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Education Consultant

Chris St. Amand – Leader of Experiential Learning at the St. Clair Catholic District School Board

Chris St. Amand - Leader of Experiential Learning at the St. Clair Catholic District School Board
About Chris St. Amand

Chris (@MrStAmand) was born and raised in beautiful Sarnia, Ontario. He left to attend University in London. He enjoyed four great years at King’s University College and completed his Teacher’s College at Western’s Faculty of Education. When he finished, he took the opportunity to travel to South Korea to teach English to Kindergarten students for a year and a half before taking time to backpack through Southeast Asia. 

When Chris returned in 2009, he began teaching with the St. Clair Catholic District School Board, first as an Occasional Teacher before being hired as a Grade 6/7 teacher. About 5 years into his career, an opportunity arose for him to work in curriculum, and he has enjoyed working as a Student Work Study Teacher (a classroom-based instructional research position), Intermediate Numeracy Lead, and now as Leader of Experiential Learning, a position he’s held since 2018 (with a brief detour teaching Grade 6 in his Virtual Elementary School this past year). Chris is very passionate about education and is so fortunate that he’s been afforded so many different opportunities throughout his career.

Chris is married to a wonderful partner who is better than him in almost every way, and together they have been blessed with two beautiful children who are his what, how, and why every day. Coffee keeps him going, reading keeps him learning, and people keep him happy!

Connect with Chris: Email | Twitter | Instagram | Linkedin

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

St. Clair Catholic District School Board

The suite of Reflection Strategies (Free resource)

Matt Sanders – Experiential Lead Learner at the Lambton Kent District School Board

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:01):
Chris, welcome to the high performing educator podcast. A pleasure to have you on the show here today. Please start by introducing yourself.


Chris St. Amand (00:08):
Thanks Sam. Glad to be here. My name is Chris St. Amand. I am the leader of experiential learning at the St. Clair Catholic district school board, which encompasses the beautiful Chatham Kent area.


Sam Demma (00:22):
When did you realize in your own career journey and growing up as a student, that education was the field for you?


Chris St. Amand (00:30):
Well, I kind of, I kind of came into it pretty naturally to be honest. My parents were both retired educators and they truly loved their jobs. Now. They, they were terrific educators as well. Mm I know this because I still have, when people hear my last name, I live in the same town still that I grew up in. Oh, was your, was your mom or your dad teacher? They taught me. Oh, it was great. You know, I, I know they were good. They were good teachers and it, it, it showed through at home how much they enjoyed it. So that’s not a reason why you go into something, but it’s a good reason not to rule something out. We’ll put it that way. Yep. And I, I have always been a people person. I enjoy working with people talking with people.


Chris St. Amand (01:11):
So it’s a good fit there. But honestly it just, it, it just sort of happened. I, I became a lifeguard when I was 16 years old and I worked at a, a pool where part of the time was instruction. Part of the time was doing the lifeguarding pool stuff. And I loved it. I loved, I loved teaching. I got the same opportunity university to teach again at a higher level there students thoroughly enjoyed it, connecting with people. And then I thought, well, this, you know, why not teachers college? And every everything I’ve done since I taught for a year and a half in South Korea internationally, I’ve been an occasional teacher, a classroom teacher, summer learning teacher, a virtual teacher, a curriculum leader. And I’ve, I’ve, co-taught with some incredible colleagues and everything I do kind of reaffirms that this is the right profession for me. So I guess, I guess what I said is, is all the reasons I’ll stay in the job as, as much as why I got into it. It really is. It really is the right career for me.


Sam Demma (02:16):
You said something so quickly that it’s such a significant experience that I want to jump back and touch on for a second. And that’s teaching in South Korea. What brought you out there? And what was that experience like for you?


Chris St. Amand (02:31):
Yeah, so I, I finished teachers college in spring of 2007. So a while ago now , so the world was a little bit of a different place but there was just sort of a burgeoning overseas sort of teaching presence, you know, go teach in Japan, go teach in South Korea, go teach in India. There were a lot of opportunities and there have to be a lot of recruiters that are teachers college. And it wasn’t something I initially was drawn to. But a we sort of finished up and my roommate, one of my best friends and I, we finished each calls together, driving back. We kind of looked at each other and said, okay, you know what, we maybe need to do something before we started our career. So I ended up going to South Korea. He ended up teaching in Sweden.


Chris St. Amand (03:15):
But that, that’s how I got there. And it was uhcredible. I was teaching, I was high school qualified originally. I ended up teaching up a kindergarten immersion. Why not? seems like the next natural thing to do. But it was, it was great. It was the first time I got to live alone to understand myself. It was the first time. I really had sort of a program of my own and I’m grateful for that. And to be able to South Korea is a beautiful country and, and be able to explore that and use it as a travel point for all of Asia was just an, an incredible year and a half that I, I wouldn’t wouldn’t trade for anything.


Sam Demma (03:59):
And you’ve, you’ve, it sounds like you’ve done so many different roles in education now, you know, you can add to the list international teaching and yeah. Experiential learning. And you know, you said virtual teacher and kindergarten teacher and high school teacher and support teacher, and the list goes on and on out of all of the roles you’ve done, there’s no better roles in education, but for you personally, what has enabled you from your perspective to one have the most fulfillment and two feel the most meaningful meaning you’re making the biggest contribution or difference?


Chris St. Amand (04:36):
I, I like how you gave a preamble to that question, because I feel like every role I’ve had the opportunity to do that. Yeah. So I’m a little cautious to elevate one over the other. Yep. Although I will say the work I’m doing right now is experiential learning lead is affording me a lot of opportunities to reach a lot of students and and educators and, and sort of bring, bring programming to schools in a ways that you can’t do as a classroom teacher. You get your, your own kids and you control that ship. Yeah. But I get to work K to 12 I’ve got outdoor education in my portfolio. I’ve got all sorts of connecting with community partners. And, and I, I connect with a tremendous team of colleagues where we get to work on secondary and elementary programming, where I get to work on indigenous programming, ready to work on pathways programming for seven to 12, where I get to you know sit down with senior admin and think about what do we want to do for system level pieces. It it’s really, and, and then get a chance to connect with the community partners who I can help bring to schools. Yeah. Virtually in person, whatever that looks like. It’s, it’s, it’s sort of and I I’m sure we’ll talk about this later, but this year, especially has been challenging, but also has been full of opportunities in a way I wasn’t expecting when I return to the role. Yeah. And it’s been, it’s been pretty wild. Yeah.


Sam Demma (06:18):
Well, let’s jump right in. What, what are some of the challenges that you think I’m sure there’s some obvious ones that all schools are facing, but what are some of the challenges you think the school and yourself have been facing and to dovetail with that, some of the opportunities that have come along or come to life because of the challenges?


Chris St. Amand (06:35):
Yeah. I mean, I’m not unique in this and yeah. And I know this cause I talked to, to my colleagues who do the same job I do in other boards and it’s no secret you know, COVID is the elephant in every room. Whether, whether you’re saying it or not, it’s there. But other things are exhaust. That’s sort of exacerbating some other things like you know, a shortage of occasional teachers. So it’s difficult to release people sometimes. Or if people are sick and jobs, can’t be filled, that’s a challenge too, right. That’s structurally that needs to be addressed. There’s difficulty running extracurricular programming right now, be that club sports or things with community partners where we want to get an awesome learning engagement, but we can’t get a bus there or they won’t let us in because of their policies.


Chris St. Amand (07:19):
And of course, family like educators, student staff, and family wellbeing has been stretched really thin for a lot of people. So everyone’s kind of in a different place with that. And I mean, all those challenges, I’m, I’m certainly not immune to, and, you know, been, been in different places in the last couple years as we all I, I guess, but to tie that all together in a bow, the biggest challenge I think that that sort of pulls all that together is we can’t as an education system, I think eventually. And certainly I’ll speak for our board. Yeah. We can’t do things the way we did them before. We can’t, the, the mechanisms may not work or other doors have been opened that are leading some really interesting ways of doing things. And, and for some, for some stuff, the, you know, the genie out of the bottle or the toothpaste is out of the tube, or, you know, you can choose whatever you you’re a metaphor is. We just can’t necessarily go back to the way we did things pre C for, for all those reasons. So that, that I guess is probably the biggest challenge is trying to figure out what is, what does it look like? What does good quality education look like with all these challenges and a new changing landscape?


Sam Demma (08:40):
And that question sounds like it’s the opportunity as well. And I’m, I’m curious to know what you think some of the opportunities have been along with those challenges and why it’s also been exciting in this role during this time.


Chris St. Amand (08:53):
Yeah. well, I mean, there are some, there are some serious opportunities right now and I’ve been able to kind of get creative with, with what I do. So I’ll, for example, outdoor education, I’ll put it this way. Traditionally our outdoor ed model was we would carve up our budget equitably among our schools by size population, socioeconomic needs, et cetera, and say, here’s your budget, go ahead and, and do something with it. And, you know, book, book, and trip, bring your kids to conservation area or you know except something like that, right? Yeah. Your classic like field trip. Right. but now I have this budget this year that I’m, I’m helping to kind of try and bring opportunities to teachers, but we haven’t really been able to leave schools and a lot of vendors won’t let us go there if we can.


Chris St. Amand (09:57):
So what we’ve tried to do is flip it and identify ways, opportunities to bring things to schools. And what we’ve found is that systemically people are loving it because there’s no travel, the costs are less and we can engage a number of classes in good experiential, outdoor education opportunities, whether that’s you know, someone from and it could be virtual as well. We’ve done a lot of virtual outdoor ed programming, like a local conservation area does a great live streaming where you connect to the class for an hour and they take you through the pond or biodiversity or something like that. Right. Yeah. It’s, it’s really cool. But they’ll also come and do nature in your backyard. Lots of sports opportunities under the outdoor ed piece, lots of lots of stuff like that. It’s been, it’s been pretty neat to, to do that.


Chris St. Amand (10:57):
So you know, another challenge too, is that people returning this year after last year, which was so disruptive, a lot of virtual or, or whatever trying to create opportunities that are seen as just that an opportunity, not an imposition. Mm. So here’s this opportunity, give it a, give it a try. And we’ve done with my colleague at, at our co-term board, Matt Sanders, we’ve done a lot of virtual programming. That’s been very successful where we put up a calendar for February most recently, and booked a lot of community partners. Some we paid for some were free and said, it’s free to schools drop in. If you can make it, if it works for you, that’s great. And they were live and interactive. And the feedback was tremendous between our two boards, we reached, we figure about 14,000 students over the course of the month.


Chris St. Amand (11:56):
Wow. which we would’ve had a fraction of. We were trying to bring those in person. Yep. You know, we just, first time we’ve done this too, we’re we hired a dance, a dance instructor, professional dance instructor. Oh, cool. To bring virtual dance instruction to our K eight schools. And we just wrapped up today with our 5, 6, 7, 8 classes. And over the course of the week, we had 7,000 students doing dance instruction. Wow. which again is just so, like she said, that’s how many, I, I wouldn’t see that many in a year and I saw that in a week. So when I say there’s opportunities, you know, if it can be a good quality thing that teachers can then take and supplement support or bring these opportunities to people again, as an opportunity, not an imposition, you don’t have to do this. No one said that it was free for them. Cuz you know, we, we paid for it centrally. Yeah. It seems to be what’s working for the class and you know, it, it, it’s an interesting model. We wouldn’t have been able to do pre pandemic cuz people weren’t there, the technology wasn’t there, the virtual comfort level, wasn’t there. That’s now there cuz it had to be


Sam Demma (13:05):
Talk about an opportunity for impact with mm-hmm such large groups. You’re right. If you brought a dance instructor into the school, max, they’re gonna be able to do two or three classrooms max 80, 90 students, not 7,000. Yeah. Which is amazing. I’m curious out of the programs, the school board has been running and you’ve, you know, you’ve been in so many various roles. You’ve definitely been a part of programs in many capacities. Do you have any stories of how a program has impacted a student that kind of come to mind? Then? The reason I ask is because I think one of the and it’s hard to quantify of course, like or, you know, narrow it down to one story. But one of the things that I think is really helpful in education is reminding educators that the work they’re doing is changing lives and like everyone plays a role and sometimes hearing about how a young person was changed or transformed is a reminder as to why they’re doing the work they’re doing.


Chris St. Amand (14:01):
Yeah. And I, I appreciate the question. And every time I get an email from a former student saying, how you doing, thank you for this. You know, it, it makes my, it makes my day, if not my week. Yeah. Cause it’s not prompted and it’s especially the farther way I am from teaching them. Yeah. It’s, it’s even nicer. Right. but yeah, I’ll share, I’ll share two stories if that’s okay. Sure. one is, one is sort of more technical and one’s, one’s more personal. Yeah. So, but, and both involved summer learning. So I was with the team that was able in a, in a previous role, I was a numeracy support teacher and I worked with my superintendent and some other, other people on our secondary team to bring in some summer learning to support grade nine, applied math, which spoiler is no longer a thing in 2022 that we’ve de streamed it.


Chris St. Amand (15:04):
But back in 2017/2018, it was, it was a big deal. And there were some serious equity pieces we were worried about with graduation rates with pass rates for grade nine applied. It was, you know, it was, it was considerable. So we built a program which we called head start and we, we put the mascot of our, our school in front of it. So St Sarnia high school St. Pat’s fighting Irish. So the Irish head start program and we invited grade eight students who had chosen grade nine, applied math to join us for a three day camp. And it was three half days. And part of it was not an oxymoron, fun math, where you get to meet your teacher. We had the grade nine applied teachers there just do some get used to the school.


Chris St. Amand (16:00):
And then we had some of the elective teachers tech, they made bottle rockets, music. They did some drum circles and some percussion stuff. Art, they did a project like that, you know, drama stuff, you know, those, those elective courses to Z, they got a chance to show off to the students like, Hey, maybe you didn’t take it for grade nine, but we’re here. And I’m a friendly face. Yeah. Well, we got guidance to meet them principals to meet them secretary staff, anyone who they’d be potentially chaplaincy, anyone who they’d be interacting with in grade nine. And the feedback was good. The, you know, the couple years we did it and I mean, the kind of stuff you’d expect, oh, this was great. I feel much more comfortable coming to school. And oh, you know, I liked, I liked, I like Jim and you know, like, you know, Mr.


Chris St. Amand (16:49):
San, get us better snacks, please. That sort of stuff was, was a food comment. Yeah. But here’s, here’s why I tell this story. It’s not something anyone said to me, but every single student, except for one past grade nine applied math. Wow. Compared to 70% of the rest of the population who passed. So it could be, you know, you could say, oh, causation is not correlation. I, I, I know that, but I don’t think it’s a coincidence that we had that first year was 65 kids between our two high schools, all but one, and that was an attendance shift you passed, like that tells me we were on the right track. And even if it gets them in the right head space to do well and connects them with their teachers ahead gives them that head. Start. That to me is, is something that I’m really proud of the impact we had.


Chris St. Amand (17:41):
The other one is I had the opportunity to teach summer learning to elementary age students. So students who were going to grade three who were, who were needing a, maybe a bit of a bit extra math and literacy. So again, it was a, it was a whole day camp. The morning was math and literacy, the afternoon, some sort of experiential learning offsite or on we, we had fun with it. And the first time I did it was with a great great teacher, Erin leach, she and I kind of co-taught it nice compliment each other very well. And the kids went off and honestly, I didn’t, I didn’t see them again until this past fall. When I walked into a classroom at a high school, I was dropping something off for the Cosmo teacher. And I heard, Hey, and I’m wearing a mask too.


Chris St. Amand (18:28):
Keep in mind, I’m wearing a mask. I turned around and saying, hi, they’re like you taught a summer learning. Or a couple of ’em there said I did. They’re like, we loved that. We were so sad when it was over. We wanted to go back and like, again, I’m getting, you know, kind of chills just saying it again. It was just so unexpected. And I mean, you know, when you’re seven or eight years old to then be 14 years old to then number one, say that to a teacher, most, most kids don’t wanna talk to people they who previously taught them. But then to, to go out of their way to say that, cause I wouldn’t have, I wouldn’t have said anything. They were just kind of sitting in the back of the class. Right. It was, it was awesome. So, you know, those, those two stories about our extra summer programming are two I’m really proud of and had a, you know, a hand in, in planning and implementing.


Sam Demma (19:18):
It says a lot about the, the way you made them feel like sometimes some something that a lot of educators always tell me when I ask them some of their advice and we’ll get there soon for younger educators is, you know, sometimes students will forget what you said, but they’ll remember how you made them feel like the whole Maya Angelou idea and quote. Yes. And you know, they might not have remembered all of the content. You taught them in summer school, but they obviously remembered the environment and how it made them feel. And so, yeah, it’s really, it’s really cool to hear and reflect on that. And it, it goes to show you listening, you know, as a potential future educator that that’s the impact that you can kind of have on kids, hopefully one that lasts a lifetime. It, I’m curious to know some of the resources that you found helpful throughout your journey and all the various roles you’ve been in. Have you, have you created a dashboard of resources? and have you also, what have you also found helpful just personally for your own development?


Chris St. Amand (20:23):
Yeah. well, I’ll answer that backwards. The, the most helpful resource I found bar none is, is people fellow educators. And if I could say nothing else, it’s that it can be difficult, especially in your career to figure out, you know, what’s what, but if you can, if you can find one or two people who you click with and, and you agree with, and, and can have been doing it longer than you, and can maybe show you, show you some stuff or tell you some stuff or, or give you advice or point you in the right direction, it, it goes, it goes farther than any blog or book you could read. It goes farther than any, any lesson you could possibly teach in a classroom by itself is a one off it’s it’s integrated those, those friendships and partnerships are, are invaluable.


Chris St. Amand (21:22):
And teaching teaching, even though, you know, you think of the teacher teacher, class’s their own thing. It is a very collaborative profession. Mm we’re. Often we’re often collaborating with each other, sharing ideas, sharing resources, professional development is that collaboration model and teaching itself is moving more collaboratively teacher and student in a lot of, in a lot of circumstances where it’s appropriate kindergarten, right through grade 12. So I would say that is that, is it but I mean, there are some go-tos that said depending on, depending on the role. Yeah. So I’ll maybe it’s best to speak to the role I’m in now. I, again, working with Matt Sanders and this is why I say again, people is your resource, cuz they can push you and, and, and bring you places you didn’t, you couldn’t get by yourself.


Chris St. Amand (22:22):
We’ve, we’ve created a number of pieces to support ourselves as well as support educators. Not to get too into the weed, Sam, but when you think experiential learning there’s three pieces participate, reflect, apply, that’s sort of the cycle and it doesn’t have to go in that order, but you know, you do something reflect on it to, to learn something, to glean something from it and then apply it in some new context or to your life or whatever that is. Right. as, as educators, we’re really good to participate, pretty good at apply. The reflect is where it’s tough and what makes it even more tough is that if you look in any curriculum document or anything supported by the ministry of education there, it says dozens of times you need to reflect it. Doesn’t say how to reflect. Ah, that’s, that’s the challenge.


Chris St. Amand (23:17):
So, and that’s when I started in this role found very challenging. People would say like, what do you mean by reflect and be like, oh, I don’t know. So , that’s a great question. Let me, let me get back to you. So I said, I thought I need to have something to give people or have myself if they’re saying, what do you think I should do here? So I built with Matt, a database of reflection strategies pulled from tons of sources, nothing particularly original. It just sort of, it was a, it was just a Google sheet. It still exists. It’s a library and we use it regularly. It’s a library that is sorted by grade time resources needed. When, you know, when you do, before you do something during, after, or all three and it’s ways just to pull some of that reflection out it’s not exhaustive, but it it’s something that teachers have appreciated and we’ve been we use again quite, quite regularly. So, you know, again, nothing, nothing particularly original, but yeah. Yeah.


Sam Demma (24:22):
Well, the


Chris St. Amand (24:23):
It’s


Sam Demma (24:23):
Accessible, I guess that’s, what’s more important is that it’s accessible. Right? mm-hmm, , I mean, there’s ideas everywhere, but some people that don’t have access to them or know where to find them, you guys have created this super rich database. Where can someone go check that out if they’re interested in, in looking at it?


Chris St. Amand (24:40):
Yeah. It’s the it’s just, it’s free. It’s open access. It’s just bit.ly/reflectionstrategies. And that will take you right there. And yeah, you can, you can check it out. It’s open to everyone in the world. Anyone who wants to kind of check it out that it’s, you know, again, it’s not, not exhaustive and it’s grown since we we’ve, we, it started as reflection strategies, then we said, okay, how do you reflect using the curriculum? How do you reflect? You have to do something to reflect. So if you’re interested in a strategy, here’s some, you know, activities that you can do that are team building with your, your class.


Chris St. Amand (25:33):
Not put together a really nice piece about reflection question a day that gets your class talking. I used a lot of ’em when I was teaching last year, it was nice to have that resource. You know, if you could if you could, you know, not be one thing when you grow up, what would it be? Why like flip that question, stuff like that, right? Yeah. And it, that often leads to a very rich pathways discussion too. So, you know, it’s something that people can explore if they’re interested, but it’s, you know, it, it does, it does, it is aimed at that experiential learning and good activity beyond the four walls of your classroom.


Sam Demma (26:10):
Very cool. You mentioned human resources, people Bitly strategies or Bitly forward slash reflection strategies.


Chris St. Amand (26:20):
Yep.


Sam Demma (26:21):
If you could take your experiences in education, bundle them all up, travel back in time, top yourself on the shoulder when you were just starting your first job in education. What advice would you have given yourself, knowing what, you know now and gone through all these various experiences? Or what, what do you think you would’ve have liked to have heard at the start of your career or understood more at the start of your career?


Chris St. Amand (26:47):
Mm-Hmm yeah. I mean, God knows I’ve, I’ve made a lot of mistakes along the way.


Sam Demma (26:59):
You’re human congrats.


Chris St. Amand (27:00):
Yeah. Yeah. I mean, it’s, it’s an interesting question because it, it is one, it’s one. I have trouble answering Sam because it, what I’ve done has gotten me to this place. And I feel like if I could tell myself any differently, it might be would


Sam Demma (27:22):
Change.


Chris St. Amand (27:23):
Let, let me rephrase. I’m so sorry. I’m gonna be that guy. Who’s gonna pick up our question. So like, I can’t think it through.


Sam Demma (27:30):
No that’s okay. Well, what if we looked at it from the aspect of there’s someone listening, who is just about to get into this profession yeah. And is super excited about it, but also extremely nervous. Like what, what, what would you tell someone who’s just getting into education? Who might need a little bit of encouragement or some insight?


Chris St. Amand (27:52):
Yeah. I’d, I’d say don’t fool yourself. It’s hard. Like it is, it is a it’s hard work and maybe something I wasn’t prepared for and nothing can really prepare you for it is that when you go out a classroom, your own and you don’t really you’re new, like, like anything, you don’t really know what you’re doing. I mean, you’ve been prepared in some ways, but nothing really prepares you for that. For that first class you have that first day you have, when you’ve got people looking at you expecting you to, to be there, to, to steer the ship. Right. Yeah. So I think, I think what I would say is connect with, connect with kids and make sure they’re taken care of and show them that you care, you know, and, and take the time to listen. And if you do that, it goes farther than anything.


Chris St. Amand (28:46):
The some of the best, best advice I ever, ever heard was five words. Tell me your future story. Mm. And I learned this at a bridges outta poverty workshop, which I had the privilege of attending twice. And a former principal of mine actually. He’s, he’s now the director when I worked for him had Scott Johnson. He had those words on his door and everyone, you know, has a future, but not everyone has a future story. And what does that mean? Some people can’t see themselves in the future. Some people are beholden to their circumstances or whatever. So having those conversations, showing that you, you care asking them, well, what, you know, what’s your, what are you gonna do? Like who, who are you? Who do you wanna be? What are your opportunities? Let’s help. Let’s find those out together. Whether that’s little, little, three year old kindergarteners who just starting, or, or a 17 or 18 year old, who’s just graduating.


Chris St. Amand (29:49):
It’s it doesn’t, it doesn’t change. I, I think, I think that’s it. And, and truly, I mean, it’s so cliche, but showing that you care, if, if you, you can’t fake that you have to actually care. And if you do you will have fewer, fewer issues across the board in terms of planning, in terms of student relationships and student of parent relationships and all that one other thing I’ll, I’ll say, and it kind of fits with it is don’t be, don’t be shy contacting parents, especially in the first week of school. Hmm. And don’t, don’t be shy to contact them for good things as well, share the successes that they don’t get to see let them know how, how beautiful their child is and, and what they’re doing so well, not just the bad news, because if you get ahead of it with the good news, it makes those, those more challenging phone calls or, or, you know, communications much, much smoother. And I, I don’t always practice when I preach. Cause cause life gets busy, but that’s something I kind of always, always strive for. And have, when I’ve been teaching,


Sam Demma (31:06):
I love it. Those are great pieces of advice and I appreciate you, you, you sharing, if someone wanted to reach out, ask you a question, bounce an idea off you what would be the best way for them to get in touch?


Chris St. Amand (31:21):
Yeah. So, I mean email, email is always good. I, I live on email, chris.stamand@sccdsb.net Also on Twitter at @MrStAmand. Good to connect there as well. And yeah, I I’m always open to an email and if someone wants to collaborate or ask questions, I, I love it. I think it’s, I think it’s how you get better.


Sam Demma (31:55):
Awesome. Chris, thank you so much for taking the time to come on the show. Keep up the great work and we’ll talk soon.


Chris St. Amand (32:01):
Thanks for the opportunity, Sam. Cheers.

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The High Performing Educator Podcast was brought to life during the outbreak of COVID-19 to provide you with inspirational stories and practical advice from your colleagues in education.  By tuning in, you will hear the stories and ideas of the world’s brightest and most ambitious educators.  You can expect interviews with Principals, Teachers, Guidance Counsellors, National Student Association, Directors and anybody that works with youth. You can find and listen to all the episodes for free here.

Sarah Caldwell-Bennett – Leader of Experiential Learning for the Keewatin-Patricia District School Board (KPDSB)

Sarah Caldwell-Bennett - Leader of Experiential Learning for the Keewatin-Patricia District School Board (KPDSB)
About Sarah Caldwell-Bennett

Sarah Caldwell-Bennett (@SarahCalBen), is the Leader of Experiential Learning for the Keewatin-Patricia District School Board (KPDSB) in Treaty #3, the traditional lands of the Anishinaabe and Métis Peoples. 

She has taught nearly every grade from K-12, in just about every subject, but eventually settled into teaching Core, Extended and Immersion French programming before moving into a central role.  She holds an HBSc, BEd and has a Master of Education.  Sarah is an AQ course designer and instructor within the key areas of outdoor, environmental, and experiential learning.

Sarah believes that communities play an important role in partnership with educators by providing experiences for students that “stick”.  As a proud Northwestern Ontario person, she has embedded environmentalism, equity, stewardship and love for land and water in all of her courses and passes these lessons on to her own children as well. Undoubtedly, lifelong learning and moving education forward are true passions of hers.

Connect with Sarah-Caldwell-Bennett: Website | Twitter | Email

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Keewatin-Patricia District School Board

Bruce-Grey Catholic District School Board

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:02):
Sarah welcome to the high performing educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here today. Please start by introducing yourself.


Sarah Caldwell-Bennett (00:09):
Hi Sam. Thanks for having me. My name is Sarah Caldwell-Bennett. And I work for the KP DSB and I am the leader of experiential learning for my board.


Sam Demma (00:20):
What the heck is the leader of experiential of learning? What is experiential learning and what do you do?


Sarah Caldwell-Bennett (00:26):
That’s a very fair question. So the leader of experiential learning takes on quite a few things and it, and the flavor of the role can depend on the school board. So for my school board, I have a focus on experiential learning that connects to outdoor education. Land-Based learning environmental education, as well as pathways and transitions. So thinking about the future and, and for me, and how I approach this role, I really look at it as an opportunity to connect with community organizations, community members and expanding kids networks so that when they leave high school they have the biggest network they can, which really leads to that idea of being a com a responsible community member, as well as an employed community member.


Sam Demma (01:18):
How did you get into this role? What has your journey been like throughout education as a whole?


Sarah Caldwell-Bennett (01:24):
So, so, so that’s kind of a fun question because this is something that comes up when we talk about pathways. And my, my pathway here has not been a straight line from a to B, like with most of us. So in my first year of teaching, I thought, you know, like I wanna make, I wanna make this fun. I wanna engage kids. I want, I, I wanna be the favorite teacher. I, I wanna make this fun every day. And if it’s fun for me, it’s gonna be fun for kids. And that’s kind of how I looked at it. And plus you, you know, you’re a young, a young adult coming out of university. You think you kind of have all the answers, but I, I really had a great principal that supported me in this. And so when I went with, to him with these ideas, I, I initially thought he say no, but he just kept saying yes, and that led to the next thing and the next thing, and the next thing.


Sarah Caldwell-Bennett (02:10):
And although your first year is probably your most challenging year or maybe a pandemic year it made it made teaching bearable in that first year and it made it fun. And so I’ve carried on with that throughout all the different roles that I I’ve held. And even in my teaching capacities over the years, my roles have changed. So last year when this role came up a little bit different than it had been seen, it was a little more focused on skilled trades, which isn’t, it’s not really my jam. I have a lot of respect for my colleagues that work in those, in those fields, but it’s not something that drives the fire in my belly when it became more focused on outdoor education, land based learning and environmental issues. I had to jump on it. Mm.


Sam Demma (02:55):
Tell me more about that passion and where it comes from for you personally.


Sarah Caldwell-Bennett (03:00):
Yeah, so I, so I live in treaty number three, which is in Northwestern, Ontario, the traditional lens of the M a T people. And I think just being in this world where we’re blessed with, with lots of green space, lots of forests, lots of nature, lakes, rivers, you name it, and growing up in this area. I, I just think it becomes a part of your, your fiber and your being to be connected to the land and to the environment. And so I went to university at the university of Toronto and I learned quickly that I was not a city girl very, very quickly. It was actually a struggle to get through four years. But I did. And then when I did my B, I went to Lakehead university because late thunder bay is, you know, in Northwestern, Ontario as well, but I had that connection. So I could go to the land when I needed to, and I couldn’t do that in Toronto. So, but I think it’s just who I am and, and who I raising my kids to be. And thinking about that legacy.


Sam Demma (04:00):
When you say go to the land, how do you feel when you’re out in nature or what, what aspect of nature really calls out to you?


Sarah Caldwell-Bennett (04:11):
Well, I think normal’s the word that I, that pops in, right? Yeah. So I, I feel more so I start my day outside every day. Mostly cuz my dogs make meat, but nice. I don’t have that cup of coffee in the morning. Like a lot of people have, I have my cup of nature. And even on today, today we had a a little bit of an Alberta clipper pass through through the night. And as I’m out there shoveling snow, whether I realize it or not, I’m connecting with land. Right. And even if it’s a little bit of an days, cuz it’s in the dark and at this time of year, it’s a really important part of how I start my day.


Sam Demma (04:48):
There was an educator I interviewed from the Bruce Gray Catholic district school board. And he runs a program called the Genesis program, which is an outdoor education program where he brings students into nature for like four weeks. And it’s this huge expedition and him and a colleague created the program. And I think it’d really cool for you to connect with them. There might be some stuff you can bring or, or, or take from that into your own practice. I think learning outside and utilizing nature is so important. I’m like you and love absolutely love getting outside. We back onto a forest and I routinely forest bath or like not actually take a bath in the river, but I do a lot of like walking and, and meditative walking through the forest and find it. Awesome. tell me a little bit about your first year in experiential learning. This is your first year. How has it gone for you and what are some programs and things that you you’ve been able to spearhead within the school board?


Sarah Caldwell-Bennett (05:46):
So I, I don’t know if my head ever went to thinking about a central role like this because I really did love my role. Every role I’ve had up in the 15 years of my career. So this was never really actually felt very torn about applying that’s how much I loved my classroom position. But you know, there’s been a lot of change in the last couple years and the pandemic has really altered our thinking about how we do things that on and so forth. So last year I made a commitment to get outside as much as possible with my class. And I always had by the way, but this was like next level commitment because now I’m starting to think about the physical and mental health of our students. We, we had students come back to the school, not comfortable being in a classroom with, with, with other, with other students because we had been in isolation for so long.


Sarah Caldwell-Bennett (06:34):
So I made a commitment. I had grade nine extended French geography at that time. And I, we went outside every single day for class for an entire quad something that started off with, well, let’s try that first week or, oh, well we did last week. Let’s try a couple more days. And, and before you, you knew it, we had done the nine and a half weeks outside. Wow. So seeing that impact on had an impact on kids, but it had a, an impact on me too. So when this position came up, that was something that was kind of driving driving our work. So I don’t, we have, unlike a lot of other boards, our board is spread out into various communities. We even have two time zones in our school boards. So I don’t have, I don’t have a, a prefab cookie cutter program that I lay out in every community.


Sarah Caldwell-Bennett (07:21):
We want it to be as, as contextual and as community based as possible, but there are some commonalities. So a like with the other LS in the province most are giving a call for proposals. So I I’ve done that. And I’ve actually just put one out because this week marks the, the new the new term for elementary and the new quad for high school. Nice. And so we give them the opportunity to say, Hey, what do you need to make experiential learning happen? Hmm. And by the way, I’ll pay for it. Okay. I’ll pay for it. I’ll coach you through it. I’ll brainstorm with you. I’ll help you facilitate it. And I will, it’s tough to say that’s probably the most empowering thing that we do through my position and the board is, was we, we, sometimes we hand it to them on a silver platter.


Sarah Caldwell-Bennett (08:09):
Sometimes we’re going, Hey, I can learn from you, show me what you’re doing. Let’s elevate this. Let’s continue with it, whatever it is, but we make it as community and school specific as possible. And also looking at who their kids are. Right. And I don’t know their kids, they know their kids. So they’re, they’re the drivers of that work. But I’m always impressed about what programs are already happening, but I’m also impressed with, who’s willing to take a few more risks and try something new. And that’s what this does. Right? You, you, you know, you dangle some carrot at, in front of them and they go, Hey, maybe I’m willing to make that jump now. Mm


Sam Demma (08:44):
That’s awesome. What are some of the carrots that got danged or some of the programs that are going on in school, right? Yeah.


Sarah Caldwell-Bennett (08:52):
So this, this fall we, you know, we had a sustainable sewing project, so that was connecting environmental education, connecting with race waste reduction week. Also connecting with community. They brought a seamstress in to teach kids. They reached out to families to get some of that material because we were, we were trying to follow some of those sustainable S and just talking about like fast fashion and things like that. But we also on another extreme end probably one of my highlights of the year, although there have been several was the day I, I reached out to an and teacher and said, Hey, I get a deer. Can I bring a deer into your class? And meaning we are in the hunting season, right? Yeah. So a harvested deer. And, and sometimes I poke the bear a little bit and hope that they, they bite.


Sarah Caldwell-Bennett (09:50):
And this teacher did, and I ended up coming up with a deer and brought in I’m a I’m a gentleman to come and walk us through it. And we had just like the best slash weirdest school day of the year. And lots of classes were already doing it in other communities, but this one hadn’t. So I thought I would bring it in. And the guest speaker was amazing. The the tea did a lesson in and about my safety and how you respect the animal and, and talking about you know, like tobacco and that kind of thing. But the highlight actually were the students, and like with a lot of the, the experiential learning work that we do, this student becomes the star, not just the star of the moment, but the star of their learning story. So we were hearing kids speak that we’d never heard, like speak before in class, engage, tell the story, tell us how their families do it, tell us how that was the third deer that they’ve cleaned this year. In those moments, it’s almost like we sink back and just let them be in that spotlight and think about how, how that’s gonna stick with them for a long time. So, although it might have been a nontraditional lesson for the day, it’s not one that they’re gonna forget.


Sam Demma (11:12):
This idea of nontraditional is so important because education doesn’t only have to happen in one particular format or setting that would’ve been an amazing experience for all students. I never had an experience like that when I was in high school or elementary school, that would’ve been amazing. I would’ve loved to go through that.


Sarah Caldwell-Bennett (11:32):
Sam you’re stealing my line. My line is that learning doesn’t just happen in the four walls of your classroom.


Sam Demma (11:38):
Mhm.


Sarah Caldwell-Bennett (11:39):
Right. And it doesn’t just happen from the teacher. It can be from student to student, student, to teacher, teacher, to student, community member. And it most certainly does not have to happen inside all the time. And that word traditional is, is sometimes a great word. And sometimes it’s a scary word because our school system actually hasn’t changed a whole lot since like, like post contact, right? Yeah. Like the Western ways of, of how the education system has been organized. And so we have to look for opportunities to change forward.


Sam Demma (12:16):
Learning doesn’t even have to happen sometimes face to face, I think, physically face to face. And COVID kind of proved that one a little bit for some school boards. What are some of the, I don’t wanna focus on the challenges cuz those are obvious and we know we all have them due to COVID, but what do you think some of the opportunities are that have arisen because of COVID 19 and the pandemic that all these different school boards are going through.


Sarah Caldwell-Bennett (12:42):
And I really appreciate that because I think, although I think it’s important to identify those challenges. And I think certainly like one big that March, that spring, March, 2020 to June, 2020 wow. Like how about an next equity check for school boards? Right. And teachers. And I was like, how did I not think of some of this stuff before? And I’ve kind of really gone down deep into learning and exploring that stuff. So we do have to identify those challenges, but I think our willingness to connect and our willingness to overcome some of these barriers and find solutions has been probably, and I’m gonna say one of the best parts of the pandemic. And I, you know, I kind of feel bad saying it that way, but we’ve been given an opportunity and a responsibility to make some change. And I think that that’s really important.


Sarah Caldwell-Bennett (13:31):
So one thing I’d like to say is, is that educators around the world, not just here in Ontario or in my school board have become really good at sharing the good and sharing sharing in particular. Mm. So I can say, man, I, I saw this, this person out on the east coast and they’re doing this, this fied that’s, you know, like this, I’m gonna bring an idea back from that and bring it into my school board and see if anybody bites and, and go from there. So, and then the others thing is all those opportunities. So we talked about, you know, I live in Northwestern, Ontario, we have a small population, but we have a geographical size of the country of France that we have to, to negotiate. So, you know, like when I go up to pick a lake in a couple weeks, I’m gonna be driving my, you know, seven plus hours up north and, and that’s how I’m gonna reach that school. Right. But it’s also brought us closer together. So now we’re seeing not just like cross like between class collaboration or in interschool, but we’re seeing Intercommunity within our board and beyond. Right. So connected north actually has been a really great partner for us for bringing in yes, speakers and people we may not normally have access to or programming that we may not normally have access to.


Sam Demma (14:43):
Nice. And tell me more about connect, connect to north. Is that the name


Sarah Caldwell-Bennett (14:48):
Connect to connect to north? Yeah. So they provide programming we, where we work with it, we’re a Northern board. Right. So, but they can bring in speakers from all over the place. So for instance, one of the call for proposals was looking this fall, one of the classes was looking at special. So, but not just special effects like technology, but also like makeup.


Sam Demma (15:14):
Ah,


Sarah Caldwell-Bennett (15:15):
Right. So they brought in they had a guest who was actually based outta Saskatoon, was their kind of teacher for the day for this work. So they’re sitting there getting a makeup lesson on how to do like theatrical makeup. Wow. from Saskatoon in a class in air falls, Ontario. And so the opportunities that come up because of that, right. They wouldn’t get that out of their small town.


Sam Demma (15:40):
That’s awesome. I love that. You know, you mentioned, and, and shed light a little bit on the, the DEI issues that came to light as well. What are some of the thing that you individually have done and also that you see the school board starting to pay attention to, or change that you think is a positive step in the right direction.


Sarah Caldwell-Bennett (16:01):
Yeah. so that March, 2020 when we first started thinking, oh my goodness, you know, like we’re gonna have to do this virtually, how do we do this? Brought a lot of things to light that maybe, maybe we were weren’t maybe we knew maybe we, we probably knew all along. Like we knew kids that weren’t that were reliant on school food. We knew about these things. We knew kids who didn’t you know, have internet at home. We knew about those things, but it wasn’t a focus and it, all of a sudden we brought it to light. Yeah. and, and I’ve been really privileged to work with a lot of great people, but also some really smart people. And one of the principles that I’ve worked with always says, if you not, you’re not sure where to start, start with yourself.


Sarah Caldwell-Bennett (16:45):
Hmm. And so I, I really took that to heart. And so that spring, I really started diving into, I attended every workshop. I could, I read every book that I, I could about equity. I started thinking critically about my own actions, what I did in the classroom reflecting on those pieces. And our, our board was as well. It wasn’t just me as an individual. I had lots of colleagues that were thinking along the same lines. And if you look at board improvement plans now almost two years later, you will you that there is one of the main, main roots or goals is based around equity.


Sam Demma (17:21):
That’s awesome. Very cool.


Sarah Caldwell-Bennett (17:23):
So we have we have several, we have an equity committee at the board level. We also have a culturally, a C R P culture relevant and excuse me, responsive practices group. And we try to embed that work into all of our schools. So there’s just, and at times it feels like, yeah, I made some growth in this area. And then I realized that end line is still far, further and further away. And not because I’m not trying, but it’s an everyday thing. And like you mentioned earlier, like it’s about those small changes, right. Because several small changes can add up to that big one. And that’s the work that we’re trying to do. We’re not trying to make like a wholesale massive change because it won’t stick, it won’t be embedded into the culture. It won’t be embedded into the practice.


Sam Demma (18:16):
And sometimes a, you know, small action is a little less overwhelming which encourages you to continue taking them. So yeah, I couldn’t agree more. Well, what have you found helpful in terms like resources or things that you have went through or read through yourself? Not just for DEI, but just in general for your, your career in education.


Sarah Caldwell-Bennett (18:39):
Oh man, that’s a tough one. That’s a big one. Yeah, so I, I think you just need to get started. So find someone who who’s you know, willing to maybe walk this path through with you. Cuz they’re, I’m a hundred percent sure there are good people within, within the circle within the network you already have, but I have to say, and I, and I, this isn’t gonna work for everyone, but I’ve made my Twitter account is only professional. It is focused on, on education is focused on learning. I’m very critical about who I follow, what I share, who I post that holy man what I’ve taken away for, for personal learning from those networks and those brilliant people that I’ve added has challenged. My thinking has, you know, hopefully shaped me into, you know, the right, the right person that I wanna be as an educator, as a parent, as just a community member. Yeah. But also, you know, keeps challenging me to think, and that’s the big thing. As soon as you stop doing that stuff, that’s when you’re gonna get stagnant. And that’s actually, one of my biggest fears in education is getting interrupt mm. Staying the same and not being willing to, to change.


Sam Demma (19:49):
Awesome. I love that. I, I think that’s a fear for a lot of people. You get so comfortable doing one thing and you know, maybe you teach the, you know, when you’re in a classroom, you teach the same subject sometimes for 15 years and it’s the same lecture and it’s the same discussion. And being willing to challenge yourself every single day is I think so important. A quote from a book I read or actually the title was what got you here, won’t get you there. And it’s just this idea of always having a beginner mindset, an open mind and understanding that there’s different ways to climb the mountain. And there’s also other mountains that you could climb. And I think it’s just super, super important to remember that. So I appreciate you sharing. If you could take your experiences all throughout education, bundle it up, travel back in time to the first class you taught in, you know, tap younger, Sarah, cuz you’re not, you’re not old, but tap younger Sarah on the shoulder and say, you know, Sarah, this is what I wish you heard when you were just starting.


Sam Demma (20:50):
What advice would you have given yourself?


Sarah Caldwell-Bennett (20:55):
That’s a tough question.


Sam Demma (20:56):
Oh, that’s a big one.


Sarah Caldwell-Bennett (20:57):
I’ve actually had, I’ve actually had quite a bit of reflective moments this year because in addition to my L L role I’ve taken on three NTIP teach years we call ’em. So the new teacher induction program. Oh nice. And so I have been thinking about my first year of teaching more and more and more and more than I ever have in any other year. And so, so this is a good question. I don’t know if I have a brilliant answer for you, but I would go back. I would definitely go back in time and share the importance. I knew my kids. I, I did. I knew my kids. I, I, and I was doing some good work. There are some moments that I wish I could delete from memory, obviously because you’re a new teacher and you’re fumbling a little bit, you’re trying to survive to the next day or the next week.


Sarah Caldwell-Bennett (21:44):
But one thing that I would go back and I would really highlight is the importance to families. And although, although that might not you know, seem directly connected to curriculum or anything like that, but the importance of getting to know your families, their, their parents, their situations and their context, because I, I can tell you, I was not thinking about equity then the way I’m thinking about I wasn’t thinking about home dynamics, then the way I’m thinking about home dynamics now, and that influence that it has on the day to day action and possibilities for kids. And, and also, I, I can’t remember if I said this to you before, but my, my that idea of connection to community is big to me. Those fan family members are part of the community and you have no idea what they could offer you for your learning, for your context and how that’s gonna make it kid feel or another kid feel how that validates what they’re doing for and with their communities. So they really are. They’re a big part of your team. They’re not just someone who you report to three times a year on report card it’s for elementary or, or, or to pay me on quads or semesters for high school, you know they’re a part of your team and, and fuse that relationship as tightly and strongly as you can.


Sam Demma (23:02):
I love that. That’s such a good reminder that yeah, a parent is not just the caretaker of their child. They’re a part of the community that can have something to add in terms of value and yeah. Heightening the experience for everyone involved. If someone is listening to this conversation, Sarah, and liked something that was shared or, or wants to reach out and ask a question, what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you?


Sarah Caldwell-Bennett (23:27):
Sure. So they can email me, (email). Or you can find me on Twitter @(twitter)


Sam Demma (23:41):
Awesome. Sarah, this has been such a fun conversation. It’s already been over 30 minutes. I appreciate you taking the time to chat here. Keep up the great work and we’ll, we’ll talk soon.


Sarah Caldwell-Bennett (23:51):
Thanks for having me.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Sarah Caldwell-Bennett

The High Performing Educator Podcast was brought to life during the outbreak of COVID-19 to provide you with inspirational stories and practical advice from your colleagues in education.  By tuning in, you will hear the stories and ideas of the world’s brightest and most ambitious educators.  You can expect interviews with Principals, Teachers, Guidance Counsellors, National Student Association, Directors and anybody that works with youth. You can find and listen to all the episodes for free here.

Tina Noel – Experiential Learning Coordinator Renfrew County Catholic DSB

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

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

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

One – Integrity

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

Two – Own It!

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

Three – Choices

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

Connect with Tina: Email | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Specialist High Skills Major (SHSM)

Ontario Youth Apprenticeship Program (OYAP)

Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre (OCDC)

12 steps of rehabilitation

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:01):
Tina welcome to the high performing educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here this morning. Please start by introducing yourself.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Sam Demma (14:49):
Mm.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Sam Demma (22:58):
Ah,


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


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


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


Sam Demma (24:13):
Yeah.


Tina Noel (24:14):
Anyway,


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Tina Noel

The High Performing Educator Podcast was brought to life during the outbreak of COVID-19 to provide you with inspirational stories and practical advice from your colleagues in education.  By tuning in, you will hear the stories and ideas of the world’s brightest and most ambitious educators.  You can expect interviews with Principals, Teachers, Guidance Counsellors, National Student Association, Directors and anybody that works with youth. You can find and listen to all the episodes for free here.

Ryan Fahey – CEO of Fahey Consulting & Amazon Best-Selling Author

Ryan Fahey - CEO of Fahey Consulting & Amazon Best-Selling Author
About Ryan Fahey

Ryan Fahey (@wellnessrf) is a 3-time author, speaker, and edupreneur who is passionate about personal growth and well-being. He is the Owner of FaheyConsulting which aims to help people and organizations move from good to great.

His latest book, “How To Thrive In Remote Working Environments”, which supports the well-being of remote workers globally recently hit #1 on Amazon in Canada and cracked the top 40 books on entrepreneurship. Originally from Eastern Canada, Ryan has dedicated his life to pursuing wellness and is widely considered a thought leader in the wellness & education sectors. 

Three fun facts about Ryan:

  1. Early in his career, Ryan ran a mobile personal training business out of his Hyundai hatchback.
  1. Ryan has worked in various education delivery roles in a provincial capital, state capital, and national capital.

Ryan owns a small digital publication called, The Canadian Way”.

Connect with Ryan: Email | Website | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Ryan’s Website – Fahey Consulting

How To Thrive In Remote Working Environments (book)

Physical and Health Education Canada (PHE)

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


Ryan Fahey (00:08):
Hi Sam. Thanks for having me and for everybody tuning in. I hope you’re having a good day. Yeah. My name is Ryan Fahey. I’m a bit of an entrepreneur educator by trade and also a lead for special projects and resources for an organization called physical and health education Canada. So I’m excited to, to get rolling here, Sam, and to share some stuff with your audience today.


Sam Demma (00:32):
Tell me a little bit about why you’re passionate about the work you do with educators and also with schools.


Ryan Fahey (00:39):
Yeah. You know, one of the things that I’ve noticed. So I, when I, when I was in university, I went, I was training to become a physical and health education teacher. And movement has always been a big part of my life growing up, and I’ve always enjoyed the subject area of physical education, health education. And when I got into this field both as an educator now working nationally supporting physical education across the country. You know, when I look back at this, there’s just been so many people that have invested in me. You know, I’ve had some incredible mentors along the way that have supported my journey. And so one of the, one of the pieces, I guess, that drives the work I do is just willing to give back to the community and wanting to give back to this C because they’ve just given me so much, like every step of the way, and I’ll share a little bit more later, but every step of the way, you know, I’ve had people investing in me, people encouraging me, calling me lifting me up when I needed it. And and really, you know, passionate individuals when they get, when they get out there and they get into their gymnasium. So, you know, working at the national office is credible being able to support schools and, and educators, cuz it’s, it is an opportunity to give back that community that really has put me here. So so yeah, that’s a little bit about, I guess, why I do what I do and why I get up in the mornings to support the, the folks that have invested in me.


Sam Demma (02:04):
And how did you get into this work? What did the journey look like for Ryan as a young career aspiring man to Ryan now?


Ryan Fahey (02:16):
Well, so it’s funny. I was actually talking to a guy earlier today about this. We were having a conversation, so it was my last practicum. My teaching practicum at St. Xavier university. I I got approval to go on this trip down to shape America conference, which is the national kind of PhysEd conference in the us. And I was gonna get a job. I was determined, you know, I’m gonna get a job down there. So I went down, I printed off all these resumes, brought my binder. I went to this huge convention center and just started literally handing out, resonates to people. I knew that when I was graduating that I really wanted to travel and I wanted to, you know, I wanted to see the world. I was curious and growing up in small town, Nova Scotia, spending most of my life in Nova Scotia, I wanted to kind of, you know, branch out and, and explore a little bit more.


Ryan Fahey (03:07):
And really from there I got a bite. I ended up getting a job with with an organization called be active kids out of North Carolina and, and, and started there, you know, started my work was supporting early childhood physical literacy through a, a train, the trainer model. And I got to drive. I literally drove across the state in a, in this van, this B active van and would just like hand curriculums and do trainings. And so it’s kind of funny, you know, like, there’d be days I’d have to pinch myself off and be like, I can’t believe I went to school for this and I get to do this work cuz it was just, it was really cool. You know, I guess to kind of fast track from there, I came back to Canada still really was curious about traveling and seeing different parts of Canada at that point.


Ryan Fahey (03:55):
And I was very fortunate to have, get a position with an organization called ever active schools as a school health facilitator, basically going into schools and supporting them through a mentorship model and through a comprehensive school health approach. So whether you’re looking at DPA in schools, daily physical activity, whether you’re looking at being more intentional with comprehensive school health or potentially school, little sport, those were kind of the areas that I would go in across Alberta and support schools in. And you know, when I left, when I left there, I, I was really getting the itch to go international. I was really like, okay, I worked in north America, I worked in Western Canada, Eastern Canada. I grew up there, but you know, what about maybe going abroad? And so this incredible opportunity came forward to teach physical education abroad at a school in Abu Dhabi.


Ryan Fahey (04:51):
And and I jumped on it and it was a, it was pretty much a master’s in education. You know, I don’t have a master’s, but I say I have a real life. Yeah. Experience masters. But the amount I grew, the amount I was challenged and, and, and how I really had to overcome a lot of personal adversity professional adversity at, at that point was, was tremendous. And that’s really where you know, those experiences then combined have kind of led me back to Canada and let me back to, to work here nationally now, to support schools. And again, you know, just having so many unique experiences along the way, it’s, it’s kind of nice to, to be at the national office to be able to share those experiences with others.


Sam Demma (05:37):
You hopped in a van that said be active on it and drove across the country. True. Can you elaborate on that a little bit where that came from and what that initiative was and some of the stories along the way.


Ryan Fahey (05:51):
Yeah. I’ll tell you one, I’ll tell you one day this, you know, I was, I was very passionate. I mean, I’m still very passionate, but I would say I was very passionate at that point, but a little more careless. So there was one day north Carolina’s a very large state, so there’s 101 counties from west tip to, you know, the odor banks. And my role was get, get this curriculum in all 101 counties with this van. And so there was, was one day there was a tornado warning in the central part of the state. And I had a workshop planned in person in Greensboro, which is kind of in the heart of the state. And I remember driving and like my phone going off at the time, like tornado warning, you know, seek shelter and I’m driving. And I remember just like in this van by myself, just like, yeah, but not like in an aggressive way, just in like a prove it prove you wrong way.


Ryan Fahey (06:42):
I was like, you know, physical literacy, doesn’t take a day off education, doesn’t take a day off. Like people need to learn this this curriculum needs to get out there. I’m going like all in, like if this tornado takes me off. So be it. And I just went ever thinking about that. I’m like, I’m a little crazy, like, this is, this is probably not the safest thing, but yeah, I just literally drove around the state in a van and everywhere I went just kind of had some amazing people that would either build me or put me up or show me where to go within the community. And it was a fascinating experience right. At university, for sure.


Sam Demma (07:18):
That’s amazing. And you mentioned a lot of people poured into you along this journey. Talk a little bit about the mentors you’ve had and the impact they’ve made in your own life.


Ryan Fahey (07:29):
Yeah. I’d say, you know, there’s so many, I, unfortunately I lost one a few when I was actually in North Carolina. Oh, wow. And that was really tough. He a, he was a longstanding mentor of mine. But of the mentors that I currently have in my life or have had, you know, I’d say my dad is my biggest for sure. He’s, he’s the, he’s kind of that like he’s got that Sage wisdom to him, you know, it’s like, he’s got this sixth sense about everything that I just can’t seem to figure out how he does it. Yeah. He’s not on social media. You have to like go into the woods to find him. But when he is in there and when you see him, it’s like this Miyagi karate kid experience. And so he’s definitely my, my number one. And then I have a really good friend who is kind of been this pseudo friend mentor for years named Matt McDonald.


Ryan Fahey (08:19):
And we were actually just chatting the other day and he’s, you know, he is so different than me. And when we were younger, we would sometimes have our differences. And, and now like at the older I get and the older he gets, even though our lives kind of have went in multiple directions. I just appreciate that so much more. I appreciate questioning thought. I appreciate diversity of thinking. I just appreciate these multiple perspectives. And he always will be the one to ask the questions that no one else will ask. And, and I think that’s, that’s been huge for me in my life and, and it’s allowed me to sometimes walk away frustrated, but also walk away being like, okay, like I really need to think this through because Matt really asked me some great questions. So those would definitely be my top two.


Sam Demma (09:04):
That’s awesome. And for an educator who doesn’t know much about PhD Canada, and what they have to offer schools, go ahead and give a little breakdown of what pH does and how school could get involved in a partnership, a collaboration with pH or what you guys have to offer.


Ryan Fahey (09:25):
Yeah. So the organization, physical health education Canada has been around for almost a hundred years actually. Which is which crazy when you think about it. But yeah, it, you know, the organization basically seeks to support healthy, healthy, active kids through physical and health education and quality physical and health education experiences. Over the years, the work obviously has changed a lot. You know, I think, you know, a few years ago was there, there was a lot of support specifically around curriculum many years ago. And obviously there’s a big need there to support advocacy and, and, and curriculum development, curriculum improvement, things like that. And we still do a bit of that, but I would say the, the biggest piece that I carry and and for the listeners listening in that, that might be of value is the amount of projects, programs, and resources that we have.


Ryan Fahey (10:21):
So we, we, we’re very grateful in that we have a lot of great funders, including, you know, the CFL is one MBA obviously the government and, and other corporate funders as well. And, and one of the pieces I just actually developed was a K to three physical literacy resource that is focused on football. So it’s in partnership with the CFO, it’s an earlier introduction to football and it’s kind of this two pronged approach and that kids are gonna learn about football, but they’re also gonna develop the, their fundamental movement skills, like hop in and, and jumping and kicking and throwing, which are all the skills that we see in the super bowl. Right? So it’s kind of this fun project that, that we were able to work on together with them and, and to support and to get the next generation of Canadians excited about the sport of football I think is huge. And so any of the listeners tuning in there’s, there’s tons of free resources across the website, go check it out. And whatever you’re teaching, we, we probably have something to support your needs. For sure.


Sam Demma (11:28):
That’s amazing. That sounds like a great program. What’s happened during COVID with the pivot, if I’m a, had to use that word with physical education, have you guys worked on some virtual resources as well for gym teachers wondering like, what the heck do I even do with my students right now?


Ryan Fahey (11:50):
Yeah, absolutely. So when, when COVID first hit, we, we kind of went into startup mode where we’re like, okay, we need to be equally as disruptive in terms of how we operate, what we do and, and how we deliver, right? Because everything just changed so quick for everyone. And, and, you know, again, peach, Canada being so old, we’re, we’re often looked to as that, that, that lead voice. And so it was important for us to do that and to meet the needs of the teachers. So when COVID first hit, we were doing a lot of advocacy for the at-home learning mandates writing letters to many of the provinces territories in partnership with partners there to say, Hey, look, you know, in your at-home learning mandates, you need to have some form of physical education. Because that’s, that’s, you can’t just drop that.


Ryan Fahey (12:39):
Like you can’t just go away. Yeah. So that was some of the initial work. And, and then as folks began to return back to school, we created these return to school guidelines just to really help physical health education teachers on navigating policy, navigating some of decisions that they need to make navigating gym gym sizes, or how many students can be in a gym, those types of things that we’re really looking for clarity. And so we, we try to just support and guide them you know, with, with compiling resources like that. I would say we we’ve completely moved a digitally right with conferences. We’re, we’re fully digital. We have a conference coming up here in February, that’s fully virtual.


Sam Demma (13:17):
Nice.


Ryan Fahey (13:18):
And, you know, I, a big credit to the team, you know, there there’s a mix of educators on the team. There’s business folks, there’s kind of multiple backgrounds, but everybody’s just come together and said, we need to support this community. And we need to continue to listen. Because there’s, there’s a lot being thrown at teachers right now. And we need to sift through that and find clarity and develop high quality resources and supports for them.


Sam Demma (13:42):
Physical education changed my life, growing up as an athlete. I, I don’t know if I would be the same person I am today without it. So the work is extremely important and something that can’t be dismissed no matter what the world it is going through, we don’t move our bodies. We lose our mental health. And I think they’re very interconnected. There’s probably dozens of studies that link the, the mind to physical movement. Yeah, it’s just such important work. Tell me about a, a situation or a story where you heard positive feedback from a program making an impact in a, or an educator reaching out and letting you guys know.


Ryan Fahey (14:19):
Yeah. So we ran this grant campaign for a couple years, my first few years at PhD Canada. And it was incredible. It was called share to care, and it was a mental health campaign to support schools with their mental health needs. And so what we would do is we would grant funding to those schools. I think we had like maybe five or 10 schools across the country each year. And then we would highlight those school profiles as promising practices as well, and publish them on our, on our website. So that was incredible because teachers would come in and they’d be like, I didn’t know, other schools were doing this. This is amazing. So we were able to surface some of that knowledge that was happening locally so that other schools across the country could take it and run with it.


Ryan Fahey (15:05):
But it was really neat being a part of that, that campaign as the, as kind of the lead person on it. Because like, I remember one school, I went to a school in Brampton. They were a recipient and they were just so overjoyed to have us in there. Like we would come in with this jumbo check and the kids were so excited. There’s a guest in there and he’s got a big check and, you know, and I’m like excited to be in a school cause I love schools. And, and so that was a lot of fun, like to get up in the gym, they would have an assembly. We present the check and have the funder there, do a few words and whatnot. I mean, this is all stuff, I’m sure you, you know, you you’ve been in some schools, you, you know what I’m talking about, but just to see the look on these kids’ faces and the teachers as well being like, there’s hope you there, there’s, there’s groups out, out there that are gonna support us in our, you know, cause a lot of them are just doing this from the deep Wells of their heart and they’re not getting paid for these extra things and these extra initiatives and you know, all of these, these things that they’re assets that they’re bringing to their, to their work.


Ryan Fahey (16:08):
And when you get these beautiful initiatives that pop up, it’s so awesome to be able to celebrate them. So that was one just being at that school in Branford was, was one one really neat way to see the impact of the work that we do and how important it is. And I mean, sometimes it’s like a school just needs to know that that there’s hope right. And it’s so challenging right now. But but how having grant programs like that, I think that I think provides that hope.


Sam Demma (16:36):
A hundred percent on the topic of hope. What do you think are some of the opportunities that exist in education right now? I think whenever there’s a challenge, you don’t have to find the silver lining in that specific individual challenge, but somewhere within the industry as a whole, that become some opportunities. Do you think any of these opportunities are starting to pop up because of the shift in education that has happened over the past two years?


Ryan Fahey (17:03):
Yeah. I’ll give you a great example. So when I was with ever active schools out in Alberta, we were piloting this new resource at the time called don’t walk in the hallways and essentially they were different colored sticky tiles that you would put through the hallways and it would create this kind of makeshift hop scotch. So as opposed to the kids, you know, hand on the hip finger on the lip or something like that, you know, like be quiet walking down the hallway, this was a culture shift for many schools to say, maybe the kids can hop or Gallop or skip. They go, you know, from point a to point B and have a little bit more play within their day and the amount of pushback that we got at the time, not from every school. I mean, we had early adopters for sure.


Ryan Fahey (17:46):
But, you know, there were some schools that were like, oh, it’s not gonna work. You know, the, the floors it’s too, they’re too sticky. They leave a residue and it’s not clean. And now think about this, Sam. Now you go anywhere and there’s like stickers on the floor. Like stand here, don’t stand here. Here’s another arrow. So I’m like, I think we were just too early with that. But you know, now it’s like this, this would be so much easier because schools are already used to having to have things marked on the floor right now. Now the, the leap is less large because they they’ve already been doing this with, with COVID. So I think in that sense, like the disruption has allowed space for a quicker conversation, right. To say, you know what? Yeah, we don’t need to worry about all these things anymore because they’re really not that important.


Ryan Fahey (18:37):
Like we know that these things are important, so let’s just go and make this decision. So I think that’s one thing. I think it, second thing that that’s really important and this kind of goes with that is I think teacher voices have never been louder. And I think it’s amazing. I mean, you’re, you’re, you’re on social media as well as, as, as myself and seeing educators being able to stand up and say, you know, what they feel, what they want, what they need. I think we need more of that. We need more teachers coming forward saying, look, this is just like this policy to doesn’t make sense. Or this policy doesn’t make sense or this look at this best practice and like, you know, call me and you know, we’ll talk about how to, you know, replicate this. Yeah. I think that that collective voices are huge right now. And I, I, you know, go going through the remainder of this pandemic. I hope that teachers don’t remain silent. I hope that they continue to provide a ground for all wise practices and what’s working. What’s not working and really advocate for what they need, because I think that’s really important.


Sam Demma (19:40):
I tell educators all the time that I think if they choose to share their experiences, it helps everyone else in the field because it may be a situation that someone else is experiencing right now that they’ve already figured out or solved and their sharing will open a door for somebody else who’s tuning in, whether it’s listening or reading. At the beginning of this interview, you introduce yourself as an ed entrepreneur, someone who works in education and is also an entrepreneur. One of the ways that a lot of educators, at some point in their life consider using their voice is by writing a book. And I know you’ve published. Self-Published a few of them. Can you tell me a little bit about your impetus or an inspiration to writing books and what it’s like being both an educator and an author?


Ryan Fahey (20:34):
Yeah, this is it’s very interesting. So I started out with a blog. I, I was in university and I wrote this blog. It was terrible. So if anybody Googles it, it was called wellness network blog. It was terrible. The visuals were awful. But the content was okay. So, you know, I remember I fast forward a few years from that I shut down the blog. I was kind of, you know, starting my career, doing things in education, but I was driving to a school in Northern Alberta and, you know, inspiration just hit. And I being like, I need to write these, I need to write this down. This is gonna be my book. And so I pulled over the side of the highway and I literally wrote down every chapter of the book that I was gonna write. And and that’s, that’s really where it started.


Ryan Fahey (21:21):
You know, I ended up actually finishing the book and really doing the, the groundwork of the book when I was in a Abu Dhabi. So I would come home from school. And literally just, I was in a hotel and I would just put my feet up and just write for hours and hours. Sometimes I wouldn’t even know what time it was. And just put myself in this space, cuz I knew that that was the time in my life to do that. I, you know, we had, didn’t have kids at that point. Weren’t married at that point or I wasn’t married at that point. So I just knew that this is the time to do it. And so that was, that was where my, my first and second book were, were created. The third one was very interesting because I knew I always was going to write a third one Sam, but it was March of 20, 20, everything had happened and I was looking around and I, I wasn’t seeing much for or many, many kind of resources and books out there to support the wellbeing of remote workers.


Ryan Fahey (22:16):
Mm. There was a few and remote workers already in, in our, our way of life. I think, you know, there were a lot of businesses that were offering that, but not to this extent that COVID put us in. And so it was actually last the last Christmas season where I wrote it, I, I sat down, I said, I need to write a book to support the wellbeing of remote workers and I need to get another resource out there. And so I literally locked myself in quarantine for 14 days. And I was staying at my sister’s place in, this is kind of funny cuz she has a couple of cats and I felt like mark Twain, you know, like he was out in a cabin and Maine the cat and the wood stove. Like that was literally me like except no wood stove, but two cats.


Ryan Fahey (23:00):
And yeah. So anyway, I ended up cranking this thing out, but you know, to your, to your second point on what’s it like being an author it’s it’s and an educator? It’s kind of interesting when I published a second one, I had a lot of people think I was, or, you know, kind of mentioned that I was too young to be an author. Mm. And, and that really played with me, you know, play with my psyche play with the imposter syndrome. And I remember, you know, really having to, to struggle with and work through that. And then I just got to a point where it’s like anything when you’re changing an identity and you’re deconstructing one and reconstructing another, that you’ve just, there’s a shift at some point that happens. And that shift for me, I would say happened probably last year where where I said, okay, I’m gonna fully step into this identity, no matter what age I am, no matter how you know, how gray my hair is or how many letters are behind my name, I, you know, I’ve written multiple books. So that one was definitely a learning learning moment for me. And, and you really, you really open yourself up. I mean, it’s a vulnerable experience and you know, any, any day now somebody could just rip, rip my books apart on Amazon and, and I just have to be okay with that. So it’s it’s definitely an interesting journey for sure.


Sam Demma (24:16):
Putting out your own stuff is always an interesting journey. You can work for somebody else and sell their products and have someone turn you down a thousand times and wake up the next day. Totally excited to try again, but you push your own stuff out. And one day someone rips it apart. It’s like what? And it has this totally different effect on your brain. What’s interesting to me is a thousand people could tell you it’s amazing and one person rip it part. And sometimes we focus on that one negative comment rather than the thousand people that loved it and that it helped regardless of the feedback at all, putting out things that you truly believe will be valuable to others is such an interesting experience. And I’m sure writing a book helped you clarify your thought and sharpen your ideas and keeps that fire lit within you to continually learn and be curious, which is invaluable as well. What is your best advice for an author who, or an educator who wants to write a book and journey into becoming an author as well?


Ryan Fahey (25:26):
Yeah, when I was back, you know, if we go back to the van, North Carolina days I, this family that I was living with at the time the, the father was an author and that book was called taking on Goliath. And it’s actually very fascinating read for anyone who’s interested, but we were running together one day and he said to, I asked him similar question, like what, like what kind of led you to writing a book? Like how did this happen? And he said, you know, Ryan, I got to a point where I realized I’m not an author, but I have a story to tell. And I think that’s so important for an educator out there. You have a unique story. You have your unique individual, you have unique value that you can add to the world and you need to add it.


Ryan Fahey (26:08):
You know, we live in this time that it’s so easy, like to write a book or to get, you know, get your resources on teachers, pay teachers or whatever, you know, platform is out there to share your talent, share your insight and value with the world. And I find it, it’s so interesting because as educators, we time inspiring the next generation and telling kids to live their dreams. But sometimes we, we, you know, through life and challenges and whatnot, they get snuffed out in their own lives. Yeah. And I think it’s important that we, you know, we just start something small, start something simple. And, and like you said about adding the value to adding value through your gifts and talents to the world, like putting yourself out there. I think it’s a super rewarding experience and, and it just makes the world a better place.


Sam Demma (26:56):
I couldn’t agree more. And if someone wants to ask you a question about anything we discussed or during this interview wants to pick up some of your books purchase, some of them wants to learn more about the process of becoming an author. What would be the best way for them to reach out or get in touch with you? Or send you an email?


Ryan Fahey (27:16):
Yeah. Great question. So they can come to my website just https://www.faheyconsulting.org/. I’m also on LinkedIn (ryanbfahey/) with Twitter as well at (@wellnessrf). I love Twitter. I think we’re now following each other Sam. So you might get some tweets from me about how exciting this conversation was. But yeah, I’m always open to chat, you know, I even put it in both of my books, I think like, or one of my, of books I put in temperature check, you know, you halfway through the book, you send me an email and I put my email in there, like, let’s talk, like what, how are you feeling? What have you taken away? What, you know, what more could I have done cuz I think, you know, keeping those conversations and lines open is huge.


Sam Demma (28:00):
I couldn’t agree more. Thank you so much again, Ryan, for doing this. Keep up the great work. I look forward to your next book and I, yeah, I look forward to staying connected and seeing all the great work you’re up to keep it up and we’ll talk soon.


Ryan Fahey (28:13):
Thank you, Sam.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Ryan Fahey

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.

Karen Dancy – Parent Council Chair & Parent Engagement Advocate

Karen Dancy – Parent Council Chair & Parent Engagement Advocate
About Karen Dancy

Karen Dancy (@karendancy) is an advocate for quality public education.  She has been involved in the parent council for the last 8 years.  In addition to serving as Chair at both her sons’ grade school and high school, Karen sits on two additional school committees at the Board level.  She believes the school and home partnership is vital in supporting student learning and growth. 

When Karen isn’t volunteering with the local school board, she can be found diving into family genealogy, rescuing hound dogs and working her day job, working in the History department at York University where she has been for the last 26 years. 

Connect with Karen: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board

Bachelors of English at York University

Department of History at York University

Ontario Association of Parents in Catholic Education (OAPCE)

OAPCE Dufferin-Peel

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. We have another amazing guest on the podcast today. Her name is Karen Dancy. She is an advocate for quality public school education. She has been involved in parent council for the last eight years. In addition to serving as chair at both of her son’s grade schools and high schools,


Sam Demma (00:59):
Karen sits on two additional school committees at the board level, and she believes the school and home partnership is vital in supporting student learning and growth. When Karen isn’t volunteering with the local school board, she can be found digging into family genealogy, rescuing hound dogs, and working her day job; working in the history department at York university, where she has been for the last 26 years. Also, she is very involved with the OAPCE they host awesome events. You should check her her workout on Twitter as well. She posts a lot of amazing content. Anyways, I hope you enjoy this interview as much as I enjoy chatting with Karen, and I will see you on the other side. Karen, thank you so much for coming on the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show. I gotta say, I was really impressed with your technology, your background, the different things we were putting on; the zoom filters, but why don’t you start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit about the reason why you’re so passionate about helping young people.


Karen Dancy (02:00):
Thank you. My name is Karen Dancy, and I am currently the chair at my son’s elementary school and I got involved that way. And I don’t know, it’s funny. I’m not a teacher, but when I was a kid, I thought I was gonna be a teacher. And I think I didn’t go that route at the time, because they were saying, oh, there’s gonna be too many teachers at the time. Right. So I thought, well, you know, so I ended up you know, I got an English degree and I ended up, I still work in education. I, I work at York university. Nice. So at least it kind of keeps me, but you know, sometimes I wonder if I should have been a teacher, but it’s too late now, but now what I’m doing is fun. Like I enjoy being with the students like, you know, I help out as much as I can. I’m flexible with my time. Like if I need to, if, if there’s something going on at the school at the elementary school, I will take a day off. Like I’m not shy about it. People know that if I’m taking a day, it’s usually because I’m helping at the school, you know, doing, doing pancakes or whatever.


Sam Demma (03:02):
And from reading like your Twitter, it’s very obvious that you’re very passionate about education in the best of ways. Yeah, I think it’s important that we, we share our opinions and our voices, especially during crazy times. Yeah, you know, it’s funny that you’re not directly a teacher, but you still work in a school at York university. What led you down that path? What, what prompted you down that path?


Karen Dancy (03:25):
Well, I went to school there. Got it. Sorry. I went to university, I got my I got my degree there and I, I like to joke about how I couldn’t buy the company back in, back in the back in the eighties, or so there used to be a commercial for a running tonight. I, the, the shaver. And he was like, yeah, you know, I like the company so much. I decided to, to buy it. I’m like, well, I can’t buy the university, but I ended up, it just kind of fell into my lap. Like, you know, I was working there part-time during my schooling nice and an opportunity. And it, what happened was it was supposed to be two weeks and it turned to six months into, and then it turned into a contract and now I’ve been there, you know, 25 plus years. Wow. And it’s, it’s not that, I mean, it’s a, it’s a, it’s a job. Right. And I enjoy it. Like, it keeps me in academia at the time. And it it’s, it’s fun. I like it.


Sam Demma (04:16):
And at what point did you make the decision to get involved with, with the student council and parent council? Like, I think you’ve been doing that for eight, eight or so years. Yeah. So


Karen Dancy (04:25):
Yeah, since my son was in grade one, my oldest was in grade one. It was I guess, you know, you as a parent at the time, like this is all, it was all new to me, but I decided to go to, to my first meeting, I was curious and you know, I was quiet. I walked and I see all the camaraderie between the other, you know, chair, like people that have been going for years. Right. Cause I didn’t know anybody. And an opportunity came up for the first, for the first role, which is just a, basically a community person. So you tell them what’s going on in the community. And so, you know, I got involved that way. And then I, you know, as I went, as I more things, it was like, oh, okay, well, this is kind of fun. And so the following year we had somebody leave, the chair was leaving or, or whatever. So I did a, I did a co-chair so, cause I wasn’t, you know, I still wasn’t comfortable enough on my own, but so I, I did a co-chair ship for a couple of years.


Sam Demma (05:19):
Nice. That’s awesome. And you’ve experienced parent council, both, you know, pre COVID and now in COVID I’m sure it’s been very different on both ends. Yeah. What are some of the challenges you think are, or are students are facing right now? I think what’s very unique about your position is that you have a child of your own, who is going through school when I talk to direct caters. Yeah. You know, they give me what their students are going through, but they don’t see the students after the school day ends. Yeah. You know, you have this unique position where you’re both hearing from the educators and seeing your own student and your own, your own child. Yep. What are the challenges our students are facing right now?


Karen Dancy (05:58):
It’s hard. It it’s hard. And I see it from two ways. Cause I have a, so I have a son in elementary school he’s in grade seven and then I have a grade Niner. Right. Who’s just started. Yeah. And I feel bad for both. So, you know, a year ago when we got, when we went into lockdown you know, remote learning, it was not even remote learning at the time I called it pandemic learning because nobody was ready for this. Right. Like you were lucky. My grade, my grade nine, who was in grade eight at the time, he was lucky he had a, an Edwin, like a, a Chromebook that he was from the school so he could bring it home. But my other son had to use his computer. So, you know, setting that up and some classes, you know, were set up and weren’t so fast forward to now.


Karen Dancy (06:41):
My, my grade seven son hates online learning. Like he would rather, he goes, he goes in for, he goes in, he’d rather go in person. And I feel bad for my grade nine or because he’s not experiencing grade nine. I had great memories of grade nine. You know, like you meet new people, you do these retreats. And, and he’s not, I mean, you know, I drop him off in the morning and he goes to school for two and a half hours. I pick him up, he comes home. He doesn’t, you know, there’s four people in his class. He doesn’t get that. He’s not getting to know anybody’s


Sam Demma (07:14):
Action friendships.


Karen Dancy (07:14):
And it’s just, it’s just, you know, it’s almost like he it’s, you know, he’s a robot go in coming out, you know, there’s just no interaction. And if you’re painfully shy, you know, there’s no, there’s no way to meet other people. It’s just, I feel so bad. You know? And he, again, you know, there was no graduation last year and it, you know, for the great aids this year, there’s not gonna be a graduation. I mean, it was just it’s pandemic learning is still kind of there in some cases. I mean, now, yes, it’s better. Like it’s more organized, right? Like if you’re feeling sick, you can like my grade seven, if he wants to stay home and he did one day, he just didn’t wanna go in. So I kept him home and he was able to follow because it’s, you know, they’re doing the hybrid learning. Got it. So he’s at home learning the teachers on the computer at school and they’re teaching. So, you know, it’s, I like that, but I do miss the, like, I feel bad for them because they’re not getting the interaction


Sam Demma (08:09):
I have to tell. Yeah. I have to tell you, I feel the same way I have, I have friends who are still in school in fact last year, but a couple of my buddies are graduating college and university, and that’s a big celebration. Right. You know, graduating high school and then graduating college with all your buddies when you’re a little older and you know, they have few celebrations. And I remember thinking like, wow, this, this sucks. I actually put together a video called dear graduating class of 2020 to try and like celebrate students. And it was well received last year. Oh, good. But I’m curious know, like, despite the challenges, how do we still make the students feel seen, heard, valued and appreciated, you know, from the par from the perspective of a parent, but also the perspective of an educator.


Karen Dancy (08:53):
Yeah. I don’t know. I mean, I think this year they have more time to plan. Right. Got it. So I think, I think the big issue that schools faced last year was the inequity. Yeah. When school was having a drive by and gave out lawn signs where the other school didn’t do that, you know, they maybe gave out a t-shirt, which, you know, like that’s okay. But there’s like, there has to be equity across the board, especially in the same school board. Right? Yeah. Like, that’s the problem. You can’t have one school doing


Sam Demma (09:21):
This, this a huge show,


Karen Dancy (09:22):
Doing a huge show. And I mean, I mean, you know, also you’re bound, like, you know, it’s hard, the admins, they don’t wanna bend the, like, they don’t wanna get in trouble. Right. Like at the time, you know, we were in lockdowns, you couldn’t have large gatherings. Right. So it’s, I can see it was just so difficult. I feel so bad for the teachers. And they admit, because they’re only trying to follow the rules as best. I mean, yes. They would love to put on a big celebration. Like I know I had suggested various ideas, like do have graduation. Everybody stays in their cars and


Sam Demma (09:55):
A drive cars,


Karen Dancy (09:56):
You know, a, exactly like a driving movie. And then they drive up and, you know, there was just so much and it, and honestly it took me I broke down several times. I was at different board meetings cuz I’m also involved, involved at the board level in meet in meetings. And there were times where I just, I broke down crime because I was just so sad, my son and his friends. Mm. Because I know what it’s like, like I remember grade age, you know, and it’s just, you know, he doesn’t, he, they missed it, but they don’t really know what they’re missing. I mean, they, they know it’s a big deal, but yeah. You know, it’s like, what, whatever, but I felt bad. And, and so this year I know that my particular school board is trying to make sure that there’s equity


Sam Demma (10:36):
Got


Karen Dancy (10:36):
It across the board. We’ll see what it looks like. I mean, it’s still so hard, you know, I know people are gonna be disappointed. Yes. You can never, you can never please everybody. Right.


Sam Demma (10:46):
It’s it’s such a complex issue. Right. Because when you think you have the solution, it presents a new challenge. Well,


Karen Dancy (10:53):
That’s it exactly. I mean, you know, you can set something up and then, you know, we go by into lockdown where you can only have five people outside or what happens if you have this big elaborate presentation outside and it rains. Yeah. Right. Like, I mean, we’re not, it’s not like we live in California where the sun is always shining, you know? So it’s just, I mean, there’s like different stages. Like it’s almost like you have a different playbook, a play for every different kind of scenario. And it’s like, at some point you have to just, well, you, you know, if it can work out, it works out


Sam Demma (11:23):
And from the role of a parent, because again, you play that two. Yeah. That two role person, how do, how have you been striving to support your, your kids through this time? Is it just reassurance? Is it giving them other experiences or


Karen Dancy (11:38):
It’s I just, I’m asking. I just ask them, you know, are you good? Like I tell, I tell ’em, you know, I know this is, this is, this is hard right now, but this is your history. Like in 20 years time, you’ll be able to tell, you know, your kids. Well, what I, you know, I did this when, during the COVID right? Like this is there. Yeah. I walked in a, in a snowstorm uphill, barefoot


Sam Demma (11:56):
Story,


Karen Dancy (11:59):
You know, this is their story right’s so there it’s their history, but you know, I try my best. I mean, you know, once this is all over, I’m sure everybody will be having major parties and, and celebrating everything for all the things I’m have missed. Right.


Sam Demma (12:14):
Yeah. Very true. Very true. And in light of challenges we spent a, a couple minutes talking about them. There is also opportunities, and I’m curious to know what you believe are opportunities that exist right now in education because of the disruption that’s that’s happening.


Karen Dancy (12:31):
Well, I mean, perfect example is, so our meetings have obviously like student, parent council meetings have shifted to zoom meetings and parent engagements. And we are finding that we’re getting more people coming out to our events because they’re not racing home, you know, rushing home to have dinner and then to go out again. Right. So I, like I said, I was involved involved, so at the parent council level, but then just above the parent council level because we’re in a Catholic school, we have OAP C so we have parent engagements for that. So we’re finding that the parent engagement is actually higher because people can come home, stay in their pajamas, you know, put on the pajamas and then listen or watch, right. Like they don’t have to rush out to meeting up upon meeting. So we’re finding a better engagement that way. And so, you know, maybe moving forward once the pandemic is over, maybe schools will have more parent engagements because we used to have parent engagements in person. Right. Like, got it. Paul Davis is an internet C guy. Right. He came to our school and sometimes the turnout for these things are so poor. Yeah. Like you’re lucky if you get four people and that, you know that. So


Sam Demma (13:47):
When you say parent engagement, can you clarify, do you mean like a parent event, like a parent driven event? Yeah.


Karen Dancy (13:51):
A parent. Yeah. So, so the government used to give funding for, to host parent engagement. Got it. So I know in my role as chair, I’ve organized you know, internet safety or wellness, you know mental brain gym, just to help parents kind of cope with different, you know, with parenting stuff. Like it’s, it’s, it was a fund that was only spec. It was specifically for an engagement. So we have to have a we’d bring in a speaker. And so we were lucky if we got four people. And so I used to open it up to all the schools in the neighborhood. If they wanted to come, they could come you know, still people are shy and they wouldn’t come. But having it on zoom, it, it, you know, it makes it like, oh, I don’t have to, like, I can go up, but not have to talk to people.


Karen Dancy (14:38):
Cuz a lot of times people they’re tired when they get home and they don’t wanna go out. But if they can just flip on their, you know, their computer and watch it that way. So but in the past two, I, you know, that, that money that we used to get, I used to do it for the kids. Mm. So I remember there was one, it was a math, it was it was maths. It was some kind of a math thing where they, they brought in all these manipulatives for kids to play. Like they put out a floor mat and everything. And I remember the organizer he’s like, he thought it was in the evening and I’m like, no, no, during the day. And he is like, well, you’re not gonna get parent engagement and your money is supposed to be for parent engagement. And I’m like, no, no, the parents will come during the day because at our school, they, the parents were really engaged and sure enough, I had 15 parents throughout the day come to watch their kids have fun that it was mostly that it was a thousand dollars, but that a thousand dollars was spent for the kids because any money that the school raises always goes back back to the kids. Right. We always think what’s what something for the kids is for the kids.


Sam Demma (15:40):
So you not to suit your horn, but you’re like the, the best parent, you know, you got involved in your kid’s education from grade one and stayed in all the way up to grade and you’re still here. So


Karen Dancy (15:52):
I know, I know. I’m sure my I’m sure. My grade nine kid isn’t exactly happy. Actually. The funny thing was is I didn’t, you know, so I joined, like I joined the high school council and high school is different and I’m obviously learning and this is still you to me. And I, you know, I haven’t set foot in the school yet, but the first time they report cards came out, I looked and like my friend texted me. She’s like, Hey, did you know your names on, on all the report cards? And I had no idea. I’m like, oh my God, he like kid is gonna be so embarrassed to see my name. You know,


Sam Demma (16:25):
Every single, every single student in the school is gonna be like, oh, your mom’s caring. Yeah,


Karen Dancy (16:31):
Exactly. As long as, so maybe that’s why he doesn’t wanna make friends or anything because that’s really that’s at one. He doesn’t want people knowing who I am, but that’s awesome. That’s awesome. But they just, but they say that, you know, kids get are proud like obviously in elementary. True. And they see their parents helping out. Right. It gives them a sense of pride. I remember my younger son, he was like in grade two and I, there was an issue with pizza. Like he went up to the pizza, the pizza mom and was complaining and he’s like, my mom is the chair. Well, he actually called me president or something. My mom is the president and I want another slice. And she, you know, and she joked her and she turned around. She’s like, you tell your mom that I quit because I’m tired of this. Right. So, you know, he took it a she’s too far.


Sam Demma (17:13):
That’s funny. Yeah. I love that story. How do we get parents more involved in their child’s education? Is it through parent engagement events? Like what do you think is like, like envision an educator listening to this from another school board who doesn’t have a, a, an awesome parent support. Like what do we tell that educator that might help them get their parent community more involved?


Karen Dancy (17:36):
I think that you tell that they, they need to take whatever the parent can give. If the parent can only give five minutes, the, the parent that’s five minutes of their time. I mean, time is valuable. Yeah. Right. And yes, I’ll admit that I spend a lot of time and I’ve, but if I have a parent who says to me, you know, I can only give you five minutes at this event. I’ll take it. I would never turn anybody down. It is hard it’s, you know, I guess the only thing is you keep offering things, right? Like different things. Just, it it’s, especially now we can take advantage of zoom. Right. Like I said, I mean, before Christmas we had a story time. It just, you know, it was off the cuff. I just, I messaged my principal and I said, Hey, Santa Claus, he’s gonna do a story time over zoom. And he’ll read a story. And it was just, and you know, parents can come in and watch with their kids. That’s awesome. And we had, we had like 88 families join us that night.


Sam Demma (18:35):
Wow.


Karen Dancy (18:36):
Yeah. And Mike was, my husband was Santa Claus.


Sam Demma (18:43):
That’s awesome. And the think that I know Mike, you know’s on the podcast. He fits the role perfectly.


Karen Dancy (18:48):
Oh, for sure. Yeah. That’s so, you know, it was, so it is, it’s very hard, but you have to, I think right now, especially because we’re doing zooms a lot, we just have to try different things. I mean, it’s not gonna, it’s hard. I mean, people can always come into the, like a lot of our events are in the evening. There are some things during the school, like parents can volunteer for school trips. Mm. And, you know, I mean, that’s, that’s something small. I mean, some people never come to our meetings and that’s fine because they don’t have the time or they, they’re not interested, but as long as they show up when their child’s class needs a parent to go on a school trip. Yeah. Or when it’s when we’re making pancakes for show Tuesday. Right. That’s great. That’s still in, that’s still engagement. Right. I mean, it’s, it’s a small step. It is very hard. But I mean, I don’t, I don’t know if there’s never, if there’s a school that has never had a parent help out in some way. Yeah. Right. Like, it’s, it just, you take whatever they can give you and you never complain and you thank them. And you say, you know, thank you.


Sam Demma (19:49):
You shared a great idea with the Santa Claus reading. And it made me curious to pick your brain a little more on different events that you’ve hosted virtually, and also in person that may have really engaged the parent community that you think might be valuable for another educator or parent to hear.


Karen Dancy (20:07):
Well. Yeah. I mean, a couple years ago at the elementary school, we did a Christmas market. Nice. It was our first and only one. This was a lot of work. Yeah. But it was a lot of fun cuz it brought out the community. Not only like the parents, but the teachers came and they shopped, I mean, it was a lot of work. But there was different stations we had, like we had Santa with photos, photos with Santa, we had story time we had yeah, just a marketplace and a lot of schools do do that. So that’s not, that’s not something new. We’ve done. What else have we done? Yeah. Well the Stan, the story time was, was something new that we tried because you know, especially at the time we were, we were closed. Right. It was we’d been shut down in the fall for two weeks for COVID cuz we, our numbers were high.


Karen Dancy (20:56):
So, you know, and, and there’s right now it’s a, there’s such a disconnect between the kids that are at home and who have not set foot in a school and in person since last March. Yeah. Right. So it was a way to kind of bring the kids together. And then a few days later, Santa made an appearance at the school. He walked around the school nice and waited to the kids. So I mean, that was, so that was what we did. But we’ve had hot dog day where some, you know, parents come out and do hot dogs, like just cook the hot on the barbecue. Cause kids like hot dogs and it brings parents out. In September we, you know, we have a welcome to the school. We used to have a barbecue, but the barbecue, again, people they’re so busy. I mean, that’s the thing people’s lives are so busy. Yeah. So we have to reimagine and I don’t know, it was funny because this would in the first year that we weren’t gonna do the barbecue, but I don’t know what we would’ve done, but it doesn’t worry. Doesn’t matter because nothing happens. Right. It didn’t happen. So I don’t know, but it it’s hard, but yeah. I follow what I see what other schools do.


Sam Demma (22:03):
Yeah. You don’t have to reinvent, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. You just iterate or, or grab ideas elsewhere. Exactly.


Sam Demma (22:10):
Oh, that’s awesome. It’s funny when you were talking about going around the school and waving and having Santa Claus on, I, I immediately thought about this, this piece of news, I read a couple weeks ago and it was about this farmer who would bring his goat with him onto zoom calls. Yes. And people could, people could pay 80 to dollars to have a pure. And I was like, wow, there could literally be a person at the Toronto zoo that has a camera and walks around and like showcase animals to students. Like, you know, the more you think about it, the more ideas you see, the more you’re able to build off of them and come up with new interviews. That’s


Karen Dancy (22:44):
A good idea. Yeah, exactly. No, that’s a


Sam Demma (22:46):
Really good idea. I thought that was really like funny. And, and me and my buddy laughing because the goat, technically the goat made like 80 something thousand dollars that year. And we were like


Sam Demma (22:56):
80 grand.


Karen Dancy (22:57):
I know to get a buy for that, that money man. Yeah. It just, no that’s, that was funny. That is true. Yeah. Well it’s, it’s funny watching people’s meetings. Right. You know, like cats will walk by and dogs will bark in the background. You know, one day it was funny. I was on a work meeting and my dog, she was I was watching her from under my computer. So I thought I had turned my camera off. Mm. I turned my dog. I had already turned my camera off, but I thought I muted myself. And so I was calling her and all of a sudden hear the meeting going is that your dog? And it’s like, oh, sorry. I need, that’s how I turned my microphone off.


Sam Demma (23:32):
Yep. So, no, that’s funny. I’m, I’m curious in your experiences cameras on cameras off. I know some teachers are having a really difficult time with that. Teaching to black screens is difficult. I’ve been in classrooms with teachers where every kid has a camera on and I’ve been in classrooms with teachers where every kid has a camera off. Yeah. And I’m curious to know what your perspective is or if you have any ideas related to, you know, encouraging students to turn it on or if you think it’s okay to have them off.


Karen Dancy (23:57):
Yeah. It’s, it’s hard. It’s funny. Cuz I told my older one in grade nine when he, cuz he started the new quad master a couple of weeks ago when we were home. Yeah. And so he had never met this teacher and I said to him, you, you know, turn your camera on because think about this poor teacher who is starting a new quad with a new class and he doesn’t know what you look like.


Sam Demma (24:16):
Yeah.


Karen Dancy (24:17):
And he’s like, well I turn it on for five minutes. And I’m like, it’s just so hard. I find, even in my council meetings, it’s harder when I’m having my counsel meetings. Cause I don’t know the parents, I know a few parents who have joined the council, but I hate talking to that little, you know, black screen, black screen or the initials. And it’s like, you know, say hi to me, you know, like, you know, I’m, I’m vulnerable. I have my camera on, turn it on. I know it’s really hard. I really do feel bad for the teachers because you can’t force them. I yeah. You can’t force the kids to turn on their cameras, but you know, people are such a, you get so many visual cues by having your camera on. Like if we had turned our cameras off,


Sam Demma (24:57):
It’s different,


Karen Dancy (24:58):
You know, I’d be talking to you, you know, to a black screen. Yeah. It’s hard. I don’t, I don’t have any, I don’t have any suggestions except the, you know, it really, you need to have your camera on. Yeah. At least in the beginning, you know, and turn it off if you later on.


Sam Demma (25:13):
Yeah. I, I, I, I agree. And I, I found that, I think like social proof plays into that as well. There are certain students who really wanna turn on their cameras, but they see everyone else having their cameras off and then feel like that’s the correct thing to do. So they leave theirs off as well. Yeah. And it’s like this idea that there’s probably a handful of them who wanna turn it on, but they just, they just don’t shock. Exactly. Yeah. Right. Exactly. And, and you know, I, there’s this phrase about the first follower that the leader isn’t actually the person like leading the movement. It’s, it’s the first follower. Who’s the true leader because they took the, the, the hard decision and courageous decision to follow the, that one person, which then usually leads to a bunch of other people turning it on. That’s true. That’s true. Yeah. It’s an interesting, it’s an interesting dynamic. I strive in all the programs that I’ve delivered to get students, to turn their cameras on in different engaging ways. Yeah. Engaging ways. I know. I’m curious though, to wrap up today’s interview, if you could go back to you year one, Karen, when you just got involved in parent council, knowing what you know about education now, knowing what you know about parent engagement about educators about school, what advice would you give your younger self?


Karen Dancy (26:19):
Not to be shy?


Sam Demma (26:21):
Hmm.


Karen Dancy (26:21):
Not to be shy. Cuz I think I, you know, I sat there and was like, oh, can I speak now? You know, I have a, I have an idea once I got more comfortable. So I would think, but it took me a while to get comfortable. Got it. So I think, you know, just be comfortable right away. You, you know, you’re there for a reason you’re there for the kids. Yeah. Right. at least I, you know, I, yeah. I don’t know. I, it’s funny because PTAs get such a bad rap. They think it’s people are there for their egos. Yeah. And I’m sure there are some, but I certainly


Sam Demma (26:50):
Like every field there’s good. There’s, you know, people that are there for all different types of reasons


Karen Dancy (26:54):
I think. And I think that stops a lot of people. Like I really wish people could see what we do. It’s not the clear it is not clicky. It’s not, you know, we just we’re there for the kids and we know, and, and that’s all we do. Like we’re not there for anything else.


Sam Demma (27:10):
I love it. No, it’s so cool. And if someone wants to reach out to you and have a conversation after listening to this interview, what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you?


Karen Dancy (27:17):
Probably on my, on Twitter. So I’m @karendancy on Twitter.


Sam Demma (27:23):
Awesome. Karen, thank you so much for coming on the show. I really appreciate it.


Karen Dancy (27:27):
All right. Thank you for having me.


Sam Demma (27:28):
And there you have it. Another amazing guest, an amazing interview on the High Performing Educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review so other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show; f you want meet the guest on today’s episode, if you wanna meet any of the guests that we have interviewed, consider going to www.highperformingeducator.com and signing up to join the exclusive network, you’ll have access to networking events throughout 2021 and other special opportunities. And I promise I will not fill your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Karen Dancy

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.

Chad Ostrowski, Jeff Gargas and Rae Hughart – The Teach Better Team

Chad Ostrowski, Jeff Gargas and Rae Hughart – The Teach Better Team
About the Teach Better Team

The TEACH BETTER team (@teachbetterteam) imagines a world where every educator is connected, supported, and inspired to be BETTER every day; so that all learners can discover and develop their passions to positively impact our communities. BUT – how do we get there?

Not every educator is in the right mental space to learn. While we continue to juggle new elements of the profession, daily tasks, managing student needs & navigating a work-life balance, being a lifelong learner can find itself on the backburner.

The Teach Better Team has been built on best practice instructional pillars, but without a growth mindset, Professional Development is like throwing spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks.

It is our belief that the first step toward being better, every day, begins with carrying a mindset focused on being open-minded to small steps. 

Connect with the Teach Better Team: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Teach Better Website

Teach Better Conference

Administrator Mastermind

Teach Better Store

Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):
Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker Sam Demma. I’m beyond excited to bring you today’s interview. It’s a conversation that happened about a month and a half ago, and the topics we discussed still are fresh in my mind, due to the power at which they were explained by today’s three guests. This is one of the first times I’ve had three people on with me, having a four person conversation on the podcast, and it’s an amazing, amazing conversation.


Sam Demma (01:08):
Today we’re talking with the Teach Better team. You can find out more about them on teach, better.com. All of their work aligns very deeply with my philosophy of small consistent actions; that small incremental changes make huge differences and improvements. Yeah, right. he whole idea is not to be perfect, but to be better. And that’s really the DNA throughout their entire company who, which was founded the CEO by Chad. Chad and Jeff; those are the two gentlemen that co-founded the initiative. And we also are joined by Ray, their CMO, and they all have very diverse experiences, and share a ton of phenomenal information that I know will help you as an educator. So buckle up and enjoy this interview. I will see you on the other side. Chad Ray, Jeff, welcome to the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show. I know we are in different places, geographically in the world. It’s so cool that zoom can connect us and I know all three of you are huge champions for technology and education. I wanna give each of you though, a opportunity to introduce yourself, however you’d wanna be introduced, and share a little bit behind the reason why you’re so passionate about the work you do in education and Chad you can kick it off, followed by Ray, and then Jeff.


The Teach Better Team (02:24):
Absolutely. I’m Chad Ostrowski, I’m the CEO and the co-founder of the teach better team. And I have the pleasure of working with schools, districts, and teachers across the country to not only spread mastery learning and student-centered best practices, but working with these two amazing colleagues to just grow the awareness of what best practices in, education can do. I think what gets me the most exciting is seeing the impact of our work. Whether that’s a teacher overcoming a stressful year or situation, or having the best success they’ve ever had, or a student who’s never been successful in a classroom, finding that success and being able to thrive when they’ve never done so before. And I think that’s at the core of a lot of what we do; its just finding that spark and inspiring, not only the learners in the classrooms, but the teachers and the administrators in the schools, in the districts we get to work with here on the Teach Better team.


Sam Demma (03:23):
Love that.


The Teach Better Team (03:24):
Yeah. Gosh, how do you follow that? This is bad. You win. No, Hey everyone. My name’s Ray. I am the CMO of the teach better team, and I’m also full-time sixth grade math teacher. So I love having kind of the role of working with students by day and teachers by night and on the weekends and all, some are long cuz that’s what we do here in the teach, better family. I, I, I think this answer like changes depending on the day and the week, because the teach better team continues to be such a safe space for educators that has this family mentality, but also allows educators to kinda walk in and gain value however they need at that point in time. So I think my favorite element that’s really fueling my excitement, not only to work with students and to work with educators and leaders really stems from the desire of building a community and a family, which I’m gonna get into today. So I, I love that you had us all on, we don’t normally get to do podcasts altogether, so this is gonna be a fun conversation. Awesome.


The Teach Better Team (04:28):
Yeah. This is kind of fun. You know, we, we don’t always get to do podcasts together, but Ray doesn’t even mention, like we do podcasts together literally all the time, but she doesn’t even list that into things that she does. So I’ll, I’ll list it for us. Right. I’m so I’m Jeff Garas, I’m the COO and co-founder of the teach better team. And I’m Ray’s co-host on is how she prefers me to say that on the teach, better talk podcast as well. I get to do that.


The Teach Better Team (04:51):
Glad I’m glad, you know, your place, Beth, my post,


The Teach Better Team (04:55):
I am your co-host. And I, I think I’m just the guy who tricked these two in a whole bunch of other amazing and educators somehow let me continue to work with them. So I, I second everything they say, I think for me, it’s the word family has become such a big thing, big piece of what we do. And that’s probably my favorite part. You know, Chad mentioned about our impact in classrooms and in school districts, but for me too, it’s this impact of the people we get to work with that work with our team that are okay at the door team and all, everything like that. It’s just, it’s awesome.


Sam Demma (05:25):
I love that. It’s amazing. And I’m so happy to have all of you here on the show right now. When I think about mastery, my mind immediately jumps to Malcolm Gladwell and the book he wrote outliers that talks about the 10,000 hour rule, you know, you know, put 10,000 hours in. And I see that all three of you are super passionate about this idea of, as you said, Chad, at the, at the beginning of this podcast, mastery based learning, like what is that like, take, take me, take us through what that is. And maybe all three of you can chime in. And why are you so passionate about making sure that schools adopt this concept in their teaching strategies and styles?


The Teach Better Team (06:01):
I’m gonna, I’m just gonna put the quarter in Chad real quick, as we say, let him know for a


The Teach Better Team (06:05):
Minute, feel free to take the quarter out if needed too. So just for, as this goes forward,


The Teach Better Team (06:11):
Contr pop with believe there is no like emergency stop button. It’s just


The Teach Better Team (06:15):
So in its simplest form, I like to equate the term mastery with student readiness to move forward. Got it. I think one of the biggest crimes in education is a teacher-centered idea of what instruction needs to be, where the teacher is driving the pace, the content, the choice in how everything is occurring in the classroom and just sort of dragging students along. And I think this is what traditional education basically was for a really long time. And in some cases still is I think mastery learning is a Keystone and a core component in moving classrooms to being more student-centric. So at its core mastery learning focuses on students moving at their own pace when they are ready to move on from one topic or one a activity to the next, as opposed to, you know, if I’m in a classroom and student a didn’t understand the lesson from Monday yet, I, I asked them to understand the, a lesson on Tuesday when they have no prior knowledge or understanding yet I am now putting that student in an inequitable disadvantage in that classroom.


The Teach Better Team (07:28):
So I think mastery learning creates a level playing field for every single student in the classroom to not only grow and learn at their own pace, whether that’s quicker than their peers, but also get the, the help that they need and deserve in their learning environment. Mm and I also think mastery learning at its core fully supports these other best practices that we know work in education, things like differentiation, backwards, design, universal design for learning, even embedding things like PB and inquiry based learning and community connections in the classroom can be supported via mastery learning. So I don’t like to say that mastery learning’s the only thing we do because I think it’s the start of the conversation that we have to have in education that then branches into in completely kind of including all of those student centered best practices that focus on what the student needs, where they’re at and how do we move them to the next step.


The Teach Better Team (08:28):
I do have to add, I, when I originally connected with Chad, I mean, Chad, your passion for mastery learning has like been there from the beginning. And when we originally connected and you told me about this concept over a Google meet, I believe I was like, yeah, that sounds good. But I hadn’t seen it actually done in a classroom. And at the time I was working in, you know, a classroom that we were 94% low income, and I had all these other hurdles I was working with. And to be honest, Sam, my passion was so much more focused on student engagement. How am I gonna get students in the building? How am I going to use neon colors and fun activities to ensure that they’re enjoying learning? And what I found right or wrong is that master learning from me was this missing piece that I needed as an educator to actually then do all the other things I wanted to do better.


The Teach Better Team (09:23):
And so it’s so comical now looking at mastery learning and, and actually getting the luxury of working with educators, right with the teach better team, because as you articulated wonderfully, Chad, it really is kind of that fundamental concrete base that then we can build everything off of educators right now are struggling to keep students engaged. We feel like we’re trying to outshine YouTube and you know, do everything better. And, and I think the reality is is that we can do all these elements better in education. If we start with that core value of truly meeting this where they’re at. So honestly the concept of master learning changed my life for the better and definitely my trajectory of, you know, success as an educator.


Sam Demma (10:05):
That’s awesome. Love that. Jeff, anything to chime in here?


The Teach Better Team (10:11):
No, I mean, they summed it up really, really well. I think for, for me, you know, I’m, I’m not pretty much the only, I think the only one there’s maybe like one or two of us on the team that aren’t classroom teachers got it. So it’s been, you know, different journey for me, but one of the biggest things that’s hit me when early on when Chad and I were traveling all over visiting schools and stuff like that. And I was just learning so much about what was going on and why I was having impact. Just thinking back to like when I was in school, when I did pretty well in school, like I, you know, in, from a good home, I’m in a good area. Like I was, I was gonna be all right, like kind of a thing. But I look back at that if had I been challenged properly because they were actually assessing where I was actually at and where I was actually, what I was actually learning or not learning and gaining or not gaining what I, what my experience would’ve been like and had I would, I been able to, I don’t, I don’t saying like, oh, I could go back and hopefully I would’ve achieved more or anything like that, but would I been ha in a better spot, better position to, to learn and grow as a person than versus what it actually did was took me a long time to kind of like figure out my life afterwards.


The Teach Better Team (11:11):
And a lot of that, I just look back at how that is and think through all the kids that have gone through that system that didn’t have the extra setup that I had in a sense of coming from a good family and a good, a good home and a good, you know, I had a, I had a good starting point better than most. And I, if, if, if I would’ve had that, if other kids don’t have that they’re even further behind. And so that’s where my passion behind is going. Like, what could that have done for me? And even more than that, the kids that didn’t even have the things that I had, how can we change that for future kids? But


Sam Demma (11:41):
You gave me a perfect segue into the question I was writing down while all three of you were speaking, which is what does this mean for assessment in the classroom? Is there, is there a way that mastery learning approaches assessments differently? Because I can tell you personally that growing up, I, I wholeheartedly attached my entire self worth as a human being, to my ability to have an a plus or a 95% average on my tests and report cards and coming from a European family, I’ll be honest. It felt like it, it felt like if I didn’t bring that home, there was issues and problems. When in reality, I could have a 95% average not understand the concepts, just be memorizing things and not really engaged with the learning. Right. And Jeff, as you point yourself, there, it’s a common thing that happens with all of us. Yep. And I know all three of you have your mics, your mics on muted, ready to jump in. So please tell me how mastery learning and the grid method approaches assessment differently.


The Teach Better Team (12:37):
I just wanna jump in and see if Chad’s having dejavu, cuz him and I had like an hour and a half long conversation about assessment yesterday. So Chad, I’m gonna let you take this one, but I have to remind you like this is not actually dejavu. This is a new conversation we can just,


The Teach Better Team (12:54):
Yeah. So I actually, I love this question because assessment is such a core aspect of where a student is at so we can grow them. But I think in a traditional sense, we usually look at assessments and we say, it’s a quiz, it’s a test. And, and it’s just like this autopsy, right? This is what you know, and we’re gonna move on regardless of how well you did. I think mastery learning changes the assessment culture. And we start to look at assessment as snapshots of where a student is on their larger aspect and their growth as a learner. One of my favorite ways to think about assessment is that that’s where the student is today. It’s not where they have to stay forever. And I think mastery learning really articulates that well, and it embodies things like retakes standards, aligned assessment, formative assessment practices.


The Teach Better Team (13:51):
So it makes assessment a natural part of, of learning as opposed to these high stakes really stressful environments. So instead of assessment becoming this super stressful high stakes, oh my gosh, I hope I do really well situation it’s Hey, Sam prove what you know right now. So I know how to help you further. And I think that’s a huge cultural or shift that mastery learning helps occur in classrooms. I think it also helps align instruction and assessment. With a lot of the schools in classrooms, we work with a district will come and say, we need to do we need to reestablish our assessments. And I go, well, have we talked about instruction at, because if those two things don’t talk to one another, that’s a really big problem. So a lot of mastery learning comes in the planning process in the backwards design process, which ensures that the learning that’s occurring, the growth that’s supposed to happen.


The Teach Better Team (14:51):
And the measurement tool that you’re using to establish that growth are all connected and all work together. And then the most important thing is the idea that the assessment is not the last step. It’s the first step in identifying where the students at with grid method classrooms. We have a saying F a I L fail stands for first attempt in learning failure should be the first step in the learning process where you’re identifying gaps in needs so that you, as the educator can take next steps to fill those gaps and move the student forward.


The Teach Better Team (15:26):
Wow. I know rays gonna jump in. I just wanna touch on like, Chad, you already kind of wrapped this up, but you said the word like autopsy, right? So your assessment, it’s not, it shouldn’t be the looking back at what happened before. It’s utilizing that to see what do, what happens next? What do we do next? What do we take them from there? And Ray’s gonna say it a whole lot better than I did.


The Teach Better Team (15:45):
No. You know, I actually, I don’t wanna take us down like a rabbit hole here, but it’s interesting Sam, when you ask your question and Chad, as you in, into your explanation, I’m separating the concept of mastery learning is a phenomenal instructional practice we should have in our classrooms. Me personally, though, when I was trying to figure out how to achieve it, it came into the, I mean, Chad, you brought it up like the grid method, which is that mastery framework that we get to do. We’re fortunate enough to do a lot of work in, and for me, that’s what I needed because when I think of formative summative assessment or any sort of evaluation of student understanding, it comes down to the fact that never in my career never have. I seen educators having more conversations with students than I do right now. And how valuable is it that when I was in school, back in the day assessment was this high stakes test.


The Teach Better Team (16:34):
And that was the only time that you were really, even if it was a one way communication, you were communicating what you know, whereas now not only in my own classroom, but in classrooms that we get to work with, educators are having one-on-one or small group conversations with their students every single day. And to me, that that is so much more of an example of authentic assessment. Because if I have an administrator walk in on a random Tuesday, I can tell them exactly where their student is at, you know, and, and they might all be in 24 different spots for 24 different students. But because we’re giving teachers the gift of time able to actually have those authentic conversations. So that assessment becomes a valuable use of their classroom time. Does that make sense?


Sam Demma (17:21):
Yeah. A hundred percent Chad go for


The Teach Better Team (17:23):
It. I also think Ray’s hitting on a really core benefit of mastery learning that it expands the definition of what assessment can be. Yeah, right. So instead of it having to be blanks on a worksheet or bubbles on a, on a, on an, an a Scantron test or something like that, it can now be any form of demonstration of mastery. And so I think that’s a, a, a core component that mastery learning helps support is the, the broadening of the idea that we can assess mastery authentically and in more ways than we traditionally thought were possible. And that a student can demonstrate that mastery, however, is comfortable and close enough to their ability, their current ability level. And it means the same, whether it’s a Scantron test or a, a five second conversation like Ray Ray’s talking about. And I think that’s a really powerful thing for a teacher to embody in the classroom.


Sam Demma (18:19):
My mind immediately jumps to that picture of a bunch of different animals, an elephant a monkey. And there’s a goldfish and, oh, judge the goldfish by its ability to, you know, to climb a tree, it will limit its whole life believing it to failure. And I think, you know, what you’re getting at here is the idea that yeah, assessment isn’t binary and using this mastery learning approach, you know, allows the different animals to be tested in their unique capacities, to see if within their skillsets, are they learning as much as they can and maximizing their ability?


The Teach Better Team (18:53):
Well, and for the teacher to be able to evaluate the type of animal they’re, they’re working with, like how many times have we all sat stood in front of a classroom of 34 and said, Ooh, I can’t wait to figure out the inner workings of every single student that are all gonna be different. Oh yeah. And then in an hour, they’re all gonna rotate and I get a whole other group of group of kids. So that time is really valuable.


Sam Demma (19:16):
Love that. Awesome. It it’s, and it’s not about being perfect. Right. it’s not about being perfect. It’s about being better, right? It’s about 1% improvement. It’s about being a little bit better today. A little bit better tomorrow. It’s about complaining better, right there. There’s so many things that you guys talk about in your books in past podcasts. And I love this idea that we don’t have to arrive tomorrow because that’s unrealistic and mastery does take time. But if we do improve, you know, small, consistent actions as I would say my teacher would inspired me when I was in grade 12, it leads to a massive change. So at the heart of what you, you, why do you believe, you know, being 1% better than you are right now is really what we’re going for and working towards with all the work that each of you are doing.


The Teach Better Team (20:03):
That’s a good, that’s a good, solid que I think, I think you really just said it cuz to be perfect or where we want to be, or hit a goal tomorrow as a unrealistic, unless we set really, really low goals. Right? Mm. But to be 1% better, tomorrow is something we can accomplish. And if we’re trying to be 1%, that doesn’t mean we can’t be 10% doesn’t mean we won’t be 20%. Right. But, but to understand that it, it doesn’t need to be, and it’s the scale like across all the animals, right? It’s going to be a whole bunch of different percentages based on that individual animal, that student, that person, whatever they need at the time and what they’re working on and the level of the, the number of, of, of hours, it’s going to take them specifically to hit that master or whatever it is. So to understand that, like, it doesn’t have to be this, it can be more, but it doesn’t have to be it just as long as we’re moving forward, we’re moving forward and we’re getting towards what a mastery is for each individual person and student. Nice. That’s how I view it.


The Teach Better Team (21:01):
I also think sort of like that teach better mindset that we talk about better today and better tomorrow. And that constant search for that 1% better, that constant search for better also broadens the scope of what is possible on an, on a given day, because you can be better at something on the worst day you you’re having in a week. You can be, you can be better at something on the worst year you’re having as a teacher. So by not going, you need to be a perfect educator tomorrow. Cause you’re probably, that’s never going to happen. There’s no such thing as a perfect educator. Yeah. I’m not a perfect educator. I’ve never worked with a perfect educator cuz it’s not something that can actually exist. She’s


The Teach Better Team (21:43):
Right there, Chad.


The Teach Better Team (21:44):
But if we, except for Ray possibly but definitely


The Teach Better Team (21:49):
Not perfect friends. I hate to tell you, but


The Teach Better Team (21:51):
I, I, I think the better mindset gives access to improvement and it gives the freedom of an individual regardless of how their day, year, month or career is going to be better to what can I do better? And it might not be better at instruction. It might be better at forming relationships. It might be smiling at a student instead of giving them a mean look, and that might be how you’re better. Cause in, you know, at the Genesis of the teach better team, I was at the lowest point in my entire career. And it was those little moments of finding something I could be better at that eventually built up to massive instructional changes, massive personal changes, massive relational changes. And it’s not about that. It’s about the 1% every day because we can all at least commit to that. But it’s about the, the culminating event change in progress that occurs when it’s 1% every day, cuz you’re also gonna have 5% days when you’re, you’re also gonna have 20% days and 3% days. But as long as you can have 1% every day, you’re always gonna be moving forward. And the culmination of that is something that’s truly been amazing to watch educators and schools and districts we work with go through and that, and that’s such a driving force behind the family and the work that we do every single day.


The Teach Better Team (23:21):
I think theres a piece of this like that, you know, so you can have, we can have 5% days, you can also have negative 5% days. Right. But I think if you’re focused on being better versus trying to be perfect or trying be exactly here all the time, you can have a bad day and come back the next day and go, wow, it’s a lot easier to be better today because yesterday I wasn’t so great, but I’m still moving forward. Right? I’m still growing versus now I’m further and further and further away from this probably unrealistic goal that I set for myself in the first place.


Sam Demma (23:48):
Love that. And Ray alluded to this earlier for you, the listener, if you, if you didn’t catch it, she was talk. She said, you know, we have to strive to be better than YouTube. That’s actually the title of her latest TEDx talk. So make sure you check it out on YouTube. It’s awesome. Ray, what does that mean? What does it mean to be better in YouTube? And, and why did you title your talk that,


The Teach Better Team (24:07):
You know, it’s so funny guys. We, you know, if you guys go to teach bear.com, you’re gonna see oodles and oodles and oodles of content and there’s more and more and more being published every single day. And when you apply to a part of a Ted experience, it has to be original content. And there’s so many things that I believe and that I would love to continue to share with the world. But one of the things that really hit home during COVID, as, as every educator, as I said in my, in my Ted talk was kind of thrown to the wolves and we had to figure it out on the fly and we saw incredible problem solving and, and, and incredible characteristics, you know, shine in the people that we were working with. I really struggled working with educators that were trying to compete with resources that were already good and in existence for us already.


The Teach Better Team (24:58):
Hmm. So when I was trying to craft up my message and I definitely wanted mastery learning to be a focus. I wanted my own personal learning journey to be, to be shared. One of the key takeaways I wanted educators to recognize is that, you know, teachers are masters at inspiring their students. They’re incredible facilitators of discussion and they’re more than simply being a content delivery system, right. They can do so much more in the classroom. So this title of better than YouTube was really this, this blunt statement of teachers have to acknowledge and celebrate that they are better than a stagnant video. Mm. And so rather than compete and make 1500 YouTube clips this year or compete and say, how am I going to add enough to my mini, to my mini lesson? You know, as a YouTube edited clip might do instead let’s partner with these incredible tools that we have access to and give ourselves the time to do what we do best, which is interact with students and foster discussions. So it was a really, really incredible project to work on. I’m so thrilled. It’s out


Sam Demma (26:07):
Love that. It’s awesome. And it’s, it’s so plainly obvious that all three of you have this burning passion for the work that you do. And I’m really curious to know how the heck do you balance teaching Chad and Ray and you know, Jeff, you can touch on this too. I know you’re not a classroom teacher, but I’m sure you’re balancing a ton of different things right now. How do you balance that with the work you’re doing and not get burnt out because I’m sure we can all agree that reaching out to teachers and educators right now and saying, Hey, we’d love to chat with you or, Hey, we have some ideas. The response you’re getting is that their hair is on fire. You know, like you just, you can’t can’t talk right now. How do you personally balance your own time to make it all work?


The Teach Better Team (26:46):
Yeah. Sam, I have to tell you that, you know, we have an incredible amount of educators that, that work with us to share the teach better mindset, right? Yes. I mean, if you look at the teach better team, there’s not only 22 plus people that are on the team, but then we have a huge collection of educators on our speakers network. We have guest bloggers, we have podcasters. We have people who help us design courses in the teach better academy. I mean, we really have built a network that we label our family and almost all of them, 99% of them are classroom teachers. And the reason that is, is because we, that classroom teachers are, are incredible, you know, or they’re working in schools as administrative leaders. But we’re better when we surround ourselves with good people. And so it’s not about, you know, that it’s not hard working two jobs, right?


The Teach Better Team (27:38):
Like, you know, right. For example, right now I’m physically in the classroom as a classroom teacher and also in with the teach better team. But it really is about trying to support educators holistically. And one of the elements that we all need is to be around positive solutions, seeking people who challenge us to be our best selves. And so whether it’s the, the struggle of keeping a calendar so that we can be hustling or all the time as effectively as possible or anything in between, you know I, I’m gonna let Jeff touch on this next, but one of the best things that Jeff Garas said to me very early on as I probably was feeling like my hair was on fire, you know, working multiple jobs is this phrase that he doesn’t like of when you get a job you love, you never work a day in your life. And he was like, it’s not true, Ray. It’s not true. When you get a job, you love, you work harder than you’ve ever worked before, but you love it. And I cannot emphasize that enough. We are constantly working probably in an unhealthy manner. We may not be the best people to go to for self care, but, but God, I love it. Jeff, don’t you love it.


The Teach Better Team (28:49):
I, I do. I agree with everything she just said. And, and I just, I just want to add, like, you know, you talked about the Sam, you mentioned teachers with, well, Ray kind of mentioned too with, you know, my hair’s on fire. I’m crazy. Right. Especially this year, it’s always like that, but even more so this past year, and Ray mentioned all the content, everything we’re creating, all the support pieces and all the resources we create. I think for us, a big piece is one, this kind of two pieces is one. We want teachers just to know that like, that we’re creating these things and we’re building these things even when your hair’s on fire. So when you’re ready for it, it’s here, right. It’s here for you to come. And it’s for us. Consistency has always been really, really important so that they know that we’re here.


The Teach Better Team (29:26):
Like, you know that your family’s there. The other piece is when a teacher says my hair is on fire. We like to say, okay, great. What’s causing the fire and what can we do to help you put it out? And then maybe try to put some pieces in place to make sure that it doesn’t catch fire again. Right? So we like, we wanna help teachers understand that we, you know, really mentioned the good people that we’re part of that we like to be part of that and be that family of, okay, if your hair’s on fire, we can help you put it out. We can help you prevent that. But, or if not, we can just be here when you’re ready. Right. When you’re ready to come up from, from, for air, from being underwater all year, we, we’re still creating these resources. We’re still building these things for you. We’re still creating this community for you. We’re still here for you. And I think that is, is a key piece to what we do and what we believe.


Sam Demma (30:10):
I’m gonna jump in just for one second and then pass it back over to rate, because I just thought of this. And it was kind of funny. I was gonna say, you know, if someone’s hair’s on fire and they don’t want help now you can tell them that they can come back in five months when they’re bald and you can give ’em a wig, right?


The Teach Better Team (30:24):
Exactly. If that’s what they need, then that’s that’s. And that’s what it is, right. That we we’ve. I say it all the time that like we’ve built everything with our, our, our company, by listening to the, our company, telling us what it needs to grow and our community about what they need us to do within our capacity of being able to do stuff for them. And that’s why, what we create and how we build and what we build is based around that.


Sam Demma (30:48):
Awesome. Love it.


The Teach Better Team (30:50):
No, I think Jeff said it wonderfully. I, the only thing I was gonna add in, you know, it’s so funny in terms of being around whenever someone needs something we launched in 2020 and administrative master remind, which is truly just a zoom call that happens twice on Tuesdays, every single week to create a safe space for administrative leaders, right. Educational leaders to talk shop, and kind of share their grievances and problem solve and hopefully take away resources. And it’s so funny because every single time someone joins, they’re like, Ugh, I of that. If I’m busy, I don’t have to be in this meeting, but the moment I need something, I know the meeting exists for me to like connect with my people. And I find that while that might be a good example of that, I, I really enjoy seeing that kind of holistically across multiple different capacities of things that the team tries to do to be accessible.


Sam Demma (31:43):
Brilliant.


The Teach Better Team (31:44):
And I, and I think they’re both hitting on something that we’ve built this company on, which is authentically and holistically help first. Mm. Right. Like if, if we’re helping educators, we win and they win and everyone can feel good about that. Yeah. and there are other aspects of our business of course, but one of the things I think has helped us over the last hair on fire craziness of 2020 has been, we made a purposeful shift to try to provide as much help as humanly possible when all of this started, you know, I think it was March of 2020 when everything shut it down. And we said, you have two options here, right? Like you can help, or you can do other things that aren’t necessarily helping. And, and we made the purposeful to authentically reach out to every single teacher. We knew every single school we work with in our entire network and family and in, in audience and just offer authentic help.


The Teach Better Team (32:48):
Mm. But that has been something as both of them have articulated very well. Jeff and Ray that I think has driven a lot of the work that we do on a daily basis and teach better team, whether it’s helping a school or a, a partner district we wanna help them before we do anything else and make sure that whatever we’re providing them is making, helping them meet their goals in their mission. And I think that’s like the, the lifeblood of everything we do. And I think that drives a lot of the work and decisions we make on a day to day basis.


Sam Demma (33:23):
I love that. I believe that as humans, we’re also shaped by significant emotional experiences and one that I know rings true to you, Chad is get the hell outta my classroom. And I’m really curious to know what does that mean to you? Can you share, you know, that story as if we’re on an elevator and, and you have 30 seconds to pitch it.


The Teach Better Team (33:46):
Yeah. I think every teacher can relate to that moment. I, I visually remember that moment where, how much, how long was the time? Just, I


The Teach Better Team (33:56):
Was just, I, Ray and I were connecting there cause I was laughing at the eye. Any of that, Sam thought you were gonna do this in 30 seconds.


The Teach Better Team (34:02):
No, listen. That was a, that was a visceral moment for me as a teacher where my students had become the enemy of myself as an educator. And I had become every single aspect of the teacher. I never wanted to be got it. I don’t think any, any teacher ever enters the class and their first year or their fifth year or their 20th year seeing students as the enemy. But that was a moment where it was me versus them. And I was in hundred percent survival mode. Yeah. And that was the moment I realized something had to change and I couldn’t change everything overnight, but I could do something better the next day. And I could do a lot of these changes and start thinking about my instruction differently. So that moment you know, and I do articulate that moment quite a bit when I’m talking about some of the changes that, that, that we embody, I’m gonna teach better team for classrooms, but that was a catalyst that allowed all of the other changes that eventually become the creation of the grid method, which we now get to share with schools and districts, the creation of the teach better team, which now has an expansive availability of resources that are helping students and educators across the country and beyond.


The Teach Better Team (35:17):
So that’s that moment, I think, resonates with every teacher in a, a room when I’m speaking and sharing that story. Every teacher has that moment where they feel like they’ve lost that spark. They’ve lost that passion and they never wanted to be here. So you have two choices, you just lay down and give up or you get better the next day. Mm I’m glad that I was able to get better the next day, which has now brought myself and, and to teach better team into fruition and in the ability to help others and increase our impact on a daily basis. That was way longer than 15 seconds. So


Sam Demma (35:56):
That’s totally okay. On the idea of challenges, because sometimes dealing with students can feel like a challenge. What do you think are some of the biggest challenges that exist in education right now? And what do you think the opportunities are on the other side of those challenges? Because solving them leads to some sort of opportunity. And I’m curious to know anyone can jump in here first.


The Teach Better Team (36:20):
I, I, I think the last year has demonstrated the amount of inequity that already existed in the educational world. I think the inequities that showed up due to lack of internet service due to home life of S students due to living situations due to you know, demographic stability or financial instability of, of families and students and, and everything that goes along with all of that. I think we’ve known for a really long time that those are problems in education, but because that we were, because we were bringing students into our classrooms and we could say sometimes falsely that because we were providing a space that we knew was safe and, and, and, and supportive that it was okay. It didn’t matter about these outside things because we could create this safe space, this sheltered space it was known that those things were problems and that in all the research, if you ever look at it fully supports that there’s a distinct difference between socioeconomic status and success for of a student and, and other aspects that are cultural in nature and things like that.


The Teach Better Team (37:34):
So I think what this did is it put all of that under a microscope. Mm. And it allow, and it forced us as educators, regardless of your role teacher, classroom aid, principal, superintendent. It forced us to address those needs and confront those needs in a way that was somewhat uncomfortable, probably, but that, it just really forced us to just realize that this is real. This is something our students are dealing with, and this is something that we cannot wait to address it needs to be addressed now. So I think from an instructional standpoint, I know we’ve helped a lot of schools address some of these things, utilizing mastery learning and giving them tools and ways to make the instructional prep is in the classroom, more equitable from a pedagogical standpoint and an instructional standpoint. But I also think it, it was a really great conversation starter of just because the kids are back in the classroom doesn’t mean all these other things are now gone. Cause we know they exist now. Like the elephant is in the room and we can see it. Now, the sheet has been lifted and it’s right there in the corner and we have to address it. And I think the biggest crime and the biggest worry I have is that we want to go back to what was, as opposed to going back to back, going back to an improved instructional setting so that every student can thrive and succeed in their classrooms.


Sam Demma (39:02):
Awesome. Yeah. That was a phenomenal answer. Anything to add Ray or Jeff?


The Teach Better Team (39:09):
You know, I think Chad like hit the nail on the head in terms of a huge fear that we all have, that we are all driving to be on the solution seeking side of, right. I mean, this is a, a necessary conversation. I think a, a smaller element, but one that is really in my face as we continue to host live videos, you know, taking questions from educators and, you know, like doing professional development opportunities. And, you know, I hear this in my own school that I working with my colleagues is this concept of the fact that educators have been filling their toolbox with, with, with resources over the past year and a half because of COVID right. We’ve all learned 15 new tech tools. We’ve all tried a hundred new strategies. And I think an, an additional layer here that I’d love to continue to challenge educators to seek support on is now becoming educated and better understanding when we go into a more familiar school system, when, you know, we’re all back in the classroom and masks may or may not be worn.


The Teach Better Team (40:08):
And we, you know, we all kind of transition, how are you gonna strategically best understand what’s in your toolbox and when, and how to implement them as effectively as possible goal. So, you know, obviously there’s a thousand problems with education. We’re all just doing our best to find the solution. But as you, as an educator are listening to this, I’d love to challenge each and every one of you, whether you are most passionate about a huge, huge problem in education that you wanna find a solution towards, or you just have something really small that you wanna take on to find solution for. There’s plenty of problems. So pick one and let’s all work together to try and find the right answer right away.


Sam Demma (40:43):
Love it. Awesome.


The Teach Better Team (40:46):
Jeff, I don’t know. I, I, I’m gonna, I’ll add just a little bit, it’s a separate problem and it might open up another can of worms. I’m not sure, but for, for me, one of the ones, and this has been a thing that we’ve noticed. I know Chad and Ray new being in this system, but that I learned very quickly after we got started in this is that I think a huge challenge that educators face and have to work within and are trying to change. And we’re seeing a lot of it is that we are trying to educate kids within a system that moves a half inch every 50 years and prepare them for a world that moves six miles every 30 seconds. And I don’t know if that actually adds up to what it is, but this very slow moving machine of the world of education and holding on to how it was and what it was and what worked for us.


The Teach Better Team (41:33):
And we’re trying to prepare kids for a future that is moving so fast right now. If you think about like technology growth over the last, just three years, and then you look at 10 years and you think about the fact that like, when I, you know, I’m not that old, but like when I was in elementary school, like the internet, wasn’t a thing yet. And now it’s literally the real world. Like it’s just this. And, and I think that’s a huge, that’s a much bigger problem, more of a systemic problem and everything like that, that we, that we have to address. But I think that’s a huge challenge that we continue to face. And I think that goes into, you know, we, we learned all these new tools and resources that we had to because we had to live in like this new world for the last year. And if we forget about that new world that we lived in, that is the world that our kids are growing up and whether we like it or not, that’s gonna cause us to just continue to be in this slow moving machine, trying to prepare kids for a machine that they can’t even catch. That’s one of my biggest worries.


The Teach Better Team (42:29):
Can we clarify Sam for all the educators listening, who can’t see us as we’re, you know, on, on having this conversation, Jeff is ancient in case any of you are wondering So old. So


The Teach Better Team (42:41):
I won’t, I won’t lie to you today. I, I went to the eye doctor and he said this like three times, he said, well, you know, yeah, with this, that blah, blah, blah. And you, you know, you’re getting really close to that, that age. And I’m like, what age doc? Whoa, that age. I’m like, what age? He’s talking about 40. I’m almost, I’m not, I’m close. That’s funny. That’s still not that old compared to Ray it’s old, Chad, it’s not as


The Teach Better Team (43:04):
Old. It’s like really far away from me. Thank God.


The Teach Better Team (43:08):
There was something earlier you were talking about like bubble sheets or whatever Scantrons. And I’m looking at Sam going, I don’t know Sam ever had to do Scantron


The Teach Better Team (43:15):
Sam. We know Scantrons.


Sam Demma (43:16):
I know Scantrons. I know Scantrons. When, when you, when you accidentally think question one is question two, when you write the whole


Speaker 5 (43:23):
Thing, every


Sam Demma (43:24):
Single question comes back wrong. And your teacher’s like, you got a F and I’m like, what?


The Teach Better Team (43:29):
Oh, wait, teach. If you just shift those up one. It’s actually all right. Yeah. Yeah. It’s,


Sam Demma (43:33):
That’s funny. No, that’s awesome. This has been a phenomenal conversation and you know, Jeff, your, your last question there about the system could take us on another whole hour long journey. I want to wrap this up on a final note and then we’ll give you an opportunity to share where everyone can connect with you. I want you to imagine you could go back in time and Jeff, you’re gonna have to travel the farthest because you’re the most ancient. But if you could, if you could go back in time and speak to your younger self having the knowledge that you have about education today, understanding that there’s still more to learn, of course. And you’re trying to learn more every single day, but if you could go back, you know, 20 years or to the first day you started teaching, if that applies to you, what would you tell your younger self? What advice would you give your younger self before getting into this work?


The Teach Better Team (44:29):
I think that’s a really, really challenging question. I do to say the first thing that came to mind for me, if I was to go back to my first year of teaching and give a piece of advice, it would really come down to something along the lines of you’re gonna grow faster than you thought. So just keep on tracking like every educator, whether they’re learning to be an educator at a university level, they’re in the classroom right now in the trenches, or they’re 30 years in is constantly finding hurdles and, and things that are stopping them. And we’re constantly brainstorming the next solution to the next problem. And I find that that can be extremely defeating. It can rock your confide. And so many times, I, I mean, I still have these moments so many times I sit back at the end of the day and I’m like, did I, did I do good work today?


The Teach Better Team (45:19):
Did, did I accomplish anything that I actually was trying to do? And I think the reality is is that when you surround yourself with people who are striving to be better, right, striving to grow, then you are, are able to look back. Whether it be look back at the day, look back at the week, look back at the year or an entire career and say, holy cow, we we’ve accomplished a ton and it’s not because I figured it out myself, but it’s because I surrounded myself with people who helped me figure it out. And so I think that would’ve been the biggest piece of advice I needed, cuz I was so nervous every day that I was gonna mess up a kid. And I think the reality is is that if you’re constantly carrying that mindset of growth, you’re always gonna be doing good work regardless of, you know, to what extent that actually is for that day.


Speaker 6 (46:09):
Love it.


The Teach Better Team (46:11):
I think I could piggyback on what race said actually. Cause I’m glad she went first actually for this question. I, I, I think something I used to see, I used to see instruction as a very transactional thing. I used to say a lesson or an experience either went perfect or I messed it up and it was very just like, I, I had to be perfect. Everything had to go perfect or it didn’t go good. It didn’t go well. And then I messed it up. Hmm. And I think as I evolved as an educator, when I look back on that, as I stopped shifting towards my performance in my sort of delivery of like a lesson and more the experience in the learning that was happening in my classroom, moving from more teacher-centered thoughts to more student-centered thoughts. I think that is something I wish I would’ve known earlier and focused on earlier.


The Teach Better Team (47:09):
And I also think, you know, as we kind of approach going back to this normal, I think a lot of teachers need to, to be reminded that it’s not about a kid being broken or behind it’s about focusing on growth, not gaps, right? So it’s about meeting kids where they are. And as long as we are growing them, we’re doing our job and we’re winning because if we look at education, as we made it, we, we failed or we passed based on some arbitrary thing that the system created or the grade level the kids supposed to be at. We’re gonna fail a lot more than we succeed. If we look at ourselves and at the educational system and go, listen, if we meet every kid where they’re at and grow them from there, we’re gonna be okay, regardless of if they’re five grade levels behind or one grade level behind, because a grade level’s an arbitrary understanding of where a kid’s supposed to be anywhere. If in education at its foundation, we just meet kids where they’re at and grow them in an engaging environment that’s safe and supportive and lets them thrive as themselves, as individuals, we will win. And that’s, I think the long term game in realiz, it I’ve had now that I wish I had when I was younger.


Sam Demma (48:33):
That is so powerful. And, and you mentioned the idea of focusing on the growth instead of the gaps and that hits home with me from an athletic background. There’s a awesome book. Titled I, I believe it’s catch them while they’re good. And it’s this idea that instead of giving feedback on someone’s you know, negative result, look for someone who did a great job and highlight what made that example. Great. So you let the other students save face or the other athletes save face and they still can say, oh, that’s what I’m aspiring towards. You know? Jeff ancient, Jeff, what, what, what advice would you give yourself


The Teach Better Team (49:11):
The time I had to go further back? No, I think I, I, this kind of touch, I kind of connects with both of those. I think the thing that I would tell my younger self is that you’re probably going to lose more than you win, but you’re gonna learn either way. Mm. And I had put similar to how Chad had put so much on, did the, his lesson go well or not? I put so much on what I was trying to be in that moment. And when that thing or that person that I thought I was supposed to be, or that was the only thing I was supposed to do, didn’t work. It just, it crushed me and destroyed me. And when it was after why I figured out that, that wasn’t what was important. It was the reasons behind why you were trying to do things and what you were trying to build and what you were trying to accomplish and trying to chase happiness that became more important. And we do it all the time where we learn from all my failures in the right when Chad and I started as a whole lot was let’s look back and see all the businesses that Jeff messed up and see if we can avoid those things. And so I think it’s, it’s similar. Like what Ray said is like, you’re gonna, you’re gonna learn and grow so much from all these times that you think it might have been a failure, but it’s really just an opportunity to learn.


The Teach Better Team (50:17):
Yep. I do just wanna put on record. We do pick on Jeff a lot, but I’m really proud since usually we pick on Chad and


The Teach Better Team (50:24):
I think it’s, I was gonna say, like, I


The Teach Better Team (50:26):
Think it’s crazy. Speak on Jeff today.


The Teach Better Team (50:28):
Can I pick on Chad one last time? No, I was gonna say that I thought what he was telling his younger self was brilliant, but I’m pretty sure his younger self would’ve walked away about halfway through. Cause it took so long. Like there’s this old guy talking about I’m out of here. That’s I know if I’m talking younger me, I gotta be like a couple words and done because I would’ve just been so


Sam Demma (50:46):
Awesome, amazing. This has been such a phenomenal conversation. Thank you. All three of you for, for taking the time to chat about this. I think what’s so inspiring for me as an interviewer and someone who’s listening and I’m sure is as inspiring for you, the person listening as well, is that everything we talked about, it’s like, it all comes back to that idea. That it’s about being student centric, which, and this is how we started this podcast, right? Everything we talked about is about being student centric. You know, filling more tools in your toolbox is so you can help your students, right? Figuring out what tools you need to use so you can help your students; making more equitable school systems is about helping the students. Like I love that through our entire conversation, the values of your, your work and your company came through in every answer you gave. And it just shows to go. It goes to show how much focus you have for the work you’re doing, how much passion and love you have for it. So keep doing amazing work. Where maybe one of you can share very quickly, where can the person listening, find you, where can they check out your program, buy your books, watch your videos, get in touch, or even make fun of Jeff.


The Teach Better Team (51:53):
Yeah, absolutely. Guys. There’s a lot of places that you can go and make fun of Jeff Gargas. So here, let me give you them all. No, to be honest, like we all are on social media. We’re all active. You can find us on Twitter, Instagram, boxer, Facebook, everywhere between, but it’s not about connecting with us. Right. We love when we connect with new people. I mean, geez, last night we were all on Twitter, connecting with new friends for an hour during a, you know, a Twitter chat, but it’s really about connecting with everyone else, all these other educators doing incredible work around the globe. So definitely go check out @teachbetterteam that is over on Twitter, Instagram, like I said everywhere. And you can also see all those details at teachbetter.com. But you know, we hope you connect with us and everyone that is a part of the teach better team, but there are so many incredible educators connected to us in small and large ways, doing really, really good work that we hope


The Teach Better Team (52:47):
it’s just the beginning of all the dots that you, you are collecting to continue to foster the type of life you wanna live. You know, as Sam, I think you said it perfectly, that we really believe in having that student centered mindset, but we also believe that it should exist without the expense of a teacher. We want you as a teacher to be supported and then hopefully have incredible experiences with students, but it really does begin with making sure that you are your best self as well. So let us help if we can. And if not, then we hope to connect with you in the future as we celebrate all the stuff that you guys are doing.


Sam Demma (53:22):
Amazing. Awesome. Chad, Jeff, thank you so much. Chad, Jeff and Ray, and the whole team who is not on the call. Thank you again for the work you’re doing. Thank you for showing up today and, and sharing some of your wisdom and some of the work that you’re doing in education that’s changing lives. I look forward to staying in touch and, and watching all the great work you guys do.


The Teach Better Team (53:42):
Thank you, Sam. Thanks for the work that you are doing. We appreciate you, man. Yeah. Appreciate it.


Sam Demma (53:46):
And there you have it. Another amazing guest, an amazing interview on the High Performing Educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review so other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show; f you want meet the guest on today’s episode, if you wanna meet any of the guests that we have interviewed, consider going to www.highperformingeducator.com and signing up to join the exclusive network. You’ll have access to networking events throughout 2021 and other special opportunities. And I promise I will not fill your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

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The High Performing Educator Podcast was brought to life during the outbreak of COVID-19 to provide you with inspirational stories and practical advice from your colleagues in education.  By tuning in, you will hear the stories and ideas of the world’s brightest and most ambitious educators.  You can expect interviews with Principals, Teachers, Guidance Counsellors, National Student Association, Directors and anybody that works with youth. You can find and listen to all the episodes for free here.

Sara Lindberg – Educational Consultant at CESA #11 and World Traveller

Sara Lindberg - Educational Consultant at CESA #11 and World Traveller
About Sara Lindberg

Sara Lindberg (@techytaka) has had a non-traditional pathway to becoming an educator, including turns as a freelance writer, independent filmmaker, administrative assistant, and veterinary clinic manager. 

After going back to graduate school to get her master’s in education and media technology, she worked in the field of education as a tutoring coordinator, a school library media specialist and technology coach, an English teacher, and an educational consultant. 

She recently spent two years co-teaching at a bilingual public school in Spain, and now she works as an educational consultant and splits her time between her hometown in Wisconsin and her adopted hometown in Spain. She loves to travel, hike, meet new people, and share stories, most of which involve the kindness of strangers. 

Connect with Sara:  Email  |  Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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Join the Educator Network & Connect with Sara Lindberg
Resources Mentioned

Cooperative Educational Service Agency #11

Burnett Dairy (Best cheese in Wisconsin)

Virtual Reality Field Trips

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):
Sara welcome to the high performing educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here this morning. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself?


Sara Lindberg (00:10):
All right. Well, I’m Sara Lindberg. I came into education in kind of a non-traditional way. So before I got into education, I did some freelance writing. I made independent films. I managed a veterinary clinic for a while. And then I came into education, actually working for a middle school after school tutoring program while I was getting my master’s. And then once I graduated, I, I was a library specialist at a small district nearby where I grew up in Northwestern, Wisconsin, and now I work at a CESA. So it’s a cooperative educational service agency in Northwestern, Wisconsin. So I work with about 39 school districts in our region. And the two years I was living and working in Spain as a co-teacher at a bilingual secondary school. So that’s my that’s sort of my educational journey in a nutshell.


Sam Demma (01:16):
what really fascinates me is the different roles and position you hopped around in and experienced before landing on education. Did you know growing up that one day, you would end up in a school or working with a school district or did it just kinda unfold?


Sara Lindberg (01:36):
You know, I think a little bit of both actually, because I, I look back to, I remember in kindergarten and we had to draw a picture of like what you wanna be when you grow up. And I remember drawing a picture of a teacher and I wanted, because I always loved school. So I wanted to be a teacher and then as I got older, then okay, now I wanted to be a veterinarian and then I wanted to be a writer and then I wanted to be a filmmaker and then I wanted to be a lot of different things. And I sort of did all of those in some capacity, but just came back to teaching and I was not really expecting it, but now looking back, I think like, oh, maybe that’s, maybe that was meant to be all along.

Sam Demma (02:19):
You also do a lot of traveling. How has kind of shaped your work or given you new perspectives?

Sara Lindberg (02:30):
Well, I think well in a few ways, so I studied abroad my first like big traveling situation was when I studied abroad in, in college in Australia. And so I lived there for stay six months and to D term at the university of Melbourne. And I absolutely loved it, made great friends and just really realized that there are amazing people all over the world. And I did a lot of traveling while I was in Australia. And so I think after that, when I came back, then I was like, okay, where else can I go? So I think that has, you know, that was really eyeopening for me at that time. And then I think just traveling around, I do a lot of solo travel. So just going by myself, meeting new people kind of getting into the non touristic parts of, you know, this towns and cities that I visit has been really great for me.

Sara Lindberg (03:29):
Like I love learning about new cultures and meeting people and hearing about their experiences. And you just meet, like, for me, I say, if they’re is, if there are good people in your town, I will find them because randomly I just meet the best people when I travel. I really, really do that is so I think that has given me a broader perspective. I mean, coming from a very, very small town in Wisconsin about 800 people. So my graduating class was 30. Nice. So I definitely I definitely have been opened up to, you know, more different ways of life, you know, and I’ve been living in Seville for the past two years. So a fairly big city, I mean, especially compared to where I grew up. But then also I think living in Spain for the last two years as a Spanish learner has really helped me a lot in working with bilingual emerging bilingual students has really helped me in my work right now, I work a lot with ESL teachers and directors of ESL programs. And so being a would learner myself and like, you know, having that struggle and having some personal experience to draw on, even though my experiences clearly are not the same as, you know, a lot of our students, but I, I can understand more that it’s just, it’s more than just, you know, the language that goes along with that. So I think that’s helped me too in my teaching it’s become it. It’s helped me become a better teacher for sure.

Sam Demma (05:06):
That’s awesome. And you mentioned CSA a little bit as well for those who don’t understand what the association or the organization does, how would you explain it? What is the purpose and role and how did you end up in that specific position of as well?

Sara Lindberg (05:23):
Yeah, so Wisconsin, there are 12 C, so they’re nationally, they’re called like ESAs educational service agencies. So a lot of states have something similar, like in New York, it’s BOCES and other states have, you know, similar things, but they just call ’em something else. So I work in CSUN 11, so it’s the Northwestern part of the state, a lot of small, more rural school districts. And so our organization provides support services. My department is focused on professional development and instructional support for school districts. So within that I work in the ESL title three program, universal design for learning. I sort of manage the library programs there because I have a background as a school librarian. And so I do a lot of like teacher workshops and working with school districts in district to do some planning, working on developing new programs. And then I work a lot with educational technology.

Sam Demma (06:32):
That’s so cool. And how has the work changed or shifted or pivoted over the past two years? I feel like COVID has played a big role in reshaping education. What has changed or shifted over at CSA for you?


Sara Lindberg (06:49):
Well, I think I was in a pretty good position, I think personally because I have a background in educational technology. Cool. So, so right when COVID hit I was working, you know, kind of part-time remote from Spain for the last two years, you know, still doing some support and it was this immediate need for in the moment, you know, tech support and really specific training on how do we make this shift from, in her person to virtual in a very, very short amount of time. So I actually worked with teacher friends in Spain helping them because we literally had one day, like we found out Thursday night, they made the announcement that we would go into lockdown on Monday. So we had Friday to basically set all of the, you know, all of the tea and all the students had to figure out, you know, okay, what are we gonna do now?


Sara Lindberg (07:42):
And then it was, you know, oh, it’s gonna be two weeks. And then, you know how that went. So I think for me it was an easier transition. But definitely now we thought we were going back to like normal, right. Which is not the case. So we’re doing a lot of, I mean, we have the same learning curve as a lot of districts. So trying to figure out how the things that we do are focused so much on in person, professional development day, long workshops. And right now that’s really just not a possibility. So we’re also you developing new ideas. So how do we do hybrid? How do we do instead of one day, can we break it up into a few, you know, shorter virtual sessions, how do we work in this blended environment and support teachers? And also what teachers need has been quite different, you know, over the last two years.


Sara Lindberg (08:39):
So initial was a lot of technology. Now we’re a little bit, I don’t wanna say over it, but teachers have developed over the last, you know, year and a half out of necessity. Like they’ve found a way that works for them. So now it’s more okay, now that this is ongoing, how do we navigate having some students in person, some students at home and the same thing for our teachers? How do we support them? You know, when they really only have, you know, small blocks of time, cause everyone’s, you know, nobody can find subs and so everyone’s sort of covering for each other. So how do we get them the best bang for their buck? Right. So we have to be really creative in what we’re doing, but it’s like also a really great opportunity to develop new programming and think outside the box. Like, what if we did this?


Sara Lindberg (09:30):
What if, you know, let’s try this. And I think there’s a lot more room to try, try new things. And then if they don’t work out, it’s kind of like, well, okay, we tried that it didn’t work now, what can we do differently? Or what, what part of that did work? And we can, you know, tweak it a little bit. So it has been, yeah. I mean, it’s, it’s been terrible. obviously, but also a lot of opportunities have come up and, you know, we’ve seen that, you know, there are really great ways to do some blended learning for teachers and for students,


Sam Demma (10:04):
That idea of trying something, learning from it, trying again in tech, it’s called rapid iteration. Mm-Hmm and one of my favorite artists, his name’s Kanye probably heard of Kanye before. yeah, he, he, on his latest album, went into the middle of a stadium for like a month and made the music live in front of people and would ask for their feedback live while he was making it. And it was like this crazy, innovative idea in the music world, because no one’s at ever done that before. And he was taking that idea of rapid iteration and applying it to his album, which I thought was really fascinating. What are some of the ideas or technologies or resources that you think the school districts have maybe tried to use or utilize over the past couple years, or maybe even in your own work that have been helpful? Any resources tech or softwares?


Sara Lindberg (10:59):
I mean, I think it really, at first we tried to do all the technologies, so it was like, here’s a hundred new apps and, you know, websites and platforms and all this stuff. And it was just, it was too much. And the expectation, you know, for teachers on students to have, and parents too, you know, of parents supporting students at home yeah. To have 20 different platforms and logins and all this stuff, you know, we realized that, you know, more isn’t necessarily better. So, I mean, we went back to some of the, some of the basics, you know, doing podcasts, doing little videos, you know, getting a lot of good stuff off YouTube doing a interactive, just simple things through like learning management systems, like simple like Google classroom or, you know, all of these, you know, Schoology and all this stuff. And so having interactive conversations with students, I mean, one of the, one of the things that I did that I loved was I did a conversation class at the school where I was working in Spain.


Sara Lindberg (12:03):
So we had a conversation class, like maybe once or twice a week and we just talked, you know, so it was for them to practice their English with a native speaker, but we just talked about, you know, what have you learned from COVID what have been some good things? Cause it was really, you know, in Spain, the lockdown meant that you couldn’t leave your house. So kids couldn’t leave the house ever. Wow. And adults could only leave if they were essential workers and they had to have, you know, all the stuff or to, to like go to the supermarket or the doctor. So kids were stuck in the whole time. So for them it was, you know, pretty rough. And so we knew, okay, there’s a lot of bad stuff, but like, what are the cool things that you’ve learned? And the things that they learned were, you know, not part of, you know, traditional academic curriculum, you know, but they’re like, yeah, I learned that, like my brother’s actually like pretty cool now that we’ve spent time together.


Sara Lindberg (12:57):
Like, oh, my grandma taught me how to make, you know, this traditional recipe that she’s been making for years and, you know, or I started a book club with my friends, or we started doing like, you know, group video chats where we would all like watch a movie together. So something like that. So I think part of it was, you know, using some simple technology, but we also learned more about the, the place of like social, emotional learning and health and, and you know, what we learned in COVID wasn’t maybe necessarily as much, you know, of science, English, you know, but we learned a lot of other skills, you know, adaptability and perseverance and things like that. So, but yeah, as far as technology, I mean, there’s so many cool, cool things out there. I actually started doing last year, a lot of stuff with virtual reality. Nice. So we did virtual reality things with like Google expeditions and, you know, sort of virtual field trips and, you know, there’s so many cool things like that where you can kind of experience places that you’d never get to visit. Right. You know, like you can go to the international space station or you can, you know, do tours of like, you know, the moon or, you know, all of these really inner, deep under wall. So, I mean, using virtual reality for me is, is a pretty cool resource like technology resource.


Sam Demma (14:24):
Very cool. I, I interviewed someone about a year ago. I can’t remember his name now. And he actually was one of the first people in his school board to bring VR to the classrooms within the board. And he used it to do expeditions for students who moved away from their home country so that they could see it again, someone who, you know, fled a third world country or came over as a refugee and maybe hadn’t been home for like 14 years. He was, he was able to program the headsets for them to walk through the malls in their local city that they would’ve been in. And it, he told me like kids were crying of joy. Like it was such an amazing experience. Yeah, I think VR will be a huge resource even moving future as well. So it’s cool to hear that you’re already leveraging that as well. Yeah.


Sara Lindberg (15:15):
And, and now that like the technology as we go along, right, the price comes down significantly. So at first it’s, you know, it was really out of reach for some of these things. And I mean, to some extent, you know, to get really high end stuff, it is out reach for a lot of, you know, districts. But I mean, one of the things that we do at CSA is because we’re a consortium model, we have different libraries and things like that. So we can, you know, on behalf of districts we can purchase things and then circulate it like in a library system. So schools who can’t purchase like an entire VR. So that’s one of the things we have in our library. So if they can’t purchase like an entire classroom VR headset set, so every student can have one, we can lend that and they can do a unit for a couple weeks and use that. So, I mean, that’s one of the cool things that I get to do in my job is like test out new technology things. So, I mean, there are times like when people are just like walking around the office with like VR headset or we’re out with, you know, like whatever, you know, drones or like underwater cam, you know, whatever out in the office. And so, yeah, that’s fun.


Sam Demma (16:26):
Very cool. And if you could take your experience working in education, bundle it all up and share it with your younger self, meaning Sarah, when you were just getting into education in the first year, knowing what you know now and with the experience you have, what would you tell your younger self?


Sara Lindberg (16:46):
Wow. that, that’s a big one because I feel like every experience really has made me a better teacher, even the, you know, things that were not necessarily teaching. Yeah. but I think I would say that just to focus on, I mean, relationships are so important. So I think that, you know, building relationships with students and building relat with colleagues, you know, administrators building a network of, of teachers and people that you can, you know, run things by that you can bounce ideas off of, you know, I wanna try this new lesson I’m thinking about this, you know, what do you think? And then just really listening to students and like some of the best feedback that I’ve got has been from students, you know, saying like, what did you think of this? I mean, I know that a really eye opening thing for me is I was, I was teaching a class that I had developed called film as literature.


Sara Lindberg (17:48):
So I have like a, a filmmaking, you know, film studies background. And so I develop this course and it was like the second year that I was teaching it and I did a survey of students and just getting their feedback, like, what do you think? You know, what’s the, you know, difficulty level, what’s the interest level? Like what ideas do you have and sort of midway through. I was like, okay, I had a plan on where we were gonna go for the rest of the year, but now that I have your ideas, I’m thinking like, let’s do something different. And so like, let’s do what if we do like this independent project and everyone sort of gets to design their own, you know, like here are the standards that we’re looking at or learning targets, but how you approach it and how you show your understanding can be really different.


Sara Lindberg (18:35):
And you, you know, you tell me, so you can work individually. You can work in a, with a partner with a group, whatever. And so we went through that and like, they co-developed the rubrics and they, you know, co-developed the schedule that they were gonna have and said, this is how I’m gonna address these standards. I’m gonna do a, you know, presentation, I’m gonna do a video. I’m going to, you know, one group rewrote the ending to a movie. So they learned how to write in like script format. So they like downloaded the software and learned how to actually write scripts and did this thing about the character development. And this is why, and they went to the whole backstory about why it should have had a different ending to begin with it. . And I mean, it was just amazing. And one student did you know, movies from around the world and she’s like, I wanna do foreign films and talk about the culture and how that impacts, you know, the types of movies and like the history of, of the country and whatever.


Sara Lindberg (19:31):
So she did this amazing presentation and based on that, I was like, okay, next year, we’re adding a foreign film unit into into the curriculum. And she actually came back as a guest lecture the next year, this student. Yeah. Oh, wow. She’s awesome. So I think just like that, like you said, that iteration process of you don’t, it’s not one and done. It’s not, I develop a lesson plan now I have it for the next 30 years. It’s, you know, a constant, okay. This worked, you know, this could be a little better getting feedback from students and really realizing that there’s so many different ways. I mean, as a, you know, like I was always a good student, like a real teacher pleaser. So I was like, whatever you say, like, that’s what I’ll do. So, you know, multiple choice tests, like 10 page papers, whatever.


Sara Lindberg (20:23):
So I think, you know, as an educator and I brought in the way I learned best and the fact that I loved school, I, everything about school, I love learning. I mean, you know, and that’s not the case for everybody . And so I think it’s, it’s just like realizing that there’s so many different, it’s not like this way or this way, it’s like this way or a million different other ways. And you can really be creative in, in how, and the more creative that students can be like the better, like, in my experience, I guess the, the better the projects and the work that students do, if they’re really interested in something it’s like, okay, I would’ve had you maybe write an essay, but instead, you know, like you said, well, what if I like make a little documentary film and you spent like a hundred hours on this documentary film and it was spent probably 30 minutes, you know, slapping together an essay five minutes before class. So like the learning was so much deeper in those cases where students had more of a voice in, you know, what that looked like. So


Sam Demma (21:33):
It’s like a per more of a personal interest too. You’re, you’re letting them craft the experience, which I think is awesome. I want you to get on your soapbox for a second. And someone who has a background in in film, I believe that like the arts are so important. Any artistic, you know, work or subject that enables a student to express themselves. It’s a lot harder for someone to express themselves in math class, which is why I think it’s really important that arts also exist. Why are, why do you think the arts are so important and all forms of art?


Sara Lindberg (22:11):
Oh, man. I am a big, you know, I come from a family that is very creative. So I that’s always been support of my life. Music has always been a big part of my life. I’ve been writing since I was a little kid, you know, writing stories and, you know, and all these things movies, you know, art like painting and drawing and stuff, which I am not good at, but I have other people in the band that are very good at that sort of thing. Nice. so I think being creative was just, I that’s how I grew up and I didn’t really know anything different and in my school that was always encouraged. And so despite being a very small school, there are a lot of opportunities to be involved in the arts. And I think there’s, especially during COVID.


Sara Lindberg (23:01):
I mean, like I found that a lot of people found a creative outlet during COVID because there are some things that you can’t necessarily express maybe in words, and in having a conversation or, you know, a simple way. And art is a very complex and very personal thing that I think allows you to get out all the stuff that’s that’s inside. So I think just from like a mental health perspective yeah. It’s so important, but then also you have, you know, more ownership over it because it’s such a personal creative thing that you can take something that’s like, maybe in, in a school setting, you can take something that’s maybe not super interesting to you. Like you said, maybe math or something like that and approach it in a very creative way. And that allows you to make that connection. Like maybe I, I don’t love this normally, but I found a part that connects to something that I love painting or, or writing or filmmaking or, you know, dance, or, you know, any of those things, music.


Sara Lindberg (24:12):
So, I mean, I think it’s so important. I think we’re seeing like, you know, the focus was on stem and now it’s steam, right. Because we we’ve incorporated arts into that. So actually I work with fine network of educators in the CCC 11 region, and they’re doing some amazing things. And some of the things that, that these teachers were doing during COVID, I mean, if you’re a band director and all of a sudden you’re teaching remotely, what does that look like? And I think really the, the fine arts teachers have to be so creative, I mean, out of necessity, but I mean, they were doing some amazing things in, in virtual learning time. And I think it had such a positive impact on students, especially, you know, during, during that time while still we’re still in the time. Yeah. But, but yeah, so, I mean, I think it’s, you know, it’s, it’s a way for students to express themselves and I don’t think it has to be, and I don’t think it should be a totally separate isolated.


Sara Lindberg (25:16):
I mean, there’s so much, you know, interconnectivity and I just remember I’m, I’m not a painter I’m in awe of people who can paint that. It’s just not a skill that I have. And I remember being in high school and there was a, a teacher of mine who actually is now a colleague of mine. Like, like we work together as nice as adults now, which is, you know, strange. I have a hard time calling, calling her by her first name. Right. Because she was, you know, like always like, you know, Mrs. And now I’m like, okay. And she’s like, okay, you can call me Kate now. It’s fine. But I was taking a class with her and one of the projects she had for a different class was about, I don’t know, short stories or something, and the students could, could show it, you know, in a variety of ways.


Sara Lindberg (26:00):
And I remember one student who was like, not really into school in general, like wasn’t really into like the, you know, academic side of things. But he, for his project, he had done this beautiful painting. That was about a story of, it was during civil, you know, civil rights era in the south. And he did this amazing, like a mixed media painting the, that like represented the conditions like during that time and like some of the STR, and it was just like looking at it, you were just like, oh my gosh, this is like this incredible. And you can see so much, you don’t even need any words, like a 10 page paper would not have anything on this one piece of art because you looked at and you knew exactly. You know, like you could see all these things represented in it. And it was so amazing. And then I was like, oh my gosh, here I am writing papers. You know, like thinking like, great, is this that I can, you know, write a paper. And like, my paper is nothing, you know, I have nothing on, on this guy. Right. So I think, I think there are things that, that fine arts can express that other, you know, other forms of communication really can. So I think it’s super, super


Sam Demma (27:24):
Awesome. You mentioned a association of fine arts teachers or an organization. What, what is the group called? If someone wanted to look it up,


Sara Lindberg (27:35):
It’s actually just a network that we have. So at CSA we have all different kinds of educator networks. So I work the, with the library, medias specialists, and we have like a tech integrator and curriculum coordinators and, you know, title three directors and all stuff. And so one group is the fine arts group. Nice. And what’s really nice about it in our area is like in bigger schools you have say like, I don’t know, 20, 30, 50, whatever art teachers, like music teachers in a lot of our districts, there’s like one or two people who do that. And that’s it. Yeah. So it’s hard to say like, okay, now meet with your department and come up with some ideas. Cause sometimes like in my district it was like, okay, the department of one I’m, I’m the , you know, specialist. I’m like, okay, so a department meeting sweet.


Sara Lindberg (28:23):
It’s just me sitting. Right? Yeah. So to get, you know, in, in our area to get a bunch of, you know, music teachers and art teachers and, you know, theater and dance and you know, together, and they can say, okay, what are you doing in this case? Like, oh, I’m doing this. Oh my gosh, that’s such a great idea. You know, I tried this like, have you tried this, you know, have you tried this app? Have you tried, you know, this extension, you know, here’s an activity that I did. And just have, like that network format is so important I think. And so for fine arts, I mean, it, it’s amazing to be a part. And they’re, you know, my artistic skills are very, very, you know, limited, especially in comparison, but it’s like get a bunch of really, really talented, smart, passionate people together and have a conversation and things that come out of those groups are just like, wow, you guys are awesome. I would say you have to mine the collective wisdom of the group, right?


Sam Demma (29:22):
Yeah. I had someone he had this statement, he said, I think it was R and S it was like Rob and steel. And he was like, I’m looking to Rob and steal people’s ideas all the time and, you know, re you know, reimplement them or adjust them for his own purposes. And I think it’s so important, you know, we don’t always have to reinvent the wheel. Sometimes just having a conversation where someone can open our, open our mind to a totally different perspective that we didn’t think about before. That’s why I think networking and that the groups you’re mentioning are so important. I have three, like rapid, like rapid last minute questions for you to, to wrap up the interview today. okay. And I’m gonna put you on the spot. You’re gonna put me on the spot. cause we didn’t talk about this. You didn’t know what was happening. I,


Sara Lindberg (30:13):
I’m not prepared for these questions,


Sam Demma (30:15):
But they’re gonna be good.


Sara Lindberg (30:17):
Might have to edit them out later. So if it, it turns out that they’re not three questions at you’ll know how the responses went.


Sam Demma (30:24):
Question number one. Did they find your luggage?


Sara Lindberg (30:28):
Yes. oh, yes. It was a Christmas miracle. Yes. I have to shout out to Kayla at Minneapolis St. Paul international airport, because she was on the case and she was made can calls and sending messages and she’s like, we are gonna get your suitcase back, you know? And I, yes, with all the Christmas presents in it for my family. Yes. Arrive safe and sound suitcases, a little banged up, but you know, made it through.


Sam Demma (30:56):
That’s awesome. And for those of you wondering what the heck, that question was in relation to, to Sarah’s suitcase almost went missing while traveling home, right?


Sara Lindberg (31:07):
Yeah. Yeah. It, it got lost and it was like home alone lost in Madrid. Right. So nobody scanned it to like, do anything with it. So it was just sitting there all alone and nobody was really looking for it. And so I got back, I was like, okay, where’s this suitcase. And they’re like, okay, well, you know, make a call put in this ticket. And so then, you know, a couple days go by like nothing. And then I called Kayla and she said, nobody’s even looking for it. It hasn’t been scanned. Nothing has been done. She’s like, I’m gonna start making some calls because I can see like, your suitcase is literally just sitting there and no one is gonna put it on the plane unless, you know, we get a hold of ’em. So yep. They put it on the plane. So it had its own little adventure and then they delivered it actually to my house. Nice American airline’s little delivery van or whatever, and yep. Safe and sound.


Sam Demma (31:57):
Awesome. Question. Number two. If someone is looking to purchase cheese in Wisconsin, what is the best? What’s the best brand or block of cheese they should buy


Sara Lindberg (32:10):
I’m gonna say anything from Burnett dairy. I might be biased, but I think it’s the absolute Wisconsin has, in my opinion, as Wisconsin, the best cheese. And in my opinion, also Burnett dairy in alpha Wisconsin has the best cheese. So they make it, you know, and ice cream, they make the ice like fresh, right from the milk in their big storage facility. So it’s a new flavor every day. So yes, that’s what I bring when I travel. Everyone’s like bring cheese, go to the dairy, bring cheese. So every time I travel it’s with a suitcase full of cheese, which makes for interesting airport x-rays sometimes. Yep.


Sam Demma (32:50):
Yes and then thirdly, if someone is in Seville and they have only a few hours, what do they need to see or do?


Sara Lindberg (33:00):
Ooh, you can actually do a lot the, the city center for like the, the really big things is pretty compact. So I’d say take a, walk by the river, go down to Paque Maria Louisa, it’s this really big, beautiful sea go to the cathedral. If you can climb up and, you know, go all the way to the top, you can have this amazing view of the city. It’s a long walk off up, but it’s worth it. And yeah, and then just eat some, you know, have some top bus and, and enjoy and go in springtime when the orange trees are blossoming. Cool. Because then it’s a beautiful, you know, sense of orange trees.

Sam Demma (33:52):
Awesome. Cool, Sarah, thank you so much for taking some time to come on the show to talk about your journey into education and some things that have been helpful for, you and your perspectives and philosophies, Keep up the great work and we’ll talk soon.

Sara Lindberg (34:11):
Thanks for having me on! Good to see you again.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Sara Lindberg

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.

Mike Thiessen – Instruction, Curriculum, & Technology Coordinator at Fort La Bosse School Division

Mike Thiessen - Instruction, Curriculum, & Technology Coordinator at Fort La Bosse School Division
About Mike Thiessen

Mike Thiessen (@MikeThiessen) is the Instruction, Curriculum and Technology Co-ordinator at Fort La Bosse School Division. Over the past 20+ years, he has worked in the field of education as a Curriculum Developer, Teacher, School Principal, and now in his current position as a Divisional Co-ordinator.

He has a deep passion to provide students with safe and enriching learning environments where they can learn to set and achieve goals.  As a husband and a father of four, he enjoys spending time coaching sports, making music, travelling, and golfing. 

Connect with Mike:  Email  |  Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Mike Thiessen
Resources Mentioned

Craig Groeschel Leadership Podcast

The Heggerty Reading Curriculum

The OrtonGillingham Approach

Fort La Bosse School Divison

The BYTE 2022 Education Conference

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):
Mike welcome to the high performing educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here this morning. Start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit about your journey that brought you to where you are today in education.

Mike Thiessen (00:13):
Hey, thanks Sam. It’s really great to be here. When I heard about the opportunity to sit down with you and, and talk about what I do and also what, you know, have that conversation with you, because I’ve seen some of the stuff that you’re doing, and I was just excited because it’s, it’s an opportunity to be able to talk to people in education and maybe people that just wanna be inspired by educators. So when I heard about this, it was, yeah, pretty exciting. So thank you for inviting me here. Why do I do what I do? Why, what brought me to it here? Well, you know, I started out my career. Oh man, it’s gotta be over 20 years ago now. And so the reason why I’m in education is because I love people. I enjoy hanging out with people.

Mike Thiessen (00:56):
Relationships to me are number one. People are number one. That’s, that’s the most important thing in my life. And, and so when I was younger I worked at a summer camp when I was in my teens and I had the opportunity to work with young people. And I just saw how much of a difference that you can make in a, in a person’s life. If you’re having that opportunity to to speak life into them and to do positive things that are gonna make a difference in their life. And then you watch the changes that can take place and, and how that can actually affect a, a young person. And so that’s what inspired me. That’s why I became an educator because I felt, Hey, I wanna do this every day of my life. I wanna be able to impact kids.

Mike Thiessen (01:34):
I wanna impact young people. And so that’s, that’s the, the journey that took me here was, was starting out in a summer camp. And then obviously I had other major influence series of my life. Like, like my dad, my dad’s a, a teacher, his dad was a teacher. And so I saw the effect that they had and the impact that they had. And so because of that I was inspired to do that and, and, and it’s natural for me. I enjoy, I enjoy hanging out with people. I enjoy hearing people’s stories. I enjoy ma you know, starting relationships and, and making sure that you know, I actually take the time to listen to people and, and get to know who they are and, and, and why they are, who they are, you know? And so that’s, that would be why I’m an educator. Absolutely. Yeah.

Sam Demma (02:15):
Walk me through the camp experience, what that was like for you growing up. And it sounds like it had an emotional impact on, on you, if it really stuck with you and drove you towards wanting to work with kids, walk me through what it looked like.

Mike Thiessen (02:29):
Sure. Yeah. So working at a summer camp, it’s, it’s very unique. It’s not, it’s not your typical summer job. Obviously it’s, it’s one of those where it becomes 24 7, you know, and for me when I first started out, I was, I was 17 and as I was a counselor and, and it becomes a, a 24 7, like I said, you know, you go in and it’s a week. So you’re spending, you’re spending a full week with these, with these kids. And it could be a six year old, seven year old, eight year old, nine year olds, depending on the week. And so you’ve got these little, little guys running around and we’re going from one activity to the other, we’re swimming, you know, they’re, they’re doing archery, they’re riding horses playing games in the field. And it’s really, you know, it’s one of those experiences where you really can’t you can’t replicate it anywhere else.

Mike Thiessen (03:12):
Mm it’s it’s, it’s, it’s very unique and it is it’s own thing. And what we found was that these kids might be coming in from, from really tough backgrounds, you know, like they might be coming from, from areas where you know, where they’re with child and family services and they don’t have a mom and dad anymore. And so they’re, you know, in the foster system and that kind of thing. And so they’re coming in and they might be carrying a lot, a lot of baggage and a lot of hurts and a lot of other things, but they come in and they, all of a sudden they’re able to hear and have you speak life into them and say, Hey, you’re person, you know, like you are worth something. And I value you, you know, when they hear those words, all of a sudden you’d see that smile come on their face and you’d, you’d watch them at the beginning of the week, going from this person who’s, you know, obviously going through a hard time and sad and not, not, not doing well.

Mike Thiessen (03:53):
And all of a sudden at the end of the week, they’re, they’re smiling and they’re happy, and they’ve got this, this, this spring in their step. And so able to be part of that is, yeah, it’s really, it’s really unique. It’s really special. The other piece to that too, is the relationship with the other staff. They almost become your brothers and sisters, you know, because you’re working all together as a team and, and you’ve got one goal and that’s to be able to give that kid that came to that camp, the best experience that they can have. Right. And so to have a team of people doing that and, and hanging out together and, and being able to spend that time together as staff, those are they’re lifelong relationships. Like I’ve got one of my best friends is still, you know, I met him at camp, you know? Wow. And he was one that worked with me and he was a you know, one of those people that had major impact and continuously have a major impact on my life. And so, you know, I look at that period of time and I realize, Hey, that really shaped who I am today. And it’s also steered a lot of the, the career choices I’ve made and, and things that I do. So it’s, yeah, it’s a wonderful, been a wonderful experience for sure. That

Sam Demma (04:52):
Was at 17 years old. At what age did you make your mental decision that you wanted to get into education? Because it sounds like your passion for working with kids and working in a team could have taken you in many different directions, but it took you here. At what age did you make the decision? This is the path I wanna pursue. And what did making that decision look like?

Mike Thiessen (05:14):
I was 19 when I finally said, okay, this is what I’m doing. And so I actually went through a few different phases. I, I tried at a few different jobs. I worked in the area of carpentry, you know, I did some, some plumbing. I drove a truck for a while, so it was an in semi, you know, doing some, some short hauls. So I spent time working with my hands. I spent time doing those, those blue collar, you know, getting out there and, and working hard. And it, and I’m, I can, I can do that. I don’t hard work, like that’s, I grew up on the farm. So I, that that’s not an issue, you know, I actually enjoy it. I, I like working with my hands. But it was, yeah, it was through the experiences at camp.

Mike Thiessen (05:52):
And then it was through talking to other people. And then just realizing that you know, what, education holds an opportunity where you can make impact, and it can be a daily job. You can make a living in doing it, but at the same time, you’re actually able to make change. And so it’s not just going to a job and doing something so you can get a paycheck it’s actually going and making a difference. And then, yeah, the paycheck is it’s important, right? Cuz that’s what keeps you going. And it makes you can buy house and pay for food and all that. But that isn’t the main focus. The focus is actually what you do, you know, that, that daily getting outta bed, why do I do what I do well be so I can make an impact so I can make change.

Sam Demma (06:29):
You got me curious, because you mentioned your dad really inspired you to get into education. And then what I didn’t know about you was that you grew up on a farm. Did he do both roles? Like, was he a farmer and also an educator? Tell me a little bit about your father and how he had an impact on, you know, your decision to get into teaching.

Mike Thiessen (06:46):
Yeah, absolutely. So growing up, dad, he, he started out as a farmer. Yes. and then he went into university a little bit later in his career. He would’ve been in his thirties and it was, it was during that time when farming was getting a little bit tough, we had a few years of, of drought and then prices were getting a little higher and, and interest rates were getting higher. So dad had to go back to school and he actually became a teacher. He, he enjoys people. He, he, he actually was a, he worked as a, a minister as well, a pastor in a church. And so he did three things growing up. And so yeah, so the, the teaching piece was actually just it was, it was part of because he was very good at it and, and because he enjoyed it, but it was also because he needed to put bread on the table.

Mike Thiessen (07:27):
And so that was something that you know, he, he enjoyed doing it and he went and made it a career and he farmed at the same time. So for me growing up yeah, being on the farm, learned a lot of those skills, but then a also seen, has dad worked hard, you know, he’s give going hard every day. And, and so for him to be able to to do a good job teaching and do farming and, and take care of us as kids and, and mom obviously was a huge part of that as well. My mom obviously was his partner and, and, and working alongside of him with that too. But yeah, they, they definitely had an impact on, on the reason why I became, you know, a teacher and, and went into the education field for sure. Yeah.

Sam Demma (08:04):
The field itself looked a lot different over the past two years than maybe it did for your first 18 or 19 years, depending on how long you’ve been in education. What were some of the challenges that you personally faced and saw your colleagues and peers go going through? And now that we’re kind of coming outta that time period, a little bit slowly. Mm-Hmm what

Mike Thiessen (08:25):
Are some, we’re not there yet? We’re not there yet. but we are getting close. We’re getting close.

Sam Demma (08:30):
Yeah. What are some of the exciting things or opportunities you’re looking forward to, and then also some of the challenges you guys are all you’ve all been faced with.

Mike Thiessen (08:38):
I think for, for educators right now what I’m looking at and I’m, just, I, I feel very thankful for the people that are in the field, because I feel like they do have a heart for, for what they’re doing. Yeah. So that part, I, I wanna say first, I, I have full respect and unbelievable. I I’m blown away. Like I, I just, I, I, I, I, every day I look at what educators are doing and the things that they’ve done over the last year and a half, and I’ve just huge respect for every single one of those teachers who’s in that classroom and doing what they do, because it hasn’t been easy. It hasn’t been one of those where oh, just another day, you don’t like, know it’s every day you wake up and it could be different. You, you could be, you could be shifting, you could be changing something within your classroom.

Mike Thiessen (09:21):
You might have a new protocol that you have to put in place or a new rule or, or something physically that you have to change within the classroom. So I have huge, huge respect for teachers for that. I think the next big challenge that I see coming, and, and like I said, I, I totally respect everything that’s been done, but because of all these challenges that we face, I feel like there are some gaps in learning it’s that have come through this. And, and it’s because we’ve had to move to remote learning. We’ve had to you know, maybe change the way that we do our teaching within the classroom. And so what we’re seeing now is that there are some gap gap, and it’s not the full 20 students that are in classroom or 30 students that are in the classroom.

Mike Thiessen (10:00):
We’re seeing it, that it might be that 40% or, or 30% of the students have, have these gaps that normally probably wouldn’t have been there as predominantly. We wouldn’t have seen them as, as, as, as, as a big of a deal. And so I think that’s our next big challenge is how are we gonna find ways to hold those students and have them so that they can make make graduation so that they can get to level prior to even, you know, hopefully within the next couple of years and, and we can sprint and get them up to that spot where, where they need to be. And so I think that’s our next big two out is to find ways to, to, to bring those students up that, that need it, and that have already fallen behind a bit because of this, this last year and a half of COVID and, and the struggles that have gone through that.

Mike Thiessen (10:49):
The nether big thing is taking care of each other. We need staff to be able to pull together. We need to be teams. We need to make sure that we encourage each other and we’re looking out for each other. And we also need to realize that we’re gonna still need to work hard, you know, like we can’t, we can’t just take a whew, a breath and, and, and relax, like, yes, we do need to find ways to recharge, but let’s recharge so that we can run. Yeah. Not so that we can come back into the classroom and, and just kind of me and, and, or through the next year and a half, cuz we actually are gonna need to work. There’s a lot of work to be done and it can be great and it can be done. But we’re gonna have to recharge ourselves and make sure that we’re healthy ourselves in order to do

Sam Demma (11:27):
That on the flip side, what are some of the things you are extremely excited about seeing I know you’re hosting the bike conference. You sound like you’re somebody who’s extremely passionate about how technology can be integrated in the classroom. You’re also someone who loves hockey and is excited about the fact that students are slowly starting to get back into sports. Tell me about some of the exciting things you’re seeing and hoping will continue to happen in the future.

Mike Thiessen (11:58):
Yeah. So some of the stuff that’s going on in the, in the schools and with our students is that yes, we are doing, you know, we are doing school sports within the cohorts, of course. And obviously using, you know, COVID restrictions and doing what we need to do there. But we’re getting back into it, you know, like we’re actually being able to interact with each other a bit and, and we’re back in the classrooms. Yes, we’re wearing masks while we’re in the ma classrooms, but we are in the classrooms. It’s not remote. You know, those things are exciting to me like that, that means we’re actually able to, to be human. We’re able to be around each other relationships. I’ve said it before. They’re number one, it’s always about relationships. And without those relationships you can’t you can’t do the things that we do as educators.

Mike Thiessen (12:41):
It’s not as effective. Yeah, it can, there can be teaching that takes place without relationships, but not effective teaching. Yeah, it has. We have, it starts there, it starts, it starts being able to interact and, and making a difference within people’s lives. And so when I look at at the future I get excited about the skills that we’ve built because of the challenges we faced. Right. Hmm. Cause there having been quite a few, like you talked about technology, we’ve learned a lot of new, great tools and we’ve learned how to use them. And as teachers I’m watching, as people who have never used Google classroom before, whereas a learning management system, all of a sudden became experts within a year and a half, you know, or people who with an office 365, they’re not afraid to, to fire up teams and have a, a meeting with, with other people and to be able to do that video conferencing call.

Mike Thiessen (13:27):
So and you and I we’re, we’re in different provinces right now, you know, and we’re sitting down and having a conversation and, and talking about education may not have happened two years ago. And so when I look at what COVID has, has presented as challenges yeah, that wasn’t fun. I don’t ever wanna go through that again. But I’m so thankful for the things that we’ve learned and the things that we can use as, as skills for the future. They may not be used every day. I hope they aren’t you, but let’s use them for the good that we have, you know, and, and not, and not just dismiss it as something that has passed, but it’s like, Hey, yeah, let’s build on that. And that’s, let’s continue to move forward on those things. One thing that I’ve noticed too, is with social media, taking off in the last five years and things like TikTok and, you know, shorts on YouTube and things like that.

Mike Thiessen (14:12):
I’m watching as, as students who are growing up, they’re almost becoming producers and editors and those types of things. I’m really excited to see what’s gonna happen when they walk into the classroom, you know, 10 years from now. And even some of these young teachers that are coming in, people that are your age, right. They’re gonna walk into the classroom and they’re gonna have this set of skills that I didn’t have because we didn’t have social media. When I was first starting out as an educator, we didn’t have a lot of these tools that you have even podcasts, things like that. Those weren’t even there back then. And so to be able to see all these great tools that have taken and broken down all these barriers in the walls, now we can use them in the classroom and, and use it for learning and it can be part of what we do.

Sam Demma (14:49):
And it’s just a different perspective, right? I think having access to different schools, going through different experiences gives you a different perspective and potentially a young, a younger teacher or the next wave of teachers will walk into the classroom and reimagine things too. Right. Absolutely. The same way that you would’ve reimagined things when you started 20 years ago or slight changed and adjusted, and along your journey, teaching, working in education, I’m sure there’s been some really helpful resources you’ve had along the way, whether it be people maybe even courses, books, like if you had to pick a couple of those things to share that have been very helpful for you and your own journey what would some of those things be?

Mike Thiessen (15:37):
For me, I would say wow, there’s so many of them, right? Like, and, and there’s people that have been involved in all of that. One that’s been really impactful for me this year. And I’ll, and I’ll stick to it. Cause I think it’s making a change currently in our, in our school division and within the, within our schools right now is that phenomic awareness and phonological awareness. And this is for early literacy. We’re talking about students that are just learning how to read. Mm. And if I was to ask somebody, what’s the most important skill that a child is gonna learn, whether they’re two years old, all the way, three to 21 years old, what is, what is gonna be the most important skill? And I think most or many people would say reading, we need to know how to read.

Mike Thiessen (16:20):
Like, that’s, I know it’s a basic skill and we kind of take it for granted sometimes, especially here in Canada, because our literacy rate is so high. Right. And so we look at reading as being something that is just, yeah, that’s gonna happen. Right. And so what we’re seeing is, and, and especially this fall and in even last year was we were, we were noticing that a lot of our, our students coming into our schools they were missing that ability to rhyme, to blend, you know, sounds. And it’s just those basic basic skills that we thought. We would just take them for granted and just assume that they would know how to do it. And so we’re watching as, as large chunks within our classroom, don’t have those skills. And so we’ve been looking at there’s a researcher Haggerty. Who’s been doing, doing research around anemic awareness and that’s program that honestly, it’s making an impact and it’s changing a lot of the, the teaching that’s going on in our, and it’s only, you know, it’s only taking 10 minutes, 15 minutes in a day with these students that are 5, 6, 7, 8, a nine years old.

Mike Thiessen (17:14):
So grade 1, 2, 3, 4. And it’s only just doing a very short amount of time with these students. And we’re actually watching, as these students are making huge gains in their, their reading levels in their, their spelling. And then we’re also, we’re using a little bit of another program that we’re using as Orton Gillingham for, for dyslexia and we’re, and it’s actually using it with, in the classroom as a whole as well. And we’re watching as, as it’s making a difference in, in this reading. And it’s the, these two programs that right now for me are very exciting because it’s actually, I’m watching as, as we look at the research and we look at the numbers, it’s making a difference. It’s, it’s actually, it’s changing the abilities and the skills for these grade 1, 2, 3 students, and it’s making it so that as teachers we’re actually able to have some breakthroughs.

Mike Thiessen (17:59):
And I talked about sprinting earlier and about being able to move forward, this is gonna help us with some of those gaps. We’re gonna be able to move forward with that, cuz once the student’s not to read now dig the next step. You need that as that base. If you’re in grade three and you’re not able to read yet, it’s gonna be pretty tough to cover some of the science and social studies and some of the other curriculums that you, you need to cover. So yeah, so that’s, that’s a big one for me right now is that program right there.

Sam Demma (18:22):
That’s awesome. Thank you so much for sharing. It sounds like it’s making a massive impact. I can’t wait to continue to hear the ripples of that.

Mike Thiessen (18:31):
and it’s in early stages. Like we have some teachers that are really excited about it and jumping on board and I’m really hoping that it’ll and it, and, and it’s, we’ve got a good group and I’m hoping it’ll spill over into, you know, the, the rest of the school division, not just one or two schools, I think we were at about three or four schools that are working on these programs and it’s, it’s making an impact. It’s making a difference and it’s, it’s exciting and it, and it’s doing it because it is working. That’s why it’s spreading. That’s why it’s moving. And, and it’s because it is actually helping students be able to read.

Sam Demma (18:59):
Ahead from your experiences at camp. Yeah. You mentioned one aspect of it that was awesome. Was working together as a team and that’s something that leave is also so important in education, but in anything. Yeah. How do, how do you make sure that all the staff and like from a school are unified and on the same page, you know, working cohesively and together, is it about again building relationships and trust or like, how do we ensure that that happens in a, in a school

Mike Thiessen (19:33):
It’s, it’s a culture, right? It’s something that it happens within and it’s because, and, but it has to be done through effort. Yeah. You know, like we, we know that it does take effort. It does take, it does take some planning and it, and it’s interesting because leaders that, that do it well it ha happens naturally just because it’s who they are in, what they do. And part of that is like you talked about coming together as a team and what does that look like? Well, it’d be that conversation before or after class with a teacher between a school administrator and a teacher or between another teacher mm-hmm it’s that pre COVID that high five and the hall, you know, back when we could do fives, then we’ll get back there someday. I’m sure. It’s, it’s that you know, right after classes are done and one of those teachers, you can just see they’ve had a tough day and you walk over to them and you say like, Hey, Hey, how you doing?

Mike Thiessen (20:25):
You know, what can I help you with what’s what’s going on in your classroom? And it’s that, that reaching out and saying I need help in this area. What did you do with this day? And I noticed he was off today. What was, what was the methods or the, the strategies that you used it’s it’s that collaboration and teamwork. And like I said, though, it starts, it starts from leaders. It really does like leaders. We have to watch and see what’s going on within, within our staff. And we have to monitor that what’s that environment look like is there, is there, is there positively having, you know, are people encouraging each other? And then you have to take time as a leader. You have to either write that note and say, Hey, you’re doing a great job. You know, I really appreciate what you did.

Mike Thiessen (21:02):
I saw what you did with that student. And it was amazing keep doing that. You . And so when a person hears that and when it comes from a leader what happens is they feel inspired and they feel like tomorrow, I’m gonna do that again. You know? They might know, and you might say it verbally, too, that can make a difference as well. I, I listened to a leadership podcast and, and one of the, the gentleman that was talking about Greg Rochelle actually is, is the name of the gentleman. And, and one of the things he says is, you can’t say, thank you enough. You know, if you’ve, if you’ve said it, once you gotta say it again, like, it’s one of those where it’s like, if you think you’ve said it enough times, save it another 10 times, you know?

Mike Thiessen (21:37):
Yeah. Like it’s one of those things where you have to encourage people. And if you think you’ve done it enough, do it 10 more times because people need to hear that they need to hear that positive reinforcement. And they also have to hear that you do appreciate them. And so I think that’s where it starts from, and that’s where you’re gonna have that teamwork and, and that coming together. And then the other piece that I would encourage is those people that are part of a team, never, ever, ever tear somebody else apart. That’s part of your team, all that will do is just tear you apart because that’s, that’s your teammate. Like if you’re out there and there’s 20 people on a, on a hockey team and you decide you’re gonna go and hit one of your linemates while he’s out there on the ice with me and, and you decide, okay, you know what I’m gonna stop him from getting the puck, cuz I want the puck you’ve you’ve basically taken a team game and you turned it against itself.

Mike Thiessen (22:21):
It’s not gonna happen. You’re gonna lose the game, guaranteed. It’s exactly the same. If you ever tear somebody else down in the staff room, or if you talk behind somebody else, that’s exactly what you would be doing is you’d be destroying that team. And you’re actually destroying yourself when you’re destroying your team member. And so my biggest encouragement to, to staff members would be like, Hey, if you, if you have something that needs to be talked, yeah. Go talk to that person, but do it in a very constructive yeah. Way, but never behind their back or to somebody else or tear down the team because that’s, that’s the worst thing for it. And then it, it would just cause Ascension and it would cause make it so that it doesn’t work. So as a leader, you gotta be sensitive to that too, to make sure that you are always very much you can be truthful. Absolutely. But you have to be careful about who you tell things to or what you talk about to, to your, your staff members and, and, and the people that work for you. And, and make sure that it’s done in a very constructive and a, in a positive weight and, and where we’re moving forward and we’re doing, what’s what’s best for the team itself. And, and obviously at the end of the day, that’ll be the best for kids.

Sam Demma (23:17):
Rochelle sounds like a familiar name. Do you recall the, the name of the podcast?

Mike Thiessen (23:23):
Yep. It’s the leadership podcast.

Sam Demma (23:26):
Leadership podcast. Yeah. , that’s awesome.

Mike Thiessen (23:28):
Yeah. And he’s phenomenal. He’s got huge subscriber base and, and he does one every, I believe it’s once a month, he has a, a leadership podcast podcast and highly recommended it’s it’s very good.

Sam Demma (23:38):
All right. Awesome. Yeah. And if you could travel back in time, speak to, you know, 19, early, 20 year old, Mike, who’s just getting into teaching and education, but with the wisdom and advice you have now, mm-hmm, looking back. What would you tell yourself? Or what advice would you give yourself?

Mike Thiessen (23:59):
I would say the biggest one would be focus. That would be it. Yeah. Focus on your goals and make sure that when you spend your time doing what you’re doing, have purpose, purpose, and focus. I think we can do, there are so many opportunities and there are so many great things we could do. It’s important to actually sit down and say, okay, which one is the one that’s important? Yeah. Which is the one that’s gonna have, have the impact, which is, which is the opportunity that’s gonna, I’m gonna look back on and say, okay. But I’m glad I made that choice. I’m glad I did what I did. And so if that would be the advice I could, I would give that to the advice for the 40 year old Mike as well. , you know, like I don’t think that ever stops.

Mike Thiessen (24:43):
You know, just because we are gonna have our opportunities, we are gonna get up in the morning. We’re gonna look at their at our day and say, okay, what is it that we’re accomplishing or our week or a month? And I would say, let’s focus on, on what’s important. Let’s not let let distractions or, or things that could be good, get in our way or cause us to choose something that’s second best. Let’s let’s focus on what’s what’s best. And look at your vision. What is your vision? Is it accomplishing your vision?

Sam Demma (25:10):
That’s awesome. Focus is a huge component. I think of anyone striving towards any outcome. So, yeah, it’s a good constant reminder. Always. Mike, thank you so much for coming on the podcast, sharing some of your experiences, stories, resources, this was a great conversation. If someone listening would like to get in touch with you, what would be the best way for them to reach out, send you a message or ask a question?

Mike Thiessen (25:37):
Probably Twitter. I think that’s probably the…I don’t have a lot of social media. You know, so I think the one that’s that’s out there in public and people could probably access me the best would probably be Twitter and I’m @mikethiessen So that would probably be the best way to go. You can DM me on there or follow me on there.

Sam Demma (25:54):
Awesome. Mike sounds good. Keep up the great work and we’ll talk soon.

Mike Thiessen (25:59):
That’s awesome. Thank you, Sam. It’s been fun.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Mike Thiessen

The High Performing Educator Podcast was brought to life during the outbreak of COVID-19 to provide you with inspirational stories and practical advice from your colleagues in education.  By tuning in, you will hear the stories and ideas of the world’s brightest and most ambitious educators.  You can expect interviews with Principals, Teachers, Guidance Counsellors, National Student Association, Directors and anybody that works with youth. You can find and listen to all the episodes for free here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Connect with Natasha:  Email  |  LinkedinTwitter

Listen Now

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

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Natasha Daniel
Resources Mentioned

MCG Careers Website

The REBRAND Youth Development Program

Small Consistent Actions TEDx Talk

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:02):
Natasha welcome to the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here today. Please start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit about the journey that brought you to where you are today.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Sam Demma (32:54):
That’s awesome.


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


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


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


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


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

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Natasha Daniel

The High Performing Educator Podcast was brought to life during the outbreak of COVID-19 to provide you with inspirational stories and practical advice from your colleagues in education.  By tuning in, you will hear the stories and ideas of the world’s brightest and most ambitious educators.  You can expect interviews with Principals, Teachers, Guidance Counsellors, National Student Association, Directors and anybody that works with youth. You can find and listen to all the episodes for free here.

Larry Tomiyama – Consultant and Retired Administrator with 32 Years of Experience in Education

Larry Tomiyama - Consultant and Retired Administrator with 32 Years of Experience in Education
About Larry Tomiyama 

After spending over 30 years of his life as an administrator in the Calgary School system in Canada, Larry (@TomiyamaLarry) was gifted the opportunity to work with some of the most vulnerable and behavioural students in his school system.  Through that experience, Larry learned so much about trust, trauma-informed teaching, and how to build really deep relationships with kids.

He believes that his opportunity to work in this environment was a gift from God because it truly changed the way Larry understood education, leadership and life. He was so motivated to share his discoveries, he left the school district so he could speak with other educators and leaders about what he had learned.

Connect with Larry: Email | Website | Linkedin

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Robert Greenleaf’s book – Servant Leadership

Neuroteach: Brain Science and the Future of Education – Book

What is Trauma-Informed Teaching?

Calgary Board of Education

In Everything Give Thanks (website)

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):
Larry welcome to the high performing educator podcast. Please introduce yourself and share a little bit about the work you do in education.


Larry Tomiyama (00:11):
Thanks. It’s a pleasure and privilege to be here, Sal. It was great to meet you the other month and I’m happy to be here today. So I’m a,, I guess a lifelong educator, if you count of when I was in school it would be 55 years almost that I’ve been in school as either a student a teacher, a university professor. And I guess even the speaking that I do right now and the everything that I get to do right now is due to the path that God provided the opportunities that he provided for me. And it all kind of culminated in the last two years of my K to 12 teaching career with the Calgary Catholic school district. And in those last two years, I got to work with, be the principal of a school that educated the most behavioral, the most vulnerable, the most volatile students in the city of Calgary.


Larry Tomiyama (01:19):
But those students and the staff that I got to work with taught me changed and transformed the way I think about education, about life and about leadership. And I believe it’s been my calling for the last five or six years to go share this information with anybody who wants to listen because it’s it, to me, it was, it just put everything into perspective. It made sense to everything, to that part of things. So I don’t know if you want to hear anything a little bit about my, how I grew up and things like that, but really everything is kind of culminated. And the purpose of, I think why I’m on earth is occurred in, in that little space of time. I’m in, in the last five years,


Sam Demma (02:06):
What a beautiful realization to have and to still be able to share and have the time to share these things, which is phenomenal. I think you’re doing an amazing job. Please take us back to when you were growing up, tell us a little bit about your upbringing and also what got you into education in the first place, or should I say made you never leave?


Larry Tomiyama (02:30):
Yeah, yeah, yeah, absolutely. So, my, parents were both, Japanese. My mom was born in Japan. My dad was born in, Canada and, so I grew up in a small Alberta town of Taber, Alberta. 5,000 people there. It was a fantastic place to grow up. Small town, you went to school there. My dad owned a service station in a town, just, just east of the city. my mom worked in a canning factory, canning vegetables when she wasn’t, at home chasing us around, I have two brothers and a sister and, get to hang out with them in Calgary. So that’s, it’s great. both my parents have passed at this at right now, but, certainly the work ethic and the example that they provided will live on. And I hope, and I know that, they’re in heaven right now and I’m happy with most of the stuff that I do.


Larry Tomiyama (03:34):
But I’m sure wanna criticize me as well, too. So I’m, I’m okay with that. I’m okay with that. I went played a lot of baseball and basketball as I grew up and sports is a big part of my life and was able to pass that on to our kids, my own kids as I grew up. So went to the university of Calgary, started my teaching career in Calgary and never left and had a really, really fulfilling career as a teacher, as a principal worked at the, our central office for a little while and then kind of only moved into the post-secondary world. But that’s been part of it, but really the again, things really culminated in basically 2015 to 2017. And in those two years that I got to work with those students. My wife was gonna kill me, as I said, right after that, then I know I have to go share this information and I decided to leave the district. And that was not part of our retirement plan, but it had to be done. Luckily I’m still married. So,ushe was okay with it.


Sam Demma (04:57):
Hey, sometimes you have to ask for forgiveness and not permission, right.


Larry Tomiyama (05:02):
That was definitely one of those occasions sound I don’t re I don’t recommend it, but it worked out. Okay.


Sam Demma (05:09):
Bring us into the environment of the school that you had the opportunity to work in. I don’t think every educator understands the feeling, the experience. Tell us a little bit about, and also what you learned


Larry Tomiyama (05:23):
You bet. I think if it’s okay with you, Sam, I’ll tell you a little bit about it and then I’ll tell you a story. And it really it kind of, I think people get a better visual visualization of what’s there. Sure. So our lady alert school was created to educate those students because of their behavior, because of their brokenness, because of their issues that they were having. They couldn’t be successful in any other school. So they needed a place to go to do things maybe a little bit differently than other schools but to see if we could help them provide some type of therapy for them to get them to the point where they might be able to integrate themselves back into regular school. So most of the time these students been suspended or expelled from other schools and there’s really no else, nowhere else for them to go.


Larry Tomiyama (06:22):
So we got to educate them in our building. So we had 60 students. Half the building was for really cognitively delayed and students with severe, severe autism. And the other half was the students who, and I called them to screw you kids because they had no problem telling to, to screw off and many other things as well. But they were just students who had experienced no success in school. And as we found out lots of trauma that they experienced that caused them to not be able to function. And it was our opportunity that we got to help them function in a way that they can be a little bit more successful. So the story that kind of illustrates this really, really well is a story. I call this student little G I gave all my students nicknames and Ralph was really, really good then, and the kids really liked it.


Larry Tomiyama (07:31):
So they liked, they liked that name. So this guy was little G little G came to us in kindergarten. Story is that at the age of two little G had to be removed from his biological parents because his biological father was sexually abusing him. At age of four he was in the foster system and social services felt it was important for little G to be with a sibling to try and get a family connection. So little G was moved into a foster home with his 12 year old brother. He was four at the time that lasted about six months and he had to be removed from that house because his 12 year old brother was sexually abusing him. Enter us. We normally didn’t take students that young at five, we usually took them at grade three.


Larry Tomiyama (08:31):
We wanted them to go into a regular system and see if they could function. And then if there was a problem we would try and step in, but myself and our psychologist went to go see little G in his school that he was at. And we saw this cute, angry, sad, outta control, little boy. And I looked at her and she looked at me and we looked at each other and said, we gotta take him. So I entered little G into our school. I, he started in September. The hope was that we would hear at some point that little G was gonna be adopted. That was really the goal, social services working super, super hard to try and make that happen. And it was like November. And in November, we got the word that little G there was a family from out of town that was extremely interest in little G.


Larry Tomiyama (09:38):
It was like a party at our school. We started planning the party. His last day was gonna be December 22nd. I think it was the last year of school. And then he was gonna leave school with the family and go to their help. And in in conversations and therapy sessions little G had mentioned over and over and over again that he just wanted to call somebody, mom and dad again. And so we heard this news, we did everything. We invited the family in. We saw, we let little G be with his perspective parents. As many times as we could at school, things were looking really, really good. And I remember it so clearly it was December 21st, the last day before school was to let out. And I got a call from Steve, the social worker, and Steve said, Larry, I’ve got some bad news. I said, what’s that? The parents can’t take little G they’re not ready. They don’t want ’em. I don’t know what the reason was, but they can’t take ’em. So I’ll be there tomorrow morning, the last day of school tomorrow morning to let little G know that that’s what the situation was.


Larry Tomiyama (10:55):
Selfishly, selfishly, on my part, I it’s, Steve, this is. You’re gonna come to school at nine o’clock wreck this kid’s life again, and we’re gonna have to deal with them for the rest of the day. I’ve got no choice, Larry. We gotta do it. Fair enough. So December 22nd rolls around we’re in the conference room, I’m sitting across a little G little G’s teacher is sitting across from Steve. The social worker. We bring little G in our little G’s teacher is she’s crying already. And we’re just waiting. So the meeting starts and Steve communicates the little GE gee, I’m sorry that the, the adoption didn’t go through the, family’s not gonna take you and you’re not gonna be going home with them today. And I just put my head down and waited for the explosion and to everyone’s surprise, LGI jumps up onto the table that we are at jumps into my lap and says, that’s okay, Steve, Mr. T that’s me, Mr. T you’ll be my dad. Right.


Larry Tomiyama (12:23):
And I had nothing and I was praying to God, what the hell do I say? What do give some words, gimme some words. And what came outta my mouth was absolutely. I will always be your dad at school. G always, always, always. And he jumps outta my, laughing into this teacher’s lap who can’t even talk and says, and miss G you’ll be my mom too. Right. And I, and she couldn’t even breathe. So I took her head and I motioned it for a nodding action. So she would say, yes, I think that was a yes. G you’re doing okay.


Larry Tomiyama (13:03):
So the, the reason why I tell that story is because we got to work with these students who experienced trauma and everything else that no student should ever, ever have to experience, but we got the chance through the model that we used to get that kid to the point where he thought enough of us thought enough of me thought enough of his teacher, that he might be able to call him mom and dad. And we have that opportunity every day. And this is an extreme case for sure. But every day, as educators, as teachers that we have, when we get to step in front of our students, there’s lots of little G’s out there, lots. And in order for us to be able to tee each them, those kids need to feel safe and they need to feel that somebody cares about them.


Larry Tomiyama (14:04):
And I don’t care if you’re in grade, if you’re in kindergarten and grade 12, that, that model, that formula in order to make those kids safe and secure prior to teaching them and get them to trust you. It just spoke volumes to us as a staff. And we got to do this every day. Not that it was easy. In fact, it was brutal sometimes, but to be able to do that, it showed me why we got into the business at educating and teaching kids and how we can get them to learn to like themselves enough to be productive in the, in, in whatever that they do. So, like I said, I can go into the model a little bit more if you want, but certainly he’s a great example of teaching us what needs to be done with these, with some of these kids.


Sam Demma (15:08):
Wow. But before we jump into the model and talk about that a little bit, can you share in your perspective how you believe you’re able to build trust with students? Not only the challenging ones, but also the easy ones. You shared some experiences on our previous call that really highlighted how I believe, you know, sometimes building trust is a long process and can be very challenging, but once you have it, like you just explained with little G it becomes a beautiful thing. How do you think you build it?


Larry Tomiyama (15:46):
It doesn’t matter if the, I mean, if, if a student is traumatized or not, sometimes, I mean, and, and the model speaks to it really well at the bottom of the model before anything happens, it’s safety. So the student needs to feel safe and how we define safety. When we worked with these kids was that the student needs to be able to predict what’s gonna happen next. That’s what safety is because in their lives, in their homes, in their situations, you’re not safe. If you can’t predict, I don’t, they can’t predict how mom’s drunk boyfriend is gonna act. They can’t predict if they’re gonna have supper that day. They can’t predict if they get in trouble, what that’s gonna look like. So we are able at school will be able to create an environment where they can predict what’s gonna happen regardless of, of how they act, what they say or what they do.


Larry Tomiyama (16:41):
They’ll be able to predict how we’re gonna act towards them and that’s respect respectfully, lovingly whatever we need to do that doesn’t, that doesn’t mean that there isn’t consequences. Cause there consequ are critical, but students need to feel safe. The next step that we need after we got them to feel safe, we called it security and security is that they’re willing to do things, even though they might fail, they feel secure enough because of the adults in the room or their teacher or whomever that even though if they fail, it’s gonna be okay. And kids, especially kids who struggle in school, they don’t, they’d rather not try than fail. So we need to get ’em to that point where you know what it’s okay to. And I actually, I was listening to another podcast and people didn’t like that word failure. So they used the word falling instead of failure.


Larry Tomiyama (17:46):
And I kind of like that, cuz falling gives the connotation that that you followed, but you want to get up as well. Mm like that. I like that. Yeah. So, so first safety, security, and then trust and trust was vague. They knew how we were going to react in every situation, even though it was a consequence and, and there were, there were students that I suspended. But they knew that what was gonna happen, they were able to predict that part of things as well. The reaction of, of somebody when things didn’t go right. And once that was there ex that’s when the magic happened, but that sometimes that took years, but even, even in a regular classroom, their kids that, that are trustworthy already, just because they’ve had pretty solid background, loving parents, et cetera. But they still used to it’s they still gotta trust you so you can prove it to them.


Larry Tomiyama (18:54):
And it comes pretty easy for a lot of kids and teachers. But it’s that bottom third to bottom quarter where it’s not easy. So we have to work a little bit harder. We have to make an effort. They might be the kid in the class. And you might think that kid is the greatest kid in the world. He doesn’t say a word. He doesn’t bother me. He’s fantastic. But he might not feel safe. So we need to go and make an effort to create those relationships with those kids. It’s easy for the kids that you, like. I tell the kids that, you know, the teachers in training that you think you’re gonna, like all the kids, you’re not gonna like all the kids. In fact, you might not, you might dislike a lot of them or some of them, the key is they can’t know that every kid in that class needs to think that you’d love them. Your inside voice might not say so, but it’s okay. They just need to know that you care about them and yell. And then, like I said, that’s where the joy of teaching comes from when you get that pack from the students. So hopefully it might be kind of confusing, but hopefully I explained it.


Sam Demma (20:13):
Okay. You did a phenomenal job explaining that. And it leads me to my next curious question, where have your principal’s ideas come from? It sounds like a lot of them have come from your past experience. The two years spent in this school and the 55. So or so years you spent in education altogether, but what resources, what courses, books programs, anything have you used or consumed that have been very helpful in helping you make a bigger impact on kids in the classroom and also as an administrator?


Larry Tomiyama (20:53):
Yeah. You know what it’s to say that there was I mean, a, a big on Robert Greenleaf’s book, servant leadership was certainly influential in my life, but you know, most of my stuff and, and most of the things that I speak about is from firsthand experience stuff that I screwed up royally as a principal, as a thing, and then to be able to think back record it, document it and understand, okay, that’s, that’s why I messed up on that. I should have it this way, or I should have asked for more input this way or they didn’t trust me yet. So I’ve taken what those kids taught me and the model that we used there and brought it back to the way that I was a leader in the way, the, the successes that I had and the failures that I had. And it’s all the same thing when I messed up.


Larry Tomiyama (21:51):
And, and I thought my staff should act this way and they didn’t it’s because I didn’t take the proper steps to get ’em safe. They didn’t feel safe. They didn’t certainly didn’t trust me. After a year, two and a half, they trusted me and then I could, then we do anything and everything. And we created culture. That was amazing, but it took me that while. So like I said, it was a culmination of those two years, but all the years that I was a principal and as a, a leader with the district and things like that, it all made sense to me when I got to live it with these students. And it made sense why I fell or failed in that situation. And it made sense why I am success. I was successful in many of those ventures. If there’s another book that I’m, that’s really influential in my life, right, right now it’s called neuro teach and is written by educators.


Larry Tomiyama (22:55):
And it’s all about brain-based research. And, and again, all the stuff that I thought is now reinforced by recent brain research. That that’s why we are able to help these students said we did. That’s why many of these kids were so stuck that when they were traumatized and they were young, their brain was damaged, physically, physically damaged. But research also shows that we have an opportunity to create neurons in the brain. That’ll help switch or flip their script, that all these people hurt me in my life. So I’m not lovable. I’m not likable and switch that to your more than lable. You’re more than likable, more than worth it. And we’re gonna show you why you’re worth it. So it, it, I don’t know. I I’m just, most of my life is cuz I’m a little bit messed up and that’s how we kind of evolve for me that those two years risk reinforced all the things that I had done before. And it’s really created and given me a a platform and a foundation to be able to share some of this information.


Sam Demma (24:18):
And you do a phenomenal job sharing it and telling it through the old art of storytelling in a way that’s engaging and fun for the audience. And last time we connected, you shared the story of I don’t know if that made a good representation of the sound or what happened, but, man you share that story before we wrap up today’s uhonversation and what you learned from it personally, if remember,


Larry Tomiyama (24:46):
Yeah. W was that with the I’m trying to think of which story that I had told was that with the little guy that I was in the timeout room with, correct. Ah, okay. Okay. So let’s, let’s call this student OB. And so OB was a grade three student who came from a war torn country. And his life was basically before he came to Canada, was running and fighting in refugee camps. So he comes to Canada and not functional in a regular school, kicked out of a number of schools or Exel from a number of schools just because he wasn’t able to, to function in a regular classroom. So we arrived at our season grade three and as most kids are, they’re not really that happy when they start in our building, because it’s just another place that they’re gonna be unsuccessful at and they’re gonna get kicked out of.


Larry Tomiyama (25:54):
And that’s where their head is at. So I got a call from the classroom saying that’s coming down and it doesn’t look like he’s very, he’s very happier. He is not ready to start class. So I said, fine. So I leave my office and O’s coming down the stairs and I know he’s not doing really well because he’s sucking his thumb. And that was his coping mechanism for when he was stressed or anxiety rid. And he comes down the stairs and I said, OB, how you doing? Just take a seat on the chair and we can get started with the day when you’re ready. You let me know. And he had his thumb in his mouth and everything. He just says, sure, up, shut up, Mr. T screw you. So it went on and, and on to that nothing that was pretty tame to some of the names I was called.


Larry Tomiyama (26:48):
So I was okay with that. And he came down, so it came down the stairs and was really, really angry, started throwing chairs, throwing things around and then went after a student. So we had intervene and when a student gets violent, we have a room that we call our calming room. And it’s basically a six by six cinder brick wall room with a door and a window in it. And so we brought him in there and he lost his mind in there. Kickings spitting, anything that you can think of. And usually they calm down after a while. So when they calm down, we enter the CLA enter the room and, and see if we can work with them. And so I walked into the room and he was lying in the corner of the room and started to get violent again. So I had to leave. And so I just waited and waited them out and got quiet. And he was mumbling and mumbling. I said, OB, are you okay? What are it’s gonna happening? Oh, I felt, tell me MRT. And I said, what’s that OB what’s happening, whatever you need. And he says, MRT, I’m gonna take their outta your and rub it right in your eyes.


Larry Tomiyama (28:23):
I couldn’t even talk. I was laughing so hard. I, I thought that’s so brilliant. How can and someone be so elevated? So, so mad and think of something like that. It took me like five minutes before I could collect myself. I looked in there and he’s crying again in the corner. So I walk, I walk in, open the door and I just sit on the floor and don’t do anything. And,uhe looks at me and I look at him, he puts his head down and nobody says a word for another five minutes. Uand then I see him army crawl over to me and put his head on my leg. Cause I’m sitting down in the ground. So he sat there for a few minutes and he’s crying and crying. And then he kind of collects himself. And he says to me, Mr. T, you can hurt me now.


Larry Tomiyama (29:24):
And I said, OB, what are you talking about? No, one’s gonna hurt you. That’s not why you’re here. We’re not doing that. Cuz he said, when I’m bad like that, and I say bad things, my brother or my dad beats the. And so I, I said, OB, listen, it doesn’t matter what you say, what you do, no one is gonna hurt you here. That’s not gonna happen. So we sat there for a few more minutes and in my work sense of humor, I said to him, I said, you know what, OB, you know, that stuff said to me, you know, with this and putting in my eyes and stuff like that, I go, I don’t know how possible that is. Do you think you could really do that? And there was a pause and he says,uand then he just starts full out,ubelly laughing.


Larry Tomiyama (30:29):
Yeah. Things like that. I said, OB, go clean up and get your to class. Mm. And so it went off to class. The, the, the big thing with that again, is the safety piece. Mm. That a, in his mind he was predicting what was gonna happen. Yeah. So when he acts like this, then he gets hurt and we had to flip that and we had to convince him that doesn’t matter what happens and how much you lose your mind that you’re gonna be safe here. So that was a huge, huge step in creating that safety for him. And again, this is an extreme story, but we can do little acts in our classrooms that show students that it doesn’t matter. What’s gonna happen. Whether whether we reprimand you or not how we say it or whatever. But you’re gonna be safe in my class. And that’s really, really the that’s the place to start


Sam Demma (31:27):
Love that. That’s such a powerful story along with the other one you shared and I’m sure there’s hundreds upon


Larry Tomiyama (31:33):
Hundreds. Yeah, no, it’s some of ’em are, are so ridiculous. They’re funny. Yeah. ,


Sam Demma (31:42):
That’s so true. Well, Larry, this has been such a pleasure with you about the, you know, the philosophies, the principles you have, the way you view education, the framework from which the school functioned. It’s really interesting. And if another educator is listening and is inspired by this conversation or has enjoyed it and wants to ask you a question or invite you to their event, what would be the best way for, for them to get in touch with you?


Larry Tomiyama (32:08):
Probably. I mean, if you need more information, I mean, my website’s not great, but it’s okay, but certainly it’s there. And my web website is https://ineverythinggivethanks.ca/about/. My email address is larry20ltomiyama@telus.net.

And shoot me an email take a look at the website that my contact information is on there. I’d be happy to talk to anybody. I talk to a lot of educators just about working with, at risk students about what, what I believe in leadership and what I, what I know works. And so I would be willing to share with anybody because it’s that’s what God God has asked me to do. And I don’t want to, I don’t wanna make him mad.


Sam Demma (33:06):
Larry, thank you so much. I really, really appreciate the time, effort and energy you put into your work and appreciate you sharing some of it here. Keep up the amazing job. And I look forward to our next conversation, hopefully on a golf course.


Larry Tomiyama (33:20):
My pleasure. Thanks.

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