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Director of Education

Dr. Adam Browning – Director of Learning Palliser School Division

Dr. Adam Browning – Director of Learning Palliser School Division
About Dr. Adam Browning

Dr. Adam Browning (@AdamLBrowning) has been an educator for 17 years. As a system-level leader, he is primarily responsible for curriculum and diversity supports for a school division of over 40 schools and approximately 9000 students.  

He is a researcher in applied linguistics and an instructor at the University of Lethbridge. Much of his research focused on early literacy and language skills and how students transition to more academic uses of literacy.  He is especially interested in motivation and how we can better engage students with literacy.  

Connect with Adam: Email | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Palliser Regional Schools

University of Victoria – BA in History

University of Calgary – Doctorate of Education in Applied Linguistics

Malcolm X Autobiography

The Power of Making Thinking Visible by Ron Ritchhart

The Transcript

**Please note that all of our transcriptions come from rev.com and are 80% accurate. We’re grateful for the robots that make this possible and realize that it’s not a perfect process.

Sam Demma (00:00):
Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today, I have the distinct honor of interviewing Adam Browning; Dr. Adam Browning. He’s been an educator for 17 years and as a systems leader, his primary responsibility is for curriculum and diversity supports for a school division for over 40 schools and approximately 9,000 students. He is a researcher in implied linguistics, and an instructor at the University of Lethbridge. Much of his research focused on early literacy and language skills, and how students transition to more academic uses of literacy.


Sam Demma (01:13):
He’s especially interested in motivation and how we can better engage students through and using literacy. I hope you enjoy this interview. It was very interesting and intriguing, and I will see you on the other side of the episode. Adam, thank you so much for coming on the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on this show. We had a great chat last week, and I’m glad that we, we made some time to make this happen. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit behind how you got into the role and education you’re in today.


Dr. Adam Browning (01:42):
Awesome. Thanks for having me and connecting me. I’m glad to be, this is my first podcast. That’s new for me, so just excited for the opportunity. So I guess the question is kind of what brought me into education. It’s a long story and I know that it’s probably longer than what I could cover in your podcast, but I’ll admit this you know, at the expense of some of my colleagues hearing it. I don’t think I was a great student. I wasn’t an engaged student, you know, I struggled throughout K-12, and I remember in grade one, you know, my mom will tell me now that maybe they thought I had a learning disability that I just I wasn’t really clueing in areas of literacy and other pieces of language that they thought I should be at that time. And looking back, you know, out of all the time that I was in school and that I struggled, I can think about a few times where I was successful. And I think a lot of that success came from connection with a great teacher and, and that’s what brought me here is being a struggling student, and then to somebody who’s become a teacher, principal, and a director of education and a, I guess, a, an instructor at the university, I just see such an opportunity for what an awesome role model adult and a teacher can do to make a profound difference in the lives of kids. Yeah, that’s kind of what brought me here.


Sam Demma (03:07):
Well, tell me more about your own experience as a student. You know, you mentioned struggling a little as well. Did you have any educators in your, in your journey as a student that showed you the importance of having a caring adult in your life?


Dr. Adam Browning (03:25):
Totally. And I think back to, you know, who those educators were and just how impactful they were. I had a principal in elementary school named Dr. Farran and I guess I became a doctor around vocabulary and I remember Dr. Fe always being in the library and he’d looking at a dictionary and pulling up words and just kinda showing me the power of language. I remember in grade six and this is a student, you know, who I wasn’t really engaged was always struggling being compared to my older siblings, that there was time for us to memorize or to about a poem and be able to, to say that poem and speak the poem. And I memorized the poem. This offered Lord tenons, the charge of light brigade, probably can’t fully recite now, but no, still lot that, but just felt empowered by him, not through wrote memorization, but just the power of learning about words, learning about literacy, about poetry and being proud that I could do something and he really celebrated it.


Dr. Adam Browning (04:23):
And I was that student who probably didn’t have as much confidence. I didn’t have as much confidence and just having that opportunity to, to do something and do it well. And, and have it be known in the school, made a huge difference for me. And I think about, you know, in junior high, as it got tougher, as it does is for many students just running into that one teacher, Mr. Whitmore, social studies, grade 11, who just made content accessible for me, showed me that I could have a passion about it. I would probably say that history. And then land-based learning outdoor education are some of my most favorite subjects to teach and he just made it cool. I could talk about contemporary topics. I could really look at it critically. I could access it. It wasn’t learning from a worksheet. It wasn’t learning from a textbook.


Dr. Adam Browning (05:11):
And I found success as this student in those classes. And I just thought that that’s something that if I was to become a teacher, I could bring and I hope that’s what I brought to education. I, I, you know, I think that kindergarten to 12, that system probably university too, it’s like a race. Mm. And any given year, I’ve heard this before a student can fall behind and then they have like cumulative disadvantage cuz you fall behind and you going to learn the next thing and it just gets harder and harder. And so I think that a obviously there’s changes that people can make at the system to be more inclusive of students. But at any given year student can meet that one teacher who will have such an impact on them that their, their growth, you know, either as people or as students is gonna grow more than a year and you can have that type of impact on a student so that they don’t become disadvantaged.


Dr. Adam Browning (06:03):
I know that researchers and other people are gonna talk about just how important education is. And there’s always exceptions to that role where some people don’t have education. They do great things. I think largely education is super important and not just on a, about how we form as people and being able to be part of that, I think is fundamental to who I am. You know, I’ve always been into social justice and wanting to create meaningful change as a student university. And I thought about ways to do that. And I’ve had these pivotal moments in my life where I’ve thought about my career choices. Was I gonna go on to be a lawyer or was I gonna, you know, stay in school and be a teacher? And I chose the education path. I don’t regret it. It’s been awesome.


Sam Demma (06:46):
You know, people sometimes say, I can’t hear you because your actions are speaking so loud. Right. I can’t hear what you’re saying because your actions are speaking so loud and you’re somebody who has been in school practically your entire life. Is that correct?


Dr. Adam Browning (07:00):
yeah, I think so. Yeah. Yeah. It’s probably probably like a few months at a time where I’ve had some reprieve for it. But up until about January of this year, I’ve been a student my entire life.


Sam Demma (07:12):
that’s awesome. So you, you know, you’ve lived that philosophy of the importance of education in your own actions, which I think is so important, but bridge the gap for me, you know, how did you go from not the best student struggling in school to getting into teaching, you know, understanding that having a, an adult figure in your life who believes in you is really important, could have taken you in many different paths. You could have become a coach. You could have worked with young people in, into different capacities. Why teaching? Like when did you know that you were gonna get into teaching and what did that journey look like?


Dr. Adam Browning (07:46):
It’s a funny one. I was in a Tim Hortons, probably in like the early two thousands and I was studying for an exam and I just found myself working there late night. And I had a conversation with this guy who was a teacher who I had never met. I didn’t know. And I’ve never seen since I wish I could thank them. Wow. And I had written my LSATs at the time, my law school entrance exam. And I’d done well well enough to go to law school. And I thought about it at that time of what I was gonna do. And I was either gonna go to this teachering education program where I’d been offered acceptance into or into law school. And we just ended up having this generic conversation where he talked about his life as an educator and what learned and what he was able to do.


Dr. Adam Browning (08:30):
And, and I mean, the biggest piece was, he said, you’re gonna give up some income, there’ll be some challenges, but the impact that you’re gonna make on lives of kids and what you’re gonna be able to do like in society is gonna be something that is so awesome for you. So I really took that away and I thought about it and I had turned around and I had these three choices of either going to do a master’s degree going into teaching or going into law school. So at that point, I said, well, I’m gonna take a little bit of the best of both. I’m gonna do a master’s degree, but I’m also gonna go into teaching. And I started teaching in the middle school and the tougher school in the city where I, you know, I started teaching it was a community school and a really diverse school.


Dr. Adam Browning (09:16):
And it had that reputation with some of the kids of being the place where maybe they had had some trouble kids to learn. And I just found it to be an awesome experience. Like day one, just the connections that I was able to start making with students. I started my practicum there and then I was able to work there shortly. But the connections I was able to make with students about things that matter to them and be friendly with them. And, you know, I still have students who reach out to me today near 20 years later. And it’s reminding me that I’m getting older, but it’s just awesome to see what they’re doing in their journey, because they were able to find something that they were passionate about. And I feel like as a teacher I was able to do that, find something that a kid is passionate, find something that a kid does well and work from there, and anyone can grow. I have that firm belief that anyone can do better. And anyone can be successful. It’s not just a catchphrase. It I’ve seen it. And so I’ve lived my my work life around that.


Sam Demma (10:10):
I love it. And when you first started, you were teaching, I assumed then you moved into a pre position and now you’re, you know, you’re working at a, a little bit of a higher level and you might be responsible for different tasks. What do the differences look like? And what did you enjoy working, you know, in the classrooms versus what you’re doing now and vice versa, what do you enjoy what you do now versus working in the classrooms?


Dr. Adam Browning (10:33):
I missed the classroom and this was the first year where I’ve really been and able to kind of get back into the classroom as a teacher. But classroom was awesome. You know, that direct connection with kids and you’re involved in their learning. It’s exciting. You learning can be fun. I remember, you know, teaching grade eight science and we were building bios and it was messy and it was loud and there was lots of tables. And my principal would walk in the room and kids were bios, or they were doing these Ru Goldberg experiments to learn about motion and science. And I felt like a topic that I learned from a textbook at times was a topic that I could teach through experience and kids would enjoy it. And so I really missed that part of education. But I moved up into administration fairly quickly was, and two years after teaching, I was an administrator and did that for about 10 years.


Dr. Adam Browning (11:22):
What I liked about that is that I could really take what I was doing in a classroom and build support for that at a school level. I could see as an administrator, tangible areas where I could build relationships with all kids throughout the school. And I remember being that student who was in the hallway, who would be sitting as flush against the wall as you could, so that the principal didn’t see you, cuz you’d be in trouble. You know, I always enjoyed dealing with those students because I could find out what was going on with them at home. You know, I had probably not the easiest family life or the easiest life growing up. And so I know that behavior’s really communicative of what a student has going on. So finding that way to be that support, to be that listening ear. That was really cool.


Dr. Adam Browning (12:07):
And I could see that as tangible differences that I could make for a student every day, you know, and I wasn’t always coming to teach a class. Sometimes it was like, this is how you tie a tie. I remember some great six kids who were celebrating, I guess, a mini graduation and they were fascinated with it. And just being that first person to teach them that I felt I felt honored. And so that was really cool. Those were the positives, I think in this role that I have now, I have a greater opportunity to make system change things that I’m passionate about with literacy or with language. I have an opportunity to advocate for that and do that at the system level. Like I didn’t during a school, the challenges, I don’t always see the tangible impact it takes. Sometimes when you’re looking at dealing with 40 something schools and, you know, over a thousand staff and 9,000 students seeing that tangible difference in that individual student’s life take time at a system level and something I’m adjusting to,


Sam Demma (13:10):
You mentioned me able to make system ch system change at this level at that sometimes you can’t see the change that’s happening or the impact that’s having on the direct student, or maybe even the direct staff member. But I had one educator to tell me, and you meant, you actually alluded to it earlier that sometimes your job as an educator is to plant this seed and water it. And sometimes that doesn’t grow or you don’t see it grow for 15, 20 years. Like you mentioned, now, you’re having students email you and tell you, you know, how great it was to learn X, Y, or Z, or that they’re working in a specific field or industry. And that probably lights you up. So I would, I would encourage you to just keep doing it with a, with a open heart, knowing that it’s still making a change, whether you’re here, it or not. Tell me more about the, the initial years in administration, if there’s someone else listening who would love to also make that jump, like what do you think helped you, you know, make the jump as well,


Dr. Adam Browning (14:12):
Make the jump to teaching to administrator.


Sam Demma (14:16):
Yeah,


Dr. Adam Browning (14:19):
I think when you work on as a staff, as a teacher and you see what a great principal can do, it really makes you enthusiastic about the potential now unquestionably. And I’ll say, I think that being a principal is probably the toughest job in education. Certainly I think it’s tougher than my, a job and you deal with a lot and you support a big staff of teachers, but the benefits of it and the positives of it are unparalleled. You know, I look at the time that I was a teacher and I, I started as a principal at the age of 26. So I was somewhat younger and I had some teachers on my staff, some of whom were in their fifties, they were closer to retirement. And I just had such a supportive group of teachers to help me learn along as a principal. You know, there’s no class that prepares a principal.


Dr. Adam Browning (15:05):
People will say that masters programs prepare principal or leadership quality programs. I think they help, but a lot of it is just lessons that you learn as you go and that you learn working with others from teachers. And I feel like a good piece of being a principal and a good piece of advice I would give to principals is to listen to your teachers. Mm. You always looked at books and their slogans like feed the teachers or to lead the kids or, or ways to distribute your leadership so that you’re empowering teachers to lead a school with you. Not just being led by you, but leading with you. And I feel like, you know, doing those things and seeing those things, every, just like every student had a positive teacher, teachers who have had a positive principle and they see what a difference it can make for a school community for them and for, or students, you know, maybe enthusiastic about taking that step.


Dr. Adam Browning (15:56):
It is a big jump. It’s not one that you get paid substantially for. And you have a tougher job, but you can make a difference for people. Yeah. And I feel like, you know, one of those, those things that I’ve taken away and I, I, I don’t usually push or market catch for raises or slow group slogans or programs, but this has been something big for me is like servant leadership. The idea that you can lead by helping others just finding ways to give a teacher that release time so they can go get a coffee. And then you’re spending that time reading with their kids, things like that are really cool. As a principal, you get a lot of flexibility in your, your schedule that you didn’t have when you were a teacher, but it’s an opportunity for you not to sit in your office. I’ve always heard, you know, people say, you know, you have an open door policy. I don’t have an open door policy. I mean, my policy is I gonna be out there or I won’t let my door hit me in the ass on the way out. You know, I think that we’re gonna out in classrooms and talking to parents and talking to students and just being really visible. Favorite part of being a principal, playing Dodge ball with the kids.


Sam Demma (17:00):
Mm love that. That’s awesome. And being that you’re a, someone who loves literacy, I’m sure you also read books. And I would love to know if, if any of the reads you’ve come across over the years as an educator have been really foundational or impactful for you, maybe in some of your own philosophies or principles as a leader.


Dr. Adam Browning (17:22):
That’s a great question.


Sam Demma (17:24):
I’m putting you on the spot here.


Dr. Adam Browning (17:26):
No, that’s great. Because then you, I think about, you know, what I’m endorsing or really what made that difference for me in terms of what I read, you know, I’ve read a ton of things about research, about literacy. And it’s not a book per se, but I’ve had some, some fundamental things that have changed my, my thoughts. So I’ll share two things, I’ll share a book and then I’ll share a thought changing experience if that’s okay. Yeah, that’s perfect. I think one of the more recent things that I’ve been looking at and I’ve been reading, that’s been impactful on my work is this book called making, thinking visible by Ron Richards. So he’s written a series of books, making, thinking visible and creating cultures of thinking. And it’s very focused on, I would say almost the relationships that we have and the dialogue behind learning.


Dr. Adam Browning (18:17):
I look at the challenges that we faced with the pandemic and learning, moving online. And I think that a lot of what we experienced in education before is challenges like student engagement. It’s just been exacerbated. It’s basically all of those challenge, but it’s created this sense of urgency and made it really apparent. And, you know, Ron Richard takes this approach to learning and these learning routines about having these, you know, not question and answer, but more of this rich dialogue with students and this rich learning routine that makes you know, learning transfer results in deep, deeper thinking and more critical thinking from students. And I’ve been big about that lately and reading it and then seeing the opportunities for it. And so that’s something that I feel like has helped definitely shift my, my thinking, think some other things that I’ve looked at that have really shifted the way that I felt on vocabulary and language learning my dissertation, my doctorates around vocabulary acquisition.


Dr. Adam Browning (19:18):
Cool. One of the biggest areas that I look at with language that really impacts the student is your vocabulary and part of what really delves the student to read. So, you know, to kind of put it into, I hope no linguists or list to this, cuz they’ll say he just did a really rough job with it from K to 12, by the time a kid gets to university, they gotta have around 80,000 words, 15 to 18,000 word families, 10,000 of these words are gonna be these heavier academic words. And these words that we get taught directly the next 20,000 are gonna be words that we hear in context through good conversation. And this last 40,040 to 50,000 are gonna be words that you have through your experiences and deeper and wider reading. Hmm. So the more you read, the more you experience, the better it’s gonna make your vocabulary and linguists won’t always agree on a lot.


Dr. Adam Browning (20:12):
I think most to them would agree that a kid’s early vocabulary is probably gonna be the best predictor of their academic success. And so, you know, I was speaking to a mentor of mine and saying, well, if only 10,000 are these first ones, the words that were taught explicitly, but the rest are reading. Why do we focus on that, that vocabulary acquisition so much that explicit, direct vocabulary acquisition. And so I’ve spent a lot of time researching that and looking at that of just how do we get kids engaged in language? And I used to take this approach as a researcher of being more on the cognitive side of language, where you count on the amount of vocabulary, you profile students language, to look at it. So much of what I’m seeing now can easily be measured. Mm it’s like the engagement factor for a student to wanna learn about something that they’re engaged in.


Dr. Adam Browning (21:02):
So they show their own agency and their own interest to get into a subject. Doesn’t always have to be through reading. Sometimes it’s through video or other media forms. It’s powerful and it’s something that’s tougher to measure and it’s really changing the way I’m thinking. So here’s the experience part. I was in a, a session with a a friend of mine and I would almost say an informal mentor, but David Bouchard, the very well known Metty author and David, you know, has had a profound impact on because I’m met, you know, his area’s literacy. That’s my area. He is much more well known than I am, but you know, someone that I aspire to be like, and he said something to the audience and I felt like it was almost calling me out. And he said not, everyone’s gonna be a doctor and drive Mercedes.


Dr. Adam Browning (21:50):
And we all found that funny, but then he said it needs three things. They need a hero in literacy like that positive adult role model who makes them like learning. They need a, they need time and they need a good book. Not everything is easily measured. And remember when he was saying that I was in the midst of writing my doctorate dissertation and I’m thinking about counting words, and I still believe in that aspect, but he just really opened some doors for me to, to think about literacy differently. And so not everything’s that that’s shaping who I’m becoming as an educator is books I read, but it’s also experiences called conversations. They have a big impact.


Sam Demma (22:31):
And what experiences did you have as a student that also built the beliefs about servant leadership and social justice? Like where did that passion or where did that? Yeah. Where did that passion come from to also focus on that aspect of education? Not only as a teacher, but also maybe when you were a student,


Dr. Adam Browning (22:54):
It probably didn’t come in until high school, but it came in that one social studies class where, you know, the teacher was teaching us in a way about contemporary history where I didn’t have to read a textbook that I didn’t see myself reflected in. You know, I grew up you know, my mother’s met and my family’s met my met individual. And I remember learning about history and it being so far removed from what I knew of my mother’s background, you know, we used to learn about the met resistance and we would hear it be called insurrection and that Lou re was a trait. And it was just such a difficult learning path. And so to make history accessible and take ownership over it was that really tough part. And this one teacher where I felt so alienated as a student learning, especially from that cultural aspect, he had just made it open where I didn’t have to read from a textbook.


Dr. Adam Browning (23:47):
I could go and find other things. And he’d challenge you. He’d tell you go to the public library and pick up sources that you wanted read on a topic. I mean, he, let me read Malcolm X. It changed my life, reading that book. That’s awesome. And you know, very much, even though Malcolm X was in teacher, brought me into education, I felt really empowered to learn about different topics and just to see the power of the pen and what learning can do to advance a social cause. And that’s really, I’d probably say the fundamental moment where I saw that difference I could make in education, but just the power of information and the access to information. Mm


Sam Demma (24:28):
That’s a great book. I love Malcolm X’s autobiography. There’s a part where talks about one of his first jobs being shoe shining along with hustling, but that, yeah, this that’s so cool. When you’re talking about this teacher, it instantly makes me think of my own world issues teacher. Like the teacher hand is down that had the biggest impact on me was my, his class was called world issues, but I guess it was social studies and he also didn’t have a textbook. In fact, he just had this white binder that had probably close to three or 4,000 sheets of paper in it. And he started the semester by walking in front of the class and saying, I wanna introduce myself, but I also wanna say, don’t listen or take word by word anything that I’m gonna tell you as the truth. If something makes you interested or curious, I want you to go and verify all the facts yourself.


Sam Demma (25:20):
And I remember being a student thinking this guy’s crazy. Like he’s the teacher, you know? But then it started to make so much sense and it became my most enjoyable class. You know, you talked about earlier, the idea of your student or your teacher making lessons accessible as well and making you feel culturally, and also just overall included in the, in the class. He was someone who would get to know us on, on such a, a level that he would teach a lesson and then say, oh, Sam, by the way, to you, this means X and oh, Adam to you, this lesson means X and oh, Koon to you because you’re interested in X, Y, and Z. This means X. And he would take the lesson and paint it with our interests so that we become interested in it. And I’ll never, yeah, I’ll never forget his class.


Sam Demma (26:10):
And he was someone who led by example, but without telling you, you know, I didn’t know that while I was in school, Mike for the past 24 years, ran the food drive and helped you know, bring a million pounds of food and goods to local shelters or that he collected enough pop, can tabs to build a eight wheelchairs and no one, he didn’t talk about it, but he would just, you know, he would teach his lessons, was super passionate about the content and then would be doing all this great work and living out what he thought was a, was a great life. And he’s retired now. And I’m curious to know well actually wanna wrap this up, but on two final notes, when you, when you retire know and you’re not that old, so hopefully got some years left , but, but when you step away from, you know, teaching, what is the legacy that you wanna leave or the, the impact you wanna leave behind. And then I’ll ask you one follow up question before we wrap up.


Dr. Adam Browning (27:07):
I got a ton of thoughts I wanna leave behind. I think the biggest thing that I’ve tried to leave behind right now, and no I’m not ready to retire, and it’s not even an age until I see that. I mean, I’ve wanted a number of students to just go on and come back and share their success and see enough of it that they’re making that change in the world, either becoming educators or just being passionate about something. And I don’t, I, I feel it and I see it, but I haven’t coming off. And that’s really the Testament to the work that you do is that kid in kindergarten, grade one who come back and they see you and you see that they’re just doing something wonderful. And they let you know, the more I see of that I might get there. And I haven’t been in education long enough to see enough of that.


Dr. Adam Browning (27:47):
Nice. I’m starting to see students of mine who become teachers, and I’m starting to see teachers of mine who are becoming administrators. And I’m proud of it. Think on one of my last schools, you know, the staff, at least three of those people have become administrators. And I just feel like that’s something that I want to continue to see. So now I’m focused really on building leadership opportunities for people to become leaders in various capacities. That’s something that I want to see behind that I’ve created this ongoing system of sincere leaders and learners who are giving back to the, to the community. And I think that I hope I lead behind a Testament of literacy where so much of what we do is just having students engage in positive literacy experiences. And I remember as a student going to the library and picking up things that I wasn’t necessarily connected in class, but I was connected to ideas and to have someone who can value that, and then just encouraged that, that literacy learning or students creating things and those natural opportunities for it. I would like to leave that behind on a system where we celebrate literacy, we don’t just measure it. That’s something I’m looking forward to leaving behind


Sam Demma (28:59):
You. You made me think about what, what informal path I took to start liking literacy or just books and reading as well. I’ll share really quickly. I hated reading. growing up. You couldn’t get me to read a book. I just, I was too focused on soccer and sports. And it was when I was 16 years old and got diagnosed with a condition in my hip known as FAI. It stands for ephemeral acid, tabular impingement, essentially the head of my femur wasn’t round. Then it was tearing up the cartilage in my right hip. And I just got diagnosed with it. I was taking six months off soccer. And while I was taking the time off, I told my dad, I wanted to build a gym in my basement. And he said, great, I’ll help you pick up the equipment, but you have to find a way to pay for it.


Sam Demma (29:44):
And so I started a Salvato grass, cutting service, and started cutting my neighbors lawns and awesome. I started flipping gym equipment on Kijiji. I’d buy rusted plates, you know, scratch them with an iron brush to get the rust off spray, paint them, sell them for full price. I was pretty excited about it. And you know, after a couple, once I had enough money to blast some equipment and I found a gym that was closing down in Toronto, and I connected with the person, we agreed on a price. I got my dad to deliver on his promise and drive me to downtown Toronto. And, you know, I spent 45 minutes going up and down these flights of stairs, grabbing these dumbbells. And I was just having a conversation with the guy who sold it to me and asking him, oh, why are you was in your gym?


Sam Demma (30:22):
And he was like, you know, I have this dream and vision to coach people. And I’m writing this book right now. And he, you know, went down this long explanation of how he’s changing his life. And he’s super inspired by different work. And he’s like, oh, do you like reading? And I was like, no, you know, I, I, I actually, he hate reading. I don’t read too much. And he was like, oh, you should read a couple books. In fact, you know, maybe start with these. And he gave me a short little list and I remember being inspired because I kind of looked up to this guy. He seemed like a very cool individual. He was selling me Jim equipment. So I thought, you know what, I’m gonna give this a shot. And I remember going to indigo and buying, you know, two or three of the books on the list and reading them, not understanding too much of the books because they were not, they were self-help books and they weren’t really related to anything I was experiencing or going through in my life.


Sam Demma (31:13):
So it was a little out of context, but I remember reading them and thinking, wow, this is pretty cool. And I ended up making value village, a thrift store, my biggest bookstore. And, you know, if you buy I four books to get the fifth one free and I would go there every couple months and buy some new books anyways, I’m going on a long path to say that I think sometimes students get inspired to read and to get more involved with literacy when it’s coming from someone outside of the actual educational system or walls, because when their teacher tells ’em to do it, maybe it’s not so cool. But when someone you look up to does, it’s a different story, you know? But yeah, that was my experience. Anyways. I think what you mentioned about leaving behind is, is awesome. And now, if, if I could ask you the reverse question and take you back to your first year of teaching, knowing what you know now, you know, based on the experiences you’ve had and the learnings you had, what advice would you give your younger self when you were just starting? If you could give yourself a handful of pointers,


Dr. Adam Browning (32:16):
I would tell myself to take the time to walk around and see what’s working. Right. I moved into administration really quick, and I felt this to challenge right off the bat to help every student and to help every teacher in education. And so rarely in the day, you know, when you’re dealing with, especially my current role, I end up dealing with lots of issues. But that’s always been that case throughout education. I think I would go back and I remind myself to find opportunities to see what is working, right. So that you’re not just, you know, immersed in issues because there’s so many success stories that are out there in schools, whether it’s a student, that’s doing something excellent or a passion that they have. And if you’re focused too much on the on challenges, sometimes you miss those, those opportunities. Mm.


Dr. Adam Browning (33:01):
And so I’d tell a younger, less patient version of myself. I give ’em the grasshopper speak and speech and say, this is something that, you know, you’re gonna come to learn. And, and I would’ve tried, I probably wouldn’t have been ready to hear it at the time, but I would’ve learned, I would’ve stated that. And just to your point, I think that, you know, we all need to do that. I think back in myself as a student, I can’t remember how many books I read that were part of a course that were something that I remember fundamentally, as you know, this was that book that really made me love literacy. And so we talked about things that I’m reading that have influenced me. I read a ton of stuff in my field. Some of it’s great. I, I don’t know if it’s always that book that really influenced me, but I can think back to grade nine to a book that I read, that wasn’t part of the course or any class.


Dr. Adam Browning (33:49):
And I was a struggling learner, but I was reading things. And I think if we find opportunities for students about things that they’re reading or things that they’re passionate about, that they can connect with literacy multimedia literacy, if we can find that and bring it into school so that it’s not the other way around, we can just push those opportunities even sooner so that when you’re out there shopping for something and you’re looking, and you’ve gone and purchased these books at indigo, like your experience, because it was something that you were interested in, let’s bring that into school. Yeah. And then find a way for you to connect that to a subject that you’re working. I find that too often, we’re too regimented on what kids should learn, read, and not giving enough flexibility. And if we don’t do that, students may not have those opportunities to have like a sincere learning experience and a celebration. And it’s just a missed opportunity. So we need to bring more of that in. I appreciate you sharing that. That’s awesome.


Sam Demma (34:42):
Yeah, of course. Well, one more thing to share before we wrap up, I’ve started thinking a lot about what influences and inspires young people recently. And when I get to the heart of it, a lot of it comes down to music and art. I think like every student, no matter if they listen to different genres, all love and listen to some form of music. And, and I’m speaking on behalf of myself, which is a little biased, but I think in high school, we all have certain rappers or musicians or pop stars or rock bands that we like listening to and are inspired by. So I thought, wouldn’t it be cool if I could try and inspire students to deepen their learnings or think about new things through a different art. And so I’ve been, and speaking, you know since I was 17 and just recently decided, let me try a different form of art. And so I’m writing a spoken word album and it’ll come out in the middle of 20, 22, it’s gonna be called dear high school me, and it’ll be all about conversations and challenges. I went through as a, as a high school student in the hopes that this different form of literacy might inspire other conversations or, you know, learnings. So we should connect again, closer to that. I would love to share with you and see what your thoughts are.


Dr. Adam Browning (35:51):
I’d love to take a look at it. That sounds, that sounds great. See lots of students doing that. I mean, I wish I had that opportunity in school, and I’m glad that you have that and hopefully more students do, but I’m looking forward to seeing that. Cool.


Sam Demma (36:03):
Cool. Well, Adam, thank you so much for taking the time outta your day to come on the show. I really appreciate it. If anyone’s listening, people are listening for those who are listening what would be the best way for them to reach out if they, if, if they wanna engage in a conversation with you?


Dr. Adam Browning (36:19):
I’m on Twitter, @AdamLBrowning on Twitter, easy to find and says educator. And that’s probably the best way or just Palliser Schools division; that’s where I work.


Sam Demma (36:30):
Okay, perfect. All right, Adam, thank you so much. Stay in touch and keep up with the great work.


Dr. Adam Browning (36:34):
Thanks Sam.


Sam Demma (36:35):
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 Adam Browning

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 Bathgate – Director of Learning and Innovation at West Island College

Natasha Bathgate - Director of Learning and Innovation at West Island College
About Natasha Bathgate

Natasha Bathgate (@NLBathgate) is the Director of Learning and Innovation at West Island College, Calgary. An educator for 17 years, she is passionate about people, nature, and good design.

Natasha was born in Wales, emigrated to Canada in 2008, and lived in Vancouver for 10 years. Currently in Calgary with her husband and twins aged 10, Natasha is driven by a need for continuous growth, new experiences, and feeling strong.

Connect with Natasha: Email | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

West Island College

Royal Road University – Masters of Arts in Educational Leadership and Management

IB Leadership Certificates

Choose your Own Adventure Books

The Transcript

**Please note that all of our transcriptions come from rev.com and are 80% accurate. We’re grateful for the robots that make this possible and realize that it’s not a perfect process.

Sam Demma (00:00):
Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s guest is Natasha Bathgate. She is the director of learning and innovation at West Island College in Calgary. An educator for 17 years, she is passionate about people, nature and good design. Natasha was born in Wales, emigrated to Canada in 2008, and lived in Vancouver for 10 years. She’s currently in Calgary with her husband and twins who are age 10, and Natasha is driven by a need for continuous growth, new experiences, and feeling strong. And I know you will take all of that and so much more away from our conversation today, so enjoy. Natasha, welcome to the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show this morning. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit of the reason behind why you’re so passionate about the work you do in education today?


Natasha Bathgate (01:34):
Sure. So I’m originally from Wales in the UK which is the kind of land of daffodils and male voice choirs and rugby. And I came to Canada over 20 years ago now and just first of all, moved to Vancouver and fell in love with Vancouver and decided that at some point in my life I wanted to, to be living there permanently. So I’ve now been living in Canada as a Canadian citizen since 2008 I think; 2007/2008. And funnily enough, I didn’t actually get into work in education for many of the reasons that other people may have. My pathway was not exactly traditional. I, the reason I got into education is because I wanted to get permanent residency in Canada and when I was looking to, when I was looking to fill out all of my papers to come, to, to move to Canada they had a list of careers that were on that were, were acceptable to get a get permanent residency.


Natasha Bathgate (02:38):
And at the time I was working as a travel consultant and travel consultant originally was on the list. And then at that time, September 11th happened and the Canadian government took all travel related careers off the list. So I was ready to put my code in the code of the job I was doing. And and then it was no longer there. So I just was chatting with a few friends in Wales and around in a pub one day. And and I said, look, I really wanna move to Canada. What am I gonna do? I looked at all the list of things and I considered vending machine repair technician. Yeah. I thought, okay, I can train in that pretty quickly. So maybe I could do that. And then one of my friends said, Hey, why don’t you go into teaching? I think you’d be pretty good at teaching.


Natasha Bathgate (03:21):
And I just thought, no, like why would no never considered that? Why would I do that? Yeah. And she said, well, and I thought, what would I even teach? And anyway, I was, I was quite good at art at school and I I yeah, I enjoyed drawing and painting, so I thought, okay, I’ll just go and see if I can do that. So I started, I arranged to I arranged to shadow my old art teacher in Wales and I just thought, okay, well, I’ll see if I see if I would be interested in doing this. So I shadowed her for a little while. Then I submitted my application to do a a postgraduate for kit in education so that I could become qualified to teach. And anyway, kind of fast forward a few, a number of years, cuz it still took a long time to get the actual qualification, the work experience, the visas, et cetera. But finally I, I managed to move to Canada and that’s what got me into teaching.


Sam Demma (04:19):
That’s so that’s, that’s such an,


Natasha Bathgate (04:21):
But I did actually. Yeah. And it turns out I I do, I mean, I’m not teaching right now. I’m director of learning and innovation, but I for the last like fif 16 years, I’ve been teaching and I love it because it’s even though I’m not directly teaching, I’m still obviously very closely connected to it. I just it’s, it’s so interesting. It’s never boring. Like there’s never, you know, you, you never go into the school or the classroom thinking, oh God, it’s gonna be another boring day. There’s never a dull moment. And because every student is different and every student has different backgrounds and different experiences and different little quirks and it’s just such a great fun place to work.


Sam Demma (05:03):
Well, I was gonna ask you like, what was your first role? And maybe you could explain what director of learning and innovation looks like as well, because I’m sure many people are wondering that sounds like a cool role and I’ve never heard of it before. So yeah,


Natasha Bathgate (05:16):
I know. It’s funny. Yeah. So well, yeah, so originally I was an art team, so I was teaching art for a number of years. And then I became the kind of department head of, of a, of a department that had a bunch of different subjects to do with arts and technology graphic design, computer science, all that. And then I started to become really interested in educational leadership and about I think five years ago now I did my masters in educational leadership and management at a really awesome university called Royal Rhode university in Victoria, Vancouver island. Nice. And the reason I kind of chose that university is because they really have a very kind of future focused, collaborative, innovative approach to teaching leaders to become leaders. Hmm. And so, so yeah, so I got into educational leadership because I really just wanted to be able to have a bit more impact and influence on the future of education.


Natasha Bathgate (06:18):
And I think that I was able to influence the students in my classroom on a daily basis, but I got to a point where I thought, you know, I want to be able to be part of decision making at a, a broader level. So that’s why I got into educational leadership. So my role is really, I feel I found myself, I felt I’m quite lucky Rudy, cuz my role is about, you know, I get involved in educational research. I continually sort of observe teaching and learning in the classroom. I work with teachers and ask them like, you know, what do you need to be at your best? Like how, how can I support you to be the best teacher and the best person? And then I, and then I just I guess building relationships with teachers to help them be the best teachers they can be.


Natasha Bathgate (07:04):
And some people, some schools will call this role director of academics. So it has different job titles, but it really is about making sure that the, the teaching and learning that’s going on in your school is aligned with, you know, your vision, mission and values it’s aligned with where you believe the future of education should be. And and it’s just kind of, you know, if we say we want students to be curious, then what does teaching and learning look like for students to be curious? And what does the teacher look like if they, if you, if you want that teacher to infuse curiosity in students, then what should that teacher be doing? So I don’t get involved with the day to day. I don’t get too involved with the day to day kind of operational stuff. Like that’s why I think I’m quite lucky. I really do love this job. Yeah. but yeah, I think that’s, I think that’s it up.


Sam Demma (08:00):
That’s awesome. And you know, from talking to Jim and from also just reading a ton on the website, I found that you take like the school takes a very personalized approach, tries to create a very personalized approach for every single student and learner. I would assume like that’s a big part of your work as well is like, would I be correct in saying that? And what does that look like? Like for you or for the school?


Natasha Bathgate (08:21):
Yeah. With teachers, cuz I guess I, because I work closely with teachers. Yeah. So I’m trying to per I’m trying to personalize the professional growth for teachers. Hmm. So it starts off with, it starts off with a one-on-one conversation towards the beginning of the year and setting goals. And the goal is of course aligned with, you know, the teaching and learning quality standards for the province. But once we’ve had that conversation, then I, I make notes about what that person has said. And I, and I work hard to try to find things that I think would interest them. So if I’m suggesting professional development activities, I might suggest books. I might suggest connecting them with certain people. Like I, I try and I try and build capacity in individuals by really connecting them with other people as well, who could, who could support them. Nice. And that’s kind of also the, my approach that was my approach to teaching as well. When I was, when I was teaching, that was my same approach. I just want to find out, you know, what is it that person needs, wants enjoys and how can I build their capacity by drawing upon those, those things.


Sam Demma (09:37):
I love that. And you know, you mentioned goal setting as well. Has that been a foundational pillar in your own personal life? Like think back to when you were still in whales, like is one of the first things you did is sit down with a pen and paper and like write out your own personal goals. Like tell, tell me more about that.


Natasha Bathgate (09:52):
So I don’t necessarily write them down and I know that’s key thing that if you write them down, then it’s, you’re more likely to achieve them. But I do, I’m very, very goal orientated oriented. I’m very driven by goals. And even if I don’t write them down, I’m kind of quite determined to achieve them. So, so for example, I was determined to move to Canada no matter what. And I knew it was gonna take a long time and I, and it, it did take an extraordinary long time because even once I got my teaching qualification, I, I still had to get a couple of years experience teaching in Wales before I could even submit my application to, to move here. And I think the same with, with getting the right to become an educational leader. I originally had applied to a university in, in Vancouver that I thought was gonna be good to UBC and and no disrespect to UBC anyones listening this, but , I, I had an application to, to, to go onto their educational leadership program, their masters I was accepted.


Natasha Bathgate (10:58):
And then as I was choosing the different courses, I was, I couldn’t choose the courses until after I’d been accepted. And then once I chose the different modules, I was reading the descriptions and thinking, I don’t know, this doesn’t sound like a particularly future focused, you know, innovative learning environment for me. And, and I was so set on being an innovative future oriented leader. I realized then that, that university wasn’t gonna be right for me. So I withdrew and that meant I was back a year. I, I, I kind of wasted a year, I suppose, cuz I then had to submit an application to another place that did fit what I was looking for. So I, so that’s an example, I suppose I am very goal, goal oriented and, and I’m, I’m prepared to, you know, to take a side step if it means taking longer to get the right thing.


Sam Demma (11:51):
And it sounds like with your work supporting educators, one of the goals is to really make a huge impact on the, on the students because that’s kind of like the end results you’re hoping for by helping the teachers become better and more equipped to, to teach their students. Like if that’s the end goal, how do you think right now we, we make students feel seen, heard and appreciated in this, the, you know, very different and difficult situation.


Natasha Bathgate (12:15):
Well, you know what I think actually I’ve been reading a little bit about like generation Z and what, what gen what, what your generation the characteristics, I guess, and one thing that I’ve noticed is that I don’t even know if they need much help, like your generation is so, so driven. And so so intent on making an impact and not afraid to speak up about things that they believe need to be talked about. And I’ve noticed in my I’ve noticed in recent years that that students are this generation all they need is the space to be, to, to be heard. Yeah, they don’t need, they don’t even need much encouragement. They don’t even need to be, you know, it’s like, here’s a space, here’s the time we’re gonna have this meeting come and say what you need to say. And, and, and I, I think that the students right now, the generation right now are incredibly capable and brave.


Natasha Bathgate (13:20):
And I think that, I know it sounds kinda corny, but I do think the future’s safe. Like I think the future is safe in, in your hands and, and this generation. So, so back to your question, I guess it’s I think it’s really important to know what it is that to, to be constantly aware of the issues of today that we need to make sure that we’re getting voices around the table. So, you know, for example, obviously a, a big piece of a, a big, I, it’s not issue, but a, a big topic, I guess at the moment in education and around the world is, is diversity, equity and inclusion. And how can we make sure that, that everybody feels safe and included and valued and respected and honored and appreciated. And they’re all fairly, you know, you wouldn’t think that would be too difficult, but, but I’ve realized that some students don’t feel safe and valued and honored. And when you ask students, if you just have the courage to ask them, what’s your experience like what’s going on for you? Mm-Hmm and what, what should we be doing differently then, then it’s, I guess it’s that sense of my moral, I, I feel a sense of moral responsibility. I feel as an educational leader, I feel a moral responsibility to, to give these students a voice and to actually act on it, you know?


Sam Demma (14:52):
Yeah. I, I, I think that’s so important and I’m assuming over this past year, those conversations have started to happen and have been happening. That’s, that’s amazing. And is it usually in the form of a one-on-one conversation or do you find it being more of a group conversation? Like how’s it working?


Natasha Bathgate (15:09):
Well, I mean, I’ll give you an example. I think earlier on in the year I had sent, I had sent a communication out to our alumni saying just really kind of an invitation, I suppose, to anybody who’s, who has expertise in advancing your organization or, or your community with diversity, equity and inclusion, or anyone who has an interest in this area, or anyone who has experiences at, at w that they want to share with me, please reach out. So it was just an open invitation. And I, and from that, I had just a small number, but six people contacted me. Some of them met, some of them kind of contacted me as a group. And I, so I met with them as a group and then one of them was just as an individual and that, that started in January. And it’s really kind of built in momentum to the point now where I’m now.


Natasha Bathgate (16:03):
So I, I meet with this kind of group of alumni only once a month, but but I’m also meeting with some students from us within the school who are sharing their experiences and, and sadly their experiences have not been, you know, have not been great. And and it’s, it’s, it’s been very difficult to hear, you know, when you’ve, I’ve only been at school for two years, but I know that other people who have been there longer feel, feel terrible, that, that some people have not out great being at the school for the last number of years. And also not also not necessarily realizing and not knowing that, but now that the stories are kind of out now that we have that awareness. Now we can start to develop an understanding around, well, what contributed to that? Like, what as leaders, what, what should, and could we be doing to, to to make everybody feel, you know, to help everyone feel safe and included in the school.


Natasha Bathgate (17:01):
And now we’re at the point where, I guess I, I’ve also introduced some of the alumni to our, some of our current students, so they’ve kind of met and shared their experiences. And now this week, hopefully we are about to start a student pluralism group, which is really around, let’s start having discussions about, about how we can, how we can make the school, I guess, a more inclusive place. Nice. But we have incredibly intelligent, passionate, brave individuals at the school who they just need, you just need to unlock. And they’re like jumping into there. , it’s just a case of turning the key. You don’t even need to open the door, like they’re ready. So it’s, it’s an exciting place to be in education right now, I think.


Sam Demma (17:48):
And it takes a ton of self awareness as a school community, as educational leaders to address those things, because it’s uncomfortable. Right’s not, it’s, it’s not a uncomfortable thing to do, but it’s definitely the right thing to do. And I think it’s cool that, you know, you’re very passionate about addressing those things and, and kickstarting those conversations and unlocking those doors. So the conversations can happen. You, you mentioned that, you know, you didn’t go to UBC because it didn’t feel like they had the right training materials that would lead to the innovative approach you were hoping to take. What, what do you think the future of education looks like being someone who sounds super passionate about innovation in the future? Like if, you know, if you could jump into time machine in travel there, what would you suspect to change or be different in the future?


Natasha Bathgate (18:34):
Well, I think that I think that we really need to explore a bit more about where learning happens and to be more open, to learning happening in different places other than a school building. And I know that already takes place. I know that people go on, you know, experiential learning trips to different parts of the country or different countries. And you know, and we have, there’ll be sort of work experience. And at our school, we have few experts come in. So it does happen to a certain extent, but I think we need to have much greater flexibility in mainstream education. So for example, my kids are homeschooled. I’ve got twins who age 10 and my husband was really passionate about homeschooling them, which was kind of funny, cuz I I’ve been a teacher for a long time. So I was like,


Sam Demma (19:23):
You sure,


Natasha Bathgate (19:24):
I wasn’t. I know I was thinking, well, this is strange. Is this like a sort of slap in the face of my profession here? But anyway, he, he really wants to do it, so I’m going along with it right now. But so they he’s been homeschooling them for, for just over a year and it, and it turns out that because of COVID, it’s fine. It, it makes sense. But what I’m noticing though, is that what he does is he pieces together. They’re learning experience through all different things. So they go, they go to a place in Calgary called Phoenix foundation, which is kind of like a school for homeschool. And you can choose what day of the week you go, depending on what what’s happening on that day. So they, they go once a week to that, then they meet up with a huge homeschool network group and they have different activities outside.


Natasha Bathgate (20:09):
And then they share like the parents will share expertise and do little workshops. So, so anyway, there’s that flexibility and, and choice over learning that is also about homeschooling. But what I think would be even better is if they could also have a consistency of going to choosing to go to a particular place for a couple of days where they’re gonna meet the same people all the time and build up those relationships and have that consistency and have, have that expertise from teachers. But then to be able to say, actually for like Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, I’m gonna go to this place here and learn from these different experiences. So this is a bit of a long-winded answer, but I think the key really with, with learning is, is flexibility of where the learning happens. And, and to, to make it normal because it, in so many places right now, like there’s, you know, there’s schools that are outdoor schools, there’s schools that specialize in project based learning there’s schools that specialize in the arts there’s schools that specialize in everything. But, but if you want, you kind of have to be all in, like, you know, if you choose to go to an outdoor school or a, or a school that it specialize in project that only does project based learning, then you’re kind of, you’re invested in that one thing. But I think the future of education and mainstream education, I think needs to be that that those options become, become commonplace.


Sam Demma (21:40):
Yeah. Yeah. It makes a lot,


Natasha Bathgate (21:41):
It’s only a subtle, it’s only a subtle change. It’s kinda like, you know, they should be able to create their own adventure, you know, create your learning adventure and, and you know, what, what works for you.


Sam Demma (21:51):
And I think that comes back to what you mentioned earlier about, you know, sparking curiosity. Like I think back to books I used to read and the choose your own adventure books were the funnest, you know, I would say flip to page 70, if you want to try this. And, and I’d much rather read those than reading a blank book just right through. And I younger. So yeah, I think we could definitely pull that model into education. Yeah. Which is a really interesting idea. And if you could go back in time and speak to younger Natasha, the first year you got into teaching, like knowing what you know now, what pieces of advice would you give your younger self?


Natasha Bathgate (22:26):
Oh my gosh. It’s tough one. I think just yeah, I think, I think probably just to have


Natasha Bathgate (22:43):
Just to, to learn from other people, like I was terrible at classroom management at the start and, and, and I think learn from other people, observe other people watch what’s going on, watch the experts and learn from the experts. It’s not to say that I didn’t, but I didn’t get looking back. I think if I had made more of an effort to ask another teacher, can I come and can I come and watch your class? I know you’ve been teaching for 10 years. I’ve heard that you’re really good at this, that and the other. Can I come and watch? So I think seeing each seeing really learning from learning from people who are better than you at something and not being, not being embarrassed to, to say, I’m, I really suck at this. I need to get better at it. Can you show me, can I learn from you? Mm. I think that’s something that I would probably do because I, there was a time when I think I did struggle with, I was working in a school in, you know, terrible schools in Wales and England, where, where they throw paper balls at you, like as a teacher, you you’re, you know, yeah. I had things thrown at me. I had a garbage can thrown at me. Wow. so it’s really about survival in that, in that, in that situation. And I think I needed some more survival tactics.


Sam Demma (24:00):
Being, being a soccer fan. I was gonna ask you, are, were they hooligans? yeah,


Natasha Bathgate (24:07):
That’s funny. They were, they would wanna be hooligans. They were, they were hooligans in training for sure. Yeah.


Sam Demma (24:11):
That’s funny, that’s funny. Awesome. Well, this has been a phenomenal conversation. If someone’s listening right now and has been inspired in any way, shape or form and wants to just have a conversation, what would be the best way for someone to, you know, get in touch with you and reach out?


Natasha Bathgate (24:26):
Well, I do use Twitter and I use LinkedIn. I think my Twitter is just @NLBathgate I think, and then I don’t use LinkedIn as much, but yeah. Twitter or LinkedIn or even yeah, I think those would be the best. I would just put those, you can incorporate those into the podcast.


Sam Demma (24:43):
Sounds good, Natasha. Thank you so much.


Natasha Bathgate (24:45):
And then I, and I’d be happy to have a conversation with anybody for sure.


Sam Demma (24:48):
Perfect. Thank you so much for doing this and coming on the show, I appreciate you sharing some insights and some of your experiences. Keep doing great work and I’ll, I’ll see you soon.


Natasha Bathgate (24:56):
Thank you, Sam. Thanks a lot. Okay, bye.


Sam Demma (24:59):
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 Natasha Bathgate

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.

Katherine Luellen – Executive Dean, Enrollment Management, Interlochen Center for the Arts

Katherine Luellen - Executive Dean, Enrollment Management, Interlochen Center for the Arts
About Katherine Luellen

A Chicago native, Katherine Drago Luellen (@kidrago329) has previously served as Director of Admissions at Boston University School of Music, Director of Recruitment & Enrollment for Carnegie Mellon University School of Music, Assistant Dean of Admission & Student Services for Longy School of Music of Bard College, and Assistant Director of Admission/Music Admission Coordinator for University of Puget Sound.

Ms. Drago has spent over 10 years performing professionally in opera, concert, and musical theater appearing with the Santa Fe Opera, Pittsburgh Opera, Chicago Opera Theater, Broadway National Tour of The Phantom of the Opera, and many more. She was most recently seen in the title role of Tobias Picker’s Therese Raquin with Microscopic Opera in Pittsburgh and Mercedes in Carmen with Bay Chamber Concerts.

Mrs. Luellen has been a guest speaker with the Pacific Northwest Association of College Admission Counselors, Decision Desk U, Music Admission Roundtable, Classical Singer, and Opera America.

Connect with Katherine: Email | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Interlochen Center for the Arts

Boston University School of Music

Carnegie Mellon University School of Music

Longy School of Music of Bard College

University of Puget Sound

Pacific Northwest Association of College Admission Counselors (PNACAC)

Music Admissions Roundtable

Classical Singer

Opera America

Santa Fe Opera

Pittsburgh Opera

Chicago Opera Theater

Broadway National Tour of The Phantom of the Opera

Tobias Picker’s Therese Raquin

Bay Chamber Concerts

The Transcript

**Please note that all of our transcriptions come from rev.com and are 80% accurate. We’re grateful for the robots that make this possible and realize that it’s not a perfect process.

Sam Demma (00:00):
Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s guest is Katherine Luellen. She is the executive Dean enrollment manager at the Interlochen Centre for the Arts. A Chicago native, Katherine has previously served as Director of Admissions at Boston University School of Music, Director of Recruitment & Enrollment for Carnegie Mellon University School of Music, Assistant Dean of Admission & Student Services for Longy School of Music.


Sam Demma (01:05):
Every position she’s been in over the past 10 years, she’s been involved in professionally, you know, setting up opera in concert, in musical theater, appearing on the Santa Fe Opera, Pittsburgh Opera, Chicago Opera, Broadway National Tour of the Phantom of the Opera, and so much more. She is a music fanatic and the heart of her passion is helping young talent reach extraordinary stages and heights. This is an amazing interview. She helps so many young people get into amazing positions for success. I hope you enjoy this as much as I enjoyed recording it. I will see you on the other side. Katie, thank you so much for coming on the High Performing Educator podcast. It is a huge pleasure to have you on the show. Why don’t you start by telling our audience a little bit about yourself and how you got into your work with education?


Katherine Luellen (01:55):
Great. Well, thank you Sam, for having me. I’m delighted to be here. I am the executive Dean of Enrollment Management at the Interlochen Center for the Arts and Interlochen in Michigan. So we are known for a world class summer arts camp that was found in 1928 that serves 3000 students in seven arts areas every summer. We also have our Arts Boarding High School here. We have our College for Creative Arts serving lifelong education and some programming virtually in the Interlochen online space. So I manage recruitment and enrollment for all of the education units at Interlochen and I found myself here quite by accident. And I am an, a recovering opera singer is what I like to say. I was trained in opera and musical theater and had a, a nice run and a wonderful time performing and traveling and being on the stage and


Katherine Luellen (02:55):
At a certain point in time, I took a breath and really wanted to make an impact in a different way. Hmm. And I wasn’t sure what that way was. But I thought about what skills I had and what experiences I had and through my education, actually, one of the ways I supported my education was working in the admission office at the various colleges and institutions I attended. And that was a way I thought to connect with young people and their families to help talk about what a creative education can do for a young person. So I pivoted, I guess that might be the buzzword of 2020 to enrollment. And I worked at a small liberal arts college on the west coast. I’ve worked at a large research institution. I’ve worked at a small boutique conservatory, all usually within the arts realm. And so when Interlochen called me, I thought, well, this is interesting because this isn’t just college. This is, this is really little ones, right? Third grade, this is grownups. This is really fostering that lifelong support of the arts and creative energy. So it’s been a really cool ride and a really nice fit for me.


Sam Demma (04:11):
Tell me more about that moment, where you took a new breath and decided you wanted to make an impact, where exactly were you at that point in your career and what really prompted you to make that decision?


Katherine Luellen (04:22):
Oh my gosh, it was crazy. I was sitting in my apartment in New York. I had about a year’s worth of work scheduled ahead of me. I was in the finals of a major international opera competition and I didn’t feel like I was making any of my own artistic decisions. Mm. I was on stage watching a human with Dick monitoring the music I was dressed as, you know, indicated by the costume designer. I was, you know, told where to go by the director. And so that’s not always the case. Right. Mm-hmm , these, these artistic experiences are much more collaborative than what I just outlined. But for me, I felt like I just, you know, you can’t see the odd there’s that fourth wall. And I wanted to have a deeper connection with the arts and with young people to create a generation that would collaborate differently on stage, that would be, that would push the arts to new audiences.


Katherine Luellen (05:22):
And I think we’re seeing that. But it felt like my role wasn’t correct in that journey yet at that moment that it wasn’t maybe all facets of my brain, weren’t firing cause of what I was being given. And so I, I jumped off a moving train and onto another train that was cool and fun. And and I learned really like in the fire, you know, I actually remember my first admission job and calling my father who’s a finance person. And I literally said to him, dad, I, I have so many Excel questions. I just I’m, I’m just drowning Excel questions. Cause I’ve been an artist for 10 years. And so here is this just sort of skill I’m that I, I need to catch up on. I need to catch up on databases, I’m Excel. And but it was fun and your enrollment is inherently creative. It’s about communicating. It’s about being intuitive and the connections you’re making. And and I talk about the arts every day. And so I’m very, very lucky.


Sam Demma (06:35):
The process you outlined about jumping a, off a moving train and onto another one in the fire is what education is like right now. It feels like everyone was jumping off a moving train going in one direction and we’re going a totally opposite direction with the challenges we’re currently faced with. Can you speak a little bit to the challenges that you guys are facing? Some maybe that you’ve overcome and some that you’re still dealing with?


Katherine Luellen (06:59):
Now for sure. So just to, I guess, outline this pandemic season of education for interlock and in the springtime we transitioned our 93rd summer season to a fully virtual experience interlock and online. If we took 98 programs for grades three through 12 and distilled them into 13 programs that were three weeks long in a virtual platform and it was wildly successful, we had almost 1500 students. And we really leaned on our alumni across the world in industry seminars to offer students experiences, to talk and engage and feel inspired with professionals that they wouldn’t be able to access otherwise that only interlocking could give them. And so, you know, that paired with the foundational training in all of our arts areas was really something that was special about our program. We even sent everyone a camp in a box, everybody got a shirt and a lanyard and an ID card and camp fire like activity for and friendship bracelets.


Katherine Luellen (08:10):
And, you know, we wanted students to feel engaged in the community and our virtual cabins and that social connection was something that was really successful and has actually still continued even to now there’s a core group of hardcore virtual cabins from rock and online that are still going. So we learned a lot from that experience and we had our interlock and arts academy, high school students went home in March a little early for spring break, packed up and we had hoped, of course they’d come back, but they weren’t able to, but we were very lucky this fall to be able to welcome almost 500 students to our campus for live instruction. Nice. So we’ve created kind of a contained community as we are calling it, cuz faculty and staff are coming and going, but we’ve partnered with the broad Institute at MIT for testing and we have significant safety protocols in place and it’s not easy and it hasn’t been for these young people.


Katherine Luellen (09:05):
Mm-Hmm I think that, you know, we, when you think of the silver lining that these people are here, that they’ve persevered, that they’re showing that grit that gosh, we’ve been talking to met in college admission for year. Right. How do you, how do you show the grit show? The perseverance? Well, this proves it. Yeah. You know, I went to boarding school in Northern Michigan in a pandemic because I knew I wanted to create art and I knew I wanted to be amongst a, a community of likeminded people and it, you know, by golly the pandemic wasn’t gonna stop me. And so that’s the kind of students we have here. And they’re, they’re joyfully working and that’s what we like to say here and, and creating that art. But it’s not easy. Staying six feet apart wearing a mask is not easy for a grownup let alone a teenager.


Katherine Luellen (09:52):
So every day we like to say is day one in our fighting COVID 19. And we’ve learned, you know, just a ton about safety. basically in health and we’ve leaned on professionals in our community. Of course. We also have 50 students international who are learning virtually with us who are not able to get to our campus. So we’ve created, created a hybrid model. So, you know, when I talk to families, they’ll say, well, it’s like a virtual high school. It’s not, we haven’t created a virtual high school. We are really serving our students and accommodating the conditions that we’re in. That’s a whole different, you know, ball of wax. But yeah, it’s, it’s, it’s an adventure certainly. Not where we thought we would be probably right.


Sam Demma (10:40):
No. So true. I love the camp and a box idea. I thought that was very unique and no wonder it’s a huge success. I’m curious to know if you have any other things like that that have been widely successful so far maybe little insights or ideas that another educator listening might say, wow, this is a great idea. Let me try this. Any come to mind?


Katherine Luellen (11:00):
For sure. I mean, in the summertime our most popular elective course for any student was something called college bootcamp college prep bootcamp. And of course that’s on everyone’s mind. And these students who are looking for colleges right now in a virtual space, it it’s totally different. How higher ed is reacting in the United States and across the world to, you know, finding the right fit or students engaging with them and how that demonstrated interest plays into decision making. This is totally a new landscape. We see lots of institutions thriving and we see some floundering a little bit in it. And so I think students really were hungry to engage with professionals in the college counseling space and utilize some of the excellent pathway curriculum we have for our academy students. But so they could feel a sense of, I don’t wanna say control, but more just calm perhaps mm-hmm about the process. I have a plan, I have some things to think about. I know it’s going to be different, let’s acknowledge what’s different about it and make a plan. And so that was really successful and actually we’ve launched a bootcamp for college audition prep in November nice, which is gonna be really awesome for music and theater students. But I think that just creating that calm for students in a high stress decision making time was really helpful for them.


Sam Demma (12:30):
That’s awesome. That’s really cool. And, and, you know, you talked about moving from opera to education and I wanna touch upon one thing real quick. When you were a student, did you have any teachers in your life or educators in your life that made a profound impact on you? And the reason I’m asking is because there’s a couple that stick out in my mind for my whole experience in school, one being Mike loud foot, my world issue teacher who put me on a totally different path in life. But the reason I’m asking is because I wanna know what it was that your educators in your life did and what their character traits were or what the things they did for you that had a huge impact. So maybe during this time another educator listening might try to adopt those same character traits so they can, you know, impact their students the same way. Does any educator come to mind for you?


Katherine Luellen (13:19):
There? I mean, there are so, so many, I’ll be honest with you that it’s, I think education is, is the I don’t know, I hold it in the highest esteem in terms of what faculty do. And I come from a, a long line of educators. And so I’ve seen both sides of the desk and the classroom experience and really personally, and, and the work and intuition and gut and heart that go into it is really amazing. You know, what’s funny for me and it could just be a personality trait. Mm-Hmm, the, the educators that come to mind for me that were most influential are the ones that really told me the truth. Mm. And especially in the arts, I think that’s, those are hard conversations. Yeah. Sometimes you know but even, I think of like my freshman, sophomore year English teachers in high school, who I attribute to helping me learn to write, which I now do every day as a part of my job.


Katherine Luellen (14:19):
Yeah. And they were really, really honest with me, you know, and it wasn’t a good grade always. And that pushed me to learn and pushed me to try and pushed me to maybe it’s again, taking that breath to say, I didn’t, I didn’t do this well. And why, why didn’t I do this? Well, mm-hmm, like, what, what were the barriers that are keeping me from making that to the next level? And even with the arts, right. It’s having those conversations of taking potential and passion and how do you mold that into the right purpose? Mm. And that doesn’t always mean the Broadway stage or the metropolitan and opera, the schau pair it’s, there are so many ways that can make a difference. So I have one quick line, my voice teacher in grad school always used to say, Katie, you gotta do it again. And you gotta put it in the talent, put it in the talent. And I kind of think about that all the time. Like, come on Kate, put it in the talent. Like, where’s your talent, where’s your, your space that, that helps you make the best decisions succeed the most, you know, put it there. And I dunno, that probably was not very succinct answer.


Sam Demma (15:37):
No, that’s awesome. And I hope everyone can, cuz when you were saying that I was envisioning my soft spot and my sweet spots and where I can put it in the talent. So I hope everyone else takes that to heart and thinks about it personally, or maybe shares it with their class and their students. if you could give advice to your former self, when you just started working in education, what advice would you have given knowing what you know now?


Katherine Luellen (16:04):
Oh my gosh. In education. I think what I know now is that I never have all the information nice. And I think that I, I didn’t always think that way early on. I thought, well, here’s all the information. Here’s everything about this applicant. Here’s everything I know about the finances of this family. If I’m looking at financial aid or about this event or whatever it is, but you never have all information. And so every decision you’re making, you’re making in a, in a space where you’re trying to do the right thing based on the information you have. Mm. Understanding that there’s nimbleness to that there’s flex to that there’s gray area. And especially in the work that I do where talented young people are trying to make the right next choice for them. And financial aid is a part of that and family commitment and family circumstances and all of those things are wildly complicated. I used to joke in college that on April 1st, everyone loses their mind, like all families that were lovely students who, you know, just stay in the course and then the dollars and cents become involved and people lose their minds. Cause it’s personal, it’s complicated and we don’t have all the information. So you just have to kind of listen and give people a space to give you the information they can or are able or willing to in many decision making situations and go from there.


Sam Demma (17:39):
Yeah. That’s awesome. It’s an amazing piece of advice. And not only does it apply to, you know, getting people in through admission, but it also applies to, you know, everyday students. I don’t think we ever have all the information as, as good as we try to get to know somebody. So, you know, try and make as little assumptions as you can and listen twice as much as you speak. You know, one of my teachers told me you have two ears in one mouth, you know, it means you have to listen twice as much as you talk.


Katherine Luellen (18:03):
absolutely. I agree. And you know, it’s funny with these young artists too, they be so hard on themselves counting the number of mistakes they made and a performance or an audition. And I often will tell them you’re never a hundred percent. There’s my dog friends. That’s OK. Life at home. So you know, you’re never in any performance, a hundred percent, you’re, you’re always you’re always fighting something. And so maybe it’s a dog barking, you know? And so you just have to take it with a grain of salt.


Sam Demma (18:38):
Oh, that’s true. Awesome. Katie, if someone wants to reach out, bounce some ideas around, share some good vibes and energy, where can they reach out to you and have those conversations?


Katherine Luellen (18:48):
Oh my gosh, I would love to do the I’m so eager to just be a sounding board and have other sounding board friends out there in the universe who do good work or who seek to do good work. So I’m easy to reach. I’m just katie@interlochen.org. I’m super here for, for everybody who wants to talk our arts or education or opera or musical theater or dogs, you know.


Sam Demma (19:16):
awesome. Katie, thanks so much for coming on the show. It’s been a real pleasure having this conversation with you. And there you have it. Another amazing guest, an amazing interview on the High Performing Educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episode, 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 Katherine Luellen

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.

Dr. Bridget Weiss – TIME featured Educator and Superintendent of the Juneau School District

Bridget Weiss - TIME featured Educator and Superintendent of the Juneau School District
About Dr. Bridget Weiss

Dr. Bridget Weiss is the Superintendent of the Juneau School District. After graduating high school in Juneau, Bridget graduated from Whitworth University in 1984, with a Bachelors’s in Mathematics, a Minor in Physical Education and a secondary teaching certificate. Following graduation, she spent the next 26 years in Spokane as a high school math teacher, coach, high school assistant principal, elementary principal, Executive Director of Instructional Programs and Superintendent. 

Once back in Alaska, Bridget spent four years as principal of North Pole High School and four years as Director of Student Services at the Juneau School District.  She started this year as the Interim Superintendent and was hired for the position permanently in January.  Bridget attained her Masters in Mathematics from Eastern Washington University and her Doctorate in Educational Leadership from Washington State University.  Her work has been in districts as small as 1,800 and as large as 29,000 students.

Bridget is completing her 38th year in education at the start of 2022 was named Alaska’s Superintedent of the Year!

Connect with Bridget: Email | Linkedin

Listen Now

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

Resources And Related Media

From Teachers to Custodians, Meet the Educators Who Saved A Pandemic School Year

Juneau’s Bridget Weiss named Alaska’s Superintendent of the Year

Juneau School District

Superintendent of the Year

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):
Welcome back to another episode of the high performing educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s guest is Dr. Bridget Weiss. She is the superintendent of the Juneau school district. After graduating high school in Juneau, Bridget graduated from Whitworth university in 1984 with a bachelor’s in mathematics, a minor in physical education and a secondary teaching. Following graduation, she spent the next 26 years in Spokane as a high school math teacher coach high school assistant principal elementary principal, executive director of instructional programs and superintendent. Once back in Alaska, Bridget spent four years as principal of north pole high school and four years as director of student services at the Juneau school district. She started this year as the interim superintendent and was hired for the position permanently in January. Bridget attained her masters in mathematics from Eastern Washington university and her doctorate in educational leadership from Washington state university. Her work has been in districts as small as 1800 and as large as 29,000 students. And Bridget is currently completing her 38th year in education. This conversation was phenomenal. You are gonna take away some amazing ideas. I hope you enjoy it. And I will see you on the other side, Bridget, welcome to thehigh performing educator podcast. It’s a huge pleasure to have you on the show here today. Please start by introducing yourself.


Bridget Weiss (02:35):
Thank you, Sam. I am Bridget Weiss. I am the superintendent in Juneau school district in Juneau, Alaska.


Sam Demma (02:43):
That is amazing. Tell me more about your journey into education. What got you started and then, brought you to where you are today?


Bridget Weiss (02:53):
Yeah, well, I’m super lucky. I actually am born and raised in Juneau, so I’m a third Juneau white and I went left Juneau to go to school college in Spokane and I Wentworth university. And just really knew from a pretty young age that education was what I wanted to do and spend my life committed to. I had a couple of really cool experiences with teachers that really inspired me. And so I started out as a teacher. I spent 16 years as a teacher teaching junior high and high school math and coaching and all of that. And I’ve spent the balance of 38 years being in a administrator since then.


Sam Demma (03:41):
I’m just gonna give you a round of applause for your service. you mentioned you’re welcome. You mentioned having some really cool experiences with educators and teachers. Can you expand on that and tell me a little bit more how those experiences shape a decision to get into education?


Bridget Weiss (04:02):
You know, I was in junior high and seventh grade and I met a teacher who the best way I can really explain it is he saw me, like, I just, he knew me, got to know me. He was a math teacher my basketball all coach. And he was always checking in to see how I was doing. He had a great, has a great sense of humor and he was one that just really inspired me to be my best self, you know, which was what we would say now as a seventh grader, I would never, ever have been able to articulate that. But he really did. And he used his sense of humor and his ability to build relationships, really genuine relationships with kids. And so it inspired me and it certainly also impacted the type of educator that I wanted to be. And so I, I just feel really fortunate to have had some of those experiences that steered me in this direction,


Sam Demma (05:09):
Being seen and heard is such an important thing for every educator to do with their own students in their classrooms. How do you think in terms of tangible actions, he did that for you when you were in grade seven, was it by asking questions by being interested in your hobbies? Like what did that look like as a student?


Bridget Weiss (05:33):
I think for me through the eyes of a seventh grader again, it’s one thing looking back it’s another, but he, he did get to know me, you know, personally he knew who I was. I still remember. I, I can, I can look out my office window right now and see the building, my elementary school and the building that I went to junior high end. And I can still go to the corner of the hallway where his classroom was, and I can picture myself walking by not even going to his class, but he was always standing outside interacting his hallway or his classroom interacting with kids saying, hello, you know, making sure that we were on our way to class on time. And and, and he, his humor again, was really a key player for him. And and it was always very supportive humor and it was humor that was specific to who we were, if that makes sense. It, it, it really made you feel again, heard and seen. And, and I think it’s really hard to do that sometimes in education, the more kids that a teacher is serving the, you know, the larger, the class sizes. And I have really tried to emulate that sense that a student could get in whether they were in trouble or doing something fantastic that I saw them, that, that I knew them and that I was there to help them either through something that was negative or encouraged them because they were doing amazing things.


Sam Demma (07:07):
That’s an amazing teaching philosophy. And it’s so cool that you not even realizing it learnt it when you were a student in grade seven. so awesome. And speaking of difficulty in doing that even to this day, I’m sure with COVID, it took that challenge to a whole new level. And you’re someone who was very crafty and resourceful during COVID to try and keep things functional and not only functional, but for the students in your school board. You’re one of the only educators. In fact, the only educator who has been featured in time magazine for your effectiveness during COVID, that’s been on this podcast I’d love for you to share a little bit about what happened during COVID and how you and your team at the board transitioned and adapted.


Bridget Weiss (07:59):
Yeah. You know, we, I, one blessing that I’ve had is, I don’t know if it’s my mathematical background or just how my brain works, but I am definitely a problem solver, a solution finder and that’s how I’ve always focused. Here’s a challenge. What is the best next step? How do I get this only the resources they need? What does this kid need if this isn’t working? What options do we have for this kid? You know, so I, that’s just, my frame of thought always is finding solution and being prepared for situations that we might not know about yet. So here comes along the pandemic. And really one of the things that happened to us is that we ended up with a potential COVID case in one of our elementary schools really early in March. And we had to act quickly to know to, because we, again, in March, 2020, we knew so little about COVID.


Bridget Weiss (08:57):
We didn’t even, we couldn’t even spell the word mask yet. Right. We, we, we were just, it was, we just did not know anything. What I had done about three weeks before that we were hearing the talk about this virus and, you know, what, what it might mean in other countries. And wow. I was sitting up and paying attention. So I pulled all our department leaders together. This was in early February and said, Hmm, let’s start thinking about this. What might we need to do? This is something we just couldn’t even have imagined a even February, 2020. And so each department, it, food services teaching and learning health services counselors. I had, ’em all the leads there. And we trouble shot through each department, what this could look like and what we, what should we be doing now to think about that?


Bridget Weiss (09:56):
And so when we were shut down on a Friday, March 13th, on Monday morning, we were delivering food to kids. We had, we had meals available. We had Chromebooks ready to be delivered to kids or picked up to try to build distant and delivery learning on the spot. It was quite something so literally from a Friday shutdown to a Monday we were able to deliver services to kids. And, and that was really meaningful to our families. Many of whom rely on the free, hot breakfast that we serve every morning to our elementary kids and so forth. So it, it was very quick turnaround operation.


Sam Demma (10:39):
That’s amazing. If you were to take the experience and make it a blueprint for another superintendent or educator, who’s interested in the creativity that went into solving this problem, what would the through line be? Would it be that you have to in advance or, you know, the moment something changes, give it attention in time? Like, how would you distill this down to a principal that another board or educator could use?


Bridget Weiss (11:07):
I think a couple of things, one is definitely being as prepared as possible for the unknown, which we had an emergency response plan and it had at four levels and we busted through those four levels. In the first day we were responding and normally those four levels are extended over a period of time a month, you know, months we blew through those four levels in one day. And so then you have to rely on your instincts your courage your team. So I’m a huge team advocate. So I partnered with my chief of staff who we, we do crisis response together and have for a number of years. And we sat at this desk in my office for hours and started designing what we thought next steps were making lists of who needed, what information how were we gonna support our custodial team?


Bridget Weiss (12:03):
So when I pulled those leaders together, again, because it was such an inclusive group, everybody had a heads up, everybody understood at least that we didn’t know everything and that we were going to be working really hard. And we didn’t know for sure the, so what of all that yet? But everybody was on point. Everybody was thinking through our custodial lead was thinking about what supplies we did have on hand. So we knew right away where to start looking for, for the next round of supplies. And, and, and again, food service, they were already contacting for the state for what waivers we might need. You know, so again, having the right people, you can’t do it alone. So making sure that you’re really including your full team is, and that just takes some intention and building that team in advance so that everybody feels confident in themselves, equipped and UN and knows that you do believe in them in doing some hard creative work, when the time comes,


Sam Demma (13:06):
It’s such a Testament to the power of a team and unified messaging. If everyone was to get different messaging, it would’ve caused a mass amount of chaos. amongst everyone, because everyone would’ve been unclear on what their roles and responsibilities were. And I see that there’s a whiteboard for everyone who’s listening. They can’t see it, but there’s a whiteboard behind you. I’m, I’m sure you erase that a couple hundred times. Would that be true?


Bridget Weiss (13:30):
but that is so true. I had lists on, I have two whiteboards, a in my office, I had lists of so many different action steps. I had lists of groups of people. So I had the board of education. What did they need? Teachers, staff, what did they need? Parents, families, what did they need to know? Because some of it was different. Some of it was the same information, but some of it was different. So we would do that. And then we would commute out. Then we’d erase it and we’d start over. As soon as something happened that we thought we need to alert them, we would write it on the list. And then we would use that to craft our, our messages. So, and, and all of a sudden, all of our normal tools that we use didn’t work anymore, right. We, we couldn’t call staff meetings together.


Bridget Weiss (14:14):
Our, our app wasn’t allowed to come into the building for a while. You know it just, so we had to rely on video. I had never made a video as a, as an administrator. I don’t have a, a communication department but, but we did that. We started just right away because I knew people needed to hear my voice and see my face versus email that was void of emotion, void, you know, void of the voice inflection that you can give gratitude with and so forth. So we immediately started in this office right here, my one person, chief of staff videoed on her phone a message that I could give staff right before they went away for their their week. So you know, just relying on, on your, on your skills and your team, and we just, nobody can do it alone. And, and really that’s true in a pandemic, extraordinarily true in a pandemic, but it’s really true on a day to day basis as well. We’re only as good as the people around us and, and those that we commit to lifting up and supporting along the journey with us.


Sam Demma (15:25):
You mentioned the importance of filming a video, so the educators could feel your grad to, and hear your voice inflections. Can we talk about that for a second? What is the purpose or what went through your mind to come to that conclusion that you needed to send a video?


Bridget Weiss (15:43):
To me community has always been really important. So whatever role I’ve had, I, as when I was a teacher, I was a coach. I, my classrooms were communities. My teams were communities as an administrator. My building became my community and really nurturing and developing that community ended up in good results for kids. And so what I found was all of a sudden, I felt so responsible for 700 people that I couldn’t talk with. I couldn’t run to a, a building and go to a staff meeting and share, which is what we normally do in crisis, because crises usually are very point based. They’re they’re involved in geographical school. Yeah. One school or another school. I go to the staff meeting. I tell them it’s gonna be okay. This is what we’re doing well, now it was everywhere. . And, and so I thought, I just need to do this, and it needs to be really lighthearted.


Bridget Weiss (16:37):
So I put, I’m a big diet Coke and peanut M and M fans and every fan, and everybody knows it. So I made sure somebody had delivered some to me. I had that in the backdrop and I they were going away for spring break. This was like one week after we closed down. And I also had a video that two elementary teachers had done that one in one week. They had gotten words from their kindergarten classroom about a song. They, they worked together to build lyrics and these two teachers sang this song. It’s gonna be okay, was the main lyric. So I tacked that on to the end of the video and had my message and then that video, and it really was. I needed to tell them it’s gonna be okay. I, I don’t know the future. I’m not sure what we’re gonna do next week when you get back from break, but we’re gonna be ready for you. And, you know, we can do this because we can do it together. And so that, that was in my mind what I just needed to express to them. And I knew that the written word wouldn’t quite get at it.


Sam Demma (17:42):
I love that. And filming that video sounds like it was an action on one of your personal to-do lists. You mentioned having all these lists of teachers needs and student needs and parent needs and communicating to them accordingly. What are some tools that you use to organize yourself? Whether that’s to do lists or software or anything that might be helpful for organizing your day and your tasks?


Bridget Weiss (18:08):
Yeah, I, I am, I’m a list maker. I, as you would imagine, I have a very logical sequential brain. And so I do a lot of lists. And really my calendar is a huge organizer for me. And it sounds funny, but that really is a tool. I use it in planning. I use it in tracking what this week is gonna look like, what I need to have done, what I need to prepare for. There are some other programs out there. I have just found that I, with the pace at which I work, the fewer layers of programs that I have on top of me, the more effective I am. So the, the scheduling nature of a account calendar really becomes almost a project board. You know, when I’m looking out a couple weeks ahead and, and so forth. So, so I really am driven by lists by calendar and you know, and again, having a strong cabinet team that, that reminds us all, when something’s coming up, that we need to be, we’re working on


Sam Demma (19:11):
Amazing. And on the topic of resources to do lists sound really important to you. what are resources that have helped you as an administrator and an educator, whether it be trainings you’ve been a part of or books you’ve read, or programs you’ve taken, or even simple advice that you think might be helpful for other


Bridget Weiss (19:32):
Well, I know that I am similar to so many and maybe all educators we have all this drive to improve, you know, there’s never a moment rest of wanting to do more or wanting to do differ. And, and sometimes it’s, it is exhausting because it, it is just literally a constant layer. You never quite get there. There’s always something more that you want to do, or a problem you haven’t figured out a gap, you haven’t figured out how to resolve. And so I think that’s a good thing, you know, I, I, I absolutely think it is what makes us better as we go. And so I think the skill of dissatisfaction that the, the characteristic of dissatisfaction is really critical to an effective leader. You, you must really be hungry and there’s so much work to do. There was work to do before the pandemic.


Bridget Weiss (20:35):
So right now, what I feel is a huge sense of urgency. And I’m, I’m in my 38th year in education. And so I’m getting anxious because I know I don’t have a lot of time left and there’s so much work to do. Our country has demonstrated that in the last year through the pandemic and the losses related to that, but our social justice issues, you know, are the, the needs of, so many of our kids have grown in the social and emotional area. And so I just, I feel like we, the drive is really important because what the drive does is it helps you continue to ask questions. Why aren’t we getting the results we want? What is it that we’re not doing that should be doing? You know, what is it that we’re doing that is not effective that we need to, or harmful in some cases, right?


Bridget Weiss (21:34):
Where, where are those places in our institution that are simply not working for some of our kids and some of our families, what do we need to stop doing? And, and right now, everyone is a also operating with such fatigue. Our teachers, our staff, our I just met this morning with our bus drivers. And it’s just everywhere. You know, our principles, everyone is, is so exhausted. So how we go about our business is really important, trying to focused on our priorities what, what do we stand for and how do we manage growth in those areas with limited resources, limited time, and a greater set of needs. And I think inspiring people to stay the fight, you know, to stay the course is really an important skill that a leader needs to have right now. And nobody needs to hear that we’re exhausted. Nobody needs to hear that we don’t have enough time. It, it, it simply, it is a way of life as a leader. And it certainly is before the pandemic. It is more now, it’s not that we shouldn’t take care of ourselves, but as a leader we really need to project optimism and hope for us to get through this next year, two, three years that we’ve got coming ahead of us in recovery,


Sam Demma (23:05):
How do you fill up your own cup? What are the things that you do outside of the walls of your boardroom or office to make sure you can show up optimistically and hopefully for not only your staff, but also all the students and families in the board?


Bridget Weiss (23:20):
Well, a lot of diet Coke and a lot of peanut M and MSS, the first step. After that I live in the most gorgeous area of the country in Southeast Alaska. And so I thrive in the out of doors. And so for me, personally, fresh air running, being on trails that fills my bucket. It’s really important for me. And I know when I haven’t gotten enough of it. So I think it is super important for everyone to find what fills their bucket. And we have an obligation to do that because we cannot fill others buckets if we don’t fill our own. And it is really a conscious decision and finding ways to fit it in. So I run early in the morning because if I don’t, it won’t happen. So it’s pitch dark this morning, probably 29 degrees . And but I was out there and and it was a great way to start the day. So everybody really has to fill their own bucket in, in whatever way does that for them. Awesome.


Sam Demma (24:24):
And, and if you want to share one or two final parting words or resources you think might be helpful for an educator listening, now’s a perfect time to do so.


Bridget Weiss (24:38):
I, I would say that one I’m, I’m not a big program person because I find that the heart of the work is so often in strategies and a mindset that and skill sets. However, I will say that one, as we move through this pandemic, and we have students with such increasing needs, our work around equity and social, emotional learning we use restorative practices here and it has made a huge difference in our, in our children and our families as we approach this work through the restorative practice lens. And and that is a, I think ill changer for many, many school institutions. But we have to keep looking at our, through our equity lens that there is no question that school is not still, it’s so frustrating to me, but it is still not the same experience for all kids.


Bridget Weiss (25:44):
And we have to keep fighting to change. When I hear that a child feels unseen, it breaks my heart. It is it is completely a travesty that we would have children show up and feel unseen. And so the work that we’re doing around equity and really partnering with our tribal agencies and, and other groups here to design systems that are very welcoming and socially just is, is really just important work. So I just encourage everybody to, to keep their priorities. You know, there’s a lot of noise. There’s a lot of tractors and a, a lot of anxiety in our country right now is and pointed towards schools. And we need to, as educators hold tight, stay the course with our priorities that we know our students and our families need and stand up for that and continue to, to take charge of what we do best for kids.


Sam Demma (26:53):
Bridget, thank you so much for taking some time out of your day to come on the high performing educator podcast. It’s been a phenomenal conversation. If an educator listening wants to reach out to you or mail you some diet Coke and M and Ms and peanuts, what would be the best email address or point of contact that they could send you a note or a question or a comment?


Bridget Weiss (27:17):
Sure. Email would probably be best. Send it to: bridget.weiss@juneauschools.org


Sam Demma (27:33):
Bridget, thank you so much. Keep up the great work and we’ll talk soon.


Bridget Weiss (27:38):
Sounds great. Thank you, Sam.


Sam Demma (27:41):
Hey, it’s Sam again. I hope you enjoyed that in amazing conversation on the high performing educator podcast. If you or someone, you know, deserves some extra recognition and appreciation for the work they do in education, please consider applying or nominating them for the high performing educator awards, go to www.highperformingeducator.com/award. You can also find the link in the show notes. I’m super excited to spotlight and feature 20 people in 2022. And I’m hoping you or someone, you know, can be one of those educators. I’ll talk to you on the next episode, all the best.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Bridget

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.

Tom D’Amico – Director of Education with the Ottawa Catholic School Board

Tom D’Amico - Director of Education with the Ottawa Catholic School Board
About Tom D’Amico

Tom D’Amico (@TDOttawa) is the Director of Education with the Ottawa Catholic School Board. He has over 31 years of experience in education and has had many roles including as a teacher, school administrator and as Superintendent of Human Resources and Superintendent of Learning Technologies and as the Associate Director of Education.

An award-winning educator he has been recognized with the Prime Minister’s Award for teaching excellence and with Canada’s Outstanding Principal award. As a Superintendent he received the EXL award to recognize excellence among members of the superintendency.

He has presented across Canada on the topics of educational technology and leadership in the 21st Century. Tom is the Canadian co-lead for New Pedagogies for Deep Learning (NPDL), a global partnership of over 1500 schools across 12 countries focused on practices to develop deep learning and the development of global competencies.

In addition to his educational qualifications, he holds an Osgoode certificate in education law; a workplace mental health leadership certificate, diversity and inclusive management certificate, an executive certificate in conflict management with a focus on alternative dispute resolution, and safe schools certification.

Tom is an off-ice official with the NHL and prior to his career in education was the general manager of Ottawa’s professional soccer team, The Ottawa Intrepid, and also spent time as the general manager of Malkam Cross-Cultural Training, a provider of cross-cultural communication, diversity and employment equity training.

“I believe in the empowerment of youth and their ability to make our world a better place, especially through the use of social learning and technology in a connected global society”.

Connect with Tom: Email | Twitter | Linkedin

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

New Pedagogies for Deep Learning

Trauma-Informed Teaching

Ottawa Catholic School Board

The Transcript

**Please note that all of our transcriptions come from rev.com and are 80% accurate. We’re grateful for the robots that make this possible and realize that it’s not a perfect process.

Sam Demma (00:00):
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 Tom D’Amico. Tom is the director of education with the Ottawa Catholic school board. He has over 31 years of experience in education and has had many roles including being a teacher school administrator, a superintendent of human resources and superintendent of learning technology.


Sam Demma (01:02):
An award-winning educator, he has been recognized with the prime minister’s award for teaching excellence and with Canada’s outstanding principal award, as a superintendent, he received the EXL award to recognize excellence among members of the superintendent. He has presented across Canada on the topic of educational technology and leadership in the 21st century. Tom is the Canadian co-lead for new pedagogies for deep learning NPDL, a global partnership of over 1,500 schools across 12 countries, focused on practices to develop deep learning and the development of global competencies. Tom has a wide breadth of information and knowledge when it comes to education. I really hope you enjoy this interview and conversation with Tom this morning. He truly believes in the empowerment of youth and their ability to make our world a better place, especially through the use of social learning and technology in a connected global society. I’ll see you on the other side.


Sam Demma (02:04):
Tom, welcome to the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show. Why don’t you start here by introducing yourself to the audience?


Tom D’Amico (02:15):
Happy to join you, Sam. Thanks for the invitation. I’m Tom D’Amico. I’m the director of education here in the Ottawa Catholic school board. And this is my 31st year in education within Ottawa.


Sam Demma (02:26):
And did you from a young age, think you were gonna get into education or what was your childhood dreams and how did that progress you to where you are now?


Tom D’Amico (02:33):
Yeah, that’s a, that’s a great question because I, both, my parents were teachers, so when I was growing up, the last thing I ever wanted to do was become a teacher I saw how they worked every night and every Sunday and I, my passion was soccer. So my, my goal all along was to play professional soccer and that’s what I wanted to do. So I played a high level in high school and then went to McMaster university for, to take Phy-ed. And I, I ended up playing soccer for four years, but my last year I ended up with a serious knee injury. So I had to, to change my plans and I, I realized I could no longer have that dream. So I had a backup plan and my backup plan was I went, went on, did a master’s of, sorry, masters of sports administration at OTAU and the Canadian soccer league, the CSL was just really getting going around that time.


Tom D’Amico (03:27):
And I ended up working with the team and then I was offered the job as their general manager. So it was a new dream and it was exciting and I was I was enjoying it, but then you also have to look at life. And the time I just was just got married, the league was not financially stable. Neither was the team. So I needed another backup plan. And cause my passion was sports and PHED I, when did I did my teachers college teachers, teachers college at Ottawa U and ended up leaving the team and becoming a, and just as aside I found out that my passions actually changed again and it wasn’t PHY ed. And where I found that I really enjoyed working with youth the most was with computers. And this was back in the late eighties and early nineties. And I saw how excited students were with technology and what it could do for them. And I ended up going back and taking some more courses and resulted in me becoming a business department, head and computer teacher. And from there I’ve moved throughout the board into different positions, every vice principal, principal, superintendent, associate director, and now director. So long story. But the answer to your question was, no, I did not dream of being a teacher. And in the end it was the right, right role for me to become an educator.


Sam Demma (04:45):
So bring me back to the day you’re on the field. I believe it was in Windsor. You, you know, you, you, you had an injury, you busted up the back of your knee and after that how did you decide teaching? Because like, that seems like that’s what you, you got into, you went back and finished your master’s of education like, or, sorry. No, you did your, you did a master’s you did a, master’s not in education, in soccer at sport administration.


Tom D’Amico (05:11):
Yeah.


Sam Demma (05:11):
Administration.


Tom D’Amico (05:13):
So, in my last year, because I, I really, you know, I needed, you never know if your professional sports is gonna work out for you. Yeah. It doesn’t mean you get rid of that dream. So when I did blow up my knee completely, it was a posture, Cru lateral collateral, ligament, and meniscus all went at the same time. So I actually went into shock on the field ended up in the hospital. They couldn’t do surgery right away cuz of the swelling, but eventually they, they did the surgery. So as I’m recovering, I’m thinking, my dream is dead. What am I gonna do? And I would say, although it wasn’t diagnosed, I was very depressed because your dream is just pulled from you in a, in a split second. So I had to reground myself and I liked learning and I, I knew I was interested in sports.


Tom D’Amico (05:56):
I loved coaching. I loved working with youth. So I, I changed that direction and ended up working in professional sports as I mentioned. But then when I looked at thinking, all right, professional sports might not work out. Cause the auto Intrepid were not very stable at the time. And the league wasn’t stable. I knew I liked working with youth. I knew I liked learning. And I had parents obviously in the past that have been educators. So that was my natural go-to. And that’s where I ended up going into, into teaching. It still allowed me to be a coach to coach soccer, to run soccer camps. I just couldn’t play at a high level anymore. But at when I entered that, that new door opened, I found all kinds of new opportunities.


Sam Demma (06:38):
Awesome. And what about coaching? Do you enjoy? It sounds like you’ve yeah. Enjoy in both the player experience, but also the coaching experience.


Tom D’Amico (06:47):
Yeah. And, and I, I coach both boys and girls at the time for, for club and then in, in high school itself very different. So with the with the guys team at, at high school, you know, many of them were not wanting to learn. They felt they were peaked and they knew everything. And at the time with the girls teams, it was really about the passion of learning that they wanted to learn how to get better in different skill sets. So that might’ve just been my experience of that school. So I don’t wanna general on gender. But that was my experience and the camps, because the camps I was doing for younger kids I, I found that I had some skills in being able to make it fun and enjoyable. So whether it was working with Tim bit soccer, which is, you know, the four and five year olds and bringing water balloons into the, the practices, just do whatever I could to engage them.


Tom D’Amico (07:40):
But with the goal of helping them develop their own skillsets and passions. So it didn’t matter to me that it was recreational or highly competitive. It was that people were getting out, they were doing what they enjoyed and I had an opportunity to help them with that. So that, that would be where I received some enjoyment from the coach side. The competitive side was still there. So when you, in Ontario, your goal was to get to offset, which you know, we had some success getting to the provincial levels. So that competitive thing side never went away. But I think I had learned that you need to have that balance. It’s not, not everyone is gonna go on and play at university or play professional and they don’t have to be that doesn’t need to be their goal. It could be just fitness, but it also could just be fitting in and socializing.


Tom D’Amico (08:27):
And as a teacher, I really learned that early on that if you could learn the passions of your students and find ways of engaging them, they’re gonna be more successful. And as a teacher, you all have less challenges because the behavioral problems are there. When there’s a relationship mm-hmm behavioral problems tend to come when there isn’t a relationship and they may not have a, an interest in your particular subject at all. So how do you relate to, to kids especially teenagers that don’t wanna be in your subject and the way to do that is find what their interests are and find ways of modifying the curriculum to match their interests.


Sam Demma (09:01):
That’s a great point. I was gonna say, you know, similar to your experience on the soccer field, having a team that’s open-minded and wants to learn is makes it a lot more enjoyable as a coach. And I would probably argue the same as someone in a classroom. You want kids that, you know, want learn and you hit it on the nail by saying, you know, you have to be invested in their interests for them to care about what you’re saying at the front of the classroom. What does that actually look like in a classroom? How do you ensure that you, that you do that as a teacher?


Tom D’Amico (09:28):
Well, I have not been in the class for a long time. So things have certainly certainly changed since I was last lost as a, a classroom teacher. So I certainly don’t espouse to have the talents that many of our new teachers have, but what it looked for me at the time, it was going out if I knew, for example, for sports, if it was a student in my class that was on the volleyball team and there was a game I would be there in the gym to watch them play, to cheer them on. So I was showing interest in, in their excitement and their passion. If it was a student that was in the, the band or in the drama, I made sure that I was there. I would ask them about it early in every class I taught. I always tried to find out as much as I could from, you know, whether it was interviews or just writing opportunities.


Tom D’Amico (10:07):
And I could find out that, you know, someone was caring for their grandmother and the grandmother had moved into their home and was ill and asking them, I saw not, not in front of everyone, but just say, you know, I appreciate you sharing that. How’s your grandmother doing? So you’re showing interest in the person first and the subject second. And to me, that’s what makes some of our teachers, the best they can be is not because they’re passionate about their subject. But they’re passionate about the students and helping students to be the best they can be. And recognizing that sometimes students are, are having a rough day and you need to accept that. And you, you need to, whether you’re bending rules or you’re just pausing them for some point sometimes because a student is late for class, the last thing they need is to be sent down to the office.


Tom D’Amico (10:55):
What they need is someone to know why they’re late or so maybe if they’re not willing to share, right, right. At that time, have a teacher, an educator that knows there’s so much going on in their life. That goes beyond what I’m teaching in this class, subject wise. And I need to respect that and they may not be ready to share with me but find the opportunity to ask them. So, you know, often I, I, I rarely gave detentions as a teacher, but if someone did something that was completely inappropriate, inappropriate, you needed to have a detention. I would never send it down to the office for, for things like that. I would say, okay, you’re gonna meet with me at lunch. That’s your consequence. And at lunch, we’d have a chance to talk. We could, whether it was one on one, or it was in small groups or was using the academics.


Tom D’Amico (11:40):
If I had a duty, I would ask them, come and walk with me. I did the same thing. When I became a vice principal or principal, I would often have people have their consequences doing cleanup in the yard, but I was out there with them and we would do it together. And when you’re doing it together, you have that opportunity to connect and to have discussions and let people know that, you know, they’re human, they make mistakes, we all make mistakes. And sometimes there’s consequences for the mistakes, but it’s the behavior that’s being trying. We’re trying to change, not, not saying to a person that they’re not worthy of being there. So I think all of those are pH fee that goes into what makes people strong.


Sam Demma (12:15):
Educators and walking beside the student, you know, during those moments shows them that you do care about them, as opposed to them being out there by themselves. You know, potentially thinking my school is against me and no one wants to see me succeed. It’s like, oh, you know, we care about you as a person and your development. And, you know, I’m willing to, to walk with you to show you how much I care. I think that’s a really good point when you have the time to do so. You know, you, you did the masters in sports administration, then the masters of education. And then what did your journey look like in education? So tell me more about your first role and how it evolved to where you are now.


Tom D’Amico (12:50):
Yeah, my, my first job in teaching was really interesting. One if as the I, I still remember the principal that hired me and this is, this things have changed now. I’m not sure you’d be able to do this anymore, but , I was teaching at the time in Ontario was called basic math. So grade 10 math, I was teaching pH ed. I was teaching grade 12 economics. I was teaching grade 13 religion. Oh, wow. I a section of adult ed. And then I had one extra course I needed to teach. And he called me into his office. And he said, for your last course, you have a choice. You can teach Spanish or you can teach computer programming. And I looked at him, I said, John, I, I don’t know anything about computers and I don’t teach Spanish and he, he responded by looking in the eyes and saying, Tom, I don’t think you heard my I’m giving you a choice, which of these two do you want ?


Tom D’Amico (13:38):
And I said, well, I guess I have a little interest in computers. So I’ll take computers. So that was in August and school started in September. And what he did was he gave me one book. So there was one book on it was called Wacom Pascal at the time. And I had to read that book to try and fit, figure out how to teach programming grade 10 Pascal. And as I said, I never would’ve picked that on my own, but because he had given that opportunity to me, it, it really changed my career path because I found out I had a passion for computers and technology. And I found out most of my students had the same and were no, no behavioral problems because they were so engaged and motivated to be on the computers. And there was instant rewards from any of them because they would be doing something.


Tom D’Amico (14:24):
And then if you, you, you see the results right away, cuz the computer, whatever you’ve programmed, they could see it work. So it was, it was really interesting. And I went on and took some more courses and ended up really changing away from my degree, which was phys ed and geography. And instead of teaching PHS, ed and geography, moving towards business courses like entrepreneurship at time, which brand new, which we started, I started the first multimedia computer course in Ontario. It was a pilot project. We wrote to the ministry at the time, the cost of a a scanner was about $3,000. The, we had, I think, three computers that had sound cards. And so we had dial up connections for the internet. And what we did was we created what we called the multimedia. So it was project based learning a bit ahead of its time and the multimedia manner.


Tom D’Amico (15:15):
Everyone had different tasks. We had managers, we had staff that would students that would become experts in sound. Some would become experts in videos. And then we looked for real life projects because technology was so new in 1990, you know, what could we do with this? How could we help companies how we helped small businesses? So we were doing real real life projects while learning the material. And I remember contacting the government, the federal government. So I saw a grant opportunity and it was probably 1991. And they were offering money to the, anyone that was interested in helping to digitize real Canadian artifacts. So I contacted them and they said, I said, I’d love to get my students involved. And the response was, we hadn’t thought of students, but that’s a great idea. And the project they gave us two amazing projects.


Tom D’Amico (16:03):
One was digitizing the books of remembrance. So the books of remembrance showing Canadian shoulders that had died, sit sits on parliament hill in house of near the house of commons. And one page at a time was being turned. So you had to be there on that day to see a relative’s name in the book. Wow. And they trusted us and our students to get the proper equipment. And we digitized it page by page and put it online in, in early nineties so that anyone could see their relatives names in the book. So the students that worked on that, you knew they weren’t doing it for a mark. You know, they were doing it to make a difference. And the second project they gave us was digitizing RTO hall. So looking at what happens with the governor general, and I took a group of students in the summer, a small group, they got to meet the governor general.


Tom D’Amico (16:52):
They got picture is they got the back behind the scenes tour and they had so much pride in all their, all of their work. So those were some early things in my career that I really saw the advantages of technology and what students could do with their passions. So my roots from there was I, I had been tapped on the shoulder by some other leaders to say, you should consider adminis. I loved teaching. I didn’t wanna leave teaching, but I took the courses just in case I wanted to open those doors later on. And sure enough, once I had taken the two courses, there’s a principals part one and a principals part two course. I was offered opportunity. I had to lead the school and go to another school as a vice principal. And I loved that role because as a vice principal, some people think the vice principle is both the disciplinarian.


Tom D’Amico (17:40):
And I think of a vice principle approaches. That is their job. It’s not gonna be a very fulfilling role. Yeah. If all you’re doing is chasing kids for skipping class and dealing with kids that were smoking on property, et cetera. But I viewed it as a chance to build relationships and help students that sometimes people call ’em at risk. I, I would call ’em students that need the most support. Mm. So the ones that need the most support are the ones that I had an opportunity now, regardless of who their teachers were to try and help them. And I wasn’t always successful and I made mistakes. But for many, I, I would think that I hoped that I was able to help them make some better decisions. And when they made wrong decisions, whether it was a suspension or detention, make them feel that when they were back, you have another shot, keep going.


Tom D’Amico (18:24):
You know, you turn that page. You’re not gonna be painted with a brush that you’re, you’re a bad person. You’ve made mistakes. So that was my experience as a VP. And then I had the opportunity for a principal. And as a principal, you delegate a lot of the tasks to your VP. So I, I think you have even more opportunity to shape culture as a principal. Mm. So as a principal, you can really delegate some of the day to day managerial tasks and you have a lot of time to work on leadership. So I loved being a principal, both in a couple, several schools. I was a principal at, I left the board at one point, I was doing the continuing education department, ed and ESL. And I left to become a general manager of Malcolm cross-cultural training. So it was just because I had that entrepreneurial spirit and the business side, I took a leave of absence from the board and started working from Malcolm.


Tom D’Amico (19:18):
And it was fabulous because you were going into companies, helping them with their equity. Again, the timing, this is 2001. So we’re looking at different society 20 years ago. And when the tragedy on September 11th hit, all of a sudden our services were in so much demand because companies needed people to come in to help people learn how to get along and not be fearful of people from other cultures. So I had to make the decision whether to buy into the company and make that a new career change or go back to education because I was on a one year leave of absence. Mm. And what I missed was the community. So I, I did let the owner know that I appreciated the opportunity and I was choosing to go back to the board. So I went back to the school board and give up that business side because I missed just dealing with people so much not having to deal about money and setting contracts and all, all of those areas.


Tom D’Amico (20:16):
So I came back and became a principal at a downtown school in Ottawa and backed a lot of high school, which I, I loved. I was there for six years, which is wonderful because you get to see students coming in. We were a seven to 12 school. So I got to see students coming in grade seven and then see them grad like grade 12. And you can see how much people changed from, you know, 11 to 12 year old to a 17 year old. Mm. And then from there a lot of these were tapping on shoulders. So I always took the courses I needed to be available if I decided to do something else, but I, I never left a job because I didn’t like it. I’ve always loved every job I’ve had. But one of the things, the next step, if you’re looking at a hierarchy is a superintendent and our board auto Catholic operates in a very flat model.


Tom D’Amico (21:02):
So although there are different positions, we really always have believe that leadership can be with or without a title, and everyone has a role to play. But I took the courses I needed because to become a superintendent, you have to do your supervisory officer qualification programs. So I, I did take those and sure enough, an opportunity came and technology and I applied and was successful, but it’s not just technology that portfolio. I also had the equity portfolio. I had the data portfolio, the, the computers, I had families at schools. So I got to work with, with principals. And I, I learned more skills in that, in those areas. And then there was an opportunity to switch into human resources. So I, I moved into superintendent of human resources and, and again, you’re, you’re dealing with good and bad, right? So there’s some good things or some bad things that happen.


Tom D’Amico (21:51):
We, we, at the time probably about 4,500 employees now we’re up to 6,000 employees. So you’re looking at little city, so good and bad things will, will happen. But I think as a leader, as an educator, you need to anticipate that there will be bad days and bad things happen, but then move on it from them and not get your judgment clouded by when you’re stuck with a bad thing, move on to all the good things you can do. And then the structure in our board was we have an associate director that all the superintendents report to, and then the director. So I ended up becoming the associate director for five years. And then two years ago, I switched the roles to director when one of my mentors said, Denise, Andre retired as director. And I was easy, easily easy for me to move into her position. All of us have different styles. So you’re never trying to be the leader that you’re replacing, but you’re trying to build on what they had built before you, so that’s been my my journey. Wow.


Sam Demma (22:46):
What a diverse experience. It’s, it’s really cool to hear all the different positions you’ve worked in and what you learn from each of them, and also how you think they impact the school and the community. And like you’re saying, the mini city that is a board, a board of education where do you think your beliefs, values and principles come from, you know, as an educator, because what you shared with me at each of those steps, your beliefs and values and how, although there’s bad things, you know, you want to focus on the good, and, you know, when you, you know, you had principles in the way that you dealt with students, like where did you, where did you get all those insights and principles and values from?


Tom D’Amico (23:24):
Yeah, everyone is different. Sam was I’m sure. You know, but I, I would say for me, it started in my house with my, in my, both my parents, I, I grew, grew up in a, a Catholic household with two Catholic educators. So I obviously saw them model. And I think I was taught at a young age that, although we didn’t, we were, I would say middle class, we never went without food or had some of the challenges that I know many youth have in our city. But we didn’t have a lot. So, you know, both my parents were when they were both teaching teaching, didn’t pay a lot back in the seventies and when I was growing up but we had what we needed. And I think I learned the value of hard from them. I learned the value of sharing, what you have when you do have enough that you help others.


Tom D’Amico (24:11):
So I would say it came largely from my parents and from my faith, but then my own experiences in my schools. I I’ve always believed that it’s a sort of a silly saying, but experience comes from experience, not from age . So when I was growing up, you know, a lot of times you could see people. And even though as a young educator, some of the students are always waiting to leave. They’re waiting for the next year. You know, you’re in grade eight, I’m gonna wait till I’m in high school in grade nine grade nine, you think, well, I’m just a, a, a rookie in grade nine. I’ll wait until I get into grade 10 before I take a leadership role. And then in grade 10, you think, well, I’m gonna be a senior in grade 11, and then you wait to grade 12 and by then you’ve missed four years or opportunity to lead.


Tom D’Amico (24:53):
So I’ve always believed that that anyone can lead at any time at any age. And the role of the adults is to remove some of those barriers and to help people with resources. So even as an educator, as a principal, I may not always be dealing with students. It could be staff, but I think those values are there. That don’t be so quick to say no to a, to a creative idea instead look at, well, what are the, not just the pros and cons, but what can I do to help them to see what can be done? And is the timing, the issue? Is it the resort to the issues, but always look at what we can do with, with youth, you know, we, we had someone that wanted to start a belly dance club. So I remember as a principal thinking, is this a joke?


Tom D’Amico (25:37):
Am I being set up? And when I looked into it, no, this was someone that, that’s what they did in the community. And they were good at it. And they wanted a way to let their peers know that this is what they could do. So brought than saying, no, you can’t, because this is gonna be problematic. It’s find a teacher supervisor. If you can find a teacher, supervisor, we’ll support where you need to get it going. I think it only lasted for a year or two, but for that student, it, it made a difference. So that’s where I would say that what’s what shaped and formed me as well as some fabulous mentors. I always look to mentors and leaders and ask them questions, looked at what can I learn from them? But I’ve never tried to replicate a leader. As I said, I’ve always tried to build on those skills.


Tom D’Amico (26:19):
And I think that’s another area where some people experience some, some failures is they see someone really strong or a great idea at one school and they try and replicate that person’s skillset or that idea instead of how do I iterate it, how do I take what’s working there and now apply it to my context. And certainly with equity, it’s so important to look at the cultural backgrounds of our students before taking an idea and saying, well, this is working at this school. If I need to look at that school and say, yeah, it’s working. And it’s a, you know, far majority Italian background, as opposed to another school, far majority Filipino background. I need to understand who I’m supporting and then recognize within that you have also other subcultures and different areas to look at. So that would be my my experience growing


Sam Demma (27:09):
Up. Oh, that’s awesome. I appreciate you sharing. I have to ask too, cuz you mentioned computers and you know, the board having three of them and how expensive they were. And my dad used to tell me growing up that they’d use these things called floppy disks. Do you remember, do you remember this?


Tom D’Amico (27:24):
I could bet your dad on that because even before floppy discs I actually did take a course in, in high school when I was in grade 10 or 11 and it, it happened to be computer programming. So although I said, I didn’t have any background, I took one course. And the way it worked to Sam was we had these bubble. So we had to program, we had these cards that had ones and zeros and you had to fill ’em in by pencil to write your program. They would then get mailed to the university of Waterloo and they would send it back about a week later and let you know where the errors were. So it was just unbelievable how awful that process was. Wow. and then yes, I started my first computer had a tape drive, so it wasn’t even a floppy disc.


Tom D’Amico (28:10):
It was a tape drive. And then from that, there were different sizes of floppy discs. So I’ve experienced all of those up to today’s. I, I try and stay as current as I can with the technologies, but they, they certainly have gone through lots of iterations and I member even records. So record records. I had a record in my garage and my daughters are both adults now, but at one point she saw this record in the garage and she said, dad were the CD ROMs ever big at your, in your age? had to explain to her, it wasn’t a CD rom it was a, a record for a record player. So that’s, funny’s a fun activity taking some of those items and give them to young children now and say, what do you think this


Sam Demma (28:48):
Is? I heard old cell phones used to be massive too. carrying around a brick. But


Tom D’Amico (28:53):
Yes, we had a staff member at my, at my first job as a teacher in, in 1990. He had a brief case that he carried around with them and in the briefcase was the cell phone. Wow. Cause he had a part-time job in the construction industry. And so when we would be on break in the staff room, he would take out this phone, which was literally you know, probably 10 to 15 times today’s phones. Look, it looked like a really large walkie talkie. Yeah. And that was one of the first cell phones that I ever saw and saw someone using. So we we’d come a long way.


Sam Demma (29:25):
So if you could travel will not back to the future, but back to the past and you know, speak to yourself in your first year of education, both the experience that you’ve gone through and the wisdom you’ve gleaned now, like what advice would you give your younger self walking into that classroom?


Tom D’Amico (29:43):
That, that’s a great question. And not having thought of that one prior to right now, the two things that come to mind one of them is letting myself know that there’s going to be bad days, but there’s gonna be way more good days. And that would be at my, my earlier advice. But I think early in my teaching career, it was so hard with teaching six different subjects that I wasn’t prepped for. There weren’t all the resources that we have now today. And every night staying up so late just thinking, you know, how am I ever gonna keep up? So that would be one piece of advice I would give myself, just know there’s gonna be bad days and expect it. And then you can move on. There’s gonna be way more good days. That would, that would be one key piece of advice.


Tom D’Amico (30:29):
And I guess the other piece I would give now is knowing that you can, you’ll never be able to accomplish everything, whether it’s teaching or it’s leading. So you have to know when to stop and when to say no to take care of yourself. So that, that reflects wellbeing. So, you know, if you’re, whether it’s marking as a teacher or it’s working on the perfect assignment, a lot of these are lessons learned during the pandemic. But I think my message to a younger self would’ve been don’t aim for perfection aim to do your best and sometimes doing your best. You means not doing everything could be missing deadlines. It could mean not having the best perfect assignment like something that might take two hours only spending an hour, an hour and a half and leaving that half hour for you for your own wellness and wellbeing. That would be my advice because there’s a lot of workaholics in, in teaching and a lot of type a personalities and that’s not necessarily healthy. And it’s, it shouldn’t be a badge of honor to say that you work till midnight, seven days a week. Mm. And the badge of honor would be, I, I worked to get enough done to be appropriate and support all my students, but also to dedicate time to myself and my family. I, I think that’s a shift that we need to continue to see.


Sam Demma (31:45):
I love that. And what do you think are some of the opportunities and some of the challenges that exist in education today as well? I know, you know, it’s changed a lot over the years and I think every year offers a new learning but yeah. What do you think are some of the, both the challenges and opportunities


Tom D’Amico (32:02):
Re reflecting that I’m doing the podcast with you during the pandemic. I mean, that obviously brings the challenges right away challenges during the pandemic have been huge because people are coming into schools with fear and having experienced trauma. And I think one of those challenges is that sometimes we just focus in the last two years, the pandemic being the physical, if you don’t catch COVID, you’re all good, but that’s not reality that people are afraid. They’re afraid they’re gonna catch COVID, they’re afraid they’re going to either lose their life. Or even if they’re not worried about they’re gonna catch it and spread it to someone else like, but so we have to have the opportunity there is for trauma-informed teaching and trauma-informed teaching needs, focusing on relationships. So I think that’s a real positive that’s come out of a pandemic and the people have seen the need to support one another, whether it’s student or staff, but also to have check-ins to check-ins to see how are you doing?


Tom D’Amico (32:57):
And it goes back to what I said about 1990s which really worked for me, was getting to know people first in subject second, we’ve had to intentionally do that during the pandemic to make sure are you okay? Are you, you know, is your family getting food? Do you have internet? Do you need a device before we can worry about teaching? The other challenge I’ll highlight and it’s, it’s a good one. And being called to task in this, in our current world, in society with the injustice of equity. So I, I, I use poverty as one example, but we’ve certainly seen anti-Asian racism. We’ve seen anti-black racism. We’ve seen challenges for members of the LG T. There’s so many unjust situations right now that we have to do better. And we have to recognize we just finished national truth and reconciliation day yesterday in orange shirt day.


Tom D’Amico (33:50):
That’s a sad chapter of our country, but we have to recognize it and learn from it and make things better. So those are the opportunities that as we recognize the problems, we can make them better. I’ll, I’ll give an example from our board. And I’m just taking one piece of equity. It could be many different areas of equity. So we have students that are, are black in our schools and our high schools, and what we’ve created are black student associations, so that they have more of a voice and they can look for what change are needed. And that’s a great opportunity to create those groups for, for equity seeking groups, but also to give ’em a voice. And so what I did as director was I said, I want to take one student from each of these black student associations and create an advisory committee so they can meet with me as director.


Tom D’Amico (34:37):
And we meet about every six weeks and they can tell me what’s going well. And what’s going well in our schools. And then being in a, in a privileged position of leadership and having some power, I’m able to try and implement some changes for the changes coming because of them. So they’re identifying things. We will have another black student association form, I think November 18th, this, this current school year. And I took part last year. I, I just listened. I, I was there and students led everything and they shared some terrible stories. So when they share stories of someone using the N word and how it made them feel, or seeing an educator that didn’t react when that was done, or didn’t know how to react having someone you know, read to kill a Mockingbird, you know, things that we can change structurally that we just hadn’t done.


Tom D’Amico (35:24):
So I think those are challenges, but they’re great opportunities. Black lives matter movement that can be really difficult in a school, or it can be empowering. So we need to find ways to do things appropriately and to empower youth so that they see that they can make changes, cuz they can make changes. We had a school, not all of our Catholic schools in Ottawa have dress code. Only four. I believe of the 15 have not dress code. They all have dress code, but they have uniforms. So two examples one of our schools they went the principal and they said, we wanna do something more for black lives matter. And we’ve designed a t-shirt and we wanna sell the t-shirt and the principal was completely giving them power by saying, I think that’s Agus idea. And what if we make that shirt be allowed as part of the uniform?


Tom D’Amico (36:12):
So people don’t have to just wear the school uniform that can also wear that and, and what a great activity. It, it raised money and the money went to a graduate of nut school who was raising money for a program. I believe it was in Uganda starting a, a sports program there. So it was just one thing after another, that was really positive out of their, these students generating that idea. Another example would be the group that met with me saying, you know, we have a bad policy in our board that students can’t wear bandanas. And it, it really reiterates inappropriate conclusions that a student wearing a bandana is part of a gang. And it’s an outdated concept that we just never changed. And it doesn’t reflect the fact that there needs to be some culture awareness that some headgear should be allowed in schools.


Tom D’Amico (37:02):
Yes. You could say a baseball cap is not gonna be allowed cause we’ve seen that as honor respect, but there are other headgear that is culturally appropriate. So we changed our policy because of those students. And now each school is going back and they’re implementing it and they’ll have some challenges because some people will push it to limits because that’s something teenagers do. And, and we need to expect them to push the limits and find what a reasonable solution or balance is. So those are challenges that have resulted in new opportunities and I feel are resulting in, in a better school board, overall, a more educated staff and a more educated group of leaders. As, as we continue to look at a, do we improve equity and how do we learn we’re on the same journey together. It sounds


Sam Demma (37:43):
Like a very student-centric view that you and your colleagues in the school board has, which is awesome. It’s cool to hear the different challenges, but also the equal seat of opportunity in each of them and how the, how those things are being brought to life in the schools. If another educator is listening and is at all inspired by this convers or enjoy to laugh about old technology and wants to reach out what would be the best way for them to, you know, shoot you a message what would be the best way for them to reach out?


Tom D’Amico (38:10):
So if it’s an educator, I would say Twitter (@TDOttawa). I know I have not reached the platform I need to be on for our students. So I should be on TikTok and Instagram. our school board is I’m not, but it’s on my learning path to, it just keeps changing. But I know for students they are there and I work with our students and for them, I have to teach them how to use email so that they can email me. But that’s the other path, certainly just do a search for our school board, Tom D’Amico, co-director of education that can email me Director@ocsb.ca. I will respond to every email I receive usually within 24 hours. That’s my, my time to get back to people and on, on Twitter, because it’s such a fabulous way for educators to share what they’re doing.


Tom D’Amico (38:58):
I’m always on Twitter just to lurk to see what their people are doing and to respond. We have 83 schools, so it’s not possible for me to get 83 schools, but in 30 minutes, as long as they’ve used common hashtags, I can see what’s happening right across our board. And then recognizing not everyone’s on Twitter. We have to also find other ways to, to be there in person when we can. And for our, for our students, I do know that our, we have a student Senate that our associate director meets with and I try and make those meetings when I can they’re on Instagram. So they will share all as much as they can. The great successes at their stories with other student, Senate leaders and student council co-presidents so they can borrow ideas and then modify them to make them work at their schools.


Sam Demma (39:43):
Awesome. That’s amazing. I love the hashtag idea too. Tom, thank you so much for taking some time outta your day to come on the show here today. I really appreciate it. It’s been an honor chatting with you about your philosophies, values and journey throughout education. Keep up the great work and we’ll talk soon.


Tom D’Amico (39:58):
Yep. Perfect. Thanks Sam. Really appreciate it. Take care.


Sam Demma (40:02):
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 for. 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 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 Tom

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.

Chelle Travis – Executive Director of SkillsUSA

Chelle Travis - Executive Director at SkillsUSA
About Chelle Travis

Chelle Travis (@TheChelleTravis) is the executive director of SkillsUSA, a national organization of nearly 400,000 teachers and students within career and technical education. Travis was appointed in 2019 to lead a staff of 35 that manages a federation of 52 state and territorial associations. SkillsUSA’s mission is to empower members to become world-class workers, leaders and responsible citizens. It improves the quality of our nation’s future skilled workforce.

With more than 17 years’ experience in career and technical education, Travis has served in a variety of academic settings, including secondary institutions, universities, and technical and community colleges. Most recently, she was the senior director of workforce and economic development at the Tennessee Higher Education Commission (THEC), where she was charged with building partnerships with employers, workforce agencies and postsecondary institutions. She was the primary point of contact at THEC due to her knowledge of technical education, work-based learning experiences, alternative credentialing, competency-based education and experiential learning. She also managed all external workforce grants issued by THEC.

Formerly, Travis served as associate vice chancellor for students for the Tennessee Board of Regents College System of Tennessee, where she provided leadership in promoting student initiatives across 40 technical and community colleges.

Travis holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration and finance, and a master’s degree in business administration, from Middle Tennessee State University. She is a doctoral student at Tennessee State University.

Connect with Chelle: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

SkillsUSA Organization

What is Career and Technical Education (CTE)?

SkillsUSA Membership Kits

SkillsUSA New Chapter Guide

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 Chelle Travis. She is the executive director of skills USA, a national organization of nearly 400,000 teachers and students within career and technical education. Travis was appointed in 2019 to lead a staff of 35 that manages a Federation of 52 state and tutorial associations skills. USA’s mission is to empower members to become world-class workers, leaders, and responsible citizens. She’s been in this work for more than 17 years, and it is my absolute pleasure to bring her on the show here today, to talk about her journey into leadership and all the challenges that they are overcoming at skills USA during this tough time. I hope you enjoy the interview. I’ll see you on the other side, Chelle Travis, thank you so much for coming on the high-performing educator podcast. It’s a pleasure to have you start off by sharing with the audience who you are and why you got into the work you do with young people today.


Chelle Travis (01:07):
So I’m Chelle Travis. I’m the executive director of skills USA, and I’m very excited to be here with you today. Thank you for having me, Sam. I actually got into education and specifically career technical student organizations because of an advisor I had in high school. So like many of our students across the nation, there is that one person, their advisor that makes an impact on their life. And Ms. Webb was that for me that she taught me leadership skills. I was very shy. Didn’t necessarily like to speak in front of people. And she opened me up to a world that I did not know that would exist for me. She took me on my first my first trip in, in a plane to a student conference, a leadership conference and, and actually started my journey there, so wanted to reinvest in and pay it forward for what someone had done in my life. So I would a lot to her.


Sam Demma (02:21):
That’s awesome. Shout out, Mrs. Webb, what point in your journey did you know I’m going to be a worker in education? Was there like, was there a certain moment you made the decision that you can remember or was it just a lifelong decision?


Chelle Travis (02:37):
So my mother was as Siki educator and I said, I would say there were two very strong women in my life. I’ve Ms. Webb. And then my mother my mother was CP educator for 40 years and a CTSO advisor. I watched her advocate for CTE my entire life. And so I always was very impressed by her passion and her dedication to her students. However like many young adults, you don’t necessarily want to do what your parents did. Right. So thought it gets that thought it gets that for, for a while. And then I met my next mentor Dr. Williams when, my first about first day actually on my college campus, I became his student worker. And he was in the office of student services again, working with students organizations. And then at that time I realized that you know, this is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I started I stopped fighting it and started running towards it. And and really embracing that at that point.


Sam Demma (03:48):
And I know you’ve been doing this for years now. The challenges this year are unique to all the challenges you might’ve faced in the past. And I’m sure there’s things that have been very successful and things you have also learned from one of those huge successes, which we briefly talked about before this recording was the fact that you raised your organization and your partner, a partner raise over $300,000. Can you shed some light on that success during COVID and as well as some learnings, if you have any?


Chelle Travis (04:14):
Absolutely. So I would say that in this moment in time right now we can make a significant difference in elevating our public perception of the value of career and technical education. Now is really our time and our student skills have always been essential. But I think the pandemic has really put a light, a spotlight on the need for CTE in America and right now. And so our our partners very, very excited about the commitment of our partners. They really stepped up and, and saw this need and really wanted to help us elevate career and technical education and wanted to make sure that skills USA had the resources that it needed to actually be able to provide services for our students across the nation. We serve students across all 50 states two territories and the district of Columbia approximately 400,000 members, students and instructors every year and over 20 and about 20,000 classrooms in the United States.


Chelle Travis (05:27):
So so a very large large range and an opportunity to reach even more students every year as a, as we elevate CTE and they see the importance and we’re able to tell our story and they are, and Carhartt who is a great partner, longstanding partner of skills USA. So our labor day as an opportunity to really recognize the value of skilled trades to elevate CTE and to support skills and the mission of our organization. So I’m very excited to have such a great partner. They aren’t our only partners. We’ve had other partners that have set up during this time to really help our students and our instructors during very challenging times.


Sam Demma (06:15):
That’s awesome. And out of the smorgasborg of challenges we’re faced with right now, what are some of the ones that you’re currently facing as an organization? Maybe some of what you’ve already overcome, but some you’re still dealing with today.


Chelle Travis (06:29):
So a large challenge, as you say, across America, as we’re going into the fall and into a new school year is normally a time for if you’re an instructor, if you’re in education. And also if you’re a student, I have a, a second grader and, and, you know, you love getting that new if you have a elementary school student. And I think I even did in high school enjoy, you know, getting those new school supplies, getting that new backpack. And there was always this anticipation of the new year to come and, and for an instructor and advisor, that new group of students that you’re going to be able to impact their lives and, and really grow with them throughout the year. And it’s always very exciting and this year was a little different and then than normal it not knowing the, the difference from state to state and even within each district from district to district about what the move forward plans would be, whether classrooms would be all grounds virtual or a combination of the two in a hybrid classroom.


Chelle Travis (07:36):
And as we’ve seen that in, you know, our instructors concerned about their safety and their students and how they would put precautions in place if they were going on grounds to make sure that, you know, their students and the protection of their students and themselves their safety was first. And so those challenges and as students, you know, we’ve seen across our membership where students have gone on Graham one week and then instructors in their online the next weekend. And really, so the many challenges that our students and instructors space, we face as an organization and trying to make sure that we’re, we’re meeting them where they are. So we really did see in the summer making sure that we could pivot all of our resources to make sure that they were on all available to our instructors and to our students, no matter what that learning environment not be.


Chelle Travis (08:39):
And because we know even with all the challenges and, and our instructors and our students are so resilient and have been so adaptable during this time and very strong, I really do applaud everything that they are doing and make sure that they’re still able to meet their students’ needs in the classroom. But we, we spent a lot of hours and still are pivoting everything that we do from what they would normally receive possibly in person to making sure that all of that was available to our students and instructors in a virtual format and even more because not knowing if you’re going to have a chapter online or whether it’s online or whether it’s going to be virtual, or how do I meet with my students for my chapter, if they’re not going to get together, or if half of them are online and half of them on our ground.


Chelle Travis (09:36):
And so it’s such a challenging time, but we’ve tried to encourage our instructors about providing them resources for their classroom that it’s not time to pause. Our students really do need skills USA right now more than, than ever in skills USA. Not only do we, do we provide students with those personal skills workplace skills and their technical skills grounded on academics to really make sure that they’re ready to enter the workplace, but we give them a sense of belonging and a place you know, that, that they can be with their their fellow students. And at a time when so many things have been canceled and their, their life, we can, can be a positive a positive place for them to to belong in and also to make a difference in their lives, still in a virtual world. So we’ve really tried to provide those resources and continue to provide those to our instructors. And I think the challenging thing that we all face is just really continuing to adjust to what is our for now our new normal.


Sam Demma (10:57):
Yeah, I totally agree that this type of work, this selfless work is needed now more than ever when students are down, I think that’s when they need the most help. And with all the challenges that we’re facing, those three pillars of technical skills, personal skills and career skills are so important. And I would assume that a lot of the personal skills that are taught at skills USA are through live events, like case competitions and conferences and national conferences. How are you adjusting those? Are they being put online? Are they being put on hold this year? What’s the direction that your company has taken organization has taken to address that


Chelle Travis (11:34):
Again? We, we do feel that it is no time to pause for our students. So I’m very proud of the work of our state and of our staff at the national office to make sure that that can happen. So right now we, throughout the summer we trained our state officers virtually for our state. Now we are leading into season four. If states needed assistance, they would normally have all leadership conferences. We have assisted our states in making sure that they can have those virtual experiences for students for their leadership conferences and also with online as state officers and chapter officer experiences and making sure that they’re, they are able to, to have those leadership experiences as well. We have a, we have an empowering experiences team and that empowering experiences team have really, they’ve done a great job in making sure that that there are experiences all year long for our chapters.


Chelle Travis (12:46):
So while we know our our state and our capture advisors have a heavy list this year in trying to provide additional resources and additional activities that they can take in and put into their classroom. And why virtual events for their students to be connected through a series of task force and in, in looking at what our students would be interested in and would be engaged in and making sure that we can meet their needs. We also, for our instructors this year we elevated the number of professional membership resources that they have so toolkit that they can take videos that they can use lesson plans that they can use in their classroom to make sure that they’re still integrating that skills USA experience and that we are integrating all of those framework skills into the classroom and providing those resources for our for our advisors and also our our experiences also for our chapters, our program of work tool kit.


Chelle Travis (13:58):
So they are chapter activities can still take place. We have developed those chapter it tool kit, and then also in looking at their championships, cause you talked about those and local championship guides that can assist them in their classroom. During this time in technical in technical opportunities as well. So you, you asked about conferences, so we have those happening this fall. One commitment that we have made and that we’ve made to our membership is that we will have a national conference this year. So look for more information on that. And November 16th is, is the date that we shared with our membership at the beginning of this fall that we would share the decision of the delivery of our national conference. And so, so then our championship team and our education team, as well as our health staff has been working on what that national conference may look like championships is, is also looking at how we can deliver how we can help states deliver virtual conferences, if that is, is what their state is going to need or hybrid conferences and in assisting in providing resources and platform opportunities for that delivery.


Chelle Travis (15:21):
But we will be offering our national conference with, with sessions and and actually opportunities to connect with employers our textbooks, whether that’s on ground or online and, and also we will be offering competition opportunities and all of our trade areas. So we’ve really been working hard this year, not only to learn from those experiences across the nation and in what we can do for our students. But also we belong to a community of world skills and we’ve been learning from our, their nations and in what they’re going through as well. We’re not alone in this pandemic and skilled trades are needed not just in our country, but around the world. And and so learning from those nations and how they’re meeting the needs of their students as well have informed our decisions.


Sam Demma (16:22):
That’s amazing. I want to take you back for one second to Mrs. Webb and explore what she did for you. And you were a student that really lit a fire within your heart to, to, to chase this stuff. Where’s she, like, if you can pinpoint some of her character traits that really stood out to you, so other educators listening might be able to do the same thing for their students, that’d be really helpful.


Chelle Travis (16:46):
So I said that I was shy. So if somebody saw that and then you made it in high school, they would probably say that’s not true. Most people would have thought that I was, I was an extrovert. I love surrounding myself with people like making a difference in other students’ lives. However, I was say Saferight was as something that I had, and he might not have thought that either, but so Ms. Webb of one of the things is that she saw something in me and, and believed in me and actually instilled the confidence in myself that that I could become both a leader on our campus, but later a student later in our state and in our region and and, and believes in me and that was the first thing is that she gave me an opportunity.


Chelle Travis (17:44):
That is something that I share with, when I was in Tennessee and worked at the state director is skills USA. I’ll always said, it’s our it’s our responsibility. It was my responsibility as an instructor. It was our responsibility as as a state association to give students opportunity and it’s up to them what they do with those and a lot of times, but to come alongside them and to support them and help them. But sometimes that’s all it takes is to, to believe in your students, to give them the opportunity and to instill in them the confidence that they can do, that she showed me and helped me overcome my fears and, and helps me work through those. And, and that opportunity was mine if I was if I wanted to and would they committed. And so I will never forget that Phantom of the opera I’ll just share with you that was, she played that. So before any we would be in her car growing, going across the state, I would be getting ready to speak. And I came from a very small high school. So I was my high school, I graduated with 68 people. I was preparing to speak to 5,000.


Chelle Travis (19:03):
And so and so we played Phantom of the opera all the way across the state until we got until we got there to that conference. And then, you know, and then the next thing was to prepare me and one of my classmates to, to present to a to a national conference as, as well. So she took me on step to mentor Ernie and, and really made sure that that whatever it was that I needed to, to come on earth to get over that hurdle, she was going to help me find that and then and practice and, and make sure that I was ready for that opportunity. So


Sam Demma (19:46):
That’s amazing. I resonate with their story so much because I’ll throw a high school. I want it to be a pro soccer player. I ended up having some major knee injuries lost a scholarship to the U S and I had a teacher. I was supposed to go to Memphis and Tennessee, and my teacher’s name was Michael loud foot. And he believed in me when I was down. Like, I didn’t believe in myself. And he taught me this lesson that a small, consistent action can make a massive change and then challenged me to go out in the community and do something. And that led to a bunch of social enterprise work here in Ontario with picking up garbage. It’s a funny story. I’ll get into it a different time, but I so deeply resonate with you. And I’m curious to know if in your reverse role as a mentor for thousands of students. Now, if you have any stories of students that were just like you, who who’s who’s, who was impacted by the work you do with skills USA that you’d like to share. And it could be a very personal story of a student who has been profoundly impacted, but you can change their name for privacy reasons. The reason I is because an educator might be listening, who is a little burnt out, and I want to remind them why this work is so important, because I think it has the power to transform lives.


Chelle Travis (20:54):
It does. And so I often say in technical education, and especially when it’s coupled with skills USA is integrated into that opportunity that the work that we do is life changing. And so I can tell you that there’s not just one story. I there are many stories of not just changing that life of that individual student, but you can literally change the trajectory of not just that lie, but that student’s family and the community and the nation, because that confidence that you instill in them and the opportunities that you give in them, it doesn’t just impact that individual. It impacts an entire family and in the role that I have here and the way I, I see it, it can impact a generation of students across our nation, the work that we do from I love student stories.


Chelle Travis (21:53):
I would love as an instructor. Probably one of the the, the greatest gifts that you get is when a student returns and comes back to you. And with that first paycheck whether it’s that that a new car or a story about the house that they were able to buy, or they bring in their family for the, for the first time and you eat and you get to see that, that your work had somehow just a small, a small part and, and making that person, and that individual become who they are today. I’ve seen the changes in the lives, not just of our secondary students, but also in our post-secondary students that come back to us possibly after having first careers. And, and now they see, they may not have seen technical education as an option for them at the time.


Chelle Travis (22:47):
And then along the way they they come back to us, they see technical education as an opportunity for them, and you get them to to you get, to see them achieve what has been their lifelong dream. And, and just the change in them. And, you know, in going through this program and the leadership skills that they say I have several of those friends are, or former students are now you know, I get to watch their journey on on Facebook or something like that. And I get to see the difference and then get to see them achieve their dreams. And I think that’s so, so important. And, and I think if as an instructor, I know that it is a challenging as a former instructor myself, I cannot imagine what the classroom and the challenges are like, we do work alongside our instructors, but every day I know that it is, it is a challenge for them and I’m, so I’m encouraged by seeing what they are how they are trying to meet their students’ needs.


Chelle Travis (23:57):
I do know that you know, when I would say my instructors go from go from being classroom instructors to integrating skills, you’re saying to their classroom, and now becoming instructors that are skilled, she would say advisors as well. I could see a different, so it can take a a, an instructor that was a good instructor to an instructor. That’s a great instructor with a new renewed passion for for career and technical education and for the work that they do. I don’t, you know, in working with our students for a number of years, I don’t see how you can be in technical education and not just and not just be excited about the work that you do and the difference that you make in your students’ lives. If you just take a step back and, and look at the number of lives you’ve impacted and changed for the better every year.


Sam Demma (24:48):
And I think you mentioned it, you know, you hit it on the nail, impacting that one student life that could put them on a trajectory to impact another thousand. And if every student did something that impacted the lives of others, it’s this huge ripple effect that just goes on forever and ever which is so awesome. I think what you all stand for is amazing. If anyone’s listening right now and wants to bounce some ideas around maybe another national director from another student organization and wants to have a conversation, what would be the best way for them to reach out with you if you’re open to it?


Chelle Travis (25:18):
Oh, absolutely. Well, if you are interested in contacting me if you’ll just go to skillsusa.org you’ll be able to find my contact information. That’s cell phones. They’re also my my, my email. But it just, if, if you want to reach out and learn more if you want to know more about the stories of our champions, if you go to champions.skillsUSA.award there, you can very, you can see success stories of our students and the impact that our work has on students’ lives across the nation. And I think that is what is so exciting is, is just the it, seeing the work that you do have an impact on students’ lives and in our future generation or future workforce.


Sam Demma (26:08):
Nice. Awesome. Shelly, thank you so much for taking some time to do this has been an absolute pleasure chatting with you,


Chelle Travis (26:13):
Sam, thank you for the work that you’re doing. I think it’s a, it’s the right work in, I’m very excited to see where these podcasts late,


Sam Demma (26:21):
Amazing information insights and ideas for this current challenging time. And I hope her story into leadership really inspired you to reflect on, the personal impact you have on the young people in your life. We always have the opportunity to make a huge impact on the lives of everyone around us. And with that being said, if you enjoyed this interview and you enjoy this, please consider leaving a rating and review. It’ll help more educators just like yourself, find these episodes and learn from them. And if you are listening, thinking that you would love to share something on the show as well. Please send us an email at info@samdemma.com so we can get your insights and your ideas on the show as well. Anyways, I will see you on the next episode talk soon.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Chelle Travis

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.

Lesleigh Dye – Proud Director of the District School Board Ontario North East

Lesleigh Dye - Director of School Board Ontario North East
About Lesleigh Dye

Lesleigh Dye (@LesleighDye) was the Superintendent of Schools for Rainbow District School Board since 2006. She has been responsible for many portfolios from kindergarten program, to Indigenous education, Equity and Inclusive Education, adult education and leadership.

Prior to her work with the Rainbow School Board, Dye served as Principal and Vice-Principal of schools in Toronto and Ottawa.

With the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board, she oversaw the implementation of the Student Success Initiative in literacy, numeracy and pathways. She also was involved with implementing expert panel reports aimed at improving student success.

With the Toronto District School Board, Dye served as the Central Coordinating Principal for literacy from kindergarten to grade 12.

She has a Master of Education from the Ontario Institute of Studies in Education, a Bachelor of Education from Memorial University and a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) from Carleton University. She also has a Certificat de français from Université de Grenoble.

Today, Lesleigh is the Proud Director of the District School Board Ontario North East. She is passionate about learning and teaching and the success of all students, in particular, those who identify as Indigenous.

Connect with Lesleigh: Email | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

JACK chapters (mental health clubs)

District School Board Ontario North East

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 a very special guest on the podcast. Her name is Leslie Dye. Leslie is the proud director of the district school board Ontario Northeast. She has worked as a teacher principal system, principal and SO in various boards, such as the Toronto district school board, the Ottawa Carlton district school board, and the rainbow district school board.


Sam Demma (01:04):
Leslie is passionate about learning and teaching and ensuring success of all students. In particular, those who identify as indigenous. She enrolled as a PhD candidate at Trenton university. She has her master’s of education from the Ontario Institute of studies in education. She has a bachelor’s of education from Memorial university and a bachelor’s of arts honors from Carleton university. She has done so many different roles in different school boards and I think you’ll take away a lot from her experience that she shares on the podcast here this morning. I’ll see you on the other side. Enjoy.


Sam Demma (01:45):
Leslie. Welcome to the high-performing educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show. Please start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit about your story.


Lesleigh Dye (01:54):
Good morning, Sam. I am the proud director in district school, board, Ontario, Northeast. We have almost 7,000 students and we span from Temagami to Hurston everywhere in between 25,000 square kilometers.


Sam Demma (02:09):
That’s amazing. And what brought you to where you are now share a little bit of your own story and journey through, you know, elementary school, high school university, and then getting into teaching?


Lesleigh Dye (02:22):
I would say my story probably really started in my elementary years of learning. And so as a student in west Vancouver, they were very focused at that time on experiential learning. I am the type of learner who needs direct instruction. And so I, with about half of my classmates in grade four, the teacher Mr. Dean found that half of us could not decode. And so that really influenced me as, as a learner thinking that, that I wasn’t, I couldn’t greed, I wasn’t a good learner. Fast forward in high school, started high school in British Columbia, moved to Ottawa in grade 10, found that move pretty hard. Fortunately, I met my best friend in kind of mid-September, but those first couple of weeks no one talked to me, which I found fascinating that staff wouldn’t say hello in the hallways to me, students wouldn’t say hello in the hallway to me.


Lesleigh Dye (03:19):
And then I grew up in a home where it was an expectation that I would go to university. I’m very privileged that way. Went back to Vancouver, finished my first degree in Ottawa had the incredible honor of living in France for a year to learn French came back to Canada and went to Newfoundland and incredible province and didn’t teachers’ college. And then started my very first teaching job in Toronto. Moved from Toronto to Ottawa. As a principal system, principal came back to Toronto. I became a superintendent in the rainbow board, which is Sudbury did that for about 12 years and then moved up to the new, learn new Liskeard Timmins area. And I had just started my PhD.


Sam Demma (04:07):
And what is your PhD in congratulations by the way.


Lesleigh Dye (04:11):
Thank you. I’m I’m engaged in interdisciplinary studies. I really wanted to branch out beyond education. And on my research question that hasn’t been honed yet is the relationship between collective efficacy. So that notion that by working together, we can make a difference for students and student achievement, particularly students who identify as indigenous.


Sam Demma (04:37):
That’s awesome. That’s so cool. And when you reflect back on your own journey to where you are now, did you have educators and teachers in your life that, you know, nudged you towards getting a job in this vocation? Or did you just know from a young age that you wanted to do this your whole life?


Lesleigh Dye (04:55):
So from a young age, I knew that I loved working with children. So I babysat at a very young age. I lifeguarded, I taught swimming. I was always involved with students. I think it’s probably my aunt, my auntie Pam, who in my primary grades. She, I would say she taught me to read and just knowing that she changed my life. I, that really was a motivator for me.


Sam Demma (05:22):
Hmm. That’s amazing. And you mentioned grade 10 when you first moved to Ottawa, I believe you said it was a little bit difficult. Take me back there for a moment. Like, what was it like being the new student in a new school? What was that experience like for you and how are you trying to avoid that for other students and you know, your school board now?


Lesleigh Dye (05:45):
Yeah, I have to say Sam, I found it brutal. And, and I, I mean, you can see me because we’re on video. I come with a lot of privilege. I’m white, I’m female, I’m, I’m fairly social. And so I’d never been in a, in a situation where for an entire day walking into a building. So my home, my father was the only one that wanted to move to Ottawa. So it was not a happy home in terms of, okay, here we are. No one talking to me for an entire day, except a teacher, perhaps to say, Leslie, sit down or Leslie, put your hand up and actually walking home from school, crying, thinking what, like, I, this, this can’t possibly be what high school is going to be for me. And so if I fast forward, many years later, as a teacher, as a vice principal, principal superintendent now as a director, what I’m in our schools, I say hi to everyone, every single person, I, I say, good morning. If I know the student has Korean heritage, I say, watch if it’s French immersion, I say bowl shool, and really try to just acknowledge everyone. And so that really comes from my, my grade 10 experience.


Sam Demma (07:03):
Oh, that’s awesome. That sometimes fascinates me how our own past issues turn into our inspirations so that someone else doesn’t have to go through the same experience. And it sounds like that was very similar to your own experiences and stories. What are some of the challenges that you’re currently faced with now in education? I know, you know, in front of all of us as the global pandemic, which has been a huge one, but what are some of the challenges you’ve been currently faced with and striving to overcome as a school board?


Lesleigh Dye (07:33):
I would say there are probably two, one, which has really been emphasized during the pandemic and the other one, I would say, not as much. So first of all, the mental health and wellness of our students and our staff that has always been something that we as a senior team have been aware of and are putting supports in place. Some of our students found themselves and some staff to some of our students found themselves in really challenging situations when our schools were closed physically. And we are trying to make sure that we have the supports in place for them, as well as for our staff. One of the things we put in place last year was our employee and family assistance program. So that staff have access not only for themselves but for their child or for their partner or their spouse. The other big struggle for us in DSP. One is that we have a very low graduation rate and we know, and we are working really hard, our staff, our teachers, they’re incredible. We just need to make sure that we are using all the current research in what supports students the best to move forward because we can’t be working harder. We have to figure out a way to work smarter.


Sam Demma (08:55):
That’s a really good point. I think especially because of virtual learning, it was probably challenging for a lot more students and then getting the motivation to come back in class and be social. Again, must be a little bit challenging. What are some, you mentioned one program that, you know, you ran for your staff and students, which is awesome. What are some of the other programs that you heard of schools bringing in that may have been successful in the past couple of years?


Lesleigh Dye (09:22):
So there’s a couple of things that our schools have done particularly around supporting mental health and wellbeing for students. And in many of our high schools, we have Jack chapters and that their focus is to support as you probably know, to support mental health and wellbeing. And then our students Senate with our student trustees last year for the first time ever, we’ve only, this is just your four for us, for our Senate. They in the spring put together a virtual conference, totally student-led for their classmates. And it was all about mental health and wellbeing. And the feedback from that conference from students and from staff has been incredible. I’m so proud of our student trustees for putting that all together during virtual.


Sam Demma (10:11):
That’s amazing. And so would that have been a board-wide event or was that something you did for every single school?


Lesleigh Dye (10:19):
It was for all our students grade seven to 12, and students have a choice whether or not they participated and staff had a choice. So we had a, we have a boat about 3000 secondary students. And I would say at the end of the day, we had about a thousand participate in at least one session. Oh, wow.


Sam Demma (10:37):
That’s so cool. And it run over a couple of days or was that a day long event?


Lesleigh Dye (10:42):
It was a day-long because it was the very first conference and very first virtual conference. They bred four different sessions just for one day. They felt that was enough.


Sam Demma (10:53):
That’s awesome. Oh, that’s so cool to hear, especially that it was student-led. That’s let’s give those students a round of applause. That’s awesome. Leslie, when you think back to yourself in your first year of education what are some of the pieces of advice and wisdom that you might know now that you wish you could have transferred back?


Lesleigh Dye (11:18):
That’s a great question, Sam. I often think of my first year of teaching and think, oh boy, I wish I knew. Then what I know. I think that, so I had the privilege of working with the city of York. It was king middle school, grade seven, eight, and I had a grade seven class and there was a student Jay. And every time I said, kill and Eglington, if you know the Toronto area, every time I gave the students a choice in what they would create, he always tied it back to his, where he had come from Korea. And at the time I thought, oh, that’s interesting. I didn’t appreciate in my very first year, how important cultural identity and, and country of origin. And so fast forward, about 10 years, I had the enormous privilege of being a principal at CHOC foreign public school. So we had 400 students, all the students were black except for one student.


Lesleigh Dye (12:25):
But in that group of students who are black, 50% were Somalian in terms of heritage, 25% were Trinidadi and 25% were Jamaican. And what I really learned and I, I already kind of knew, but I really learned the difference between the history and the experiences of those groups of students. So on the surface, they look like they might be similar and yet making sure as an educator that I understand and appreciate background heritage, and I would use that same example now, living in Northern Ontario in the last board where I served, we had 11 nations all over [inaudible] identity. And they were always very careful to say to me, Leslie, yes, we are on Anishinaabe land, but we are different than that nation down the road. And I really, I really understood, I know I have so much more learning to do, but that is front and center for me.


Sam Demma (13:26):
As do we all right. I think the learning is never-ending. That’s so cool that you take the time to learn those things about the different cultural heritages of the students in the school. Because even when I think back to my experiences in high school, the teachers that made the biggest impact were the ones that got to know us personally, like on a deep, deep level, and could understand our motivations and our inspirations and where we came from and where we aspire to go. So that’s a really interesting and, and, you know, cool piece of advice. You’re also someone who has done so many different roles in education. What inspires you and motivates you every day to keep going and reach higher. Right. see what you, you know, went from the principal, the superintendent to director of education. Now you’re working on a PhD. What, what keeps you going Leslie? Is it like five coffees a day?


Lesleigh Dye (14:17):
It is students. It is hearing their stories. I can remember, oh gosh, this is about 10 years ago. A student had the equity portfolio and a student had made LGBT bracelets. They’re very colourful. And he was, I think he was in grade eight at one of our schools. And I had said to the teacher, could you please let them know? I’d like to buy some. And so I bought some and I, I put it on my wrist and I sent the photo back to the teacher and she said to me, that was probably in may. And that student said, I can’t believe that Ms. DI’s wearing my bracelet. Like, I, I can’t believe that I’m going to keep coming to school till the end of the school year or even Jamal last year, our student trustee, who at the very beginning and our first board meeting, he said, miss, I, I’m not speaking. I’m terrified. I said, that’s fine. We, we want you here. And you know, you and I can have conversations later, too. He graduated from high school, he’s off to university. He’s now in his own nation. He has one of the elected position to represent youth. And he said to me, you know, I wouldn’t have never would have had the confidence to put my name forward for that position in my nation, if it hadn’t been for being a student trustee. So it is totally our students that keep making.


Sam Demma (15:39):
That’s amazing. And how do you encourage a kid to break out of that shell and get involved? Is it just as simple as tapping them on the shoulder and telling them you believe in them, or what does that process look like of helping them realize their own potential?


Lesleigh Dye (15:52):
I think it goes back to exactly what you said earlier. It’s getting to know the students. And so with Jamal knowing I know before his first student Senate meeting, he had said, you know, I’m, I’m really, I’m not feeling very comfortable about this. I think, you know, we could practice that. I have that portfolio. We, we could practice what you’re going to say ahead of time. He sent me the most beautiful, beautiful Christmas card with his family. And so I’m like, who’s, who’s in the photo. I said, I didn’t know you had so many brothers and sisters. And so he described them to me. I, I think it, and of course I’m not having that relationship with all 7,000 students because we have a thousand staff. And so when all our staff have those relationships with a few students that every single student knows that we care about,


Sam Demma (16:42):
That’s amazing. That’s such a good ratio of student to teacher, by the way, I guess that’s one of the benefits of not a small school board, but maybe slightly smaller.


Lesleigh Dye (16:54):
We would be smaller on the Ontario context. We’re on the smaller side and that thousand staff, those are our custodians, our educational, our indigenous student advisors, who all play such a key role in serving our students.


Sam Demma (17:07):
Amazing. That’s awesome. This has been a very great conversation, Leslie, thank you so much for taking the time to share a little bit about your own experiences in education. What are some of the challenges you’re faced with and how you’re overcoming them as well as some of the programs that your school has run that have worked out in the past where do you hope education will be five or 10 years from now? And this is a difficult question and, and one that I’m putting you on the spot, but I’m curious to know what your future, what you’re hoping it to look like.


Lesleigh Dye (17:39):
If I look at the one, my hope, my absolute dream is that we have every single student graduating or getting an Ontario certificate and following their positive feature story. And I know we can do it. We will definitely be in a much better place five years from now, 10 years from now honouring the important traits that some of our students are thinking, oh, that’s not for me. And yet it’s such an incredible pathway. And so I really, I know that each student through the hard work of our staff we’ll get there. We’re not there yet, but we will get there.


Sam Demma (18:19):
I love it. Awesome. Leslie, thank you again so much for coming on the show. If another educator is listening and has been inspired and maybe wants to reach out and ask a question or have a conversation, what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you?


Lesleigh Dye (18:33):
I would say the best way is through Twitter, through a private message. And so that’s @LesleighDye. I’m on Twitter probably once a day. I love to learn from colleagues and so would really be excited to meet new people.


Sam Demma (18:50):
Awesome. Again, Leslie, thank you so much. Keep up the great work and we’ll talk to you soon.


Lesleigh Dye (18:56):
Have a great day


Sam Demma (18:57):
And there you have it. Another amazing guest and 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 want to 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 feel your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Lesleigh

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.

Manny Figueiredo – Director of Education at the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board

Manny Figueiredo, director of education HWDSB
About Manny Figueiredo

Manny Figueiredo (@manuel__fig) became Director of Education at Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board (HWDSB) in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada on August 1, 2015. Manny has more than 25 years of teaching experience. He began his career as an Educational Assistant in a secondary school and then taught grades 4, 5, 7 and 8 in the Waterloo region.

He spent his time as a school administrator in Hamilton, where he became focused on building learning communities that used data to improve instruction, assessment and culture. He led work to enhance blended learning while an Executive Superintendent at
HWDSB.

As Director of Education, he proudly implements a set of strategic priorities that include Positive Culture and Well-being, Student Learning and Achievement, Effective Communication, School Renewal and Partnerships.

He is honoured to have led HWDSB as it built on these priorities to launch an Equity Action Plan, which envisions a culture shift built on recognizing and critically challenging historically built-in inequalities and injustices that contribute to inequitable outcomes in education.

Connect with Manny: Email | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

The Hamilton Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA)

Hamilton school board director leaving to lead local YMCA as president-CEO

Crises as Learning Triggers: Exploring a Conceptual Framework of Crisis-Induced Learning

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 Manny Figueiredo Manny became the director of education at the Hamilton Wentworth district school board in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, on August 1st, 2015. Manny has more than 25 years of teaching experience. He began his career as an educational assistant in a secondary school, and then taught grade four or five, seven and eight in the Waterloo region. He spent his time as a school administrator in Hamilton, where he became focused on building learning communities that use data to improve instruction, assessment and culture. He led work to enhance blended learning while an executive superintendent at the Hamilton went with district school board as director of education.


Sam Demma (01:02):
He proudly implements a set of strategic priorities that include positive culture and wellbeing, student learning and achievement, effective communication, school, renewal, and partnerships. He is honored to have led the Hamilton Wentworth district school board, as it built on these priorities to launch an equity action plan, which envisions a culture shift built on recognizing and critically changing historically built in inequities and injustices that contribute to inequitable outcomes and education. I hope you enjoy this in-depth conversation with Manny and I will see you on the other side, Manny, welcome to the high-performing educator podcast. A pleasure to have you on the show here today. Please start by introducing yourself.


Manny Figueiredo (02:10):
Yeah, Sam, my pleasure. Thank you. My name is Manny Figueiredo and I live in Hamilton and Hamiltonian who grew up in Cambridge and a child of immigrants, family who came from the ASRS and in the mid sixties grew up in Cambridge and studied at McMaster university kinesiology and entered into education in 93, 94 as an educational assistant in Kitchener and then 95 became a teacher. And then in 2002, I moved to Hamilton where I was fortunate enough to become a vice principal, then principal and I hold the current job as director of education for the Hamilton Wentworth School board since September of 2015. So I’m entering into my year in this privileged role.


Sam Demma (03:01):
That’s awesome. I actually wanted to get into kinesiology when I was still an athlete and I applied to everywhere, Mac Queens Waterloo, and like a bunch of different universities. I’m curious to know what, what stopped you from getting into something more related to kinesiology as opposed to teaching or what directed you towards teaching?


Manny Figueiredo (03:21):
Yeah. Great question Sam. So, you know, when I was in high school, I was confused on what I wanted to do. So I, I loved athletics. I love sports, but I also love music. I hack around with guitar. I love the arts, I love everything, but I was inspired by some teachers who really encouraged me to teach and I loved young and I loved kids as well and young kids. So, but when I went to Mac, I knew I wanted to teach. I knew for sure I wanted to teach, but when I graduated, I didn’t get into a faculty of education my first year. So I actually took a job at the YMCA in Cambridge as a full-time program supervisor. So it actually reinforced that I wanted to teach because I was overseeing not only adult programs, fitness, recreation, but I was also overseeing youth camps, youth leadership programs. So that was then the following year I went to York university and I still work part-time at the Y. But when I landed a permanent job in teaching, I still volunteered at the Y for about five and six years to stay connected as a fitness instructor. So I figured I could sort of pursue both of my passions of fitness as well as as education. And that’s sort of where I landed education, but it was really inspired by some key teachers in my career.


Sam Demma (04:43):
You mentioned before we hit the record button, you hear that growing up, you played sports and sports were one avenue that kept you in school. And you had some really key teachers at that young age who I would, I would assume believed in you and maybe things weren’t going so well. Maybe bring us back there for a second and tell me more about that experience growing up and also what those teachers did that had such a significant impact on your progression.


Manny Figueiredo (05:07):
Yeah, my reflect upon what, you know, sort of drives me and motivates me, I think back as a student and I really did enjoy elementary school. And I think now what I’ve learned from that and think about the newcomers that have come into our communities. So for me, Portuguese was my spoken language at home. When I went to school, I spoke English, I didn’t speak English. And so the resource in supports weren’t there like they are today and a lot of the curriculum content wasn’t culturally relevant to me. So I couldn’t make the connections to the curriculum, to the, to the literature because it wasn’t my lived experience living as a, as a child of immigrant parents who spoke Portuguese and you know, my parents who are still with me today, we’re only, we’re only able to be educated to a grade three. So, but the turning point for me was my grade seven teacher and Mr.


Manny Figueiredo (06:10):
Dowling and he called me last year, ironic Mr. Dowling. he understood my lived experience and what do I mean by that? He was an immigrant. He was from Jamaica and he understood what island life was like, what it was like for immigrants to come here, who, you know, who, who were blue collar workers who left their home country due to oppression and poverty. And he spent the time he has a caring adult who said, Hey, Figueiredo smart, knock, figure it out, come see me after school, I can give you some extra math, help, figure it out. Are you getting involved in sports and athletics? So grade seven is what I joined the basketball team and started to really become engaged because if it wasn’t for school athletics or school extracurricular, my parents just didn’t have the means to pay for me to be involved in community sports.


Manny Figueiredo (07:10):
So so high school athletics and extracurricular were key to keeping me engaged. And because of that my grade seven teacher, and then later, Mr. Anderson, when I went to grab you park in Cambridge was my grade 10 teacher. He also said what’s your pathway? What are you thinking? And I didn’t know, because what I saw around Portuguese males in my town was many of them went to 16 and went to work in construction or they might’ve gone to become auto mechanics, but he would always remind me is explore all options. All pathways are available to you and don’t let people pigeonhole you into pathways that might not be matched to your skills or your passion or interests. So I always look back at Mr. Dowling and grade seven, and then Mr. Anderson in grade 10, that really were the caring adults and educators in my life that helped me navigate because my parents who sacrificed so much had to work, they worked shifts, they’re blue collar workers, and they could navigate the system. And one of the reasons they didn’t have that lived experience and nor could they speak the language.


Sam Demma (08:23):
Time was probably a barrier. You know, like my dad still tells me stories about my own grandfather, who as well, came over from Italy on the boat. And he worked at GM and he, you know, he would do a night shift. So you would be sleeping with my dad. And when my, when his son, my dad got home and the only time they would have dinners Friday nights at 2:00 AM, when my, my grandfather would wake up all the kids to eat a pizza that he brought home, you know? And so I totally understand the situation that makes a lot of sense. Those two teachers sound like they had a pivotal role in your life. You mentioned that one of them, you last week, what was that conversation like?


Manny Figueiredo (08:58):
It was actually last year, sorry, last year, sorry, last school year, which was in this past spring I got a call the office here and my assistant said, do you know Mr. Dowling? And I said, yeah, my, my grade seven teacher from Cambridge. Wow. She said, yeah, he left a message. He saw you on some news, clipping, Googled your name and he wanted to touch base with you. So we spoke. And he was so proud, but it gave me a chance to show my appreciation and to let him know the impact he had on my life at a very pivotal transformational time as a young adolescent. And he inspired me and reminded me that I said to him, you reminded me that no job is below. You remember that from your parents as immigrants, no job is below you. And no job is above you. Don’t let people limit. You put boundaries around you. So we had a conversation and we said with COVID is over this fall, we’re going to get together and have have breakfast face to face. So I’m looking forward to that.


Sam Demma (10:03):
It’s amazing. And roughly how many years would it have been?


Manny Figueiredo (10:08):
I know you’re going to ask that I was actually fricking that I, I, you know, I’ll be 51 next month. Okay. And so when I was a great seven, I would have been 12. So we’re talking 39 39 years ago.


Sam Demma (10:22):
So, and I asked you that not to ask your age, but I asked you that because sometimes in education, we think they’re supposed to be this instant ROI, make an impact on a kid, hear about it right away. It took your teacher 39 years to hear about, you know, the impact that he, that he had on you. And I think it’s so important to realize that in education, our role is to plant the seed and water the seed. And sometimes we don’t see it grow for a long period of time, but that doesn’t mean it’s not growing, right?


Manny Figueiredo (10:51):
No, I, but you make a great point. You know, the return on investment. I always tell educators, you are making a difference. What difference are you making? Sometimes you don’t see the fruit of your labor in the moment, but everything we say we do, our kids are watching us as role models and rightfully so they should be we’re educators. We made this choice to be professionals. So sometimes you don’t know the, you don’t see the immediate impact, but there’s always a long-term impact. Make sure it’s a positive one.


Sam Demma (11:27):
Yeah. So true. And you mentioned that Mr. Anderson was one of the first teachers who kind of challenged you and asked you, Hey what is your future pathway look like? And in the moment you weren’t really certain about something. And at a young age, we get asked that question a lot. I find that as we grow up, people, stop asking us what your pathway is because they think that you’re in it, you know? And you’re obviously someone who continued, you know, pursuing different pathways and moved from teaching to administration. So how did you continue navigating your career pathway and how did it evolve to where it is now?


Manny Figueiredo (12:03):
Yeah, you know, I tell my, my own children. I tell everyone mentors always have people to talk to doesn’t matter what age. So I recall when I went to Mac, I teaching with something I thought I wanted to do. So I had someone I knew who was a teacher and every Friday afternoon I began to volunteer in their classroom. I did have classes to see if this was what I wanted and that person as of today, or we’re still friends, he’s retired, but he was a mentor for me. But then when I went, graduated and I wasn’t fortunate enough to get into teacher’s college or the faculty of education my first year, either, you know, I participate as a, at the YMCA. I was there as an adolescent. I could play basketball. And I did a bit of a co-op placement there in one of my courses.


Manny Figueiredo (12:59):
So I thought I would reach out and I landed a job there. And I had, I had a mentor through the Y organization that I’m a big fan of the Y only because I worked there, but because I also, as a youth, it was a safe place that my parents could afford for. I could go shoot hoops. Right. but throughout my career, I’ve always had critical friends. What I mean by that critical friends or mentors who are going to guide you, but also give you some pretty objective feedback when things aren’t going well. So if I could send one message, we’re never too young or too old to have critical friends or mentors. And sometimes that is your parents, but sometimes in my case, my parents provided a great loving environment, but they could help me navigate because it wasn’t their experience. So who else could I reach out and take a risk and ask to mentor me and provide some guidance. So that’s been key in my life and it is still key today. As I have critical people, who’ve been directors of education, current ones, the ones who’ve retired, who continue to be there as mentors to provide guidance.


Sam Demma (14:05):
You raised a smart point, right? It makes me think about you know, airplane pilots, you know, a pilot would want to seek the counsel or mentorship from another pilot. You know, they wouldn’t ask a passenger. Hey, can you help me fly the plane? So yeah, you’re right. There are certain mentors who could help a lot. You know, there might be an educator listening to this right now thinking that sounds great Manny, but how do you find those people? How did you find them in your experience?


Manny Figueiredo (14:32):
Yeah. You know, I have, I find them like, you have to be intentional and sometimes you have to take a risk. So when I thought I want to teach, I went to the local school and said, Hey, do you accept volunteers? And, and I was placed in a classroom for a teacher who was willing to have me as a volunteer on Friday afternoon. So I maintain the relationship, right. I’ve volunteered in his classroom for four years. So I maintain the relationship. So I think that’s a key and, and, you know, you have to take a bit of a risk and go outside your comfort zone at times. And, and sometimes you might need another adult when you’re young to, to guide you. And sometimes that’s what teachers are can do as well. Sometimes it might think of the high school students to teachers can be that connection or that navigator to, to someone who might be a mentor in a different sector. Right.


Sam Demma (15:27):
So that makes sense. That makes a lot of sense and education right now as a whole, it looks a little different than it did three years ago, two years ago. Just because of the global pandemic, what are some of the things that, or challenges that you think the schools in your board are faced with right now? And how are, how are you striving to overcome those challenges?


Manny Figueiredo (15:48):
Yeah, I think that the most obvious one that every organization is dealing with, but especially education is you know, digital, remote learning. So we were fortunate in Hamilton prior to the pandemic. About seven years ago, we started to really push the teaching needs to be blended. And what I mean by blended is that if we live and work in the physical and digital world, we need to teach and learn in the physical and digital world. So we had a provision already in our school board when students with a device and our, and our secondary teachers. So when students entered grade nine, they were provisioned with a iPad that they would carry forward until they graduated, because we really believed that a blended learning had to occur would provide a bit more flexibility. Sure. You have to come in school, but we know the reality of life that some students might miss a class, do the athletics, extra curriculars or a part-time job.


Manny Figueiredo (16:49):
And if there’s a hub or a learning management system where things can be posted where they could access in case they miss the lesson, then there’ll be some continuity of learning. So now that was accelerated when last year we had around 9,000 students in elementary, where a district of 50,000 students chose remote. But what it forced us to do through feedback from parents was to say, Hey, standardized your platforms. I can’t have three kids on different platforms depending on, on the educators choice. So we did, we, we already had the hub, which is Brightspace desire to learn. We had that as an LMS, but then Microsoft teams was second. And now, as we entered this year, every teacher’s classroom was not only set up in the physical world as teachers do. We made sure through our infrastructure, that students’ names were attached to the virtual Microsoft teams classrooms.


Manny Figueiredo (17:43):
So it was by default it’s there, it’s ready to go. So whether the student this year chose remote and we have around 2000 this year, that the blended learning is there. If a child misses a class due to illness, or if a child has to self isolate now for 10 days, because they’re determined to close contact, because then they can continue their learning because the classrooms already set up. So that was always our vision. So we took advantage of the opportunity. Sure. There were challenges. And what we hear from our teachers is a lot of support was provided around the technical aspects of it. So thumbs up, but where we need to focus more is now, what is the pedagogical practice look like? What does effective teaching look like on these platforms versus in the physical world? So that’s the power of teacher networks. That’s where we get teachers to share best practices. So that’s a bit of our focus this year is to keep on leveraging those best practices from our educators.


Sam Demma (18:43):
In those moments where you feel burnt out. You know, there’s a lot of educators listening who had a tough two years. And I think in those deepest moments, the thing that keeps most people going is remembering why they do this. It’s like, you know, you know, what is the motivation and the purpose behind the work we’re doing here. And I’m curious to know yours, you know, what is the thing that keeps you motivated every single day to pursue this work and solve the problems as they come up?


Manny Figueiredo (19:09):
Yeah. And I I’m, I’m glad you mentioned around mental health and wellbeing educators too. So, you know, for myself personally, it was a diff it’s been a difficult 15 months. So going back to mentors, you need to find a place to vent. And, you know, my wife is a teacher, so I’d see her. I had a learning loud at home every day. She teaches court French and had 150 students that she had to support each day. So for me, a place to vent, right? Where’s that place I can vent. And I, it also forced me to say, be patient with yourself. You know, I’m a big believer of conceptual frame frameworks to manage change and where we are in a crisis. So we can’t ask for perfection when we’re in a crisis. So we need to be patient with ourselves and realize that things are going to change.


Manny Figueiredo (20:02):
And that we as organizational type, sometimes need to bring some stability by managing the multiple priorities coming from all different inputs. But for me, it was a reminder to myself to be patient, find some time to disconnect, you know, away from the screen. And, you know, for me, because of my fitness kinesiology background, it reminded me of importance of being physically active as much as possible during this time, not just for my physical body, but for my, for my mental health as well. But your question of the why I think I shared with you the stories of my parents as immigrants and my sisters who were immigrants as well, and their journey reminds me that education is an equalizer. It has to be an equalizer at times. It’s not, at times it has systemic practice that actually disproportionately impacts students, but we have to continue to challenge those systems and those structures because public education is it’s been key in my life. And I know that many newcomers who choose Canada, it’s one of the foundations of why they choose Canada is because of the opportunity through public education.


Sam Demma (21:22):
Yeah, it’s so true. So, so true. I think that’s why, especially, so in immigrant families, education is a very high value, you know my grandparents like, oh, the priority in their household was always school and that’s what got them out of poverty per se. And it’s so true. I think you’ve raised some really good points. If you could bundle up all your, you know, wisdom and experience and advice and, you know, walk into a classroom and instantly teleport 39, not 39 years back with back to your first year of teaching and speak to younger Manny, like knowing what you know now, what advice and feedback would you give your younger self to set yourself up for some success?


Manny Figueiredo (22:09):
That’s a great question. So if I could go back and speak to a younger version of me when I was 24 years old entering into my first permanent position. Yeah. Yeah. I think the first piece of advice I’d give myself is remembered to always be student-centered. In other words, there’s a lot of curriculum to cover, but you’re not a teacher is not about teaching a curriculum, a teacher’s about meeting the needs of kids and matching the curriculum to their needs. So I remember when I felt overwhelmed the first year or two is how do I cover everything until I gain more experience and said, you know, I can integrate things, get to know your students, what are their needs? Don’t let the curriculum be the driver, let the student be the driver.


Sam Demma (23:00):
Wow. That’s a great piece of advice. I love the way you kind of phrase that yeah. Meet the needs of the students and then match the curriculum to the students’ needs. That’s that’s powerful. Manny, if someone’s listening to this and they’ve enjoyed the conversation they love some of your philosophies and education and they just want to reach out what would be the best way for them to kind of get in touch with you.


Manny Figueiredo (23:25):
Yeah. They can just send an email mfigueir@hwdsb.on.ca to me or reach out on Twitter @manuel__fig they’ll see on Twitter. I’d love to connect.


Sam Demma (23:50):
Sounds great. Awesome. Again, Manny, thank you so much for coming on the show today. Really appreciate your time. Keep up the great work. And I look forward to talking to you again soon.


Manny Figueiredo (23:58):
Yeah. Thank you, Sam, for taking the time as well. My pleasure.


Sam Demma (24:01):
And there you have it. Another amazing guest and amazing interview on the high performing educator podcast. As always, if you enjoyed 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 want to 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 feel your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Manny

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.