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President

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

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

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

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

Connect with Doug: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Yale Secondary School Website

BC Association of Student Activity Advisors

Canadian Student Leadership Association (CSLA)

Canadian Student Leadership Conference (CSLC)

Abbotsford Rugby Club

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):
Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s guest is Doug Primrose. He is currently in his 23rd year of teaching. He’s been at Yale Secondary for the past 15 years and taught student leadership and law 12. He was previously the chair of the BC Student Leadership Conference in 2015, the co-chair of the Canadian Student Leadership conference in 2019, currently the President of the BC Association of Student activities and Advisors, and he also coaches rugby at Yale secondary and the women’s team for Abbotsford rugby club.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Sam Demma (11:02):
Got it.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Sam Demma (29:58):
No, that’s okay. I


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Doug Primrose

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

Jason Schilling – President of the Alberta Teachers Association

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

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

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

Connect with Jason: Email | Instagram | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Alberta Teachers’ Association (ATA)

English Language Arts Council at the ATA

Kate Andrews High School School Website

Drama at the University of Lethbridge

Canadian Teachers’ Federation (CTF)

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):
Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. I’m super excited for today’s interview with Jason Schilling. He was the elected President in 2019 for the Alberta Teachers Association, following two years of service as vice president, and more than eight years of service as district representative for Southwest. Prior to his election as president of the ATA, Schilling taught english and drama at Kate Andrews High School in Coaldale, where he worked for 17 years. Schilling is a proud graduate at the University of Lethbridge, and his assignments as president include chairing the Canadian Teachers Federation Committee, serving as a member of the strategic planning group and the teachers salary qualifications, board, and acting as provincial executive council liaison to the english language arts council.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Jason Schilling

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

Brandi Rai – President of the Alberta School Councils’ Association

Brandi Rai – President of the Alberta School Councils’ Association
About Brandi Rai

Brandi Rai (@rai_brandi) has a passion for public education – to ensure it prepares children to be leaders in our world.

Married, with five children in grades 5 through 10, and many pets, Brandi lives in Edmonton. She has served as an executive on multiple school councils, is involved with fundraising societies, and is a frequent school volunteer, with a lifelong goal of serving others.

She is drawn to ASCA’s support of school councils in the province because it ensures that all parents have the opportunity for engagement and the ability to determine their definition of effectiveness within their local communities.

Parent voice in education is crucial to student success. Education is a foundational pillar in society and having equitable access to public education is vital for Albertans.

Brandi attended her first ASCA Annual General Meeting (AGM) in 2014 and was elected as a Board Director at the 2016 AGM. She was elected Vice President at the 2018 AGM, and elected President at the 2020 AGM.

Connect with Brandi: Email | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Alberta School Councils’ Association (ASCA)

Alberta School Council’s Association Conference and AGM

Expanding Mental Health Supports in Schools

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):
Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator Podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. I’m super excited to bring you today’s interview. Our guest, our special guest is Brandi Rai. Brandi has a passion for public education to ensure it prepares children to be leaders in our world. She is married with five children in grade five through 10, and has many pets.


Sam Demma (00:58):
She is also from Edmonton and she has served as executive on multiple school councils, is involved with fundraising societies, and is a frequent school volunteer with a lifelong goal of serving others, and it’s very evident that that’s something that is very close to her heart as you will learn in today’s interview. She is drawn to ASCA; the Alberta School Council Association support of school councils in the province because it ensures that all parents have the opportunity for engagement and the ability, the ability to determine their definition of effectiveness within their local communities. Being that she is a parent of five kids, she definitely wants to make sure that her schools are being run as effective as possible. She believes that parent voice and education is crucial to student success and at the heart of everything she believes is that education is a foundational pillar in society, and having equitable access to public education is vital for Albertans, but for everyone in the world. I hope you enjoy today’s interview. Brandy Rai is a phenomenal human being doing such amazing work in education. I will see you on the others side, enjoy. Brandi, thank you so much for coming on the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show this morning. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit behind the reason why you’re so passionate about the work you do in education today.


Brandi Rai (02:22):
Thank you so much for having me. And so I am the mother of five children who are neurodiverse, they are biracial, and they are queer. And so having, having a family that is full of diversity and full of wonderful young souls who are trying to navigate a world that is not always made for them has really inspired me to lean in and to volunteer and to actively work, to create an education system that is equitable and meant for all children. And then additionally, I am married to a teacher, and so education is in every aspect of our life, whether we’re volunteering or we’re working or we’re trying to help our children through their, through their lessons. So I’m very involved because I need to be involved. These are my people and I want to do good for them.


Sam Demma (03:09):
I love that. And you know, you mentioned your kids, all five of them that you have. Are they a big motivator and driver behind the work that you do and, and why? Like if you had to give me some, some reasons?


Brandi Rai (03:23):
Well, I think that, I think that most parents are engaged and involved in their children’s education. And I know that it looks very different depending on what families, what their work schedule looks like or what their culture looks like. And also what experiences they’ve had in education a four, because they, they may not have always been positive for that family and the generations before them. And so for, for me, it has been, you know, my children are going away from me and they’re learning and they’re navigating their life and their relationships in, in, in school and class. And I think that what the, the light bulb moment that happened for me is my children are spending more time away from me during a school year than they are with me. Yeah. And so those people and those interactions are really shaping the young citizens that my babies are going to be.


Brandi Rai (04:10):
And so I am, of course I am their parent and I am an expert in my child, but schools are the resources that I am using to help them educate and navigate the world. And so it is very important that I remain connected to those schools that I volunteer in those schools and that I have a voice in the education system in terms of advising you know, my principal and my school board, even the education minister. So I show up because my kids matter to me and all children matter to me. And so, because I have the time and the, and the ability to do these things at this season of my life, that’s why I’m doing what I do.


Sam Demma (04:47):
Ah, that’s so cool. And when did you start getting involved? Like was your whole career in education or when you started having kids, you decided to get involved? Like what, tell me a little bit about how it actually manifested in your life.


Brandi Rai (05:01):
Yeah, so I actually, so I had children young, so my first child was born when I was 20. Yes. And so then whenever they went into kindergarten you know, just volunteering in the classroom, it just looks like, you know, going and helping cut things and do things with art and then it really morphed into yes, parents are important volunteers, but did you also know that they have a role in advising principal? Did you know that they have a role in understanding board policy and influencing board policy? And I didn’t know those things until I knew those things. And so once I got a taste of it’s really important that I’m, you know, reading with the, with the students or I’m you know, helping fundraise for, you know, more technology that, you know, because education is vastly underfunded in our province. So whether I’m doing those things or I’m sitting down with a principal and, and looking at time tables and saying, yeah, this would really work for junior high and this is how families feel about this. When those things came into focus for me and I realized I could have a piece of that voice I lit up and I leaned in. Mm.


Sam Demma (06:04):
Ah, so that’s so awesome. And what did your initial involvement look like? I know now, you know, you have a huge role with the all of Alberta, but when you first started, what was the, what, what did the initial role role look like?


Brandi Rai (06:17):
Well, I, so initially I started as a volunteering classrooms, you know, going on field trips in the classroom fundraising, and then for school council, I went and I was a, I was a school council member who attended and listened to the meeting, participated when needed. And then when we had our elections, I became secretary. And so you take the minutes for the school council and used, send out the agenda, you do the things that your chair would need you to do. And that’s how I started. And then it, it, you know, I became vice chair and, you know, at one point I had four children. I had five children in four different schools. And so I was on the executive of each school council and I might have been in different roles, but I was active in all those. And, and, and so there was a huge time commitment right.


Brandi Rai (07:02):
To doing that. And then eventually my school council, we, we went to the Alberta school council’s association conference and AGM. And so a trustee had talked to me about that. And a principal had talked to me about that and a fellow council member had talked to me about that. And, and I went, and I was amazed at the professional development opportunities that were available for parents to be engaged partners in education. And that was the next step that I took. I said, okay, this is how I’m impacting change locally. This is how I’m making my school community a more vibrant, inclusive space. And now I can lend my voice to a provincial landscape. And so that was the next step that I decided to take.


Sam Demma (07:40):
And as the parent of five kids yourself, who obviously you were super engaged in all of their, you know, student activities and within all of their schools, why do you believe that parent engagement is so essential and important in relation to student success? And how do we engage more parent during this interesting, crazy time?


Brandi Rai (08:03):
So that’s a, that’s a wonderful question. Thank you. And I think that so studies have shown that parents who are engaged and involved in their education, those students have higher success rates. And sometimes that can be defined as completion of high school or, you know, higher on standardized tests, those sorts of things. But what I really look for is that parent engagement that helps students become global citizens who are well regulated and can co-regulate their peers. And, and it’s that success that I believe that parents have a wonderful hand in because the school is helping with curricular outcomes. The school is helping with, you know, basic behavioral standards, but it’s the parents who re enforce that whenever those children come home, it’s the parents who, who say, oh, tell me more. They lean in and they nurture their children. And then they nurture their school communities whenever they volunteer and they help shape the culture at those schools.


Brandi Rai (08:52):
So I think that it’s, it’s the parents that solidify the learning that happens at school. And that’s why that relationship is so important. And then additionally, I think that it’s important that systems recognize that parents are partners in education. And so they do more than just inform inform the parents about decisions that are being made because and I think that we can all recognize this when you take the time to engage and consult with stakeholders and parents are a major stakeholder in education, they have more buy-in to whatever decisions are being made. So if you tell me that something is happening, but you don’t include me in any of the process, I may, I may not agree with it. I may revolt against it. I may not be an active participant in making sure that it becomes meaningful meaningfully implemented. But if you engage me the whole time, if you consult with me the whole time, then I have buy-in. I see my voice, I see the, I see the, the need for these changes to happen, and then I help with implementation. And so I think that from a system perspective, student success is impacted when parents are brought a lot on the journey rather than being told what the journey is.


Sam Demma (09:58):
Mm oh, I love that. That’s awesome. And how do we bring more parents into the journey right now? So like, I know I would assume, and I could be wrong yeah. That with COVID maybe parents feel a little more disconnected to their students and their school activities. Maybe it’s the reverse. Maybe, maybe you can tell me what you guys have been seeing in the province of Alberta and how can we still get parents involved and engaged during this crazy time?


Brandi Rai (10:24):
So I think that, yeah, so this, so the last year and a half has been, you know, obviously an anomaly. And so there is a huge disconnect that’s happening for many parents across Alberta, because we are not physically able to go volunteer in the schools. There is different communications that are happening because most of our communication is now based on emails. Or we hold our school council meetings virtually to, you know, in order to be able to respect health protocols. And so you don’t have the support of your parent community. You’re not talking to each other at pickup or after, you know, a dance performance or those sorts of things. You are extremely disconnected from your parent community. You’re additionally disconnected from your admin because all communication comes in either black and white or through a virtual platform. And so you, you’re not having the same opportunities, which means that you also don’t feel connected or, and you also don’t wanna step on toast.


Brandi Rai (11:15):
So you don’t wanna say, well, I don’t really sense some of the things that are happening, but you don’t wanna be a burden in asking for clarification or, or the ability to give your input, because you already know that the system is stressed, the adminis stress, right? So there has been, this has been a huge year of disconnect across our province in many ways. And then the flip side of that is when there’s disconnect, we are, we are wired for connection. Yeah. So when there is disconnect, we will actively seek solutions to fill in those gaps. And so we’re having council meetings virtually we’re, we’re increasing, you know, school councils and parents are increasing sharing things on social media. And that is why that, that is the, there has been an uptake in the things that are happening in education in a different way this year, partially because everybody’s getting a lot of information on social media, because that is the only connection point that they might have.


Brandi Rai (12:06):
And so, and we know how that, that can be good and bad, but we know how easy that is. So maybe I, you know, maybe I’m at the end of the day and I don’t have time to go through, you know, on my school zone or, or my power school and like read all the things. But if I connect to my school council Facebook page, or if I’m on Twitter and I see some things that are coming out around the new curriculum that might peak my interest, that’s an engagement point. That’s a touch point that lights a fire in me to do more in education. So there are some positive, even though we have been extremely disconnected this year.


Sam Demma (12:37):
I love that. And I think there’s always positives, even in every negative situation. It’s just up to us to go ahead and look for them. Right. without darkness, you can’t have a bonfire. Bonfires are beautiful. Right?


Brandi Rai (12:50):
I love that. Yes.


Sam Demma (12:51):
Right. Question for you, you, what exactly is a school council, I would consider you and your association like the experts of school councils what exactly is a school council and why are they so important and essential to schools?


Brandi Rai (13:08):
Well, no pressure to get that question. Right. Thank you for that. So, so yeah, so a school council and, and it might look different across the province, depending on that school community, but a school council. They have members parents or community members that would like to be part of the school council. The principal is also a member of the school council and a teacher designation, and then a, a teacher designated representative. And then additionally, if you’re in older grades, you might have a student representative attends. And so basically it’s, it’s parents and community members and possibly students who come and they, they work with admin on issues related to the school. And so a school council’s job is to advise the principal on any issue relating to the school. So maybe that’s the school’s plan. Maybe that’s the, like the, the school’s, you know, in, and some of the districts, they schools have three year plans.


Brandi Rai (13:57):
And so maybe you’re advising towards that. Maybe you’re maybe you’re advising towards the budget, you know, schools get budgets. And what are the priorities that parents also identify are really important places to spend that money knowing that the principal has final decision making in any decision related to a school then additionally school councils also in buys to their school boards. And so their school board might be engaging them on any changes that are happening within the district, you know, related to transportation or fees, or scheduling those sorts of things. And then higher, higher things such as right now, you know, the new curriculum draft, those are things that boards would be engaging with school councils around. And then additionally the Alberta school council’s association is the provincial voice for school councils in our province. And so school councils, can we, we have a variety of resources that help school councils understand their role.


Brandi Rai (14:49):
And so we believe that the empowerment and the respect and engagement of school councils is important for student success. And the way that we help that happen is we empower schools to learn how to be active in their own communities and to be local advocates, to, to affect change in their communities as needed or to support the culture as it is. And then we have we have an upcoming conference in AGM where we provide professional development for school council members. And then additionally, we have our AGM where members themselves have put. And so when we say members, we actually mean the school council as a whole, so not individual parents, but those school council members have put forward resolutions that then become advocacy policies that we advocate for. So for example, you know, years ago, there was a resolution that came forward related to class size and the importance of there being lower class size numbers for supporting student success.


Brandi Rai (15:41):
And so that then became an advocacy policy that we then advocate for. And it can be utilized in a variety of ways, not just in standard years, but specifically in a year where there has been COVID the importance of having smaller class sizes to mitigate the risk of spread. So that was a really long answer to say lots of things. But the, the main thing that I think that is important is that their, you know, school captures school councils are captured in legislation and regulations, and they have a role. They have a legitimate role in education. Parent voice is, is locally important. And then it goes all the way up to every table that we can carry that voice to through ASCA, as we talk with like trustees, superintendents, secretary treasurers the teachers association, any other major stakeholder group in education the Alberta school, council’s Associa this caring parent voice through school councils to that table.


Sam Demma (16:35):
And if you could speak to, you know, educators and principals outside of even Alberta and everywhere and be the bridge between, you know, a student and what they need to know about students right now, because you’re a, you’re a parent of five kids who are all in school. Like what could you share with a, you know, a principal or an educator who might not have kids that are in school right now and say, Hey, like, this is what kids or my kids are struggling with, which probably is the same struggles for most kids in certain ways and shapes like what could you relate to them to kind of say like, this is what you’re not seeing or not hearing right now.


Brandi Rai (17:10):
So I think that it’s, I think that right now what most parents and school counselors are talking about is mental health. And so they’re saying that, you know, my child’s mental health has been severely impacted and there is no support system readily available that my child can access in a timely or affordable manner to, to help with these, these issues that are happening. So that’s one thing that I know right now that parents on school councils are bringing up. The other thing is that through the years, we have really talked about the importance of, of school community. So teachers and admin, you know, relating to their students in ways that let the students give feedback and the students own the culture. And that’s really important because I can say, well, this is what my child is, is experiencing, and this is what they need.


Brandi Rai (17:54):
But as a parent, I believe that it is, it is actually more important that the teachers in the admin listen to my babies, they need to be talking to my babies about what the culture looks like in a school at their level, because we can have policies place. We can have wonderful conversations and metrics that we measure things by. But if the lived experience of those students does not reflect those policies and the intent of those policies, then it’s all for not. And so that is why it’s important that that educators be looping back to students and then be including parents in that dialogue as well.


Sam Demma (18:26):
And you started this interview by talking about the important of, you know, equity in equality in schools. What does an equitable school in your eyes look like? And, you know, how can we strive towards creating more equity within our schools?


Brandi Rai (18:41):
That is the, that is the universal question of, of how to how to solve all the problems in education. So just so, so no pressure, I guess, no pressure. So I think whenever I try to just collapse it down to the core of what it is that I’m asking for, I’m saying that equity and education and equitable access means that students in rural locations have the same opportunity and quality of education that students in metros would have. And I think that that is, and also the same inclusivity and the same opportunities. So, so I think that there is, there are definitely barriers when you travel across Alberta in terms of location and funding. And, and I think that equitable to me means that there is consistent quality and standards that are applied across education so that all, all students have access to the same opportunities within education that, that we know are meaningful for them.


Brandi Rai (19:37):
And for, for so long, I think that we’ve talked about you know, we’ve, we’ve boiled it down to, to funding and all of these different pieces. And one of the conversations I think that needs to be had as a collective with an education and is what do we identify as a basic quality education? So if we’re saying we’re providing a basic education to every student in Alberta, what does that basic education look like? How are we informing that? And then how are we measuring that to make sure that it is equitably applied and also inclusivity? So how are students with learning needs? How are they being in, into their school communities, all across the province? And, and what does that look like and what are the resources being given to make sure that it’s equitable inclusion? And then additionally, how are student, how are minorities, how are they, how is their lived experience being positively impacted across the province?


Brandi Rai (20:28):
And, and what about our queer kids? You know, how, how are they living this? And so when every student irrespective of their learning needs or their, or their racial composition or their you know, gender identity or sexual orientation, when I can say that every baby has a quality education where they felt loved and valued and seen in their community and in their curriculum, then that to me is actually equitable education. And I know it’s gonna take a long time, but I’m here for a long time. So I’m willing to keep doing this work


Sam Demma (21:03):
Awesome brand. This has been a, such a passionate conversation. Like it’s so clear that this is something so close to your heart, which is amazing because we need empathetic and heartfelt leaders. If you could give your younger self one piece of advice when it comes to fighting this good fight to end off this interview here today, like, what would you tell younger Brandy to know?


Brandi Rai (21:26):
Oh, that’s a really good question. I would just say to her oh it’s this metric that I now have that I wish I had learned a long time ago is will it matter in five minutes? Will it matter in five months? Will it matter in five years? Mm, because I think that lots of times we put our energy to putting out small fires right now. And I have learned to measure for myself if it’s going to matter five months from now, I need to give this a significant amount of energy. If I need this to look drastically different five years from now, I need to make a roadmap to make that happen. And, and that is a hard learn lesson that I have learned in my own life and in my own children’s life that if I could have given myself that 16 years ago, oh goodness, how much more could I have done with my time?


Sam Demma (22:18):
Hmm. Love that. And if an educator is listening right now and enjoying this conversation, what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you?


Brandi Rai (22:27):
So they can go to the Alberta School Council’s website and then go if they go there, we have our contact information there so they can get in contact with me directly through our executive director or our communications coordinator. And I am always willing to have a chat to help in any way that I can to get, to get the spark going, because I know that if I can help just make a tiny spark, everybody else in that community can continue to fan it into the flame that will, as you said, create a bonfire in the darkness and I’m willing to do that so thank you for that.


Sam Demma (23:01):
Oh, I love that. Awesome. This has been a great conversation, Brandi. I appreciate you taking the time to come on here and share some of your perspectives and philosophies around education. Keep, keep up the amazing work and I hope to meet you one day in person soon.


Brandi Rai (23:14):
Thank you so much.


Sam Demma (23:16):
And there you have it. Another amazing guest, an amazing interview on the High Performing Educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review so other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show; f you want meet the guest on today’s episode, if you wanna meet any of the guests that we have interviewed, consider going to www.highperformingeducator.com and signing up to join the exclusive network, you’ll have access to networking events throughout 2021 and other special opportunities. And I promise I will not fill your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Brandi Rai

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.

Marco LeBlanc – Vice President of the New-Brunswick Student Leadership Association

Marco LeBlanc – Vice President of the New-Brunswick Student Leadership Association
About Marco LeBlanc

Hooked on Leadership and Community Service since 1999, Marco LeBlanc is doing leadership right! He’s been teaching since 2009 and has taken students to local, provincial, national and global student leadership conferences.


Married to the wonderful Sindy and father to Kate, Marco has also adopted his 29 year old cousin after the sudden passing of his Mother. Scott lives with a mental and physical disabilities but gives an entire new and positive meaning to quality time, he is amazing!

Marco is currently a director on the board of the Canadian Student Leadership Association, the Vice- President of the New-Brunswick Student Leadership Association, President of the Local Association for Community Living, where we run a learning center for 35 adults living with mental and physical disabilities as well as a community residence for 7 adults, and Co-President of a Drug Free Community Committee. He’s a Grad and Student Council Advisor and Homestay Coordinator for Atlantic Education International finding host families to give an amazing experience to international students.


Winner and Recipient of the 2008 UNB Unsung Hero Award, 2014 Tom Hanley Leadership Award, 2014 and 2018 NBSLA Community Outreach Award, 2015 CSLA Leader of Distinction Award, and 2019 New Brunswick Teacher’s Association Teacher Recognition Award.

Connect with Marco: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Canadian Student Leadership Association (CSLA)

Canadian Student Leadership Conference (CSLC)

New-Brunswick Student Leadership Association (NBSLA)

Atlantic Education International (AEI)

New Brunswick Teachers’ Association (NBTA)

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):
Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. I’m super excited. Today’s guest is Marco LeBlanc. He has been hooked on leadership and community service since 1999. That’s right; the year I was born. Not to age Marco, he’s a phenomenal dude. And he has been doing leadership right since that day. He’s been teaching since 2009 and has taken students to local provincial/national global student leadership conferences.


Sam Demma (01:03):
He’s married to the wonderful Sindy and father to Kate. He has adopted his 29 year old cousin after the sudden passing of his mother. Scott lives with the mental and physical disabilities, but gives an entire new and positive meaning to quality time and Marco believes he is absolutely amazing. He is currently a director on the board of the Canadian Student Leadership Association, the Vice President of the new Brunswick Student Leadership Association, the President of the Local Association for Community Living, and the Co-President of a drug free community committee. He’s a grad and student council advisor and home state coordinator for Atlantic Education International, finding host families to give an amazing experience to international students. His bio goes on and on. Marco has done so much in the world of education, so much for young people, and it’s really inspiring. And I hope some of his stories that he shares today in his podcast really touch your heart.


Sam Demma (01:54):
Marco is the winner and recipient of the 2008 UNB Unsung Hero award 2014, Tom Hanley Leadership award 2014 and 2018 new Brunswick Student Leadership Association Community Outreach award, 2015 CSLA Leader of Distinction Award, and 2019 New Brunswick Teachers association Teacher Recognition award. There’s a reason for all of that and you’ll hear about it on today’s podcast. And I hope that his stories really touch your heart and remind you why you got into teaching. I’ll see you on the other side, enjoy. Marco, welcome to the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here today. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit, why you got into the work you’re doing in education today?


Marco LeBlanc (02:41):
Well, my name’s Marco LeBlanc. I’ve been an educator for about 12 years and a student council advisor for about 10. I’m part of the New Brunswick Student Leadership and the Canadian Student Leadership Associations. And I guess I would’ve gotten into this leadership journey because it was offered to me as a student and I just grabbed onto it. Totally fell in love with being of service in my community, whether that be in my direct community or my school community. And from there, I mean, I just wanted to share that passion with students and give them some purpose and, and things to do while they’re at school and so it’s been working great.


Sam Demma (03:29):
And what made you back when you were a student? What made you want to grab onto that opportunity of getting involved in the student leadership? Was it the, did encourage encouragement from another educator or were there other things in your life that really like drove you towards wanting to get involved?


Marco LeBlanc (03:49):
So that’s a great question. It was an another educator for sure. And she’s actually a colleague of mine now, which is kind of odd, but it, it works. We team tag now, so it’s partnership. But basically as a student, I wouldn’t, I would not have been involved very much in, in school and probably on the path to making a few wrong decisions consecutively in, in, in my teenage journey. However, this teacher was adamant that, you know, she saw that I was always willing to help. And then from there she just used that as the spark and always made sure that I had a project going. And so she kept giving me these projects and I kept falling into it and, and taking it by the horns and planning activities, doing fundraising is being involved and having something to do. And from then on, I was hooked on this leadership thing.


Sam Demma (04:50):
That’s awesome. I love that. And when you say hooked, I mean, if that’s the analogy we’re using now, you’re like a professional fisherman then, because you’re you know, you’re heavily involved with the school you’re at, you’re also heavily involved with the new Brunswick student leadership association. At what point in your, you know, your educator career, your teaching career, did you start getting involved in the new Brunswick, you know, leadership association and, and what drove you to get involved there? You know, cause I’m, I’m sure you were heavily involved at your school, but I’m assuming that took it to a whole new level as well.


Marco LeBlanc (05:22):
Yeah. So in, in my last year, as a high school student, I was able to finally take part in a new Brunswick student leadership association conference. And, you know, that was a wonderful experience. I networked so much by just being an attendee and, and learning many new things. And when I went into college and university, I mean, I still took part in, in some social clubs and, and I did a, a working group from the university as well. So when I returned into education at a school after, I mean, I, I dipped my feet in to get my first year under my belt, but starting second year, we went right into let’s get a student council going. And after that first year of having a student council connected with the new Brunswick student leadership Associa, and then have never looked back, went through as a, as a director. And then now I’m vice president and loving what, what we do and the opportunities we provide for our New Brunswick youth.


Sam Demma (06:32):
That’s an amazing story. And I’m curious to know, like, I’m, I’m sure there’s other educate who you share your experiences with with student leadership that are very fascinated by it. And there’s also other educators who sometimes think like, why is this stuff so important? You know, like what makes student leadership such an impactful and essential part of school? Like, we’re not, you know, we’re not teaching them math or science here, it’s, it’s life skills and other, you know, other things, what would you share with another educator who might be thinking to themselves? I don’t understand why this stuff is so essential and so important. Yeah. In your opinion, why is this this work around student leadership, very foundational to learning and growing as a young person?


Marco LeBlanc (07:17):
Well, I think, I think given the anything with student leadership is a lot about finding, finding out who you are and, and tuning into you know, the, the skillset you have and, and the things you want to develop and, and maybe try out, it’s also having that ability to take a risk also. And so once, once these students start entering into these, these leadership opportunities, you really see them develop and, and, and turn into, you know, students who wanna make a difference, wanna make an impact, wanna serve their community. And, and there are still those students that want to be at the background, and that’s fine because that’s still a foundational element of, of anything. And so in speaking with, with educators, I would say that the best thing would be, you know, the, the importance of this is that students find like their, their niche. They find something that they can and hook onto. They can invest in it and they see what happens. You know, they, there’s, there’s an automatic response. So it’s either, you’re gonna see that people are enjoying themselves at an, a event you’re running, or you’re gonna see that people are getting involved in a fundraising effort for a cause, whatever it be, if it’s social awareness and, and just that networking that happens, the connections, the community, partnerships, all these things, follow them beyond school. And, and that will be where the benefits will show.


Sam Demma (08:57):
Yeah, that’s a, I love that. And I mean, from the perspective of an educator, you’ve also seen the impact firsthand in your own life, but also in the lives of the students, in your schools and communities. And I’m curious to know, like if I had described the state of the world right now, I would say, it feels like sometimes it feels like someone has taken a large blanket and just dropped it on top of the planet. And it seems a little dark at times. And a little lonely at times, and student leadership provides a light, a light for students. And I’m curious to know in your experiences, if you’ve seen firsthand, you know, student transformations occur maybe because of student leadership or because of a, you know, a caring adult or educator, and do any of those stories come to mind. And if they’re, if they’re very serious, you can change a student’s name just to keep it private. And the reason I’m asking you just to be transparent to share it is because I think another educator listening can be reminded of why the work they do is so important. We hear about these transformational stories.


Marco LeBlanc (09:59):
Yeah, I guess the, the one thing that I always go back to is a story of I’d say about six or seven years ago, I had a student council election coming, and I had a student who was basically peer pressured by his buddies to, to join in, but it was, it was as a joke. It was as a first, it wasn’t going to be an authentic commitment and whatnot. And anyways, we went through the election process anyways, and I knew that, that this had occurred, but I wanted to see what the results were. And after student vote basically I had a tie for who was going to be leading the student council. And so this individual had received almost 50% of the votes from the student body. And so I sat down with the student with the two individuals, and I said, you know, I think this is an opportunity to, to work as a team show that teamwork is possible.


Marco LeBlanc (11:02):
That one position can become two, and maybe we can you know, have more success this way. And obviously the voice of the building was saying that they, they really think that that person might, you know, do the job real well and represent their student by. And so we went for it and everybody was in agreement. We had a wonderful year, tried new events. Everything went well so much success, but in the end, at the end of the year, we had what we call a turnaround award in our, in our school district. And that’s that award is actually created so that students who have totally flipped their lives, they were experiencing some difficult circumstances in their lives or academic, behavioral, troubles, whatever it’d be. And they’ve shifted their life around fully. And, and this student one, I mean, he had, because of peer pressure, he was obviously in a bad place, poor choice, poor decision making, but went for it anyways, got into student leadership, found out that it was a passion. And he obviously brought forth a major skillset that was lacking in our student council. From there, you know, then he, he just built upon, totally changed his perspective. Everything got better. His relationships got better. His academics got better. He looked into post secondary, which he wasn’t even considering before. And he was the recipient of that turnaround award. And, you know, it, it was the best kind of full circle moment at the end of a school year.


Sam Demma (12:41):
That’s such a great story to share. And that student any chance you stay in touch with him to this day or, oh,


Marco LeBlanc (12:50):
Yes, for sure. That student is working full time and started a new family and everything’s in the up and up. Yeah.


Sam Demma (12:58):
That’s amazing. Thank you for sharing that. I appreciate it. And did he have any realizations as he got into it? Like I’m sure at first he might have not been the most confident in himself, but through student leadership, did you see a change in him? Like how did he transfer form personally throughout the journey as well?


Marco LeBlanc (13:18):
Yeah, he, he definitely transformed because he, wasn’t going to start this with any level of, of knowing what to expect. And so he was coming at it quite blind. He didn’t know what to expect, what his role was going to be. And, and obviously he wanted the, the appearance to peers was a major concern of his if, if he’d be accepted or not, and, and what would be the repercussions of that. But his revelation was probably his first successful event and how many people knew his name would say hello in the hallway would start to, you know, ask him questions and, and suggestions of new ideas. And he took it on and he really felt that he got the student’s voice vote. And so he needed to commit to being there for them. And the minute he started doing that, I mean, it was, it was wonderful just to see how he could blossom early.


Sam Demma (14:22):
Yeah.


Marco LeBlanc (14:23):
Yeah.


Sam Demma (14:24):
Oh, awesome. And this year, obviously things are a little different.


Marco LeBlanc (14:30):
Very different. Yeah.


Sam Demma (14:32):
A little comedic, you know, but I’m curious to know, despite the, despite the challenges that are going on, I, I think that with every challenge, there’s an equal opportunity if we really try and find it and look for it. So I’m curious to know one, what are some of the challenges and two, what do you think some of the opportunities are as well during this time?


Marco LeBlanc (14:54):
So, I mean, a different a definite challenge is the fact that, you know, a lot of activities are not following the distancing protocols and so on and so forth. So they’ve been put on hold for the year and with a lot of activities that in involve having a lot of students gather it’s been a lot, a lot more difficult for our student council members to digest and, you know, to, to understand that those limitations exist. However, we do talk about limitations are often opportunity as well. So you need to check what can we do? And how can we flip this around so that people get to, to enjoy it too? So I mean, meetings are not in person. Meetings are virtual. We do theme days, we still plan classroom events. So if they’re in already in their bubble, we’re, we’re able to have those classroom events. And we’re starting now that the weather’s nice in new Brunswick, we’re starting to do some of the activities outside because we’re allowed to have a little bit more people outside. So, yes. Yeah. And I mean, they’re, they’re still committed. They’re still doing their part, it’s different, but they know that any, any time they commit and anything they do for the benefit of somebody else, then it’ll come back as being a successful thing.


Sam Demma (16:23):
And correct me if I’m wrong. But I also believe that this, there might be an opportunity of a reminder that reminded us how important relationships were. Yeah, I think it really showed us how important it was to maintain relationships and build relationships with not only our fellow colleagues and family, but the students in our classrooms. What is your philosophy on relationships? And how can we try and still build relationships during this like weird time?


Marco LeBlanc (16:52):
Yeah. I mean, relationships, so are key. That’s, that’s just, that is the foundation. If you don’t have the ability to sustain relationships and make relationships, then you know, leadership is very difficult. So you need to be very open to that. What students are, what I’m noticing here this year is a lot of, of youth empowerment is happening. We, we want positive messages out there. We want to tell people they’re okay. We want to have these moments of celebration and, and make sure that, that we take that time to do it because maybe before it was a little bit, you know, something that we just, we were too busy or caught up with with our own lives. But now we’re really intentional with the fact that we need to celebrate the successes. We’re having the great things that are happening. We need to tell people that we love them and why we love them. And we need to tell them why we appreciate what they’re doing for us. And I think not only do we need to say it, but people are really starting to show that they feel it too. And so you know, I think students are learning. There’s still a, a curve. Some people are struggling through this, obviously, but others are, are taking that advice and they’re, they’re going with it. They’re offering some positivity and it’s, it’s working for us.


Sam Demma (18:13):
Awesome. It’s so true. And you’ve been doing this for a while. Not to age you, you’re not old, but, but


Marco LeBlanc (18:26):
Yeah, no kidding.


Sam Demma (18:28):
You’ve been doing this for a wow. I’m sure you’ve, you’ve changed your own philosophies around education since you’ve started teaching from now. And I’m curious to know if you could go back in time and speak to Marco when he first started teaching, what advice would you give yourself knowing what you know now and from learning from so many, the other awesome educators?


Marco LeBlanc (18:50):
I think I’d actually go back to that relationship piece. When I was starting into education. I mean, it was all about the content and it was all about delivery and it isn’t about that. It’s about the relationship with the people you have in your class. You make sure that they feel valued. You make sure that they understand that they’re worthy and, and then you can get to content because they’re comfortable in your class and they’re ready and willing to learn. And I, I think I’d tell myself back then that it, it’s very important to spend a lot of time on building relationships and then the rest will come.


Sam Demma (19:23):
Mm, love that advice. That’s awesome advice. Awesome. Marco, this has been a, a great short but jam packed conversation and I appreciate it. For everyone who’s listening to this, Marco and I recorded an earlier episode about two months ago, and we had both some technical difficulties so he was kind enough to come back on and rerecord, and I’m so glad that we did. If, if an educator is listening and wants to reach out to you just to share some ideas or have a conversation, what would be the best way for them to get in touch?


Marco LeBlanc (19:53):
So the best way would be through email probably. So it’s quite simple; marco.leblanc@nbed.nb.ca. I can also be reached through any student leadership platforms, whether that be the Canadian one or the New Brunswick one. So feel free, reach out.


Sam Demma (20:10):
Awesome. Cool, Marco, thank you so much for calling on the show.


Marco LeBlanc (20:14):
Thanks Sam. Keep doing that amazing work of yours. We appreciate that.


Sam Demma (20:18):
And there you have it. Another amazing guest, an amazing interview on the High Performing Educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review so other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show; f you want meet the guest on today’s episode, if you wanna meet any of the guests that we have interviewed, consider going to www.highperformingeducator.com and signing up to join the exclusive network, you’ll have access to networking events throughout 2021 and other special opportunities. And I promise I will not fill your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Marco LeBlanc

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.

Rob Gilmour – Principal of Loyola School of Adult and Continuing Education

Rob Gilmour - Principal of Loyola School of Adult and Continuing Education
About Rob Gilmour

Rob has been an educator for over 30 years with the Algonquin and Lakeshore Catholic District School Board and involved in computer-managed and online course delivery for most of his career. Rob started his career at Loyola teaching through the Pathfinder Learning Systems computer-managed program before initiating the online course program for the Board.

He co-founded the Ontario eLearning Consortium where he served as Executive Director before being seconded to the Ontario Ministry of Education as Education Officer for eLearning. Rob returned to the ALCDSB where he was elementary vice-principal and principal before returning to Loyola as Principal and taking on the additional role of eLearning Principal and Principal of International Education.

Connect with Rob: Email | Linkedin | Website

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Ontario eLearning Consortium

Algonquin & Lakeshore Catholic District School Board

Michigan Virtual | Demand more from online learning

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:02):
Rob welcome to the high performing educator. Huge pleasure to have you on the show this morning. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself?


Rob Gilmour (00:10):
Sure. so my name’s Rob Gilmour and I’ve been an educator for over 30 years with the Algonquin and Lakeshore Catholic District School Board, kind of in the Kingston Pickton area of the province. So like I said, I started my career at Loyola, a school of adult and continuing education. I said 30 years ago, I looked after it was called Pathfinder learning systems. So it was computer-managed learning. So what would happen is the student would do a, kind it, of a pretest, a diagnostic test based on that score, they would be referred to a, a physical library of books. And so I’d say, go to this book and do this question, go to that book, do that question. Then they’d come back and they’d do a post test and based on those results, that would kind of guide them in terms of what to do next through the course.


Rob Gilmour (01:06):
So like I said, I went from that into kind of computer programming you know, Cisco networking courses. I then moved to the school board as a special assignment teacher to look after creating a an e-learning program for the board. Excuse me. From there, I, I met some other people from other boards in the province and kind of co-founded the Ontario e-learning consortium. Cool. and I was kind of the first executive director of that group. So helped lead that group for the first couple of years to I then was succonded to the Ontario ministry of education where I was an education officer for e-learning Ontario.


Sam Demma (01:53):
Nice.


Rob Gilmour (01:55):
So did that for a couple years. And then I got to a point where I, you know, I kind of had to make the decision, am I going to continue with the ministry or do I want to go back to the board? And I kind of missed working with students. Yeah. That’s the one thing with the ministry job. You’re kind of a long ways away from direct contact with students. And I missed that. That’s kind of why I went into teaching. So I returned to the board as elementary vice principal, the elementary principal, and eventually made my way back kind of full circle. So I’m back at Loyola, but as the prince, as the principal of Loyola. So yeah, as I’m principal here at Loyola, I also had duties as the e-learning e-learning principle for the board. I’m currently a, also the international education principal. So that’s for students coming overseas to Canada to study. So I kind of managed like after that program as well.


Sam Demma (02:57):
That’s awesome. Very diverse experiences. Take me back to your initial decision to get involved in education in your own career journey. Did you always know that you wanted to work with students in a school setting, or how did that decision come together for you as a professional?


Rob Gilmour (03:14):
Yeah, no, I didn’t. So I, I like and was involved with coaching early on in elementary school and high school coaching, younger students. So I knew I loved coaching, loved working with younger people, but I didn’t know if teaching was what, you know, the career path I wanted to go, Dale. My, my father was you know, involved with coaching. So I saw him he was a, not a teacher, but, you know, I had other friends that were so actually when I graduated from university, I became an educational assistant. Mm. So I was worked as an EA at local high school here in town and being in the classroom, being in the school you know, working with some students with special needs. I really, you know, after that experience, I knew that, okay, this is what I want to do for the rest of my life is, is working with kids and, and working in the school. So at that point I applied and went to teachers college and kind of the rest is history, as they say. Yeah.


Sam Demma (04:18):
You also mentioned the interest in engagement, starting the organization in e-learning. Where did, where did that passion for e-learning come from and tell, tell me a little more about that venture.


Rob Gilmour (04:32):
Yeah, so, like I said, it’s, it’s one of those things where, you know, as I started with the in Pathfinder learning system, so it was kind of computer managed learning, so it kind of very, so this is back in the early nineties. Yep. Very early nineties, so very kind of tiptoeing into kind of computer managed, computer online, learning in a sense. And so I kind of really started there. I mean, I didn’t have a background in computers. You know, I came outta teachers kind with, you know, geography, social sciences, and, you know, there was a job opening, so I took it and it was this computer managed learning. And from there they thought I knew something about computers which I really didn’t. And so, you know, but learned as I went along, so, you know, got into, I said, did got my Cisco certification and you know, to other courses in terms of software courses.


Rob Gilmour (05:27):
So there, I got kind of my love, I guess, for technology and working with computers. And and then, you know, e-learning was just kind of starting up right, as, as kind of the late nineties you know, they’re looking hot, you know, universities and postsecondary are starting into kind of the online learning. And so I think because I got into it very early on and it was new and, and I guess that’s something I’ve always liked in my career. I mean, I’ve always liked new challenges, new things, you know, maybe cutting edge or what have you, you know, so that’s always been attracted to me. And, and so, yeah, yeah, I kind of got involved with it, you know, met some great people along the way. You know, other educators had great support from my school board. So had great principals had great, you know, superintendents and director of education who really supported me along the way and kind of allowed me to go off and kind of develop and try to grow a program.


Sam Demma (06:37):
Very awesome. When you think back to your journey, what resources courses or other people, like what resources, whether it’s books, courses, or people did you did, did came across your path and you found really helpful that you might wanna shed some light on?


Rob Gilmour (07:00):
Yeah, I mean, at that time, the, the United States, the us were a little bit further ahead in can than Canadians in terms of online learning. So there was the Florida virtual school. There was also the Mitch Michigan virtual school. And so I, you know, the, luckily I was allowed to go to some conferences down in the United States where I, I got to hear speakers you know, people kind of leading these programs. And, and so, you know, kind of hearing what they’re doing, kind of the innovative things that they were doing and how they’re approaching not just kind of the delivery of the courses, but you know, how courses were created kind of the whole student engagement part, you know, trying to create, you know, those relationships online you know, all the challenges that, you know, typically online courses have, and, and talking kind of brainstorming with these other leaders kind of in, in the, in the area about how to overcome those challenges really kind of, you know, helped support me.


Rob Gilmour (08:07):
So, I mean, I don’t know if there was necessarily one person there was a, there was a book on a digital game-based learning, and certainly that had a real kind of interest. There was actually a gentleman at university in Kingston at that time who was doing a master’s program and, and looking at creating kind of a, a grade nine math curriculum. That would be basically almost like a digital game. Oh, wow. So, so, you know, you’d kind of go into it and, you know, based on question and should answer and guide you kind of through, you know, different doors and different options. So it is fairly basic, but just the whole concept and idea, because, you know, as you know, I mean, teenagers and you get them online and playing these video games, what, whatever game it might be, you know, Minecraft or whoever it might be. They’re certainly engaged. And so we are kind of thinking if we could create online courses similar to that you, you know, you and have to worry about telling students to go to school, they’d be engaged in it all the time. So that that’s kind of certainly the vision and the hope you know, that, that we get there at some point.


Sam Demma (09:26):
Yeah. That’s awesome. Would you buy any chance, remember to the name of the book or the, the professor?


Rob Gilmour (09:34):
I sort, I don’t, I mean, I think, I think the book was digital. Game-Based learning. Cool. I think is the name of the book. Okay. I can’t remember the gentleman, but


Sam Demma (09:44):
No, that’s okay. No worries. You mentioned that you, your career is come full circle and now you’re back at Layola, which is awesome. What does what does your role look like to day in this school?


Rob Gilmour (09:57):
So just to get background about what Loyola is, so Loyola’s kind of adult and continuing education. So we serve students 18 and over nice that are either coming back to get their high school diploma, or they’re looking to upgrade to go to college, or they need it for work. Also we offer English as a second language courses. So for newcomers to Canada. Yep. We have a personal support worker program. We have literacy and basic skills. So my, my role here is kind of supporting the teachers and the department heads but very fortunate to have kind of great department heads, great teachers. You know, a lot of times they say my role is to get outta the way of them because they do such a fantastic job and, and it’s kind of support them, look at, you know, I guess my role is to look at funding you know, kind of the financial side of things you know, making sure that programs are viable making sure that we have the right staff and the right positions.


Rob Gilmour (11:09):
And you know, I, I try as much as I can to, to talk with students because I mean, again, that’s, that’s kind of the, the love and the passion, right? Why you kind of go into education to begin with is you know, to, to make a difference in students lives to kind of help them in terms of where they wanna go in terms of their goals and their next steps. And we just try to help support students best we can to so that they can reach those goals and achieve whatever dreams that it is that they have education.


Sam Demma (11:40):
I’ve said this many times is like a gardener, or is like gardening, you, you plant seeds and the hope that they grow. And sometimes you see them grow right in front of your eyes. And other times, 20 years later, they flourish. And, you know, you’re lucky if the student comes back and finds you and says, Hey, Rob, you know what you said, had a massive impact. I’m curious to know when you think of stories like that, of transformations that you have seen, whether it’s a student or someone in the school that you heard about do any of those stories kind of jump to mind that that you’d like to share? And the reason I ask is because I, I think hearing those sort of transformations reminds teachers why this an educator is why this work is so important.


Rob Gilmour (12:28):
Yeah. I mean, certainly, I mean, you do hear some of those stories. Yeah. You do have some students that will come back to you and they’ll write you an email or they’ll send you a note or, or they’ll come up to you, especially during graduations. Yep. That, that they’ll come up and they’ll say, you know, thank you, you know, this program changed my life. You know, this teacher really helped me and, you know, helped me stay on track. You know, when I was ready to give up their, you know, they had the encouraging words or, you know, gave me a second chance. That’s, you know, you know, our sure. We’ve got it in the classroom here. You know, the big thing here is we, we talked about instilling hope. Mm. So kind of our role here is type to instill hope in our students, that they achieve success, that they can be successful.


Rob Gilmour (13:18):
And so, you know, yeah, you hear those stories, like I say, at graduations, now you will hear other things from other people. I, I, you know, a few years ago, I, I had a student when I was vice principal in elementary school. You know, I had a student who’s had ’em for a couple year. He is a little more challenging perhaps than kind of the other, other students. And we spent a lot of time together. And I think I was only with him for grade one and two, but in grade eight, he had to you know, write, write a paragraph on who had the greatest impact in his elementary career. Mm. And I heard that he, he put me down, which I was, you know? Yeah. I mean, kind of chokes you up a little bit. Yeah. The, you know, to know that you had that impact and, you know, like I say, I think most teachers will say, we don’t realize we have that impact.


Rob Gilmour (14:12):
Right. And that’s actually something that, you know, oftentimes you tell, you know, new teachers or young teachers to be aware of that you may not realize that impact, you know, the words that you say to students, you may not realize kind of the, the impact that you’re having on them. And, and, you know, you can quite literally change people’s lives and change people’s perspectives and, you know, mental health and everything else. So, so taking that responsibility seriously and, and making sure that, you know, you’re, you’re always being positive and you know, putting students first is, is always really critical.


Sam Demma (14:50):
That’s awesome. And so you explained you did a really great job explaining what Loyola stand Loyola stands for and the purpose of the school. What drew you to this school as opposed. And I know you’ve worked in elementary schools and others, but this is definitely unique a school. And I think it’s a really important, a really important school. What, what drew you to it?


Rob Gilmour (15:14):
Yeah. So I mean, the reason why I wanted to come back to, to Layola is you know, you’re dealing, you’re dealing with people here that you know, they’re not forced to come to school. There there’s no requirement that they must come to school. They’re coming back here because they, they want to come back. Yeah. and, and not that, that makes it any easier. But you know, you’re coming back with people that, you know, have a dream that they down deep inside, they really want to come back. They really want to try to improve their lives for themselves and for their families. And, but they have a lot of obstacles, whether or not it’s substance abuse, whether or not it’s you know, poverty, whether or not it’s mental health you know, there’s a lot of obstacles and, and so that makes them not in a necessarily the easiest students all the time to deal with.


Rob Gilmour (16:16):
But, you know, and oftentimes that makes it, you know, it can’t make it the most rewarding students to deal with. Yeah. Because, you know, when you do, you know, help somebody, you really are helping them. And, and, and they are very appreciative of it. Certainly, and yeah, so, so it’s, you know, it’s just a different student that you may find in, in a, in an elementary school or a regular high school, kind of that adult learner is you know, they’re, they’re motivated, they’re, they’re dedicated, but, you know, oftentimes they’d have families, they have work, they have all these other commitments right. On top of them. And, and so anything you can do to kind of help them and support them is is tremendously rewarding. And so that’s kind of, you know, in terms of ending my career, that’s certainly kind of the, the place I wanted to be to, to, to, to go out For, for sure. Yeah.


Sam Demma (17:19):
And if you could, if you could take all of the knowledge and experience you’ve gained in education over the past, I think you said 30 years you’ve been working in education. Yep. Yeah. If you could bundle it all up, walk into the first that you ever taught in and tap yourself on the shoulder and say, Hey, Rob, here’s what I wish you knew. What advice would you have given yourself?


Rob Gilmour (17:48):
Well, I mean, you’re always told, right. You know, going through teachers college anywhere else, or any PD that, you know, professional learning just about the whole relationships piece. Right. Yeah. You know, it’s a, you know, as a young teacher, perhaps you’re so focused on curriculum. Okay. So, you know, my lessons that, you know, know sometimes you, you forget about the relationship piece. And so I would think that, you know, that’s the kind of the most important thing to, you know, and think that needs to really guide you is, is having those relationships with students, having those relationships with staff, with parents you know, you’ll cut, you’ll get the, for the curriculum, you know, that, you know, don’t, don’t worry and panic about, well, I, I need to cover, you know, fractions next week because if I don’t cover fractions next week, I’m gonna be behind.


Rob Gilmour (18:40):
And, you know, and, and there’s that, you know, that little bit of panic sets in, you know, as, as a young teacher, because you wanna do a good job and you wanna make sure you’re preparing your students for, you know, the next grade and the next step that they need to do. And you know, so you’re trying to make sure they have all the knowledge and things, all those pieces, but, you know, like I said, that relationship piece and, and, you know, the building, the whole child, they talk about, you know, making sure that, you know, that, you know, the, the they’re respectful that they get along well with their peers and that, you know, you’re helping them with those pieces too. Because they’re, you know, as equally important in terms of, you know, their future and where they help to go having those pieces. So yeah, I guess that would be my, my main message that would tell myself.


Sam Demma (19:30):
That’s awesome. And if someone is listening to this conversation wants to reach out to you and ask a question, what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you?


Rob Gilmour (19:41):
Yeah. So they could you know, through Loyola. So certainly they could talk, contact me at Loyola either by phone. They’re welcome to email me (email). I have a LinkedIn you can, you know, search me through, through LinkedIn account. You know, so there’s few different ways and I, I’m more than open to, to talking to, to people. I mean, that’s, you know, that’s the one great thing in terms of education is you know, I kind of learned through my, my career is there’s a lot of great people that know way more than me, or others do. And oftentimes they’re very keen and eager to share that knowledge and experience with you.


Rob Gilmour (20:37):
You know, you just need to ask sometimes people a little bit shy cuz they feel that they don’t have much to offer, but once you kind of ask the question, you find it they’re full of great information and knowledge and can really help you out. And you know, be, and because of the, kind of the work that I’ve done, you know, kind of doing things that are somewhat new, like I said, with e-learning in, in the province you know, you’re always discovering something new and a new way of doing things, a new approach. You know, the biggest challenge the last little while that, you know, everyone’s had in education is, you know, with the pandemic. Yeah. you know, you’ve been forced to find new ways of doing things. And, and it’s, you know, it’s not all bad either.


Rob Gilmour (21:28):
And some of those new ways new approaches to, you know, deliver programming, you know, you know, bringing in a part, you know, hybrid type of delivery of courses is, you know, I’ve, I’ve always been a big advocate of it. We did action research project a couple years ago that that proved in terms of adult education anyway, a that kind of the hybrid approach. Some in class, some online provides the flexibility for students, but also provides that, you know, relationship piece, that accountability piece, you know, look in the person eye to eye you know, really helps to lead to, to success. So yeah, but like I said, by all means people are more than welcome to, to reach out to me. I’m happy to, to talk and to share anything that I can offer. Yeah.


Sam Demma (22:18):
Awesome. Well, again, this has been an amazing conversation, Rob, thank you so much for taking the time to share your experiences and come on the show. I keep up the great work. Can I look forward to connecting again soon?


Rob Gilmour (22:31):
Great. Thanks very much, Sam. I appreciate the opportunity.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Rob

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.

Nadia Irshad – Co-founder of Glarea Elevated Learning and the future of education

Nadia Irshad - Co-founder of Glarea Elevated Learning and the future of education
About Nadia Irshad

Nadia Hasan’s (@nadia__irshad) educational background is in Environmental Studies focusing on Sustainable Development and Urban Planning. She pursued a career in Art & Design working in Magazine Print Design and web design for a decade before opening her first early learning school. She is the Founder and CEO of Academics Educational Systems; The Academics Edge System that incorporates proprietary curriculum, programming and innovation in centres called Academics preKindergarten.

She is a founding partner of Glarea Elevated Learning; A NEW KIND OF SCHOOL. Glarea is a K-6 School in Surrey BC growing with the students yearly up to Grade 12.

As a resident of the South Surrey area, Nadia has had the privilege of being a board member of the Peninsula Community Foundation. She was a member of The Women’s Presidents Organization for years, before focusing on her current role as a Board Member for Arts Umbrella, Canada’s non-profit leader in arts education for young people, providing access to the highest quality arts education to communities as a basic human right. She is specifically dedicated to expanding the non-profit’s reach in the City of Surrey.

Nadia is passionate about her industry as a change agent for women, children and families. She is drawn to education and childcare through her own personal story. She finds passion in human connection, civic activism and more specifically causes that relate to women. Nadia’s interests include mobilizing women and girls by confronting cultural barriers that limit and harm women in closed communities.

Words, poetry and screenwriting is her passion. Maxwell’s Muse is where she spends some of her free time, on projects that give voice to untold stories, creating safe spaces and giving a platform to marginalized people through the production of art and film. 

Connect with Nadia: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Glarea School Website

Academics PreKindergarten

Peninsula Community Foundation

The Women’s Presidents Organization

Arts Umbrella

Maxwell’s Muse Website

Systems Thinking Leadership Certificate Program at Cornell University

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):
Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker Sam Demma. Today I had the honor and pleasure to interview and chat with Nadia Irshad or Nadia Hassan. She has an educational background in environmental studies, focused on sustainable development and urban planning. She pursued a career in art and design working in magazine print and web design for a decade before opening her own early learning school.


Sam Demma (01:05):
She is the founder and CEO of academics educational systems, the academics edge system that incorporates proprietary curriculum programming and innovation in centers called academics pre kindergarten. She is one of the founding partners of Gloria elevated learning, which is a, a new kind of school focused on the K/six to K to six grades in Surrey, BC growing with the student yearly up until grade 12. She has kids of her own that are part of this school system and we talk all about why they created this innovative school, why she was a founding partner, and what their school looked like and how it differs from typical schools. And I think we can learn something from everyone we talk to. And I definitely learned a lot talking to Nadia, so enjoy this conversation and I will see you on the other side, Nadia, thank you so much for coming on the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself and sharing a little bit about how you got into the work you’re doing today with young people in education?


Nadia Irshad (02:09):
Oh, that’s a big loaded question. well, pleasure to be here. How did I end up in the world of education? So I took a really interesting path of my passion for education lies within two sort of spheres. One is I’m a parent, so I never actually envisioned being a parent. It was a complete surprise to me. I never touched a child until I had one, never changed a diaper until I had one. But it, everyone, I think as it’s a transformative moment, it is a transformative moment. I’ll, , I’ll say it’s a moment where, you know, suddenly everything that you never thought was relevant to your adult life is and it also takes you back to your childhood in a really strange way. Children are your own child or other children to me are they’re kind of an opportunity to look in the mirror.


Nadia Irshad (03:12):
I think it’s an interesting, I always kind of reflect on my own parenting and my own kind of the things that I’m drawn to in relation to education and children, all I think really do are things that my child’s self are, is drawn to. Yeah. There are things that the gaps that I felt as a child, I feel suddenly responsible for ensuring that my children and children in my community don’t feel that gap. So that’s kind of how I landed here. I went. So I, so I started my career in environmental studies. It’s not even a career, my educational journey in our environmental study urban room planning and things like that related to sustainable development was more interested in the developing world. But I was, I I’m really interested in urban environments as well. And then I landed in a graphic arts and print design because my parents weren’t really happy with me traveling for work or leaving home or going too far.


Nadia Irshad (04:16):
And at that time there were no options available to me. So my other passion has always been art. I followed that I did print design for, I’d say close to even 10 years. I absolutely love the feel of paper. I love glossy magazines. I have none in my house. They’re not something that I, that I, that I keep, but I love, you know, I just, there’s something tactile about it. I love color. I love, you know, so many things I could talk about art all day, but then I had a child and it changed everything and I wanted to work. So I think I’m really in really, really fascinated it by how family structures are, how people pursue purpose and, you know, it’s really difficult being a woman and pursuing a purpose outside the family home. Mm-Hmm, , it is it’s a challenge in a world where you there’s expectations.


Nadia Irshad (05:21):
I know all the expectations that people around me had was that I was going to stay home and I was going to focus on being a good mom and cooking, cleaning, and ensuring that they’re brilliant, amazing, loved children. I, I don’t think that that humans need to box themselves into like specific little frames of reference that way. I think we can be lots of things. I, I, I’m quite proud of the type of parent I am, but I’m not the type of person that could sit at home all day. It’s just not in me. So after about a year, a half, two years of staying at home I started looking for childcare and preschools so that I could go back to work. I was feeling really antsy and stir crazy. And I ended up coming upon at that time, I lived in the was Washington DC area, and I came upon this really amazing little preschool that I ado and that allowed me to fulfill, you know, my other needs, intellectual creative, and leave the family home.


Nadia Irshad (06:25):
And so through that, I fell into preschools and childcare. So I started academics pre kindergarten when we moved to Vancouver, BC in, around, I started the company in around 2009. So that, that flourished from that personal experience. And I really do in that, in that sphere. So I, I, I touch education in multiple ways. I’m met a teacher, I’m an outsider to all the industries. I’m currently a part of, I absolutely door being an outsider. And the reason why is I can, I can ask questions. I don’t feel shame or guilt for not understanding things. I question things all the time. You know, it’s easy to when you’re in an industry for a long time to see things as this is the way they’re supposed to be. So I never under, I don’t understand that in this industry and I, I love it.


Nadia Irshad (07:20):
I think it I think children are deserve the utmost respect. I think children are capable. I think that what, what really fires me up inside is, you know, I’d say most adult, as I know, carry, you know, stories and sometimes trauma from their childhood homes and their families, and are the educational spaces that we provided academics, or, you know, I’ll talk about Gloria as well. You know, for me, the essence of it is to provide a safe space. And if you think about the fact that a lot of children, schools and preschool educational environments are where they spend most of their time you know, we, you know, we can be, we can be that, I don’t know what, what the right word is. We can be.


Nadia Irshad (08:20):
Yeah, so that’s kind of where that came from. So from there, I have an interesting story of how I landed in the K to 12 space. So one of my first students in preschool that, that enrolled in my first preschool that opened in 2010 I became really good friends with their parents. This was boys parents, and he is that couple, their developers in, in the province of BC. They mostly work in the health tech and health sphere. So with hospitals and care homes and you know, they, they kind of carry their purpose with their development projects. They’re always about community and empowering people, boldly elevating people. And it links well with healthcare. So randomly a dinner table conversation, I think at this point, it’s probably six years ago saying, you know, I have this D dream of a school and like, you know, just, just fun, philosophical, random chatter about what would your dream school look like?


Nadia Irshad (09:22):
What would it be? And this friend of mine told me, okay, well, I’m gonna do this. What do you think? And at the time, you know, I noded, I said that sounds great. Sounds so interesting. I’m so happy for you. Like, I I’m here if you guys need anything. So he went on his little journey and we had a hilarious chat years later where he called me and he said, okay, so my team, they do construction and they develop big buildings and they’re telling me we don’t operate schools. So , so I, I, they, they basically sat me down and said, you need to find somebody who, who knows schools and knows children. So he called me up and he asked me if I’d be interested at the time I was married. So it was something I was looking into for, for about a year, kind of doing a discovery, just looking into where it would be, what it would look like.


Nadia Irshad (10:13):
And then I ended up going through quite a high I conflict divorce. And he asked me if I wanted to do the project and, and if we want to you know, move forward in a concrete way and it was my anchor. And so the project became my anchor through a really tumultuous time in my life. Nice. and the amazing part about it is I don’t know how to best, describe how we formed Gloria except to describe a table of well, who I believe are the smartest, most innovative almost revolutionary type thinkers from different industries who sat around a table and said, well, what would be the most amazing school you could ever imagine? What would be the educational space you’d wanna be in? And yeah, we put together, you know, our purpose is at Gloria to empower indomitable spirit. And you know, that, that kind of, I think, sums it up really well. That’s, that’s what we envision for all of our students.


Sam Demma (11:20):
I love that. Can we go back all the way for a second, when you were telling me about when you were a child, you said there was gaps in your childhood that led you down this path. If you’re comfortable to share, I’m curious to know what those are, because I’m guessing those gaps are what inspire you to make sure that those gaps aren’t present and I other students or other young people’s lives.


Nadia Irshad (11:40):
Yeah, I think huh, I’m not, I’m comfortable talking about it. I think I was always the shy kid. I was always the kid that picked last for every sports activity known. And it’s interesting. I reflect on upon it now. I’m the child of a, of a, of an athlete. So my dad was a major athlete and I know looking at my brother and my father, I have the gene. I know that now as an adult, I know I could do all those things, but I nobody noticed me and my extreme shyness. And so I would pretend to be sick. I would have a tummy ache and not one teacher ever thought and stopped to reflect. Maybe she actually needs somebody to pay a little bit more attention to her and help include her. I was ne and, and so those are some of the, you know, I remember this will sound, I think crazy now.


Nadia Irshad (12:36):
I don’t think people, hopefully people don’t go through this now, but being told I’m stupid or, you know, I’ll never get it. Or, you know, you’re never gonna do more than be a secretary. I used to hear things like that as a child. Yeah. So those, and, and, and I, I’m an introvert and I’m a, I’m, I’m a bookworm. So I would just kind of spiral into my books and in my room and nobody paid much attention to me. So I kind of, I have a soft spot for introverted children, for sure. Mm-Hmm, I think it’s easy to, or, or the good kids. I always point out to people that, you know, it’s the kid that never or breaks the rules that never does anything, you know, that sometimes is negative attention worthy that we sometimes forget most. So the kids who are struggling and screaming and, and, and, and for attention, we give it to them. But sometimes it’s those kids that are so quietly kind of lost in the corner, but do you know, get the, as do everything right? That we never pay much attention to, but deserve it for sure to be seen is a big thing. And I think that’s through my, my educational entire journey, I’ll say all the way through university, nobody ever really saw me. I felt quite invisible. So that’s really important to me to see. I love that.


Sam Demma (13:55):
No, I love that. And, and at Gloria, you talk about challenge based learning. I was reading your website, and I know that’s a huge component that you’re very passionate about at the school. Can you tell me, or define what you think challenge based learning is and why it’s so exciting and important?


Nadia Irshad (14:13):
So the way I like to do describe challenge based learning is people are familiar with inquiry based learning or international BA programs. So those programs and that type of learning pushes questions. So it’s like the Socratic method it’s pushing, you know, asking questions, questions, questions, which is amazing, which I think we should all do all the time. Challenge based learning is problem-based learning. So everything we do in life, you know, every day we tackle problems all day. And I think that’s what we that’s, that’s what we pick challenge based. Learning challenge based learning is gritty. It means it, it’s not, it’s an environment where there isn’t a no. So if there’s an idea, it’s, it’s about failing reiteration learning. It’s about a it’s it’s challenge based learning for me is creating a space where failing you’re safe to fail. You’re safe to try again. You’re safe learn. Cause I do think in general, generally I’d say is true. And for most traditional educational models, it isn’t safe to fail. It, it isn’t encouraged. Kids need to get that a and there’s a lot of shame and attached to not doing it. Right.


Sam Demma (15:26):
I, I wholeheartedly agree. I even think back to my European parents, like you don’t come home in less, you have over 80 average, you know, like it was


Nadia Irshad (15:34):
The most, most scary day is the report card day. I remember that.


Sam Demma (15:37):
Yeah. Right. And, you know, knowing what I know now and looking back, I realize how backwards that thinking is. Right? Cause there’s a difference between learning and memorization. And I mean, throughout all of high school, I can memorize everything and finish a semester and look back at buddy and say, I’m not gonna remember anything I did. I’m not gonna use anything I learned, but I’m glad I got the nineties on my test. Like it’s so it’s so backwards at your school, what else do you provide the students with to create an unbreakable spirit, as you mentioned? Like, what does that mean and how do you young person? Yeah. Indomitable spirit. So


Nadia Irshad (16:16):
Gloria came from the word grit in Latin. So grit is something that’s important to all the founding members of Gloria elevated learning. Nice. And so indomitable spirit for was when we, when we sat around this table to talk about what model would we create? We talked about what made, what made the most successful. And when I say successful, I don’t mean in monetary terms or, you know, in successful, in happy, joyous living their best life terms. What made those people? And a majority of us, all that those were people who were comfortable with being uncomfortable, were comfortable with taking risks, were gritty, people, people who, who fell got back up, tried again, didn’t take no for an answer. And so in this world of helicopter parenting and lawnmower parenting, it’s a really hard children have a lot of anxiety and social media and all those things don’t help.


Nadia Irshad (17:19):
But so we created an environment. So challenge based learning, you know, is something that, that supports that type of environment. But we have academics, we have sports and we have art. So in our academic model, all those three things are equal. There isn’t a imbalance of, you know, your math mark means way more than, you know, athletics or arts. We really do feel that all those things come together to create whole gritty humans. And you know, what I love about the program is, you know, my, so my daughter’s in the program. She said, always, I hate skating. I’m never gonna get on skates. It’s cold. I don’t like it. And what I loved about it is I kept telling her, you know, but that’s the point, the point is you’re not gonna like everything. And that life, life is gonna throw so many different things at you. And it’s about your attitude. And it’s about pulling on those skates and making it happen. And what I love is she, so we’re now in almost in March and she loves skating and she’s talking about being a hockey player and I keep, you know, I’m being the annoying mom and I keep reminding her well, interesting.


Nadia Irshad (18:29):
But but I think, you know, I think we create an environment where, so parents like to push the things they love. Mm-Hmm of course, you know, soccer parents probably played soccer when they were young or wanted to be a soccer star or hockey parents wanted to be a hockey star. You know? So you kind of, because those are the things, you know, so what I love about gala Gloria is it’s a place where it’s a multi-sport multi art place. Children get to learn for themselves what they actually love, what actually fires them up, what they’re passionate about. And they’re able to kind of carve their own path, be their own spirit, right. Instead of feeling the shadow of all of the people around them who love them, who adore them. I know, but to me, that’s you know, as an adult, that’s the most, that’s the most exciting opportunity. I love that opportunity today, but


Sam Demma (19:18):
That’s awesome. It’s funny when you’re mentioning your parents always push your passions on you. I’m thinking about my own family and my own situation, right? My dad was hockey player growing up, always wanted me to play hockey. He tried for a whole year, a whole, whole year putting skates on my feet and I cried every time and he finally just gave up, put a soccer ball in front of me and I couldn’t stop kicking it. And I pursued a pro soccer career since I was six years old. I, I lived in Italy for six months when I was 13. I ended up having three major knee injuries, two surgeries, and totally lost my full ride scholarship, lost the ability to play. And I was just connecting with you on so many levels. You were talking about Latin phrases. I have a Latin phrase on my bicep right here.


Sam Demma (19:58):
It says, VIN key pat tour. It’s a phrase that means he who endures our, the person who endures conquers. And I had it after my second knee surgery, not because I was gonna go to the end of the earth to play pro of soccer, but because I made a decision in that moment that no matter what I chose to do with my life arts, academic sports, whatever it might be, I’m gonna give a hundred percent of my effort all the time. But I do have a question for you. How do you ensure that your students don’t attach their self worth to their cha their, their talents or their achievements or their accomplishments? Because at the end of the day, I think it’s still important that a student doesn’t come home and say I’m worth nothing because I didn’t play well or I’m worth nothing because I didn’t get a good grade. So I’m curious to know, how does the teachers and you at Gloria ensure that students don’t attach their self worth wholly to those things.


Nadia Irshad (20:48):
So I think, and that’s really interesting that you brought that up for me, the fact that we teach through challenge based learning, meaning we push trying, failing, reiterating failure is a success. Failure is something we completely celebrate. Risk taking is something we celebrate that, you know, walking through something you’re afraid of. And so for me, those are the things that we celebrate as an organization. We do not celebrate, you know, I love that’s great. You got a 99, but that’s, that’s not where we celebr. We celebrate your, we celebrate the spirit and we do have, you know, we a a health and wellbeing program. We have Dr. Doan, who is the president of BC doc doctor’s of BC right now who’s on our board. And she supports us with trauma informed practice. And she supports us on, in lots of, kind of mental health initiatives.


Nadia Irshad (21:44):
But I will say that, you know, child learning makes it really hard to do that. It really doesn’t even our sports, you know, for sports it’s, we, we focus on how you got better or what you did or what, you know, you tried that and you fell and you figured it out and you know what, that’s awesome. You, you know, you took the risk cuz sometimes the kids won’t even take that first step to fall. They don’t want to. Fall’s so scary. Mm-Hmm so while talking through those scary things, those are the celebrations for sure.


Sam Demma (22:11):
I love that. And you’re so right. I guess when you’re focused on learning from the failure, there’s nothing you really to attach yourself worth too. Like you’re not, you’re not celebrating an achievement, you’re celebrating the learning and the growth which is so unique and so cool. Cuz when I look back to my own experience in school, like that was one of my biggest hurdles. I remember the day that I had my second knee surgery and the voices just went through my head of all my parents, aunts, uncles, coaches, Sam, one day, you’re gonna be the player that we hopefully watch on TV. You’re gonna be the first person from our family who gets a scholarship. And then all these voices started becoming like weights on my back. Because I thought by myself that if I didn’t fulfill those things, that I’d be worth nothing as a human being. And it sounds like you guys are doing the exact opposite of Gloria, which is, which is so cool. Tell me more about what the average day looks like for a student at the school.


Nadia Irshad (23:06):
So an average day, so I’ll say for example, what’s today, today’s Thursday. So school starts at 7 45. The kids hit the rink first thing in the morning, so cool. and so we always, we always start the day with athletic athletics. We all, you know, I think there’s a lot of research to prove that that’s a good thing for you. So we, we try really hard to yeah, to follow kind. We break all the norms and we do it the way we think is the right way to do it. I like that. So yeah, so the kids hit the rink, they do that for an hour, power skating sometimes hockey and they get off the rink, then they hit their classrooms. We do have, so the difference between Glar in a lot of schools is we don’t have, you know, some schools have rules where you can’t eat until it’s snack time and you can’t eat until it’s lunchtime.


Nadia Irshad (23:58):
So that’s normal humans. That’s not how, yeah, it doesn’t work. so kids, you know, we’ll break out their snacks and they’ll eat and they’ll go to class. And so it’s challenge based learning, meaning math, science, English all the subjects that they’re learning. We, and we do Mandarin as well are integrated. So sometimes they have an engineering project. Maybe there’s a challenge. How would you create a Rover on the moon? So they have to use math. They have to use science. They have to use, you know, English to write up the report communicate. So, so it’s learning, but it always, so whenever I go into the school, it all, it looks too fun. It looks like campus can school, nobody everybody’s on their feet. We also have transitional learning spaces. So it doesn’t feel like we’re stuck in classroom and this is your classroom and now you don’t move all day.


Nadia Irshad (24:49):
No, all the entire school is, is a student school for learning. So you’ll see them in the hallway. They’ll use, they’ll use spaces in the cafeteria. Yeah, it’s, it’s a really cool actually environment. And what I love most actually about going to the school is because of the way it’s, it’s transitional and open and project based students interact. So the kinds love chatting with the grade five kids and they, and the grade five kids love mentoring the little kids. And it’s a really I can’t wait to see these kids in like 20 years to see how, you know, they interact. I imagine they’ll be really close for for a lifetime. That’s how I see the relationships that build as a family. It’s really, you know, we’re all learners. So part of the mindsets that, that, that we try to instill in everyone is we’re all learners. So the teachers are learners, the students, our learners, the grade fives learn from the kinds the teachers learn from the kindergarten, kindergarten kids. It’s not there. Isn’t a hierarchical kind of, you know, setup where there there’s a teacher up there and we’re down here, we’re all here and we’re all learning together.


Sam Demma (26:03):
That’s so cool. I love that. And I think in traditional education, sometimes students work in silos, especially when you get into university and people start th saying things like, oh, I’m not gonna share my work with you because it’s, it’s a challenge and I need to have better work than you so that I can get the position. And you don’t. And it sounds like what you’re fostering is a collective group to build team, to work towards solving a bigger problem. And I think, you know, there’s a proverb that says, you wanna go, you wanna go fast, go alone. You wanna go far go together. And I think it’s so wise and you know, from a young age teaching students that they need to, you know, be able to function in a team is so important because they’ll use that skill for the rest of their life, which is so, so cool. I’m I have so many questions. This is fricking awesome. It sounds like


Nadia Irshad (26:56):
It sounds like what you just said. You brought up about knowledge and university students. I have similar experience in university, but what’s interesting. What I always think of is people like that. See the world as a pie. I, you, you know, there’s only eight slices, so I get a slice and now there’s only seven left, so you can’t have, you know, so to me, knowledge, isn’t an asset. It isn’t property it’s for everyone. And so I think it’s interesting being an outsider in the world of education. I know I confront it confronts a lot of people to have non-education people in the world of education, but for me, learnings for everybody there’s no, there shouldn’t be any kind of boundary set. It is in a pie it’s endless. It’s, it’s abundant.


Sam Demma (27:42):
I love that. The way I look at it, just, you just gave me an idea of like a future analogy with the pie. So the way I look at it is like, there’s a pie on the table, right. And we’re all. And like people traditionally go and they take a piece, but in reality, every person has specific gifts and talents which could be a kid to an ingredient. So you come and take a piece from the pie, but you’re the flower and someone else comes and they’re the milk. And if you didn’t just realize that you all got together, you could make more pie, you know, like using everyone’s unique gifts and talents. So that just came into my mind while you were speaking. And I think it’s so true. Like, I, I don’t really talk about this much on this podcast because a lot of teachers listen, but I actually dropped out of university.


Sam Demma (28:23):
I did I did two months of formal school before I broke down in front of my laptop, crying, telling my parents, look, I have this passion for speaking to young people and I need to follow it. And there was this initiative I was building at the time catered around service learning and serving leadership. And at first my parents were like, what the heck are you doing with your life? And very, very quickly as things started to progress, their whole mindset shifted and changed. And so sometimes I think it just takes one example one success story to shift the narrative. And I think there will be hundreds coming outta your school supporting that idea. What is some of the things you’re most proud of so far that have come outta the school?


Nadia Irshad (29:04):
Hmm, interesting. That’s a interesting question. Be careful cuz it’s a small school environment. I, you know, can’t have confidentiality too. We’ve of course I’ve had I think one of the, one of the proud moments for, you know, it’s a small thing, but watching a ma you know, 85% of our students, couldn’t skate, couldn’t even, you know, they need a chair and now watching them months later, we open in September, we’re in February, they’re in power skating and they’re starting hockey. And these are like little like month, like little guys, five year old guys. And it’s so amazing because I think it underlines the fact that kids are underestimated. They have endless capabilities. They have endless energy, their brains are so from either this brilliant, you know, organisms that are constantly making connections and growing and how I, how sad I think it is when people limit that growth.


Nadia Irshad (30:08):
Mm-Hmm yeah, so there’s yeah, it’s, it’s it’s the little things, it’s the little things for sure. It’s and it’s watching the kids, you know, they put together performances, they, we have martial arts and watching the kids who never once, you know, did a punched something or did anything or now suddenly, you know, yellow and orange belts. those are it’s it’s, it’s amazing. And it’s, they take so much pride in it and I just love watching them. And I think I love that they never walk in and I never hear them say I got 99 on test. I never hear that. I hear today. I drop, I, I, I jumped up and I did this kick and, and, and, you know, I’ve watched them go through this journey where they couldn’t do any of those things and how much pride they are. And I think it builds so much self confidence to think, you know, to know, even for five year old, two months ago, I couldn’t even do that. And to so how endless are my capabilities? Right. So it’s yeah. I, I absolutely adore being around them that that type of energy is just, it’s like, I wanna see.


Sam Demma (31:14):
Moment. Yeah. It’s infectious. Right. you mentioned redefining purpose, right? I know this idea of finding your purpose, embracing your purpose. It sounds like you guys do it a little bit differently at your school. Do you have any opinions on the word purpose or, or what that means and how to encourage students to pursue it?


Nadia Irshad (31:34):
I think so is a trendy word too. Sometimes you, I always feel like I have to tip toe around it and be careful. Yeah. You know, if it puts fire in your gut, that’s the way I look at it. Put, puts fire in your gut and you can’t sleep until you do it, probably your purpose. And it’s probably not, you know, going fast on the ice and it’s probably not. It’s probably you, you know, you have to stretch to think what exactly is that mm-hmm and I do you think all of us and maybe I I’m an ideal idealist, I I’ll admit it. I think we’re all here to leave the world a little bit better. And so if you can find that little gift, you have that thing that puts fire in your belly to leave it a better, a better place.


Nadia Irshad (32:21):
And that’s why, you know, that comes back to challenge me, is learning. So what makes challenge based learning so special to us is it forces kids to think community and global mm-hmm . So it’s not the problem about you today. It’s how, you know, a problem that affects the people around you, your school community, the people down the block in your, in your world, and ask them to problem solve. And, and, and because the reality is, is it’s easy to be apathetic and it’s easy to think we can’t do anything. This is the way it is, but we, you know, people did it to get us here so we can, we can change and flip it around, make it go a different direction. Yeah, I dunno if that makes any sense.


Sam Demma (33:03):
No, it does a hundred percent. I, I had a world issues teacher who changed my life when I was in grade 12, who started the first day of class by walking in front of us and saying, don’t believe anything I tell you. But if it makes you curious, I want you to go do your Reese search and verify facts to yourself. And it was the first teacher I ever had, who said anything like that. And instantly like snap of a fingers. I was hooked. I was like, this is gonna be the best class ever. He made his own curriculum. He taught us his own curriculum. He retired the year after he taught me, but there was one lesson he taught us in, in April of 2017 where he was breaking down the lives of figures in history, trying to prove to us that they all had this common trait.


Sam Demma (33:47):
Grit was definitely a part of it. And the, the way he said it was, they all took thousands of small, consistent actions. And he said, if you wanna make a difference, you wanna challenge status quo, just, just choose a problem and take thousands of small actions towards solving it. And that challenge changed my life. I talk about him to this day, me and Mike Loudfoot, he’s retired now. We still stay in contact. So I wholeheartedly agree. It’s definitely, it’s definitely possible to make a difference. Especially when you just start with a small step, if an educator has been listening to this conversation and is just amazed by what’s going on at your school, loves your energy, wants to connect, have a conversation. What would be the best way for them to get in touch with you?


Nadia Irshad (34:29):
The best way would, they should go to our website. So they should go to Glareaschool.com and they can always shoot me an email. So my email is nadia@glareaschool.com. That would probably be the easiest way to reach me. But we are currently recruiting teachers. We’re in the midst of growing our little teaching community and it’s, it’s exciting to see the types of people that are drawn to our program. They’re really unique, unique individuals, which, which is exciting.


Sam Demma (34:55):
Can you just spell the URL of your school? Just so people don’t mess it up?


Nadia Irshad (34:59):
Yes. So Glarea is Glareaschool.com.


Sam Demma (35:04):
Awesome. Nadia, thank you so much for taking the time to come on the show, share some of your wisdom, energy and stories. I really appreciate it. And I look forward to the day that I can come skate with the five year olds oh, totally.


Nadia Irshad (35:16):
You need to come out to BC and visit us here.


Sam Demma (35:19):
I will. I will. I’ll talk to you soon.


Nadia Irshad (35:21):
My pleasure. Thank you.


Sam Demma (35:23):
And there you have it. Another amazing guest, an amazing interview on the High Performing Educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review so other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show. If you wanna meet the guest on today’s episode, if you wanna meet any of the guests that we have interviewed, consider going to www.highperformingeducator.com and signing up to join the exclusive network. You’ll have access to networking events throughout 2021 and other special opportunities, and I promise I will not fill your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Nadia Irshad

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.

Pamela Pereyra – CEO & Founder of Media Savvy Citizens and Media Education Expert

Pamela Pereyra - CEO & Founder of Media Savvy Citizens and Media Education Expert
About Pamela Pereyra

Pamela (@aducateme) is passionate about helping youth and adults in their drive for transformative experiences through critical thought, creative expression and hands-on play. Pamela is a leading voice in media education with over 20 years of experience as a designer, trainer, consultant, educator and advocate. 

She is an authority in comprehensive media and digital literacy working with schools, nonprofits and companies to transform learning with media and technology. She has received the 2021 Media Literacy Community Award by the National Association for Media Literacy Education and the 2019 Media Literacy Champion Award by Media Literacy Now. As the chapter chair of New Mexico Media Literacy Now, she advocates for media literacy education for all students. 

Pamela is the founder and CEO of Media Savvy Citizens, which facilitates understanding, positive participation and meaningful media interaction for learners. Their work is centred on building the capacity and resiliency of youth and adults in a changing technological world through media education and technology training, facilitation and consulting through hands-on experience. Media Savvy Citizens worked with 30 New Mexico school districts transitioning them into digital learning into 2020 and 2021. 

She is also an adjunct instructor at the University of New Mexico and holds an MA in Media Studies. 

Connect with Pamela:  Email  |  LinkedinWebsite  |  Twitter

Listen Now

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

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Pamela Pereyra
Resources Mentioned

The National Association for Media Literacy Education

New Mexico Media Literacy Now

The Journal For Media Literacy Education

Media Savvy Citizens Youtube Channel

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:01):
Welcome back to another episode of the high performing educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest is Pamela. And I’m so excited to have her on the show here today. Pamela, why don’t you introduce yourself and share a little bit about who you are?


Pamela Pereyra (00:19):
Okay. So my name is Pamela Perrera and it’s Pamela. That is just pronounced in Spanish, just for the people out there who are wondering what’s going on. Yeah. I am the founder and CEO of Media Savvy citizens, which works on media education initiatives and the understanding positive participant and meaningful media interaction for all learners. I’m also I live in the states and I’m the chair of New Mexico chapter chair of New Mexico media literacy. Now, which advocates for media literacy education in the state of New Mexico.


Sam Demma (01:02):
You’re like the media ninja, the media expert. What is media, how do you define and explain media to somebody else?


Pamela Pereyra (01:12):
That is a great question. And I think everybody has their own conceptual ideas depending on like when they were born so when they came into this world and what their experiences are, there’s like media legacy, right? Which is like broadcasting and television and radio and the, but there’s also new media, right? Which is digital technology media. And so media in this broader scope is any form communication that is not face to face. So, if you think about it, any, if it goes through a medium, any communication that goes through a medium is a form of media. Mm. So a podcast is media, a, brand on a t-shirt is a form of media that has a communication, right? Mm-hmm so it’s like a billboard is media, a poster is media and ucell phone is media. And also like all the apps in the cell phone are different forms of me. So like most of what we do in our lives, especially now,uin 2022 and 2022 are, mediated communications. Right? Most of the work that we do, even our schooling is through mediums. Right. We go on the internet, we search things. We, participate in social media. We take pictures, we share, means all of those things are media and mm-hmm.


Sam Demma (03:01):
Yeah. It’s, it’s a big concept.


Pamela Pereyra (03:05):
It is a big concept. Right. So literacy like media literacy, right. Is being literate, being able to read and really read in like a conceptual way. Right. So being able to like, understand how these, all these different technologies work how we participate with them, how we act with them and also like you know, how we create with all of these technologies, right. So we can be passive or we can be active depending on our mood.


Sam Demma (03:39):
And I think whether you’re passive or active with the media, it’s important that you understand how it works and you understand, and are aware and media literate, like you’re saying, why do you think it’s important that someone is media literate or, and understands media?


Pamela Pereyra (03:58):
Well, we’re bombarded we with media, right? We live in a mediated world. We have people who are creating messages for us with different intentions. Right. And are they, and being aware and just taking the time to reflect and understand, is this a fact, is it an opinion, am I being persuaded who think a certain way or behave in a certain way? And so part of that, like media literacy is just taking a moment, you know, and taking a, a, you know, breathing space to understand what is happening. And also like, am I gonna participate? Am I gonna share this information? And if I share, how does that impact people? So yeah. And so like, is it not, you know, important to understand the world in which we live and the world in which we live is, is impacted by all different forms of communication, whether it’s entertainment or whether it’s work related and doing any kind of internet search, you know, or working like a two or three year old who have, you know, who are given tablets, right. These are tools that we use. And so being media literate just makes us a stronger, more engaged citizen, conscious of what’s happening and possibly even a more engaged in civics and possibly society and our democracies.


Sam Demma (05:27):
What got you inspired to work in this vocation to spread media literacy as much as you can, because it’s important work and you’re obviously extremely passionate about it. So what prompted you to start and get into it?


Pamela Pereyra (05:44):
Well, it’s been a process. I started out back in the nineties as a journalist, I studied communications. I understand, I understood and had studied public relations and like how messages are put together from the ideas of like layout to colors and the psychology of color to influence people, to make them feel certain things, to give, you know, provide certain headline, to engage people to, you know, and so everybody has different motivations, right. For putting messages together. And I realized that I didn’t really wanna do that. I wanted to work with youth and talk about a lot of these things and talk about how media function. And so it kind of started with a, well, it started with me like working in film and journalism and moving in publicity and then realizing I didn’t really wanna be a producer so much as I wanted to discuss a lot of these things with, with youth and, you know, how have a different kind of impact I am a producer, we’re all producers, you know, if we press like that’s producing something, it’s producing a message.


Pamela Pereyra (07:05):
Right. And, and so for me, like really working with students and like getting into a classroom, I did that through a film festival. I worked for this film festival and expanded their education programs. And so I worked with a lot of teens and we made all kinds of media and films and audio pieces, but we also discussed the impact of, you know, FM messages and the impact of media. And I felt like it was a good, well rounded form of like working with youth and seeing how positive, what a positive impact it had on teen’s lives and how they were thankful, you know, for being, going through the process and, you know, discussing things that for them felt really real and like authentic and things that were relevant to them. And so that has been, my driving force is really working with teens and seeing like the impact, you know, that that being media literate can have on people. And so I have not stopped because I feel like it helps, there is like a balance there, right? Like if we are just sitting back and only consuming, what does that do for us, you know, as a society. Right. So it’s great to consume. It’s also great to produce, and it’s great to do both and to consume with a consciousness and an awareness around like what’s happening.


Sam Demma (08:42):
It’s important, regardless of what subjects students are learning in school that they’re taught and explained, I think in some sort of context with global awareness with what’s going on in the world with media literacy. And I’m wondering what you think some of the key concepts are that you can pull from media literacy and, and apply to classroom learning that maybe an educator listening to might explore, look into or think about how they could tie into their own classrooms.


Pamela Pereyra (09:13):
Yeah. Well, media education fits into any subject, right? Yeah. Whether you’re working with math and like graphs and data and statistics, or whether you’re working in a social studies classroom or a English language arts classroom, or a health classroom, there are different concepts that educators can different concepts that educators can implement in their classroom. So there are different ways. So one of ’em is like, before I get into some of these concepts, one of ’em is like using media as a, as a way to like spur discussion, right? Like using a video or, you know, using media in the classroom and, you know, discussing things, making media, like making a video for instruction. So the educator can make a video for instruction or an educator can ring in media and like work on different projects and have students participate with that media as a learning tool and then even make, there are little podcasts in the classroom about like what the reflection was.


Pamela Pereyra (10:29):
Right. So when looking at different media we have like to discover meaning and it is, we go through a series of like questions. So there are like five major, key media literacy questions to look at. And this is like when you’re studying different ideas. So let’s just say somebody brings in, in a math class, a statistic and an infographic, right. On something, whether it be math class or science, I mean, it could be COVID right. So it could be like a COVID related science message and, and statistics. Right. So you, you could look at it from different way, but one of the things that you would look at the first one would be author and authorship who created the message, like who is the author who paid for that message. That’s also part of the authorship, right? Like where is this message coming from?


Pamela Pereyra (11:34):
So that’s one, the other the other thing would be purpose. Like why did somebody create this message? Were they trying to inform, were they trying to entertain? Were they trying to persuade have you think a certain way or act a certain way. Right. So discovering purpose, symbols and techniques is another, like, what symbols are they using? What techniques are they using to, to hook you, to hold your attention? So this may be you know, it could be D different words that are being used, different length, which like is their language loaded, is are the symbols like, are they using certain colors, like lots of red? Are they, you know, like, you know, what, what symbols and techniques are they using? If it’s a YouTube video are people you know, using sources and do, you know, does the information is the, you know, you’re looking at context as well, right?


Pamela Pereyra (12:43):
So like what are those techniques, even within like a, a YouTube video or something like that. Right. So then you’re looking at representation, point of view, whose point of view is this coming from? Right. So is this point of view whose point of view is being presented and who’s this not like who’s being represented and who’s not, you know, if you’re looking at a historical piece of writing to look at point of view is like fascinating. And, you know, when you bring in the concept of global right. A global world in which we live, and especially since we’re living in a network world, we are, we are, you know, global, right. So we are way more connected to anybody anywhere in the world and at the touch of a fingertip or cell phone. Right. so we are looking at like, what it, you know, what, what historical perspective would they be presenting this information from, if you’re so that’s representation, right.


Pamela Pereyra (13:49):
If you’re looking at different messages, right? Like, or a text and a history book, where is this text coming from? Mm-Hmm so you are really kind of decoding in order to code, right. It like looking at all this stuff, the, the last part would be interpretation. And like, what did I learn from this message? Like, how did that change me? How did, how might different people interpret a message? You know, being a woman and being a brown woman in my interpretation of certain messages are sometimes just the frame in which I look at my world, come from that place. Also being media literate, I continually continually ask questions of any, you know, infographic or piece of data, where did this, where’s this coming from? Is this credible? Is it not like who’s the author, you know, all of those things, but also you can have, like, teachers would have students make a certain infographic, right.


Pamela Pereyra (14:46):
For a, a science class or a, and so understanding the process of what goes into media making and also deconstructing the, to then construct, right? Like, why am I making this infographic? Who I, who am I whose point of view am I representing? Even with numbers and data, people represent a point of view. And so it’s like, seems a little bit kind of hard to conceptualize, but going through a process of like practice and practicing these, these questions like where you ask the questions and you decode, but then you also encode, right? You also code these things. You also can make an infographic. You can make a meme, you know, know and make it funny and make, you know, and bring that into learning and talk about point of view, you know, in a, in a meme, or you can pull a meme and kind of deconstruct it as a form of text.


Pamela Pereyra (15:43):
So a lot of what we do is like bring in these PE pedagogy, right? The pedagogy in the classroom and have teachers go through this process of like becoming and embodying the concepts of media literacy so that you know, where they’re consuming and decoding, but they’re also constructing so that then they can like help their students construct for the classroom for learning. There are more concepts, you know, and some of ’em are like media construct, our culture, you know, they shape culture, right? Mm-Hmm and media messages, do they affect our thoughts or attitudes or actions? They are, are most powerful when they operate on an emotional level and have emotional power. They Def always reflect the point of view, right. They always reflect the values, the viewpoint and intentions of media makers. Right. So anybody who’s making a message has a point of view that they’re shared and they have values and viewpoints.


Pamela Pereyra (16:56):
And so understanding that is important. So media messages contain texts, but they also contain subtexts. So what that means is there’s like what is said, but is also what is not sad was like implied. Yep. Right. So these are like, this is part of that framework for media literacy and like kind of going through a process of using media, but also like when I have students in, in the classroom, when I have students make something like, let’s just say, we’re gonna all make memes today and we’re gonna make memes on, you know, any subject matter that would be relevant. That is being studied. Like we’re making memes on the American revolution. So you study the American revolution you make, possibly will make a mean, but then you deconstruct a memes and understand like, what is a mean, you know, and what, you know, and, and how do they function to be able to make a meme, but then it’s related to whatever is being studied.


Pamela Pereyra (18:02):
Right? Mm-hmm so it might be related to the American revolution. And you know, what, if you, okay, everybody make a meme from this point of view, or from that point of view, make a meme from the point of view of a revolutionary or make a meme from a different point of view. And so it really helps bring, drive home the concept of like, what is being studied, but also that, like the understanding that there are different points of view and that there are different authors and there are every author has a purpose. Yeah. And every per, you know, and every message can be interpreted in a certain way. And so those are some of like the conceptual pieces that we put into practice, right? These are just like theory, right? These are concepts, but then to put them in a practice and to really bring that have teachers, like when we work with teachers, we have teachers use a lot of these concepts. They go through a process of a hands on decoding and then a hands on like making stuff. And it’s really fun. And they, they get to plan, you know, a lesson, they take a lesson and maybe like revamp it and be, make it media literacy focused. Uand that’s always really fun for teachers because they get to like sit down and like plan and figure out like, how can I make this more of a media literate lesson when I I’m already it’s some that already exists. Right.


Sam Demma (19:33):
Tell me more about the importance of the author. I think that’s a really cool concept. And I’m curious if any examples come to mind where you think it would’ve been very helpful for society to know who the author was of a certain message. I think about nutrition. And, and I watched a couple of documentaries on, and this is two years ago, and this is also, again, if I asked myself these questions, I would’ve had a better perspective on the documentary itself, but it was a documentary about not being vegan, but it was a document tree on reducing our intake of meat. And they started showing that behind most of the dairy and meat industry is like one sole company or like one massive company that has like 50 brands under it. And it’s like really one author. But then if I ask myself who made the documentary, there’s a whole other author who made, who made that with a whole different purpose. I’m curious why you think it’s so important that we ask ourselves who the author is when consuming a piece of media.


Pamela Pereyra (20:44):
I mean, this is like, authorship is like, it’s huge, right? Yeah. So, and a piece of media could be a lot of different things, right? Yeah. You were watching a documentary. And so to have that understanding of point of view, right? Like it’s all kind of related. Yeah. Because the author has a point of view. Right. And it’s made for a purpose and the purpose of that documentary for you, it was possibly made. So people could stop eating meat and become vegan because they were influence and it was meant to influence people to feel certain things. So they showed you certain images, those are symbols and techniques. Right. And they were presenting a certain point of view that was who have you be against eating meat. Right. Yeah. And so understanding the author really helps you understand the message right. And where it’s coming from and why it’s being put together.


Pamela Pereyra (21:40):
So when we’re looking at like a post truth world, right. We’re looking at like, what is, you know, when we’re discerning, whether it’s a piece of news, whether it is a presidential speech, whether it’s you know, a meme, a silly meme. Yeah. You know, if you are looking on know a lot of young people get their news from Instagram, right. So it’s like a caption and actually it doesn’t give you the whole story. So you don’t actually get the whole story. You only get a tiny component of it. So that also is like, has almost a different kind of authorship than the actual story. So when you’re looking at author, if you’re looking at you’re also thinking for me, you know, when we dig deeper and you go deeper into this kind of work, we’re looking at bias, right. So we’re looking at like, where is the bias and what is the bias?


Pamela Pereyra (22:44):
And like, even like, if I look at a media or article, right. A news article, the bias, like first I might be looking at like, okay, the author is Sam Demma. Right. That’s the byline, but, and Sam Demma may have written the article, but also Sam Demma works for a certain company. Right. That has certain point of view that they’re, you know, trying to relay. So if you’re looking at, you know, is I always look at, when I look at news, I think about, is this left leaning? Is it right? Leaning? Is it more central? Do these people stick to the facts? Do they not? Like there are a lot of a few different, and for news literacy, there are like media bias fact check. Right. Mm-hmm like, so there’s you can go and look at media bias and figure out like, where’s the bias in this company.


Pamela Pereyra (23:45):
Right. But also like, so you might realize like, oh, this is extreme, right. Or this is right leaning, or this is extreme, left or left leaning. Or this is, you know, they’re presenting news. Especially if you look at news, cuz it’s supposed to be centered, right. It’s supposed to be objective and presenting both sides of the story, but is it trying to influence you still to look at a, in a certain influence you to, to, to lean in a certain way? And so when you’re looking at author, I look at the byline who the person is. I look at the company and who the company is. I look at the bias and what the biases of that company also, like it might be the funders like of different like organizations or companies, like how is this project being funded? Who’s funding it.


Pamela Pereyra (24:38):
And like, where’s the money coming to back up, you know, to back the, that project. And so it’s, you know, it’s, it’s really quite complex because there are many authors to one piece of news or one documentary, like you said, right. So it might be like the person, the director of that documentary and the writer of a documentary, but also like the, you know, like, is it whoever put out that memory, right. Is it like 21st century Fox or is it, you know, Warner brothers or is it Disney? And you know, like who’s putting that out and you know, and so there are, there are many authors yeah. To, to a piece of media, you know? Uso that, and also when you’re looking at stuff that could be,unot credible, I guess, would be the, the right word when you’re looking at information that could be not credible.


Pamela Pereyra (25:37):
That lacks credibility, the lacks validity then is, is important to understand when you’re looking at authorship to know like, how do you find something, whether something is credible or not, how do you know if something is reliable? How do we know if something is valid? And there’s a whole process that we go through, which is gonna take me to train you Sam you’re probably, and you know, like that, because it’s, it’s a process, you know, and it’s practicing the, these skills. Like it’s not a one time shot. It’s not even like a one semester shot. It’s ongoing from kindergarten through college and onward on through your life, you know, to continually practice these skill sets, you know, to ask questions and be curious about media and message and like, you know, and what that is a, a book, a textbook is a piece of media that has a point of view and has, you know, authors and, you know, if, and so who are those authors?


Pamela Pereyra (26:46):
What is their point of view and how is it being presented whose point of view is being presented. So all of that can be decoded from a textbook and also what’s inside that textbook. Right. And so to understand that just means that we begin to understand, like by and begin to understand point of view and representation and begin to understand our world in a different way. When we ask questions, when we go through the process of inquiry, you know, of of communications, right? And like question our world and question our, you know, question the Instagram posts that we see and we, you know, and we question it in a curious way, it doesn’t need to be negative. Yeah. It doesn’t need to be like bad. It’s just like, I, media literacy, doesn’t tell people what to think. It just helps people to go it through a process of how do you go through the process of critical thinking, right?


Pamela Pereyra (27:48):
Yeah. Like, how do you do that? How do you, you know, ask questions of authorship to understand if something is credible or not credible. Right. Got it. And if something is like a conspiracy or not like, how do you figure that out? You know? And there are, and so we have to continually go through the processes. And I do a lot of research. I of like, when I look at an author, I don’t just look at like, who is Sam Demma? You know? I mean, I actually, don’t just look at the author and like read the article I go through and figure out who is the, you know, the author’s name, right? Who is Sam? What is he? You know, what do other people say about Sam? Like, and like, I, what is called what used to be called, like triangle reading. And, but now it’s called lateral reading.


Pamela Pereyra (28:36):
When you do the research and you read across and you open up a bunch of tabs to figure out who is the telling the story about this documentary, like, yeah. Not just like who is the director, but is like, who is this company? And who is, you know, and who are these brands that are trying to influence me to, you know, to drop eating meat and to be vegan and, you know, and what’s, you know, all of that. So I think in the end know, authorship, I know this is a long, you know, I know this is a really long answer, but I think authorship is like so important because understanding who is putting messages together and why really helps us understand what’s credible. What’s not especially right now, you know, and we’re, we’re living and I’m just gonna repeat myself where we’re living in this in a, in a world that is complex.


Pamela Pereyra (29:31):
And it’s hard to understand, like there are a lot of authors there, EV anybody’s a producer, anybody could put, you know, could produce information. And is there information credible? Like when sometimes within a piece, somebody might quote a doctor. I go and figure out, is this doctor who is this doctor? You know, is it a doctor, a philosophy that’s actually being quoted for a, you know, for a scientific, you know, opinion, you know, piece, is this like, so then a doctor of philosophy would then make that person that credible, right. If they’re being quoted in something that just because they’re a doctor, doesn’t make him an expert in COVID, doesn’t make him an expert in like, you know, whatever is that they’re talking about. So even within a piece, I go, I might search different people different because they’re also, you know, part of the whole story.


Sam Demma (30:24):
It, I got it. And media literate, like citizens in society is so important. If educators are listening and want to integrate media literacy more into their classroom, one way they could do it is by going on your website, media savvy citizens, and getting in touch with you but how else can they learn? How, what, what can they read? What other pieces of media have you found very insightful in your own journey of learning about media literacy? any books, courses, videos that you think educators should check out as a, or to start their own journey.


Pamela Pereyra (31:04):
Yeah. And I’m glad you asked that there there’s a lot of information out there. Media literacy has become more and more popular. And just to clarify, there are media literacy is this big umbrella, which looks over news literacy, which is a subset information literacy C, which is also a subset digital literacy, digital citizenship. So depending on what they’re looking at, they’re looking for, they can find different information. Some people call digital media production, media literacy. Well, it’s just like a small component of it, but it’s not all of it. And then, you know, and so, you know, it’s, it’s, I just wanna make that distinction. Sure. Because if you just look up the word media literacy, like you’re gonna find only news literacy or only certain, you know points of view that it’s not the whole scope. So the national association for media literacy education is a great resource.


Pamela Pereyra (32:01):
That is a resource for educators. That really breaks down a lot of these concepts that I talked about, the key media literacy questions and like resources there. They have they put together a journal, which is a journal for media literacy education. I think it’s called. And so they, you know, you can go through them. There are also the I’m the, like I said, I was, I’m the chapter chair for New Mexico media literacy now, but media literacy now is an advocacy organization and they also have a ton of resources on their website. So it’s media literacy now.org. And they have a lot of resources on their website to access different information and courses and different things. And not courses necessarily, but just entities, you know, that are media receive media education entities. So yes, media savvy citizens, which is my project.


Pamela Pereyra (33:06):
We have a lot of resources, our YouTube channel, lots of webinars and different resources on our highlights page that people can access for, you know, for free and different like information specific to media. Like I, the scope of media education. Hmm. Yeah. So those are some places to go to. And, you know, and now if somebody wants to just specifically deal with news, then you know, they’d be looking at news literacy. You know the center for news literacy is a great place, you know, for just news literacy resources, but media literacy overall in general and resources for media literacy, I think is net national association for media literacy education is a great place to start. Sounds


Sam Demma (33:57):
Good. And where can someone send you a message by email online? What would be the best way for them to get in touch?


Pamela Pereyra (34:07):
Yes. Thank you for asking. So Media Savvy Citizens is the name of my entity. And so my name is spelled like Pamela. So they could just email me pamela@mediasavvycitizens.com. You can, most people can just go on my website, https://www.mediasavvycitizens.com/ and go to the contact page. You can, people can subscribe there and they can just peruse the website, my, my events page and my past events page. I have tons of resources there as well. So any talk that I have done this specific piece of in this interview, I will put a link together there once, you know, I get the link. So any interview that like media savvy citizens has been involved in, and there was a lot of information there as well. So as far as resources, and then as far as contacting me, go to the website to the contact page.


Sam Demma (35:12):
Pamela, thank you so much for taking your time to come on the show. It’s been a pleasure. Keep up the great work and all the best in 2022.


Pamela Pereyra (35:20):
Thank you so much. Thanks for having me. I really appreciate your time.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Pamela Pereyra

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.

Elijah Johnson – Secondary Division National President Business Professionals of America

Elijah Johnson - Secondary Division National President Business Professionals of America
About Elijah Johnson

Elijah Johnson (@BPAPresident) is a 17-year-old senior at Blaine High School, in Blaine, Minnesota. Although he’s involved in a variety of extracurriculars, he’s most proud to serve as the National Secondary Division President of Business Professionals of America (BPA), a business education non-profit that changes the lives of students all around the world. 

This year, he, along with the BPA Executive Council, has worked tirelessly to tackle some of the issues that the coronavirus has created for students. By the end of his term, he hopes to create a variety of positive opportunities for both students and teachers. 

Elijah will be pursuing his post-secondary education at Harvard as part of the class of 2026.

Connect with Elijah: Email | Twitter | Instagram | Linkedin

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Business Professionals of America (BPA)

How to Win Friends and Influence People (book)

Minnesota BPA

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:01):
Elijah, welcome to the high performing educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here today. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself and sharing with the audience a little bit about who you are?


Elijah Johnson (00:12):
Sure. My name’s Elijah Johnson or I go by Eli and I’m the national secondary division president of business profess of America, which is a business education nonprofit mainly based in the United States, but also with an international presence in Haiti, Peru, China as well as Puerto Rico.


Sam Demma (00:32):
That’s awesome. What led you down this path to get involved in BPA and these different leadership opportunities?


Elijah Johnson (00:41):
Sure. So at my high school I’m a part of the, the engineering program that’s called Sims. And one of the things that some students have to do freshman year is do a computer skills class and the computer skills class is taught by bla high school’s resident. Overly friendly, super boldly, like always super cheerful teacher, miss Bosman. And she’s actually one of the VP’s core advisors at Lynn high school. So she eventually pulled me in to BPA just through talking to me and knowing what my interests were. So I eventually joined BPA through miss Bosman. And then when I was a junior, I started becoming an officer in the organization. And then a couple of months ago in may, I was elected as the national president.


Sam Demma (01:27):
That’s so amazing. And when you were in high school, was it that teacher’s bubbly personality that kind of drew you into BPA? Did she tap you on the shoulder and say, Hey, you should get involved or tell me more about how that unfolded.


Elijah Johnson (01:41):
Sure. It was exactly like that she’d burst into class and then she’d start pointing at people and she’d be like, you should join BPA and you should join BPA. I was one of the students that she pointed at and eventually like kind of just gave in and I was like, okay, sure. I guess I’ll, I’ll try it out for a little bit and see how it goes. And four years later and still in my…


Sam Demma (02:04):
That’s. Awesome. Tell me more about miss. Is it bossman?


Elijah Johnson (02:08):
Yes. Miss bossman. Yeah.


Sam Demma (02:09):
What was it like being a student in her class? Was she tell me more about her? I’m curious.


Elijah Johnson (02:15):
Sure. At times it was a little scary that you’d walk into a class cuz I had her first hour and somebody was already that hot be and like excited to start the day. like, especially as a freshman who was just getting orientated into high school. Just having that, that personality. I mean I’m, I’m being sarcastic. Obviously. I love miss Bosman and she was super fun, brought a lot of energy to teaching. Being a student in her class was pretty refresh she to start out your day with someone that was that supportive of everybody’s future and their education. Because one of the reasons that she’s an advisor is because she cares about students that much that she’s willing to put in all the time, it takes to be a VP advisor.


Sam Demma (03:02):
So what do you think makes a good leader? It sounds like miss bossman was a, a great leader for yourself and many of the students in your classroom. And now that you’re in a leadership position, I’m sure you are trying to live out certain characteristics and traits and mindsets yourself to make sure that you’re all a good leader. So what do you think some of those traits and characteristics are?


Elijah Johnson (03:23):
Right. Definitely the ability to relate to other people. I feel like you can’t be a leader of anything if you’re not able to connect to the people that you’re serving you need to know what their issues are. What’s important to them. Some of their problems are because then you need to work to be able to solve those problems and create solutions to the things that they need help with. I’d also say being a very open-minded person because as a leader you’re obviously exposed through different types of personalities, different types of socioeconomic backgrounds and, and such. So just having an open mindset and being able to work with anybody I think is really important.


Sam Demma (04:07):
And have you learned these things through your own personal experience or do you also have mentors and leaders that have poured into you at the, you know, at BPA or in other areas of your life?


Elijah Johnson (04:20):
I’d say both. A lot of my, my what’s the word kind of like not traits but values. Sorry. A lot of my values come from my family. And just being raised by my mom and dad, but for sure a lot of my professional values have definitely come from VP experiences. VP mentors, like miss Bosman, another one of my advisors, supposedly, and then also just the students that I work with getting able to interact with them and learning through them.


Sam Demma (04:52):
That’s awesome. And as a student yourself, like thinking about your whole journey through high school, just your whole journey as a student, what do you think has been the most helpful in terms of what teachers and educators have done for you? I think we all have teachers who pour a lot into us and maybe believe in ourselves sometimes more than we do. And those teachers can shape our future and, you know, push to make decisions that are helpful. What do you think some things are that educators have done for you that have made a massive impact?


Elijah Johnson (05:28):
Definitely being accessible. I’d say that’s the biggest thing that’s impacted me personally. Getting into the position that I’m in right now and running for national office was hands down, one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. And I know for a fact that I would not have been successful as I’ve been, if it wasn’t for another one of my advisors, Ms. Boley I would text her questions at all hours of the night. Like, how do you do this? How am I supposed to do this? You have any idea what I’m gonna be asked in the caucuses. So just being there having that presence for students is one of the most important things in my opinions that a teacher can do to support their students of that.


Sam Demma (06:12):
I think presence is so important, not only in the classroom, but also in every conversation you can tell when someone’s mind is elsewhere and not paying attention to the words that you’re saying. and I think we both know what it feels like to have those conversations. How do you, like, how do as a leader, do you ensure you stay present when someone is sharing or, you know, speak to you because there’s not, not only now being that you’re involved in BPA, but for the rest of your life, there will always be thousands of things pulling you, your attention and your energy and your thoughts away from the present moment. How do you like kind of remind yourself to stay present?


Elijah Johnson (06:54):
Right. So that’s a great question. And what I personally do is I try to ask questions. So if the, the person saying something that I don’t really understand or if I feel myself starting to drift away from what they’re saying, I try to write down mental questions of clarifying points that I can ask to kind of show that I am paying attention and also force myself to go back to paying attention with him, starting to drift away a little bit.


Sam Demma (07:21):
That’s amazing. There’s there’s a really great book called how to win friends and influence people written by this guy named Dale Carnegie. And he talks about the importance of being interested in somebody else rather than being interesting or trying to be interesting. Your, and I think that aligns so much with your idea of asking questions, which is awesome. On the topic of books, like, have you found any resources helpful for you as a leader and as a student that you think are worth sharing or do you watch any YouTube channels or listen to any podcast that you wanna give a shout out to?


Elijah Johnson (07:56):
Unfortunately I don’t honestly, the only book that I live by as a leader is Robert Robert’s rules. Cause that’s kinda elementary procedure that runs all over board trustees meetings. I see in terms of leadership development, really what I turn to is people that I can interact with. So different mentors within the organization that I can go to and say, Hey, how do you do this? How could I get better at this? So for sure books and, and different types of videos and YouTube series is something that I can start personally. Looking more into,


Sam Demma (08:33):
I, I would argue if you have access to the people who are doing exactly what you wanna do, then they’re probably your best source of learning anyway, like something that I always remind myself is that like all opinions are not created equally, that if you wanna learn how to fly a plane, you know, go and find the pilot instead of asking an attendant or somebody else. And if you have access to those people that are doing what you wanna do, then you don’t have to read books or watch YouTube videos. Anyway, you could just go ask them questions. I’m sure that along your journey, you’ve had so many supportive people, people that have propelled you forward and given you beliefs that were empowering, but there’s probably been situations or the opposite has occurred, or someone told you that your dreams are too big or that it was not gonna be possible or wasn’t gonna work out or you weren’t smart enough or you weren’t good enough. How do you deal with the limiting opinions and beliefs that other people place on you?


Elijah Johnson (09:32):
Honestly, just by moving on, you have to, to be thick skin sometimes and not care about what other people say to you. I remember very, very clear when I told my dad that I was gonna run for national office, he kind of just looked at me and went, okay. And then brushed me off and kind of forgot that I had said anything. He didn’t really start taking me seriously until I ended up becoming middle soda’s candidate in the national elections. And he was like, oh, you are serious about that. And then also kinda similarly, I tried to run for state office in Minnesota and one of my advisors told me that I was too young to run. So I, I actually didn’t end up running. And that kind of impacted me personally a lot because my VP journey almost stopped there. Being told that I couldn’t do something that I had been trying to work towards to, to work towards for years was really, really impactful. But I kind of did what I suggested and I just brushed that off, collected my thoughts. And I ended up asking if I, I could run for nationals and because the limitations that apply to my school regarding age don’t apply at nationals and I ended up completely skipping state and just ran in the national election.


Sam Demma (10:49):
that is such a good story, man. Do you tell this on stage at BPA events?


Elijah Johnson (10:55):
I have told it a bunch in online meetings like this, but not at any conferences so far


Sam Demma (11:00):
Sometimes we get so worried or upset when something doesn’t work out, but oftentimes it’s because there’s something better just waiting around the corner. I, I read this quote online recently that said, you know, when a door closes it’s because the universe, God faith wanna call it is telling you, you just have to walk up the hall and open the next one. And there might be something better behind that door than you had ever expected. I think that’s such a beautiful story that explains the importance of persistence, but also staying true to your vision. Like most people maybe would’ve hit that first limitation of age and decide, you know what, I’ll just wait, I’ll just wait till I’m older. But you know, you continued staying true to your, your dream and your vision, which was to get involved with BPA as an officer and you kind of founded a loophole with the national level and it worked out. What advice do you have for students who are dreamers, who might be dealing with the opinions of other people trying to make their own unique dreams, a reality. Do you have any general advice or feedback for someone trying to do something that might seem a little unrealistic to those around them?


Elijah Johnson (12:11):
Yeah, for sure. What I say is create a plan because especially if you’re dealing with external forces regarding a, a lack of belief that other people have in you, I’d say, if you can articulate what your goal is and the steps that it’ll take to reach that goal, then it’s a lot easier for people to start taking U seriously and for other people to say, okay, maybe they do have a chance. And also it’s easier for you because the steps that you need to take to get from where you are to where you want to go, are that much clearer when you have them running down and you know what you need to do.


Sam Demma (12:48):
Can you bring us back to your own plan? like, what, what was your plan after telling your pops? I wanna get involved ATPA as an officer


Elijah Johnson (12:59):
Sure. So I was sitting at the kitchen table. We were eating lunch. I think it was, we were eating sandwiches from Jersey mics and I was like, Hey dad, I’m gonna run for chapter office. Then I’m gonna run for regional office. Then I’m gonna run for state office. And then I’m gonna try to be elected as a national officer. And like I said, he kind of just looked at me and went whatever and rolled his eyes. The chapter in regional office went good, but then like we just talked about, I kind of hit a wall at state, but everything ended up working out in the end. So kind of like you said, when doors close others open that’s for sure.


Sam Demma (13:37):
That’s awesome. Sounds like your plan was to just start small and continue moving up from there. I think like sometimes what stops people is, you know, maybe the first goal they said is I’m gonna be represented by national office. I think, which was really helpful in your journey in your own plan was, let me start in my school, let me then go to regional, let me then go to state and let me then try and crack the national board. And I think when you break it down like that, you’re setting yourself up for more success. Because even if the first one or two levels of your plan are a little easier to accomplish, just the fact that you accomplish something is gonna give you the confidence to continue going and the momentum to continue moving forward. And it’s very clear that you’re someone who has lots of confidence and you speak very passionately. And clearly you brought, you know, one of your own dreams and goals that you told to your dad to life, despite the odds, where do you think your confidence comes from? And how do, how have you developed that as a young person?


Elijah Johnson (14:40):
Definitely by failing a lot. Like there’s absolutely no way to be successful if you don’t fail. I remember when, when I was elected as a chapter officer, I was actually the treasurer of my school. And at first I was a little upset cuz I’m like, how am I gonna eventually reach my goals if I’m starting out as just a treasurer? I mean, of course that position meant absolutely nothing. Like it didn’t matter that I was the treasurer. It wouldn’t have mattered if I was the president. The fact the only important part was that I had accomplished a part of what I wanted to do. So I just took that and moved forward and went on with my life. And there’s a lot of other areas of my life, where I failed like in sports where maybe I had a performance on guitar, that didn’t the way I wanted to. You just take the experiences and lessons that you learned, you pick yourself up and you move on.


Sam Demma (15:39):
One of my favorite, speaking of music, one of my favorite artists is this rapper named Russ. He has very affirmational music and one of the lyrics is that he takes his failures and uses as stepping stones. Like almost, you know, each of them is like a learning. And I think, especially in today’s society, we spend so much time focused on how successful people are and how great their life is. And it gets so, so much more like pronounced when you go on media, because everyone’s only highlighting the best parts of themselves. What is something or an area in your life or a situation where you, you defined to yourself that you failed that you’ve learned from that you think might be helpful for other people listening?


Elijah Johnson (16:28):
Yeah, I think that’s a very, very important question, cuz like you said, especially since everybody’s on social media now and really all we see on those platforms is perfect worlds with perfect people in them and you don’t really see the imperfections that make up who those people really are. So I’d say an area that I’ve definitely failed at, especially being a student leaders in the early months of my term, I had absolutely no clue what I was doing. Like I was going to meetings, voting on things that I barely had an understanding of. And I was having all this, these difficult conversations with only a surface level knowledge or some of the topics that I needed to know because for better or for worse, one of the things that BPA likes to do is throw their students into things. So I was thrown into overseeing a $2.1 million budget thrown into an advocacy committee, thrown into policies and procedures.


Elijah Johnson (17:28):
So definitely struggling in those first few months, I’d say was a failure because not knowing the things that I need to know to effectively serve the students that I represent. That was definitely something that I look back on and wish that I was more prepared. So that, that didn’t happen. But like we talked about, you take your failures and you use them as stepping stones. So I, I went back and I said Hey, what could I have done to be better prepared? And then I worked on the areas that I was deficient at. And now that’s something that isn’t as much of a problem anymore.


Sam Demma (18:05):
That’s awesome. I love that. I was gonna ask you if you didn’t ask, what would you have done differently, but you did a great job answering that yourself. So thank you. I’m writing a book right now and the title of the book is gonna be called dear high school. Me and the premises that a lot of people that write books that contain advice for high school students are so far removed from the student life. That it’s hard to kind of give or accept advice from those people. Like if someone is 45 or 50 years old, yeah. Their advice is relevant, but it’s so far removed from what a student life might look like today. And so I thought it would be a unique idea to talk to people like yourself and also use my own experiences to write a book of advice for my younger or high school self. And if you could give one or two pieces of advice to your high school self, even right now, what would you tell yourself? Like if you could go back to the first year of high school and give yourself a one or two pieces of advice.


Elijah Johnson (19:05):
Number one, the biggest thing of all is don’t procrastinate. That’s something that I still struggle with as a senior in high school. Getting worked done when you get it initially is the best way to go. Cuz it’s immediately off your plate. You don’t have to worry about it two weeks later. It’s not gonna come back to haunt you. So just being proactive in the work that you’re given and the things that you need to get done and is for sure, one of the things that I wish I would’ve had drilled into my mind as a freshman in high school. And then also another piece of advice I give is just surround yourself with friends and students that you want to be like, cuz I can, I can say personally I’m still develop. And for sure, when I started out in high school, I was nowhere near the person that I am now. And I’ve partially developed because of BPA, but I’ve also developed because of the people that I’ve been surrounded by who I’ve admired and they’ve pushed me to become a better person. So I’d say lean on your friends. They’re the people who are gonna support you the most in addition to your family and other people. So procrastination and the importance of the people you surround yourself with are for sure the two pieces of advice I’d give.


Sam Demma (20:22):
All right. Love it. Awesome. Well, thank you again, Elijah, for coming on the podcast here, it’s been a pleasure having you on the show. If someone wants to reach out or connect with you we’ll would be the best way for them to get in touch.


Elijah Johnson (20:34):
Sure. So if you went to the bpa.org website, you just type in bpa.org you can go to a tab called the executive council and then right on that is my email. So ejohnson@bpa.org. You can reach out to me at any time you wish.


Sam Demma (20:51):
Awesome, Elijah, thank you so much. Keep up the great work with yourself, your future endeavors and BPA. And we’ll talk soon.


Elijah Johnson (21:01):
Thanks for having me.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Elijah Johnson

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.

Ash Baer – Mental Health Advocate and speaker

Ash Baer - Mental Health Advocate and speaker
About Ash Baer

Ash Baer (@ashbear_) is a mental health advocate and speaker who has been facilitating leadership programs for the past nine years. She’s travelled across Canada and to Europe, working with the coolest student leaders and sharing her passion for authentic, positive, and fun leadership experiences.

Ash is a Summer Camp enthusiast and spends her summers at Youth Leadership Camps Canada (YLCC) as the Summer Camp Director. For the remainder of the year Ash is planning for the summer ahead as well as supporting student leadership conferences across Canada, empowering youth to reach their full potential to make their own positive impact!

Ash’s passion is to create safe and positive spaces for the youth she has the opportunity to work with. She incorporates important leadership lessons into fun and interactive activities, and works hard to be a strong mental health advocate.

Ash is excited to learn and grow with you through her two workshop opportunities; Mental Health Awareness and Leadership Team Building.

Connect with Ash: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Baer Leadership

Youth Leadership Camps Canada (YLCC)

Global Student Leadership Summit (GSLS)

Ontario Student Leadership Conference (OSLC)

Canadian Youth Speakers Bureau

Mental Health Awareness Workshop

Leadership Team Building Workshop

Nipissing University

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):
Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker Sam Demma. Today’s guest is Ash, Ash Baer has been facilitating leadership programs for the past nine years. She’s traveled across Canada and to Europe working with the coolest student leaders and sharing her passion for authentic, positive, and fun leadership experiences. Ash is a summer camp enthusiast and spends her summers at YLCC as the summer camp director.


Sam Demma (01:02):
She now does mental health programs across the nation and today she talks a little bit about those presentations, managing student mental health and your own mental health and how her journey in education has shifted due to the recent challenges. This is a very awesome conversation. I hope you enjoy it. Take lots of notes. I will see you on the other side, Ash, welcome to the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show. Why don’t you start by sharing a little bit about yourself, who you are, and how you got into the work you’re doing with young people today?


Ash Baer (01:33):
Yeah, perfect. Well, it’s a pleasure to be here so thank you so much for the opportunity. So, I currently work with youth in a couple different capacities. The one that I’ve worked in the longest is through youth leadership camps, Canada (YLCC) and in their summer camp program, I am the summer camp director. I also help out with, we also run the Ontario student leadership conference, the global student leadership summit and events like that. So I’m also helping out with that with the student volunteers there. And then another thing with youth leadership stuff is I do Baer Leadership. So my last name’s bear. So that’s where the bear comes from. And I’ve been doing programs along the lines of mental health and team building.


Sam Demma (02:24):
That’s awesome. That’s so cool. And what got you into the work that you’re doing with young people? Why did you decide to join Y L C C? Was there a teacher that pushed you in that direction or was student leadership a big part of your life? What led you down this path? Totally.


Ash Baer (02:39):
So definitely was really involved in high school leadership. I went to Waterloo, Oxford and Jeff Gerber was my advisor. And he really created an environment where there was no limits to what we could do. So I really enjoyed that sort of environment in the, the environment of student leadership where you can think big and do big things. And there were the only barrier was your own perspective. So I was really into that. And then from that involvement, I got involved with OS L C and then got to know Stu Saunders who owns Y L C C in the camping world. And I haven’t left since, so it’s all kind of merged together into a beautiful timeline of what I’ve done.


Sam Demma (03:33):
That’s awesome. And you went to school in Waterloo. Did you also go to university in Waterloo or what you do?


Ash Baer (03:40):
No, I did university in north bay at Ning.


Sam Demma (03:43):
Nice. That’s awesome. Did you study something along the lines of social work or teaching or working with young people or was it something totally unrelated? Unrelated? nice. No, I love that. Yeah. Yeah. Me too. Right. Like I was studying environmental stuff before getting into this work. And like now doing totally different things. So there’s no, there’s no one right path to any destination. Right, exactly. So you do a lot of presentations now and programs in schools what kind of led you down that path? So you took a step towards doing your own thing on the side, where did that all stem from?


Ash Baer (04:19):
Yeah, for sure. So, so for the last 10 years I’ve worked with Y L C C. And like I said, I’m the camp director there for our summer programs. And with that, I really fell in love with the concept of being able to have a lot of fun. So that’s what we do at camp have tons of fun, but there’s also always messages embedded in everything that we do and leadership opportunities and growth there. So I fell in love with the team building aspect of that got to travel a lot with Y L C C been to Europe and all across Canada running programs and then started to develop some things on my own. And then also from the mental health perspective of it, I started to recognize in youth that mental health was something that was widely talked about and people were aware of what mental health was and stigma is going away, which is awesome.


Ash Baer (05:14):
But I also recognize that even though that stigma’s going away the language of how to talk about it, isn’t really there. So there’s not that toolbox of what is the definition of depression? Am I depressed or am I feeling sad? Is this anxiety, or am I just like worried at this exact moment? So I wanted to kind of take my own journey and learn a little bit more about my own mental health and got educated in courses like mental health, first aid and some living works courses as well to better facilitate and create safer environments for the students that I was working with. And then from that, I was like, if I have the opportunity to speak to more students. Awesome. actually one thing that I really push for in the student leadership conference world was I was like, I wanna see more women on stage because there’s lots of student leaders who are identify as women. And I want them to see themselves on stage too. And whenever I would go to even myself or other conference coordinators, I’d be like, Hey, get some more women on stage. And they were like, well, why don’t you just do it? And I was like, well, okay, fine. I feel comfy with a mic , I’ll learn some stuff and I will also share some messages there that way too.


Sam Demma (06:32):
Awesome. No, that’s amazing. And what challenges are you currently face with right now? Because of the current state of the world?


Ash Baer (06:40):
Yeah, for sure. Obviously there’s ton . And I think for me specifically if I look at our programs that we traditionally run in a year through conferences and camp camp specifically was shut down with no other option for the summer. So we kind of adapted in a way that we brought everything online conferences obviously in person were canceled. It was great to see you at O S L C you got to come into the first hybrid of a sort of event where you were on stage in front of a green screen. So obviously the challenges of just kind of figuring out how we keep leadership alive in these programs alive when we can’t be literally sitting beside each other or interacting in the way that we typically would.


Sam Demma (07:30):
Amazing. And if an educator’s listening and is thinking the exact same thoughts, what advice do you have to share, or what could you share with them that might be, do you have any ideas that have worked so far during COVID or things that you’ve tried that you think are worth sharing?


Ash Baer (07:44):
Yeah, for sure. So I think first of all, I wanna say to all educators listening, like you’re all amazing and adapting to such different times and I’m sure one day is completely different than the next day. I I’m a lot, I have a lot of close friends who are educators and I just have so much respect for them right now. And I’m wishing them in a couple weeks, two weeks of just the ability to sleep over the holidays. But some things that are tangible that I have seen happening specific with us, we the moment that things shut down, back in March, we opened an online camp on zoom. The schools shut down on Thursday and the next Monday I was like, yeah, we gotta do it. It’s like a March break zoom camp. And I honestly expected, it would be like a two week thing.


Ash Baer (08:39):
We do some crafts of the materials that I have in my home, which is like paper and Q-tips and we bring it to life, but we ended up running it for 30 weeks on zoom. And obviously this is lasting a little bit longer than anyone would’ve been anticipated. But I think the overall for adapting to the challenges that are happening right now, it’s important to not cut anything out that you think is important. Right. So if you run an event at your school that is so important for your school culture don’t say like, well, COVID canceled that. I think it’s important to bring it to life in some capacity, obviously there’s barriers. And obviously it’s not gonna be the exact same, but how can you still bring that to life via something virtual or maybe going super old school and doing a snail mail, like stuff like that. Like there’s ways to like, still build that community, but it might not be the exact same, but like thinking outside of the box. And I think the students that we’re all working with have the answers, right? Like, they’re, they’re so creative, they’re so smart. They want it to happen. So if they want it to happen, they’ll find a way.


Sam Demma (09:56):
That’s awesome. And with your, with regards to your own presentations, how are you delivering them right now? I know things are a little bit different.


Ash Baer (10:03):
Yeah, for sure. So whatever sort of online platform via zoom or Google room sort of thing, I’ve been delivering speeches that way. and just, I’ve done a couple throughout the summer that were in person and distanced, but I, I really am craving the opportunity when we can all just be in one room together.


Sam Demma (10:31):
yeah, me too. And, you know, you spend a lot of time hanging around with students. You understand there’s struggles, you’re not far removed as well. What do you think would be the best way to support our youth, like right now through this challenging time?


Ash Baer (10:45):
Totally. I think the best way would, and I think this is the way, no matter if there’s COVID or not COVID is to meet people where they’re at. And I think ESP with youth meeting them where they’re at is, is where you’re going to have the most success. And I think there’s so much authenticity that comes from that. So, you know, I don’t think there’s a cookie cutter answer to that of being like, well, this will work for all students, cuz I know everybody listening knows that that’s not the case either. Like for some students social media is, is a great way to connect with them and get on their level for some people that’s not. And I think it’s just on a very individual meet people where they’re at sort of vibe.


Sam Demma (11:36):
Awesome. Sounds good. And that makes a lot of sense and I totally agree. I think you can approach every kid with the same plan because they all learn different. It’s like trying to teach your curriculum the same to every single student. You can’t support every single student the same either. That’s awesome. I cannot wait to see you back on a stage or at camp or in a classroom doing a speech. If an educator is listening right now, wants to reach out to you, bounce some ideas around, maybe have a conversation about your programs or anything that they, that they heard today on today’s episode, what would be the best way for them to get into touch?


Ash Baer (12:13):
For sure. So a couple different ways. Email is ash@baerleadership.ca and Baer is spelled “baer”. And then Instagram or Twitter @ashbaer_ because somebody already took my name so.


Sam Demma (12:33):
All right. Awesome. Thanks so much for coming on the show, Ash. Really appreciate it. And there you have it. Another amazing guest, an amazing interview on the High Performing Educator podcast. As always, if you enjoy these episodes, please consider leaving a rating and review so other educators like yourself can find this content and benefit from it. And here’s an exclusive opportunity that I mentioned at the start of the show. If you wanna meet the guest on today’s episode, if you wanna meet any of the guests that we have interviewed, consider going to www.highperformingeducator.com and signing up to join the exclusive network, you’ll have access to networking events throughout 2021 and other special opportunities. And I promise I will not fill your inbox. Talk to you soon. I’ll see you on the next episode.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Ash Baer

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.

John Lucas Guimaraes – Post-secondary National President of Business Professionals of America

John Lucas Guimaraes - Post-secondary National President of Business Professionals of America
About John Lucas

John Lucas Guimaraes (@JohnlucasMA) serves as the Executive President of the Post-secondary Division of Business Professionals of America, an international Career and Technical Student Organization. 

John Lucas lives in Massachusetts and is studying Civil Engineering at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth. He loves running, nature, and trading state pins with members at the BPA National Leadership Conference. After college, John Lucas hopes to go into the environmental or transit areas of engineering and government. 

Connect with John Lucas: Twitter | Email | Linkedin

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Business Professionals of America

Career and Technical Student Organizations

Past and Future National Leadership Conferences (BPA)

Steve Jobs’ 2005 Stanford Commencement Address

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:01):
Welcome back to another episode of the high performing educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest is John Lucas Guimaraes. John Lucas serves as the executive president of the post-secondary division of Business Professionals of America, an international career and technical student organization. John Lucas lives in Massachusetts and is studying civil engineering at the university of Massachusetts Dartmouth. He loves running nature and trading state pins with members at the BPA national leadership conference. After college John Lucas hopes to go into the environmental or transit areas of engineering and government. As I’m sure you’ll will be able to notice after, and while listening to this interview, John Lucas is someone who is filled with passion and doing incredible work in his community and the organizations and associations that he’s a part of. I hope you enjoy this conversation and I will see you on the other side. John Lucas, welcome to the high performing educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here this morning. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself?


John Lucas Guimaraes (02:09):
Awesome. Well thank you for having me. My name is John Lucas Guimaraes. I am a junior at the university of Massachusetts. And I am currently the post-secondary president of the national CTSO career technical student organization in called business professionals of America, where we sort of prepare students outside of the classroom for the, their futures for the, their careers and their professional lives, because there’s only so much you can learn in the classroom. So having that outside exposure I think is really bad, valuable, and that’s something that we aim to do here at BPA.


Sam Demma (02:49):
Tell me more about your journey to where you are now. What got you interested and involved with BPA and how do you think that’s shaped you as a student leader yourself?


John Lucas Guimaraes (03:01):
It started off like a progression. It wasn’t like I joined BPA and then I, the next year I became the national president I sort of was jealous of my peers of why, like they, they just talked about going to the state leadership conference here in Massachusetts and they had a wonderful time. Not none of them made it to the national competition, which is like the big, the big event of the year, but they just talked about how the state leadership conference was so meaningful to them. They got so many experiences and I was like, oh, geez, I wanna try that. And I didn’t even know what BP was. I just wanted that experience. So I didn’t know what I had to go through. I just wanted that end goal. So I thought that BPA was like, you sit around in a, in a round table and just come up with a great idea for a project and then you all do it together, but it’s so much more than that.


John Lucas Guimaraes (03:55):
You work as individuals, you work as teams. You can knock compete, you can do other service projects. So definitely getting into that and getting overwhelmed. That was what kept me here a lot of the times I do get asked that question of why I joined BPA, but I think an even more valuable question is after eight years, why the heck am I still here? What what’s kept to me here. So I think the people definitely the people and the experiences and with every passing year, I, I, I feel like I’ve want, I’ve wanted to get more involved, more more behind the scenes because you know, a national CTSO that’s not easy sheet to accomplish. So there’s a lot of behind the scenes. There’s a lot of governance that has to happen. So I I’m, I’m really appreciative of like, I think my, my ambition, but also my desire to help to always keep and grow my involvement as much as I can so that, you know, I’m doing what my teachers and my fellow leaders did to me. And that’s to prepare me for the role so that I can return the favor and pass the torch to those next leaders coming up the ladder.


Sam Demma (05:20):
That’s amazing. Eight years. I gotta give you a round of applause for that. , that’s a, that’s, that’s a lot of service, fun time. Yeah. Congratulations.


John Lucas Guimaraes (05:31):
I’m a BPA grandpa.


Sam Demma (05:33):
Literally. You mentioned other leaders kind of helping you in shaping you, were there some advisors and teachers, your life that have played a massive role in your development as a young person and also as a leader?


John Lucas Guimaraes (05:49):
Definitely. I think it was my my junior year. Oh no, no, it was my junior. Yeah, it was my junior year. We had this, I was in the video production event where we prepared a video and that year it was how to counter Driving under the influence against with like alcohol or other substances. And we finalized the project. I was so passionate about it. I had the idea my, the entire year, so we’re probably like two weeks out before the state leadership conference. So our advisor had each, each member of BPA of our chapter come to her and present our projects. So we did and I was, my heart was skipping. I got chills. And then I turned to her and she has this like, disappointed look, well, not a disappointed look, I don’t wanna say that.


John Lucas Guimaraes (06:45):
But but a like, like a concern, very confused. Yeah. Yeah, because we included a very popular song as the background song, and then she, like, that’s not a copyrighted song and the entire video was constructed on like the beat dropping the, the drum hits everything, like all the shifts. And we had to change the entire song. Looking back at it, it wasn’t this like, crucial like dire moment, but I, at that time, I was like, how did I not see this? So I just, there’s been a lot of experiences with my advisors where they’ve pointed out things that I didn’t see or told me what I needed to hear, but didn’t want to hear. So looking back at it, I value all those disappointing this encouraging moments that I felt, because that’s sort of like built me to, like now when I’m tackling a project or event, I sort of come up with I play like the devil’s advocate and come up with like, what will people bring up to me that I need to fix right now before, you know? So I can like prepare myself for those tough questions.


Sam Demma (08:01):
Love that. It sounds like those were all teachable moments for you. And what’s interesting is those all could have been breaking moments that stopped you from pursuing this path at all, but you took it as feedback and used it to iterate your own processes, which have enabled you to grow, which I think is amazing. yeah. What is, what is that advisor’s name? And were they the same individual that kind of tapped you on the shoulder and initially said, Hey, maybe you should get involved in BPA or did you discover BPA just on your own?


John Lucas Guimaraes (08:33):
Yeah, so I went to a vocational technical school. So we did ha every week we did on academics and then the following week, we did like a technical program. So I was in the carpentry program. But going into the school, you sort of took like a month and you went through each, each technical program. So they were the advisors of the business department Mrs. Powers and Mrs. Sylvia, and they sort of, they, they just marketed BPA. They spent that entire hour that we had with them, just marketing BPA and why it was so important. Nice. And that sort of, that’s what got me hooked initially. But yeah, just, and then when I, I did return because I didn’t speak to them until after that at, at all, because I chose the carpentry program. It wasn’t until the following year that the that’s when they were like, oh, we’re glad you finally joined us. And, you know, they definitely inspired me to keep growing. They’re still, one of them is still the advisor of the, of my high school’s BPA chapter. And it’s just amazing to see like little versions, not of me, but like little versions of leaders coming from the same teachers that inspired me to be where I am now.


Sam Demma (10:02):
Yeah, absolutely. And do you think providing constructive criticism and feedback as an educator is something that ex is extremely important and helpful for developing leaders? And if so, how do you think more leaders and educators can do that without discouraging, you know, their students or discouraging the young person they’re trying to provide feedback for?


John Lucas Guimaraes (10:26):
Yeah. I definitely think that’s very important because if you didn’t, what would be the alternative, you know, it would be sort of your sugar coating someone’s experience and sort of setting the ’em up to fail versus you having more of a control of what that what that criticism is gonna be, because it, you know, an educator’s never going to like purposely want to sort of, you give negativity to a student, they don’t wanna do that. They wanna just prepare them and give that soft criticism if you know what I mean. So definitely that criticism early on is very important because if you don’t, they they’ll get that same criticism, but even rougher from projects the people reviewing their projects or, you know, future employers. So I, I, I definitely think that it’s something worth doing in high school. And while you have these experiences with these students and even peers, like my, my classmates were actually watching me on that, in that video, you yep. When I was presenting that video and they, you know, said the same thing they gave me like, oh, you, you like had a product placement there and it, I don’t think that should be there. So definitely getting the perspective of your peers, I think, is really valuable and gives you sort of an outlook on, or a perspective that you don’t see yourself.


Sam Demma (12:01):
That’s amazing. And you are someone who have developed yourself into a leader based off of the feedback given to you by others. But also, as you mentioned earlier, you’re based off some of your own ambition. What do you think are some of the key characteristics or traits that you’ve developed and have seen other leaders kind of exhibit and live out themselves that you think makes for a really strong leader?


John Lucas Guimaraes (12:30):
I think it’s sort of different for everyone. You know, for me, I’m someone who loves the behind the scenes work, the gathering people, the raising scholarships, the the running crunching, the numbers looking at financial statements and sort of the adult boring work behind the scenes. So I’m as a, as the president of my division of BPM also on the board of trustees and, you know, we do a lot of the oversight work which my peers could see that is very boring. Yeah. But to me, it’s just something that excites me. It’s just something that you know, sometimes I find myself at like 1:00 AM working on a BPA policy and procedures amendment, or just reading the meeting minutes, which is just a black and white document with no, really with not a lot of fun substance.


John Lucas Guimaraes (13:29):
But that, it’s, it sort of gives me a little taste of what I want to keep going on, keep growing and doing with my life. You know, I’m, I’m in college right now studying civil engineering, but I also love governance. I love giving time to those in need and sort of doing what, what I can do to help others around me. And I think one way I Excel at that is looking at those boring documents and looking to plan strategic events and making sure that, you know, we have the budget for that and we can, we can ethically provide a good event for our stakeholders. So I think that that ambition comes from your passions and your sure you can run for an office just for the power of it. But I think a true leader, a true servant leader is someone who uses their passions to their passions are what drives their ambition. And as long as you can keep doing that, you know, what your end goal is, you know, what you like to do and how you can utilize your passions to help people. I think that’s what makes people’s ambitions really selfless and not so much an ambition for oneself, but an ambition to better, not only the world, maybe that’s two grand of a scale, but your country, your, your municipality, your state, or even just your local community.


Sam Demma (15:07):
Yeah. I love that. And you said something earlier in the interview, you, that really stuck with me, you mentioned you had no idea how you were gonna get there and you weren’t sure about, you know, you weren’t sure about how you were gonna get to, you know, the working as a president at BPA, but you were so obsessed with the goal that you just stuck with it, like you were so obsessed with the goal. Do you think goal setting has also played a big part in your own personal journey and like, how do you go about, you know, setting goals for yourself or outlining those things that you wanna work towards and accomplish?


John Lucas Guimaraes (15:47):
I definitely think that you know, nothing is out of your reach at the 2018 national leadership conference in Dallas, Texas, which I’m so excited about cuz we’re returning this year. So it’s my like sort of returning to my origin. But at the 2018, NLC I jokingly said with my with one of my peers that, you know, I’m gonna be secondary president. And at the time, like that was so far out of my reach, that was like a million years ahead. So I think that, you know, Jo having those humor moments and making sure like I’m gonna be president of the United States saying that, but also like, you know, joking around and things like that, but also, you know, pre-planning and making sure that, okay, am I qualified for that? Am I, am I headed in that right direction?


John Lucas Guimaraes (16:45):
And will I be a good whatever role you’re gonna be? Am I gonna be that, am I gonna serve that role to its and most efficient potential? And I think, and I think that my experiences sort of shaped me to reach that end goal. So it was sort of, it was like a not overnight thing. It was an like over time and steadily growing sort of experiences that led me to here. So I, I do think goal setting is important as well, but also make sure that making sure that it’s something you truly want, like you, you reach that end goal. Just think about it right now, close your eyes and think about like, I, that end goal, am I happy? Am I like changing my environment for the better? And I am I like, sort of, is this what I plan to do because sure, sure.


John Lucas Guimaraes (17:49):
You’ve reached your goal, but if that’s not anything you want, if that’s just like a, a gold medal in your mind, like high above a ladder, if that’s not really what you want, you achieved your goal, but you’re not really happy. So making sure that, you know, setting up these ambition is bold goals for yourself, but making sure that you often reflect on them and you know, all right. I, I, I don’t wanna be a city counselor. I want to be a mayor. Cuz I’m, I work better alone and I work better delegating tasks. So just going back to your like when you’re going to sleep or in English shower going back and amending your goals and saying, I can actually tackle it this way and I can achieve it better by also feeding that inner hunger, inner hunger that I have inside me. So I, I definitely think that setting goals is important, but also, you know, you can change your goals. They’re not really set in stone. You’re the one who drives that, that sort of steadily inclined to that goal. You’re the one who drives that steam book.


Sam Demma (19:01):
I love the idea of making sure it’s authentic to your core, making sure it’s something that you’re actually excited about pushing and working towards and above all else, making sure that it will also positively impact all the people around you or change something in a positive way in your environment, which leads me to my next question. How have you dealt with the opinions, thoughts, and expectations of others? I think something that sometimes holds people back is the expectations of others. You know, maybe a student’s parents wants them to get into a specific field or career, but deep down in their heart, they know that they wanna do something different. How have you personally dealt with the opinions and thoughts of others along your own journey? Because I’m sure there’s a lot of people telling you to do lots of different things with your path.


John Lucas Guimaraes (19:56):
Yeah. And, and to add to that, it’s very, it becomes very stressful and like having this cons constant pressure I’m gonna be a first generation. If I graduate of course with so ho hoping for that degree, but I’ll be a first generat graduate of an American college. Cuz my family came from Brazil. So there is a lot of pressure and expectations that come from my family. But, but making sure, I think it’s so important to make sure that your ambitions and your goals and your expecting for yourself or a more or a bigger priority to you than those expectations of your families and your peers and your, your, your friends and your teachers. But also knowing that it’s also important to get those expectations, to get those, that, that feedback, because some people might believe in you more than you believe in yourself and like hearing that like from an educator, from a peer, like, wow, you’re gonna do so, so great in life.


John Lucas Guimaraes (21:10):
I think that can be miscontrued as a, that can be miscontrued as like a, a very sets, a lot of pressure, but also knowing that that is beneficial to yourself because you have someone in your, in your court that believes in you and that is passionate about what you’re doing and believes that you can achieve anything you want to do. So I definitely think that looking at all the expectations around you, but also valuing your expectations for yourself more is it’s sort of that, that energy drink that gets you to overcome the expectations of others, because there are gonna be a lot of people, you know, especially like I think our, the younger generation is getting more vocal and is getting more decisive about what they wanna see different in the world and in their envi environments. And I think there is a, a misconception that we’re too young where we’re not experienced enough to know about these problems, but I think that’s something and that, that I even experienced myself, you know, I’m a board member, but I’m 23 years old. So it’s not so much just like I can go around telling people what to do, but it’s a team environment where all voices are equal. So I, I definitely think that it’s something that people have to evaluate for themselves because if you don’t, if you just keep listening to people around you, it’s not gonna get you anywhere. You have to tell yourself no I’m going to achieve that. No.


Sam Demma (22:58):
Yeah. I couldn’t agree more. I think especially when you’re young, there’s a lot of pressures as you grow up, it, it shifts and adjusts a little bit. And I appreciate your commitment to making this interview happen despite the fact that you’re tuning in from school as a dedicated student should. So don’t worry too much about the background noise. We can hear you super clearly, but I think when you’re young, those expectations are even louder because you’re not as sure of yourself or your own abilities, or maybe you don’t have as much confidence as you have maybe at later stages in your life. Whereas you continue to have experiences and build that skill of self confidence by achieving things and checking things off that you once said you were gonna do. I like to think of it like a giant bag on our backpack or a giant bag strapped to our shoulders, like a backpack.


Sam Demma (23:50):
And in that bag, as we experience life, it fills up with the thoughts and opinions of others, but also our personal experiences. And if we never stop to remove those opinions from others that maybe actually holding us back from being authentic to ourselves, then those start to become and grow into bricks that we carry around and weigh us down. Stop us from moving in a direction that maybe we actually wanted to go down. So thank you so much for, for sharing that. I really appreciate it. And something I always like to also mention is that like sometimes your decision will disappoint others and that’s also okay. I think it’s a part of the process. What’s more important is that you’re authentic and true to yourself because if you do end up deciding to live your life or take action, just to please somebody else’s expectations and you know, it’s going against your own authentic court desires at some point, the regret that you feel will far outweigh the disappointment that someone else will experience that may only last a couple minutes, a couple weeks or sometimes a few years, like you’ll have to deal with the regret for the rest of your life.


Sam Demma (24:58):
And you’re someone who has boldly and fearlessly pursued your authentic ambitions. And I can’t wait to see your name as the mayor or even the president of the country. where do, where do you see John Lucas in a couple years from now? What are the things you’re working on right now that you’re excited about and wanna share?


John Lucas Guimaraes (25:21):
I, yeah, I definitely don’t think I’m gonna be president. Just because I don’t qualify, but I think if, if I was born in the United States, I feel like that would’ve be, that would definitely be something I would think about a lot. I nice. But no, I, I imagine myself as governor of Massachusetts or at least the secretary of the United States department of transportation, but but that’s like far out, you know, something that I, you know, evaluate at first I was saying, I love foreign relations and I’m going to be secretary of state, but I think over time, and this is like recent, like with the last two years, maybe the last six months, I’ve sort of shifted and gone back to more my engineering passion. Right now I’m studying civil engineering and I’m really loving the transportation and the road work side of engineering because engineering is already so huge, but civil engineering is, you know, a branch in engineering, but it’s still as equally huge.


John Lucas Guimaraes (26:29):
There’s so many areas and sort of coming to school, I get overwhelmed with all the opportunities I have. You know, cuz you can fail. You know, like if I go to soil evaluating soil, you know, if I don’t know everything, you know, I could feel, but knowing that I have the choice to choose which path, which area I wanna focus on, I think that’s so that’s such a positive to feel, to know that you, you are aware you know, some of your family members might not have been in the same position that you are in. Some of them had to be like Jan janitors for a school, which there’s nothing wrong with that. But knowing that you have all these availabilities and all these possibilities in, in, in front of you and going back to your previous our previous couple statements, you know, at, to be blunt, you are going to work an eight to five full-time job probably until you retire.


John Lucas Guimaraes (27:38):
If you’re lucky enough to retire, do you really want to spend that much time of your life doing something that someone else imagined or expected you to do? I feel like that’s so much time that could be utilized to do something that you, that truly feels truly makes you feel happy and makes those around you happy because if you’re doing a job that you dislike, just because of someone’s expectations, the people around you are not gonna be happy as well because you are that, that not resentment, but that lack of happiness, that lack of enthusiasm, motivation, that’s gonna, you know, you can’t hold that in. That’s gonna come out and reflect on you and gonna to link back to the people around you. But for me personally, I think that my family respects that now as I’ve grown older and just know that if you have hard, strict expectations from your family, they’ll, they’ll change as long as you’re do being successful, being authentic to yourself and doing what you want to do, but also making sure that it’s something that will bring you success, your family’s expectations, your friends’ expectations, those will change as long as you stay true to yourself.


John Lucas Guimaraes (29:03):
So for me, I definitely want to works. There’s nothing better than working for the government in my opinion. So I definitely want to get work with the Massachusetts department of transportation or even in the private sector. I think there’s so much opportunity or success, but also happiness. All of the opportunities that I have available to me. So , I’m sort of just working on my classes and then I will evaluate what careers I have for me when I get there. I don’t wanna limit my,


Sam Demma (29:44):
Yeah, I love it. I totally agree. And can relate. That’s so many empowering perspectives are being shared and I couldn’t agree more, you know, you spend so much of your life working. It makes sense to do work that you love and you enjoy Steve jobs said in one of his commencement speeches, you know, the only way to do great work is to love what you do. You know, if you don’t love what you do, you’re not gonna give it your all or use your skills and talents and be obsessed enough with it to work on it. Like you said, at 1:00 AM in the morning, doing policy changes and that not only applies to students, but it also applies to educators. And not that you have to hustle and stay up til 1:00 AM every single night, but you have to love the work you’re doing.


Sam Demma (30:26):
You know, I think back to education as an educator, you know, your love for your work of impacting youth can literally change lives. Like you’re, you’re not only teaching content in a classroom, but you’re changing the neurons in a kid’s brain. You’re shifting their perspectives on a daily basis. And if you’re truly passionate about what you’re doing and teaching, you could have an impact on that student that, you know, changes their path for the rest of their life. And I know that because I had a teacher who changed my life and my perspective, and I’m sure you’ve had educators in your life who made a big impact, but John John Lucas, this has been an amazing conversation. And I want to thank you so much for taking your time out of your school day, to hop on this interview and have a conversation, a genuine conversation about, you know, your path and what you think it takes to be a great leader and how other leaders have poured into you. If someone is listening right now and has enjoyed this convers and what would be the best way for them to reach out to you?


John Lucas Guimaraes (31:27):
You can definitely find me on social media. I’m sort of a very marketed BPA member. So you can just find me on social media, John Lucas, Guimaraes or you can just you email me jguimaraes@bpa.org. And if you have any questions for me or, or anything that I can sort of help you feel free to reach out. I feel like I tell that to a lot of people and I feel like everyone tells that to people. But I can’t emphasize that enough if you can’t reach out to me, reach out to those around you and your peers, your teachers, these people wanna see you succeed. So just make sure that you are utilizing your resources.


Sam Demma (32:20):
Awesome. John Lucas, thank you so much. Good luck going beyond your limits at the, the next Texas national leadership conference. I wish you all the best in all your future endeavors and let’s definitely stay in touch.


John Lucas Guimaraes (32:33):
Awesome. Thank you so much, Sam, for having me.


Sam Demma (32:37):
Hey, it’s Sam again. I hope you enjoyed that amazing conversation on the high performing educator podcast. If you or someone, you know, deserves some extra recognition and appreciation for the work they do in education, please consider applying or nominating them for the high performing educator awards go to www.highperformingeducator.com/award. You can also find the link in the show notes. I’m super excited to spotlight and feature 20 people in 2022. And I’m hoping you or someone, you know, can be one of those educators. I’ll talk to you on the next episode, all the best.

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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.