Executive Director

Sandra Nagy — Managing Director at Future Design School

Sandra Nagy — Managing Director at Future Design School
About Sandra Nagy

Sandra Nagy (@edtechfest) has dedicated her career to driving innovation and building effective organizational strategy. Sandra began her career at Accenture as a Change Management consultant where she supported public and private sector clients through large-scale strategy and business transformation.

Sandra spent over a decade as a senior digital strategist at Pearson Education where she led multiple teams that worked across K-20 to transform curriculum and professional development resources with the use of technology. She was a member of a global team of educational technology champions focused on collaborating to solve problems in education. She engaged with stakeholders globally and was responsible for nurturing strategic partnerships with key customers and other like-minded organizations.

Prior to Pearson, Sandra worked at The Learning Partnership, a non-profit organization responsible for building stakeholder partnerships to support, promote and advance publicly funded education in Canada. She led a government and business-funded research project to look at blended, online and face-to-face, professional development for teachers in STEM courses. Sandra engaged in speaking opportunities across Canada sharing best practices in sustained, action-research driven professional development that leads to authentic community building.

With over 20 years of experience, Sandra has designed, developed and delivered hundreds of learning opportunities to thousands of employees and educators. She is a firm believer in the capacity of educators to drive future-skill development, and in sustained professional development that leverages a blend of learning tools. Sandra leads the Education Practice at Future Design School building strong academic partnerships with school leaders that help to drive their strategic priorities through consulting support, professional development and efficacious curriculum resources.

Sandra’s educational background includes a Master’s in Education from Harvard University focused on Technology in Education. While completing this degree she worked at TechBoston, an organization infusing technology programs into inner-city Boston schools; conducted published research into distance learning at the Concord Consortium; and volunteered through the MIT Media Lab teaching robotics to home-schooled students. Sandra also holds a Bachelor of Commerce focused on Organizational Behavior and Entrepreneurship from McGill University. During her time in Montreal she actively volunteered at the Montreal Neurological Hospital focusing on brain research, and taught within the Faculty of Management.

Connect with Sandra: Email | Instagram | LinkedIn | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned


Pearson Education

The Learning Partnership

Future Design School

Master’s Programs in Education – Harvard University

Bachelor of Commerce – McGill University

Crofton House Private School

The Future of Jobs Report – World Economic Forum

Future of Education Report – Future Design School

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma
Welcome back to another episode of the High-Performing Educator. This is your host, author, and keynote speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest is an absolute trailblazer in the education industry. Sandra Nagy has dedicated her career to driving innovation and building effective organizational strategy. She began her career as a change management consultant at Accenture before moving into a role as a senior digital strategist at Pearson Education, where she worked for over a decade in the K through 20 education space to transform curriculum. She has traveled the globe doing work. She has worked with non-profits. She’s even done her master’s in education at Harvard University. Today, Sandra is changing the landscape of the future of education for our young people. And she shares so much impactful information and insights during our conversation here today. My hope is that you listen to this and feel compelled to reach out and ask some questions. She’s doing amazing work that I think could be very helpful for you and your schools and your students. Anyway, enough from me. I’ll see you on the other side of this interview. Enjoy.

Sam Demma
Sandra, Sandra Nagy, thank you so much for coming on the podcast this morning. For everyone tuning in, they might not know that you’ve done work in 65 different countries exploring the future of work. They may not know the work you’re doing with the Design School. Please start by just introducing yourself to the listener. 

Sandra Nagy
I will do, will do. So I’m Sandra Nagy. I’m the Managing Director at Future Design School, and we’re an organization that is based in Toronto, so it’s nice to be with Canadians, but we work around the world, as you said, Sam. And our real reason for being is that we’re focused on the future of work is changing rapidly. And we know, especially in the last year, when you look at everything that’s happened with AI, that the world of work is changing faster than we can keep up with. And in K-12 education and higher education, there’s an impetus on us to really prepare students. And so our goal is to support deep competency and skill development alongside all of the other great stuff that happens in schools, and really giving kids exposure early and often to potential career opportunities and the skills and competencies that they need to succeed. So we work strategically with schools, we work through professional development with teachers,

Sandra Nagy
And so our goal is to support deep competency and skill development alongside all of the other great stuff that happens in schools, and really giving kids exposure early and often to potential career opportunities and the skills and competencies that they need to succeed. So we work strategically with schools, we work through professional development with teachers,

Sam Demma
Tell me more about what the future of work looks like. Yeah, and you mentioned it’s rapidly changing. From your research, where do you see it going?

Sandra Nagy
Yes, it’s a great question, and there’s a lot of research out there. Most recently, the Future of Jobs report from the World Economic Forum came out and talked about the fact that with the real proliferation of technology changes happening out there, that we’re set to lose about 89 million jobs or roles that exist in the world. And for the first time, we always see this, this statistic that says we’re going to lose a certain number of jobs, and then a certain number of jobs are going to kind of replace them. For the first time, we’re seeing a massive delta, where the number of jobs that are going to be replacing those jobs that are being displaced is significantly lower. So we’re talking, you know, 80 million plus that are going down and only about 60 million kind of net new jobs coming in. And so when you look at that delta, we’re poised for, you know, potentially great recession, people looking for work and jobs. And without the crystal ball that we’d all like to have to say what are the jobs of the future, what we focus squarely on are the skills that students need. So and really thinking about transferable skills, maybe things that people may have called quote unquote soft skills in the past are becoming the essential skills when you look at the workplace of the future. So what I mean by that is things like critical thinking, communication, collaboration, problem solving, and an entrepreneurial mindset. So whether you become an entrepreneur who, you know, starts the next Google or Tesla, or you go into an organization or a company with an entrepreneurial mindset, that’s what we’re trying to cultivate with kids. Where they look at the world’s challenges as opportunities that they can roll up their sleeves and have the creative confidence to dig into developing solutions. So problem solving is super key as we think about skill development.

Sam Demma
What challenge did you see that inspired you to embark on this path to try and solve this problem of creating more innovative young people in schools? Why this work? So why this work?

Sandra Nagy
It’s a great question. So myself and our CEO, Sarah Prevatt, and Sarah, it’s really Sarah’s vision that kind of enticed me to come to Future Design School was she had started and scaled and successfully sold a number of technology-based businesses. And when I met her, she was funding, through Venture Capital, folks that were bringing new ideas into the world. And she said to me, there’s lots of smart people out there that are solving problems that don’t necessarily matter or won’t necessarily have an impact on the future. And her working theory was we need to start younger. We need to start getting kids engaged in solving real, real problems when they’re in K-12 and get them to care about things like education and poverty and health care and security and believe that they have the capacity to actually develop the skills to solve those problems, that they don’t have to wait until they become an adult to have a real impact on the world, that it’s not actually the adults that are always changing the world, but that they can make real change, even from whatever their purview is. And Sam, when I was listening to some of the stuff that you were talking about, this notion of small, consistent actions that you can take in the world, really resonated with me because it’s that and equipping students with the problem-solving skills, teaching them how to deconstruct a problem, helping them to understand who it is that they’re actually solving the problems with, and understanding them walking a mile in their shoes, developing empathy for them, that you were talking about, this notion of small, consistent actions that you can take in the world, really resonated with me because it’s that and equipping students with the problem-solving skills, teaching them how to deconstruct a problem, helping them to understand who it is that they’re actually solving the problems with, and understanding them walking a mile in their shoes, developing empathy for them, and then, you know, getting ideas out there, getting real feedback, and iterating based on what you’re hearing. And we’ve seen kids develop incredible, incredible things. And we wanted to bring that into the classroom for teachers to say, okay, so how do you do this inside of the curriculum regardless of where you are in the world? How can you actually help students to uncover curriculum instead of standing up at the front of the room and feeding them content, but letting them uncover it? So hopefully that helps give you a bit of a sense of it.

Sam Demma
Tell me about some of the problems you’ve seen students tackle through your programming, some of the initiatives they’ve started. 

Sandra Nagy
Yeah, absolutely. So I’m thinking about one student in particular that we’ve been following for the, for the long haul. Um, so Mick is a student, and I can actually share this video with you cause you, you know, people might want to see what she’s done. But Mick is a student who came through one of our programs, which is called the Young Innovators Program. And she saw a real need for the unhoused community in Toronto. And she saw that they were not getting the basic hygiene needs that they needed to really function. In as part of our program, she developed something called Penny Packs, which are packs that she’s taken out to the unhoused community. She’s galvanized her community to come together and donate, but really listened to what people who are unhoused needed, as opposed to making assumptions about, you know, you need a toothbrush or toothpaste. Some people do. What were the things that were missing? And every year she reimagines the packs based on what she’s hearing from real people out there. And she’s inspiring others to take action when they see something in their local community. So that’s that’s sort of one aspect of the student programming that we do. And those are kids that come into very specific programs. But what we’re trying to do is infuse that kind of thinking into all of school so that when you walk into a classroom, you’re able to engage in a problem, you’re able to engage in a real situation, and that you have choice and voice as a student on what it is that you want to focus on. No longer do we all need to be working on the same novel in a classroom. We’re all digging into the same novel study. What if we gave kids choice? What if we gave them voice?

Sandra Nagy
From the foundation setting, we’re able to get them to make decisions that make sense for them and to dig into things that they’re passionate about. In a world where content is just something you can grab from anywhere, how do you look at content and think about it critically? How do you know who the author is, where it’s all coming from, and how do you become sort of the master of the things that you want to dig into deeply?

Sam Demma
You mentioned earlier that these soft skills are now becoming the essential skills. What are some of those soft skills that the programming aims to develop in a young person?

Sandra Nagy
Absolutely, I’m so glad you asked that question. And I will also share, I think I sent to you some of our future of education reports, but we’ve developed what we call the portrait of a future ready graduate. And so what we’ve done is really from a research-based perspective, both academic and action research, which is what I like to call what happens in the classroom, right? You try something out with a student, with your group of students, and you kind of iterate based on who’s sitting in front of you. But we’ve developed this portrait that looks holistically at the skills students need to build. And it starts squarely in the center, looking at wellness. So, what we believe is that students need to walk into school feeling optimistic about their learning, feeling psychologically safe that they can be who they are and have a deep sense of their identity in the buildings that they’re walking into. Table stakes, right? If a child walking into a building doesn’t feel well enough to learn, nothing else matters. So, our portrait looks at that at the center.

Sandra Nagy
From there, we move into social emotional learning. So what are those skills that I need to build from that perspective? Then we look at learning strategies. So how do we cultivate metacognition and help students think about their thinking and being conscious pursuit of getting better? So we sort of build that foundation. And then we look at character traits. So we talk about things like curiosity, ambition, resourcefulness, empathy, stewardship. How do you kind of take control and really cultivate those character traits? And then we look at what we call future ready skills and competencies. And so in that bucket, we talk about critical thinking, collaboration, communication, and creativity, which are not new. You and I both went to school learning those skills, but they’re 21st century skills is what they’ve been called and we’re so many years into the 21st century, we need to be cultivating them with students. And then to that, we add global and future vision. We add entrepreneurial thinking. We think about equity and inclusion. And we think about design thinking or human-centered design or problem-solving skills that we can cultivate. The really key piece of all of this, though, is that when we talk about those skills.

Sandra Nagy
So lots and lots of schools that are embracing this. And the best part is what parents are reporting back is that their kids are asking more critical questions around the table. They have greater confidence as they’re talking about their learning and they can see the changes in their students and that’s really what we’re looking to achieve. We’re trying to start a skill-based revolution around the world. We’re trying to start a skill-based revolution around the world.

Sam Demma
I know you’ve housed a lot of your research in a beautiful report. Where can people access that resource if they’re interested in learning more?

Sandra Nagy
So I will definitely send you the links, but on our website you can sign up to gain access to our reports on an ongoing basis. We produce them yearly. Our next report is coming out at the end of January, but I’m happy to provide you with links to this year’s report, and then also to our special edition report, which breaks down that portrait that I just talked about as well. And always happy to chat. Also, if there are educators listening to this podcast, often we start by having a conversation about what your aspirations are for your school and what you’re seeing, and then we can support schools really deeply.

Sam Demma
Awesome. What opportunities are you seeing in 2024 that you’re very excited about in education?

Sandra Nagy
That’s a great question, Sam. I think that, you know, we’ve been through a really interesting time in education. The pandemic was a moment where people had to innovate by necessity. And I often talk about how the pandemic, for all of the negativity that came with it, was sort of this moldable clay moment, where we were playing with education. There were things that came out of it that were super positive for kids. So for example, elongated periods, you know how when you went to school, and there were 45 minute periods, and you’re jumping from class to class to class? Well, the pandemic by necessity made schools elongate certain periods, and some schools are not going back. And I think that, you know, this notion of innovation and education is something that people are continuing to talk about. Lots of people have gone back, they let the clay set and they didn’t wanna move beyond that. People were going back to the old, old, but as I look forward to 2024 and the clients that I have the privilege of working with, a lot of them are looking at this continuum of skill development and also talking to industry. So when I look at higher education as an example, we’re out there and talking to the regional employers in the jurisdictions that we’re working with and saying, what are the unfilled positions that you’re projecting? And what can education do to help prepare students to take on those roles? And the things that I’m hearing the most are students need the ability to narrate the experiences that they’ve had in school and the skills that they’ve developed. They need a better way to showcase the amazing things that they’re learning. So lots of schools are investing in professional development for teachers to help them think about how do I, we call it hack my curriculum to embed these skills. The other piece of that is assessment. So you can’t change education practices in the classroom without changing your assessment practices. And so, you know, preparing kids for the test or the exam is not the only way to assess what they know. And that’s what I’m most excited about is we have lots of people, especially with the proliferation of AI, saying, okay, so the essay that we used to write, you know, how can I tell if they’re quote unquote cheating? Cheating hasn’t changed all that much from before or after. My question back is, how can you change the assessment? What else could you do? What’s the project you could give to a child? What’s the podcast that they could create for you? What are the different ways to show what I know that are more real real than just writing a test? Not saying we need to throw away quizzes and tests completely. I think there’s a balance there.

Sandra Nagy
But I think we need to think of assessment, we call it journey-based assessment, as a journey of learning, as opposed to just getting to the end product or the last test. And I’m excited about what people are doing with assessment. And I think there’s so much room for growth.

Sam Demma
I’m wondering if the future design school has envisioned what they believe a perfect school looks like and how it functions. This may be something you have insight to answer, it may not be, but if you could wave a magic wand and change the period length, change the structure of a school, change the classroom layout, change the questions, change the curriculum, and build what your company believes is the most ideal learning scenario for kids, what would that look like?

Sandra Nagy
I’ve thought about this a lot, a lot. And I think that the ideal school in my mind is completely project-based or personalized inquiry-based. And, you know, when you think about kindergarten, I’m going to start there, and the notion of kindergarten by design being emergent curriculum or exploratory, where you put stuff in front of students and you let them explore and tell their stories and make sense of the world through exploration. And then you look at the change that happens when you move from kindergarten to grade one, it’s like hitting a wall. I went from this beautiful environment where I could explore and problem solve, and now I’m sitting in rows, not in all places, and there’s amazing things happening, but I would like to keep curiosity high. I’d like to keep problem solving high. And then you look at the change that happens when you move from kindergarten to grade one, it’s like hitting a wall. I went from this beautiful environment where I could explore and problem solve, and now I’m sitting in rows, not in all places, and there’s amazing things happening, but I would like to keep curiosity high. I’d like to keep problem solving high.

Sandra Nagy
And to do that, it doesn’t mean that you’re throwing away the baby with the bathwater. Kids still need to learn how to read. Desperately need to learn how to do math, and we need to make sure that their conceptual understanding of math is as good as their ability to do their times tables. And how can we leverage all of those skills in a problem solving world? So how can we give kids real things to grapple with at a developmentally appropriate level?

Sandra Nagy
And that doesn’t mean that we need to stay in this factory-based model where all kids in grade one are doing all the same thing at all the same time, because kids have different life experiences as they go through school, and depending on what you’re digging into, they have a different trajectory of growth. They’ve been exposed to different things, and allowing them to move at the pace, at the personalized pace that makes the most sense for them, where they have choice, voice, they’re problem-solving, they’re aware of their skill development, to me, that’s ideal. So what does that look like? You asked about the structures. I think the structures are different.

Sandra Nagy
I don’t think we’re talking about a bell based school schedule where every period is exactly the same length. We need to leave time for kids to be in flow, right? If I’m working on a project in my, my mind, it should be interdisciplinary. This notion of discrete, especially as you get to high school, discrete English and social studies or geography, history, like every subject has its place and the teachers don’t cross over and don’t do it in an interdisciplinary way. In my mind, that’s such a miss and such a loss.

Sandra Nagy
And my ideal school would be project-based, interdisciplinary, journey-based assessment where skills are being built on an ongoing basis, so where kids graduate with a portfolio that they can narrate. Not just a portfolio that you put stuff into, but rather, let me pull stuff out of my portfolio. What am I most proud of? And how do I know what to pull out at the right moment to showcase my development and my learning? You know, we have talked in the past about building our own schools, but instead we’re creating this network of schools that’s doing that now. And it’s super exciting to watch because it’s having a huge impact on kids.

Sam Demma
I was working with a really great private school in Vancouver called Croffin House, and their classroom structure is so cool. Some of their classrooms have oval tables, and rather than kids sitting side to side, everyone can see each other’s face sitting at the table and they debate topics. And this could be an entire class period. And I just thought it was so brilliant.

Sam Demma
And it’s not a new idea, but it’s not an idea that’s being implemented in every school. And I just think how cool would it be if more schools grabbed onto these ideas and built these structures so students can see themselves more in the work that they’re doing. And they can build real life skills that they can use in the future. So the work that you’re doing is amazing. This has been an insightful conversation. I’m sure that we’ll chat more as things unfold, as the work you do continues. Where can people reach out, ask you a question, get more information, and connect with you?

Sandra Nagy
Absolutely, they can reach out to me directly. So I’m just sandra@futuredesignschool.com. And I’m often the front line on folks that are thinking about transformation in education. So I would say reach out, you know, happy to jump on a call, hear the vision, share the vision, share the stories of what’s happening. Because what I’m talking about is very concrete in the approach that we take with schools. We have frameworks, we have research, we have protocols, and I’m happy to dig in wherever and share what’s going on. It’s a true passion. And as I said, I feel privileged to get to do this work with partners every single day and with a team that is amazing. And they’re real dedicated educators, entrepreneurs, engineers, designers that are all about how do we make the world a better place with education being at the center of that.

Sam Demma
I’m so excited to see the innovation that continues as a result of your work. Thank you for doing what you do. Thank you to your entire team. I would love to be a part of a future school if you decide to include in the model building your own in the future because I think it’s definitely a need that we all have, especially here in Canada. And I just, I’m so grateful that you’re doing this work. Thank you for taking the time to come on the podcast. I encourage you, the listener, to reach out to Sandra to have a conversation and I wish you all the best in 2024, Sandra. Keep up the awesome stuff.

Sandra Nagy
Thank you, and Sam, thank you for all the work you’re doing as well.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Sandra Nagy

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.

Christina Holston — Executive Director of West Virginia HOSA-Future Health Professionals and a Career Technical Education Teacher at Ben Franklin Career Center

Christina Holston — Executive Director of West Virginia HOSA-Future Health Professionals and a Career Technical Education Teacher at Ben Franklin Career Center
About Christina Houston

Christina Holston is the Executive Director of West Virginia HOSA-Future Health Professionals and a Career Technical Education Teacher at Ben Franklin Career Center where she teaches Secondary Honors Medical Assisting. She is a recipient of the 2017 West Virginia HOSA Secondary Advisor of the Year.

Prior to her career in education, she worked as a Patient Care Coordinator/Medical Assistant for an OBGYN medical practice for seven years. She started at Ben Franklin Career Center eight years ago and became the WV HOSA Executive Director in 2017. Christina also serves as the National Technical Honor Society Advisor for Ben Franklin Career Center as well as the CTSO Coordinator. She was a graduate from the program she teaches as well as a HOSA alumni.

Christina enjoys watching students blossom into young professionals. She encourages them to get out of their comfort zone and strive to be the best they can be. She believes CTE is for all students and would love for all students to have the opportunity to be involved in CTSOs. Christina believes advocating more for CTE and CTSO would help spread the word and have more opportunities for the youth.

Connect with Christina: Email | LinkedIn | Facebook

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

West Virginia HOSA-Future Health Professionals

Ben Franklin Career Center

National Technical Honor Society

National Coordinating Council for Career and Technical Student Organizations

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
Welcome back to another episode on The High-Performing Educator. This is your host, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest is an exceptional human being and a new friend of mine, Christina Holston. Christina Holston is the Executive Director of West Virginia HOSA, Future Health Professionals, and a Career Technical Education Teacher at Ben Franklin Career Center, where she teaches secondary honors medical assisting. She is a recipient of the 2017 West Virginia HOSA Secondary Advisor of the Year. Prior to her career in education, she worked as a patient care coordinator and medical assistant for an OBGYN medical practice for seven years. She started at Ben Franklin Career Center eight years ago and became the West Virginia HOSA Executive Director in 2017. Christina Christina also serves as the National Technical Honor Society advisor for Ben Franklin Career Center, as well as the CTSO, Career Technical Student Organization Coordinator. She was a graduate from the program she teaches at, as well as a HOSA alumni. Christina enjoys watching students blossom into young professionals, encourages them to get out of their comfort zone, and strive to be the best they can be. Christina believes advocating more for CTE and CTSOs would help spread the word and have more opportunities for the youth. I hope you enjoy this conversation with Christina, and I will see you on the other side. Christina Holston, welcome to the show.

Christina Holston
Thank you for having me.

Sam Demma
Thank you so much for being here. For everyone listening, can you please just introduce yourself?

Christina Holston
My name is Christina Holston. I am a health science educator here in Charleston, West Virginia. I teach honors medical assisting, and I am also the executive director of West Virginia HOSA, Future Health Professionals.

Sam Demma
For a lot of people that are tuning in from Canada, they might not even be familiar with HOSA and all the brilliance that it is. Can you just give a breakdown on what HOSA is and why you’re so passionate about the work that you do with them?

Christina Holston
So, HOSA is a career tech student organization and it’s 100% healthcare. So there’s over 75 different competitions that students that are passionate about healthcare are going to pursue a career in healthcare can utilize and improve their worth ethic from team building to leadership skills to public speaking as well as those health science events that can help improve their skills. So overall HOSA is just an amazing organization to make the young leaders a better health healthcare professional in the future. 

Sam Demma
I’m gonna make make the assumption that you’re very passionate about health care yourself about healthcare yourself and there was probably a point in your own journey where you were deciding do I get involved in healthcare full-time or do I teach kids in school and it seems like you’ve married both of those passions but tell me a little bit about your own career journey and what brought you to education?

Christina Holston
So when I was in high school I took the program I currently teach. No way. So my senior year in high school I took a medical assisting program. I absolutely loved it. I completed my clinical hours, which was 100 hours in a medical office with a OBGYN in the area. And after I completed my hours, I was hired right on the spot. I was his medical assistant and then I moved up to his office manager. And then my teacher that I had in the program that I’m currently teaching, retired. And she contacted me and she said, Christina, I think that you would be great for this position. And I was involved with Ben Franklin, the school

Christina Holston
that I teach at, for quite some time. I served on their advisory committee. So I was still keeping up with the school because it’s helped made me the professional I am today. So I decided to apply for the position. And I told the physician that I was working for, hey, this is something I want to do. So got the position. And then being involved in HOSA again was very important to me because I’m a HOSA alumni.

Christina Holston
So when I was in this program, I also competed in HOSA and I placed in job seeking skills both years. I represented the school nationally in Nashville, Tennessee. Career tech education has always been a big part of me. And the fact that now I can deliver that to the youth makes it even better.

Sam Demma
I know that one aspect of the amazing experiences that young people have attending CTSO events and joining them is the mentorship that comes along with it with your advisor. A lot of the times people’s advisor is not only their teacher, but it’s like a second parent or a confidant or someone you can ask advice from. Did you stay in touch with your advisor when you were going through the program in high school? Do you still talk to them now? Are they still around?

Christina Holston
I still do, and she is doing absolutely amazing. She serves now on my advisory board. So being a CareerTech educator, you’re required to have advisory members to help keep your program to the standards that it needs to be. So I keep her on board because she’s a registered RN. Even though she’s retired, she’s still very well-knowledged

Christina Holston
whenever it comes to this program. And I’ve tried to keep this program as much as what she kept it, but just continue to add to it a little bit more. And she always makes me strive to be even better. And she’ll say, well, Christina, I wanted to do that, but you know me, I didn’t have the energy. Meanwhile, this woman can outrun me.

Christina Holston
Like she’s so fit. You wouldn’t even think that she, I still don’t know her age and I’ve been trying to figure it out for 15 years, but she’s living it up on the retirement life with her grandbabies. I actually just talked to her Tuesday this week. We had a luncheon for Christmas at work and we invited the retirees and she wasn’t able to make it. But she does come to my advisory committees and she still helps me out whenever I need it. So, she’s like a second mom to me.

Sam Demma
Can you think of a moment when you were working with her or she was your mentor that just had a big impact on you, like a specific situation where something was going on and you talked to her and it just opened up new perspectives and changed the way you were thinking. And then also, if you can’t think of a specific scenario like that, tell me about one more recently with some of the students that you help and you mentor as part of the HOSA program?

Christina Holston
Well, with the teacher advisor that I had, she always believed in me, like to the point where I thought she was crazy sometimes because that just wasn’t me. Believe it or not, when I was in high school, I was very shy. I hated public speaking. I disliked it. I didn’t want to do projects in front of the class.

Christina Holston
I was just so shy and so backwards that I’m like, why is she wanting me to do all this stuff in this organization? So she wanted me to run for state officer and state officer is an executive committee of high school and post-secondary students that run the organization because HOSA as well as other career tech student organizations are student led. So she really wanted me to run for state officer. And I said, no, I said, there’s no way I could do this. I can’t give a speech in front of 700 people. There’s no way. However, I did compete. And now I take it back to with me being an advisor and with me being an educator

Christina Holston
for this program. And I always tell my students, get out of your comfort zone. If I could go back, I would have done it. And then I tell them how shy I was and how backwards I was. And they’re just in awe because they’re like, you, like, you talk all the time. You talk too much. So she always believed in me and she always gave me that push. And she still does. And here we are 15, almost 20 years later, and she’s just still one of my number one supporters. And then with regards to my students, I have two state officer candidates running as well as several competing and competitions. And this is my favorite time of the year because I see these students put in the work and they’re going to deliver that in March at our state conference. And these are kids that didn’t think that they can do anything. And then they just blossom into this young professional. And then if they place, we’re taking that to Houston, Texas this year for the International HOSA Leadership Conference.

Christina Holston
So right now, definitely when we get back from holiday break, it is going to be such an amazing time for my kids and I get to sit and just watch it all.

Sam Demma
That is absolutely awesome. I just sneezed. 

Christina Holston
That was a good mute.

Sam Demma
I did mute it on point. When you were working with the students, I was honored to be at the State Conference. I got to notice how receptive they were to you and how much they look up to you. How do you think, as an educator, you build relationships with young people?

Christina Holston
You always have to have that barrier and those boundaries, of course, because you’re working with the youth. However, as an educator, it’s okay to listen to them. It’s okay for them to have a shoulder to cry on. It’s okay to give them that extra push and to be a little hard on them. I don’t wanna say be their friend because that’s not what we need to be. But we definitely need to be there for them. They’re young, they’re going to make mistakes. Just give them that opportunity. And in CareerTech Education, we’re like the best kept secret with CTE. And I hear the Department of Education say this all the time. CareerTech Education and CareerTech Student Organizations are the best kept secret because they do so much for students and that’s on the high school level and even the post-secondary level but with me being in the high school setting I see these kids that have struggled in their home high schools and There’ll be teachers that I know at these schools say Good luck with that student Don’t know if you should do this, give them a chance and they’ll be the best student that I had in that class. So just be there for them and give them chances but still be hard on them.

Sam Demma
I think it’s so important we don’t write students off before even giving them a chance just because another teacher, another person said, this is a difficult young person. And I think a challenging young person is a massive opportunity. Like the reason sometimes people are challenging to work with is because they have things going on. And I think more challenges lead to greater impact. Like some of the most impactful people in this world had challenging upbringings and were difficult to deal with growing up. And I just think there’s so much power in just seeing the human behind the challenges and behind the behaviours. Have you had situations where you’ve had difficult students? And how do you work through those specific examples?

Christina Holston
I have. Now, with being in CareerTech education, it is a little different because the students that are here at the Career Center want to be here. Ah, fair. So they try, I mean, they will do anything and everything that they can to make it through our programs and to get the trade and to get the certification, definitely in the health science education, the kids want to be here. However, I’ve had students that I’ve lost due to poor attendance. We do drug tests here. So we have them like they’re on the job. So it’s a requirement for them to have a drug test. I have lost students because of positive drug screens. It breaks my heart, but they know. They’re with me for two years. They know attendance, grade, and drug screens, part of the program. However, I’m still there for the kid because even though they can’t complete my program, I’m going to still be there for them. And I’ve had to deal with this recently with one of my students. And, you know, I told this individual, I’m still proud of you. I’m not upset with you. Am I hurt? Yeah, but this is going to be your comeback. You know, you’re going to graduate high school. You’re going to go into health care still. This is just your wake-up call. And I’m going to still be here if you need me. So it’s just that learning curve for them. And I’m not going to belittle her, I’m not gonna think less of her just because of this incident that she had. I’m going to still be her cheerleader. 

Sam Demma
You have this positive perspective of seeing difficult decisions that people make as learning experiences instead of failures, which is beautiful. Where does that positive outlook come from? 

Christina Holston
I would have to say I picked that up from my dad because my dad, if I made a silly mistake when I was younger, he was never one to really get on to me. He would just have that serious talk with me in the kitchen and just say, Christina, you’re gonna learn from this. It’s gonna be okay. Meanwhile, if my mama bear came in the kitchen, it was a different story. Her and I would just go at it. But no, my dad was just always more calm and it’s life. We make mistakes. We have obstacles and we learn from them. So we just take it from that. So I really give that and a lot of my worth ethic to my dad because he was such a big part of my life and really helped me be the professional that I am today.

Sam Demma
I remember coming home from grade seven. I made a terrible decision and was actually suspended. And I haven’t shared this story many times. But the thing is, I wasn’t initially suspended. Someone else got in trouble for something that I did and didn’t tell the principal that it was actually me. And so my friend went home with a suspension, I went home without one, and I was sitting on my bed, and just out of integrity, I started crying. And my dad walks in, he’s like, what’s going on? I was like, dad, I did something, someone else got in trouble for it, they didn’t say my name, so now they got a suspension, I feel terrible. He’s like, come on, son. And he brought me into his van, and he drove us back to the elementary school, and walked me into the principal’s office and I sat down and told the principal everything. I got in trouble, the other person was off their suspension. But it was one of the biggest learning experiences for me. And I go back to that moment and I think, what would have happened if my dad ran in and got extremely angry? Would I ever have been vulnerable enough again to own up to a mistake that I made in the future, knowing that I did something wrong or would I have kept it to myself because I was afraid. So I think it’s so important that when people do make mistakes, we don’t necessarily punish them for them but instead hold them to a higher standard and give them opportunities to make their decisions right. And it sounds like your dad did the same for you. And so there’s that cool similarity there. Did your parents work in CTE? Where did this passion come from?

Christina Holston
Well, my dad was involved in diesel technology. So he was a manager for a diesel shop. So he has that trade, that CTE background. And then he also was an advocate and a judge for SkillsUSA, which is another career tech student organization that’s pretty popular for the CTE world. So I remembered my dad would come here to Ben Franklin at the school that I’m teaching at, and he would judge those competitions for diesel. And a few months ago, I was going through one of his old suitcases that he had, and I actually found a thank you letter from Ben Franklin when I was in high school, because normally when you think of career tech education, you think of the bad kids. And he said, well, Christina, I just don’t know if that’s the setting for you. And I said, well, this is an honors program. I can help my GPA. It’s a health science program. So he ended up saying, okay, you can go ahead and do it. That’s fine. And I think that’s another stigma that CTE has too, that it’s only for those kids that struggle. You know, if you’re going to college, you don’t need to go to the career center. And all of that does not pertain to what career tech education is. And that’s another thing too that I’m really passionate about is just advocating and letting people know that it’s okay to send your student here. Even if they’re going to college, several of my students go to college, you’ve met a ton of them and know that they all want to be registered nurses. This is that foundation that they can get ahead of their peers and excel even more when they go to college.

Sam Demma
Not to mention the leadership skills, right?

Christina Holston

Sam Demma
Communication skills, friends, lifelong relationships.

Christina Holston
The networking in general is just outstanding. I mean they’re not going and they’re in high school and then now we’re going into the middle schools with CTSOs. So I mean this is just a great learning experience for our future youth and I will advocate for it as long as I can.

Sam Demma
What are some of the opportunities you see in education right now? I know that the world is always changing and student needs are changing and opportunities are changing. What are some of the opportunities you’re excited about right now in education?

Christina Holston
With regards to opportunities, I love what I do and I love my job. And I can’t speak for academic teachers because the career tech education world is just so different. Because again, my students wanna be here. We’re working with our hands a lot more. So they get into it a little bit more than your traditional English class or your math class. So with regards to opportunities, I mean, of course they’re there because we need teachers, we need educators, we need good ones, but we just need educators that are going to understand the kids and to be there for the kids and make that path for them to take. Will it be bumpy? A hundred percent. Definitely post-COVID, you’ve seen a difference in the adolescents. But I feel like this year it’s slowly getting back to normal. The kids want to be in the classroom. Their attention span’s improving a little bit. So with regards to opportunities, I think that there’s just a wide variety, but of course there are opportunities in education because they’re needing educators to educate. But it’s just gonna take that certain special someone to be able to juggle all the struggles that you may have while you’re being an educator. I know that really didn’t answer your question, but it…

Sam Demma
No, it gives a great perspective. Like, from the way you position it, it sounds like the opportunity is to connect with the kids. I mean, that’s a consistent always. And sometimes I think whether you’re in a CT classroom or a traditional classroom, it’s like, that’s always the magic, is let’s connect with the kids. Whether the world’s changing, it’s like connect with the kids. Whether technology’s changing, connect with the kids. I just think it’s important to reiterate that. And you, I mean, you have kids in your classroom that you support and then you have a kid at home. How do you make sure that you take care of yourself, balancing so many different responsibilities with teaching and raising a kid and the work you do volunteering and even the work you do with HOSA? 

Christina Holston
I love to be busy. I always have. I was an athlete when I was younger, so this is just part of my life. I educate, help my students out through the day, whether it’s pertaining to our CTE coursework or to HOSA. My students know I’m available in the evenings as well, too. I communicate with them with the school-approved app. And then, of course, I have my four-year-old at home. And on top of that, I’m a fitness instructor. So all of this keeps me going. It makes me happy. So just juggling through that, I don’t know what I would do without it. And during COVID, it was basically that way. Like I was going crazy. You couldn’t go to the gym. I couldn’t see my students. I had to do everything virtually. Like it was, that was a big wake up whenever we were shut down for the pandemic. So it’s just something that I love to do. I’ve always been busy and I added on the coordinator here at my school now to so not only do I help with the post on the state level, but I also help. I’m going to start helping with skills USA for our students upstairs as well as FFA for our animal systems program. So, you know, I’m just adding, adding to my resume.

Sam Demma
One of my mentors says, build a life you never have to retire from or take vacation from. Now, I of course would still go to beaches and swim and dance bachata and all this fun stuff. But that sentence resonates with me because if you love what you do, you enjoy showing up, you enjoy being busy because you’re looking forward to the work, you’re looking forward to the service to others and it sounds like you found a few buckets in your life that just fuel you the more you do them, which is awesome because I think a lot of people are still looking for that, whether they’re in education or not, just human beings in general. On days where you don’t feel like showing up, where you’re like, ah, I just want to sleep in today, like I don’t want to get there. Like what on those days gets you through?

Christina Holston
The overall… depends on the day. Yeah. Depends on the time of the year. What gets me through is is knowing my students’ overall goal. So with my students, they’re going to be certified medical assistants. They can get other certifications as well, too. So even though they may be struggling right now and they don’t wanna do all the work, when February’s around the corner and I give them their certification test and these kids pass it, it just makes me so happy. And not only that, but this year, my students, I have partnered up with a local hospital and my students are getting paid to do their clinical hours. Getting paid to do a hundred hours in a medical office. And then right after they’re finished with that, they’re eligible to be hired. And then not only do they have a good paying job right out of high school? But they can also get scholarship opportunities. So if they are going to nursing school, then this local hospital is gonna be there to support them. So this year is really exciting for me because even though the seniors right now are driving me a little crazy, I know that we’re getting to that end and that’s what we’ve been working on for two years. And then here in a few years when I check on them, because I keep up with all my students. I make sure that I communicate with all of them. If I had a student from seven years ago that still needs me, they know to contact me.

Christina Holston
And it can be pertaining to work or just pertaining to their mental health. Like I’m here for them and I will always be here for them. So right now it’s been a little bit of a struggle before break with my senior class, but I know when we come back in January, it’s going to be their time to get ready for that test. And we’re going to do it. They’re going to get certified. They’re going to get paid for clinical, and they’re going to get hired, and if they want to go to college, they can. If not, they have a good paying job.

Sam Demma
In the context of business, people often say, build a vision so big that other people, other team members can see themselves in that big vision. So get to know each of your team members’ dreams and aspirations and goals and find a way to help them reach that thing by working with you, through working with you. It sounds similar in your classroom. You figure out what each of the kids actually want and then try and create a pathway to help them get there. And on those days where you don’t feel like showing up, you remind yourself of each of the students’ goals. You’re like, why are we here in the first place? And I think that’s a really good reminder to educators to get to know their kids, connect with the kids. And then also to just remind yourself why you’re showing up each day. This has been an amazing conversation. It’s already been over, I think, about 30 minutes. If you could- Are you serious?

Sam Demma
Yeah, if you could travel back in time… 30 minutes? I know, isn’t that crazy? If you could travel back in time to the first day you were teaching a CTE classroom and you had all the knowledge and experience that you have now, what advice would you give your former self?

Christina Holston
Well, being a CTE educator, you get the job, they hand you the keys, and you walk into a classroom. You know nothing about lesson plans. You know nothing about curriculum maps. You know nothing about standards or CSSs. So luckily for me, I completed this program. However, stepping in a room full of high school students was a whole different ballgame. I know medical assisting and I can train a new medical assistant, but you want me to train all of these high school students? So luckily in our state we have a great system and we have a great workshop that we have to go through in order to get our teaching license because again, we’re not that traditional classroom teacher. However, I had to wait a whole year before I was able to do it. So I just winged it and with the help of my former teacher.

Sam Demma
Everything went great.

Christina Holston
And some coworkers here as well, too. So if I would give advice to my former self, stepping into a classroom, again, just be patient. My advisor that I had, my teacher I had told me, cause I like to plan and I like to be on top of things. She said, Christina, three years. Give it three years. I’m like, three years? I can’t wait that long. Like, it has to be like three days for me to have my ducks in a row. She was 100% right. I finally got it in year three. So I mentor new teachers here in our building. And I tell them the same thing. Because again, we know what we are supposed to do. But we don’t know the teaching part because we’re CTE and we came from working in industry. So just be patient, jump through those obstacles, research, be involved, continue your education, do professional development, do as much as you can because that’s overall going to make you a better educator and make you better for the students.

Sam Demma
Sometimes I get impatient too with the things that I want to happen, whether it’s speaking at a specific event or finishing a book. I’m subscribed to this newsletter and there was recently an idea that resonated with me. And the idea was that sometimes, certain activities don’t actually require any action on our part, just patience. And his example in the newsletter that he shared was massive ocean waves. At any point in time, during any day, there is at least 10 hundred foot ocean waves somewhere in the middle of the ocean that are smashing down, that are continuously rising and falling without us even doing anything. And he said, take your intentions, take your goals, take the aspirations you have and act like you’re throwing them on top of one of those waves and eventually the wave will reach the shore or it’ll come back to you. And so if you feel like you’ve prepared the best you can and you’ve done the test and you’ve studied, maybe the last thing to do is to just release it to the ocean and let it come back to you when the time is right. And for you, it sounds like that was the three years.

Christina Holston
Yes, yes, yes. And it’s true. And I would say that to all educators. I really think three years is just that good mark to really figure out, oh, okay, I’ve done this in the past, I’m not gonna do this anymore, I’m gonna take this out of my lesson, let’s add this, or I’ve done this for too long, let’s switch it up. So I think that that would just be a good rule for all new educators that are entering education and that way it can better not only themselves, but also their students.

Sam Demma
This has been an energizing conversation. I’m so excited that we set aside some time to chat about your journey through education, the different roles you’ve done, a little bit about HOSA, your beliefs around connecting with kids, building relationships. What is, to wrap up here, what is one thing you’re looking forward to in 2024?

Christina Holston
One thing I’m looking forward to in 2024 is this senior class actually getting the paid externship. A lot of our students here in West Virginia have to work. They have to pay for their cars. They have to pay for their cell phones. So this local hospital said, you know, we want them. We need good employees. We know we get good ones from this program. We want them for clinical and we want to pay them.

Christina Holston
And then that way, if they are working, then maybe they can keep that job after their clinical hour, or they don’t need that job after hour, and they can just do their clinicals and then just go home, do their homework, because they’re still high school students. So I’m really excited to see this partnership with local hospitals pick up, but I’m super excited to see my students get that certification and add those credentials behind their names and then graduate high school. So that is one thing that I’m really excited about. And then of course, the state leadership conference for HOSA. I have several students that are competing and I have two state officers, one of those state officers you’ve inspired, which I’ve shared with you. So come March, I’m really excited to see them finally show the work that they’ve been putting in for their competitions and to show the judges that they’re the best of the best. And yeah, this has been an exciting time of the year for me. Even though I was struggling right before break, I’m like, I can do this. I think all educators were. It’s just time, we gotta get to break. But then once we get back in January, we’re refreshed, we’re ready to go, and hopefully the students will be too.

Sam Demma
It’s waves right? Sometimes it’s waves. You feel great, sometimes you feel down, but you show up and that’s what brings you through it and I’m sure 2024 is going to be amazing for you. I’m excited for you and I look forward to crossing paths again at some point. But keep up the great work. Thank you so much for taking time to join me on the show But keep up the great work. Thank you so much for taking time to join me on the show and I look forward to talking again soon. Thank you.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Christina Holston

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.

Darlene O’Neill — Director of employment and student entrepreneurial services at Fanshawe College

Darlene O’Neill — Director of employment and student entrepreneurial services at Fanshawe College
About Darlene O’Neill

Darlene (@Darlene68615693) started her career in the Department of National Defence where for 21 years she worked in a variety of roles – the final 7 years were as the senior human resources business manager, for the civilian workforce supporting the east coast navy.

Prior to joining Fanshawe College, Darlene worked for Nova Scotia Community College as a career practitioner and a project manager in essential skills.

Darlene joined Fanshawe College in 2011 as the assistant manager, career services, community employment services and cooperative education. In 2012, she became the manager of the department, and in 2015 became the senior manager. In 2017, Darlene was appointed director, employment and student entrepreneurial Services. Darlene is the lead administrator for the military-connected college initiative at Fanshawe and is currently the administrative co-lead in the college’s united way corporate campaign. Darlene is also a part-time professor in the career development practitioner post graduate program.

Darlene holds a Bachelor Degree in Psychology, a Master of Education Degree (Adult Education) and a Career Development Practitioner postgraduate certificate.

She is the recipient of the Michelle C Comeau Leadership in Human Resources Award (Federal), The National Federal Government Managers Network Leadership Award (Managing Change), the National Defence Human Resource Leadership Award, co-recipient of Employment Ontario (MTCU) Leadership Award (Collaboration), The Fanshawe College Presidents Award (Administrator) and the CCVPS Art King Award ( Student Service).

Darlene is committed to creating inclusive environments where student centric mindsets are prevalent. Strategy, empathy and empowering effective change are of utmost importance to her in her leadership and work.

Connect with Darlene: Email | Instagram | LinkedIn | Twitter | Facebook

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Department of National Defence

Royal Canadian Navy

Fanshawe College

Nova Scotia Community College

Military-Connected Student in Trades Pilot Project (MCSTPP)

Career Development Practitioner Post Graduate Program

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
Welcome back to another episode of the High-Performing Educator. Today’s special guest is a new friend of mine. I met this individual in person in November. She is a powerhouse. Her name is Darlene O’Neill. Darlene, welcome to the podcast. Please take a moment to introduce yourself.

Darlene O’Neill
Hi, Sam. Thank you very much. Yeah, my name is Darlene and I’m the Director of Employment and Student Entrepreneurial Services at Sandshop College here in London, Ontario.

Sam Demma
You are someone who has so much energy. I remember just watching you absorb the first keynote presentation of the Ignite Conference and you’re fully engaged. It was so cool to see you sticking around for the entire day and supporting the event. Tell me a little bit more about your role and why you’re so passionate about the work that you do on campus. 

Darlene O’Neill
Yeah, so I’m really, really fortunate. I have the responsibility for helping all students at our campus, as well as all our alumni and community members find employment, which is really, really important because we all know that the main reason students go to college is to get a job. So I have a wonderful, wonderful team made up of a lot of co-op consultants, career consultants, entrepreneurial consultants, and community employment consultants. And I think it’s really important that we demonstrate passion ourselves as leaders if we want our team to demonstrate passion.

Sam Demma
And recently, you also started doing a little bit of support for our students taking on a military pathway. Is that correct?

Darlene O’Neill
That’s right. Yes. I’m the lead administrator here at Fanshawe College for the Military Connected Campus Initiative, which provides a holistic support for our military connected students. So, not necessarily serving members and or veterans, but also their families. And we just want to make sure that they’re supported academically and socially through their journey here at Fanshawe. So, I’m really blessed to be leading that initiative.

Sam Demma
Sometimes I ask people that work in education, when they realize they wanted to do so, I get typically a few different answers. The first category is people that tell me they used to create little doll houses or little school classrooms in their basements when they were little kids. A second subset tell me that they had parents who were in education and they decided to follow in their footsteps. And the third group tells me they had no idea and they stumbled into it. Which group do you fit in and what did your journey look like that brought you to education?

Darlene O’Neill
Oh wow Sam, that’s a big question. I think a little bit of all of it. When I was a little girl I used to be the person in the middle of the circle in kindergarten reading stories to the other students while the teacher went about their business and doing things that they needed to do. So I’ve always loved education, but I was working for National Defence for 21 years. And I hit a glass ceiling in National Defence where I didn’t speak French, unfortunately, and I had just finished a master’s degree in education. And I thought, oh well, well just leave Defence and I’ll go and try my hat in education and here I am now almost 20 years later and loving what I do. I did choose, I chose college education as the pathway for me because my education is in adult education and I’m really passionate about watching young people and people of all ages that come to college specifically for that aspirational better life.

Sam Demma
I love that. Can we talk about your experience working in defence for just a moment? Like what were you doing with National Defence and what are some of the skills you developed there that you think have bridged into the work you’re doing today at Fanshawe?

Darlene O’Neill
Yeah, so my career in national defense started with the submarine inventory control point. And I was buying parts for submarines. But that, you know, it progressed. I went on to do my undergraduate degree and I ended up in the Self-Directed Learning Center. I actually opened a self-directed learning center at Defence in Halifax and that was really fun. And then I went on to become a senior human resources business manager, working directly for the admirals on the East Coast. And my role was strategic HR for about 7,000 civilians that support the Navy on the East Coast. It was so enlightening for me. I was a young leader. I was there when 9-11 happened. And that taught me some great lessons in determination, in commitment, in ethics, in just supporting people and being very, very proud of the work that the military does to give us a better home.

Sam Demma
Young leadership is something that may relate to some of the educators tuning in who are getting into the profession at a very young age, that feel a little bit like an imposter at times, are very intimidated by everybody else in their school or in the spaces they’re operating. How did you navigate as a young leader? What did you do to be sure of yourself and know that you were a valued member of the team so you could show up and use your gifts to the fullest of their potential? 

Darlene O’Neill
Great question. I think I’ve been very fortunate throughout my entire career, especially as a young leader, to have amazing mentors. I will never forget the first meeting I attended with an admiral in the room. And you know, an admiral is a pretty big guy in the Navy. And, you know, the admiral told me afterwards, Darlene, you’re going to have to learn to wear a poker face. And I was like, oh my goodness, okay, so that was lesson number one, wear a poker face. But try to come with a solution. So if you’re going to ask a question, have a possible solution to present when you’re asking the question. Always treat people with respect and dignity and expect that for yourself as well. Even though you’re young, doesn’t mean that you don’t have good ideas, doesn’t mean that you’re not committed and dedicated, it doesn’t mean that people won’t respect you. A lot of, you know, young people build our world. They’re our future, so we need to invest in them. And as a young leader, I think, you know, the biggest lesson I learned was find a mentor, too. And spend time with them and learn from them. Watch them. Watch people that you respect. Don’t speak before you think is another good one because sometimes the most important things you say are unsaid.

Sam Demma
I’m just absorbing all this information right now as I’m sure that the guests tuned in are doing the same. Speaking about developing young people and the fact that they’re our future, that’s literally what you’re doing at Fanshawe. When you think about the impact the program is having on students, do you have any stories that come to mind of students who have joined the college and when they first came, they were a little uncertain and unclear. And a few years later, they were graduating and getting placed and doing amazing work in the community or in a job. And, you know, you may not have a specific story if you do great, but if you don’t have a specific one, maybe you can talk a little bit about some of the pathways that students take when they come to Fanshawe?

Darlene O’Neill
Yeah, I have lots of stories of students that have entered into the doors of our office and have gone on to do amazing things. There’s been a few that stick out. We have a number of young entrepreneurs that took advantage of our summer incubator, and they’re now quite successful in their own right. We have Kelvin, the fritter guy. If you’ve tried Kelvin’s fritters, they’re amazing. And we have a fashion designer that’s lived quite a great life as a result of taking advantage of opportunities. Also, there are a number of international students that touch my heart quite often. I have one who’s actually now on my team, but I watched this young man from his very first days at Fanshawe navigate COVID, navigate online learning. He went on to become the student union president. So he’s had a wonderful career path. And when I look at all of the things that he’s done to find his way, they’re all reaching out, finding mentors, asking for help, not being afraid to say, I don’t know, but I want to learn and building relationships. Another young woman, she’s now quite successful in Tech Alliance, which is a part of our entrepreneurial ecosystem here in London. It does all of their media, all of their marketing and social stuff for them. There’s so many of them. There’s accountants and there’s law clerks and there’s a young man that was paralyzed as a result of an accident and he’s gone on to become quite a young accountant. He’s an athlete, plays sledge hockey, he just lives his best life. And I think these students are the ones that come through the doors, they study hard, but they build relationships, they get involved in student life, they get involved in their mentorship programs, they attend workshops, extracurricular activities, Ignite at one point or another. So, yeah, so I think that those are some of the students that really stand out for me. And then from a community perspective, we also have a community employment agency. And our community employment agency has seen so many people that are facing some pretty tough times, walk through the doors, swallow that pride, ask for help, and now they’re contributing members of society, which is a wonderful thing when you work in the employment field and career field and education field. It’s amazing watching people grow.

Sam Demma
It’s like the caterpillar to butterfly story.

Darlene O’Neill
Absolutely, it sure is. You know, the biggest part is asking for help, right? And once you walk through that door, the world of possibilities opens for you.

Sam Demma
You reiterated the importance of relationships. Many educators know how important it is to build relationships with their students, to build relationships with their colleagues. How do you think you build relationships with young people, with students that are going through your school buildings and programs?

Darlene O’Neill
So I think the secret sauce is simply a smile. A smile and some eye contact can make the world of difference. You know many people when they come to post-secondary they’re scared, they might have been, you know, traveling from another world by themselves, from another country, they might have come from rural Ontario and have never been in the city, and they might be someone that’s just been laid off of a job or a career changer. And it’s a lonely, lonely place if you don’t build relationships. So I intentionally walk the halls of the college and I try to make eye contact and smile with students. And they remember who I am because when they catch your eye and smile back, that’s an instant I see you. I see you. I believe in you. I recognize you. And I’m here to support you. And I think that’s really important in the life of students is to know that somebody cares about them.

Sam Demma
And not only do you build relationships with the students, but you also want to build strong relationships with colleagues. A lot of educators that tune in, especially the ones that are just getting started in education, they’re worried because they don’t know too many of the people that they’re working with. How do you go about building relationships with colleagues and collaborating and just, yeah, building a stronger relationship amongst members of your team?

Darlene O’Neill
That’s a great question. So I think, you know, oh Darlene’s extroverted so she can talk to anybody. That’s true, but it’s also true that introverts can make impactful relationships and build impactful relationships. I think, you know, as I said earlier, the first thing to do is to model the behavior share with others. So, ask for help. Like, if you feel that your team can’t do this on their own, build a relationship with somebody else. The Student Union, the International Office, the Student Services Office, the Counseling Office, the academic teachers, and the deans, we’re all on the same agenda. We all want our students to be successful in post-secondary. And so I think, you know, following through on what you say you’ll do is really important. Be a doer, practice reciprocity. So if somebody does something for your team to make your team shine, then you return the favor somehow. Or at least at minimum recognize what they’ve done to support your team’s success. Recognize as a leader what your individual team members have done. Always say thank you. And it doesn’t need to be a big hoopla, but thanking your team members in public is really important. It empowers them, it emboldens the work that they do, and it verifies the work they do. It makes them feel valued. So if you can make another human being feel valued, then they’re going to feel commitment, and they’re going to want to help you. And I think that that’s a secret sauce as well, is always, you know, make sure that you know or make sure that you recognize the good work that other people do.

Sam Demma
I love that. You’re supporting student success in many ways, your team’s success. I know there are some exciting developments that are coming together at Fanshawe, maybe even a new wing being built or a facility. Are we not allowed to talk about it?

Darlene O’Neill
No, we can. Absolutely. We’re super excited. I can, absolutely.

Sam Demma
Okay, tell me some of the new developments

Darlene O’Neill
that are coming together that you’re really excited about. Yeah, so 10 years ago we started Leaf Junction and Leaf Junction is our entrepreneurial arm. Creativity and innovation is a game changer at Fanshawe College. And so we are super excited that on January 26th, we’re going to be opening Innovation Village in partnership with our student union, our Center for Research and Innovation, Leap Junction, and our Library Learning Commons. So a lot of partners living together in one building, but we have created the most exceptional space for students ever. And I look at you, Sam, in your green room, you know, with your mic and your earphones. And we have all these rooms for these students now where they can go in and do broadcasts. And we have a virtual reality room. There’s makerspaces. It’s so exciting. We had a sneak peek last week. And it’s a look into the future for Fanshawe College and lots of opportunities to partner with us and to help our students grow, but also to solve challenging situations for employers. So, as I said earlier, young people are going to be the future, and so we’re going to give them an opportunity through Innovation Village to solve problems in our community and with our employers and to help them make this place a better place to be in.

Sam Demma
This village sounds amazing. What does it physically look like? When I hear village, I think collaborative and lots of different shops. Like, what does it look like physically?

Darlene O’Neill
There’s lots of spaces, there’s lots of alcoves, there’s lots of wide open spaces. It’s bright. It’s really honouring our Indigenous culture as well. It has external gardens. It has a fire, a sacred fireplace outside. It’s like, there are three So it’s huge and airy and bright and lots of glass, lots of windows, lots of greenery, funky colors. It’s really, really cool. When you come back to Fanshawe, Sam, I’ll take you on a tour.

Sam Demma

Darlene O’Neill
It sounds like the perfect place to brainstorm creative ideas, talking about innovation.

Sam Demma
It certainly is, yes. And outside of this massive project, are there anything else that you’d like to spotlight that’s coming together at the college or programs or anything that other people might not be aware of that’s really awesome that’s happening behind the scenes?

Darlene O’Neill
Well everything Fanshawe is awesome, I’ll just say that. I love Fanshawe College, I love the opportunities and that it creates for people. I love the people I work with, I’m very happy. My boss always tells me that I remind her of the little girl in the Maxwell House commercial. I’m not sure if you’ve seen that, but you know, she’s always like, I love my job and I love my family and I love my friends. So, awesome things happening at Fanshawe. Well, Sam, we met at Ignite, which is our student conference, a career conference for students. And it’s pretty exceptional that about 400 students spend a Saturday with us. This year, 2024, will be Ignite’s 10th anniversary. So we’re always looking for employers to support our students with opportunities for growth and employment and to make a difference in their workplace. So yeah, Fanshawe just continues to be an amazing place to be.

Sam Demma
Ah, I love it. If you could travel back in time, speak to yourself when you were just starting your work in education but with the knowledge you have now and the experience what would you tell your younger self that you think you need to hear when you were just starting the journey? 

Darlene O’Neill
Yeah that’s a great question Sam. I think I would tell my younger self earlier you talked about imposter syndrome and young people having imposter syndrome I would tell my younger self that you know what it’s going to be okay do what you do be authentic be true to yourself and good things will happen and always always give back make sure that you say thank you younger self just be authentic and don’t give up don’t ever give up I once one of my mentors once told me, you know sometimes young people that are successful are seen as the golden child or the golden employee. And I was that person at one time and it hurts the core sometimes when people would say things like that. And my boss would say to me, my mentor, she would say, you just rise above that. Rise above it. There’s better days ahead, and you will be successful. Don’t be angry, don’t be sad. Learn from what these people are saying, and the biggest lesson that you can learn from a leader or a colleague is what you don’t wanna be. And so always remember what you don’t wanna be.

Sam Demma
Awesome. Darlene, thank you so much for taking the time to come on the podcast, talk about some of your beliefs around education, a little bit about your career journey and your own personal trajectory, some exciting developments happening at Fanshawe College. If there is someone who’s listening to this feeling very inspired by you and would love to just ask a question, what would be the most effective way for them to get in touch and reach out?

Darlene O’Neill
Yeah, so anybody can email me at any time at doneill@fanshawec.ca.

Sam Demma
Awesome. Thank you again, Darlene. This has been a pleasure. Keep up the great work. Enjoy your upcoming travels, and I will see you at some time in 2024. Awesome. Thank you again, Darlene. This has been a pleasure. Keep up the great work. Enjoy your upcoming travels, and I will see you at some time in 2024.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Jeff Armour

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.

Lynne Jenkinson — Executive Director of Flagstaff Family and Community Services

Lynne Jenkinson — Executive Director of Flagstaff Family and Community Services
About Lynne Jenkinson

Lynne has a diploma in Communication Arts; Broadcast Journalism and has had a varied career in private broadcasting and working many Government contracts for different levels of Provincial and Federal Governments. Lynne is currently the Executive Director of Flagstaff Family and Community Services and has been in this position since 2011.

Lynne is also an active FIRST Board member, FIRST is Flagstaff’s Informed Response Sharing Team. She is also an active member of the Flagstaff Food Bank Board and currently serves as Secretary and main fundraiser and grant writer. Lynne takes great pride in knowing what services are available not only in Flagstaff, but in outlying areas as well as what is available Provincially and Federally. Lynne writes many different grant proposals annually to introduce or sustain programs in Flagstaff and manages those many different Government grants through FFCS and FIRST.

Lynne is very community oriented and likes to be involved with projects that assist citizens live a successful life: mentally, physically and holistically.

On the personal side Lynne and her spouse Austin Hanson operate a year-round 10 site campsite in Camrose County that serves visiting workers and tourists. That operation continues to attract new people to Camrose County each year.

Connect with Lynne: Email | Facebook

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Flagstaff Website

YESS (Youth Employment & Skills Strategy) Program

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
Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator Podcast. This is your host, keynote speaker, and author, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest is my good friend from Daislin, Alberta, Lynne Jenkinson. Lynne has a diploma in communication arts, broadcast journalism, and has had a varied career in private broadcasting and working with many government contracts for different levels of provincial and federal governments. Lynne is currently the Executive Director of Flagstaff Family and Community Services and has been in the position since 2011. Lynne is also an active FIRST board member. FIRST is a Flagstaff’s informed response sharing team. She’s also an active member of the Flagstaff food bank board and currently serves as secretary and main fundraiser and grant writer. Lynne takes great pride in knowing what services are available not only in Flagstaff, but in outlying areas as well, as what is available provincially and federally. Lynne writes many different grant proposals annually to introduce or sustain programs in Flagstaff and manages those many different government grants through FFCS and FIRST. Lynne is very community-oriented and likes to be involved with projects that assist citizens in living a successful life mentally, physically, and holistically. On the personal side, Lynne and her spouse, Austin Hansen, operate a year-round tent site campsite in Camrose Country that serves visiting workers and tourists. That operation continues to attract new people to Camrose County each year, including myself and the backpack team in the spring of 2023. I hope you enjoyed this insightful conversation with my good friend Lynne, and I will see you on the other side. Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator Podcast. This is your host, Sam Demma. Today we are joined by a very special guest, a guest that we met on the road as a part of the Empty Your Backpack Speaking Tour, Lynne Jenkinson from FIRST. Lynne, thank you so much for coming here and being on the show.

Lynne Jenkinson
Well, it’s always a thrill when people invite me to be on a podcast because to an old chick like me, this is kind of new stuff, but it’s also old stuff because we used to do documentaries all the time years ago when I was in radio. So yeah, podcasts are really becoming such a large and big thing. So it’s quite exciting for me. I’m excited

Sam Demma
I’m excited to have you on. Thanks for saying yes. Tell the audience a little bit more about yourself and what broughy outo where you are today.

Lynne Jenkinson
Well, I started way back in radio, Sam, way back in 1984, a long time before a lot of people were even thought of. And then I retired at the young age of 30 because I was kind of burnt out before burnout was even a term. And then I started just doing government contracts and now I’m the executive director of Flagstaff Family and Community Services and also the executive director of FIRST, which is a charity we run, which is Flagstaff’s Informed Response Sharing Team Society. And our mission in life is to promote healthy relationships. So we’re always looking for ideas and speakers to bring into our local schools through FIRST and the government grants that I get or grants from donors, grants from corporations. So we can leave, I guess, a footprint for the young people in the Flagstaff area. So I always say if I can bring a speaker in and they touch one person, we have done our job because from testimonials we see that people say, wow, like I learned that from that speaker and that is going to be maybe what I follow in life or I’m going to make sure I instill that in my life.

Sam Demma
When you finished in radio, how did you find this opportunity at first? Tell me more about the transition.

Lynne Jenkinson
Well, it took a long time because I was 30 years old and I thought, okay, I want to do more in life. So over about the next 14 years, I just looked for different jobs. Hey, I even worked in a liquor store, even worked as a cobbler. I shouldn’t choose for a while. I just went and learned new things and did things. I’m even a meat cutter by trade because I went to school for five months to learn how to be a journeyman meat cutter. I didn’t like meat cutting because you’re kind of a linsicle all day because it’s kind of a cool job you’re doing with the whole meat. But then I started getting just government contracts. I was working for this and that. And then I just kind of fell into a job at FFCS because they needed a teacher for a year for a federal government program to teach youth age 15 to 30 how to work and how to keep jobs. And then after that, it just seemed a good fit. And I got hired at Flagstaff Family and Community Services, which also partners with FIRST. So we sort of partner and run the charity as well. And then in 2009, I got a full-time job. And in 2011, I became the executive director. So that’s what happens in rural Alberta. When you decide to stay in a rural area, it’ll happen in rural Ontario too. You find the job that fits you, and you kind of figure out how it works into your life.

Sam Demma
Let’s talk a little more about that one year you spent teaching. What was that experience like for you?

Lynne Jenkinson
Well, that was a federal government-funded program. Right now it’s called the YESS program, Youth Employment Skills Strategy. Years ago it used to be called Skills Link. And the federal government will fund agencies to run programs, they call them interventions. And we had 15 students, and for six months, they were with me in a classroom, and we taught them how to do resumes. We even had one student teach others how to play chess, because that was once again, using your brain, right? So they learned how to do resumes, they learned how to find jobs, they learned how to keep jobs. And we said way back when, the old executive director, her name was Gail Watt. We said way back when what we’re teaching them to do is how to have coffee How to do coffee how to sit around and chat with people?

Sam Demma
And did you feel the work in the classroom was just as meaningful as the work you do now as an executive director Or what aspects of it did you really enjoy and found and on the reverse found challenging?

Lynne Jenkinson
Oh, very challenging is when you’re dealing with different people. Even think of a classroom with 15 people and they were aged 15 to 30 years old. Some were school dropouts. They didn’t call them school dropouts. They called those alternative schools and I think they still use that word now. And we had a lady who was 30. So you had people from age 15 to 30. So what was the most important thing is, wow, they’re all individuals. And I can’t imagine how teachers do it today, either grade 1, grade 8, grade 12, when you have 30 to 60 students in a classroom, because each of those people have a different personality, and they have different needs and wants. And how do you serve everyone? Very hard to serve everyone, but we talk about inclusive societies. societies, you have to figure out a way to connect with each of the people in that classroom. And me, that was 2003 and 20 years later, I still know where some of those youth are. 

Sam Demma
That’s incredible. What do you think helped you connect with the students in your classroom? How did you get to know them and tailor some of the content to their needs during the time in the room?

Lynne Jenkinson
Well, I’ll tell you this, Sam, I would never be able to be a teacher because I’m not politically correct. I connect with people by being honest and truthful and sometimes by swearing.

Sam Demma
And they receive it. They’re used to that. That’s their world, a lot of students.

Lynne Jenkinson
The one thing about youth is they can smell a fake as soon as they walk into a room and and the other thing we did I’ll tell you it’s If people well people are gonna hear this because I’m gonna say it there was Students in that classroom because they’re figuring out how to work for a living and stuff Yeah, if they weren’t there by 830, I knew where they lived. There was one couple. I literally Threw the sheets off their bed and dragged them out of bed in the house They lived in and said, you know, come on, I’m not playing this game and let’s go. You got to get up and go to work. You can’t do that for school, right? Teachers can’t do that, but you have to go that extra step. And that’s why 20 years later, some of these youth are still working. They have, gosh, one guy has grandchildren.

Sam Demma
Oh, wow.

Lynne Jenkinson
He had twins when he was 16 years old. And now 20 years later, one of those twins has had their own children. So that’s a huge thing when you… And they’ve been successful. They’ve stayed working. They’ve had families. These are federal government funded programs that no one really knows about because they run under the radar. And these are the changes that these federal government grants are making in people’s lives through educating and assisting them through the hard times in life.

Sam Demma
Without your guidance and the government funded program, that young man who now has grandkids, maybe you would have went on a totally different path in life. Thinking and hearing about his success story now, how does it make you feel?

Lynne Jenkinson
It makes me feel that we all work together as community, came together because in our program, we never had a problem finding employers who would take the youth that came through our program. Sometimes the youth in those six months that they worked and they were paid like the employers were paid a subsidy to take them on and that would still happen today if we had a current contract. Our last one ran out last year. But what happened was it really showed how community gets together to make sure that youth are successful. You can’t do it alone, Sam, and you know that, right? You know that from your speaker’s tour and building up all these relationships is that we cannot do it ourselves, and everyone has a story. And that’s the other thing that is so, so important. Listen to the story and see what you can pick out of that story as an educator to make a difference in that youth’s life.

Sam Demma
You mentioned that that one time you went to the individual’s house and pulled the sheets off and said, hey, let’s go. You know, today teachers wouldn’t be able to do that. It’s a different time. But the principle behind that action is you seriously believing and investing in these human beings’ success to the point where you’re willing to hold their hand and walk them to school, basically, or the facility, where does that principle or that level of belief in others come from for you?

Lynne Jenkinson
I think it comes from, I grew up on a Air Force base, CFB Cold Lake, and I think it comes from learning through life, watching my parents work. It comes through knowing that once we have discipline in our lives, and it’s not because I’m military, but it is. Like there’s a discipline and there’s rules that we must follow, and even if we don’t fit in, there’s still a way that everyone can fit in. Like right now I see a lot of youth struggling, and this is a post-pandemic, oops that bad word, but it is, struggling with anxiety. Well how can we give them the tools to live with that anxiety? How can we give them the tools to make sure they get out of bed every day feeling good? About themselves not just about everyone else. It’s about themselves It all starts with the way we feel in self, but I look at that the way I grew up It was it was discipline. It was accountability. It was responsibility to ourselves, but also to others.

Sam Demma
Did you have roles and responsibilities that were a part of your everyday life growing up, that was a part of your accountability to others, i.e. your parents?

Lynne Jenkinson
And I’m gonna say yes, but I’m the youngest of five and my oldest sisters would say, parents went way easier on me than they did on the first children in the family, right? And my dad-

Sam Demma
That’s what they always say.

Sam Demma
Yeah, I’m sorry.

Lynne Jenkinson
And my dad used to say to me when I was a teenager, he says, you can go do anything and it’s not gonna shock me because your brothers and sisters pretty much did everything except murder somebody. And I wasn’t going to shock them by doing that.

Sam Demma
No. Hopefully not.

Lynne Jenkinson
But it is, like when we have expectations, years ago somebody said to me, as like when you have, when you’re dealing with youth, are youth going to love the parent who has no expectations or are they going to love the parent who has expectations. And you’ll find that youth will really gear toward the parent with no expectations because that makes life easier. When you have to deal with the parent with expectations, it does make life harder. But once we have those expectations instilled in us, we keep growing to get out of that mediocre, adequate life. And we kind of want to have expectations for ourselves where we are a little bit better than we ever thought we could be.

Sam Demma
Would you say that mentality also applies in a classroom with teachers and their students? Should teachers have some sort of expectations or hold their students to some form of standards?

Lynne Jenkinson
I think they should, but for teachers, when you’re dealing with everything we’re dealing with today, is I think it’s hard to have expectations for everyone. And I think some teachers just say, you know, to have a good sleep at night, it’s like, oh, you know, I just got to wash that out of my brain because that would just add to so much stress. And teachers do have a lot of stress today. But you can see teachers that come in every day and flight staff and say, you know, my expectation is that today will be a better day than the last day. And, you know, I hang out with a grade one teacher, retired grade one teacher, and we just see a difference now in our schools. And, but boy, those teachers just shine who do have those expectations that each student will do what they can do or do better each day.

Sam Demma
And I think pouring self-belief into students is so important. One of the educators that changed my life had high standards for me. After I lost the ability to play soccer, he believed that I was going to do something else great in the world. And it was his expectation and the standards that he held me to that helped me find that belief in myself. And I can’t thank him enough. In fact, I invite him to speeches every once in a while and him and his wife come and hear about the impact he had on me and it makes them emotional. And I think every educator has that opportunity to hold their students to high standards in a non pressuring way, but in a very positive way. And you know, I’ve had many interactions with you, you seem to always be very optimistic and try and see things from a positive perspective. And I’m curious to know where that where that mindset comes from?

Lynne Jenkinson
I think it just comes, some people say, well, she’s the most negative person you ever met because she’s always talking politics and what’s happening in government and what’s affecting us. But it’s not that, you wouldn’t get through life if you didn’t have that thinking that everything can be better and will be better. And I’m always looking, always look to learn. And I did learn something and you will love this. I really think I went to an open house for the Battle River Community Foundation and an educator was speaking. His name was Patrick Whittleton. He lives in Daisland and works in Camrose and he said what’s happening right now because he’s um they’re doing like summer school to teach people to read or get better at reading. He says what’s happening right now is an acronym TLTR and it’s going to make people like me angry. It means too long to read. That is coming from our social media, right? And reading, and that’s how we learn. We continue to read, we continue to talk, we continue to converse. And that’s made a difference in my life that I took communications in college. Communication has changed over the years, but we still have to converse, we still have to be relational. You know yourself, when you’re out there speaking to the students, how they just glom onto you later. Remember, we ordered 200 books and we said, let’s just leave the books at the end rather than handing the books out to all the students. And the lineup at the end of your speech, we had 200 books. We left that day with only six books and then parents phoned us and we ran out of books because we gave away six books within the next week. Yeah. But that’s why, like the expectations are, that’s I guess the way I stay positive is I never have assumptions. People continually disappoint me but people always continually surprise me and the youth of today continually surprise me because a lot of people are negative about them saying this and this and this. It’s like, yeah, but they’re living in a way different world than I did 50 years ago with technology, everything else, but have the expectations that they will surprise you every day, they won’t disappoint you.

Sam Demma
You talked about the importance briefly there of being relational and building relationships. And it’s definitely something that I try and do when I’m working with students or delivering a keynote in front of an audience. How do you think you build a relationship with young people?

Lynne Jenkinson
I try so hard by getting the government grants that I can bring speakers in because that’s how the young people know me in this area. They know me as that lady from First or that lady from FCS, and parents begin to know. And then I think I build a relationship with the youth because we are here at FFCS, they begin to know that we’re here at FFCS and at first, and they know that they could pick up a phone. I’m not into texting. I will never give out my cell phone number because I like to sleep at night and other people don’t. And it’s the phone number and they just know that, hey, I can phone that office where that lady Lynn is and maybe I can ask her a question. I get people to phone about scholarships, those sorts of things. It’s not my job to know this and to help, but it’s my job to build my community. So I would never turn somebody away. It might take me two days to answer your phone call, and I want to talk to you. I want to hear your voice. I want to hear emotion. I want to meet you if I can. I want to see your face. I want to know your story.

Sam Demma
I love that you said it’s not my job to know, but it’s my job to build the community. And I think so often, not only in education, but in workplaces in general, people will say, well, that’s not a part of my job, so I’m not doing it. And I think if each of us were in positions that we were passionate about, and we always led with curiosity and the intent to build community and help the people around us. We would just have much more happy, optimistic places to work and employees to work with.

Lynne Jenkinson
And we would build better teams. We would build better teams. We would build better communities. But a lot of people are just scared sometimes to say what they really want to say so that’s that that’s that inclusive society We may disagree and I always say to the youth when we do our federal government programs You don’t have to like the people you work with but you have to work with them Yeah, like and hate is an emotion that really just sucks the wind right out of you So just figure out how to like people like the way their eyebrow goes, like their blue eyes, just like something about them and then you’ll get through the day and we will then continue to build our teams and build a community that is going to be successful.

Sam Demma
Great advice for a teacher who has one student that gets on their nerves. Find something to appreciate about them, find something to enjoy about them. There is always something even when it seems like there isn’t because we’re so similar as human beings, more ways than we are different. What is your wisdom for an educator who is just getting into the work, teaching young people who might be a little overwhelmed and intimidated by the current state of the profession and they came to you and said, Lynn, I’m really struggling, I just started doing this, I need some advice. What would you tell them?

Lynne Jenkinson
And I would say, I know it’s really hard because you all belong to a teacher’s association, but find somebody in your community, whether they’re a teacher or not, who can mentor you and that you can talk to and be honest with, that you can tell your story to without judgment. Judgment is so big these days, but let’s do no judgment and just find somebody you can talk to because we have to worry about FOIP and those sorts of things, but you can still tell a story without identifying anyone, no matter whether you’re in a small place or a big place, but find somebody to talk to because if you carry it within yourselves, which I see a lot of teachers do because they just feel they can’t share because it might identify that student or that issue, it won’t. If you tell your story, there’s no use of names, there’s no use of addresses, there’s no use of phone numbers. Just tell a story to somebody, but find that trusted individual that you can talk to.

Sam Demma
How have those types of conversations played a role in your own story?

Lynne Jenkinson
I’m very good at sharing, as you may have noticed already. But it is, as I said, I retired at 30 from radio because I was burnt out, but I didn’t stop. I took six months off. I could afford it at the time. I took six months off. I figured out what I wanted to do in my life. And counselling is a great thing too. I recommend counselling for everybody. But the other thing is you got to be able to pivot, and you got to be able to pivot in a positive way. But when you find a trusted individual, for me, I have a very good partner, right? So I can drop everything on Austin and he will be non-judgmental. He may not even have anything to say, but I dropped it on him and it’s just like a counselor. But that’s the most important thing, to be able to know that you can share and there’s always somebody else out there who is going to care.

Sam Demma
It’s so important that you mentioned he might have nothing to say but you can still share it all with him. I was listening to a podcast recently with a author named Simon Sinek and he was talking about the value of just sitting in the mud with people, not sitting beside them when they need you to give them advice or tell them what to do, but just to sit in the mud with them and be a shoulder. And sometimes that’s all we need. And sometimes that’s all students really need in their teacher or a mentor. And sometimes that’s all human beings need. And oftentimes when people tell me they’re going through a challenge or they’re struggling, my first gut reaction is to give them advice. And I stop myself and I remind myself, this is not what they need from me right now. They just need me to be here for them. If they need advice, they’ll ask for it. And they’ll make that request, or if they want my perspective. And if not, I’m just going to sit in the mud with them. And I think that’s one of the best ways to support young people. Have you had an experience where a young person was struggling and you kind of sat in the mud, the other thing that is so hard to do, Sam, is sit in silence.

Lynne Jenkinson
Sit in silence. There’s no judgment. There’s no nothing. And that eye contact, really important. You’re there with them in the room. And yes, I have numerous examples over the years, and it’s very hard for me to sit in silence. And people who know me and youth know that. And it’s like, so when you dump something on me and I just sit there with no look on my face not even you know and I just sit there and look at them and possibly you know just you sit in that silence you sit in that mud as you say and and that I guess numerous times and they know right then and there that that person has connected with them and they’re where I’m not even thinking anything anymore. I’m just sitting there with them and yeah, numerous times. And that is one of the best things you can do. And boy, does that build trust as well. No judgment, just silence. And then it’s, and as you say, no advice. Everyone has to figure out their own story.

Sam Demma
Such a good reminder.

Sam Demma
Because I mean, speaking about myself, I always feel the urge to jump in and connect the dots behind how what they’re explaining and experiencing connects to my own life. And the reality is, most of the time, people don’t wanna hear it. They just want you to be there. And I think being there is one of the characteristics or traits of a high-performing educator. Being willing to spend time with the student, having, as we said, high expectations for them, or just some standards that you believe this young human can grow into and the version of themselves that you think they can become, even if it’s a little higher than they have for themselves. That’s another high trait of a or another great trait of a high performing educator. What else do you think makes a high performing educator? What traits make a effective teacher or someone who influences you?

Lynne Jenkinson
One thing that I really find and it is so hard because of the stress on the educators, is just that ability to be present. The ability for those youth to know that you’re present, as I said earlier, they will call out a fake within seconds. But that ability to be present, whether it be speaking to them, just understanding where they’re at. at and in a classroom atmosphere it is that each youth knows you’re there. That you are not clicking on your phone and looking at your phone, you’re not looking at your watch as your watch is talking to you. It’s that ability to be present and more and more people are losing that ability because there’s just so much other stuff coming at them. So it is that ability just to know this is where I’m at right now and I’m here for you as an educator. And I’m here for you at break too, if you need me. But during that classroom too, to be present for every one of those youth, very, very difficult.

Sam Demma
There may be an educator listening, thinking, gosh, I wish we had FIRST in our community to support some of our schools, to bring in speakers and to help bring these programs in front of their youth. Are there similar organizations in different provinces that you’re aware of? If there’s an educator in Ontario listening to this or there’s an educator in BC or is it just in the Flagstaff area? 

Lynne Jenkinson
For what we do, I’ve just seen it in Flagstaff, but there are other groups. There’s charitable groups within any community, whether it be a Lions group or a Knights of Columbus, groups like that could help people bring in speakers. It’s always looking for partnerships, once again, relationships, once again, building community, and somebody with the passion. For me, I have the passion. I think bringing in speakers will change lives because it gives the students in our area, remember, we’re 8,440 people over 4,065 square kilometers. So bringing in a speaker, you from Ontario, a young man who has a message, that just knowing and if I can build that passion in somebody else to say, wow, if I go raise some money, maybe that school will work with me and we can bring in a speaker. Schools to me are very open to bringing in new ideas and new people. They will give you a couple hours of their day, and it may change the life of that one student in an audience of, around here it’s 200-600 students. In a large center, it could be 1,200 students listening to you, maybe more, Sam, right? You don’t know till later, that’s one thing about technology today. They can e-mail you later and ask questions, and teachers can get in contact with you. We have to share our knowledge and our passion and then we will build up the youth continually.

Sam Demma
I was so grateful for the opportunity to come to Daislin. It was such an amazing experience and I talk about it with Cross and Alion and Nina, the team, that it was so awesome because because although a small community, sometimes in the rural communities that we visited, including Daislin, there was so much gratitude, or at least that’s what it felt like from our perspective. And I just really enjoyed it, the hospitality, the experience, the location. So thank you for making it possible for us. And I hope to come back sometime soon. If there is one piece of advice you could give yourself when you were just starting your career, like you could travel back in time with the knowledge and the wisdom you have now and tap yourself on the shoulder and say, hey, I know you don’t think you need to hear this right now, but here’s what you need to hear. What would you tell your younger self?

Lynne Jenkinson
I would tell my younger self, and it’s interesting because I still see the same issue today, and I am a woman and I was entering a career that was very male dominated broadcasting at the time, I would say to myself still say it every day, you are worth it. Just keep going. No matter your gender, no matter, like you are worth it. Somebody else may not recognize that, but when you recognize it in yourself, you just keep moving forward. You are worth it.

Sam Demma
I love that. Lynne, thank you so much for coming on the show today. If there is an educator who wants to reach out to you, ask a question or share their thoughts about this interview, what would be the best way for them to get in touch?

Lynne Jenkinson
My best way to get in touch with me is via email. So it’s director@flagstafffcs.ca. I usually get back to people within a day on email. I do have a real life, but I will get back to you within a day because I do have my email hooked up to my phone and I believe that’s the best way and a lot of people have gotten a hold of me that way. And it’s a great way to build relationships and then when I email you back, you get my phone number.

Sam Demma
And if you’re ever camping in the Daisland area, she happens to have a beautiful campsite. So feel free to email her about that as well.

Lynne Jenkinson
Thank you, Sam. I really appreciate that. And I do hope that like with speakers, especially the youth, I hope to have you back in three to four years because then we get another group of students.

Sam Demma
I look forward to the day. Thank you for coming on the show again, Lynne. Keep up the great work and we’ll talk soon. Keep up the great work and we’ll talk soon.

Sam Demma
Thank you.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Lynne Jenkinson

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.

Rick Gilson – Executive Director of Southern Alberta Professional Development Consortium

Rick Gilson - Executive Director of Southern Alberta Professional Development Consortium
About Rick Gilson

Dr. Rick Gilson (@rgilson1258) started his teaching career in the fall of 1985. In addition to teaching, Rick has worked in school administration at the high school level for 15 years, the last eight as principal at Grande Prairie Composite High School before moving into Central Office. After one year as District Principal in Grande Prairie, Rick accepted the Assistant Superintendent position, focusing on Inclusive Education with Westwind School Division in 2013. In 2018, Rick joined SAPDC as the Executive Director. At work, he loves coaching young teachers, and new leaders and generally just helping folks grow. An avid reader, Rick shares passages and books frequently in Blog, Twitter posts and, most recently, the new ARPDC Podcast series Change Maker Conversations in Education.

Connect with Rick: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter | Facebook

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Grande Prairie Composite High School

Grande Prairie Public School Division

Southern Alberta Professional Development Consortium (APDC)

Football Alberta

Alberta Schools Athletic Association


Tiny Habits: The Small Changes That Change Everything by BJ Fogg

Ryan Holiday’s Books

John Wooden’s Books

Above the Line: Lessons in Leadership and Life from a Championship Program by Urban Meyer

Andy Reid’s Books

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):

Welcome back to another episode on the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and keynote speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest is Dr. Rick Gilson. Dr. Rick Gilson (@rgilson1258) started his teaching career in the fall of 1985. In addition to teaching, Rick has worked in school administration at the high school level for 15 years, the last eight as principal at Grande Prairie Composite High School before moving into Central Office. After one year as District Principal in Grande Prairie, Rick accepted the Assistant Superintendent position, focusing on Inclusive Education with Westwind School Division in 2013. In 2018, Rick joined SAPDC as the Executive Director. At work, he loves coaching young teachers, and new leaders and generally just helping folks grow. An avid reader, Rick shares passages and books frequently in Blog, Twitter posts and, most recently, the new ARPDC Podcast series Change Maker Conversations in Education.I will see you on the other side.

Sam Demma (01:24):

Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host, Sam Demma. Today, joined by a very special guest. His name is Rick Gilson. Rick, it’s a pleasure to have you on the show here today. Please take a moment to introduce yourself and share with everyone listening a little bit about who you are and what it is that you do.

Rick Gilson (01:44):

Well, thanks for having me on, Sam. Appreciate it. I apologize to the listeners in advance. I, I am in the final few days of that three week cold cough, flu thing that’s been going around the nation, so that was wonderful. And we’re recording just after Christmas holidays, so guess what? Those couple of weeks were like. <laugh>. Anyways, lifetime educator, coach. I’ve coached somewhere in the neighborhood of 70 teams, all total, the vast majority football. Taught for about 30 years up in the Grand Prairie area. Came down to Southern Alberta for about five years as a Assistant Superintendent in the West Wind School Division down the very southwest corner of Alberta. And currently I serve as Executive Director of the Southern Alberta Professional Development Consortium, which serves the 12 school divisions in the South in supporting the professional learning of the teachers down here. And I’ve been past President, well, President, past President of the Alberta Schools Athletic Association, and involved in that pretty heavily for a number of years as well. So, that’s it in a nutshell.

Sam Demma (02:59):

<laugh>, it’s a big nut. <laugh>.

Rick Gilson (03:02):

I am a big nut

Sam Demma (03:04):


Rick Gilson (03:04):

Correctly stated. Sam <laugh>,

Sam Demma (03:07):

You, you have a wall of books behind you. The listeners won’t be able to see that. When did you start reading so many books and <laugh>? When did self-education become a very important part of your life, and and why did you prioritize that?

Rick Gilson (03:25):

Well certainly if any of my high school teachers are still around, they would say it definitely did not become an important part of my life until after high school. I, I would say that I, I was I’ve been an avid reader for quite some time and now with the advent of Kindle software, Amazon, and all of that, a little bit of an addiction. So I have many books in print, and then I use the Kindle app on my iPad, my phone, and my laptop. And I have probably, I guess around 1300 books or so on there. I haven’t read them all covered to cover. I don’t know that it’s always necessary to read a book cover to cover. but I have read portions of the vast majority and all of many, and just I, on my Twitter account, I live by the adage. The more I know, the more I know I need to know more. Hmm,

Sam Demma (04:27):

That’s amazing. Out of, out of the books you’ve read which philosophies have impacted your career as a teacher the most? <laugh>

Rick Gilson (04:36):

Well, that’s a, that’s certainly a big piece. I think e everything that I read that speaks of the value of the individual to try to draw the best out of people that you’re working with. I, I have a, a personal belief that we’re all sons and daughters of God, and so if we’re sons and daughters of God, we have the, a lot of potential <laugh> to say the least. And so look for those good things and, and so everything that can help with that. I, I’m kind of drawn to and, and that goes all the way back to the works of the stoics Ryan Holiday’s books have been a favorite in those recently. But also you go back into the coaching period of time, and I have an entire section of seven or so books of John Wooden’s and, and, and on and on and on with that.

Rick Gilson (05:37):

And there’s some books where, you know, sometimes you read the book and the book is awesome, and the teachings are awesome, and the author goes on to make some extremely poor choices long after they’ve written the book. And you’re kind of like, how come you couldn’t even follow your own book? <laugh> urban Meyer would be an excellent example of that. His book is, is Great above the Line, it says the title of that book. And I, I really enjoyed the teachings. We as a, a school board and and central office team used it as a book study one year, and then last year I thought, holy cow, urban, follow your own book for crying out loud <laugh>. Oh man. So, you know, sometimes we learn and sometimes we have to learn over, and but I think that’s kind of the piece of it there.

Sam Demma (06:27):

You mentioned your high school teachers would definitely know that your love for reading didn’t start in high school. would they have known that you would be an educator and a coach <laugh>? And, and where did that come from?

Rick Gilson (06:41):

You know, there’s a, it’s a little bit of a longer story, but my father coached my father was a high school graduate. My mom graduated from high school in her forties. and I grew up in Calgary through grade 11. And my father was coaching the senior volleyball team at Churchill in Calgary, so Winston Churchill. And as I came into high school, I tried out and made the junior varsity volleyball team, and certainly anticipated playing for my dad in grade 11. And as I came into grade 11 to try out for the senior varsity team, my dad quit coaching. Other things in his career impacted that. And the next thing I knew in grade 12, we moved to Edmonton and I’d switched sports and I tried out for football at a small high school in Edmonton called Harry Ainley.

Rick Gilson (07:33):

And I’m being facetious when I say small, so about 20, 2600 kids there today. But it was a little less than that at the time. And I played for a man by the name of Brian Anderson on the Har Titans football team, and was actually blessed. And I was kind of, I was his favorite. He kept me, he kept me very close to him on the sideline during the game. so I, I was blessed to learn a lot watching him and watching my teammates play and playing a little. And a few years later in August, I was working at a place called Prudent Building Supplies, making cement. And Brian came in to get a load of cement for his backyard, and he asked me what I was up to, and I told him, I’m going into education, start next week. And he said, you should come coach.

Rick Gilson (08:22):

And I was like, but I hardly even played. And he said, look, you backed up four or five different positions on defense. You were this on the scout offense, you did all these other things you should coach. And so I started coaching and long and short of it is when Brian was inducted into the Hall of Fame in Edmonton, not in the Sport Hall of Fame, but the Edmonton City Hall of Fame. I was blessed to be invited to be there with him. And when park was named him, I was blessed to be invited to join at the dedication of that sport park. And Brian, kind of, when my teams came down from Grand Prairie to play in Edmonton, he was there. So I owe a great deal to a coach that I didn’t really realize at the time in grade 12.

Rick Gilson (09:15):

And, and at that time, second year, grade 12, <laugh>, I got to play two years even really knew who I was. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. So that was great. And I remember as we coached, as I coached the junior varsity at AIN Lee for the four years as at university, that as that came to a close my last year, we had a team that didn’t give up a single point all year. And I was coaching the defense and coordinating the defense. And we got into our last regular season game, and Brian was on the sideline, just had walked over from the senior practice and the other, we were winning handily and we had all the subs in, and the other team started to drive towards the end zone, and everybody wanted to finish the season without getting scored on. And so there was a lot of, hey, you know, put us back in coach from the starters.

Rick Gilson (10:09):

And I started to do that, and Brian said, I would’ve thought you might’ve learned a different lesson from your time on my sideline when I made this mistake. And so we, and I’m paraphrasing, I don’t remember the exact words. Yeah. But I called the starters back and I said, guys, we just gotta cheer these guys on. It’s a team record. We gotta cheer these guys on. And sure enough, the backups were able to force a turnover. And we didn’t get scored on. We gave up one point in the playoffs when on a punt return, our punt returner slipped just, just barely in the end zone. So that was it for the year. So that’s kind of how it goes.

Sam Demma (10:50):

It sounds like Brian enabled the potential in you or in some ways helped you see the potential in yourself when, as you described in high school, you barely even knew who you were especially in your grade 12 year. And you hold that belief that you know, we are all sons and daughters of God, and if that’s true, then we all have massive potential. How do you think Brian helped you see the potential in yourself and as educators, how can we help our students or the people in the, in front of us see their potential?

Rick Gilson (11:23):

You know, it was a combination of Brian and my dad <laugh>. I do remember my dad walking across the field when Amy had won a game quite handily and meeting Brian at midfield as the team was walking off, and I was walking off and kind of like, oh, oh, what’s that up to, up to you now? And dad had coached, remember he had coached a long time and he kind of pointedly asked, you know, when you’re winning 49, nothing, do you really need to keep the starters on the field? And so there was these conversations that took place between two adults in my life. And, and I had my ears open and, and kind of understood that principle from a, a long ways back. And I, I think the, the piece of it is you know, I graduated and moved to Grand Prairie, that’s a four, four and a half hour drive away from Edmonton and, and Ainley and, and just at different times, you, you touch base and run into each other.

Rick Gilson (12:22):

And as I said, when I brought my teams down, he would see, he would come watch the games and and even came up a couple times for exhibition games. I, I think it’s just the piece of being willing to mentor and support. And, and the same thing applies in an English or social studies class. That’s what what I taught is just try to see the best, see the potential. Don’t overreact to some of the behaviors that initially ob be there, or, or definitely don’t overreact to the, I can’t, you know, I don’t get, I, I’m not, I don’t think I can do, you know, if we, if we overreact to those and we don’t invite people to see the potential or invite people to see the possibility of themselves being able to do then we miss a chance. We miss, we miss, or they miss a chance, but we miss a chance to positively impact the trajectory.

Rick Gilson (13:27):

Like we, we never don’t impact the trajectory of, of those we interact with. I don’t, I don’t believe very much in neutral. Mm. you know, we, we might tip, tip the nose of the plane down a little bit or tip the nose of the plane up a little bit. But the idea that we can kind of pass through each other’s life and not do anything, I, I’m not so sure that I accept that notion. So if I’m gonna impact, I’d much prefer to impact your trajectory up, even if it’s something as simple, I say to the, the youth and the team, the students that I’ve taught or coached, certainly the youth I work with now, you know, if somebody’s got a name tag, talk to them and use their name, you know, and that’s at the gas station. The hotel doesn’t matter. wherever you are, if someone’s got a name tag and you can see the name tag, then use their name that’s gonna positively impact the trajectory. And it’s also gonna make you a little more responsible for how you interact with that person. Cuz they’re not just a, they’re not just a nobody that’s Steve, or that’s jazz meat or whatever the case may be. And it’s okay if you don’t pronounce it perfectly. They, they’ll tell you, if you ask honestly, sincerely how to pronounce it, they’ll tell you and they’ll appreciate it. Mm-hmm.

Sam Demma (14:51):

<affirmative>, I’ve read about the importance of using people’s names in the book, how To Win Friends and Influence People when I was 16 years old and it, I, I bought the book from Value Village. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, which is a local thrift store near my house. And Value Village had, and they still do, they have this book purchasing system where if the book is listed for 7 99 or under, their price is 99 cents. And if the book is between 7 99 and 1499 sticker price, then their price is a dollar 99 in the store. And if it’s over 1499, then their price is 3 99 or something like this. And if you buy four, you get the fifth one free. And I remember I picked up that book from Value Village and I read the chapter that was all about the importance of using people’s names. And I went back the next time to buy some new books.

Sam Demma (15:45):

And after I picked out four or five books, they were all non-fiction. And some of them were biographies. Most of the sticker prices were 1499 and above, which meant in their system it would cost a few dollars per book. And when I got to the cash register, it was the first time I had become conscious of this idea of trying to address everybody, not just the people I knew, but total strangers to me by their names. And she had a name tag, I can’t recall her name now because it’s been many years, but I did use it. And she went down from typing or punching in buttons on the calculator to looking at me. And she paused for a couple seconds and said, do I know you

Rick Gilson (16:23):

<laugh> <laugh>?

Sam Demma (16:25):


Rick Gilson (16:25):

And I said, you do now

Sam Demma (16:27):

<laugh>. I said, I said, no, but I, I would love to meet you. You were talking now. And we started talking and one question led to the next, and I found out that her daughter went to a neighboring high school, was in the same year as me. And before I knew it, we had a great conversation and she scanned all the books through as 99 cents and they were all supposed to be four or $5 each. And I didn’t use her name with the intention of walking out of there with less expensive books, but it was interesting to me because I was like, wow, I had a better experience, she had a more pleasant experience and I got some great books and a good deal <laugh>. and I think that was the first time I was introduced to that idea. What, what other tiny habits do you think are impactful in our everyday life? whether as an educator or just as a human being.

Rick Gilson (17:17):

Now, did you pick Tiny Habits? Cuz it’s the book right Over my shoulder here behind me is that I did

Sam Demma (17:22):


Rick Gilson (17:22):

Were you, were you picking the low hanging fruit here?

Sam Demma (17:24):


Rick Gilson (17:26):

First, let me say that. I don’t always get free books <laugh>, but by using names, I don’t always get a reduction on my meal or anything like onto that. but I do get a smile mm-hmm. <affirmative> and, you know I could tell you just at an, an Italian grocery in Calgary, I, the lady didn’t have a name, so I asked her her name name tag. She had a name of course, <laugh>, but she didn’t have a name tag. So I asked her what her name was, she told me. And I said, well, that’s awesome. Nice to meet you. what’s been the best thing of your day today? And she paused for a minute and she said, well, you asking me my name? Hmm. And, and she’s got a smile. And actually that caught me off guard. That ac that kind of hit like a little bit of a sledgehammer, you know, and you’re like, whoa.

Rick Gilson (18:17):

But that, that was like a pleasant sledgehammer, I should say. Yeah. <laugh>, you know, so it just bounces back and you’re, you’re off having a great day. And I guess that segues a little bit. Tiny Habits is a, is a fantastic book. I don’t know that you meant for me to talk about the book, but the author is BJ Fogg, a professor at Stanford University, and one of the tiny habits there that, that I have been practicing now come up here in February, it’ll been two straight years where it’s called the Maui Habit. And basically every day on Maui is a great day, right? And so we all get outta bed pretty much the same way. When I speak with larger groups, I’ll, I’ll actually ask them this, say, you know, is there anybody here who gets outta bed hands first? And they kind of look at me like, no, I mean, obviously we all swing our feet out of the bed and you, and you stand up.

Rick Gilson (19:12):

And so the Maui habit is that as you put your feet down, you think a little bit about your day. And as you stand up out of the bed, you say out loud, today is going to be a great day. And then you celebrate. And, and that’s the principle behind Tiny Habit. You know, what’s the trigger? The trigger is your feet hitting the floor? What’s the action? And then what’s the celebration? And the closer your celebration is to the action, the more likely the habit will last. Hmm. And so, and, and I mean, I get up usually quite a bit earlier than my wife, and so I whisper it <laugh> and you know, the celebration can be a little shoulder shimmy or whatever it is you wanna do. It’s your choice. You decide your celebration. but I do believe in, you know, that it just states where you’re starting your day, even a day that’s filled with meetings you don’t necessarily want to go to or meetings you, you’re not really looking forward to.

Rick Gilson (20:19):

It still states that, and plants in your mind that seed that today is going to be a great day. Not necessarily all of it, but on the whole, it’s a great day. And of course, any day that we’re above the ground as opposed to six feet under the ground, you know, it’s a good way to take a look at things. But so, so that’s, that’s one that carries me through and, and trying to be somewhat optimistic. I, I think folks might suggest sometimes I’m overly optimistic, but trying to be optimistic is a good way to go. About your day beats the heck out of being a woe is me.

Sam Demma (20:59):

Hmm. There’s a, the spiritual teachers named Sat guru, and I often listen to some of his YouTube lectures, and I find his, his preaching, but also his concepts very applicable. And one of the things he often says is, you know, you came here with nothing and you will leave with nothing, which means that most of what happens while you’re here on Earth puts you on the profit side, doesn’t it? And not on a financial standpoint, but from a life experience standpoint and, and what you experience while you’re here. and it’s, it’s often a reminder for me to try and find the gratitude in everything that occurs and unfolds mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And I think it really resonates with that idea of starting the day with the intention of today is gonna be a great day. And the Maui habit is that because of like the actual state of Hawaii? It’s

Rick Gilson (21:53):

<laugh> Yeah, it, it, well, no, yeah, it, it’s the island in Hawaii, Maui. Okay. And, and it’s literally BJ fa like I’ve been to Maui many times some, several times with all-star football teams from Alberta. Oh, nice. And yeah, there’s a, that’s a good way to spend 10 days in early August is with a bunch of high school football players practicing in the morning and scrimmaging against Maui area teams. It’s great. but yeah, he just, he, he lives in Maui and he just says, Hey, you know, it’s a great, it’s, it’s hard to get up in the morning in Maui and say, oh man, this is terrible. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. So just, that is, that’s the name that he applied to the habit, and it’s called the Maui Habit. And, and I don’t mind sharing that habit with anybody that that asks, you know, so that’s the story behind that. But, you know, we, we take with us into the next life, everything we learn and everything we experience in this life. And yeah, I think it was, I don’t know, it might have been Denzel Washington, it said you know, your hear isn’t followed by your Brinks car with all the rest of your stuff and everything else, you know, we don’t have that. So

Sam Demma (23:08):

Yeah, there’s a powerful Denzel Washington speech at Dillard University mm-hmm. <affirmative> that I find very refreshing and invigorating to watch. And one of the, one of the lines he says is, I hope you kick your, I hope you kick your slippers under the bed. So you have to bend down to grab him when you’re down there, stay on your knees and say a quick prayer of gratitude, <laugh>. And it’s a great, it’s a great speech. who are some of your biggest influences, or it sounds like your coach and your dad were two of them as you were going through school, and even when you started your career as an educator. Is there anyone else that you think had a big impact on your philosophy?

Rick Gilson (23:51):

Well, I, I, I would be remiss if I didn’t, it’s not, yeah. I would be remiss if I didn’t say that. I’ve been richly blessed by my opportunities to study the gospel of Jesus Christ, you know, and to try to live the principles that are taught there. I do believe in the principle of eternal life and things of that nature. And so those are pieces I’ve had significant leaders in church and in, and in athletics throughout, throughout my life. I think I’m, I’m inspired by just, just like me, fellow everyday ordinary folks who are, are working through the challenges of raising a family trying to trying to work when, you know, we all want our children to be born perfectly healthy and stay healthy. I have colleagues who have, you know, had a young son diagnosed with childhood leukemia, and they, and they lose that young son far, far, far too early in that life.

Rick Gilson (25:05):

And watch how they’ve handled that. And, you know, you just keep your eyes open for people of character. And I, I don’t know that names are important. Yeah. you know, you’re, I’m inspired by some of the athletes that I’ve had the good fortune of coaching. I was a young man by the name of Jeff Halverson that played football for me up in Grand Prairie and went on to play football for the Okanagan son. And the thing about Jeff is in my high school memory, I think he scored somewhere in the neighborhood of 40 touchdowns. And, and I never saw him do anything except toss the ball to the referee and then go celebrate with his teammates. Hmm. You know, no matter how big the game. And he went on to play for the Okanagan Sun and was having a record shattering, not just record breaking, but a record shattering season rushing and scoring and, and all the rest of it.

Rick Gilson (26:04):

And 2004. and, you know, I’d phone him and, you know, how, how did the game go? And that, and he would talk about these teammates. He even would talk about former high school teammates who were playing for Victoria at the time, and Uhhuh <affirmative>, he talked about how they did, and he talked about how his teammates did and, and all that sort of stuff. But you couldn’t get him to, okay, but how many carries did you have? Or how many yards did you get? Or, you know, and, and he, he didn’t bother to ask, cuz if he didn’t wanna tell you that that was fine, you know, you could read about it the next day in the paper or whatever the case may be. Unfortunately, he away suddenly at practice that in that record breaking year he still led the nation in Russian, even though he passed away in the first week of September. Wow. And but he just was in all my experiences with him just a ton of fun to coach and, and work with. But he wasn’t perfect, you know, he didn’t do well in Calm ever <laugh> the career and life management course that you had to have to graduate. Yeah. and it drive me crazy in that regard, <laugh>, but you know, they’re there, they’re, there are people to learn from all around you. I mean, Sam, you, you are how old?

Sam Demma (27:27):

 23 now.

Rick Gilson (27:28):

Yeah. So you’re 23 going on 50 with your reading and like you’re an old soul kind of bit. You know, you’re, your thirst for learning is inspiring. You know, you’ve watched these, you’ve watched those, you’ve, you’ve read some of Wooden’s work. You, you’re keeping your eyes open and you’re learning and you’re receptive to learning. Well, that’s a great example. And anytime you see that with anybody around you, people who are curious and thirsty and desire to learn a little bit more, I, I like wor learning and working with those kindred spirits.

Sam Demma (28:05):

Where does the curiosity come from? Because I think I’ve noticed it in other people too. And it’s inspiring for me as, as it is for you, even when I’m speaking with you, I, I am energized by the conversation and excited to hear your ideas and where they’ve come from. But where does the curiosity come from for you?

Rick Gilson (28:27):

Let me ask you to finish this sentence. Just snap snap, right? You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him

Sam Demma (28:33):


Rick Gilson (28:34):

<laugh>. Okay. Everybody says drink. And, and I get that, and I always say thirsty. Hmm. You see, if you can help a horse be thirsty, they’ll drink. And, and so the same, it’s the same piece with, with our work with each other, you know, curious and thirsty. Think of those things together. If you’re curious about something, if you have a, an appetite to learn, then, then you just need some folks who will bump you a little bit with, Hey, have you heard of this? Or, take a look at this. Or, or, here’s that. Like you talked about Denzel Washington’s commencement speech at that particular university. He’s done three or four. And you know, if we just, if you and I just right now said to folks, Hey, around commencement time, it’s a pretty good time to go on YouTube and do a search. You won’t find all of the commencement speeches that are on there, great <laugh>, but you will find some. Yeah. And you’re going to learn something from those. And, and, you know, you can take a look at that. it, it’s the same around sharing, sharing books when someone says, oh, you know, I really wonder about, or I’m struggling with. And you’re like, well, you don’t have to read the whole book, but take a look at this, you know, and, and be willing to share. those, those are kinds of pieces that can help you get there. But it’s,

Rick Gilson (30:10):

It’s the idea of inviting people to think about the possibilities or letting yourself think about the possibilities. And you can do this, you can learn this DIY is, you know, that whole do-it-yourself world. well, accepting responsibility from my learning no matter what that might be, and then being open to the notion that other people are putting things out there for us to learn. And by reading about them, talking about them, thinking about them, and sharing them, we’re spreading a good word whenever we can.

Sam Demma (30:56):

Hmm. I think it’s really fascinating that you’ve taught a lot, but you’ve also coached a lot. I’ve interviewed a lot of educators as well, who speak very highly about the connections between athletics and education and just teaching and mentoring in general. I’m curious from your perspective what are the connections between coaching and teaching?

Rick Gilson (31:24):

I don’t think you can be a good coach without being a good teacher. Hmm. It, it’s interesting to me that I don’t know, I think it’s this book here. I’m, I could be wrong.

Rick Gilson (31:44):

It’s called Mastery Teaching by Madeline Hunter. And it might not be the right, right book, but there was a time when Andy Reid, the head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs, had a teaching book like unto this, and it might be this one that he gave all of his assistant coaches when they came on. And, and his whole premise was, if we can’t be good teachers, we can’t be good coaches mm-hmm. <affirmative>, because that, that’s, those two things are 100% interwoven. Now, what are you coaching for? That’s a key piece in and of itself, right? Like, I always prefer to win, but in, in everything, like, I, I like winning, I like winning a lot, but it was incredibly important to me that we won the right way when I was head coach up in Grand Prix. And so the notion that, that we can and must be good sports in how we win.

Rick Gilson (32:48):

So we won a lot of championships, but we also were blessed to win a lot of league most sportsmen, like team awards voted on by the other teams. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, you know, which is, which is kind of gratifying. It’s the same pieces as I would say to my, my players. I would love for you to go on and play junior and university football and go to the pros and fortunate enough to have a few who got that far from Grand Prix all the way to the CFL and, and coached some other kids on Team Alberta teams and national championship teams and things of that nature that some even played in the nfl. but if you’re not a good father, a good husband, a good employer, a good employee, then I didn’t succeed as a coach or, or a teacher, you know? And so with the teacher side, it’d also be, you know, I was mostly coaching guys, but when I, I did coach a couple of girls basketball teams, it’s the same piece.

Rick Gilson (33:53):

Just change the gender roles and all the rest of it. But again, you can be the best athlete you can be, but if you’re not a good person, so I, I take a look and we never know everything about somebody, right? But you, you take a look and you watch someone like a Steph Curry and how he carries himself and how he carries himself with his family. Right Now, I’m, I’m quite taken by coach Robert Seller of the New York Jets. I watch a lot of his press conferences. I am very intrigued by his thought process. And he made a comment early last year in his first year of coaching at the as head coach of the New York Jets that in the end, I, I could look it up, but I’m just gonna paraphrase on it. Yeah. At the end of every day, there is a game film of that day, and you, you and I, there’s a game film of our days too.

Rick Gilson (34:52):

And the truth is told in watching that game film, you can’t hide from the game film. And again, I’m paraphrasing, paraphrasing this statement here, but the, our game film of our life and game film in football is incredibly important <laugh>, right? But so our, our game film of our day and our interactions with all the people that we interacted with and our efforts to do things and learn things that game film does not lie. And, and that’s us, that’s just on us. It does, you know a coach looks at a game film and says, how come I can see you speed up right here on this play? Why weren’t you already going as fast as you could go? Hmm. Well, and when we look at the game films of our days, you know, what did we do with those days? Now that doesn’t mean there’s not leisure time and everything else. You’re not meant to be frantically going about day to day 20 24 7. And remember that Sam <laugh>,

Sam Demma (36:00):

I I was gonna say right before the break, I was imparted with some great wisdom over email by a gentleman named Rick Gilson <laugh>

Rick Gilson (36:07):

On the

Sam Demma (36:08):

Same, on the same topic of moving, moving quickly, but not being in a hurry. <laugh> ghost.

Rick Gilson (36:16):


Sam Demma (36:16):

Oh, sorry.

Rick Gilson (36:17):

Be quick, but don’t hurry.

Sam Demma (36:19):

Don’t hurry. Yes.

Rick Gilson (36:20):

And go slow to go fast. Yep.

Sam Demma (36:23):

That’s so true.

Rick Gilson (36:24):

Both John Wooden’s statements.

Sam Demma (36:26):

I was listening to a interview with Mike Tyson, and he was reflecting on his journey as a fighter and controversial individual. but he was telling the interviewer that one of the reasons he loved boxing was because it showed him the truth. And I think what he meant by that was when you stood in the ring whether you did the, you did the required re required training it showed when you, when you started the fight, because if you didn’t, you weren’t prepared. And you couldn’t run from that truth once you stepped into the ring. And I think it’s the same for all sports. There’s no shortcut. You either took the ball to a field and kicked it a thousand times or you didn’t. And once you step on the field and the whistle blows, that effort shows. so I think it’s a, a cool analogy for life, because for me, when I was growing up as an athlete, it always reminded me that there were no shortcuts.

Sam Demma (37:27):

And if I wanted to improve, I could, but I had to put in the, the effort and the, and have good coaches, and was blessed to have some amazing coaches. many of which, I mean, I’m not playing professional soccer today, but many of which really impacted just my personal philosophy. I had one coach who, it was a principle that all of our shirts were tucked in, and it was so much of a principle that if during the practice someone’s shirt fell out, he would blow a whistle and start looking around the room, or looking around the field silently until we all checked our shirts to see if ours was the one that fell out <laugh>. And he would wait for us to tuck the shirt back in before practice continued. And there was a cobblestone pathway down to the field. And if you had walked on the grass and he saw you walking down the grass, he’d wait until you got right up to him to shake his hand before telling you to young man, please walk back up the Cabo Sloan pathway and walk back down.

Sam Demma (38:22):

He had the principle of shaking every coach’s hand before leaving the field, even if you didn’t know the coach’s name, or they were the coach of a different team. and it’s funny, it’s been years, but all those things still stick so freshly in my mind, and I think have really helped shape my own discipline and philosophies in life. So I, I think you’re, you’re absolutely right. You can’t be a good coach if you’re not a good teacher, but if you are a good teacher and a good coach, you not only help students or young people with their athletics, but you shape the people they become. And I think it’s a really big responsibility.

Rick Gilson (38:57):

Yeah, it is a big responsibility. I, I’d say you, you, you can’t be a good coach without being a good teacher. You also probably can’t be a good coach or a good teacher without being a good learner. Hmm. you know, so all of those things are combined, and you also gotta remember every time you coach, you’re, you’re coaching your team, but your team doesn’t play against itself. I mean, it does to an extent, right. There is a, there is an element where you need to be your best. You Yep. Let the other team take care of themselves, but the other team is, is populated with the same age. They, the other team is populated by a group of young men or young women who have parents and loved ones. Like they’re not an alien. You’re not, you’re not playing against an alien. Yep. Right?

Rick Gilson (39:58):

And so any notion that they’re somehow not worthy, Hmm. That’s when, you know, I’m, I’m more than happy to have that debate discussion with anybody. You know, you, the pre-game talk where the coaches like you know, they’re this and they’re that, and they’re this. I can, no, I cannot abide by that. It’s like, why? They’re, they’re not demons. They’re other people with their dreams and aspirations and everything else. And play the game. Play as hard as you can. Like, I’d say hit ’em as hard as you can. Pick ’em up, test them off, tell ’em, good job. Go next game, next play. Hit ’em hard as you can. You know, you gotta play your best. You gotta do your best. But they’re young men or young women just like you with dreams and aspirations, just like you, they have parents, they have families. They might have had a crappy breakfast this morning, just like you did what, whatever the case may be. Yeah. Right. But we’re somehow, we’ve got to get back to where we see that we are the human race, but we’re not in a race against each other. And this, we can do better than we’re doing. we’re not sliding over into a politics conversation right now, but as a society, we can do better. Mm.

Sam Demma (41:25):

I love that. If you could, if you could travel back in time with the, you’ve had coaching and teaching and walk back into the first classroom you taught and tap yourself on the shoulder and impart some wisdom on yourself, not because you, you know, needed to hear it, but you think it would’ve been helpful to hear this when you were just starting in this industry. and in with this vocation, what would you have told your younger self?

Rick Gilson (41:55):

 first off, I would apologize to the students that I had in the, in the first 5, 10, 15, 20, 25, 30, 35 years of my career, <laugh>. because each year I hope there’s a better me, and definitely most definitely when it comes to assessment talking from an educator point of view in terms of grading and marking and evaluating and all of that I didn’t do it differently from other people, but I think collectively in the eighties compared to 20 22, 20 23, what, you know, what I, what I know now, I would do all of that very differently, which spills over into coaching and spills over into leadership. you know, the, the, the simple fact of the matter is life is, and I’ll use the education assessment term formative, and there isn’t half as much about education that is summative as in, here’s your grade, and now we’re over that.

Rick Gilson (43:08):

That’s nowhere near as important to me now as it was made to seem important then mm-hmm. <affirmative>. and, and I think that’s probably the biggest piece. I think standardized exams and all the rest of those things, man, I’d put ’em all the way over there and just say, go away. you know, so, and like I said, I’ve done administration all the way through principal central office, the whole bit. It’s, it’s just not the piece. I didn’t get a 79 yesterday, you know, on whatever it was that I was assessed on. I don’t think I’m going to get a 79 today either. But that doesn’t stop me from reflecting on how I worked and how I did and how I interacted and how well I listened when my super amazing all-star best in the world wife was speaking. you know, I, I think that, that, those are big, big pieces that I’d do entirely different on the restart.

Sam Demma (44:19):

Thank you so much, Rick, for taking the time to chat. This has been a really insightful conversation. I thoroughly enjoyed speaking with you and hope that we can maybe turn this into a series and do a couple more parts. <laugh>

Rick Gilson (44:31):


Sam Demma (44:32):

I, I really appreciate you making the time to have this conversation. And if an educator is listening to this or a coach and they wanna reach out and ask you a question, share an idea, what would be the best way for them to send you a message?

Rick Gilson (44:46):

Well I’m on Twitter at @Gilson1258. My email is the one that’s gonna last for the longest. It’s probably rick.gilson@sapdc.ca. And rickgilson.ca is my blog and, and things. I’m not a, as a daily, a blogger or as frequent a blogger as I’d like to be. but perhaps that’s next in life. We’ll see. But so there’s all those ways to get ahold of me and we’ll go from there.

Sam Demma (45:23):

Awesome. Rick, thank you. Thanks

Rick Gilson (45:24):

Very much. Thank you very much, Sam. look forward to meeting you in person when you get out west here in your Canada-wide journey that you’ve got on Tap <laugh>, and look forward to working with you more in the student leadership piece moving forward. So keep it going. Like I say, you’re, you’re young, but boy oh boy, you are thirsty and that’s really fun to see. So keep it going, <laugh>.

Sam Demma (45:47):

Thanks Rick, I appreciate it. And we’ll definitely stay in touch.

Rick Gilson (45:50):

Take care.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Rick Gilson

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

Patrick Bohnet – Executive Director of the Central Alberta Regional Consortium (CARC)

Patrick Bohnet - Executive Director of the Central Alberta Regional Consortium (CARC)
About Patrick Bohnet

Patrick Bohnet (@patrickbohnet), is the Executive Director of the Central Alberta Regional Consortium (CARC). Patrick has over 30 years in the field of education. 29 Years as an educator with 23 years of those as a school administrator.

His teaching career has always been in rural Alberta Schools in all K-12 grades. His education includes a BEd, MEd in Educational Administration, and EdD in Education Technology. Patrick received the John Mazurak Scholarship for his work in Education Technology. In addition, he was a Curriculum Implementation Support Consultant for 6.5 years with CARC and now as the Executive Director for CARC the last 6 years.

His background as a competitive athlete in hockey, national golf, world curling tour has helped with many years of coaching. He has coached many school teams over his career, coached hockey, and was the Director of Player Development for Alberta Golf.

Keys to his success as a teacher, adminstrator, and coach has been building relationships and having strong communication skills.

Connect with Patrick: Email | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Central Alberta Regional Consortium (CARC)

John Mazurak Scholarship

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):

Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest is Patrick Bohnet. Patrick is the Executive director of the Central Alberta Regional Consortium, CARC. Patrick has over 30 years in the field of education, 29 years as an educator with 23 years of those as a school administrator. His teaching career has always been in rural Alberta schools in K to 12 grades. His education includes a BEd, MEd in Educational Administration, and EdD in Education Technology. Patrick received the John Mazurak Scholarship for his work in Education Technology. In addition, he was a Curriculum Implementation Support Consultant for 6.5 years with CARC and now as the Executive Director for CARC the last 6 years. His background is a competitive athlete in hockey, national golf world. Curling Tour has helped with many years of coaching. He has coached many school teams over his career, including hockey, and was the director of player development for Alberta Golf. The keys to his success as a teacher, administrator, and coach have been building relationships and having strong communication skills. I hope you enjoy this conversation with Patrick Bohnet, and I will see you on the other side.

Sam Demma (01:29):

Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host, Sam Demma. Today we’re joined by very special guest, Patrick Bohnet. Pat and I connected maybe six to eight months ago now, and we are doing some work together in the new year, and I’m so excited to start off the year having him on the show to talk about his journey through education, but before we two, before we get too far ahead and jump in, I want to give himself a opportunity to introduce who he is. So Pat, please tell the audience listening who you are and what it is that you do in education.

Patrick Bohnet (02:03):

Absolutely. So long journey, it’s over 30 years in the, the education kind of realm. I started my teaching career in 1987, fall of 87, graduated from University. I, it’s interesting the journey started, I was in business program and my girlfriend’s dad at the time said, Hey, would you like to help coach my hockey team? And my girlfriend’s younger brother played on this team, and I’d played high level of hockey here in, in Alberta. And I had parents come to me and say, oh, you’d be a great teacher. So halfway through my four year business program, I switched to education and, and never looked back. So out of my 29 years, 23 were as a school administrator, Vice Principal or Principal. When I graduated, there were no jobs near Edmonton, so that’s the University I went to. So I, I found a temporary contract in a, a little town, about an hour west of Edmonton and that contract ended and then in fact, it’s kind of neat, the, the guy that does one of the Oilers host shows pregame and, and Postgame, I was his volleyball coach and my first year of teaching, and I’ve gone to see him at the Oilers games, and his dad was my Principal. So anyways, he remembered me.

Sam Demma (03:45):

Wow. <laugh>.

Patrick Bohnet (03:46):

It’s one of those things in, in this conversation today, it’s about impact that, that you have on kids and how you remember them or they remember you. Anyways, then I went up north as far north in Alberta as you can get in Fort Veril Vermilion. So now I’m only a two year teacher. And then my third year I became a vice-principal, so highly unusual too to start an admin program. Then I moved back closer to Edmonton, raised a couple of my own kids and was in one school division for 23 years. And then currently I work for central Alberta Regional Consortium, and we’re one of seven organizations in Alberta. We’re unique to Canada. The government provides funding for professional learning for teachers, administrators, educational assistance, librarians, secretaries, the whole gamut. And I became a consultant for, did that job for six and a half years, and then went back to be a principal for three, two years and another small town just outside Edmonton, and then back gained as the executive director of, of one of our seven offices in, in the province. So it’s been a long journey but there’s been many great things along the way.

Sam Demma (05:12):

I have a quote unquote extended family in Red Deer Alberta. Half of the family wears Calgary flames jerseys in the other half, whereas Oilers Jerseys <laugh>. And one occasion I was in Red Deer speaking, and they invited me to stay with them, and they put me in a jersey and brought me to a game. And the dad’s name is Chris <laugh>, and he was the only one wearing the flames jerseys, and it was a flames Oilers pregame. And of course the Oilers won. And the third goal, they scored, he like stood up out of the chair and was demoted to the bar area. <laugh>. but there’s so much passion for sport, and it sounds like sport has played a big role in your own life. do you think there’s any correlation between coaching sports and teaching? And if so, like what are they and why do you think they’re so complimentary?

Patrick Bohnet (06:06):

A, absolutely. So when I, I look back and it’s relationships and understanding, you know, I’m gonna say kids, teens, my favorite group has always been junior high, the grade seventh to nines. but a as a a teacher, and again, things are different now. There was always that expectation that as a teacher you kind of chipped in and, and became a coach. And because of my background, you know, personally in, in excelling in sports, it was that chance to give back. So there’s always that kind of, if you’ve been involved in sports and become, became a teacher, it’s much easier now to fill that role based on, on your experiences, you know, and, and I was very lucky. I played to the highest level that you could in amateur hockey. one of my coaches was Ken Hitchcock, who, who won Stanley Cups and coaching in the N H L.

Patrick Bohnet (07:08):

Wow. it’s funny, the last school that I was teaching in in Warburg was quite the connection because Dave Hoal who’s family farm connected to the school’s ground, he’s the coach of the Seattle Stockton right now. And Lindy Ruff also from that town, he’s also still a coach in the N nhl. So it’s was really weird that we had these connections. But, you know, nowadays it’s, it’s interesting being a principal. The, the passion and, and extra time and work that you put into outside of teaching and planning, you don’t find as many teachers that want to, you know, coach kids. It’s like, okay, I’m done. It’s four o’clock I’m going home. Which, which I, I never grew up with that there was that inner expectation and you did it, and I loved it.

Sam Demma (08:10):

That’s the interesting part. It at times can feel like a big responsibility and investment of your time, but you loved it. W why do you think you felt that passion and had that extra ambition to do extra cooking activities versus maybe today there’s a little bit of a lack of that.

Patrick Bohnet (08:33):

I, I think, you know, it became one of those, you, you don’t find out till afterwards what kind of impact that you made kids. And, but I also found it was an ability to make that deeper connection with kids. Mm-hmm. You know, outside of school, kids go to school. Do they love school? Some kids do. Yeah, some do don’t. But when you take kind of a, a role in the things that they love you, you garner a totally different respect. The, the kids, the students, you know, even if I wasn’t coaching and I’ll, you know, we talked about this, you know, briefly before, but as a school administrator or a teacher, you show up at the hockey rink or the, the dance recitals and the kids see you there. They know you don’t have your own kids taking part, and the parents are going, well, why is he here?

Patrick Bohnet (09:37):

And the kids see you and they try harder. I I it’s like, wow, you know, this person who’s a role model in our, our school has come to watch me and the parents garner a different respect for you too. And, and it’s one of those, he came here to watch our kids play. He’s gotta be a good guy. He cares. Mm-hmm. So when you had to have those positive or difficult conversations, you, you could work on a different level. You know, you weren’t this intimidating person that was a teacher or a school administrator. You were part of the community.

Sam Demma (10:19):

I saw a post the other day that said, young people spell love and care t i m e, and it’s about the time you invest in them and their lives. That has a really big impact. It’s hard to make sure you don’t spend too much time to the point where you burn yourself out, especially when there’s so many responsibilities and so many things that you could attend and be a part of, especially if you have a giving and caring heart and really wanna show up for kids. How do you balance your own need to fill your cup with pouring time and energy into young people? And also nowadays, teachers,

Patrick Bohnet (11:01):

It, it becomes a time management thing. You know, when you talk about the burnout. Yes. You know, there are times of the year where, you know, report cards or parent teacher interviews, you can’t just put Okay, your coaching duties on hold or vice versa. You know, you’re in the league championships and you have these extra practices or things like that. So it’s a matter of like preparing well and advanced and knowing, you know, on a calendar when these things take place. And, you know, the hard part too is having my own kids and being part of their lives. Mm-hmm. And, and my wife. It’s one of those balances where they’re affected too, all of this, not just your career or, or your coaching. So it’s, it, it takes some extra time, effort, energy, but it’s rewarding. You know, you, you look back and go, oh man, I, I was so tired and I made it, made it through all of that. But, you know, it’s that impact thing thing. And balancing all of that in your life, knowing, well, you know, we’re very lucky as educators that, you know, you get additional holidays at Christmas or Easter in the summer, where now you can really focus on, you know, your family and, and home versus, you know, coaching and teaching.

Sam Demma (12:31):

Yeah. It’s so true. And you can golf <laugh>, spend some time in the great outdoors, visit your grandkids happy birthday to, is she your youngest or,

Patrick Bohnet (12:44):

Yeah, Kellyann is just turning two today. And she’s the youngest grandchild and other grandsons are five and soon to be seven.

Sam Demma (12:57):

 pat shared some really great advice with me. If you’re starting to feel a little bit of resentment with the students in your classroom just tell your kids to have grandkids and it’ll all change <laugh>.

Patrick Bohnet (13:07):

Yeah. There’s a, there’s a new light around little kids and we, we just, you love them to death and they’re yours. And, you know, you can be that spoiled grandparent. You don’t have to have that responsibility of raising them and spoiled them.

Sam Demma (13:23):

<laugh>. That’s awesome. You, you mentioned some of the coaches that you’ve had and were honored to have as an athlete in education. I’m assuming you also had mentors that played a big role in your development as an educator. When you think about your coaches and your mentors, whether in sport or in school, what are some of the lessons you think they taught you that are foundational to your belief system now?

Patrick Bohnet (13:48):

You know, it’s that, that team atmosphere, whether you’re, you know, part of a team and not realize it. So I, I look back and my, I’m gonna say my third principal he was big on relationships amongst staff. Mm. So every Friday, you know, staff went to the Legion and he made us feel like, you know, he’s connected. He cared about us and provided opportunities. Here again, you know, he had family as well, but it was like, all right, I want to spend some time with you guys and show you that I care. And, and just off the record, do these types of things and, and function. So it was one of those, you build a great team, the results are amazing. Mm-hmm. And, you know, you always hear that common term. There’s, there’s no I in team. And it’s true. No one teacher, one principal can’t run a great school. It takes everybody. So acknowledging that, and I’ve always kept, kept that philosophy moving forward and you know, so that, that was kind of a mentoring, you know, impact. we had a 25 year reunion for our midget hockey team.

Sam Demma (15:11):

Oh, wow.

Patrick Bohnet (15:13):

Ken Hitchcock coached and he remembered all of us. And, and it was like, you’ve coached so many people at so many levels and he remembered like little things, you know, letting me and my buddy crawl in the crawl space at the sports shop, cuz that’s where he worked and picking out our own hockey sticks. And so it, it was neat. And he sat at my table and, you know, and I said, you were like, you spend more time with me than my dad. And he did have an impact. So, you know, I always joke and say, oh yeah, the garbage cans are getting thrown around in that dressing room. Cuz he was that kinda coach <laugh> back then. And I don’t think he, he does it now. You know, when he, his last coaching job, he had a stay with the weathers not long ago, but it, it was amazing the impact of, you know, a coach or a principal that kind of resonated with you. And I always thought, well, why? What did they do? And it was made, made me feel part of a team. I was important no matter what my ability and level was.

Sam Demma (16:26):

What makes you feel special? What does somebody do that makes you feel special? Is it them spending time? Is it them getting to know you? Like it it sounds like relationships and building relationships with students is really important. How do you do it?

Patrick Bohnet (16:43):

I, I think a lot of it has to do with you don’t try to build relationships, but what you want to do is understand how they tick. So I’ll call it all of the, the forgotten kids or the, the low achievers. I always resonated with them because I had the ability, all right, I wanna listen. I’m not gonna sit there and, you know, jam something down someone’s throat until I understood either the parent or the kid. And once you hear that, right, there is a deeper understanding of why things are taking place, behaviors, actions, et cetera. And then you work on that and go, you know, maybe a punishment isn’t the best solution or the, the solution all of the time. Maybe it’s something different. And listening was a, was a huge piece in building those relationships. So all of a sudden those kids would say, Hey, he’s listening to me.

Patrick Bohnet (17:51):

He cares about me. Do I do things special for them? Not really <laugh>, but then their behavior changes. Hmm. So that, that was, that was huge. And I had that ability over time, you know, whether it was going to see these kids doing something in their community or being part of their community, or just listening and finding out where their background is. And, you know, there’s a big word that we use in education calling differentiation. So, you know, every kid learns differently, so you need to teach them differently. You need to also treat them all individually differently as well. You know, and you sometimes you got feedback from your teachers going, well, why didn’t that person get a, you know, seven day suspension and then that person didn’t. Well, once you understood the situation, maybe the, you know, that decision didn’t warrant that individual

Sam Demma (18:52):

Time. Times are changing constantly in education. There’s new requirements being put in, in place. There’s new curriculum being put in place. As things change, as things change, there’s challenges and opportunities. I’m just curious, what do you think are some of the opportunities that exist in education right now?

Patrick Bohnet (19:14):

I, I think there’s so many more opportunities for teachers to grow within their profession. You know, when I became a teacher, you know, Mike Consortia, I didn’t know existed. Mm. And it didn’t exist probably until, I think we’re been around for over 30 years now. But knowing that, hey, there’s things that I can go to and learn to increase my professional capacity that’s there. Like the provincial union, there’s conferences and our organization. So there’s many opportunities to become a strong teacher. I think the workload is different. You know, I always look back and I, I went through three different generations. The first generation was, you know, you, you as a student, there were rules and guidelines. And if you were in trouble at school, you were in trouble at home. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And then in the, I’m gonna say in the nineties when the youth act came into place, you know, that’s when all of a sudden kids are going, I’m reporting you, you know, social services, <laugh>.

Patrick Bohnet (20:33):

So that changed things. And, and then the next generation is, and I’ve always been in rural school settings, but single families, single parent families, that changed the dynamics in the education field. And then finally technology, you know, I, I was one of those people that I embrace technology and it, it can work so much for you or so much against you. And so kids behave differently, think differently. And if you’re, you can see that you have to adjust. So, you know, I’ve been a change agent my whole life. People say, well, do you still do the same things that you did? No, absolutely not. I’ve had to change, you know, how I do things, what I do. I, and I don’t say to keep up, but to be stronger at what I,

Sam Demma (21:34):

It’s funny you mentioned the three different generations you’ve interacted with so far in education. I say so far because maybe it’ll be a fourth that you consider soon. <laugh>. my uncle Peter was sitting across from me at the dinner table at Christmas dinner telling me stories about my grandfather who passed away when I was 13 years old. One of the stories was about him running onto the soccer field after dropping his son off at school because a student was screaming at him. And my grandfather ran right onto the field and grabbed the kid and say, like, yelled at him and then proceeded to go to the principal’s office. And the principal was like, Sam he had the same name as me. He’s like, Sam, you can’t just go onto the field and grab a student. This is not acceptable. And, you know, if that happened today, you’re getting charged, you’re going to jail. Like the times have definitely changed. One thing that hasn’t changed though is the importance of engaging and communicating with the parent community of the students in your school. And I’m curious if you have any philosophies around engaging parents as a teacher, as an administrator, to support the success of their kids.

Patrick Bohnet (22:45):

Yeah. And parents can be your best enemy or, or your worst enemy. And one of the things that I learned early in my career is you can gain, I’m gonna say trust from your parent community. It goes a long ways. Mm-hmm. You know, again, like, you know, being part of the community, they can’t say, well, you’re just this flyby night guy that comes in for the day and disappears. So that, that, that part was always huge. But the other part that you quickly found out is everything that goes home with the student isn’t the whole story Hmm. One side of the story. So you, you always had those difficult conversations with the parent, and I always made sure that the, the student was in the same setting when he had those difficult conversations. And, you know, I would never say to the parents, you know, your kid was lying, but it was like, you know what, little Johnny or Sally or whoever it is Nope. Tell, tell your story to both of us right now. And now that student would go <laugh>.

Patrick Bohnet (24:05):

Oh, and the truth would come out. Yeah. And, you know, and not making a big deal about it and coming, you know, to a resolution. Sometimes you had a parent going, Hmm, well that wasn’t the story that I got. I’m sure glad I got it now. And they react differently. Hmm. So then from that day forward, it’s one of those, all right, we, we need to make that call to the school first and have that conversation. So, you know, those things happen over time and, and word gets out that, okay, you know what, let’s, let’s check in with the, with the teacher or the principal or whatever before we, you know, come to running out in the field and grabbing a kid. <laugh>. <laugh>.

Sam Demma (24:53):

Yep. That is definitely not a good way to react as a parent. Take notes if, if parents are listening right now, <laugh> pat, you’ve been in education for a long time. You have lots of experiences and wisdom. When you think about your journey and the things that you’ve learned, if you could travel back in time and tap your younger self on the shoulder when you started your first job teaching, you wouldn’t, not that you would change anything about your path, but if you could just speak to your younger self when you were starting that first year, what advice would you give that you thought would be helpful to hear?

Patrick Bohnet (25:31):

 <laugh> it was interesting. You know what, I was, I was lucky that I was a good student, but I wasn’t a good kid. So not being a good kid helped me understand dealing with the kids. So I’d look back and, and, and there were times where were myself and my buddies, we would intentionally make teachers lives miserable. Mm. And, you know, call it a cheap form of entertainment. If I went back and go, yeah. You know, I, I I maybe that would’ve been the best advice. You know, there’s ways to have fun, but to, you know, whether it’s other classmates or students or the teachers, that word bullying, it always came to mind. And it was like, I look back, I was one of those, but it was, I was a bully to the teachers. Hmm. Too. And so if I, I, the advice I’d say is, you know what? There’s a, there’s a better way to develop relationships. Cause I remember my first student teaching job was in my junior high school.

Sam Demma (26:44):

Oh, wow.

Patrick Bohnet (26:46):

You know, in the lunchroom, a couple of the teachers said, you’re gonna be a teacher. And I go, yeah, I hope you get some of what you gave us <laugh>. And, and, and it’s, it’s true. Like it was, you know, I didn’t need to do those things. You know, it didn’t gain me any respect from my peers. They probably looked at me and said, oh, you were a jerk. So yeah. That, that would be the advice. <laugh>,

Sam Demma (27:17):

I appreciate the honesty and transparency. I think we can all reflect on a time where we’re not proud of actions that we took. I was suspended when I was in grade seven. But I think it’s those situations where we, if we choose to reflect on our choices, where we learn the most and develop the most as people, and I’m sure those same teachers who in your first year teaching talked to you in the lunchroom, are now a lot of your respected peers. and hopefully some of your friends, are close friends. But Pat, thank you so much for taking the time to come on the podcast. Share a little bit about yourself, your journey, your beliefs around education. This was an awesome conversation. If an educator listening wants to reach out, ask a question, suggest you switch the hockey team that you currently cheer for or invite you out to play a round a golf, what would be the best email for them to reach out?

Patrick Bohnet (28:14):

Actually what’s my favorite sport, Sam, that I play

Sam Demma (28:20):

It’s golf, right?

Patrick Bohnet (28:21):

Yeah. So my personal email is golfbum@telus.net. That, that would be the easiest one if you’re, you’re looking, you know, outta the profession. And then, you know, I do have my work one which is pbohnet@carcpd.ab.ca. If you’re looking for know some professional learning or professional advice, there you go.

Sam Demma (28:50):

Awesome. Patrick, thank you so much for coming on the show. Keep up the great work and I’ll talk to you soon.

Patrick Bohnet (28:55):

Yes. Looking forward to February. We’ll see you soon, Sam.

Sam Demma (28:58):

I believe that educators deserve way more recognition, which is why I’ve created the High Performing Educator Awards. In 2022, 20 educator recipients will be shortlisted, each of whom will be featured in local press. invited to record an episode on the podcast, and spotlighted on our platform. In addition, the one handpicked winner will be presented with an engraved plaque by myself. I will fly to the winner’s city to present this to them and ask that they participate in a quick photo shoot and interview on location. The coolest part, nominations are open right now, and they close October 1st, 2022. So please take a moment to apply or nominate someone you know or work with that deserves this recognition. You can do so by going to www.highperformingeducator.com/award. We can never recognize educators enough.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Patrick Bohnet

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.

Jeremy and Lynn Hayes – Two Incredible Humans Pioneering the Allie Sunshine Project

Jeremy and Lynn Hayes - Two Incredible Humans Pioneering the Allie Sunshine Project
About the Allie Sunshine Project

The Allie Sunshine Project is a not-for-profit organization, and its core purpose is to ignite learning and wellness. They create events and initiatives within Windsor-Essex County that provide a nurturing and educational experience for the body, mind, and spirit, within the self and with others. Their organization is energized by the living legacies of every one of our Rays of Sunshine, who are dedicated volunteers. They make their work possible and embody the spirit of our organization’s core values as wellness explorers. For more information: https://thealliesunshineproject.com/ 

Connect with Jeremy and Lynn: Email | Instagram | Facebook

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Habitat for Humanity Windsor-Essex

How to Build a Healing Garden – PennState Extension

SelfDesign Learning Foundation

Brent Cameron’s “WonderTree” and Virtual High

Margaret J. Wheatley Books

Empty Your Backpack by Sam Demma

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):

Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator Podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s interview is a very special one because it is the first time, the first time ever that I’m interviewing a mom and a son on the podcast at the same time. Jeremy Hayes and Lynn Hayes are two of the amazing humans, two of the visionaries behind the Allie Sunshine Project. The Allie Sunshine Project is inspired by educator and wellness pioneer Allison Hayes, known as Allie Sunshine, for her unique ability to share her light and positive energy with everyone she met while she was still on this planet. The Allie Sunshine Project is a not-for-profit organization, and their core purpose is to ignite learning and wellness. They do this by creating events and initiatives within the Windsor Essex County that provide a nurturing and educational experience for the body, mind, and spirit within the self, and with others.

Sam Demma (01:09):

Their goal, their mission statement, is to inspire a network of wellness explorers through creating and participating in projects in the community that nurture self-healing and capture learning opportunities again, for the body, mind, and spirit. They do this through nature, shared wisdom, and living legacies. Three things which we’ll talk about today. And through those three things, they empower humanity to choose personal wellness. I was so inspired after my conversation with Jeremy and Lynn that I put on my boots and I went for a hike through the forest. I hope and know that you will have a similar experience after listening to this amazing conversation. I will see you on the other side. Put on some headphones and enjoy. Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator. Today we have two very special guests that were recommended by a past guest; Anita Bondi. Their names are Jeremy Hayes and Lynn Hayes. Jeremy, Lynn, please introduce yourselves and share a little bit about the work that you do with your amazing organization.

Jeremy Hayes (02:18):

Awesome. Thank you so much, Sam. Thanks for having us. And thanks to Anita for recognizing us as educators. We’re not traditional educators currently, but yeah, we’re definitely working in education and it’s great to be recognized. My name’s Jeremy Hayes and I’m the visionary Director of the Allie Sunshine Project, and by day I’m a salesperson in the greenhouse industry out in Lemington. So to introduce myself and how I got into education, I, after high school, I was working as a machinery operator and not really feeling it, and I was facing winter layoffs and decided to go back to school, and I went to St.Clair College and really caught the bug. I, as, as soon as I sat in those classes where, you know, I was able to choose my own major, I, I just felt a vibe and knew that I wanted to teach at the post-secondary level or some, in some applied way in the future.

Jeremy Hayes (03:30):

and so fast forward from 1999 to 2013, and my great-aunt who is a enthusiastic educator and lifelong learner, she she had always been coaching me, kind of prodding me, grooming me for something something that she saw in me. And so she had recently started on the board of the Self Design Graduate Institute, which was founded based on the principles of Brent Cameron’s Wonder Tree and Virtual High, which were learner directed K to eight and nine to 12 bricks and mortar schools that he founded in Vancouver, British Columbia. And they realized that those learners, after finishing their undergrad, wouldn’t have anywhere to go that was learner directed. So they said, let’s set up a, a graduate institute that is completely learner directed. And so she said, Jeremy, I think you’d be perfect for this. And that was in 2013 at the time.

Jeremy Hayes (04:41):

so I had completed a college diploma and a, and an undergrad, so it was kind of perfect timing for me. I was, I was married Toran at the time, who was a educator. And so we looked at doing that doing that together mm-hmm. <affirmative>. but she you know, she had been living really vibrantly with an ongoing illness for a number of years, for almost a decade at that point. but it progressed. And in 2015, she passed away and almost immediately after she passed the family flanged up, and her brother said, you know, what are we gonna do? are we gonna collect donations at the funeral and give them to a charity? Or he, he suggested that we actually start an organization. And so, at that, at that time, in that moment the Ali Sunshine Project was born and it was born largely because we had been the family and the friends had been so impacted by Allison and her spirit and energy that she, she brought to every situation that she was in and the way that she educated in the classroom and beyond in all of her relationships.

Jeremy Hayes (06:06):

She really had a vested interest in, in everybody that she connected with. And it was as her husband, I got to see her do that over and over and over again. And she just really believed in, people believed in their goals, and she would, you know, ask you what, what your dreams were, and she’d follow up with you. And so that was where the Ali Sunshine Project was born. And in the days and months following, as we were trying to figure out what to do I decided to enroll in the Self Design Graduate Institute and dedicate my Masters of Arts in Education to exploring how we built the Sunshine Project and what that meant. And so it wasn’t long after that I got role in my great Aunt Flore and I cooked up a plan to rope my mom into the mix <laugh>. Cause she, being, she being a retired grade school teacher, was perfect for some continuing education. And I knew that she would love it. And so I put the full court press on and had aunt Flore worked the back channels. And I’ll hand it, I’ll hand it over to Lynn to, to talk a little bit about her experience.

Lynn Hayes (07:25):

Hi. Well, teaching for me is a lifelong calling. I loved school as a child, and role played my favorite teachers at every opportunity I had. Right out of high school I went to teachers college and became an elementary school teacher, and worked in that field for 40 years. During that time, I taught all ages from kindergarten through to grade seven, and were also worked in adult education through our local University, teaching a program called Education Through Music, which really explored how children learn in a dynamic, vibrant way. In retirement, I continue this journey of learning and teaching in all my relationships, and especially as grandmother of my four grandsons. And in my role, my current role as the education team lead of the Allie Sunshine Project. When Jeremy suggested I join him in this Self Design Graduate Institute program, it was the perfect opportunity to fulfill my goal of completing a master’s degree, and to explore what would be next in my learning journey. The research question that motivated our study was how have we inspired a community of explorers to choose wellness with nature, emergent learning, shared wisdom, and living legacy. Today, we will share with you some highlights of how we answered this and continue how we continue to explore the answers to our questions along the way. I think I could go on, I don’t know what we want. I can do talk about learning what a learning community is, or Jeremy,

Sam Demma (08:58):

That’s, that’s a perfect introduction to yourself and your background, and I appreciate you sharing that. one, you mentioned four things there that kind of peak my interests. can you both speak maybe a little bit on the importance of nature and how that has become one of the big pillars of your research question? And maybe we can go through all four of them very, very briefly.

Jeremy Hayes (09:22):

Perfect. Yeah, for sure. I’ll, I’ll I’ll jump in and, and tackle that one. nature was something that we were personally, personally I was always kind of interested in, but never never had a a really close relationship with nature. And so it was something that I wanted to develop, you know, a little bit more personally. And I had an interest in agriculture. I was interested in agriculture from an early age. And so, but I, I was coming at nature from more of a scientific understanding rather than more of a spiritual connection. And so that was something that I was trying to develop for myself at the same time as sharing that passion with the, the rest of the team in the Ali Sunshine Project and the people, our, you know, our, our members and anybody that we engaged with patrons that came to our events or participated in our projects.

Jeremy Hayes (10:27):

One of our first one of our first events that we put together was called The Planting Wellness. we, we initially called it the, the plant giveaway, and be that I had some connections in Lemington. we rounded up some some seeds and got some plants growing. And we were yeah, just set up an event kind of like a nursery style with tomatoes, carrots, peppers, everything under the sun. different stuff that we had never seen or grown before. to give people an experience that they could take home with them and and, and start that relationship with nature on their own to, you know, just break down those walls of our, our Western perception in nature is so, it’s so, so sterile, and it’s so mechanistic, and it’s black and white, and we really objectify nature the way that our language you know, names all of the, the different animals, like they’re a thing.

Jeremy Hayes (11:37):

where what we’ve come to learn is that some, some other cultures, they, they don’t objectify. those they treat them as sentient beings, and they, they, they treat them as an equal and opposite other the tree has a life. the, the plant is, is alive and is a living, being a creature, not a thing. and so we’ve, we’ve come to understand some of the barriers to developing that relationship. And then along that path, we’re we’re doing through our events and our projects we’re looking to break down those barriers. And one of the experiences that really punctuated that for me was you know, this was largely a, a grieving journey, was a grief project. Not that it’s come to be so much more than that. But in the beginning, we were you know, building a community and largely sharing in the grief of missing Allison in the garden.

Jeremy Hayes (12:47):

you know, as the, as the leader of the organization we were planting a vegetable garden and had been doing this for a number of years. When I just realized there was a lot of stress, the plants would all come in, we’d distribute them at the event, and then we would try and plant, you know, as many of ’em as we could before they died. And whatever didn’t make it, we’d throw on the compost pile. And that particular spring our kale plants were having a rough go. And they were malnourished and eaten the bits by the, by by some bugs. And so we had to take the kale plants outta the garden and throw ’em on the compost heap. And I, I really took that on the chin because I felt like it was a bit of my disorganization that maybe planted a month too late and didn’t water ’em on time.

Jeremy Hayes (13:40):

so I was a little saddened by that. But then I took ’em over to the compost pile, and their growing wonderfully fruitfully was kale plant that we had thrown away a month earlier and not even looked at and didn’t water. It didn’t fertilize, it didn’t do anything to it, but nature had shown us the way that nature provides everything that we need if we’re if the conditions are perfect. And for me, it was such a metaphor that I don’t need to be scared of nature, nature’s not the boogeyman. Everything that we need is there, not just for our sustenance, but for our, for our spiritual growth and for our inspiration. there are so many lessons that were there for me in that compost pile because it’s, it’s ironic that it’s a pile of dead bodies. It’s a pile of dead plants, Sam, and it’s being decomposed actively by bugs and microbes that are transforming that death into new life, and providing the nutrients that were those old bodies of those plants in an available form to that new kale plant.

Jeremy Hayes (14:58):

And that was all happening and has been happening for millennia on this planet without me and my watering can, and all my wishes and hopes and dreams. So I’ve just, I’ve really come to, it was like a, a breakthrough moment for me to be able to relax into my relationship with nature and trust that I am a part of nature. And that you know, this life is so much, so much of this life. The Art of living is about knowing what to conserve and what to release to the compost heap. And so I was able to really process a lot of my grief in that moment. And nature helped me with that. And I was also able to gain a lot of insights about just, you know, loosening up on how hard I press to control things in the garden and in my life in general, that everything’s gonna, everything’s gonna work out.

Sam Demma (16:02):

Wow. Who knew a ka plant in the compost bin could bring so much thoughts. <laugh>, it’s such a cool reflection, and I’m so grateful that you shared that. Lynn, what about yourself with, with, with the connection to nature? Has that been something that you’ve had your whole life, or did you find it

Lynn Hayes (16:20):

Recently? Well, it, it is something I had as a child. I think children do that naturally. Yeah. But over the years, it got pushed aside. And, you know, I wasn’t outside that much. My job was indoors. You come home, you work in your house. and part of our studies, we took a eco psychology course with Hillary Layton, and that experience brought us to a deeper connection with nature and experience ourselves. one of her requirements, part of the course was to do site sitting. We had to choose a spot in nature and sit there for 30 minutes a day, every day, no matter what the weather for 30 days in a row, and just be there and see what happens. So for me, this was when the importance of being connected to nature moved from my head to my heart. I chose a spot on the bank of a creek that’s in my backyard, and I had lived there for 25 years, but had probably never done this. Never sat. So I sat on the ground with my back against the trunk of a tree, and the tree that beck and me come sit here. And it was so powerful. I was overcome with a deep sadness as all that surrounded me in that space, whispered to my soul, welcome back. We missed you.

Sam Demma (17:41):

Mm, there’s a continue.

Lynn Hayes (17:46):

 so that was just where it, it I understood it at a deep level that it wasn’t, we, I didn’t feel it was lip surface. It was a deep conviction to the power, the healing power of nature, nature, what it has to teach us. And now this awareness allowed us to be different in how we were leading our organization.

Sam Demma (18:10):

That’s awesome. There’s a really beautiful, yeah, there’s a, a really great book called The Seasons by a man named Jim Roan, and he talks about how the changing of the seasons is such a big analogy for life as well. And what you plant in the spring or in the, in the fall, you harvest in the spring. And anyway, there’s just so many cool little things that you can learn from nature, and both of you are really highlighting that right now we back onto a little ravine. And this conversation has inspired me to put my boots on afterwards and go for a walk, because I used to do it all the time, <laugh>. And I, I hope it’s inspiring the listeners as well, because for me, whenever I’d walk through nature, my nostrils would clear up. And I, I’m not, I don’t have allergies or anything, but the moment I get in there and start walking, it’s like, my body just feels alive.

Sam Demma (19:04):

 so I, yeah, I appreciate this reminder, and I think so many educators will also, the last point you raised was, and you, you said it, living, living legacy. and it immediately brought to mind a friend of mine named Cody Sheen, who wrote a book called Everyday Legacy. He worked in the funeral industry, and for years would listen to people talk about the regrets at the table after their loved ones had passed away, and they would write their eulogies and be, their eulogies would be read. And his whole philosophy after hearing this so many times was, why do we wait to create a legacy instead of living it right now? And that’s what his book is all about. And when you said Living your legacy, I immediately thought of that, but I’m curious to know what, what drove that section to be a part of your research question and how does it relate to the whole project?

Jeremy Hayes (20:00):

Yeah, Sam, thanks for asking. And I think we’re on the same wave there with Cody. I was always of the same frame of mind that it’s interesting to see how we reflect on the lives of people after they’re gone, rather than celebrate them while they’re here. And, you know, this was something that I witnessed often doing. she had yeah, she had a real gift in that way to be able to celebrate and bring her awareness to her own life as she lived it, and and live in a real conscious way. And, you know, I, I, I knew that all along, but then after she passed away, I read some of her journals and I’m like, man, this, this woman was really reflecting consciously on her day to day and and crafting her, her legacy as it unfolded.

Jeremy Hayes (21:12):

 so I, I didn’t realize at the time but well, I guess I intuitively I realized it, but it, it really sunk in once I had a chance to, to see how deeply she was reflecting. And so we, we took that we took that tip from, from Ally and wanted to make that central to the central theme in our organization and the education that we bring to our, to our members, and to the people we engage with that you have legacy that you are living currently mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And given the chance to bring your awareness to that and shape it it can be very powerful. And so we’ve also twisted that a little bit because you know, keeping in line with the, the funment of our organization, we we are a wellness organization, and so we are encouraging people to live their wellness legacy. Nice. And so we’ve, we’ve sprinkled that wellness component in there to say, you know, you know, you can develop a self-awareness that encourages yourself to have greater self worth and to continue to do that work in developing your legacy and living it on the daily.

Sam Demma (22:41):

Nice. Love that. Lynn, any additional thoughts or you think, Jim?

Lynn Hayes (22:46):

I actually, I think we, we coined a phrase called the Ripple effect because there were so many people that had been touched by Allison’s life, and it, it helped us to realize we all have a ripple effect. It’s impossible to throw a stone in a pond without seeing a ripple. And we’re, we’re a stone dropped into our spot on Earth, and just by being here, we, we are creating a legacy, and we have a ripple effect. And yeah. So

Sam Demma (23:16):

I love that. That’s such a cool idea. And sometimes, sometimes you, you know, you actually don’t see who your ripple is impacting, and it gets a little overwhelming because sometimes you might wonder, well, are the actions I’m taking right now making a difference? I, I, I think about this one time I was sitting at our family cottage on the dock, and it was pitch black outside. It was nighttime. You could see the stars and the moon, and you could hear in the distance a boat just like zooming across the lake, and the all you could hear was the boat faintly, but nothing else. And everything else was super calm. And like five minutes later, all these waves start to hit the shore. And it was just this really cool realization to me that this boat has no idea. His waves are hitting my shore while I’m sitting on the edge of my dock 10 minutes after his boat’s gone.

Sam Demma (24:15):

And it’s a cool reflection to think about how our actions every day are affecting people that we may never meet, we may never touch. And it sounds so clear that Allison did that, and I love that that’s a really central theme of your work and your organization. Jeremy, you mentioned that you slightly modified it for the organization, the phrase living your everyday wellness legacy. What does it mean to live with wellness? Or like, how do, how do we ensure we’re taking care of our wellness? are there things that you kind of recommend people do or explore? I’m just curious.

Jeremy Hayes (24:54):

Yeah, I’m gonna back that up a little bit. I appreciate the question. And it actually sparks some work that we’ve done which is, you know, really central to my passion of organizational development. And so I’ll get, I’ll get your, I’ll get your question about how we came to how, how we came to that term wellness. But one of the first courses that Mom and I co-created in exploring the Masters together was a course in conscious business. And we had been operating for almost two years at that point. And we had a mission statement right away, but we really didn’t have the essence of the organization distilled. And so we reached out to so Renee Poindexter, who is an author and educator, and she is just a, a, a dynamic educator.

Jeremy Hayes (26:00):

And so she was our faculty advisor in that exploration and conscious business. And so we, as for that course, we designed and implemented three workshop style meetings with our, with our leadership team to do that work of closely observing what we had, the projects and the events that we had undertaken to date, and how we had shown up in in doing that work to distill who we were as an organization, what it was that we were really focused on doing, and where we would end up when it all came to fruition. And it was some very careful work that that we, I mean, we had a lot of fun with it. And we put our, we put our team through some real fun paces. We did some great team building exercises along the way, and we had a lot of laughs.

Jeremy Hayes (27:01):

We had some tears and in the end, we got real clear on who we are as an organization. And we took our pretty wordy beautiful, but pretty wordy mission statement and distilled it into our core purpose to ignite learning and wellness. And to get to your question, like we debated on whether that word should be wellness or should it be wellbeing or should it be health? And we looked at all those definitions. We looked at different definitions for each word, and we put it to consensus. because in that, in that same in that same timeframe, we were developing how we communicate as well as getting clear on, on who we’re as an organization. And so we chose that word wellness very specifically because of the of the underpinning of that word to be well, and to promote greater wellness, and so that we interpret to be a wellness of body, mind, and spirit.

Jeremy Hayes (28:12):

Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And so in order to, you know, to answer your question to, to move down that path you know, we are I think that the biggest component of wellness is that self-awareness and self-worth. And when you can bring your awareness to yourself and your choices and your habits, and you can pay careful attention to how you feel in relation to your habits and your choices, and what makes you feel good and what doesn’t make you feel good. When do you have more, more energy? When do you feel like your mind is sharp? When do you feel like your head and your heart are connected? you know, what relationships in your life give you energy and what relationships drain you? Just that simple just that simple act of caring for yourself enough to be self-aware and to encourage yourself to make choices that lead to you increasing your wellness is is the work that we’re doing in this organization.

Jeremy Hayes (29:27):

that’s to answer your question, but I, I’m on a roll here because that work that we did we didn’t just distill our core purpose to ignite learning and wellness. we took that one step further. And in one of our fi in our, in our third workshop, we we bought a bunch of crazy big sunglasses, and we had our whole leadership team put on, put on the big, and we called them Glasses of Possibilities, <laugh>. one of the, one of the things that our team was having a challenge with was because we weren’t, we, we weren’t skilled leaders none of us had previous board of director’s experience mm-hmm. <affirmative> this was, this was more than we had bargained for. And for a lot of us we were bringing a lot of fears into this conversation.

Jeremy Hayes (30:21):

And so with Renee’s guidance, mom and I put this exercise together and we prefaced it with, you know, we need to really put our individual fears and hesitations to the side, and we need to ground ourselves as you know, what is best for this organization, because we may not be here tomorrow, and we need to leave this organization as a, as a gift for, for those who come in the future to lead it. And so we had our team put under glass of possibility and with eyes to the future of 30 years and beyond write down what they felt we could accomplish if everything that we were doing and had planned came to fruition. And so that that led to us distilling a vision statement that through nature, shared wisdom and living legacies, we empower humanity to choose personal wellness.

Sam Demma (31:26):


Sam Demma (31:27):

I love it. We, we talked about the living legacy. We talked about the connection to nature. We didn’t touch on the shared wisdom piece, but before we do I loved that you put on these massive glasses during your meeting. <laugh>, I, there’s something about oversized objects I <laugh> like, it’s just, it catches the attention and it becomes like a fun thing. There’s I have a new speech that I do for students in schools, and it’s called Empty Your Backpack. And it’s a challenge to have students reflect on the beliefs they’re caring about themselves, their potential, what’s possible for them, where some of those beliefs came from. And if it’s time to let go, and I have a giant four foot red backpack that’s like the backpack of beliefs. So I resonate with like the visual and calling it the glasses of possibility, because you see through them and there’s so many bright things in the future. And I just thought that was really cool. So I wanted to make a, a note to mention that. tell me a little bit about Shared wisdom. how do we tap into that and, and what is it exactly?

Lynn Hayes (32:39):


Jeremy Hayes (32:40):

Jump in on that, mom? Because I remember when you didn’t even think you had wisdom <laugh>.

Lynn Hayes (32:44):

That’s, that’s right. Early on in our, our course I had submitted this reflection and the, the mentor who read it, his comments were, oh, lots of wisdom. Your wisdom is duh, da, da da. And I, I came to realize that, yeah, I’ve lived 60 some years. I do have, I’ve learned some stuff and found my voice to be able to share it. So that was, you know, when you are aware of it yourself, then you know how to lead others to find it and or to be aware of it also. So and it, it just is woven through by our studies and what we were doing, and they just came together in this beautiful affirmation of, of what we had to offer and that we were doing important work here. a couple of the things that came out of our conscious business was a quote from Fred Kaufman, that, right, right.

Lynn Hayes (33:41):

Leadership is how being rather than doing is the ultimate source of excellence. Mm. And so we, we let go of that. Like, oh, did we do enough? Did we accomplish enough the checklist thing to how are we being Mm, how are we being? And we came to understand more duly what we mean by a learning community. in the words of Margaret Mead, never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has. And in developing how we would be together, we decided to do a all our decisions by consensus. I see. And this consensus decision process is powerful. And to have new people who joined us to understand the benefit of consensus, rather than taking a vote in a vote, there’s always some losers who didn’t get heard. Because the majority, it makes the decision.

Lynn Hayes (34:39):

So we believe that we are truly stronger together, and we’ll not process progress over the learning that takes place during the process of coming to deci consensus decisions. It’s really our forum to draw out the wisdom of each person around that table. So cool, because it’s like, there’s no, being silent at a meeting leaves a big gap. It it, it disconnects the group. And so consensus decision, every voice is heard. It’s a requirement of consensus decision to say where you’re at with it and to understand, I’ve been present where the whole decision switched by one voice saying, but I’m not sure I see this. I wonder this. And it’s comes to a better spot. And we’ve operated on if you can live with it, if it makes sense to you, it goes on. If not, the decision isn’t made that day. That’s, that’s wisdom in action to like, let’s wait.

Lynn Hayes (35:37):

Let’s gather more, let’s grow in this. Let’s sit with it for a while. and in understanding the depth of what we mean by learning in community and allowing that emergent learning to happen, like emergent learning and doing it together is really, really brings out that, that wisdom. we followed the work of Margaret Wheatley who asked a really important question, how do we persevere in creating the changes we want to see in the world? And her, she offered a couple of guideposts, and the one guidepost was, learn from what you do after everything you do. Ask yourself, what did we learn? What worked, what didn’t work? Live life as a sci scientist, learning from the data that evolves. And we realized that is really what we had been doing. We cause we, we had freed ourselves to not have to have the answers, but just to be open hearted to asking the questions that were arising and doing it together just is a form for sharing your wisdom.

Sam Demma (36:45):

And I think even if you’re not a part of a organization that’s making consensus decisions and being able to put that reflection instantly into practice in a business sense, the idea you mentioned earlier, Jeremy, of journaling, like there’s one way to start collecting your wisdom or reflecting on your own experiences, even if you don’t have a board of directors. I think every educator could benefit from keeping a journal and writing down their reflections. I think about how cool it would’ve been if my grandfather kept a journal and, you know, was able to hand me 50 books and say, this is my life. If you’re interested, <laugh>. you know, not, I mean, that’s selfishly from my curiosity, but how cool it would’ve been for himself as well to just constantly reflect and tap into the wisdom of his experiences and those around him. this has been such a insightful conversation from a bird’s eye view, what are the ways in which the Ali Sun, the Ali Sunshine Project helps to ignite wellness? like is it event, is it events mainly fundraisers? Like what are the things that you guys do? Do you run programs? Like just give people an idea of the couple different things that you do?

Jeremy Hayes (38:10):

For sure. projects and events are the ones, everything that we do. we’ve got our central project is healing Garden, a one acre space on West Pike Creek Road in Lake Shore that we’ve converted into a healing garden under the guidance of Dan Binet at Windsor Essex Habitat Naturalization Network. Yes. he led a course in Build A Healing Gardens, and that’s been our home base, our outdoor classroom, our community hub. and we continue to gather there on Saturday mornings. and we connect as a, as a community. And we garden, we grow flowers, we grow plant we grow veggie plants. The veggie plants are donated to the Windsor Youth Center. and yeah, we’re market gardening, selling the, selling the flowers, and just really enjoying the space. So we’ve got a whole bunch of different garden installs and we’ve been exploring there together for years.

Jeremy Hayes (39:18):

We’re putting in an outdoor kitchen, so that’s a big one for us. Lots of fun. Nice. and then we have a, a long list of events that we host in the Healing Garden and throughout the community, we have a blood drive coming up November 26th. so if you’re interested in donating blood look us up. You can email us through the website, the ali sunshine project.com. And we have an education team, which Lin leads, and they put together a series of wellness events that have been hosted in the Healing Garden. So more to come on that front. we have a a school outreach team and they install Buddy benches at local schools. I think we’ve got seven Buddy benches installed. And those are a nonverbal bridge to Friendship for children that don’t have the social skills as developed as they need to, to be able to reach out when they are in search of belongingness. so they can sit on the bench and it’s they, the children in school know that if somebody’s sitting on the bench, they’re looking for a friend. So that’s a program that Terry and Sue Sharan have been pioneering. And they host a trivia event every fall at fo or fur in order to raise funds for that for thees. and

Sam Demma (40:55):

Yeah’s a lot. Yeah.

Lynn Hayes (40:57):

<laugh>, I, I

Jeremy Hayes (40:58):

Can, I also, I, I mentioned our planting wellness event. What, what else

Lynn Hayes (41:01):

Mom? I’d like to add to that, that along with our planting wellness, we have had a wellness fair Okay. Which invited local health practitioners and wellness people who have, some are, and people can come in and experience a mini reiki a minute, many just to know what’s available for wellness. Like, cause it’s fine to say, I wanna explore wellness, but where do I go? Who do I choose? So we bring together the local practitioners and our, our community is invited to come and see if something fits for them, give something a try. chair yoga as opposed to yoga. We offered connecting to Nature is a Garden wondering program, which was a really key thing for we felt it was parents and children coming together to explore and to answer their, their questions of wonderment and to have them do it together. so that, that is an ongoing thing. And it has life. It has changed some people’s way of parenting by seeing how what nature has to offer and to step back into your own natural learning through the eyes of your child and the wonder they explore the world with. yeah. So

Jeremy Hayes (42:13):

That’s, so you tell ’em not to get, not to get dirty. Yeah. <laugh> outta the mud.

Sam Demma (42:18):


Lynn Hayes (42:18):

Awesome. And, and you, you know, you start out thinking you’re going teach the children things, and they teach us so much, and that’s just opening that forum is is a whole world of wellness potential, right? In your own low family,

Sam Demma (42:33):

The, the work you’re doing is so important, and I hope you continue it forever, even when you guys are no longer running it and somebody else is. I’ve been inspired by this conversation so thank you so much for your time. I’m gonna put my boots on, like I said, and go for a hike. <laugh>. If someone wants to reach out, ask a question, share an idea, collaborate, what would be the email address they could send a message to?

Jeremy Hayes (43:02):

I’ve got a, one closing comment here. One of the things that really stuck with me from our, from our research and our thesis was Author and Educator Sam Crowley. He said he’s a teacher and in his Earth Day address in 2020 he said “when my students come to me and ask what can I as one person do to change the world,” he tells them, you as one person can’t not make a difference. What you think, and even the energy that flows through you is always making an impact on the world around you. And so our call to action for anybody listening is to be that change. And this is the essence of what it means to be a rare sunshine, and it’s simple to join us in being a ray of sunshine. As much as it’s powerful to do this work as an individual, it’s much more powerful when we connect as community to do this work of harnessing that positive energy and sending out those, those positive actions into the world.

Jeremy Hayes (44:18):

And so you can follow us on Facebook or Instagram. Go to the website at the alliesunshineproject.com. Sign up to be a member, sign up to donate your time to be an occasional volunteer or a dedicated volunteer. We’re currently looking for people to assist with fundraising human resources on our recruitment team. We also are looking for somebody to lead our events team, and a number of other fun and vibrant opportunities in an organization, which really is the central project. Like building this team has gone from being overwhelming to a source of great enjoyment in my life because we actually have a really well-rounded group of people that are supporting each other and doing this work, and we’re putting people in positions where we’re leveraging their unique ability and we’re giving them an experience that’s challenging and, and fulfilling. And this is it’s a, it’s a real opportunity for growth. So if anybody’s looking for volunteering experience, by all means you can reach out to me personally. My email is visionarydirector@thealliesunshineproject.com. Thanks for your time, Sam. It’s been great conversation.

Sam Demma (45:49):

Yeah. Jeremy Lynn, thank you both again for the work you’re doing. Keep it up. If I’m in the Windsor area, I will definitely be giving you a call and would love to connect. I look forward to continuing to watch the journey unfold and hopefully eating some food from the outdoor kitchen next spring. <laugh>,

Lynn Hayes (46:08):

That was wonderful, Sam. Thank you so much for having us today.

Sam Demma (46:11):

Awesome. Thank you both.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Jeremy and Lynn Hayes

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

Jennifer Bradbury – Executive Director of the Taco Bell Foundation

Jennifer Bradbury - Executive Director of the Taco Bell Foundation
About Jennifer Bradbury

Jennifer (Jen) Bradbury is the Executive Director of the Taco Bell Foundation. Jen studied Sociology and Anthropology at UCLA and followed it up with an MBA at the UC Irvine Paul Merage School of Business. She worked in events right after college and, from there, managed the Anaheim Ducks Foundation working with the owners, players and their families on charity work in Southern California. She then moved to Oakley and worked specifically on running their global cause marketing efforts. She produced charity events tied to sporting events.

Jen began her Taco Bell career in 2016 as the Senior Manager, Marketing & Business Development. She then worked her way up to Director, Strategic Development and was then promoted to the Executive Director of the Taco Bell Foundation in 2021. In her position, she oversees the daily management of the Taco Bell Foundation as well as Taco Bell’s philanthropic efforts.

Connect with Jennifer: Email | Linkedin

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Sociology at UCLA

Anthropology at UCLA

Masters of Business Administration (MBA) at the UC Irvine Paul Merage School of Business

Anaheim Ducks Foundation


Taco Bell Foundation

Live Mas Scholarship Renewal Program – Taco Bell Foundation

Ambition Accelerator – Taco Bell Foundation

Summer of Inspiration – Taco Bell Foundation

Taco Bell RoundUp Program

Boys and Girls Club of America

Junior Achievement Worldwide


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 (00:55):

Today’s guest is Jennifer Bradbury.

Sam Demma (00:59):

Jen Bradbury is the Executive Director of the Taco Bell Foundation. Jen studied sociology and anthropology at UCLA and followed it up with an MBA at the Uc Irvine Paul Merage School of Business. She worked in events right after college, and from there managed the Anaheim Ducks Foundation, working with the owners, players, and their families on charity work in Southern California. She then moved to Oakley and worked specifically on running their global cause marketing efforts. She produced charity events tied to sporting events. Jen began her Taco Bell career in 2016 as the Senior Manager, Marketing & Business Development. She then worked her way up to Director, Strategic Development and was then promoted to the Executive Director of the Taco Bell Foundation in 2021. In her position, she oversees the daily management of the Taco Bell Foundation as well as Taco Bell’s philanthropic efforts. I hope you enjoy this exciting conversation with Jen and I will see you on the other side. Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today we have a very special guest. Her name is Jennifer Bradbury. Jen, please start by introducing yourself.

Jennifer Bradbury (02:12):

Hi Sam. I’m so excited to be here with you today. Thanks for having me. I’m Jennifer Bradbury. I’m the Executive Director of the Taco Bell Foundation and we do a lot of amazing work with young people today, and we’re really trying to inspire the next generation of leaders and break down barriers to their education. So I’m excited to chat.

Sam Demma (02:32):

Let’s talk about it. I mean, <laugh>, tell me about when you got involved with the foundation, because I know it’s not your first philanthropic effort. tell me when you got involved with them and what initially even inspired your desire to be in a position to try and make a positive impact.

Jennifer Bradbury (02:49):

Yeah, Okay. Well, that, that’s a lot to unpack <laugh>. So let’s, let’s get started. I have been at Taco Bell for almost seven years now, but I have been doing corporate philanthropy for almost my entire career. It was something I fell into when I was out of undergrad. I did my undergrad at ucla. I majored in sociology and anthropology. really broad. Didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do even coming out of undergrad, but I started working in sports entertainment. and that after a couple of years of working on events at our arena here in Southern California, I pivoted just because of an opportunity really to do community relations with the Anaheim Ducks Hockey Club. So I helped start the foundation that the Anaheim Ducks ran. Nice. And we worked with tons of nonprofits across Southern California. We worked very closely with our players wives to help, help do good in the community.

Sam Demma (03:53):

Yes. we worked very closely with our players. So that’s really where I got my start in this work. It I went to business school at uc, Irvine while I was there, and I quickly moved over to Oakley, which is sunglass company. They are they’re a division of Leica based in Italy, but with Oakley, they had a nonprofit called One Site, and we delivered global vision care to underserved communities across the world. And then we did really cool charity activations with global sporting events. So it was, it was fun. It was interesting. I was in my late twenties and I got to travel the world. It was really all I ever thought a job could be until Taco Bell came along and I thought, Wow, this, this just keeps getting better and better. So the thing about Taco Bell and the Taco Bell Foundation is when we talk about our why and why we want to do work and why we go to work every day.

Sam Demma (04:49):

Cause it’d be easy to sometimes just not wanna do that. Right. Yeah. My why is I love connecting people. I think connecting people together is one of the coolest things. I think if I could build strategies and connect people, which is what I do at Taco Bell, I’d be very happy. And I am very happy. So here we, here we’re. but yeah, it took me a while to figure that out and the fact that some corporate philanthropy, which is really the feel good side of business, and when your business is successful, it allows you to do it in a really cool, meaningful way. It’s just, it’s such a win. I just, I feel so lucky to wake up and do what I do every day.

Sam Demma (05:28):

There’s so many programs running the Talk Bell Foundation that have a huge impact on youth and young people. what are some of the programs you’re really passionate about and sometimes involved in where you get to see young people Yeah. flourishing and making an impact?

Jennifer Bradbury (05:45):

Yeah. So we, we actually run three different programs at Taco Bell, at the Taco Bell Foundation. but I have to do a quick shout out to how we get to really run those programs. So if you go to Taco Bell and you’re asked to round up, please say yes because I’m about to tell you about three of the amazing programs. It helps, I have to tell you change. I like to say change changes lives. We have an average donation of about 46 cents, and that has turned into millions and millions of dollars. So our first program I wanna tell you about is our Mont Scholarship. And we are giving, we’ve given away more than $30 million to young people through scholarship support. And we call ’em be beyond the money resources as well. This year we’re going to give away, or next year in 2023, Sam, we’re gonna give away 10 million that’s gone.

Jennifer Bradbury (06:36):

So it’s growing so fast you’ve gotten to meet some of our scholars, but Lima Scholarship is really a program. young people receive between five and $25,000 in funding. It’s renewable for up to four years. So up to a hundred thousand dollars paying for school is really great. A lot of people need that help. so we asked students to tell us in a two minute video what they’re uniquely passionate about and how they’re gonna use it to make a difference in the world. The money’s awesome, like I said. But what I really love is our beyond the money resources. So we run conferences, we have an online portal, we set up mentorship opportunities, You need help writing your resume, or you wanna find a group of like-minded peers. We connect our young people with all of that. So we have about 1900 students in our program. Now,

Sam Demma (07:26):

Some of the most amazing young people I’ve met, they’re, they’re so talented. I think what’s really unique and awesome about the program is that it also supports the individuals who might be taking pathways that are not classified as the typical paths that you might take following post-secondary or during post-secondary. And as someone who has taken a very artistic path path, myself, I really resonate with that idea and think it’s so important.

Jennifer Bradbury (07:51):

A hundred percent. We love students that are going to trade school, two year school trade, vocational, pursuing the arts, whatever passion you have, and if it’s something that’s gonna make this world a somewhat better place, we wanna hear about it.

Sam Demma (08:08):

That’s awesome. So that’s one of three. I’m already getting excited. Tell me about the other thing. Okay,

Jennifer Bradbury (08:12):

<laugh>. So then we have our we called our community grants program. So we were in our 30th year as the Taco Bell Foundation. This year we gave away over 7 million to 400 nonprofits, but we’re gonna more than double that in 2023. And we’re gonna be giving away 15 million to nonprofits across the country that are supporting young people, get their education and break down barriers that they face in getting that education. So it’s organizations like Boys and Girls Clubs of America, City Year Junior Achievement College advising Core, and many, many more. There’s so many incredible non-profits that help young people today pursue their passions and get their education. So that’s our committee grants program. Nice. And then this year we’ve launched a pilot program called Ambition Accelerator. This is in partnership with Ashoka, which is one of the leading change making organizations in youth change making organizations in the world.

Jennifer Bradbury (09:12):

They are working with us to find, we call it Shark Tank for good <laugh>, but basically it’s stemmed out of Lima’s scholarship too. So a lot of our students are graduating, They have really cool, unique passions. They’re starting nonprofits and social enterprises, and we wanna be able to fund them and invest in them. So we have we opened an application period earlier this year for young people to apply through a video telling us what, what business are they starting, what nonprofit are they starting, and what funding do they need? So we now, next week, have 20 teams coming to Taco Bell headquarters to do a pitch competition meet all sorts of people to help them along their path, whether it’s with their business plan or public speaking, and tell us about their ideas and win money. So we’re looking forward to really taking our investing in young people to the next level.

Sam Demma (10:13):

Are, are you gonna be sitting on the judges’ panel being like, Here’s 10,000 <laugh>.

Jennifer Bradbury (10:17):

Right. I, I can have, like, I dunno if anyone, a few people know who Oprah is anymore, but I feel like I get my Oprah moments where I’m like, You get 10,000 and you get 10,000 <laugh>.

Sam Demma (10:28):

What, what keeps you personally excited about this work every single day? I’m sure there’s some difficult moments, but what is continuously driving you and motivating you?

Jennifer Bradbury (10:38):

Yeah, again, I think it’s just re it’s this next generation. Our, this is a hard, this is a hard world we’re all living in. I don’t think any day goes by that people don’t, aren’t stressed by something that’s happening in the world. It’s, it’s constant and it’s, it can be very overwhelming, but I’m really excited about this generation coming up. I think they have such a unique opportunity and so many tools and resources that I didn’t have, my parents didn’t have, my grandparents didn’t have. And I just want them to be set up for success and to be able to fix some of these crazy problems we’re dealing with. whether it’s issues with climate or issues with mental, mental health. You know, there’s just so many things they can, they can fix for us and fix for them. So I, that is what gets me excited is that there’s hope.

Sam Demma (11:34):

I love it. One thing that a lot of young people often tell me is, I don’t know what I wanna do with my life. And they, they struggle with, you know, figuring out the career they wanna get into. And I wanna backtrack for just a second, cuz you mentioned that after, you know, ucla, you, you kind of stumbled into the, the role you were in when you were going through school. Did you have this idea in your mind that you were gonna work in philanthropy and, you know, be working with the Taco Bell right now? And if no what do you think in terms of the actions you took is responsible for kind of bringing you to where you are today?

Jennifer Bradbury (12:10):

Oh, I love this question, Sam. I know is the answer. I did not think this is what I was gonna do. I didn’t even know this was a job, to be honest. and I think that’s what’s really amazing about what a lot of young people are going to be doing. Those jobs don’t exist right now. You’re really preparing yourself for a job that you don’t even know what it is today, and in 20 years it’s going to be a job. So you have to try new things. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, that’s my number one. I tried all sorts of things. I thought I wanted to be a news anchor. So I went and did an internship with our local CBS affiliate. I thought I wanted to be a talent agent. So I got an internship with a talent agency. Nice. I thought I wanted to potentially do something in retail.

Jennifer Bradbury (12:52):

So I went and worked at a local retail store. So you have to try different things, Try ’em on, It’s the time to try on Right. And see what you like doing. And then you have to be open. You really have to just be open to try to trying those things. and then when opportunities come, you have to not only be open to trying ’em, but you have to be okay failing. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. Because if we’re not failing, we didn’t try hard enough. We didn’t, we didn’t push the boundary far enough. We didn’t, we didn’t reach high enough because failing is, failing is actually what happens when you try hard and you’re gonna fail. Not everything’s gonna work, it just doesn’t. But when you fail and you fail fast and you’ve learn from it, you’re gonna be so much better the next time around.

Jennifer Bradbury (13:40):

So I just think it’s, it’s you, you’ve gotta be, be open to new things, being willing to fail, fail fast, and move on, and looking for connections and people, people to, to talk to and, and, because you just don’t know what’s out there. So yeah, I didn’t, I didn’t know this was what I was gonna be doing. If someone had told my younger self this was it, I would’ve been like, That’s a thing. <laugh>, that’s a job. but I’m happy I’m doing it. I’ve, I’m really, Taco Bell did a, a job series not that long ago, called, or a couple years ago I guess now, called Best Job in the World. Nice. When I did it, I was like, Yeah, well, no one else can do this anymore. Cause I actually have it. <laugh>.

Sam Demma (14:25):

That’s amazing. One of my favorite musicians, rappers has a quote and he says, You know, I saw all my failures is Stepping Stones. And he released like 94 songs that caught no one’s attention before releasing a debut album that took the world by storm. And I really resonate with that idea that if we’re not failing, we’re really not pushing hard enough. And all of our mistakes, all of our failures, if we reflect on them, can be these amazing learning moments. And I’m curious, when you think about the times in your journey where you reached really high and pushed really hard and learn something through a failure or a mistake are there any stories like that, that come to mind of challenging moments that you think you learn from that other people who work with youth or who are reaching big could benefit from hearing?

Jennifer Bradbury (15:20):

I, I think you can ask anyone that works at the Taco Bell Foundation. I, I talk about this constantly. If we’re not failing, we, like you said, we haven’t tried hard enough. Yeah. So yes, I fail all the time. I think there’s things that are missteps or things we could have done differently regularly, but there’s amazing things that come out of that. So, you know, just talking about Roundup and where we are with Roundup and how we raise money to run the really cool programs that we put on at the Taco Bell Foundation, you’re not that long ago pre pandemic, we were raising five, five to $7 million in our restaurants each year, which is great. That’s, there’s something wrong with that. That’s a, that’s a lot of money to raise and give back. But fast forward to this year, we’re, because we try do things because we were willing to fail and not have it work. We’re gonna go from raising five, $5 million a year to raising more than $30 million this year. Damn. But that wouldn’t have happened if we kept doing the same thing that we had been doing. Right. You don’t, you don’t get different results doing the same things, so you have to try new things. I think that’s, so everyone could take that away.

Sam Demma (16:31):

Love that.

Jennifer Bradbury (16:32):

It, we’re all better off.

Sam Demma (16:34):

What we don’t have to dive deep into strategy, but from a, from a big picture, what changed that you think really enabled that much growth? That’s almost like six times as much <laugh>.

Jennifer Bradbury (16:46):

Yeah, it’s insane growth. It’s really, it’s really crazy. I mean, and that’s even just year over year is we, were, we raised $18 million last year, so it’s almost, it’s almost doubled. I, to be really candid, I was really sick of how we were fundraising. I was bored with it. I knew if I was bored with it, I knew our franchisees were bored with it. I knew our team members and our restaurants were bored with it. I knew our customers were bored with it. So I didn’t wanna do it anymore. It wasn’t not fun. Like, that’s the other thing is you gotta be having fun. We get one shot at this life, and if we’re not having fun doing it, what, what’s the point? And like, I use fun loosely, right? I’m using some air quotes here. What everything can’t be fun at every minute because yeah, life is hard and it takes work, but we’ve gotta have outlets that allow us to have fun and enjoy stuff. Because life is short, life is precious, and we’ve got to, we, we get one chance of doing it. So I was not having fun doing it, and I knew everyone else wasn’t. And so we had to try new, new things. And I honestly think to some extent, if you’re trying, you’re trying new things, you’re pushing yourself, you’re taking a risk, you’re having fun while you’re doing it, those are starting the, those are a lot of recipes or a lot of ingredients to put together a really good recipe. So

Sam Demma (18:07):

It’s so true. I think that is such a good reminder. Boredom could be a signal for change. You know, if, if you’re starting to feel bored about the things you’re doing, it’s not okay to just continue doing them. <laugh>, you gotta reflect on why. And, you know, maybe start charting a new path or pursuing something else, or changing the whole system and making it more enjoyable and having fun in the process. it’s such a good, Yeah, it’s such a good way to put it. And I appreciate you sharing that. I think a lot of educators over the past couple of years have probably struggled with burnout as well. And I’m curious to know, how do you personally fill up your cup so that you can show up every single day and give so much and manage so many different things? Like what is Jennifer Bradbury’s self care routine look like?

Jennifer Bradbury (18:58):

<laugh>, I, I feel like it should be better than it really is, to be honest. I think that’s somewhat something that everyone, like I was saying, we’re all struggling these days. I think that’s something that I probably struggle with too. But I, a big part of, of my self care routine is who I surround myself with. Nice. I’m an incredible husband. I have two amazing, they’re technically my step kids, but they’re my kids. and then I have a awesome dog. Nice. I have great siblings, I have fantastic parents. So I really feel like I’m so lucky with who I get to surround myself with and spend my free time with. I reading, I like to read all sorts of things. getting a good walk in I think is really good for clearing the mind. And then the other thing I’d add is I, which is I’ve not had with the pandemic as much as I had before, but traveling, I think being able to be fortunate enough to experience other cultures and other countries and other cities is just such a wonderful experience. And that really fills my bucket when I get a chance to do that.

Sam Demma (20:07):

I love that. Well, what kind of dog do you have?

Jennifer Bradbury (20:10):

I have a golden retriever. He is a English cream and he’s two years old in two days.

Sam Demma (20:17):

Awesome. Very cool. Well, happy early birthday dog.

Jennifer Bradbury (20:20):

<laugh>. Happy early birthday to Cabo.

Sam Demma (20:22):

Love it. Oh, nice. that’s so cool. I think when things get difficult we can’t lean on ourselves. We have to lean on each other. So it sounds like you have a really great support system which is amazing. And I would assume that your colleagues at work, probably also when things get difficult, are super supportive and, you know, help you along the journey as well. I’m curious in education, you know, an educator will hear about the impact that their program or their class is having on a kid. Do you also hear about the stories of how programs are impacting certain individuals with the Taco Bell Foundation programs? And if so, is there any specific stories, maybe one or two that come to mind that you often think of when you might be feeling burnt out to remind yourself why this work is so important?

Jennifer Bradbury (21:12):

Sam, I don’t have, you don’t have enough time for me to go through all the stories that I have of young people that are just incredible. Like I, you know, you said we, you got to meet a number of them, A number of our Lima scholars, they are, they, they’re the reason our world is gonna be okay and it, things are going to get better and gonna work out because of these young people. We all need to invest in them. We all need to build them up and give them the tools and resources they need to, to make this world better. One of the coolest stories that is happening at this moment is we have a Lima Scholar who was one of our original scholarship recipients. Okay. Back when we started the program about seven years ago. His name’s Jonathan. He was in, he’s into filmmaking.

Jennifer Bradbury (21:58):

Nice. He did a really cool listen, your video does not have to be good that you submit for our scholarship, like talk, talk to your phone. But he did do a pretty amazing application video. We ended up filming a, a mini little docu series with him about his journey and about what he was pursuing. He graduated, he got his master’s degree. Fast forward now, he is actually filming content for us to use in term to promote the scholarship and the work we’re doing at the Taco Bell Foundation. So talk about his journey coming for full circle. It’s just, it’s so inspiring to see. so I’ve been able to support him when he was, you know, 18 and starting to, to right now he’s, he’s running his company and building his business and we’re using him as one of our production efforts. So it’s so cool. Oh,

Sam Demma (22:56):

So cool. What a cool full circle moment. Yeah. And I, I’m sure there’s so many other young people who have such amazing stories and journeys. I met a few animators, I’ve reme, if I remember it correctly, and there was a lot of artists. There’s a lot of people Yes. That’s super interested in technology and, and tech. what are the different types of interests of students that apply for the scholarship? Like give us a quick example.

Jennifer Bradbury (23:20):

Yeah. Oh, Sam, you say an interest. We have someone, So one of our young people, she is developing a you know, obviously there’s a crisis with bees. Yeah. Right. In this world, we’re, we’re running out of bees. There’s not enough bees to, for the, for food. So I’m gonna butcher how she sheen should be on here telling you her spiel. That’s okay. But she’s so cool. She’s developed this very easy kit to basically start a beehive in your backyard. And so it’s so cool. It’s so simple to make. She has the such a cool sales pitch for how she, she does it. but she’s helping the honey bee population. Like, ah, she can have a passion for bees. So we have students who are of passion for food insecurity for cooking. You know, you could be on, on one, one side of the spectrum and the other having to do with food. We have people that are in the medical field, We have people that are in the teach. We have lots of teachers. it’s a huge group of, of people that are applying for our scholarship. Everything in between. So whatever you are passionate about, demonstrate that. And how are you making a difference? Listen, there’s, we have a duct tape artist.

Sam Demma (24:42):

Wow. <laugh>. Yeah.

Jennifer Bradbury (24:45):

So everything goes.

Sam Demma (24:47):

Okay, cool. I, I was super inspired. The event that I attended was the, or spoke at was the summer of inspiration. for people wondering what is it like to be on the ground? That one was virtual, but I’m sure you’ve done events in person as well. What is it like to be on the ground at a Taco Bell Foundation event

Jennifer Bradbury (25:05):

When the, our young people, it’s very humbling because as we’ve said, they’re all ridiculously smart and cool. so you, it just was, I’m like, Wow, I just, this is so cool to be, you leave, you leave. So talk about a bucket filling moment. Your bucket is filled after being at a Taco Bell foundation event, and we do it in a Taco Bell way. So it’s really fun. there’s really cool speakers. There’s lots swag, we love ourselves, Taco Bell t-shirts and hats and bags and all of that stuff. There’s lots of good music. We have all sorts of performers performing and good food. Obviously the taco truck always makes the parents so

Sam Demma (25:49):

Very cool. That’s awesome. I, if you could, we’ve talked a lot about the foundation Yeah. As a whole in your career. If you could bundle up all of your experiences, travel back in time, and speak to yourself when you were just starting your first role in philanthropy knowing what you know now and with the experiences you, you have, what would you tell your younger self in the form of advice? Not because you would change anything about your path, but because you think it would be helpful to hear at the start of that journey.

Jennifer Bradbury (26:18):

Yeah. I don’t know that my younger self would’ve listened knowing how stubborn I am, but I wish he would’ve known to believe in herself more and to have confidence that like, she’s got this, She’s got it. And don’t let people try and take you from your path. Don’t let you know, drown that. Drown the haters out, Right. Because you have to have confidence in yourself. You have to believe in it yourself. You have to advocate for yourself. You have to be your biggest cheerleader. I think that’s stuff I probably knew to some extent back then, but I didn’t know it the way I know it now. And it would’ve probably made things a little easier to have known it. So,

Sam Demma (27:03):

Love that. Thank you so much for sharing. It’s been an honour and pleasure chatting with you on the podcast. Thank you for sharing, you know, your experiences and good luck with the Ambition Accelerator event. By the time this airs, it may have already happened with thousands of dollars being given away on the project, so I’m so excited about it. if someone wants to get in touch with the Taco Bell Foundation, ask a question, or even reach out to you, what would be the most efficient way for them to send a message?

Jennifer Bradbury (27:29):

Yeah, so if you wanna chat with me, I’m on LinkedIn, feel free to connect. And then we have a, our website is taco bell foundation.org. You can learn all about our programs, you can get our Live Mont Scholarship application when Ambition Accelerator opens. Again, you can find it there. So check us out online.

Sam Demma (27:46):

Awesome. Jen, thank you so much. I so appreciate the time and energy. Keep up with the great work.

Jennifer Bradbury (27:52):

This was so fun. Thank you.

Sam Demma (27:53):

You’re welcome. You’re welcome. And we’ll talk soon.

Jennifer Bradbury (27:55):

Okay, sounds good.

Sam Demma (27:58):

I believe that educators deserve way more recognition, which is why I’ve created the High Performing Educator Awards. In 2022, 20 educator recipients will be shortlisted, each of whom will be featured in local press. invited to record an episode on the podcast, and spotlighted on our platform. In addition, the one handpicked winner will be presented with an engraved plaque by myself. I will fly to the winner’s city to present this to them and ask that they participate in a quick photo shoot and interview on location. The coolest part, nominations are open right now, and they close October 1st, 2022. So please take a moment to apply or nominate someone you know or work with that deserves this recognition. You can do so by going to www.highperformingeducator.com/award. We can never recognize educators enough.

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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.