Sam Demma (14:18):
So a student comes to the office, crying that they failed something like how do you, how do you deal with that? Like what kind of, I guess what kind of, what kind of questions would you ask to help them find their own answers?


Tracey Klinkhammer (14:30):
Well, I, I think first it’s starting with kind of empathy and compassion, right? Yeah. Like acknowledging the feelings. And I think that’s the thing, I’m a super positive person, but I think the students have come to realize that I’m good with all the emotions. You know, your, your university college life is gonna take you through a wide range of experiences. Some of them are gonna be really positive. Sadly, I’ve been with students that have experienced tremendous loss. And that, that, that comes in all sorts of different experiences and that’s hard. Cuz you’re seeing student experience that. And I think for me it’s more about understanding where they are in that moment and what they need in that moment. And then, you know, I work at a school world, it’s got lots of great resources to help support students depending on, you know, what’s happening. But I think the big one is just kind of being with them and saying, I’m sorry, and I hear you and not trying to problem solve.


Sam Demma (15:24):
Sometimes people just go straight to the questions.


Tracey Klinkhammer (15:26):
Yeah. I don’t sort of whip out my checklist and you know because everybody’s different. And also when I have a relationship with the student, when I’ve known them for a few years, you can really tell if someone’s, you know, kind of the majority of your interactions have been a certain way. And then you see this change, you realize this is an important moment and I try to make space and time. And I think the biggest thing and the most challenging thing is being really present because obviously I have a family we’re in the middle of a pandemic. I think I, I think to really be effective in education, I think you have to really focus on how are you really present with that student in that moment? So they know that you ha you’re, they’re heard and that they’re supported. Does that make sense?


Sam Demma (16:08):
Yeah, of course. It’s, you know, it’s letting them speak what they have to speak and, and understanding what their situation is and almost being like a best friend, like, right. Like that’s what it kind of sounds like at the end of the day.


Tracey Klinkhammer (16:22):
No, I like to draw some boundaries, you know, of course yeah. Like I’m a nine to five here to there. Yeah. And you know, they’ve got lots of friends. I think what I am though is I think I am someone, you know, given my experience, given my role, I am someone where they know that they they’re not alone, that they can that. So there is a place to sort of help cuz you know, whether it’s related to job seeking or academic performance or maybe there’s something personally in their life, knowing who to reach out to things are gonna happen in your life. And I think what I want the ’em to know is I can’t solve your problems, but I can definitely be here to support you and connect you with the people that can like I’m not a counselor. Yeah. I’m not a, you know, like I, we, we have these great people that help support and I’m as much as I’m obviously friendly with them, we have lots of laughs and we’re fun, but there is there is that I think it’s about trust. I think what you’re getting to, when you talk about is, you know, they get to a point, I think they, they really know that I care and when someone cares, you’re more apt to share and build trust with that. So that’s what I try to do. I try to show I lead with caring. That’s kind of hopefully that’s how they perceive it, but yeah.


Sam Demma (17:32):
Cool. Yeah. I love that makes a lot of sense. Yeah. I was getting at the idea that like, they feel like you’re a friend, not that they’re talking to you like 24 or seven or anything, but you know, like they’re


Tracey Klinkhammer (17:42):
Not hitting me up on you know, not, not texting each other, like, you know yeah. Boundaries, Sam boundaries…


Sam Demma (17:49):
Right. yeah, it makes, it makes total sense. And you know, what types of challenges are you faced with this year? I know it’s different, it’s very different. So like what does it look like? How have things changed?


Tracey Klinkhammer (18:01):
Well, let me ask you that. How are you, what kind of challenges are you?


Sam Demma (18:04):
Well I mean, I almost quit speaking back in may. And that’s when I met this guy who became my coach named Chris. Like I, it’s funny, it followed the whole classical heroes journey. I went on an adventure and COVID hit and then I found a mentor and his name was Chris. And then I had trials and tribulations and I almost quit and here we are now, but at, it was, it was terrible. I didn’t know what I was doing. I didn’t know if I could keep doing this. Then he started shifting my belief system to understand that this could also be the greatest opportunity because people need this sort of inspiration and motivation and just positivity now more than ever.


Tracey Klinkhammer (18:46):
Chris. I like it. I like Chris. He has a good attitude about he’s cool. So it’s the same thing. I think we’ve all had to pivot. I, you know, what I hear from you Sam is that you were thrown a huge curve ball, which basically the pandemic has for everyone, like for our students, for our staff, you know, I work with a really great team and we’re used to working with each other and seeing each other on campus. I miss them. I feel, you know, it’s isolating working in my basement is not my favourite. Sam, it’s cold down there. I had to buy warm socks and like I got a heated blanket for my birthday or for. But you know, and I miss that I think what I miss the most and what I find the most challenging is how organic everything was, all those connections with students and, you know, being on campus think students sort of, you know, available to pop in and, you know, I work in the business building, so you’d see them when you’re walking around the building, there was so much information that was exchanged that I was a lot better able to sort of keep up with what was going on here, information.


Tracey Klinkhammer (19:47):
And I think the, the, the biggest challenge has been how intentionally need to be when you’re online. And I miss the casualness of just being in a workplace where, you know, you enjoy the company of your colleagues, you enjoy the, the students that you work with. And so I think that’s been the biggest challenge. And I think all the students are feeling a little bit of isolation, right? Like it’s, so some students are living their best life. They like this online thing. I would say the majority are anxious to come back to, to to school and for our co-op students for a lot of them, you know, they’ve done work terms where they were in the workplace and now they’re transitioning to having to learn how to navigate the world of work online. And so that comes with its own set of challenges and, you know, supporting our students through that.


Tracey Klinkhammer (20:31):
So what I love about my team though, is I work with someone who inspires me. He’s you know, one of my, one of my, my manager, Phil, I’ll give him a shout out. He’s always thinking about new ways of doing things. And and I think that’s where you have to go to just like how you talked about, you know, where, what can you do? How can you respond to this in a different way? I think we’ve asked ourselves that as a department and we, you know, we ask that of the students too, when they’re looking at managing through that. So yeah, it’s been a tough year for everybody.


Sam Demma (21:02):
Yeah. That’s great. And I, I agree. It’s a, it’s a weird different year. And I think, you know, I find too, if we focus on the negative too long, we’re always gonna find the negative. And if we try and focus on the positive, no matter how small we can, can grab a hold of it and figure out some other things that can happen because of it. There’s a quote. I love that, you know, without dirt, you can’t plant a seed or, you know, this guy, Charlie rocket always says Santa delivered presence, not in the light, but in dark . And I was like, ah, you know, this little analogy just to remind us that when there isn’t a, a tough situation or something to overcome that there’s also some form of an opportunity hidden in there somewhere. The problem is often sometimes a part of the solution in some way, shape or form.


Tracey Klinkhammer (21:41):
Yeah. And I think that’s what I always tell students too, like lessons that you learn sometimes aren’t wrapped, you know, on your analogy of the gay ifs. They’re not always wrapped in pretty paper. Yeah. sometimes those lessons and you don’t realize that they are actually a gift. So you get these lessons at the time when you’re in it, it might feel really overwhelming and it’s hard to reflect in the moment, but I’ve seen a lot of students that when they look back on those experiences, they realize how important, how impactful they were to where they ended up getting to. But in that moment, it can, it doesn’t feel, it doesn’t always feel like a gift when you’re learning that lesson. That’s not wrapped in the prettiest of papers. You know what I mean? Yeah.


Sam Demma (22:18):
I’m with you. And you mentioned Phil, Phil’s been an inspiration back to Phil for one second. Like what is it that Phil’s done that’s inspired you or you know, motivated you. And I asked the question just because I feel like in our, all of our lives, there are teachers and motivators. Like I can mention people that inspire me. I already mentioned Chris, my coach mm-hmm what is it about Phil that kind of inspires you? I think


Tracey Klinkhammer (22:40):
Phil is just, he’s fantastic. I mean, he’s worked at the university for maybe, I don’t know if he’s gonna get mad, but 15 years, maybe I’m adding up. And I’ve, I’ve worked at UT for five years. What I, what I really appreciate about Phil is he inspires me because he’s always looking to be better for himself and for our students, like he puts our students first. He’s always, I don’t know how he manages to read so much. He listens to a million podcasts. I think he reminds me of the people that I had in my life early on that were always feeding my need to learn and to grow. And so he’s always, you know, flipping me and our team, you know, articles he’s come across and he’s really helped me see the value of that investment in yourself. Cuz sometimes you get really busy as an educator and you realize, so, oh, I have to keep learning.


Tracey Klinkhammer (23:31):
Like I, here I am teaching. And I’m, you know, a lot of my work you know, we, we help our first year students, we teach a course in terms of getting them ready for jobs, but we do a lot of one-on-one counseling. And I think sometimes you get into the, you know, the, the, you know, the kind of the day in day out of your job and you forget that you’ve gotta take that time to invest in yourself. And he’s always reminding me that that’s important. And working with someone in an educational setting that puts students first that, you know, values innovation and new ideas. It’s great. Like, I, I, I, I hope that everybody gets to work with someone like that. So yeah.


Sam Demma (24:08):
And if you could, you know, go back in time not that it’s too far, we’re not gonna date you but if you could…


Tracey Klinkhammer (24:16):
I did talk about my payphone, Sam.


Sam Demma (24:17):
I did talk. That’s why I’m, I’m like, I’m trying to save you here, but it’s too late. if we did go back in time, you know, to Fred Flintstones. Yeah. Yeah. If, if we went back in time to the first year that you, you did this sort of work in education, like knowing what you know now, what advice would you give younger Tracey?


Tracey Klinkhammer (24:36):
Oh my gosh. I would give my younger Tracey, like this year has been tough because I think in this role of caring, you know, you real again, and being present, I didn’t realize the impact of COVID on like of the pandemic on me personally and, and just, you know, working on my own and not having the team to re-energize me. I, I would’ve told myself earlier, make sure you, you take care of yourself a little more, more intentionally. I think it was that, that was it. Aside from that, I, I think, you know, and I probably would’ve put more time earlier and, and I still do it, but just, I forgot how much I love reading and, you know, kind of keeping recharged and connected. So I think those two things is just more about self care and and filling the, filling my bucket so I can fill others. So, yeah.


Sam Demma (25:32):
Oh, cool. I agree. Those are great. Those are great pieces.


Tracey Klinkhammer (25:35):
Would you go back and say, if you could tell yourself before you got on your journey, I’m always curious, what would you do?


Sam Demma (25:39):
Well, unfortunately, there wasn’t any payphone , but I would tell myself two and invest in Tesla for sure. totally joking. If I could go back in time to when I was 17 and going through some tough experiences, I would remind myself that my self worth as a human being, isn’t attached to things that I do that I’m innately, you know, worth just as much as every other human being, just by the fact that I’m here and I’m born mm-hmm I would tell myself that I’m a competitor and I operate best when I challenge myself and it doesn’t have to be in a linear fashion, meaning always soccer as it used to be when I was younger, it could be in any way, shape or form, whether it’s a challenge to run a marathon or to push myself mentally in a specific way or to take a new yoga practice on or something. I would tell myself to, to ask myself how I can use my gifts and talents to serve others and to help others. Cause I feel at my best as well when I’m serving or in some form of service mm-hmm I’ll tell myself to not hate reading throughout high school.


Tracey Klinkhammer (26:45):
Maybe it’s important. I tell my kids to read every day. Reading is so important. They listen to like, you know, they, they underestimate the power of reading, like the, it is important. Okay. What else? Sorry. I’m I’m on your train. I got really onto that one.


Sam Demma (26:57):
Well, I’m sorry. I’m like spitting out 15 different things here. I know you’re making me feel like I gotta go by.


Tracey Klinkhammer (27:01):
I can revisit. What would I tell myself five years ago?


Sam Demma (27:05):
well, you got me on, you got me on the spot too. And I’m like, I dunno.


Tracey Klinkhammer (27:10):
Know what, but what I like though, what I heard about you is it’s all that self-reflection piece. Right? And I think that, and that’s the part where I really, you know, want our students to get to is just about figuring out where your gifts are, where your’re are and really looking inward. I think a lot of students want, and I think, you know, you may have felt that same pressure to look about, you know, look to your left, look to your right and see what other people are doing. It takes a lot of courage to sort of look inward and dis you know, kind of discover for yourself. You know, you talked about you as a competitor and creating a space for yourself where you can leverage that at strength, the yours, and a lot of students spend a lot of time on what they’re not good at, instead of just saying, Hey, what am I good at? And let’s, you know, let’s grow with that. Let’s, you know, nobody’s gonna be great at everything, but figuring out how to really leverage your own strengths and keep moving. So, yeah.


Sam Demma (27:59):
And there’s times where I’ll put myself in a situation where I know I’m not good at something to try and, you know, build this skill mm-hmm , but in certain, you know, certain moments when I’m down or when things aren’t going well, I wanna put myself in a position where I feel at my best, so I can get back to my best mm-hmm . And for me, that’s running or pushing myself physically, but that’s just for me. And I think for everyone, it’s totally different. Like you said, mm-hmm you mentioned reading and I know you love reading. So would you mind sharing a couple of sources or things you’ve read that you think are valuable?


Tracey Klinkhammer (28:28):
Well, thanks for asking Sam. I think I tell I really should get a commission for this cuz the number of people I have reading this book and I know you’ve read the book, you know what I’m gonna say? I do know the third door, not the, and I do not work for Alex, but everybody should read the, I think it, it, it goes for students, it goes for educators. It goes for really anybody in life. It’s a story of resiliency and and it, and it’s applicable in a business context in your own personal life. Would you say, would you say that’s a solid book recommendation?

Sam Demma (29:02):
A hundred percent. In fact, I just, I just have another third door experience. Maybe I can share real quick.


Tracey Klinkhammer (29:08):
I love thethird door. I always, cuz that was basically my life for people that are listening. The third door analogy is essentially a story about what happens when you encounter obstacles. And it’s this young guy who’s in med school who wants to figure out what makes famous people successful. And he, you know, kind of sells a won’t well, you gotta read the book to know, but basically the analogy comes up with is if you can’t, you know, successful people, if they can’t get in the main door of a club or the VIP entrance, they find a third way in. And so I think, you know, when I think about my own life, okay. Wanted to be a teacher, you know, one of the obstacles was obviously my parents were foot in the bill. Okay. I’ll go to engineering, couldn’t get into teachers college. Okay. Do an MBA, got into people enablement, which was ultimately what teaching was and then found a way back to education. So I think eventually I feel like I am where I belong. It’s taken me to get here. I absolutely love my job. I love the people I work with. I love the students. So the third door is a, is a good teacher. And I love that. Now tell me about your third door experience. Tell me about it.


Sam Demma (30:12):
So I’ve been reaching out to people in very unique ways over the past couple of years because of that book and because of things that I’ve been exposed to by mentors as, and colleagues more recently though, there’s this gentleman named Charlie rocket, who’s in the us right now, driving around on, on an RV called the dream machine and he’s making people’s dreams come true. And he’s building like amazing communities all throughout the states and he’s just, he speaks in schools and he does this, these, these dream machine drops like Hasbro gave them five, $500,000 and they give a whole city filled with children, free toys on Christmas that couldn’t afford it. Like there’s, it’s so cool. The work they’re doing and his story’s crazy. Like he managed, he managed a huge rapper named two chains and after seven years became 300 pounds and had a brain tumor and he was gonna die.


Sam Demma (30:58):
And he left his work in the music industry to become an iron man. And in a year he lost 160 pounds and completed this race, which is crazy to think about in the same year that he almost died and had a brain tumor reversed the brain tumor and now is doing all this work. And so I, I think it to myself, wow. What I, what I think I have to offer could really compliment what they’re doing in the states. And so I’ve reached out like 12 times and just not getting it anywhere. I haven’t got in touch with him. He hasn’t got back to me and I finally said, I’m gonna do this. Like, I’m gonna figure this out no matter what it takes. There’s another door here that I’m gonna enter. And I ended up networking with all the people in his, in his Instagram following. And I, I came across a guy named Timmy who happens to be his cameraman and we built like an amazing relationship. And I spent the last three weeks listening to all 62 episode episodes of, of Charlie rocket’s podcast. And I…


Tracey Klinkhammer (31:46):
I love it.


Sam Demma (31:49):
Wait, wait. It gets worse. It gets better. I made a note, a page of notes on every episode. So I have a 62 page booklet with a cover letter that says my onboarding is done. When do we get started question mark PS, don’t skip the last page. And if you flip to the six, the third page, it says www dot message. Dreamer.Com, which is their company and a redirects to a landing page with a video where I pitched this idea of coming on board. And then I spent $180 to get a custom made box with his logo all over it. And his cameraman gave me the mailing address and I just dropped it in the FedEx international express one day shipping today. So stay tuned, decide this here’s an example of the third door.


Tracey Klinkhammer (32:29):
I love it. So, but here, like countless, like 12 times you’ve been rejected, you know, your lack of kind of response. Yeah. It doesn’t, you know what you’re thinking is how can I find a different way in, right? How can I connect with this guy? You are making me, as you describe what he is doing. I feel like I really have to UPP my game.


Sam Demma (32:45):
Geez. Yeah, this guy’s crazy. My gosh, it’s super inspiring.


Tracey Klinkhammer (32:49):
Like how do people do that? I don’t know, like anyways, good for him. And that’s great. I hope you get him on I’m rooting for you. I’m rooting for you.


Sam Demma (32:57):
I’ll let you know.


Tracey Klinkhammer (32:57):
I love it. My onboarding’s been done. When do we get started? Love it.


Sam Demma (33:01):
Little confident, a little confident, right? I like it. I like it. Yeah. Anyways, Tracey, this has been a great conversation. We went down so many different alleys. I don’t wanna say rabbit holes. Cause I feel like that’s a negative thing. I think our were, we, we went down so many, you know, pathways on onboardings on, on, on bridges that were leading us to beautiful highways. So thank you so much for taking the time to, to chat today. If an educator listening wants to reach out to you, what would be the best way for them to get in touch?


Tracey Klinkhammer (33:28):
Think LinkedIn, I don’t know how many Tracey Klinkhammers are on there, but I’m always happy to connect on Linkedin. I don’t have a big social media presence. I think we talked about this. I’m really in this job to really affect change, one student, at a time. And I think that’s kind of always been my way and I, I think I take in that sales experience and my HR experience, cuz I was in consulting roles and I was in education, like training and development. And so that was all about creating, you know, training experiences for people in a workplace that supported their learning. And I think I take all of that with me in my, you know, my experiences with students. And I really want them to know that, you know, our, our team, not just me obviously, but our team’s there and it, and it starts with just one student at a time.


Tracey Klinkhammer (34:13):
And I always, I say to my husband, I have the best job I could be literally sitting across from a student that it’s going be a trailblazer and I’m gonna be able to say, I knew that person mm-hmm when they were a student and maybe just maybe, and maybe they tell me and maybe I’ll never know. Maybe they feel like I had some small part in helping light that fire or help them find that piece of themselves or self reflect or, you know, get them on, you know, support them with the tools they need to get on the path that they want. So that’s why I do it. I do my job because I love my job and I, you know, I want our students to succeed in the way that works for them. So I don’t have a cookie cutter approach. There’s no one pathway that’s right. For any one, you know, that works across all students. It really comes down to each individual. So that’s it. So if anybody wants to learn more about that, they can. But it’s pretty simple. I’m not Charles, you know, Charlie guy, rocket. Yeah. I know Charlie rocket, my goodness. I’m gonna go home and go think about how I can up my game.


Sam Demma (35:14):
He’s not a teacher, so don’t worry, you know, he’s a, but he’s a, like he, he’s just an awesome guy. Like I I’ve wanted to, like, I want to go to the states and do a tour with him and like speak in the schools with him. Like that’s what I’m hoping comes out of it. But yeah, just it’s inspiring.


Tracey Klinkhammer (35:31):
You’re listening. I’m I’m like back in Sam big time. So I’m really excited to keep me posted.


Sam Demma (35:36):
I will. I will. Thank you so much this conversation. I appreciate it. Thanks Sam, take care. 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 in 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.

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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.