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Principals

Rick Gilson – Executive Director of Southern Alberta Professional Development Consortium

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

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

Rick has been fortunate to coach over 70 teams, the majority in football, has served on the Board of Football Alberta, and the Board and executive including President of the Alberta Schools Athletic Association.

An avid reader, Rick shares passages and books frequently in blog and Twitter posts.

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

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Grande Prairie Composite High School

Grande Prairie Public School Division

Southern Alberta Professional Development Consortium (APDC)

Football Alberta

Alberta Schools Athletic Association

rickgilson.ca

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

Ryan Holiday’s Books

John Wooden’s Books

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

Andy Reid’s Books

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):

Welcome back to another episode on the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and keynote speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest is Dr. Rick Gilson. Dr. Rick Gilson started his teaching career in the fall of 1985. In addition to teaching, Rick has worked in school administration at the high school level for 15 years, the last eight as principal at Grande Prairie Composite High School before moving into Central Office. After one year as District Principal in Grande Prairie, Rick accepted the Assistant Superintendent position, focusing on Inclusive Education with Westwind School Division. In 2013, Rick joined SAPDC as the Executive Director. At work, he loves coaching young teachers, new leaders and generally just helping folks grow.Rick has been fortunate to coach over 70 teams, the majority in football, has served on the Board of Football Alberta, and the Board and executive including President of the Alberta Schools Athletic Association.An avid reader, Rick shares passages and books frequently in blog and Twitter posts. I hope you enjoy this overwhelming and exciting conversation with Rick. There is so much to learn. I will see you on the other side.

Sam Demma (01:24):

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

Rick Gilson (01:44):

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

Sam Demma (02:59):

<laugh>, it’s a big nut. <laugh>.

Rick Gilson (03:02):

I am a big nut

Sam Demma (03:04):

<laugh>,

Rick Gilson (03:04):

Correctly stated. Sam <laugh>,

Sam Demma (03:07):

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

Rick Gilson (03:25):

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

Sam Demma (04:27):

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

Rick Gilson (04:36):

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

Rick Gilson (05:37):

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

Sam Demma (06:27):

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

Rick Gilson (06:41):

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

Rick Gilson (07:33):

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

Rick Gilson (08:22):

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

Rick Gilson (09:15):

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

Rick Gilson (10:09):

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

Sam Demma (10:50):

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

Rick Gilson (11:23):

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

Rick Gilson (12:22):

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

Rick Gilson (13:27):

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

Sam Demma (14:51):

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

Sam Demma (15:45):

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

Rick Gilson (16:23):

<laugh> <laugh>?

Sam Demma (16:25):

And,

Rick Gilson (16:25):

And I said, you do now

Sam Demma (16:27):

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

Rick Gilson (17:17):

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

Sam Demma (17:22):

<laugh>.

Rick Gilson (17:22):

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

Sam Demma (17:24):

<laugh>

Rick Gilson (17:26):

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

Rick Gilson (18:17):

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

Rick Gilson (19:12):

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

Rick Gilson (20:19):

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

Sam Demma (20:59):

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

Rick Gilson (21:53):

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

Sam Demma (23:08):

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

Rick Gilson (23:51):

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

Rick Gilson (25:05):

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

Rick Gilson (26:04):

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

Sam Demma (27:27):

 23 now.

Rick Gilson (27:28):

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

Sam Demma (28:05):

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

Rick Gilson (28:27):

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

Sam Demma (28:33):

Drink

Rick Gilson (28:34):

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

Rick Gilson (30:10):

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

Sam Demma (30:56):

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

Rick Gilson (31:24):

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

Rick Gilson (31:44):

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

Rick Gilson (32:48):

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

Rick Gilson (33:53):

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

Rick Gilson (34:52):

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

Sam Demma (36:00):

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

Rick Gilson (36:07):

On the

Sam Demma (36:08):

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

Rick Gilson (36:16):

Yes.

Sam Demma (36:16):

Oh, sorry.

Rick Gilson (36:17):

Be quick, but don’t hurry.

Sam Demma (36:19):

Don’t hurry. Yes.

Rick Gilson (36:20):

And go slow to go fast. Yep.

Sam Demma (36:23):

That’s so true.

Rick Gilson (36:24):

Both John Wooden’s statements.

Sam Demma (36:26):

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

Sam Demma (37:27):

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

Sam Demma (38:22):

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

Rick Gilson (38:57):

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

Rick Gilson (39:58):

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

Sam Demma (41:25):

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

Rick Gilson (41:55):

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

Rick Gilson (43:08):

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

Sam Demma (44:19):

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

Rick Gilson (44:31):

<laugh>

Sam Demma (44:32):

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

Rick Gilson (44:46):

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

Sam Demma (45:23):

Awesome. Rick, thank you. Thanks

Rick Gilson (45:24):

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

Sam Demma (45:47):

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

Rick Gilson (45:50):

Take care.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Rick Gilson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Connect with Patrick: Email | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Central Alberta Regional Consortium (CARC)

John Mazurak Scholarship

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:00):

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

Sam Demma (01:29):

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

Patrick Bohnet (02:03):

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

Sam Demma (03:45):

Wow. <laugh>.

Patrick Bohnet (03:46):

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

Sam Demma (05:12):

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

Patrick Bohnet (06:06):

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

Patrick Bohnet (07:08):

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

Sam Demma (08:10):

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

Patrick Bohnet (08:33):

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

Patrick Bohnet (09:37):

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

Sam Demma (10:19):

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

Patrick Bohnet (11:01):

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

Sam Demma (12:31):

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

Patrick Bohnet (12:44):

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

Sam Demma (12:57):

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

Patrick Bohnet (13:07):

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

Sam Demma (13:23):

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

Patrick Bohnet (13:48):

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

Sam Demma (15:11):

Oh, wow.

Patrick Bohnet (15:13):

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

Sam Demma (16:26):

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

Patrick Bohnet (16:43):

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

Patrick Bohnet (17:51):

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

Sam Demma (18:52):

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

Patrick Bohnet (19:14):

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

Patrick Bohnet (20:33):

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

Sam Demma (21:34):

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

Patrick Bohnet (22:45):

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

Patrick Bohnet (24:05):

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

Sam Demma (24:53):

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

Patrick Bohnet (25:31):

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

Sam Demma (26:44):

Oh, wow.

Patrick Bohnet (26:46):

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

Sam Demma (27:17):

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

Patrick Bohnet (28:14):

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

Sam Demma (28:20):

It’s golf, right?

Patrick Bohnet (28:21):

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

Sam Demma (28:50):

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

Patrick Bohnet (28:55):

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

Sam Demma (28:58):

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

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Patrick Bohnet

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

Alison Fantin – Principal of Kirkland Lake District Composite School

Alison Fantin - Principal of Kirkland Lake District Composite School
About Alison Fantin

Alison Fantin (@alisonjfantin) is the proud principal of Kirkland Lake District Composite School in the District School Board Ontario North East. She is passionate about equity, student voice and helping young people reach their full potential. 

Connect with Alison: Email | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Kirkland Lake District Composite School

District School Board Ontario North East

Undergraduate Programs – Lakehead University

Faculty of Education – Lakehead 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 (00:01):

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 Alison Fanton. Allson is the very proud Principal of Kirkland Lake District Composite School that is in the District School Board of Ontario Northeast. As we come up to the holidays, I am super excited to take a quick pause on episodes with Alison’s being the last one before our little break. I hope you enjoy this insightful conversation with Alison, and I will see you on the other side. Alison, welcome to the High Performing Educator podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show. Please start by introducing yourself.

Alison Fantin (00:46):

Well, thanks for having me. My name is Alison Fantin and I am the principal of Kirkland Lake District Composite School, which is a grade 7-12 school in Kirkland Lake Ontario.

Sam Demma (00:56):

When did you realize as a student yourself that education was the career you wanted to pursue?

Alison Fantin (01:03):

So, I actually had an epiphany in grade 11. Mm-hmm. I I had a, a classmate that I didn’t know very well who missed a, a few days of work. My geography teacher told me, cuz I was ahead on this one particular unit, could you please work with her out in the hallway just to kind of try and catch her up. He was kind of using that peer tutoring model and I did that and I realized that I understood the work myself a million times better by teaching it that she was really happy cuz she understood it and it was really fun. And I went home and I said to my mom, I think I wanna be a teacher. And my mom was a teacher is, was a, worked for 35 years in education, was a grade one teacher. And she said, oh, are you sure <laugh>? Yeah. And I said, I’m sure. And she said, oh, but you’ve seen me at nights and weekends working. And I said, yeah, but you know what, mom, I really think I do want to be. And, and I’ve never regretted it.

Sam Demma (02:03):

That’s amazing. That student that you first taught officially <laugh> back in grade 11 is that someone you’ve stayed in touch with? Is that like

Alison Fantin (02:12):

A I have, I have, yeah. Yep. She’s very successful. she’s become a lawyer and you know, we’ve both, yeah, we’ve both done good things with our lives, so, yeah.

Sam Demma (02:23):

So take me to the grade 11 moment and then project the future forward. So you had the epiphany in grade 11. What did that look like as it unfolded over the next couple of years before you got into education?

Alison Fantin (02:34):

Yeah, so I continued to, you know, kind of take the classes that I wanted to take. I, I was always sort of more of an art student than a science or math student. and continued to take courses that, that interested me. Always kind of seized any opportunity I had though to be a peer tutor or to be someone who could you know, help others learn as much as possible. Always try to organize study groups and, and that actually served me really well post-secondary. So and then, yeah, it, it took my my honors Bachelor of Arts at Lakehead University and my teaching degree there as well. And then went to work and haven’t looked back.

Sam Demma (03:14):

That’s amazing. what was your first role, and take us through the various roles you’ve worked and just give us the snapshot of the journey.

Alison Fantin (03:24):

Okay. This is buckle in.

Sam Demma (03:27):

Yeah, I’m ready. I’m ready. <laugh>.

Alison Fantin (03:29):

So I started teaching in 1987. This is year 35 for me. I started working in terrace transcriber at Lake Superior High School. I was an English and geography teacher. Okay. got married, moved back to my hometown of managed wad where I was a high school and elementary supply teacher, and then a high school teacher. we moved again to a little tiny town called Go Gamma, where I had my kids and I was able to do some adult night school. then we moved to gain my husband’s a forester and we kind of went all over Northeastern Ontario. we’ve been in Engelhart since 1996 and I’ve worked at so many schools in the board here in all sorts of roles. most recently high school principal, but I have been an elementary principal, elementary vice principal, secondary vice principal. And a role that was really near and dear to my heart. I was a special education resource teacher for a number of years.

Sam Demma (04:27):

Hmm. Each role provides its own unique set of opportunities and challenges. Yeah. and pros and cons. And tell us a little bit about the role you’re in right now and what you think some of the opportunities are and challenges in the role but also why you enjoy it.

Alison Fantin (04:43):

So the role I’m in right now is principal of a high school. I work really closely with my vice principal. the two of us manage a seven to 12 school. the opportunities in this school are just phenomenal because we have so many outstanding staff who, who really are leaders in their own areas. and we’re big believers in letting people shine and do what they wanna do and giving them the freedom to fail and, and not worry about that and try to kind of regroup if they do. and that extends its well to students. and, you know, giving students a chance to take on leadership roles if they can and, and really try new things. And, and because of that our school has had, you know, tremendous success in all kinds of areas. We’re really proud of our work with our makerspace.

Alison Fantin (05:37):

We’re proud of our work with indigenous studies. we’re proud of our work supporting LGBTQ plus students. but more than anything else, I would say we’re proud of the relationships that we build with our students. it’s a very, very rare time when a student ends up in my office that I say to them, well, who’s your person here? Mm-hmm. And they can’t tell me who that is. So that’s that, you know, those opportunities have been a little bit squelched because of the situation the last couple years. But it so that, and that comes to the challenge part of your question and, and, and how do we kind of connect, you know, when sometimes we’re virtual, how do we continue those growth opportunities when sometimes we literally can’t be in the same space? That’s been challenging, but it feels like there might be light at the end of the tunnel. So I’m, I’m, I’m holding onto that right now.

Sam Demma (06:29):

Ah, I love it. I love it. W what has this year been like? it sounds like the covid has still been a challenge, but we’re getting to the point where it, it hopefully is gonna be in our rear view mirror sooner than later. What has this year been like so far?

Alison Fantin (06:45):

It, it’s, it’s been challenging. You know, I think people are very covid weary. it’s, you know, it’s hard for students to stay engaged when you know, a lot of the things that, that, that many kids love most about high school just isn’t available to them. Extracurriculars and that sort of thing. So, you know, the fact that we’re able to do that again, we have our first tournament here in the gym today. We’re super excited about that. Ah-huh. Yeah. And I, I’ve just really kind of tried to shepherd everybody through this you know, tried to be available to support them. people are tired and people are stressed and people are anxious and worried about their vulnerable family members. And but, you know, the weather gets nicer. We get to get outside. Life gets better immediately. So

Sam Demma (07:35):

What does the shepherding look like? Tell me a little bit about that. When, when you’re in a role where you’re trying your best to provide hope to everyone how do you do that? Like when your perspective, like, what does that look like day to day?

Alison Fantin (07:48):

Well, and, and you know, sometimes it’s not that it, it, it often is, but sometimes it’s not providing hope because I try not to ever tell anybody something that’s not true. Yep. and so I’m, I’m, and then sometimes things do, they’re just awful. And, and, you know, and people are overwhelmed and tired and exhausted and they have family issues. And sometimes it’s, it’s just allowing people to kind of get it all out and just share what they have. That’s, that’s an, that’s making them feel anxious or worried or tired or, and, and kind of give them support. Sometimes it’s trying to take things off people’s plates. often we will as a, as an admin team, ensure that there aren’t additional demands put on our staff if we possibly can avoid it. Hmm. Really try to let teachers just focus on their classrooms and their students in these weird times because that’s where your energy’s best spent. Right. you know, other initiatives are great and we wanna do them, but maybe just not right this minute. So it’s being very protective of staff and of students and of parents. you know, we have a lot of parent phone calls, a lot of parent concerns worried and legitimately so, but we can reassure them most times, so.

Sam Demma (08:59):

Got it. Ah, makes sense. Makes sense. what do you think some of the opportunities are in education? there’s definitely challenges, but when you look at education as a whole, what do you think some of the areas where there are opportunities?

Alison Fantin (09:11):

I, I’m a, like such an optimist and, and the reason I am an optimist is because I see the kids that we have mm-hmm. <affirmative> and I just, I, I am amazed every year at what they can do and what they do do and what they are hoping to do. You know, the fact that they’ll take on these leadership roles and come with these wild ideas and, you know, share the, the compassion that they have for each other, the cheerleading that they have for each other, the support that they have for each other. It gives me such a, you know, lots of people are worried about the future. I’m not worried about the future. Cause when I look at the, the people that we’re leaving it in the hands of, I just think they’re gonna be just fine. These kids are smart. They, they know so much more about the world than we did when we were young be, and I, I think that’s just the connected internet world that we live in.

Alison Fantin (09:58):

Mm-hmm. <affirmative> you know, you, in the old days, you used to be one person sitting in a room and you didn’t know anybody like you now, even if you are that one person in your whole town, there’s 50 people in the next town over or in the next country, over whatever. So I, I think the opportunities through technology especially have just opened the doors for kids. But I also think because of that, kids are, are willing to dream bigger and, you know, we try to really encourage that as much as possible. And, and because we are a school in a small town, that’s an active part of what we do. You know, don’t think, you know, there’s nothing wrong with staying here and working here, and if you choose to come back, that’s great, but you should know what your options are because, you know, there are tremendous opportunities here in town for our students, but there are also tremendous opportunities in other places. We just want them to be aware of everything. And I think that the one thing that, that always ties kids back again, and I’m gonna sound a little bit like a broken record, but is the relationships that they establish. And they tend to establish relationships with teachers who share their interests or share their passions. And so they’re able to explore those more as well. So those are opportunities as well for kids.

Sam Demma (11:06):

Hmm. I love that. When you think about your journey throughout education, I’m sure you’ve had many people that have helped you along the way. when you think about resources, whether that’s people, books, courses or, or like anything at all that you think has informed the way you show up today what are the things that come to mind that you think are worth mentioning or sharing?

Alison Fantin (11:28):

Our board has done like a ton of work around many kind of ways that we can support students who have different needs. But the one thing that’s been particularly helpful for me in the, in the role that I’m in is the work we’ve done around trauma informed instruction. Nice. and Gene Clinton is a leader in that and, and we’ve had the opportunity to receive some professional development development from her. Hmm. she’s the one who’s most like directly changed my practice. Cool. it makes me think about when I have a student in crisis, is this, is this actually them acting out or are they reacting to something that’s happened to them in the past? how can I connect with the students so that they feel like they can approach me? One thing she talks about is the power of, of greeting students in the morning.

Alison Fantin (12:20):

And Bec ever since she talked about that, I’ve done it literally every day. We’re at the front door, we’re greeting every kid that comes in gets a good morning. If we know their name, we say their name. Little easier now, you know, we we’re recognizing them. Even with a mask on you, you get about two inches of, of eye, but you start to recognize the eyes. but you know, it’s, it that is powerful and, and the number of problems that get solved in those 10, 15, 20 minutes in the morning as kids are coming in is phenomenal. So she talks a lot about recognizing that that adverse childhood events can really impact a student’s journey through life. And we really are trying to honour that and recognize that and work with that and not judge kids when they react in a way that seems disproportional because that’s probably not disproportional for them. It’s probably completely logical. So we really are trying to work with our mental health ne team and all of our staff to kind of support students.

Sam Demma (13:13):

I love it. Very cool. when you think about your journey through education, I think you mentioned 35 years. Yeah. Thank you for your service. <laugh> <laugh>. you’re doing an amazing job. when you think about all the different roles and experiences, if you could bundle it all up into some advice that you would give your younger self when you were just starting to teach, like knowing what you know now, what advice would you give to your younger self or to anyone else who’s just getting into this vocation?

Alison Fantin (13:43):

So, so this is the advice that I give to our new teachers and, and, and I tell them the temptation is to feel like you need to know it all. The temptation is to feel that you need to do it all. The temptation is to try to pile in as much curriculum as you possibly can into every lesson. None of those things are realistic and none of those things will make you happy or your students happy. So, you know, be don’t be afraid to say, I don’t know, don’t be afraid to to feel like you have to be the, the guru of everything. And don’t worry if a lesson goes awry and takes you in a whole new different direction because there’s rich learning that can be had there as well. And I’ll tell you, if I’d had that advice and actually listened to it in my first year, it would’ve been really helpful for me because, you know, when you’re a new teacher, you, you almost can’t help yourself. You, you work and work and everything’s perfect and it’s aligned and you try to stay within the walls and make sure that you’re meeting ticking off all those boxes and the hours you work are stupid. But I really, really try to talk about and model work-life balance if I possibly can because it’s such an important piece of making a teacher first of all successful. And secondly, for them to stay in the profession because we don’t want them burning out and leaving cuz they’re exhausted.

Sam Demma (15:01):

Yeah, that’s so, so true. If someone is listening to this conversation, has enjoyed something you shared or something that was mentioned, what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you?

Alison Fantin (15:12):

I’m on social media sort of sporadically, so I’m gonna suggest they email me. That would probably be the most effective way. I don’t know if you’ve put that in your show notes or not, but I it’s Alison.Fantin@dsb1.ca. It’s probably the, the most direct. And I, I welcome anybody who has a question or a concern or wants to tell me that you’re wrong about this, I’d love to chat about that too, so.

Sam Demma (15:35):

Awesome. All right, Allison. Well thank you so much for taking the time to come on the podcast. I really, really appreciate it. Keep up the amazing work and yeah, we’ll talk soon.

Alison Fantin (15:44):

Thanks Sam. I’ve really enjoyed this. Thank you.

Sam Demma (15:48):

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

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Alison Fantin

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.

Hoi Leung – Principal of Pickering High School

Hoi Leung – Principal of Pickering High School
About Hoi Leung

Hoi Leung is the principal of Pickering High School in the Durham District School Board. He has been teaching for over 25 years and determined he wanted to work in education during his last year of University. While helping to tutor his friends at University, Hoi uncovered his passion for teaching, and the rest is history.

Connect with Hoi: Email

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Pickering High School

Durham District School Board

Science and Business – University of Waterloo

Faculty of Education – Queens 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 special guest is Hoi Leung. Hoi is the Principal of Pickering High School in the Durham District School Board. He has been teaching for over 25 years and determined he wanted to work in education during his last year of University. He has a background in engineering before in his second year, switching into a slightly different career path which brought him to where he is today in education. It started while tutoring and helping to tutor his friends in University where Hoi uncovered his passion for teaching, and the rest became his history. I hope you enjoy this conversation with Hoi, and I will see you on the other side. Hoi, welcome to the High Performing Educator podcast. Pleasure to have you on the show here today. Please start by introducing yourself.

Hoi Leung (00:51):

Hi, my name is Hoi Leung. I am the Principal of Pickering High School in the Durham District School Board. I’ve been teaching for about 25 years, and yeah, that’s about, that’s about it.

Sam Demma (01:02):

When did you realize growing up as a student yourself, that education was the, the career for you, the thing you wanted to pursue?

Hoi Leung (01:10):

Well, actually I didn’t realize education as a career until going into my last year of university. So my university journey was actually, I started with engineering, mechanical engineering at Waterloo. And it didn’t really play out for me. I guess it didn’t like me as opposed to me not liking it. And I switched programs after second year into a program called Science of Business. And so when I was in science of business, I was, I guess trained to become a, either a laboratory manager or a pharmaceutical rep. And then going into my last year my friends asked me if I ever thought of teacher’s college, and I said, no, I didn’t. And then, so I looked into it and took a few courses and, and got into a program at Queens University. And then, and then the rest is history. I became a teacher.

Sam Demma (01:58):

Take me back to the moment you decided in fourth year university, this is something I wanna pursue wherever you at, at that stage in your life. what helped you make that decision? And then also what did the journey look like that brought you to where you are today?

Hoi Leung (02:14):

Yeah, so when I was in going to fourth year, I obviously I set switch programs already and and a lot of friends what was happening was I was helping a lot of friends out in terms of tutoring them in terms of the program that we’re in. And then I looked back into my in my childhood and what happened was, in high school I was actually tutoring a lot of friends in math and sciences and didn’t realize I was just pretty much doing what I was doing in, in in teaching. And so when somebody said to said to me, well, what, what about teachers college? I never thought about it as a profession. And and then went into it and just decided that’s where I was gonna go. And and ever since then I started coaching. I coach a lot of volleyball. I’ve been coaching volleyball since 1996. Oh, and and so coaching and teaching are pretty much the same, same type of style in terms of, of of a career.

Sam Demma (03:08):

Tell me about the similarities. When you think about coaching and you think about teaching, what are the similarities you draw from the two? And how has sport kind of impacted your educational journey as well?

Hoi Leung (03:20):

Well the similarities are actually very much the same. Not even similar, they’re the same. you know, you, you have to assess the students to see where they, they start from. I mean, so when I coach volleyball you know, everybody starts at a different level. it is just like in a classroom. There, there, there, there’s students that are, are high achievers students that are starting at a, at a beginning point. So when I, when I do practices, I have to obviously tailor to different entry points for everybody. So somebody to like may, may not even know how to handle volleyball versus somebody that knows how to handle volleyball. So I have to do the drills where everybody’s successful. And then of course from there we, we try to make everybody successful and not bored.

Hoi Leung (04:00):

And then always active. teaching’s pretty much the same. in terms of when I first started my career, I was in elementary school. now I’m in high school, but I, I’m one of the few teachers that have done elementary and high school. So I’ve taught both. And elementary school is I’d be honest, is a lot tougher because again, when the students are coming in, they’re all at different levels or different ranges. high school is a bit more I guess more I guess they’re more, they’re different levels in high school, you know, grade nine, there is a grade nine level, there’s a grade. Well, in elementary school there’s a, a varied level in terms of things. So, so elementary school, you, you have to, like I said do a diagnostic. I mean, I’m using terms obviously, sorry, but it’s, you kinda assess students where they are, and then hopefully you challenge the ones that are, that get it.

Hoi Leung (04:51):

And you, you, you help the ones that don’t get it and, and then get ’em to a medium point. A high school, a high school level is a bit easier because you, if you take grade nine math, you know, everybody, there’s a curriculum that everybody has to maintain in order to get a credit. So it’s credit based in high school while elementary school it isn’t credit based. So, so that’s the difference I find. And with coaching, it’s the same thing. You, you find you know, you’ve got house league volleyball, you got rep volleyball you’ve got club volleyball, you’ve got regional program, provincial program, university program. So, so I tailor, I guess my teaching, my coaching based on what level I’m, I’m I’m, I’m at. So I’ve I’ve done all that. I’ve, I’ve done university, I was a university level coach provincial level coach, regional level coach, club level coach. And even I, I even coach elementary school, which is kind of funny, <laugh>. So I’ve done the whole gamut from grade four to university level.

Sam Demma (05:43):

Did you also play volleyball growing up? Was that a sport that you loved or what got you into volleyball?

Hoi Leung (05:48):

Yes. so volleyball was one of the first sports that I played. so going way back I wasn’t born in Canada. I was born in Hong Kong. Okay. so I, I came to Canada in 1976. I was about six years old. And you know, back then, you know, my family was a typical immigrant family. my, my parents worked long hours, 12 hours a day. you know, I used to come home I used to call the latchkey kid if, if you, I don’t know if you know that term Sam, but it’s called Latch Key Kid, where we’d get a key, my brothers and I would go home on our own. And I mean, obviously back then it was accepted. Nowadays I’m, I’m sure you know, it’s not accepted in terms of having kids under 12, going home by themselves and starting all that.

Hoi Leung (06:29):

So, so I’m sure, I mean, you ask your parents, I don’t know what your background is, but I’m pretty sure it’s the same kind of routine. But so I was a latchkey kid. I used to come home and and my parents made sure that we came home right away. So so starting with sports I have to give credit to my older brother who, who did a lot of sports but wasn’t allowed to participate in any teams. Cause again, back in those days, you know the family rules where you come home right after school, you don’t, you don’t go, you don’t stick, stick around after school. So, so really, I had to, to figure out a way to, to join a team. And with my parents, I had to flip it where instead of telling them that I was trying to join a team, I had to tell them that the school had chosen me to be on this team <laugh>.

Hoi Leung (07:14):

So as soon as they were like, oh, well, the school chose to be on this team, then you better go and go for this team. Cause they don’t realize I had to volunteer to be chosen. But <laugh> was when I started in elementary school grade seven, eight. And then after that I played in high school and I played a lot in high school. And then and then during high school, I also played rugby. And so those were my, my two main sports was volleyball and rugby. And then when I went to Waterloo the joke I have is when I went to Waterloo, I was too small to play volleyball, but I was big enough to play varsity rugby. Ah. So I switched sports and I, and I played varsity rugby back in the early nineties when rugby wasn’t very popular. Now it’s now as popular as you know, a lot.

Hoi Leung (07:54):

But, so when I came outta university, I was a teacher. And and then back then in 95, 96, there was very little, very few jobs and we had to supply, and I started coaching volleyball and rugby at different schools. And and then then I went to a volleyball camp, started coaching there, and then pretty much it just went off from there from 96 onwards. And found early success in terms of coaching, club volleyball, you know, won won a national title then went on to provincial team won Canada Games went to University of Toronto, became assistant coach to Women’s Women’s Program, and won four Oua championships in a row as an assistant coach with that program. And then yeah, so that’s pretty much my journey with volleyball.

Sam Demma (08:39):

That’s amazing. And tell me more about the journey from where you started in education to where you are today. What are the different schools you worked in, school boards, positions? Give us a little insight into that journey as well.

Hoi Leung (08:52):

So I grew up in Toronto downtown Toronto, around Paper Danforth. So a lot of my friends were immigrants Greeks, Italians you name it. It was all a big mix back then. And so when I went to University, I went to a school called Danforth Tech, which is by Dan and Greenwood Avenue. So when I got outta university I decided to go to Durham believe it or not. so I went to Durham and started supplying there. And back in 95, 96 in Durham there was very, there was very little diversity in, in the, in the area. So I was one of the few teachers that were non-white. And, and it was a bit of a challenge for me. I mean, a lot of people, you know, you know, here, here I am, you know, my, my background is Chinese and they, they, you know, I, I was supplying down in South Oua, never seen a Chinese person before, kind of thing.

Hoi Leung (09:46):

It, it was kind rare. And so my journey was I started teaching there, supplying the people around me liked me. I started applying for jobs. unfortunately I wasn’t getting interviews, and I was getting very frustrated. And and I went back to my old high school, Danforth, and I was helping out coaching rugby there. And one of my coaches his name is John Juga. He, he said to me, have you ever thought of changing your name? And I thought to myself, I don’t understand what you mean by changing my name. I mean, it’s ho right? And they said, well, you know so my, my my, my teacher friend John Juga, his, his, he said, when he first started back in the eighties, his name was Giovanni, so his name was Giovanni. So he actually changed to John, and once he changed it to John, he started getting more interviews.

Hoi Leung (10:33):

So he said to me, have you ever thought of changing a name to like or adding a name like Henry or something like that? So instead of ho because unfortunately when people aren’t used to ethnic names, they, they look at the name Ho Liang, and they’re thinking, does, does he speak English? Does he not speak English? my my younger brother who’s born here, his name is Kevin Leon. So when you look at a resume you know, look at Hoy Young, Kevin Young, who would you, who would you interview, right? So, so he said that to me, and I said, you know, I, I thought to myself, no, I don’t wanna go down that road. So I, I stuck with, with Hoi Young, because I started supplying people obviously start to know who I was. And but unfortunately with, with, with teaching there is a lot of nepotism in teaching where, you know people, you know, hire their own cousins and their own siblings and all that kinda stuff.

Hoi Leung (11:22):

And with my background, my, you know, obviously my parents were, were blue, blue collar workers. They, they, they, we had no background. I have no friends or, or family that were teaching back then. So it took me quite a few, few years in order to get onto the board. And luckily what happened was you know, one of my principals, his name is Mel Barkwell, and he was a great guy. He took a chance on me and said, you know what, you know, he asked me what high school I looked up a resume. He goes, he goes for, yes. And he goes, goes, goes, you have two degrees. I go, go, yes. And he goes, wow, if you went to Dan for tech and you have two degrees, you can teach out here. No, no problem. Because cause he knew the school and he knew pretty tough school.

Hoi Leung (12:01):

And yeah. So that’s how I got started. And and then since then I was I went through the ranks and then, and then as I went through teaching, I I went to the board office as a, as a facilitator helping out other teachers in math programs. And then somebody asked, you know, are you, you have you looking into administration? I said, no, I haven’t. Didn’t they go, do you wanna try it? It was the same same principal that hired me Mel, he said to me you should look into it. So I went into it in 2008, became a vice principal. And even that journey was pretty tough because at that time, I was only, the only, I guess the only East Asian administrator in the board. Wow. For high school. actually, sorry, there was two others.

Hoi Leung (12:45):

There was Phil Massada and Keong Cho, there was three of us. but back in 2008, they, they talked about equity and, and they wanted to do a lot of equity hiring because the diversity became the board became more diverse. So I thought, okay, well, no problem. I should be at the cusp of it. And so 2008 I was a vice vice principal, and then after five years, I, I applied to be principalship in 2013. didn’t get on, you know, it wasn’t you know, wasn’t two disappointing. Cause my first try and I, I kept on trying and then, and then it became apparent that there was obviously a lot of political in, in any job. There’s a lot of politics involved. And and I didn’t get to become principal until 2019 when, I mean, 2019 that was when I put, was put on a short list. And then then I got, finally got placed at Pickton High School in thousand 20, 20 21. So it took me 13 years from VP to to principal, which is quite a long time because usually most people get, get on after five or six years. And and so I persevered, I got continued doing my job, and and now I’m the first and only Chinese high school principal in Durham District School Board. So that’s my

Hoi Leung (14:07):

<laugh>.

Sam Demma (14:08):

I, I’m, so, I’m so happy here that you didn’t use a different name. and I, I could only imagine how difficult it would’ve been when you were going through that situation, just personally thinking that you have to even change something about yourself to be accepted or given a better opportunity. And it’s so true that being a white person with a common name gives you this privilege or has in the past, and hopefully things are starting to change and shift with all the movements that are going on. but I’m so happy to hear that you didn’t change for anybody. And you, you remained who you were and pursued and are now here. And although it’s taken a long time, your, your, your story is hopefully one that’s gonna inspire more change and inspire other people to stand firm in who they are. thinking about diversity and inclusion and all the movements that are going on right now, how do you kind of see that changing the culture of the school you are in, or, you know, education as a whole? Are you, are you seeing a shift and what are your thoughts on

Hoi Leung (15:10):

Yeah, yeah, I do see a shift. I mean, the, the issue with education is once you get hired, pretty much, most teachers stay for about 30 years. So, so that’s why the change is very slow. So ah, I, I know as a principal, I am the position of hiring now. So I, I do recognize that when you’re looking at resumes, you’re looking at at different names and, and different backgrounds, and you’re looking at the resume. And I think when I first started teaching, a lot of people use the name as a, as a, as a, as a gatekeeper, the name, right? So, so for me, when I grew up, I grew up with a lot of people with different names in terms of Greek names, Italian names, you name it Indian names. So, so I look at resumes, the names don’t really scare me off.

Hoi Leung (15:56):

So, so I look at in fact, I just hired a teacher and and she went by the name of, of Jenna, which is kind of, so I looked at Jenna and I, and I try to look, and I looked at her I went to O C T, which is the Ontario College of Teachers, looked her up for qualifications just to double check, to verify. But her name wasn’t Jenna on the system, it was her name, the name was Janani. And I said to her, why did you put Jenna? And she goes, well, you know, people, you know, Janani. And so she pretty much, even to this day, I mean, she’s a young teacher probably around your age, she did the same thing. She, instead of janani, she, she changed the Jenna. I said, oh, no, just, just go by Janani.

Hoi Leung (16:32):

Don’t, don’t go by Jenna. I mean, this is, do that, right? And and I think it, it’s, it’s still pervasive where people are still doing that to try to Anglo size their names that were, were that were given to them. And but for me, like I said, when I look at resumes and so my hiring, I, I, I hired about 10 teachers last summer, and I would honestly say at least five of them with not more, were visible minorities. Mm. So, so the lens i I come with is, is different from from a, from a person that is not I guess that is, is considered white. Yeah. So my lens is different. So when I look at qualifications and names, the names don’t scare me or look at qualifications, look at background, and look at you know, where they taught, you know, that, that sort of thing. So, so I think with me in my position, I, I do have as a, as a duty bearer, I do have responsibilities in trying to diversify the teaching staff, because at, in high school, we do have a very diverse student population. And and so I can start off by hiring people that are more like the, the students. And, and I think students appreciate that.

Sam Demma (17:39):

Not to mention

Hoi Leung (17:40):

So does community too. Sorry.

Sam Demma (17:41):

Yeah. Not to mention the fact that you have a diverse staff gives you more diverse perspectives, makes the learning more rich for the students. Like you’re not just hearing one side of history, <laugh>. I think it’s so important that you have a diverse staff, not only for representation, but for authentic learning purposes. and I, it’s so cool to hear that you’re looking at it from that lens as well. I think it’s amazing. when you think about your journey throughout education, what are some resources that you personally found helpful? Maybe it’s people that have had a massive impact on you or books or courses or programs, things that maybe you experience that you think inform the beliefs you have around education and the way that you try and show up and teach and make a difference?

Hoi Leung (18:27):

I think the resources I have, and believe it or not, it’s, it’s interesting how some of the mentors I’ve had, and when I call them mentors, they’re, they’re, they’re older, obviously older educators, they were, they were actually older white men that you would think that were not as diverse in thinking, but they actually were. And I think, I think they were more instrumental because although they were older white men, they were actually more forward thinking than some, some teachers that are are, or some administrators that talk about you know, diversity and all these programs, they were actually doers as opposed to just talking about it. So for example you know, the, the principal that first hired me, Mel Barkwell, he hired a, a whole bunch of diverse staff just because he felt that’s the way he was going.

Hoi Leung (19:16):

And but when you look at him, you would think that he was some kind of, you know, old old hick kinda, kinda guy. But, but one mentor that that that, that spoke to me that was very clear was the fact that I think some, some people are going into, into the teaching profession as a job and not a career. And what I mean by a job, I mean, teaching is more than just, you know, just teaching. I mean he actually made it a situa, he actually called it a calling. And I, and when I said, of calling, what does that mean? He says, it’s almost like going into the priesthood. He goes, or, or the convent, right? Like, you know, when you go to the priesthood or the convent, it’s a calling. You don’t just go into it just because you know it’s a job, right?

Hoi Leung (19:58):

So he did say that teaching is, is like a calling where people coming into teaching should look into it like a, a as like more than just a job, a career. So, for example, social workers don’t go into it just like a job. Social workers care about the stu or care about the, the people they work for, and they try to help the society. And I think some teachers, not all, I mean, most teachers are, are great, let, lemme get through that. But some teachers come into it and I see that where they come in and it’s like nine to nine to five job. They don’t coach, they don’t do anything with the school, and they just kind of you know, they expect students to be perfectly sitting, still putting up their hand, yes, sir. No, sir. And they don’t realize that nowadays, as, as teachers, we are social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists we even considered medical staff because we have to, you know, help students with medication sometimes.

Hoi Leung (20:49):

And so there’s a lot more to the job than just teaching. And I think some, I, I think with, with that in mind, if people are going to teaching, they have to realize it’s just more than just trying to impart knowledge to students. It’s actually all those things because in the education Act, we are actually, it’s actually, there’s a line that says we’re, we’re considered local parentis, which means in Latin we act as parents. And so as teachers, we act as parents at the school in, in lieu of the parents. So, so that’s something that we have to keep in mind as teachers.

Sam Demma (21:22):

I love that. When, when you think about the, you know, the roles that you’ve played and all the experience you’ve gained from them, if you could bundle it all up, you know, go back in time, speak to ho in his first year of teaching, tap yourself on the shoulder and give yourself some advice. Knowing what you know now and with the experiences you have had, what would you have told your younger self that you thought would’ve been helpful to hear early on in your career? Or should I say calling

Hoi Leung (21:50):

<laugh>? Yeah, it’s a calling. I, I think, I mean, I think the advice I give to any teacher, including myself, would be to have open mindedness growth mindset, a growth mindset, meaning you know, that people are coming from, from different experiences, lived experiences. I mean, I mean, my lived experience, I, I, I guess, is different from somebody else’s, and we have to be be cognizant of that and be open-minded of that. when you come with open mind, I mean, I’ll be honest with you, when I first started teaching, I mean, I used to be the, the teacher that used to give zeros. You didn’t hand in stuff on time or, or late marks and all that kind. And as, as the years go by, I mean, you understand why, you know, some people are, are not handing in stuff or are not doing well, and you have to look into that and, and try to help those students.

Hoi Leung (22:36):

I mean, 90% of the students are gonna do well, regardless of what you do, doesn’t matter who’s in, it’s the 10% or, or five or 10% of the students that you need to work on. So as a teacher, if there’s 30 students in my class, you know, I do a lesson, you know, I mean, you know, 27, those kids will get it. It’s those three kids that you have to look at and try to help them directly to, to help them through. Because the other 27 don’t, they don’t really need your help. They’ll, they’ll do fine no matter what. And I think I think when I first started, I didn’t tell you this background. So when I first started, I taught for 10 years in a program called Section 19. section 19 is is a program. Every board has it.

Hoi Leung (23:14):

And what it is, is non-mainstream students. So for example, I taught group home kids, foster home kids, and young offenders. So tho that’s my first experience as, as a teacher. So, so so I know you’re from the Pickering area, so I used to teach a lot of students that were in group homes in the curriculum area, and my job was to reintegrate them back into the, into the mainstream system. So, so I think with that background, I, I was helping a lot of at risk students already. And when I talked I guess quote unquote regular students, it was easy. I mean, obviously when you teach at-risk students you know, and you teach ’em something teaching regular students is easy because, you know, the, the behaviors are, are not there anymore. Yeah. You know, they have good solid families, you know, family background supports and, and, and those things are easy.

Hoi Leung (24:00):

But you know, one of the, the things I, I tell students a lot when they’re when they’re struggling, I say, you know, education is something that can’t be taken away from you. So once you get that diploma, that degree, they can’t take that away from you no matter what you do. So, for example, a driver’s license, so you get a driver’s license, you don’t, you know, you do, you don’t do well, they’ll, they’ll take that away from you. You get caught for drunk driving in education, no matter what you do, you can’t, they can’t be taken away from you. I mean, not, not to say I want, I wanna tell people to do, do criminal acts, but you know, even if you do something criminal, yeah. I mean, you go to jail, you still have your education behind with you, right? They can’t take that degree away from you. So that’s something I always tell students. Once you get, once you earn that degree or the diploma nobody can take that away from you.

Sam Demma (24:46):

I love it. If someone is listening to this, wants to reach out, ask you a question, bounce an idea around, or was inspired in any way and just wants to send you a note, what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you?

Hoi Leung (24:59):

Oh, through the board. My email is hoi.leung@ddsb.ca, and you know, you can always find me at the board. I’m, like I said, I mean, I’m the <laugh>. I’m one of the few principals. There’s only 20 principals, so I, you can definitely find me at the board or google me. I’m, you google my name, I’m, I’m there for, for volleyball coaching and for, for Principal.

Sam Demma (25:26):

Awesome. Hoi, thank you so much for taking the time to do this. It means the world to me and lots of other people in education. Keep doing the great work you’re doing, and we’ll talk soon.

Hoi Leung (25:35):

Thank you.

Sam Demma (25:37):

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

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Hoi Leung

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 Kupery – Director of Learning for the Palliser School Division

Jason Kupery - Director of Learning for the Palliser School Division
About Jason Kupery

Jason Kupery (@jkupery) is a Director of Learning for the Palliser School Division which serves students and families in both Southern Alberta and the city of Calgary. Jason is in his 23rd year in education and has worked as a teacher, vice principal, principal and director in his years in education. Beyond his teaching role, Jason has been heavily involved in coaching, both in the school and community, as developing and encouraging young athletes is one of his passions.

Jason believes strongly that a strengths based approach is the key to developing young people into their future potential. Students need positive influences in their lives that will not only teach them, but shape them into who they have the potential to be. Jason is dedicated to helping students find where their “deep joy and the world’s deep need meet.”

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

Palliser School Division (PSD)

University of Victoria – Teacher Education Programs

University of Calgary

Mentorship for New Teachers – PSD

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 (00:03):

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 Jason Kupery. Jason is the Director of learning for the Palliser School Division, which serves students and families in both southern Alberta and the city of Calgary. Jason is in his 23rd year in education and has worked as a teacher, Vice Principal, Principal and Director in his years in education. Beyond his teaching role, Jason has been heavily involved in coaching; both in the school and community, as developing and encouraging young athletes is one of his passions. Jason believes strongly that a strength based approach is the key to developing young people into their future potential. Students need positive influences in their lives that will not only teach them, but shape them into who they have the potential to be. Jason is dedicated to helping students find where their deep joy and the world’s deep need meet and intersect. I hope you enjoy this insightful conversation with Jason and I will see you on the other side. Today we are joined by a very special guest virtually, who was recommended by another past guest; Joyce Sonata. Today’s special guest is Jason Kupery. Jason, thank you so much for coming on the show. Please start by introducing yourself and telling everyone a little bit about who you are.

Jason Kupery (01:22):

Hey Sam. Thanks for having me. Appreciate it. Happy to be here. Yeah, so as Sam said, my name is Jason Kupery and I’m a director of learning with the Palliser school division in southern Alberta. We have some schools in Calgary, and we have lots of schools in southern Alberta as well. And yeah, I just, I’ve been an educator for 23 years now. All of my time has been spent in high school. In high schools I was a teacher. I’ve been a Vice Principal, Principal, and now a director. And a large part of my responsibility is looking after high school programming, and another big rock in my portfolio would be health and wellness as well. I shared that responsibility with another colleague in my school division. And so it’s inspiring young people and seeing them grow and seeing them do that in a healthy way is definitely a passion of mine.

Sam Demma (02:20):

What got you interested in education? Did you know when you were a student, when your teachers would ask you, what do you wanna be when you grew up that you wanted to work in education?

Jason Kupery (02:32):

Yeah, that’s a good question. I always knew that I wanted to be I’m one of those weird people that is <laugh>, identifies as introverted. Okay. do like the, do like the idea of being around people and being of influence. And so when I went to school I was big into sports like yourself. and I went to, I, I grew up in Ontario and so I went to university to play football. Nice. and essentially that’s the only reason I went to university. other than, you know, there wasn’t a real academic pursuit at that time in my life. and I heard somebody else the other day say you know, I wasn’t always the greatest student and I did get myself into a bit of trouble. and, you know, those, those skills I honed around that sort of shenanigans in my life certainly made me a better educator cuz, you know, down the line you’d have kids trying to use things on you. I’m like,

Sam Demma (03:23):

I know this <laugh>,

Jason Kupery (03:24):

I don’t think, I’m not sure that’s original. I know you’re, and here’s how I know. Cause I used that once. Yeah. and so, yeah, I think it did prepare me to be a better educator. So I went, played football didn’t get a whole didn’t get a far away with that. cuz I wasn’t going for the right reasons. and so I sort of hunkered down and went to transferred schools. I stopped playing football and I got a little more serious about my my studies. I actually became a financial advisor for a while given an opportunity I had at the time of my life. But again, still knowing that I wanted to do something different. And I eventually moved to Victoria and the University of Victoria had an awesome teaching program, and I knew at that point that I needed to apply, and I was lucky enough to get into the program and had a wonderful experience there. And the rest, as I say, is history the last 23 years, I guess, have been going, going well ups and downs. And but I do love the idea, or sorry. I love being an educator and the idea of speaking to kids lives.

Sam Demma (04:38):

Victoria’s a beautiful place. I, I was there in August and behind one of the residents buildings at Vancouver Island University. There’s a bunch of wild black berries that grow. I don’t know if it was the same at Victoria University, like near or around campus, but I was just losing my mind. You can go to school and then fill a bucket of blackberries for free <laugh>, it’s,

Jason Kupery (05:02):

Yeah. No, they’re everywhere on the island for sure. Yeah. It’s a, it’s a beautiful place. I, I met my wife there and she grew up there her entire life, and she wanted to get off the island. So that was I’m, I’m now in southern Alberta in the beautiful rock. So no complaints.

Sam Demma (05:18):

So from your transition from Victoria to here, tell me about the different roles you’ve worked in education at different stages of your careers.

Jason Kupery (05:28):

Yeah, so I started out as a, as a junior teacher of course. And my first job in teaching, I had you know, you have eight blocks in a four by four traditional schedule. Nice. I had seven different preps, so I taught everything from English 7, 8, 9, 10, 11 to and so it was it was a good year. it was a busy year but it helped refine me because you have to you have to learn how to multitask no question when you’re in the classroom, of course. and it keeps you on your toes when you’re preparing for so many different subjects and things like that. So it was a wonderful time in terms of the education that I received and, and the lifelong learning that it instilled in me. but it was a lot. And of course, I also coached volleyball, basketball they had a, they had a, a floor hockey team I coached there you know, led some trips and, and those kinds of things.

Jason Kupery (06:23):

And it was wonderful because again, it’s one of those things you mentioned earlier about, you know, your vocation and your passion and that coming together. And I, that certainly solidified that. And I know for a lot of teachers it has a high turnover rate in the first few years because again, that’s a lot of work. And if you’re not totally committed it it may knock you right out of the, out of teaching altogether. Right. Mm. and I found, for me, that was refining that for me, that was, yes, this is where I need to be. this is a great deal of fun and it’s amazing interacting with young people who are learning and they’re awkward and they’re silly, and they do some really dumb things, to be honest. And you get to be Yeah, I, I can help you with that because I did those exact same things. So it’s kind a neat thing for sure.

Sam Demma (07:11):

What is, sorry, continue.

Jason Kupery (07:14):

Oh, I was just gonna say, and then after that, I, I, we moved here to I, I’m in Calgary. we moved here and just progressing through the you know, continuing to do that. You, you find a new space, you’ve grown more, you’ve teach different subjects. And I just always had it in my heart that I wanted to lead. Yeah. and I had I, that, those giftings were identified in me. I was very fortunate to have some wonderful mentors and people in my life who identified those gifts and said, Hey, you need to think about this. and so I went into to administration and then eventually to a principal role. I completed my masters at the University of Calgary, I think in 2012. I was finished. and then was, was administrator in high school. And then of course, now I’m director of learning for last seven years. So that is my progression.

Sam Demma (08:03):

When you think about the mentors in your life, I’m sure there’s so many, but are there any that had a really significant impact on you that you still stay in touch with and are in communication with? And if so, what did some of those mentors in your life do for you that had a big difference?

Jason Kupery (08:21):

Yeah. So for me that, that goes quite quite a ways back. And so I was raised in a single parent home with my mother and we didn’t have a whole lot and I didn’t have a lot of positive male influence my life at the time. And so somebody my mother worked with one of her friends at work was, she was just mentioning that to her at work, and she said, oh, my husband can come by and, and take him out and, you know, hang out with him for a bit. That’d be, and, and so that was arranged, and I think that was back in, I’m dating myself here, but that was probably back in 1986, 87, oh, sooner three maybe. anyways. And so he, that mentor is still in my life. He is grandpa to my kids.

Jason Kupery (09:04):

 he helped he helped me along the way. and so that was a very significant obviously mentor in my life and now like a father. so that was the real blessing. And along the way he’s helped me on a number of occasions. so that’s the major one. But in terms of my, my career there have been so many people that have just been, you know, when you, when you see people that have something you don’t whether that be wow. Wisdom when you’re young, right? yeah, yeah. Or just the way of dealing with people or like a, like a sober second thought, like, hang on a second, have you thought about this? Because my personality is one that, hey, we gotta get this done and I’m just gonna, you know, put my head down and charge through the plate glass window kind of deal.

Jason Kupery (09:50):

Right? And we’re gonna get it done. and there’s been so many wise people in my life that have said, hang on a sec, what if, what if we did this way? Or, or, why don’t you try and just slow this thing down a little bit so that you can help other people catch up? Right? Mm. or, you know, you proceeded too quickly and now look at what happened. You created a massive mess, and now we’ve gotta go clean it up. So what did you learn from that? Right. Which is the big thing. And so the most, the most positive people in my life have, have been the ones that, cuz I’ve made plenty of mistakes haven’t, you know, pointed a finger and screamed and, or shouted or abandoned me or whatever. They’ve said, Hey, look, that didn’t go well. So what did you learn from that? And if there’s anything that I can try and help other people with in that regard, it’s that same thing. It’s like let’s get out of the guilt and shame kind of cycles here and say, yeah, everybody screws up and it’s an important lesson for you to learn, whether you’re one of my students or whether you’re a colleague or whether you’re a friend yeah. That, that didn’t go well. So what can we learn from it and how can we how can we move on in a positive way? So,

Sam Demma (10:49):

Hmm. That’s such a good reminder. I feel like sometimes when we make a mistake, we beat ourselves up for it for way too long. I, as you were explaining, that situation reflected back on one of the biggest mistakes I made in my career, speaking <laugh>. And it was when I was just starting, I was 17, and at the time, I wasn’t using a calendar to keep track of what I had committed to. And you might be able to guess her, this is going, but I basically booked a presentation with about 300 people. Some of them were in the school board that I grew up in, and it, it was at a local, a local arena. And they called me the day of the event, Sam, we’re so excited. We know that you’re starting in about 10 minutes. we just wanted to make sure that you’re nearby.

Sam Demma (11:39):

And I had totally forgot six months ago that I had booked this engagement. I didn’t put it on my calendar. And I was like, an hour and a half drive away. I instantly started bawling my eyes out, and for about two months I would walk down from my bedroom in the morning and look at my parents and go, I can’t believe I did that. And it got to the point where my parents were like, Sam, shut up. Like, you know, we’ve heard about this 60 times now, you’re not gonna make the mistake again. And it took me so long to get out of the guilt and shame period, and into the, let me learn from this, reflect on it, and build new systems so it doesn’t happen again. And I don’t think, there was like a defining moment for me where I was like, I’m gonna stop thinking about this. And I’m curious to know, like when you’ve made a mistake or when someone that you know, in the education world’s made a mistake, how do you quickly, or maybe not quickly, but how do you transition from the beating myself up to the, let’s now learn from this and move on?

Jason Kupery (12:39):

Yeah, that’s a good question. And I’ll tell you, I wish I could tell you no, none of the, I, you know, when I make a mistake, I just let it go and I, it’s gone.

Sam Demma (12:46):

Yeah. <laugh>,

Jason Kupery (12:47):

I dwell, I’m a dweller for sure. And and everybody close to me knows that you don’t have to worry about beating up on me because I’m gonna do a better job than anybody else can, right? Yeah. and so what I do, my strategy for it is to talk to people that I trust and love, right? So that’s, that’s the biggest thing. I I, yeah, it, it’s, it’s important to have people in your life that you can, that you can chat with that you can speak openly to and transparently with. and you know, it’s super important because they understand you. And, and, and none of those people say, well, here’s what you need to do, right? Mm. that’s the biggest thing. it’s not about advice. It just, it, it’s that they understand me, they know who I am.

Jason Kupery (13:28):

So, yeah. Oh, yeah, Cooper’s gonna beat himself to death on this one, so we’re just gonna stand, we’re gonna walk beside him, we’re gonna chat with ’em, we’re gonna let ’em talk. Right? And a lot of times that’s cathartic enough to be able to just to talk to somebody, talk it through, and then real, eventually when you talk it through either with the same person or with enough people, you eventually draw your own conclusions, right? Yeah. You know what, I am being kind of silly. This is, this is not as big a deal as I think it’s right. and, you know, even when it’s a big deal, you have people that you know you can love and trust that will stand beside you and, and help you through it and just, and just be there. I mean, you can use the example, your parents. I have an incredibly supportive spouse. I have some awesome kids. I have some really, really, really close friends. and I’m, so, I’m very blessed that I have that network of people in my life that I can you know, talk to when I screw up. So

Sam Demma (14:18):

I love that. And in the school building, I’m assuming that would be other people in the office as well. If you’re a teacher in, in a school, it’d be other teachers kinda leaning on your supports.

Jason Kupery (14:32):

Yeah, a hundred percent. a lot of times that’s what really makes a really tight knit school community. Like I’ve had the privilege of working on some wonderful steps where it’s just people get along they can trust each other, they can, they got each other’s backs. you know, principals got teachers backs, and we’ll help you even when you make mistakes. I’m not gonna totally, you know, I can’t defend some of those things, but I can certainly walk beside you and help you out with those kinds of things, right? you know, and, and for people who, who go into administration, those gaps tend to widen a little bit and it becomes a little bit lonelier. So finding those external sources that you can talk to and you can trust, right, is very important. And yes, of course, in the role I’m in now, you know, you have to have the right colleagues and, and they’re not all in the same school division, right? You have some great colleagues in other school divisions that can relate and empathize with some of the things that happen and, and just great people to be able to share with, and chat with and, and may have advice because they’ve been through it themselves, right? So those are important things

Sam Demma (15:28):

You, you can tell, just listening to you speak and share your ideas that you really care about this and you care about education. what about education makes you excited? Like, what gets you outta bed every single day to show up to work and put your best foot forward and try to do meaningful things?

Jason Kupery (15:47):

Yes, Tim, I’ll tell you, there’s not many careers, and I know there’s, there’s a lot of great careers and there’s a lot of great people doing a lot of wonderful things, but there are not many careers that you can actually speak directly into the lives of a lot of young people, right? Mm-hmm. <affirmative> as, as challenging and as tiring as it can be, it can also be super inspiring and super wonderful. And it’s not that you know, the times that I’ve had in my career that I’ve found the most inspiration hasn’t been drummed up by me, by any stretch of the imagination. It’s been drummed up by amazing young people that have incredible ideas and that are thinking about the future as opposed to what was, what’s happened in the past and those types of things, right? and to see people grow and to see people learn is just an incredible gift.

Jason Kupery (16:38):

 and so what excites me now in this current role, because there are some degrees of separation for me is providing the structures for students to succeed, right? Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. So my job now is to develop programming and develop programs and systems and things like that, that will either help students find their passion and ignite that spark through different kinds of programs or leadership kinds of opportunities we offer. or it’s ways of finding that sort of self-actualization ways for them to you know find the rhythm be mentally well understand what it is to be healthy. These are difficult times, right? I mean, I know I’m getting old now, so it’s been a long time. But I have had, I do have teenage children, and I do, I can understand and empathize with, with what it means to grow up in those worlds, those, those vicious middle school years and the tough high school years, and you’re trying to figure out your life.

Jason Kupery (17:38):

You’re trying to figure out where you fit, who you fit in with what your future may hold. Those are extremely formative but stressful times for students. And to be able to do everything from helping somebody read and learn how to arithmetic and to make sense of the world at a young age, to guide them all the way up through adolescence and into their, you know, adulthood you know, that transition into post-secondary life. it’s such a massive undertaking and what a privilege to be able to be a part of that. so that’s what gets me up in the morning.

Sam Demma (18:14):

You mention, you mentioned at such a cool perspective. Thanks for sharing. You mentioned that some of the coolest experiences, things that got you the most excited were not drummed up by yourself, but by students. And I’m curious, can you give us some insight into what some of those things might be? On our last call, we talked a little bit about an event that you would host and that was created and co-created with kids, and I would love to hear about that, or any other ideas that come to mind.

Jason Kupery (18:44):

Yeah, there, there’s just so much inspiration out there, but we’ve, we’ve had, you know the one we were speaking about, Sam was we had a young a student in our school community that sadly passed away the year after she graduated this from some complications with the medication. and one of her big things when she was in high school, and one of the things she advocated for was organ donation. and she donated all our organs, which was an incredible gift to a bunch of different families. And, you know, we you know, sat as a staff and as administration afterwards, brokenhearted trying to figure out how to make sense of this. and you know, the one thing that I, I mentioned my affinity for sports, and some other people had some affinity for sports too. So we decided let’s do a, like a charity hockey game, and we’re gonna raise some money and give it away to the to the organ foundation around here.

Jason Kupery (19:39):

 and also raise awareness. I mean, I think that’s a big deal. And we mobilized the troops. We were really inspired by this young lady and by honoring her. and so, you know, we had some professional landing McDonald came out and played with us, and, and, you know, it was just great. We had the whole school come. We had, we raised all kinds of money. It was a wonderful event. and over the years and, and we raised a lot of awareness around organ donation and those kinds of things. And over the years we started getting letters from people. And one we had I think the next year we had somebody that had this young lady’s kidneys. Oh. And he was alive and he was thriving because he had her kidneys. So he played with us in the hockey game, which was

Sam Demma (20:23):

Super cool, crazy.

Jason Kupery (20:24):

And then the year after that, a young man from Newfoundland received her heart. Wow. And he, he reached out to us. He reached out through through the David Foster Foundation and he reached out to us and said, Hey, I’d like to come. I’m a golia. I’d like to come play. and in the mean, in, in the meanwhile, he also got to meet this young lady’s family. And I mean, it was a very emotional, you can imagine what a gift. And, and so what a gift both ways. Obviously this young lady’s heart is literally in somebody else. And is, is helping somebody live to a point where he can come out and play a game of hockey with us. and of course, the gift that he brought to the family by saying, I’m alive and well because of your daughter’s sacrifice.

Jason Kupery (21:10):

What, like, incredible. So that was, you know, those moments are are something that helped you as an adult. It puts you in awe of what young people are capable of. and again, as a teacher and as an administrator, and as a director, my, my modus operandi was always put kids in those positions to succeed. They’re not always gonna do it. They’re not always gonna take it up. Some are just gonna go through and that’s fine, and they’ll live their lives. But some really just need that extra little push or that extra little program or that extra little spark to ignite something in a passion in them. And when those types of things happen it’s just incredible what students are capable of.

Sam Demma (21:54):

You told me the same story last time, which is why I was teasing it out of you. It gave me goosebumps, and it’s given me goosebumps again. What a remarkable story of impact and what a great reminder to check the box on the paper we get in the mail when we pass away, if that’s a decision we wanna make, knowing that it could save so many people’s lives.

Jason Kupery (22:14):

And I’m sure that decision she made has. and I just wanna, I, I just wanna share one more with you. yeah, please. We can talk about for sure. But we had a young man whose whose father passed away from cancer. unfortunately, and these guys for some reason were super into unicycles, right? Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, like, who, like how many people are <laugh>? There was like four of them. And they all just, they rode around, they ate their sandwiches at lunch in the parking lot, and they would try little jumps and things like that. and so this young man was, was sharing a story about his father passed away from cancer, and these guys come up with this brilliant idea, and I say brilliant sort of sarcastically, but it was brilliant to unicycle from B to Calgary, which is about 130, maybe 125 on a unicycle, <laugh> and to raise money.

Jason Kupery (23:01):

So they raised money for cancer research and those kinds of things. I think they raised something like 15 or $18,000. Like it was a lot. But these poor guy, they did it two days cuz it was way too much during a day. But these poor guys, and I, I drove the van behind them with the blinkers on <laugh> Road, and they rode their unicycles from BMP all the way to Calgary. and it was kind of cool in Calgary for anybody’s around here. Edward Worthy Park is just down the road. so they rode in Deady Park and their parents and their families that all had this huge celebration in the park, and they had a check presentation. you know, stuff like that. It just, like, that stuff happens more routinely than you think because young people have such inspiration and such drive, and they don’t understand quite yet what no means.

Jason Kupery (23:44):

You know what I mean? Because we, we, we get a little beaten down over the years about, oh, that can’t happen and that can’t happen. And young people just, they have great ideas. And so again, I’ve tried to be very cognizant of the fact that it’s not about saying, well, here’s what’s gonna go wrong, or here’s what could happen, or here’s this or that, or it’s, Hey, there might be some barriers. How can I help you remove those? and how can we help them? It might, it might happen differently because of certain things that we can’t do, but I’m sure we can, if we just think creatively and, and my job as a, as an trusted adult in their life would be, okay, let’s get rid of those things so you can succeed.

Sam Demma (24:16):

That’s awesome. I’m sure when you were in the schools, you dealt with a lot of those on a face to face basis because they would walk up to you and say, Hey, hey sir, I have an idea. Can I tell you about it? and now from a systems perspective, you probably hear about a lot of those things. One of the things that I think is really special about education, and you alluded to it earlier, you said, there are so many careers, but there aren’t many where you can speak directly into the lives of young people. I think one of the coolest things about education that lures most educators is the idea that they can make a positive difference in the life of a young person. What’s funny is that everything you’ve shared with me makes me believe that the young people have all made a massive difference in your life.

Sam Demma (25:03):

And I don’t think that aspect of it is, is talked about enough. and, and you just shared two inspiring stories and how it had a big impact on you. But I am curious to know in all your years working in a school, working in a classroom, has there been students who, when they first walked through your door or into the school, were really struggling and by the end of the couple years, or by the end of this semester had a real big breakthrough or transformation and yeah. Are there any stories like that that come to mind?

Jason Kupery (25:39):

Yeah, well, there’s, there, there’s plenty for sure. I think that helping students <affirmative> you know, I’m not a big fan of the idea of streaming, like saying, you know, you’re not, you’re not smart enough to do this, so don’t, don’t try. Yeah. and I’ve seen a, I’ve seen a lot and, and sometimes, you know, it is, some things are, are a deep enough level. You don’t wanna set kids up for failure, but you certainly don’t wanna say, well, don’t bother trying, because then, you know, you’re just gonna, you’re gonna end up failing, right? Yeah. So it’s a, it’s a distinction, if you will. and I’ve seen so many kids over the years flourish because you know, well, I can’t do that. I’m no good at math. That’s, that’s the easiest thing to say in, in education is I suck at math, right?

Jason Kupery (26:21):

Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And then, okay, well, okay, I guess that’s it for you then, then we’ll, we’ll put you into something else. and I’ve always tried, I’ve used this match with my own kids too, but it’s just, no, you don’t suck at it. You just haven’t done it enough. You just have to, you need more practice, right? and, you know, trying to sort of present that mindset to students to say, try it. If it doesn’t work out, what’s the biggest, you know, fail forward, what’s the biggest thing that can happen? Right? and, you know, you gotta convince students of that, but you also have to convince their parents of course, too, right? Like, we’re gonna do this. It may not go super well, but that’s okay, right? We’ve got other room, we’ve got other spaces, we can, we, there’s other pathways. and so I’ve seen a lot of students succeed because they under, either they’ve, they’ve gone way beyond what they thought they could which is a wonderful thing.

Jason Kupery (27:08):

And we’ve also seen kids succeed because they’ve made a wise choice, I need to go on a different direction. And there’s another path, right? And one of the things I’ve seen you know, that even, even the most driven of students and the straight A students don’t realize is there are so many different paths in life, and there are so many different ways you can take. but I think that young people and families and, you know, people in general just think that there’s a linear straight, like, I have to get here, I have to get that 95, or I’m not getting into this program. And so part of, part of what I’ve tried to do is in helping people through that journey is to say, look, there’s, there’s a ton of paths, and just because you can’t take this math or take this biology or take this whatever there are other ways to do it, and we can get you there.

Jason Kupery (27:51):

And, you know, in, in a, in a world of instant gratification, it’s hard to understand, Hey, maybe you should take another year of high school, or maybe you need to take another course. Well, and I need this to happen now. It, it doesn’t need to happen now. But I know that’s a hard message for some people to hear. But in order to succeed, you may need to try a little bit, you know, a different way or, or it may take a little bit longer, but that there’s nothing wrong with that. There’s no shame in that, right? to be able to take a different path in life to succeed. and the other piece is helping students identify you know, the traditional classroom or the book learning or the, those kinds of things aren’t what I love to do. That doesn’t mean you’re not smart, it means you’re brilliant in other ways.

Jason Kupery (28:30):

Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And so trying to provide students an opportunity to, whether it’s work with their hands or build something or problem solve in a different way you know, helping students understand their own aptitudes and their own, you know, brilliance is, it’s one thing to tell them, it’s another for them to discover for themselves, right? And so, again, as educators we try to create the conditions for students to do that. You know, if you, if you allow for different modalities of teaching in your classroom, and the student says, ah, I, now I can see because I, because I made it up with my hands, now I can see why it’s important, or now I can make the connection with the learning. quite often education is learn this regurgitate it, and now you know it without that real life connection and without that, without that sort of cementing or anchoring the learning it’s very difficult.

Jason Kupery (29:21):

It’s why most times when you, I mean, you’ve done it, I’ve done it a thousand times, where you, you, you study you and then you, you drill everything into your head for eight hours before the test or whatever, and then you forget 60% of it by the time you walk out the door, right? Because it’s like, I got what I needed to do, I accomplished, I got the mark. and so I’ve accomplished that. but have I really learned, so anyways, sorry, I’m rambling. I’m just saying that allowing students different ways to learn helps ’em flourish. And I’ve seen that so many times where students have had that aha moment, like, ah, now I know this is what I’m good at. and I mentioned to you earlier as well, the idea of post-secondary is frightening to a lot of people. It was frightening for you.

Jason Kupery (29:58):

It was frightening for me. Yeah. it’s a huge transition. And so I just had this conversation earlier today with some, some educators around students feel too much pressure. We have to stop asking them what they’re going to do. And I a hundred percent agree what I, what we need to ask. And the question I’m trying to change within our school division here is what do you love to do? Yeah. Because if we, if you can tell me what you love to do or what really gets what gets you up in the morning, you asked me that question earlier, what gets you up in the morning? And then we could connect it to a different career. but if you think that you can only be a teacher, a doctor, a lawyer, an engineer, or whatever, then those opportunities don’t blossom for you because, oh, I’m not good at that, so I’m never gonna be an engineer, and I just, I can’t do this kind of math, so I won’t go on to do sciences. Well, there’s a thousand other things you could do out there that would bring you joy and would meet the world’s needs. So we just have to figure out what that is for you.

Sam Demma (30:47):

I got goosebumps like five times while you were just, just sharing those ideas because one, I was the student who took the fifth year and the gap year and thought I was falling behind. And I was, I was interviewing another educator Sarah daddario from a school in California, and I try and talk to diverse, you know, amount of educators, and she was sharing something similar that her students were going through, putting so much expectations on pressure on themselves to start the next step right when they finished high school, even though they weren’t sure what they were doing. And she shared this beautiful analogy about going to parties, and she said, this is the analogy that I give my students. She and she, she asked me a question, if you were going to one of your friend’s parties, what are all the different ways you could get there?

Sam Demma (31:36):

And I started listing off all these random ideas, ride my bike, ask my mom for a drive, hit your ride with the, with the taxi guy, called a pizza delivery person and ask him to pick me up. I could walk there, I could roller blade, I could scooter, I could get a helicopter and fly. Like I started giving some funny answers. And she’s like, well, all of those are valid options and they’ll all get you to the final destination, but every single one of them takes a different amount of time and a different set of steps. And that’s how I try and encourage, she, she was explaining that’s how she encourages their students to think about their pathways. That you will all end up at a party. It might not be the same party based on your different interests, but you’ll all end up somewhere.

Sam Demma (32:16):

Your choice of transportation is what will make your life unique and interesting. And I just keep thinking about that whenever I think about pathways and adding so much pressure on ourselves. and then the other thing you mentioned in your second point was this idea that students have five options, an engineer, doctor, lawyer, you know, what we think we, we wanna do. and what we really should try and do is figure out what they love. And I, I thought about an artist who I really look up to, his name’s Russ, and he makes music, and he grew up thinking that he lacked discipline and wasn’t a hard worker, but later in life realized that it was actually the work that made him not very disciplined and not work hard because he just didn’t enjoy it. But when he found the thing that he loved, he was in the studio every day making music, and now he’s one of the largest independent artists on, on the planet.

Sam Demma (33:12):

And I think it’s really important that we don’t judge students based off of the things they don’t like doing. And I’m sure there’s a lot of things that we have to do, even if we don’t like it, and that’s a part of the journey as well. But I really like that you’re trying to help students figure out what they love and then craft the pathway from there. do you have any examples of and I’m putting it on the spot here, but of like a student who came to you and said this is what we’re, we’re, we’re passionate about and you helped kind of create a different pathway or brainstormed ideas around it?

Jason Kupery (33:49):

Yeah. well, I think that the most, when I, when I, I don’t about a specific example per se of one that’s jumping in my head and right at this moment, I’m, I’m, I’m sure I’ll think about 20 when I get, when I, that’s

Sam Demma (34:01):

OK <laugh>.

Jason Kupery (34:05):

 but I think that it’s, it’s more around helping students understand there’s a stigma that exists with certain careers, right? Mm-hmm. and, and so, you know, the trades are things that people that, that aren’t good at school do, which is ah which is seriously flawed. Obviously. I don’t want somebody who doesn’t know what they’re doing, building my house or <laugh>

Sam Demma (34:28):

Putting,

Jason Kupery (34:29):

Renovating my kitchen or whatever, right? and you know, there’s that, that sort of, these are lesser than skills, which is so not true. you know you know, the saying is, I’m educated, but I’m all that smart. And and that’s the same, goes like, I have a master’s degree, but you put a hammer in my hand, I’m gonna end up hurting somebody, right? <laugh>, most <inaudible>, I’m sure before anybody else <laugh>. and, and so I really wish, that was one thing that I developed more as a skill, right? Yeah. so just, just helping students understand that, that their gifts are extremely valuable no matter what they are, and they can be used for something. Again, it’s that the biggest thing was is that, that the world’s deep need and, and your deep joy intersecting, right? That’s where it’s at. Like Russ, you know, Hey, I found a medium that I am passionate about and that I want to pursue.

Jason Kupery (35:24):

So I’ve seen more of, of that I should say, in in, you know, where kids are so driven to, to get onto this, and they’ve fallen out of that, and really, and then they’ve come to me later and said, Hey, I’m doing this now I’m, I’m working my hands, or I’m, you know, a paramedic or I’m this or that. And, you know, it changed my life just thinking about, you know, how to you know, striving so much for something that was almost unattainable and, and, you know, at the expense of my mental health and other things in my life. and then when I realized that this was actually my gifting I was able to succeed. So

Sam Demma (36:00):

I love it.

Jason Kupery (36:01):

As we talk, I’ll think of a, of an example. I just didn’t expect to come up with that, but I should have that off the top of my head for

Sam Demma (36:08):

Sure. No, I’m putting you on the spot here. And it’s funny, it makes me think about situations where I have a conversation with someone and then five minutes after the conversation ends, I’m like, God damn, that’s, that’s what I wanted to say. You know? But you, you did a perfect job answering that, and I appreciate it. It’s really apparent that at the core of a lot of your thinking and decisions is the end user, which is the student. and I’m sure there’s ways that the the staff are a part of your, your planning as well because you’re at the, I guess, overarching level now. I’m curious, like for all the educators that are listening to this who are starting their first year of teaching, if you could bundle up your wisdom and experiences and go back in time and tap Jason on the shoulder when he was just starting and say, Jason, this is what you need to hear. What would you have told your younger self? Not because you would’ve changed your path, but because you thought it’s helpful advice to hear at the start of a career in education?

Jason Kupery (37:09):

Yeah, great question. I would say, you know, first and foremost and, and to, to, to sort of connect it to the last question you know, when it’s not so much that people have re retooled and done something and now ta-da, I’m happy. Yeah. it’s more about the kids that had a really, really, really hard time with a, because of circumstances in their life growing up unstable families drugs, alcohol, poor decisions and those are the ones that are, that are throwing things at you or telling F off or, and I just, young teachers and, and people in education, I mean, the one thing I would say is, please look past that. I mean, there is trauma in those kids’ lives, and that trauma-informed practice is really, really important because while it is that person standing in front of you, that young person standing in front of you screaming or throwing a fit or punching a snot at somebody else or whatever it’s not to see that that student or I is a terrible person or deserves some kind of punitive justice or those types of things that, that that young person needs some love in their life and needs somebody to look past that.

Jason Kupery (38:23):

And so when I’ve had people come back to me and say, Hey, thanks for, you know, because you, you because you intervened and because you had enough patience and because you didn’t kick me out and because you didn’t make my life harder, I look at I’m now a success and I wanna come back and say thank you. Those things mean a lot to me, obviously. I mean, they mean a lot to a lot of educators, right? But we tend to, and I’m no different, we tend to look at that and say, oh, that kid’s driving me crazy. I just want ’em outta here. Right? Just get out. and it takes far more patience and understanding to sort of try and look through that and try to reason and try to understand where that young person’s coming from to be able to speak into their lives.

Jason Kupery (39:08):

And it’s not like you have to, okay, now I’m gonna tell you everything you need to know, and I’m the best just, Hey, I’m here to listen and I’m, I’m going to be a safe place for you to come and, and be yourself. that changes lives. There’s no question. and so my encouragement would be, a lot of these people have a lot of people that, that give you a hard time or will give you a hard time in your career, are carrying a lot of, they’re carrying a pretty heavy backpack, if I can use your

Sam Demma (39:34):

Analogy. <laugh>

Jason Kupery (39:35):

<laugh>. and, and that’s, and that’s something that’s so extremely important to understand and to try to speak to them in a way that they can hear and know that they’re safe and cared for, because they’ll still make dumb decisions, but they’ll, they’ll always thank you because you stay, you stay beside steadfast. so I guess please don’t give up too easily on, on people that give you a hard time because they got a lot going on. The other thing I would say to young educators, and I do, and I do say that now because we do have what’s called the teacher induction program here. So it’s called Tip for

Sam Demma (40:11):

Sure. Yeah.

Jason Kupery (40:12):

 is don’t let the, the jaded, angry nature of the profession seep into your brain. And I’m not suggesting that’s pervasive, but it, it can happen. All you need is one teacher that, you know, is jaded or disaffected or, you know, kids are lazy or yeah. Whatever. And that sort of can flavor the water and it can get inside your head because that was my experience, right? You know, I had some, some teacher sponsors or whatever that the people that helped evaluate me and helped me through in my early years you know, weren’t always the most possible profession, <laugh> and, you know the, the 40 kids or the 35 kids and, you know, the half of them are criminals and those kinds of things. Right? those are the kinds of things you’re here as a young teacher and you just don’t start believing that.

Sam Demma (40:57):

Yeah.

Jason Kupery (40:58):

Cause it really does impact your ability to speak into people’s lives when you start to see them differently as opposed to who they really are beneath that tough exterior.

Sam Demma (41:07):

Mm. I love it. It’s like the advice don’t judge a book by its cover. And I think it applies so deeply in education, especially with young people, and you’re speaking from experience because you started it at the beginning of this podcast saying that you did some silly stuff as a student <laugh>. So I and we all did, you know, I think back to when I was grade seven and got suspended and we don’t have to get into the details of the silly incident, but I remember coming home and uncontrolled be crying and my dad not, you know, scolding me, but saying, let’s go talk to your principal. And bringing me back to school and sitting in the office and my principal at the time instead of seriously punishing me, he asked me a lot of questions and kind of forced me to reflect on the choice I made and why maybe it wasn’t a good choice and what I learned from the experience.

Sam Demma (42:02):

And I ended up having a two day suspension but it was a it was a very kind gesture, and I learned so much from it. So I’ve had personal experiences and I think a lot of students do. So I appreciate you sharing that, and I appreciate you coming on the podcast and talking about your experiences and beliefs around education. And if there’s an educator who listens to this and wants to ask you a question or send you a message, what would be the most effective way for them to reach out and get in touch? Not that we’re gonna fill your inbox, <laugh>.

Jason Kupery (42:33):

Yeah, yeah. No, I mean, I’m, I’m always willing to, to share and collaborate with others. I think it’s awesome. Yeah, email’s the best way and I can certainly share that with you if you wanna attach it somehow or whatever.

Sam Demma (42:43):

Sure. Awesome. Sounds good. Jason, thanks again for, for coming on the podcast. Really appreciate your time and energy. Keep up the great work, and I’ll see you soon.

Jason Kupery (42:52):

Okay. Thanks, Sam. Appreciate it.

Sam Demma (42:55):

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

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Jason Kupery

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.

Paolo Morrone – Principal at St Andrew Catholic School

Paolo Morrone - Principal at St Andrew Catholic School
About Paolo Morrone

Paolo Morrone (@StAndrewStormP) is currently the Principal at St Andrew Catholic School. He started his career as a teacher at St. Jude Catholic School on a short contract as a grade six teacher 20 years ago. The following school year marked the beginning of his high school career as a Physical Education and Social Science teacher. Seven years later, he moved into his first placement and was appointed as vice principal of Don Bosco Catholic Secondary School. He is currently in his 14th year as an administrator within the TCDSB and has had the pleasure and honour to have served eight schools as both a vice principal and principal. During his career, he has been also been able to serve as both a teacher and administrator in both elementary panels.

He cares deeply for and works with ALL students in the school. Paolo enjoys all aspects of school life but also feels very strongly that every school should be able to provide a variety of experiences and co-curricular activities for students. This helps students become not only well-rounded students and individuals but responsible citizens. As a servant leader, he is looking forward to returning to coaching this year as he coaches the school intermediate boys’ basketball team. He is an avid supporter and cheerleader of all extra-curricular events at his school. Paolo is a leader who truly values his colleagues and their views and always ensures he does everything possible to serve both staff and students with caring, empathy, and compassion. He has a real love for education and sports and always seeks to be a servant leader. He is always seeking opportunities to improve the student experience at his school and ensure that all students are treated equally and with respect.

Connect with Paolo: Email | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

St Andrew Catholic School

St. Jude Catholic School

Toronto Catholic District School Board (TCDSB)

Ontario Colleges Athletic Association (OCAA)

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:55):

Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator.

Sam Demma (00:59):

Today’s special guest is Paulo Morrone. Paolo is currently the Principal at St. Andrew Catholic School. He started his career as a teacher at St. Jude Catholic School on a short contract as a grade six teacher 20 years ago. The following school year marked the beginning of his high school career as a physical education and social science teacher. Seven years later, he moved into his first placement and was appointed as vice principal of Don Bosco Catholic Secondary School. He is currently in his 14th year as an administrator within the Toronto Catholic District School Board, and has had the pleasure and honor to have served eight schools as both a Vice Principal and Principal. During his career, he has also been able to serve as both a teacher and an administrator in both elementary panels. He cares deeply for and works with all students in the school.

Sam Demma (01:51):

Paulo enjoys all aspects of school life, but also feels very strongly that every school should be able to provide a variety of experiences and co-curricular activities for students. This helps students become not only well rounded students and individuals, but more importantly, responsible citizens. As a servant leader, he is looking forward to returning to coaching this year as he coaches the school Intermediate Boys basketball team. He is an avid supporter and cheerleader of all extracurricular events at his school. Paulo is a leader who truly values his colleagues and their views, and always ensures he does everything possible to serve both staff and students with caring, empathy, and compassion. He has a real love for education and sports, which you’ll hear about in our podcast, and always seeks to be that servant leader. He’s also always seeking opportunities to improve the student experience at his school and ensure that all students are treated equally and with respect. I hope you enjoy this amazing conversation with Paulo and I will see you on the other side. Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. Today’s special guest is Paulo Paulo. I’m gonna allow you to introduce yourself and please share a little bit about your journey through education.

Paolo Morrone (03:08):

Hey, Sam, first of all, thanks for having me. well, as you said, my name’s Paulo Morone. I’m currently the principal at St. Andrew Catholic School in Rexdale Ontario, or proud at Togo North at Togo, as we say. my journey, my journey is an interesting one, but I started actually in the secondary panel and in high school actually I lied. Excuse me. I came out, this is what’s what’s interesting when it comes to me with education was I started in elementary. I got a little call right outta teacher’s college. Nice. saying, Hey, do you are you interested in a grade six position as a teacher? right outta teacher’s college, just as well, <laugh>. Yeah. I don’t really have the, the experience to teach grades. I don’t even have the qualifications. I didn’t have my junior, it doesn’t matter.

Paolo Morrone (04:02):

We need, they, they were in a, in a, in a bind and they needed somebody quick. And it was quite the experience that I never thought I would end up back in elementary. Nice. it was you know, you look at experiences good and bad, but that was one at the time that probably scarred me from the elementary panel in general. And then I, I, you kind of, when I got, when I got into education or the way I feel is that you’re either one or the other elementary or high school. And I was always geared more towards the high school secondary. I just loved to coach and I just found that I always related better with, with the older kids. Nice. so I spent the first what, 10 years roughly of my my educational career in secondary.

Paolo Morrone (04:50):

And then I made a jump to elementary again, which was quite shocking for me. it was a lot of personal reflection and, and discernment in terms of making that move. and I made the move. And at first it was quite the challenge for me mentally and not physically of course, but mentally it was a, it was, it was quite a change. And now six years later three schools in three schools of under my belt in elementary between a vice principal and principal role. And here we we’re. And I’m enjoy enjoying it much more than I thought I would you know, almost 20 years ago when I stepped in fresh faced and, you know, green under the ears into into that little elementary school.

Sam Demma (05:33):

That’s awesome. Did you know growing up as a student yourself that you really wanted to work in education? Or how did you find this pathway in the first place?

Paolo Morrone (05:43):

 I always tell people this. It was I can date my, my, my realm or my, sorry, my my wish to be an education back to grade eight. Wow. I can, yeah. I had a, I can tie actually being a principal back to being great. I always said I wanted to be a teacher and coach. I kind of started, I volunteered from grade nine in my, at my old elementary school. Okay. Nice. As much as I could, of course. and I kind of did that all throughout high school to get as much experience as I could, knowing that I was gonna get into teaching or that’s where I wanted to land, wanted to go. Yeah. And thankfully it worked out for me.

Sam Demma (06:22):

And tell me more about the coaching aspect of your role. Are you still coaching now? And what are you, what are you

Paolo Morrone (06:28):

Coaching? No, I, I, you know what, I don’t, but I I’m gonna be helping out with the basketball team this year a bit just cause the coach is one of my younger teachers and he found out that I coached back in the day, so he kind of approached me and said, Hey, would you be willing to help? And I said, absolutely. Like it’s actually a big passion of mine. I loved it when I did it. Nice. coaching, coaching was, they say kids kids sports gets kids to school in many cases. And coaching got me to school, not that I didn’t wanna work, but coaching was a, was a big part of the early, early part of my career. I really, really loved connecting with kids inside and outside the classroom. The outside piece, people don’t give it enough credit.

Paolo Morrone (07:09):

People don’t understand that building relationships in that capacity, like outside of the traditional classroom walls it can, it, it does amazing things for you as an educator in a school. Students you just build that trust. You can’t, I can’t put a, I can’t really articulate it, but when you build that relationship and trust with them outside of, you know, the book, the books and the pens and the papers and the iPads, it, it’s another layer. it’s another layer that if you haven’t been in education or you don’t do it while you’re an educator, you don’t really understand it. Sometimes people didn’t, even, colleagues didn’t understand like, why are you doing so much coaching? So first off, I was in, partially in PhysEd as a phed teacher, and I always felt that that was part of what we should do realistically, why else are you in a physical education program?

Paolo Morrone (08:00):

Right? Yeah. and the other part was just, I love working with kids in that capacity period, and I love sports. So you put all that together and I had the dream job. That’s awesome. and here I am sitting as a principal and I always say like, how did I give that up? Yeah. So did I, did I like the coaching? What was the, it was the huge part of my, the early part of my career, and I do miss it. I’m gonna be helping out with the ball team this year. Nice. And last year I ran a little bit of intramurals for the kids when things opened up after a lot of the, the restrictions were laid or taken off. we got some awesome intramurals for the kids at lunch, which kept them engaged. We were having a lot of issues at lunch as well. So that really helped turn things around.

Sam Demma (08:45):

It sounds like relationship building has been a key part of your belief around education, and you’ve done it a lot through extracurricular activities like coaching and sports. Can you think of a a student who maybe was struggling with school that you were able to build a relationship with through sport that had a positive impact on their, I guess, their school experience? Or maybe even maybe it’s not a, a student that you specifically coach, but a story you’ve heard before? I’m just curious.

Paolo Morrone (09:14):

Yeah. I mean I, I can honestly say that I’ve, I, I think I’ve had quite a bit of an impact, or I had quite a bit of an impact in my early, the earlier part of my career with that. I would coach about six teams a year. Wow. Either in a, either, not just in a head coaching, like I would either help as an assistant Yeah. Or I was the head coach, but basketball sort of was my thing. which it wasn’t. I didn’t, didn’t even, basketball was one of the only sports I did to play. I didn’t play as a kid growing up in terms of any type of, you know, you play a little, a little bit on the street or at the park or whatever, but not in a league in any way. So I kind of got thrown into it and fell in love with it. And along the way there was a lot of, there’s a lot of kids. I mean basketball, it can be a challenging sport to coach in many ways. just the game itself is, is fantastic and, and it comes with some challenges in that sense. But the school that I was at at the time where I was really into the, the basketball coaching, there were a lot of kids. They needed a little bit of direction and guidance and one particular kid stood out. obviously I’ll, I’ll name,

Sam Demma (10:27):

You don’t have to say his name. Yeah.

Paolo Morrone (10:28):

But it he was almost your storybook kind of story. It was his, he came from a single pa single family, sorry, single parent family. there was a lot of social issues that he was dealing with and family issues. and that translated onto what basketball was his outlet, first of all, however, this is a kid that would light up the scoreboard. You’re talking 30 points, 35 points without blinking. And I, he was a, he, I still believe to this day, this boy should have been in the NCAA at minimum. Wow. But Canada as you may know, firsthand you know, you don’t get the same type of exposure here. And at that time for basketball, it wasn’t as big as now. Now it’s exploded. Had that exposure been around back then I, I still feel he would’ve, he would’ve had a better opportunity to get a, a free education in the us.

Paolo Morrone (11:25):

 but anyway, the boy, the boy had some issues with anger at times. And with that translated onto the court, off the court there was a lot of friction off them with colleagues that would say, you know, why is this kid playing? And they didn’t understand that if you didn’t have that kid playing, it wasn’t, you know, I needed the superstar on the court is I needed, I did. Yeah. Obviously you wanted the, the, the kid to play basketball. Yeah. But that was his outlet. You take that away from the, the kid. Yeah. Yeah. Did I take him off? Did I suspend him a game or two if the behavior wasn’t appropriate? Absolutely. If it was necessary academically that he wasn’t meeting his, you know, his goals, we would sit down and talk about it. It wasn’t just, you know, arbitrarily, you know, you were coming off the team because you just can’t do that and

Sam Demma (12:11):

Solve anything.

Paolo Morrone (12:12):

Yeah. No you can do that and you have a responsibility as a coach and an educator, but and there’s more to it. You gotta be able to talk to these kids and, and peel the layers off. And this is a guy that mom would call me when he had a little bit of a, an anger episode and would she would take off like she didn’t know. He didn’t know where he was. So mom would call me and say, Hey, can you, I would be drive over to the, the local mall and kind of take a loop around looking for him to find out what was going on. Cause I knew at that point he had a he had an episode, he was angry and something had upset him. And, you know, kind of talk him, talk him back into a proper mindset.

Paolo Morrone (12:56):

 he, I’ve lost touch with him more recently, but last I had heard he was doing really well. He ended up at the University of Windsor. Wow. He did continue to play university ball, but at a Canadian level at CS or U Sport now, whatever they call it. and at the college and at the OCAA, the Ontario College ranks Nice. and he was doing accounting last I heard. But this is a kid that honestly a lot of people had written off. And I had a great relationship with him and a good belief in him, not just as a ball player, but as a student and as a person. He just needed that guidance. He needed a little bit more that, that fatherly character as well because he had some tragedy with his father passing at a young age.

Paolo Morrone (13:40):

Ah, and, and the stepfather actually. So it was you know, that’s a lot of trauma for a young kid at 16, 17 years old to have dealt with prior to even that, you know, as he was a little guy. so yeah, I, I take great pride in that cuz you know, I, I, I wish I, I’m sure I will connect with him again soon, but that was that was one, that one that really stands out for me. But there’s, there’s quite a few stories in my, in my own head that I, I like to think I made quite a bit of a difference at that time. Nice. and it all came down to the relationships truthfully. That’s the truth between, you know, how you, how you treat the kids and they see you here as human. Yeah. Right. Yeah. You don’t wanna be, it’s funny, in an elementary school, the kids think you go home when you plug yourself into a closet. So when they see you out in like the real world, they’re like, totally get out. You’re alive. You’re alive. You know, like, you don’t go home. You don’t just stay in the school all night.

Sam Demma (14:35):

Yeah. They have your top, their purse on the shoulder and they’re like, it’s Mr. Moroni, he’s over there. You see him like <laugh>, he’s in the grocery store buying vegetables,

Paolo Morrone (14:44):

<laugh>, why is he buying food? <laugh>? Yeah. It’s that kind of it’s, it’s funny. It’s a great it’s a great line of work, I tell you. It’s a great revocation.

Sam Demma (14:55):

That’s awesome. So what do you think allows you to build the relationships with young people? Is it like time spent? Is it being curious about their lives? Like what do you think it is about the interaction that allows you to build the relationship and build the trust?

Paolo Morrone (15:12):

 honestly, it’s always hard to talk about yourself. Cause I’m finding it like difficult to say things. Oh yeah. Maybe I wanna come across like from

Sam Demma (15:20):

The, from the perspective of like teachers and students in general. How do you think

Paolo Morrone (15:24):

You gotta have heart man? You gotta have heart and you gotta care about who’s in front of you. And it’s not just, you know it’s not about the summers. It’s not, you sure not you sure as how ain’t getting rich in this, in this job. And it’s not about the money. And you hear that a thousand times, and obviously in the current climate you hear that even more so in the news more recently. you gotta come in with the right mindset and heart. And if you are going to do this, you gotta put the kids first. But you gotta find a healthy balance between building that relationship, the academic side of what as well. And, and the people side, people, young teachers have a difficulty, difficulty like that sometimes lines get blurred. they’re nervous, they don’t know how to interact. They’re, they’re focused more just simply on curriculum. I’m of the belief that curriculum of course is important, but it’s not about just curriculum. It’s about the whole person and educating the whole person, meeting the character of the person. you know, the math lessons will come not for me, but they will come. and you got, you gotta educate the whole, the whole mind, body and soul. That’s, that’s my feeling on it.

Sam Demma (16:36):

That’s awesome. I think back to my experiences as a student in school and I had some amazing experiences with extracurricular activities. Soccer was a big part of my life. Spent almost every minute outside of a classroom on a soccer field or in a gym, working and training and getting, getting better. I was, yeah. Were were you a soccer player as well?

Paolo Morrone (16:56):

 not soccer. Well, I did play, I was a goalie. but I was kinda one of those kids that played a little bit of everything. I played soccer, I played hockey, I played football in high school softball, baseball. But I wouldn’t say I was a a rock star in any one, any one particular sport. I just loved sports. Yeah. And that’s really what drew me. Probably what drew you, you know, in the realm of education as well, is I had that one connection, not one connection I have. I still go out with some of the teachers that, going back to the relationship piece. Oh

Sam Demma (17:25):

No way. That

Paolo Morrone (17:26):

Impact on you. Right. I still talk to you know, one of my good, one of my, one of my good friends lives down the street from here. He was my teacher in high school. No way. I ended up becoming his vice principal down the road and my first placement. So it, it is about that. and connecting, right. yeah, prime example. And sports. So he was my coach and my teacher. So it’s, you know, pay it forward kind of thing. And you see things come full circle and you have that good, those good people in front of you. Like I’m sure you had some good coaches and some mentors along the way in high school and maybe in elementary or high school. I don’t know that set you a foot in the right direction or if you had a setback you know, they kind of picked you up. That’s what I always strive to be when I was teaching. That’s the biggest part of, I miss that con that connection piece in the classroom. But I try to do that as much as I can as a principal by being visible and being active with the kids at recess or whatever I can, wherever I can. Just, you know, even if that means a high five in the hallway.

Sam Demma (18:28):

Yeah. Let’s talk about that for a second. Visibility in your role as a principal now how do you try and make sure that, that you still have that type of contribution? Of course, it’s a different role with different responsibilities, but what are, what are some of the things that you practice or try and do to, to not just be visible but be impactful?

Paolo Morrone (18:47):

It’s a fine balance between the paper, paper aspect and being visible. you can very easily get wrapped up being, I can get trapped in my office all day and there are days that I am. Yep. Those are the days I feel guilty. but my, my general rule of thumb for me is I try to get out at least two recesses a day, whether it’s lunch or at the end of the day. Cuz the kids need to see you out there. not just from a, you know, you know, here’s the big bad principal disciplinarian. No. Like, they, you know, you walk out and you’re, it’s a, it’s awesome. you’re getting tackled. You got, I got one on each, one kid on each limb. they’re, they’re elementary is a, it’s an awesome experience. The kids they really, they need to see you.

Paolo Morrone (19:31):

They need to see you out there. I’m a big sort of burly guy, so they they come running up and <laugh> literally like, you know, two or three of them. They’re tackling Yeah, they’re tackling you out there. But I think the important thing as a, as an administrator is in any school, elementary, secondary, whatever the case may be, you gotta be visible. You gotta be visible, you gotta be accessible. my office happens to be literally in the middle of the hallway, so I am accessible. I get kids knocking on my door all day every day. a little difficult when you’re trying to get something done or you’re in a room meeting or a, a podcast or whatever it is that you’re doing. But you you gotta be there. That’s the bottom line. You gotta be out there and be visible.

Paolo Morrone (20:16):

And again, if that means just, you know, a little dab in the hallway, say, Hey, hey buddy, how you doing today? that’s how I try to be impactful. And then the other piece is when there are activities, when there are things happening in, in the school, again, it’s don’t just be there, be part of it. you know, we did the Terry Fox run a couple weeks ago within the school. You know, the, if we hit our goal, we had a jello weeding contest. I, I, for the first time, I, I kind of felt what a rockstar was like. It was, it was crazy being on top of that, on top of the stage. And just the kids were the, the energy and the vibe coming off just being not having that stuff for the last couple years. It was awesome to see the kids just enjoying it. And again, it goes back to, you know, you’re not plugging yourself in a closet. Yep. And they see you as real. I was on the stage with four other teachers full of whipped cream and jello all over my face. And they, they loved every of it. Right. And I make the the the kids love my I call it bad jokes, but my hair jokes or my lack there of,

Paolo Morrone (21:25):

I think it, I think it just comes down to honestly just being, just being real with them. And they, they know that, they know that you’re, you know, you’re the principal. You’re you’re the disciplinarian in the school. You run the school in that sense, but at the same time, they wanna know that you’re real and you’ve got a big heart and you’re there for them. That’s what I think

Sam Demma (21:46):

I try to do that. It sounds like it. And I think that’s really, it’s really awesome. I think there are also like everything, there’s people who work in different industries that their heart’s not in it. And you can tell right away the, the difference, you know? and I think the students can tell right away too. Like they can sense it sometimes.

Paolo Morrone (22:08):

Not sometimes all the time. they, they, they can pick off a fraud from a mile away. They really can. it’s the energy and the vibe that you give off. Honestly, sometimes it’s not even anything that you say or do, it’s just how you, how you carry yourself in the school. again, I I honestly everything, I relate everything back to building relationships with people, relational leadership, relational educat. Like just being that educator that can connect with people. Right?

Sam Demma (22:37):

Yeah. So how if you don’t have energy and if you don’t have your own your hell health, you know, it’s hard to, you know, try and be the best you can be. Especially at work. One of my one of my cousins she just started teaching and they don’t have kids. And she says to me one time at dinner, I spend, I spend eight hours with kids at school. There’s no way I’m coming home and raising kids of my own <laugh>. I don’t know how people do this. <laugh> and you know, parenting, having a family, beautiful thing. you have kids of your own little ones mm-hmm. <affirmative> among balancing, raising your kids, helping other, you know, people’s kids all day. How do you fill up your own cup so that you can show up and give a hundred percent of your efforts?

Paolo Morrone (23:31):

 I always, I, I, I laugh cuz you say this. I always say I split my day in two. my energy, I try to give the same energy to both. Nice. but it’s a, I psych myself up on the way home in the car because, you know, I do have two little ones. I kind of did things a little different or backwards as I say in my career path where I kind of got into being an administrator very young into my career. you know, I’m, we’re, I’m in year 13 here. Nice. As an administrator. Nice As an administrator. So I, when I started as a vice principal, I didn’t have kids. so it was a totally different <laugh>, totally different experience, totally different energy level. And now I’ve got two little ones under five, five and under.

Paolo Morrone (24:21):

so when I come home, I gotta be on my a game. Nice. I gotta be on ma game in the morning and I gotta be on ma game in the afternoon. How do I do it? I don’t know how I do it, but I do it. you just kind of you know, you’ve gotta be there. And the other piece is health. From a health perspective, that’s hard balance. Finding a good balance and I’m one that I’ve always thought, you know, working out and, and sports in general is important. so, you know, we, I don’t do the gym anymore, but I’ve set up a gym at home. So that, that was the trade off, you know, losing up. I don’t have that extra hour to go back and forth from the gym, but you know, what if I cut off that hour and I got half an hour, I can do that at home. And that’s how I keep my own sort of mental sanity between both both rolls and hats that I, I have on all every day between my personal and family life. It’s, it’s a, it’s a tough balance sometimes, especially as a, a principal these days, there’s a lot of different you know, this, these disconnect policies don’t often work as well for us <laugh> when we come home and you gotta answer, you’re get, you know, you’re

Sam Demma (25:28):

Looking your life right center

Paolo Morrone (25:30):

<laugh>. Yeah. Do I answer this email or do I wait till the morning and then, you know, no, I’m gonna cut. I’m gonna cut it off, but then still gonna be there in the morning. So its it’s tough. It is a fine balance between between home life and, and work life. and a lot of people, it’s, it’s not hard to get totally overwhelmed with work where you, you start letting the other stuff slip a bit. So you gotta bring yourself back to reality and get a reality check and say no. Like, my priority is my family. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. I love my job and my vocation, but my number one priority is my family. but I’ve gotta also be able to be there for, for the school, for the kids. They know when you’re not, when you’re not. And I don’t mean just physic, they actually do know. Cause I’m not on the, if I’m not on the pa, they know I’m not there <laugh>. but they know, they know if you’re off, they sense it, they can feel it.

Sam Demma (26:19):

Ah, cool. that’s awesome. Thanks for sharing some of the behind the scenes. When, when you think of your different roles, if you could take the experience you have now, travel back in time and speak to Apollo in his first year of teaching, knowing what you know now with the experiences you’ve had, like what would you have told your younger self? Not because you wanted to change your pathway, but you thought it would’ve been helpful to hear when you were just getting into this vocation?

Paolo Morrone (26:46):

 truthfully, I probably would have gone into administration a little bit later on in my career. I don’t regret it. I joke around with people and say like, you know, I gave up the dream job as a, as a PhysEd teacher. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> which is something, again, going back to I can trace back to grade eight in terms of me. That’s what I wanted to do. but as I told you, I also said that I wanted to be a principal. I just, I got in a little early and you know out of potentially a 30 year career, 20, 20 plus years of it will be an administration that’s a long time to be a principal and vice principal. I look, I take the positive in it and say, you know what? That that’ll by the time I’m, I’m done and ready to move on to the next stage of my life, I’m hoping that I’ve made quite a bit of an impact in all the schools I’ve, I’ve been at in some way, shape or form.

Paolo Morrone (27:38):

 in terms of my career trajectory, that would be the only thing. I’m not saying I regretted in any way, but I probably would’ve done it a little bit later. so when you get, when you get the tap on the shoulder, you get the tap. And as my mentor at the time said you know, if you got the, if you get the tap on the shoulder now there’s a reason for it and, and you don’t know if it’s gonna come afterwards. So you’re, you’re lined up. There’s a reason for it and, you know, take, take the leap and go kind of thing.

Sam Demma (28:05):

Oh, awesome. I appreciate that advice because I’m sure there’s some people on the edge with that decision who might be listening right now. So, yeah. Thanks for sharing and Paulo, thanks so much for coming on the show. I really appreciate your time and energy. I hope you have an amazing rest of the school year. If, if another educator is listening to this and wants to reach out, ask you a question, what would be the best way for them to get in touch with you?

Paolo Morrone (28:28):

They can reach out to me either through LinkedIn, email through my board email’s fine. LinkedIn. I’m on LinkedIn quite a bit or even Twitter. I’m not as active as I was on Twitter, but I do I do check it.

Sam Demma (28:41):

Perfect. Awesome. Thank you so much for again coming on the show. Enjoy the rest of your.I’m glad you enjoyed it And keep up with the great work.

Paolo Morrone (28:50):

<laugh>. Thanks man.

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Paolo Morrone

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.

Tracy Beaulieu – Administrative Support Leader

Tracy Beaulieu - Administrative Support Leader
About Tracy Beaulieu

Tracy Beaulieu is an Administrative Support Leader for the Public Schools Branch in Prince Edward Island. She has a passion for teaching and learning and brings 19 years of experience as a school administrator to her current role. This background has allowed her to render advice, guidance, and professional training to help administrators succeed in their complex roles – as instructional leaders and operational managers.

In addition to working with those directly in the role, she teaches the province preparatory course for aspiring leaders. Providing a safe, welcoming, and caring learning environment has always been a priority for Tracy. In 2012, her school received national recognition for welcoming new students and families to kindergarten.

Two years later, she received Canada’s Outstanding Principal’s Award after being nominated by the staff for her commitment and focus on character education. She believes neither of these would have been possible without an amazing staff who believed in students.

Connect with Tracy: Email | Instagram | Facebook

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Public Schools Branch – Prince Edward Island

Canada’s Outstanding Principal’s Award

Dr. Seuss Books

Who was Terry Fox?

Empty Your Backpack by Sam Demma

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:54):

Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator Podcast.

Sam Demma (00:58):

Today’s special guest is Tracy Beaulieu. Tracy Beaulieu is an Administrative Support Leader for the Public Schools Branch in Prince Edward Island. She has a passion for teaching and learning and brings 19 years of experience as a school administrator to her current role. This background has allowed her to render advice, guidance, and professional training to help administrators succeed in their complex roles – as instructional leaders and operational managers.In addition to working with those directly in the role, she teaches the province preparatory course for aspiring leaders. Providing a safe, welcoming, and caring learning environment has always been a priority for Tracy. In 2012, her school received national recognition for welcoming new students and families to kindergarten.Two years later, she received Canada’s Outstanding Principal’s Award after being nominated by the staff for her commitment and focus on character education. She truly believes neither of these would have been possible without an amazing staff who believed in students. I hope you enjoy this insightful conversation with Tracy and I will see you on the other side.

Sam Demma (02:01):

Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator Podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. I’m here with a very special guest today. She was introduced to me by a past guest. Her name is Tracy Beaulieu. I’m gonna give her an opportunity to introduce herself as well. Tracy, welcome to the show. Please, share a little bit about your yourself.

Tracy Beaulieu (02:23):

Hi. Thank you Sam. I appreciate you having me. As you said, my name is Tracy Beaulieu and my role is an admin support leader on Prince Edward Island. So basically what I do is I’m the contact for a number of schools. I have 20 of them. Typically the elementary schools. The contact for any of the administrators if they have any questions or need support helping their teachers or helping students, I’m kind of their go-to person.

Tracy Beaulieu (02:55):

That is a very special role. <laugh>.

Tracy Beaulieu (03:00):

Interesting.

Tracy Beaulieu (03:01):

It’s a lot of support. What got you into education? Did you know growing up that you wanted to work in this industry?

Tracy Beaulieu (03:09):

Absolutely. I actually knew since I was a little kid, that was kind of the same, the thing that was in the books that your parents keep that say, What do you wanna be when you’re in grade one and two? And teacher was always it for me. Ironically, I never wanted to be an administrator and I found myself in that role at a fairly young age. I was only 27 when I became a vice principal. And really only then did I become a vice principal because I had the administrator’s course as part of my upgrading my education. And I was in a small rural school and they needed help and I was asked, I didn’t want to take it on because that would mean that I would be the vice principal of some of the teachers who had actually taught me when I was in school.

Tracy Beaulieu (04:03):

So it was a little awkward, but they were fantastic and gave me a lot of support. So then I never wanted to be a principal. And ironically people then started reaching out and encouraging me to take on the role, but it was actually a student that made me finally make the decision to become a principal. It’s a neat little story. I was just driving down the road, I was going to pick up a sub for my kids and I saw a sign and it basically had said, the signs are there, you just need to listen. And I was like, Oh yeah, sure. And then I get to the place where the sub is and it’s a student and he came over and was happy to see me and said, Are you gonna be the new principal? And I said, No, I don’t think so. I love teaching kids too much. And he said, But you still teach me. You teach me when I’m in the office to make better choices. And I thought, Wow, okay, there’s a bit of a sign. So that’s how I got into administration. But basically my journey has been because other people were tapping me on the shoulder and saw something in me that I may not have seen in myself. And I’m grateful for them for doing that and I hope that I can do that for others as well.

Sam Demma (05:28):

Did you say your first role in admin was at 27?

Tracy Beaulieu (05:31):

Yes.

Sam Demma (05:32):

What was that experience like? Did you ever find it as a young person? I’m 23 and sometimes I have these situations where I’m dealing with individuals who are older than me twice my age. <laugh>, yes, have. How was that experience? Did you ever have any weird situations being so young in that role or what was it like for you?

Tracy Beaulieu (05:54):

Do you know? I anticipated that it would be really awkward for me. I honestly did the first staff meeting where I knew it was gonna be announced that I was the vice principal. I was quite nervous because as I said, I had a couple of people on staff. It wasn’t a very big staff either who had taught me, but they were actually quite remarkable. They were happy for me and I was very lucky because as awkward as it was for me, they made it easy, impossible for me. They were my support and they all shaped me into who I was as an administrator and I was very grateful. The biggest challenge I think for me sometimes would’ve been with the parents, if there was an issue with that, with a student, they would look at me and think, Well, I’m older than her and what does she know?

Tracy Beaulieu (06:55):

Kind of thing. But I’ve always been about making connections with kids. I preached from that time on that it’s okay to make mistakes. That’s part of our learning. And just because you’ve made a mistake doesn’t mean you’re a bad kid. And that’s what some of them would take it as. So I was lucky that I had a lot of the parent support with that as well. But I think it’s a lot because you start off telling them that their kid’s a good kid and that you actually really like their kid. We’re just gonna work together to help them make better choices next time.

Tracy Beaulieu (07:32):

Let’s talk about making connections with kids. When you were in the classroom and even in the administration roles and even in the roles you’re in today, how do you make and build a connection with a young person? How do you think that actually happens?

Tracy Beaulieu (07:48):

Well, first off, I think they have to know that you like them and it has to be genuine. Kids are very good at a very young age at picking up if you don’t really mean it. And kids are really good at knowing how they can control you if you let them <laugh>, ask a two year old as well. So it’s about giving them some of those boundaries that they do need, but having fun with them, it’s about being interested in them beyond the classroom as well. So I would go to some of their sporting events and watch them there and they would be excited to see you at their sporting events. I would go to their music festivals when I was able to and just being part of their life beyond the school. And then to laugh and joke with them as well and to have fun, then they want to do good for you.

Tracy Beaulieu (08:50):

And that’s the biggest thing. Kids, I guess I’ll say that I was at a conference and it was out at B and Chief Cadmus had actually made this comment and it resonated me because I believe it so heartedly it’s show people your heart before you expect their hand. And that really resonated with me and it’s about the connection piece. Kids won’t learn unless they know you like them. So making those relationships is so, so important and letting them know that they are valued and they mean something and they have all kinds of potential. And part of that learning is it’s about making mistakes because you want them to know that they can trust you and they can be safe to make some mistakes with you and you’ll guide them through.

Tracy Beaulieu (09:47):

I think in education, our mistakes are amazing learning opportunities and in life in general, if we choose to reflect on them and learn from them, they can be these amazing professional development moments in our professional journeys and also in our personal lives. And I’m wondering, in your journey throughout education, if there are any mistakes, but we’ll call them learning lessons that you found really impactful personally that you think other educators could benefit from hearing cuz they might be going through something similar.

Tracy Beaulieu (10:22):

I think one of the ones that kinda stands out for me, as I mentioned, I was in a small rural school when I first started and the school was actually in the community I grew up in. So that was my kind of discourse. And then I went to another school eventually that was a larger school and it had more complex needs in that school and those students and that environment actually kind of awakened me to a mistake that I was holding in my head and that’s that everybody kind of had a similar background and experience to myself. We talk a lot about diversity, but I think to that point, my mind on diversity was more about okay, if it’s a different culture, a different language or that type of thing. But they taught me that we are diverse even with the same socioeconomic background, even the same gender and race.

Tracy Beaulieu (11:28):

So that was a big learning for me and it was kind of an eye opening thing. So I learned that I had to talk to even my whole staff about the fact that we have these invisible backpacks that we carry and we don’t hang those up on a hook when we get into this school. They stay with us all day long and it’s not to make assumptions that people’s stories and what they’ve been through based on what you have experienced and been through. So that was a big kind of mistake or learning for me is and making assumptions that really weren’t accurate.

Tracy Beaulieu (12:08):

I often tell people just because you can’t see someone’s backpack doesn’t mean they’re not carrying something that nothing about.

Sam Demma (12:16):

Absolutely.

Sam Demma (12:17):

It’s funny, I actually, I just wrote a book called Your Backpack <laugh>.

Tracy Beaulieu (12:23):

That is so cool.

Sam Demma (12:25):

So the connection is so immediate and visceral for me with that in mind that every student and every human being walks through life with these invisible backpacks. How do we get to know what’s in a student’s backpack? Is it by asking them questions or how have you got to know what your students were carrying when you were in their classrooms?

Tracy Beaulieu (12:51):

Yeah, it was about asking questions. I was usually at the elementary level, so sometimes it was making connections actually with their parents as well. So many people find it difficult to come into a school environment if they didn’t have a positive experience growing up. So it it’s about making your building a welcoming and safe place for parents as well as students and really listening to their story. So we can always ask questions, but if we’re not genuinely listening, it’s not going to amount to any sort of understanding of what they’re bringing with them. And it’s about building that trust and letting them know that they can come and talk to you and share things with you. It’s the basis of everything. And then it’s starting to really understand for me, if kids were making choices that weren’t the right choices, it was really staying in tune to the fact that there’s an underlying reason why this is happening right now and they deserve to have me help them get through that in any way that I can.

Tracy Beaulieu (14:11):

So it is about building the trust and making connections and making a safe environment and then truly listening to what their story is because those little ones may not even know what is beneath that emotion that they’re feeling. And it’s our job to help them support that growth in learning because they’re not gonna learn, they won’t learn the ABC’s if they can’t control those emotions that they have. If they’re worried about what’s happening at home, if they’re coming to school with some sort of trauma that’s going to trump all of their ability to learn. So we are educators, It’s our job to unpack that backpack with them and with their families the best that we can so that we can help them become the best that they can be because that’s the end goal, making them be the best version of themselves.

Tracy Beaulieu (15:09):

It sounds like listening has been a really impactful aspect of your journey as an educator, but I would assume that it’s just a big part of living life. It becomes more interesting when we listen genuinely and be curious about other people’s journeys. When you transition from teaching to administration, who are you listening to or who was in your life in your corner helping you and showing you the ropes and mentoring you? Did you have some other educators who played a big role and if so, who were they and what did they teach you or do for you?

Tracy Beaulieu (15:42):

Yes, I always had, I was very fortunate to have the support, not just in the school but in my family as well. So I was lucky there, but in school I would’ve had different teachers and on my staff as I mentioned, who were kind of aware that they saw something in me, they saw the potential and they were willing to help nurture that potential as I was learning, which I think makes great teachers in general. And then as I got going through, actually there was one gentleman who probably had the biggest impact for me and his name was Doug McDougal. And Doug had this ability to make everybody feel that they were valued and that they were worth something. And Doug would take the time to write little cards and send them to people telling them what he thought was great about either their style or about themselves.

Tracy Beaulieu (16:47):

So it could be the educational style or them personally. And he had that ability to laugh and have fun with you as well. Oh wow. So he was probably my biggest inspiration. He was the person that I thought, if I can be like you, I want to be like you. And he set the bar high for a lot of us and I actually, unfortunately a year ago, a little over a year ago, he passed suddenly. And to see the impact he had on so many people was so heartwarming and I felt I needed to keep his memory alive. So I created the Doug McDougal Inspire Award and just presented that to administrators last weekend, I believe it was, or two weeks ago. And it’s my way of keeping his legacy alive. And we’re going to have that award be presented to anybody in the education system that is making school better for staff and students. So it could be a custodian, it could be the bus driver, it could be a teacher, it could be anybody that is making life better for kids. And that award will travel from school to school just like Doug did. So he was probably my biggest inspiration and motivator.

Sam Demma (18:22):

That’s awesome. I love that you pinpointed some of the actions he took that made a big difference, like the writing of cards, I think that’s sometimes a lost art. I’m 23. I learned how to send a handwritten note in the mail at 18 <laugh> because there was no real reason to send a handwritten note at growing up cuz we had emails and all these. That’s right. Donald mentioned Doug as well on the island. Is Doug very well known as a impactful educator?

Tracy Beaulieu (18:58):

Yes, yes. Impactful educator and impactful community member as well. Interesting story that someone had shared because with his passing you got to hear stories, but he was the type of person that they needed a hockey coach in his community and nobody was able or volunteered to do it and Doug did and Doug couldn’t even skate, but he knew those kids needed somebody and he didn’t look at his inability to skate as a barrier. He still took the opportunity because he wanted those kids to have something and he continued to demonstrate that a lot. He didn’t let his quote limitations that some people would say prevent him from doing something that would help others. So he was quite a remarkable person.

Sam Demma (19:57):

Yeah, that’s so cool. I think what’s also amazing about the story is that you mentioned how after his passing you heard about all these stories of impact and sometimes in education we don’t know the impact that our actions are having. Sometimes we have to wait, sometimes we never know and other people get to see it, which is really, really cool. In terms of impact, are there any stories that come to mind for you of students who you’ve seen transformed due to education? And it could be as a direct result of your activities or someone in your school or the community as a whole helping a young person. And the reason I ask is because I think the reason most people get into education is because they wanna make a positive difference in the lives of young people. And when they get burnt out or overwhelmed, I think it’s these stories of impact that really remind them why the work they’re doing is so important. So do any of those stories come to mind? And if it’s a serious one, you could definitely change the name of the student if you’d like <laugh>.

Tracy Beaulieu (21:05):

A couple of things come to mind. One is when I did first start in my administrative role, there was a student and it was, as I said, a small rural school. So there was one grade per grade level and there was one particular student who his choices weren’t always seen as very positive and made other staff members sometimes struggle when this child would be exhibiting some of the behaviors I guess. And I believed in him and I started listening again when he was acting out he would be getting into other people’s business so to speak. But I started realizing, wow, this boy is actually being an advocate for other people, other students, but he’s just not doing it appropriately. His way of doing it is very disrespectful and kind of clouding people’s opinions. So I started working with him a lot and letting him know that, you know, are a good kid, you are making a good choice.

Tracy Beaulieu (22:23):

Even when he was up in junior high, I would take him to work with some of my grade three students and he was quite remarkable at that. And he was a student who we all worried about would he get through school. And he did. He graduated and he actually became a bodybuilder and was on the cover of one of the, I don’t know if it’s a Canadian magazine or whatever, but he made the cover of a magazine and this is a kid that even in high school we stayed connected and I got an invitation to his wedding this summer and he’s a dad, he has two kids, he’s successful and he actually found his way. And I think that just comes from people believing in him. So he actually had a big impact on me because he showed me that it is true that if we just work, if you get past those challenging behaviors and try to see the person within, they can teach us a lot.

Tracy Beaulieu (23:32):

And so he shaped me to always let kids know that again, it’s okay to make mistakes. So I started a program when I was at the other school that I went to and it was really around Carol Wes work with growth Mindset. Nice. And I had a book and it was called Not Yet. And I went to each class and I read it and it was talking about the fact that Terry Fox may not have actually finished his journey. He would’ve had a difficult time even when he was doing his run. He saw challenges, but he didn’t give up and he just kept saying, I’m not done, not yet. And share with them of all the successful people who tried to do things and failed but didn’t give up and they looked at the mistakes that they had and they turned them into opportunities to dig deeper and find more.

Tracy Beaulieu (24:31):

Dr. Suess was always a big person that I would have his quotes around. Kids knew that I loved him, but I shared that he was rejected 27 times before he got to actually write his book. So it was sharing that those mistakes are part of it. And with the not yet I started, I had little neck laces and bracelets that teachers would be able to give to kids whenever they saw them trying things, but not yet succeeding, but given them praise and highlighting the power of them trying to persevere and get through. So that was a way that we were trying to motivate kids. But when I knew it was working is when I was in walking in the hallways or on the playground and I would hear kids talking to each other and saying, No, you don’t have that yet, but you will <affirmative>. And I thought that’s that seemingly small action of repeating with kids that it’s okay to make mistakes, you just don’t have it yet to keep trying. It will sink in. And that’s what I want for all students is to have that ability to believe in themselves that even when you try and you don’t succeed, there’s still opportunities there for success if you just keep trying.

Tracy Beaulieu (25:56):

I love the idea of not yet, I think so often we hit barriers and it ultimately is up to us to decide when we continue pushing forward or when we stop. There’s no such thing as a failure if you don’t quit <laugh>. Exactly. You never reach that point. So that’s such a powerful thing to remind young people, and again, not just students but human beings, we all face challenges, not just the kids. So I love that analogy and I appreciate you sharing it. When you field phone calls from the principals and the administration of the 20 different elementary schools in PEI that you help and support, what is the most common thing they’re reaching out about? I’m sure every school is very different and unique, but are there any commonalities or things that you think a lot of them need support with right now?

Tracy Beaulieu (26:47):

Right now, I believe the biggest commonality that comes from schools is the kind of challenges that kids are experiencing right now with regulating their emotions, <affirmative>, and also some of them just not having the skills that they may have had in the past coming into school. So we’re already starting behind that benchmark and trying to meet their needs. One of the things, and the other layer is those high conflict personalities of people calling and trying to figure out how do we navigate through this kind of tumultuous time where people are wanting things and they’re wanting it now and they don’t see the challenges beyond their own challenges and it is their story and that’s all they know. So you don’t expect them to always understand that there’s a whole lot of other things that are limiting. I think that’s the biggest challenge and the biggest underlying common theme that is coming with all of the phone calls is how can I help this student? My teachers are burning out because of the needs and this parent is upset and I don’t know how to calm them and help them understand. And yeah, those would be the two main things. Right now

Tracy Beaulieu (28:28):

It sounds like the students are at the forefront of some of the best things that happen in the school and then some of the learning moments. <laugh>. Yes. So true. The center of education. And what do you think for those educators that are burning out, because I think it’s a common theme, especially before the pandemic, it was starting a little bit and then the pandemic just exasperated it and it became a real big challenge. What do you think the teachers who are a little bit burnt out need to hear right now? If you could say something out of your window and it would just reach the ear of every educator across pei, what would you tell <laugh>

Tracy Beaulieu (29:11):

That they are making a difference <affirmative>. And they may not always feel it. They see sometimes the challenges that they’re ahead of them and they feel like they’re not meeting the needs of the kids, but they absolutely are. And really trying to help them understand that it may be five to 10% of your class or of the school community that are struggling and don’t lose sight of the 90 to 95% of the amazing things that are done all the time. And it’s really, again, trying to shift our mindset to acknowledging the positives. If we only talk about the challenges and if we only look at the challenges, that’s all we are going to see. And that begins to shape what we believe the reality is in our building where when I get to go to schools, I get to see all of the amazing things that are happening. So it’s to try to always take time to focus on what went well, what is going well, what are the successes and what are we accomplishing to make these kids be the best that they can be and not only talk about what I can’t do and what I can’t get at. So I think that would be my biggest message. You’re doing a great job. Just try to remember to think of the positives.

Tracy Beaulieu (30:47):

We gotta empty our backpacks of those negative beliefs.

Tracy Beaulieu (30:50):

<laugh>. Yes. Yes. They’re there. If you wanna look for them, they’re there, but so are the positives, so

Tracy Beaulieu (30:56):

That’s awesome. Tracy, if someone wants to have a conversation with you or reach out, what would be the most efficient way for them to get in touch with you?

Tracy Beaulieu (31:06):

Probably email would be the easiest way for them to connect with me and you have my email address. Do you want me to say it?

Tracy Beaulieu (31:18):

Yeah, you can say it out loud right now and I’ll also put it in the show notes of the episode so people can find it.

Tracy Beaulieu (31:23):

Okay. So it’s txbeaulieu@edu.pe.ca.

Tracy Beaulieu (31:33):

Awesome. Tracy, this has been such an insightful conversation. Thank you so much for taking some time out of your morning to come on the podcast and share some of your insights and experiences in education. I really appreciate your efforts and if anyone hasn’t told you recently, just know that you’re making a massive difference as well in so many educators lives and which are ultimately affecting the lives of so many families and students. So keep up the great work and I look forward to seeing you soon.

Tracy Beaulieu (32:02):

Thank you so much Sam for having me, and thank you for all you’re doing as well. That’s pretty remarkable what you’re taking on and it’s very appreciated. So thank you.

Tracy Beaulieu (32:11):

You’re welcome.

Sam Demma (32:13):

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

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Tracy Beaulieu

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.

Chris Andrew – Teacher, Administrator and Coach with the Red Deer Catholic Regional School Division for Over 30 years

Chris Andrew - Teacher, Administrator and Coach with the Red Deer Catholic Regional School Division for Over 30 years
About Chris Andrew

Chris has been a teacher/administrator/coach with the Red Deer Catholic Regional School Division for over 30 years. He began his career as an High School English teacher in 1988. Since then, he went on to teach at middle school and elementary. In his teaching career he has taught every grade from Pre-KIndergarten to Grade 12. He began his administrative career as a Curriculum Coordinator in the areas of Language Arts, Social Studies, and Early Education. He has been Vice Principal at the Middle and High School level and a Principal at the Elementary, Middle and High School levels.

Chris obtained his Bachelor of Education degree from the University of Saskatchewan majoring in HIstory and English and received a Master of Arts Degree Majoring in Special Education from San Diego State University. He is a proud parent of three children Jack (15), Geordan (24), and Amy (27) and is happily married to his wife, Charlene for over 30 years.

Connect with Chris: Email | Instagram | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Red Deer Catholic Regional School Division

Bachelor of Education – University of Saskatchewan

Master of Arts Degree Majoring in Special Education – San Diego State University

Understanding Response to Intervention

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:55):

Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator Podcast.

Sam Demma (00:59):

This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today’s special guest is a good friend of mine named Chris Andrew. Chris has been a teacher, administrator, and coach with the Red Deer Catholic Regional School Division for over 30 years. He began his career as a high school English teacher in 1988. Since then, he went on to teach at middle school and elementary. In his teaching career, he has taught every grade from pre-kindergarten to grade 12. He began his administrative career as a curriculum coordinator in the areas of language arts, social studies, and early education. He has been vice principal at the middle and high school level, and a principal at the elementary, middle, and high school levels. Chris obtained his Bachelor of education degree from the University of Saskatchewan, majoring in history and English, and received a masters of Arts degree majoring in special education from San Diego State University. He is a proud parent of three children, Jack 15, Jordan 34, and Amy 27, and is happily married to his wife, Charlene for over 30 years. I hope you enjoy this conversation and I will see you on the other side. Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator Podcast. Today we have a very special guest. His name is Chris Andrew. Chris, please start by introducing yourself.

Chris Andrew (02:20):

Well, hi Sam. Thanks very much for having me on the show. I am a administrator in the Red Year Catholic School Division. I’ve been teaching and administration for 34 years. This is my 35th year, and I’ve been in every level of school from pre-kindergarten to grade 12. So both as an administrator, and as a teacher.

Sam Demma (02:45):

Did as a student growing up that you wanted to work in education, did anyone in your family work in education? What directed you down this path?

Chris Andrew (02:54):

No, no one worked in education. My family, I grew up on a small family farm but I had a pretty great educational experience In grade 10, I left home to attend a boarding school and met some incredible teachers there that were big influences in my life. They had fun every day. They joked around and had fun every day and they made the learning fun for us. And so we’d come to tests and I’m having a test on what and all the information there and just going like, Man, I know all this stuff. And it was hard to like we were learning. So a lot of great mentors at that school.

Sam Demma (03:36):

You mentioned you had a lot of great teachers. What is it, I guess having fun was one aspect of it, but what is it that they did in your life as a teacher and you being a student that really inspired you and uplifted you?

Chris Andrew (03:52):

The relationship that they had with the students, they knew us well actually one of the tricks that they used or that they did to learn about us, I used in my classes, and that was because I became a high school English teacher to start with. One of my favorite teachers was a as English teacher, and they gave us these autobiographies to write every year. Well, because kids at a boarding school come from a lot of different communities, a lot of different places. In order to connect your lessons to them, they had to find out where people were from. And I took that lesson from them so that I knew what my students were about. And when they taught their lessons, just like I taught mine, it was all about relationships. Who had pats? What was their biggest life experience so far? What kinds of things did they enjoy? And so when they thought about structuring the lessons that they had, they keyed in on the things that would make people excuse the

Chris Andrew (04:56):

Interruption.

Sam Demma (04:59):

It’s part of the everyday life of an educator. It makes it more real <laugh>.

Chris Andrew (05:05):

They connected things in their lessons to the things that were important to the people in their class. And I did exactly the same thing in mind.

Sam Demma (05:15):

Would you finish the day of school, go home and work on the farm?

Chris Andrew (05:20):

If you can come to you said to

Chris Andrew (05:23):

The office When I was living at home, for sure. Yeah, we had chores every night. The boarding school that I went to though I actually stayed over. We went on that Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, so we became super independent and then also to our teachers were our dorm teachers, so they would actually supervise us at night too. So we got to see all sides of them. We got to see them in their classroom and we got to see them personally as well.

Sam Demma (05:52):

Oh, that’s amazing. Did you finish your high school experience in the boarding school or was it just for one or two years?

Chris Andrew (06:00):

No, I went from grade 10 to grade 12, so I had all kinds of rules. I was a senior student my second year, meaning that I had new students to the school, kind of guiding them through the different things of would happen, answering questions as roommates. And then in my senior year, I was a house leader, so I was in charge of an entire floor with another teacher, which meant we made schedules for jobs and supervised, making sure that everybody was in bed at night and those kinds of things, making sure that students were in bed and lights out at a certain time. So it was kind of a military style school at night, so it was kind of fun.

Sam Demma (06:42):

When you finished high school what did the rest of your journey look like and was there a defining moment as a high school student where you decided, Wow, this teacher had such an impact on me, I want to do this when I grow up, or did you still go to university or college and we’re still exploring your options at that point?

Chris Andrew (07:00):

Yeah, yeah, for sure. My high school teachers that I was speaking about earlier really set a great example for me. I came from a small community school. Teachers changed every year, so bar as far as teachers and their experience was pretty low before I went to this school. Then I saw these outstanding high connection teachers and I said, Man, that’s what I want to be. And so when I went to university, I went to the University of Saskatchewan and combined my education degree with three years of cis or university level football at the same time. So they were all super athletic. It was an athletic school that I went to. So it was a natural transition both to go into education and also to continue as a student athlete at university.

Sam Demma (07:56):

Do you think you pulled any principles from athletics or just disciplines from sport that have really helped you as a teacher and generally in life?

Chris Andrew (08:08):

Yeah, for sure. Always taking a look at your class as your team. These are the people on my team and looking at their skills. I taught with another teacher by the name of Lee Kane when I was at school and we had a cooperative learning class and we would divide the students into groupings for a unit and we would divide them based on different skills that they had so that each person relied on the other for their skills, just kind of like a team. And then taking it into about year 2000 or so, I started to get into administration. I started looking at the teachers in my school as my team and then looking at their individual skills and how they could help one another grow it to be effective teachers in their classroom.

Sam Demma (08:59):

That’s awesome. I think sport teaches so much and especially when you have a coach that unifies the team, aka a really great teacher in a classroom, <laugh> some of my coaches had really big impacts on my development as a young person and taught me principals as well. That stuck with me for a long time. So you finish high school. Tell me about the next steps in your journey that brought you to your first role in education. As I think you said, an English teacher.

Chris Andrew (09:27):

That’s right. If I first job interview with Red Deer Catholic they were actually looking for a high school football coach. Oh wow. They could teach. So I remember sitting in the interview room beforehand and the guy before me or a guy after me was an offensive lineman. I could tell for sure <laugh> and the guy coming out he definitely was something to do with defense cause guy too. And I went in, I remembered that the interview they asked me to, What was wrong with this sentence and a tragedy is when the character falls down. And I said, Well, there’s two things wrong with that sentence. First of all, that’s not the definition of a tragedy. And the one guy set up really quickly and he’s said, Okay, well is there anything else Ronen? I said, That’s not proper English. Should never have his. And when in a sentence together, <laugh> said, ok, we’re gonna go on question number two now. And they started looking at other characteristics, more traditional interview, but it was pretty fun to send in that interview and go, Oh my gosh, I definitely, they’re looking for an offense line coach. I’m definitely out.

Sam Demma (10:38):

That’s awesome. <laugh>. So you became an English teacher. How many years did you stay in that role and what were the different roles in education you worked until you moved into administration and even into the role you’re in today?

Chris Andrew (10:54):

For sure. It was probably about my first five years I was in that role. I went from a high school English teacher to an elementary generalist for a year. And it was at that time I said, Wow, you know what? I can see the impact I have in a class. If I could possibly get into administration or somebody felt I had the skills to be a decent administrator, I wonder what kind of impact I could have on a school community. So at that point I kind of started to look at different opportunities that would help me grow my experience. So I spent a year in elementary as an elementary general teacher at grade five level then transferred back to high school. I spent two years as a special education teacher in a program called Integration Occupation program for students that weren’t able to get a high school diploma through kind of traditional routes but needed some academic support and as well as some job experience.

Chris Andrew (11:56):

And that’s how they got their certificate of completion. From there, I went to a junior high At the time, we now have middle schools, but it was a junior high to try all those things out. And it was at that point I started to go into my master’s work. So I studied at San Diego State University, a cohort that was centered out of Central Alberta, and we did summer classes in different places. One summer it was in ASFA with a whole group from across the province. Our second year was actually down at San Diego State where we spent a month with classes down there and we graduated in 2001 with my master’s from San Diego State University.

Sam Demma (12:38):

I’m sure you didn’t mind the warm weather down there, did you? <laugh>

Chris Andrew (12:41):

Beautiful weather, same weather every day. Crazy how great it is there.

Sam Demma (12:46):

That’s awesome. Well, did you have some mentors or administrators in your life to tap you on the shoulder and said, Hey Chris, you should consider administration or what did your journey into administration look like?

Chris Andrew (12:58):

Yeah, yeah, for sure. There were some key people. My first principal was really a very organized guy and I learned a lot about organization from that particular person. Our superintendent at the time I made that transition from high school to junior high was a guy by the name of Don Dolan and he was super influential in saying what, you’ve got a lot of different experience, you’ve got lots to offer our school division, we like how you are so student centered in your classes and if you could convert that into being teacher centered as administrator we would really like to see you grow in that direction. So those were two big influences for

Sam Demma (13:53):

At what point in your educational career did you start getting involved in helping out with extracurricular activities?

Chris Andrew (14:02):

From the very beginning, Sam I remember in my first year of teaching, I was as a first year teacher, head coach of a football team. And my roommate at the time became the head coach of the senior basketball team. So I went from being really involved in the football program to going to every basketball game. And then in the spring one of the teachers at the school convinced me to be his assistant rugby coach. So I enjoyed it so much that watching basketball and I had some back background in basketball the next year I coached football in the fall and then as soon as that was over, he had about two weeks off and then the basketball program started and then about three weeks off and then it was right into rugby. So the relationships we formed with kids in the classroom were great but the ones we formed with them after school as school, at school coaches, and in school sports really carried us. I think that young teacher, when we started out, it really carried us in the classroom because kids just had us so much respect for us and they also were so gracious to us when we made mistakes too. They just said, It’s okay, just like we did in practice, they just do better tomorrow Mr. Andrew. It’s okay.

Chris Andrew (15:32):

It was fantastic. Sports are a big part of our teaching.

Sam Demma (15:38):

How do you think it allows you to build such a deep relationship? Is it the extended amount of time spent with the young person or what do you think about sports and those extra cookers? What is it about them that allows you to build these super deep relationships with the students?

Chris Andrew (15:56):

They get a chance to see a different side of you. You’re spend that extra time with them. It gives them that opportunity to ask you those one-on-one questions, whether they be school related or not school related. If they guide and make sure that they go in the right direction, that they’re not going too far into your personal life <laugh>. But also too, if you just take that opportunity to listen to what’s going on in their lives and ask them questions back. Or even better yet when you’re driving home from a late night game, just listen to the conversations. You really get an idea what’s topical with the kids and what’s important in their life. And I love the relationships that I made with all my students in the class. Any of the conversations that you had but you just got on such a deeper level with the kids that you worked with from four o’clock to six o’clock or four o’clock to 11 o’clock when you’re on a road trip with them or on a weekend with them. It’s a special relationship you have as a coach and it’s truly one of the benefits of being a teacher.

Sam Demma (17:10):

You also volunteer and help out with the Middle Years Council conference. Was that an event that you also began attending almost the moment you started teaching or when did you start attending conferences for your own professional development and relationship building amongst other colleagues?

Chris Andrew (17:27):

Yeah, that that’s been all along. That’s attending conferences. It’s really a matter of good, better, best, never let it rest until your good becomes better and your better becomes best. And conferences, those sessions are great and you get some great ideas and definitely help you grow. But even more so after the session or the person that you’re sitting beside at the session saying, How do you do this? And what are some great ideas that you have? I’ve learned a ton from conferences and other professionals. The milli years conference that you’re talking about, that’s an interesting one. <laugh> I was actually, a couple of my friends are high up in the leadership of that and convinced me to join it. And really we organize a great conference, but it’s a great group of people to organize a conference with. So we have a lot of fun doing it. And as a result, the conference is a lot of fun and we advanced the education of the middle years teachers in the prophets of Alberta through the Middle Years conference.

Sam Demma (18:34):

Word on the street is that you had a different name at that conference. Is that true?

Chris Andrew (18:39):

There is a rumor going around that I might have a name when I go in I I’m thinking of we get special clothing each year with our names on the back that signify that we’re helpers at the conference and if you have any questions. So they always put our names on the back so people can feel like they can connect with us. And my name will be Jamar next year. We’ll see how that goes.

Sam Demma (19:05):

That’s awesome, man. What resources, if any, in specific or particular have you found really helpful in developing your mindset around education and the importance of relationships? It could be specific individuals, it could be books, courses you mentioned a conference already, but maybe there’s some other ones that you’ve attended that you found really helpful. It could be certain people you follow. Yeah. Is there anything in specific that has been foundational in your creation around your educational beliefs?

Chris Andrew (19:38):

Yeah, probably one of the most fundamental experiences I had as a leader in a school was to take a group of teachers to a solution tree conference around response to intervention and just the Cole’s notes on response to intervention it. It’s the ability to have either a group of teachers through several grades concentrating on the same outcomes so that students are, if we concentrate on all the outcomes in our curriculum with the same amount, everything if everything gets the same amount of emphasis, nothing’s important. So I took this group of teachers to this conference. They weren’t very sure about what their goal or their role was but when we listened to it, it made so much sense to where our school was at. It was about teaching a small number of outcomes so that every kid could do the most important outcomes. Teachers were still responsible for the entire curriculum, but emphasizing that the same time.

Chris Andrew (20:50):

And when students didn’t get the material, that opportunity for a individual teacher to go back and reteach it to a group of students that didn’t get that content because this is fundamental for a student to be successful in high school and beyond. So we were super successful. I took this group and they weren’t sure and by the end of the first morning they were saying, How do we do this in our school? And I said, Chris, you have to bring this back and you have to do this in our school. And I said it, it’s not the power of me, it’s the power of, I said, I can’t introduce this as a school leader. You’re the authentic people. And they brought it back and did all the in servicing at teachers and sold the teachers on our staff. And I said, The only thing I wanna do is I want to be able to, they just do the question session at the end.

Chris Andrew (21:47):

And they did such a great job of selling it and I rolling it out so teachers could understand it and believe it and our school went to it. But we got to the question session and one teacher asked, they said, Yeah, that’s great. This is your new idea. You’re gonna break it to school. What’s gonna say as soon as you leave, this doesn’t die. And I said to them, I just said like, You know what you guys, I’ll tell you from my aspect as a leader, if I came to a school and I saw something that’s as good as what this could be and how passionate you guys are about it my job as a leader is to be able to fuel that fire in the people that are running it. It’s not the power of me, it’s the power of we will do a great job on this.

Chris Andrew (22:37):

And if I came in and you guys were doing a great job on something, all I tried to do is just get outta your way so you could do a great job and learn as much as I could so that I could help support you with whatever challenges came in year two, year three, year four, whatever year you are in with this. So if I’m thinking of one conference that changed my career, it would absolutely be that. It would because I learned a lot about teaching and instruction. Nice. But I learned an awful lot about leadership and it’s about what make it the teacher’s decision to do something, point them in the right direction, make it their decision, help them support them, and you have a much stronger product when you’re done and when people believe in it it will happen.

Sam Demma (23:22):

What was the resulting impact on the school community? It sounds like the teachers really bought into this, which probably had a big impact on all the classrooms and the students, but what did you see going on in the school?

Chris Andrew (23:35):

We created this program, it was called deal. It was called Drop Everything and Learn. And two time we changed our schedules on Tuesdays and Thursdays so that we had a 25 minute block of time where students could be assigned to a reteach, which would be, here’s a concept that we’re not sure you’ve got, but it’s an opportunity for you to go to. Again, they could either be assigned to it or students could sign them up themselves up for it. I’d just some more practice at it. They could go to an enrichment session, which would be taking that concept a little higher. And we would challenge students to be involved in that. If they got that information, they could sign up for a homework working session. So basically it would just be an opportunity where they could do homework. We created a lunchroom will hour. It was something that I ran and basically it was a homework room where kids could come and do homework.

Chris Andrew (24:30):

They had a practice, they had a game they wouldn’t have time to do their homework at night. They could get their morning homework done or we said, We gave you time to do it in class. You chose to do it at home so you didn’t get it done at home. You will get it done and you’ll get it done with Mr. Andrew at will hour. So we’d give ’em time to eat and then they would have time so they could get assignments done, change. It changed the mentality of the school kids at first thought it was punitive. Then kids were starting to go like, No, I need extra time to work on this. So I’m gonna go into Mr. Andrew’s Willow and do, I’d have 50 kids in a classroom working. I go, You guys, it’s gotta be quiet. If you’re working with a group, it’s gotta be quiet.

Chris Andrew (25:12):

If it’s not what we’ll find a spot for you outside to work. And assignments were coming in, teachers were like, they were getting to teach the stuff they had to teach or was most important. They recognized the next year that the skills that the students brought forward to the next class, they were so much better prepared for their next year of what they were supposed to learn. Teachers were on board teaching the same thing at the same time. So if we go back to that conference conversation we had, they were talking about the same topics at the same time and they were using the energy of the ideas that we’re getting to really build great and engaging lessons. Kids were comfortable going to other teachers and saying, You know what? I like the way you taught this. Could you please reteach it to me? Because I heard from my friend who’s learning at the same time as me that you did a really great job.

Chris Andrew (26:09):

I’d like to hear how it was everybody learning together and moving together. And teachers went. They couldn’t believe the difference. Not only in the student’s attitude towards learning, but also towards their knowledge that they brought forward the hooks that they could, if they said certain words, kids would go, I remember this from last year. And they were ready to learn. And other students would say, Remember when we did this in Mr. So-and-so’s class? And then automatically everybody was ready to learn and then they could put that new information on top and we could struggle with it for a while. We could get some help with it. And then we moved on and it was truly amazing to watch teachers say, I can’t believe how good these students are at these particular skills. This is the best group of students I’ve ever had. And the best thing I could say as administrator was, this is now the worst group that you’re gonna have because the other group’s gonna have this for two years. This other group gonna have it for three years. And it was unbelievable. I mean it’s one tool for measuring it but our provincial achievement test scores went crazy. They were the best they ever were under this. That was the third reason for doing it. <affirmative>, the first reason for doing it was kids were so much more confident. And the second reason was teachers were just so much more enthusiastic about the topics they were teaching because the students were so much ready, more ready and engaged to learn.

Sam Demma (27:41):

That sounds amazing. It sounds like it had a significant impact and the students and staff loved it. And it sounds like you were passionate about it. So the whole school sounds like metaphorically it was on fire, everyone wanted to be there, everyone is super excited. Can you think of a story maybe even during that time or any time throughout your educational journey where an individual student was really struggling and was supported by an adult and even just through education and had a serious transformation? And the reason I ask is because I think most adults and most people get into education because they wanna help and impact young minds and help change their lives or help them make better decisions. And sometimes when things get difficult, educators might forget their personal reason why they started or why they even got into education in the first place. And I think it’s stories of transformation and change in young people that remind them that the work they’re doing matters and is really important. So do you have any stories that come to mind of students who you’ve seen transform

Chris Andrew (28:52):

<laugh>? Yeah, yeah, for sure. I had this student, I learned a little bit more about his story by being his coach. He came from a small northern community to move to Red Deer, which is a little bit larger community. It was a big change for him. He moved from a farm into the city and he had, basketball was his big hook and he made a lot of friends through basketball and that certainly helped in his transition. It was pretty difficult though because one of his parents that was a teacher in our school division and really had high expectations. So he was trying his hardest and doing his best and he was one of my basketball players and he was gaining in confidence and his mom came in for parent-teacher interviews and I just finished marking one of his assignments and I brought it out and I showed it to to her and I just said, You gotta know that he is really working hard and he’s had all this growth.

Chris Andrew (29:55):

And it was a great interview. The mom was really super happy and I remember this student’s name, his name, staff staff He comes in the next day and he just gives me high five. He goes, You know what? Thank you Mr. Andrew. He goes, That helped a ton. My mom, mom’s been on my case and saying, Basketball’s taking too much of my time and thanks for acknowledging the hard work I did on this. And while what I’m totally your fan, whatever you ask, I’m gonna totally do. Steph went in to become a teacher. Steph taught in the same integrated occupation program that I had once taught in. So he really worked with some challenging learners. Went on to get his doctorate. He studied at Goza and finished his doctorate. And last year Steph got his first principalship.

Sam Demma (30:54):

Wow. A cool full, Are you still in touch with Steph?

Chris Andrew (30:59):

Steph? Yeah. Steph’s principal in my school division. So really, really excited. I sent him an email right away. I said, Welcome to a place at the table, brother. Great job, great journey. He’s in his home community now. It’s a smaller community outside of ours, but I just can’t wait to watch that school explode cuz it’s just gonna be an awesome experience having him as their school leader.

Sam Demma (31:21):

That’s an amazing story. What a cool full circle moment. If you could take your experiences in education, travel back in time to your first teaching role in that English class knowing what now, what advice would you have given your younger self or any other people who are just starting their first year as an educator?

Chris Andrew (31:45):

You know what I mean? I really think it’s important that you take that time regardless of what role you’re in, education to listen. You listen to what your, learn as much as you can about your students so that you can relate the content back to them in a form that means something to them. And I think that they really appreciate it. And I would go back and say, Just learn even more than you already are trying to learn about your kids because they are not only going to be the best way that you can teach them, but they will help you become the best teacher you can be.

Sam Demma (32:29):

That’s awesome. I love it. Chris, thank you so much for taking the time to come on the show, man. I really appreciate you and your insights and ideas. If an educator or anyone’s listening to this interview wants to reach out to you, ask a question, send you an email, what would be the most efficient way for them to reach out?

Chris Andrew (32:47):

What, if any educator has any in any way I could help ’em out, please don’t hesitate to send me an email. You can send it to my school email address. I check that one every day. It’s chris.andrew@rdcrs.ca.

Sam Demma (33:14):

Awesome. Chris, thank you so much. Keep up the great work and we’ll talk soon.

Chris Andrew (33:19):

Same to you, Sam. Take care.

Sam Demma (33:21):

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

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Chris Andrew

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.

Donald Mulligan – Principal at Kensington Intermediate Senior High School and President of the Prince Edward Island Association of School Administrators

About Donald Mulligan

Donald Mulligan (@donaldmulligan2) is principal at Kensington Intermediate Senior High School. He previously work as Principal at Kinkora Regional High School and Amherst Cove Consolidated School. Donald is currently the President of the Prince Edward Island Association of School Administrators and Vice-President of the Canadian Association of Principals. He also serves as the Chair of PEI  Teachers’ Federation Group Insurance Committee.

Donald believes in making K.I.S.H. a safe and welcoming school for all students and staff. He coaches the senior women’s soccer team and enjoys supervising school activities. Donald has been part of the creating and instructing the PEI Administrative Leadership Program. This program is required for teachers who are interested in becoming administrators here on P.E.I. He is proud watching his students grow and mature to become productive members of society.

Donald realizes that it is only through the efforts of great teachers and a strong administrative team can schools become successful.

Connect with Donald: Email | Instagram | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Kensington Intermediate Senior High School

Kinkora Regional High School

Amherst Cove Consolidated School

Prince Edward Island Association of School Administrators

Canadian Association of Principals

PEI Administrative Leadership Program

Prince Edward Island Teachers’ Federation Special Associations

Leadership Through the Ages: A Collection of Favorite Quotations by Rudy Giuliani

The Transcript

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

Sam Demma (00:55):

Hey, welcome back to the show.

Sam Demma (00:56):

Today’s special guest is Donald Mulligan. Donald is Principal at Kensington Intermediate Senior High School. He previously worked as Principal at Kenkora Regional High School and Amherst Cove Consolidated School. Donald is currently the President of the Prince Edward Island Association of School Administrators and Vice President of the Canadian Association of Principals. He also serves as the chair of the PEI Teachers Federation Group Insurance Committee. Donald believes in making KISH safe and welcoming school for all students and staff. He coaches the senior woman’s soccer team and enjoys supervising school activities. Donald has been part of the creating and instructing of the PEI Administrative Leadership Program. This program is required for teachers who are interested in becoming administrators on the island of PEI. Donald is proud watching his students grow and mature to become productive members of society and he realizes that it is only through the efforts of great teachers and a strong administrative team that schools can become successful. I hope you enjoyed this conversation with Donald and I will see you on the other side. Welcome back to another episode of the High Performing Educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma. Today we have a very special guest. His name is Donald Milligan. Donald, please start by introducing yourself.

Donald Mulligan (02:20):

Well, I’m Donald Mulligan and I’m Principal right now Kensington and Intermediate Senior High here in Prince Edward Island. This is my 10th year here and I’ve previously been at four other schools. Three as Principal over my career. So I still coach, still coach, a girl’s soccer team. I’ve coached many of the sports and enjoy being involved with student life. So yeah, that’s it in a nutshell.

Sam Demma (02:45):

When did you realize growing up as a young person, that one day you wanted to work in education?

Donald Mulligan (02:52):

It took me a while. I grew up on a family firm potato firm and as years went along I realized I was really much better dealing with the staff and the employees than I was actually fixing the equipment and operating the equipment. So probably when I was in university, because I went to agriculture college for a bit and then I came back, took a bachelor of Arts, realized I enjoyed writing and took, got my ba, b e d decided to become a teacher. And in hindsight, I shouldn’t been shocked because my mom was a teacher for 35 years and I have an aunt that was a teacher for 35 years. So that’s in the family genes for sure. My sister’s a teacher but it wasn’t something I planned to do my whole life. And even at that point I was taking courses after university and I was amazed when I would take courses with a couple of guys or friends of mine from the first year teacher. They wanted to become an administrator and that was not something I had planned on either. It just sort of evolved as time went on.

Sam Demma (04:01):

Oh, that’s awesome. Did you realize when you were going through university okay, this is the path I’m pursuing was there a defining moment? Did your parents sit you down and Donald, you should be a teacher <laugh>?

Donald Mulligan (04:17):

No. Well, as I mentioned, I went to agriculture college, but I get there for two weeks. I was taking chemistry and biology and calculus and physics and I realized pretty early on that two weeks that I don’t think I’m gonna be overly successful in these courses. So I get out when I could still get my money back. So what happened was though I went home and I firmed that fall. And so it was interesting because I enjoyed working on the firm, but we got to operate the tractors. The harvest is sort of a fun time when you’re harvesting the potatoes cuz you’re in tractors and trucks and it’s good. But after that it was into a warehouse. So I worked at the neighbors from 8:00 AM to five at PM every day. And then many days our own family farm wheat graded in the evenings from six 30 to nine 30.

Donald Mulligan (05:10):

So I went days without seeing the sun. So it was like, I don’t see this being a career for me right now. So that few months when I took a semester off at that point in those few months, it’s like, okay, I think I need to go in a different direction. And then the next semester I took an education 1 0 1 or something along those lines and we had to do a little practicum. So an hour in the classroom a week and when I still remember some of the kids that I was in with that. So that one course was the one that really hooked me. It’s like, okay, I enjoy the kids and I sort of feel I’m good at it.

Sam Demma (05:46):

That’s awesome. You mentioned you still coach. Is coaching a big part of your life? When did you start coaching athletics?

Donald Mulligan (05:55):

When I started my career, well, I couldn’t get a job, ironically, yeah, head of university, I had a job, I worked as an employment counselor with Canadian Mental Health Association. Oh cool. And I really enjoyed that, helping individuals mental illness get back into the workforce. But it was a tough time to get a teaching job in our province. So I had many interviews and the first position that I could get was at the alternative education program. So I worked there for four years and I really enjoyed it. But to answer your question my first year in the regular system when I got the school called Somerset Elementary in my community, I helped coach the soccer team. So I helped coach that for a couple years with a friend who grew up my commu in our community. He was a volunteer, I learned some tricks from him. And then I started coaching on my own. So that was probably 1999. And I’d been coaching guys soccer and then girls soccer. Once my daughter started coming through the system, I switched over and coached the girls. And I, I’m still doing it to this day, but I’m lucky because I’ve always had great people with me that can look after the practices when I can’t get outta the school to go to practice after school during the day. But I’m more of a game coach now. The teachers here to tease me kinda

Sam Demma (07:15):

Shows up when it matters

Donald Mulligan (07:16):

<laugh>. Exactly. But when my kids were growing up, same as many adults. I coached them in soccer, I coached them in baseball. I’ve coached hockey. So just whoever needed to coach, I enjoy doing that and I feel that keeps me young.

Sam Demma (07:33):

That’s awesome. You mentioned that some of your buddies who were also in education at the time wanted and had this ambition and goal to become administrators right away and you know, weren’t dead set on that you just wanted to enjoy the journey and see where it takes you. What did your journey actually look like? What was your first role in education outside of the mental health job that you just mentioned to me in a formal school setting? What was your first role and take me through the journey that brought you to where you are right now.

Donald Mulligan (08:04):

Well, we did alternative education and it was only with junior high students and we were an off campus, an offsite building. And our classroom was in part of an old hanger at the CFB summer side where we were housed. And so doing that, there was 24 kids and two teachers. And so we essentially were our own administrators as well. We had to decide what the discipline was going to be. We had decide the rules or regulations, how to get kids to buy in. So right from my first year, there was a lot of administrivia that we had to do and we also had to learn that you need a backbone if you’re gonna survive doing that particular job. And then when I moved to my first school, I was only there a year when our vice principal left and I applied, ended up getting that job and been in administration ever since. I think I was a VP for five years at that particular school with a colleague who’s still a principal in the system now. She’s still someone that I work with. We’re on committees together still. And our neighboring school down the road, Amherst Cove Consolidated, had an opening as a principal and I decided I’m ready to take the leap. And so that was 18 years ago I think now. So took the leap down the road and it worked out pretty well.

Sam Demma (09:36):

That’s awesome. You mentioned that you’re on some committees. What does your involvement look like when you’re not in the principal’s office? <laugh>?

Donald Mulligan (09:47):

Well one of my mom, as I said, was a teacher and her best friend growing up became the, as a teacher as well. And Joyce Mcar, she taught me and she’s a great teacher, great person. She became the president of the P E I Teachers Federation just in my first couple of years. So I had a bit of an at the Teacher’s Federation, so she nominated me for took one, the pension committee, which is a little ironic when you’re in your first year or two of schooling, they’d be on the pension committee. But it was a foot in the door and I really learned the value of meeting people and from different parts of the island on these committees. I also you know, learn a great deal about our pension. And then eventually that led to being involved in other committees negotiating committee with the government doing that, you need to memorize basically the memorandum of agreement that we have and that helps you immensely as an administrator if you know all of the memorandum of agreement, what we can all do and what we should not be doing.

Donald Mulligan (10:56):

So that helped. And presently I’m president of the group Insurance trustees, so we look after our group insurance for all the teachers from Prince Edward Island. So I have that. And so that’s through our union. But then as part of the administrator’s association, I’ve been on the Canadian Association of Principals for the last four years. My term’s just about up here in a couple weeks time. So I’ve been vice president of the Canadian Association Principal. So I look after the CAP Journal. It’s lots of articles mid three times a year in that. And so my term is President’s, p e i, School of Association of School Administrators. And as part of that we’re hosting the Canadian Association of Principals Conference. Nice. So we have a big conference coming down the road here in May of 2023. So I’m with KJ White, so we’re actually looking for some keynote speakers for that right now and some speakers for the conference. So I’ve been pretty involved, but it’s been a great learning experience and it’s a great way to meet people throughout your province.

Sam Demma (12:10):

That’s awesome. It sounds like you’ve been very involved <laugh> in many different ways, which is great. You mentioned your mom’s best friend was a great teacher who also taught you, I’m curious to know, what do you think makes a great teacher? What is it that a great teacher does in the life of a young person that from your perspective growing up, your mom’s friend obviously had an impact on you. What do you think that she did that made you believe she made a big impact?

Donald Mulligan (12:39):

For me, I think the biggest thing is they have to show that they care In education, we have to show the students that we care about them and that we want to help them. We want to teach them, but we want them to be good down good people as well. And as an administrator, I think it’s exactly same with the staff that I’m dealing with. I have to show them that I care and follow through ’em in those steps that I do care and support them. So in my role now, I support teachers, support students, and I feel the way we show them that we care is doing the extra things. Because I personally, I can’t remember too many life changing moments in the classroom. I hate to say that, but I do remember lots of memories of extracurricular activities and sports teams and groups that I’ve been on over the years that have made a change in my life. So I think if we show we care, kids are gonna learn.

Sam Demma (13:37):

How do you show that you care? Is it through listening, getting to know the students on a personal level? Yeah, I’m just curious.

Donald Mulligan (13:47):

Well, for me, throughout my career, I’ve always tried to do outdoor duty in the morning. So I greet kids coming in off of the bus. I’m a pretty laid back guy though, so I’m not high fiving and fist pumping everybody. But I make my point of saying hello, trying to say their name, everybody coming in, ask them how the sport event went the night before. Or try and make some connection with kids every day in the morning before 8 25. Our school starts early, so they get off the bus between 8 25, 8 0 5, and 8 25. So touch base with the kids. And I touch base with teachers too, cuz you see many of them walking in at that during that time. So that’s one way and another way, as any administrator I’m in and of the classes trying to ask them how they’re getting along, what do they need help with?

Donald Mulligan (14:40):

But the student council, I’m meeting with them saying, How can we be better? What can the school do to make things better? What are some of your opinions? And we’ve had students on representatives of our district advisory councils that we’ve had in PEI the last few years. So they’re offering information that hopefully make positive changes in the school as well. But as we already talked about, you really make connections when you either teach them A or B, you’re volunteering and you’re working with them after school. So when you’re giving up your own time, you show them that you really do care. And so I find that’s the key as well. I still teach 25% of the day, so those kids that I teach, I really get to know those kids on a personal level. So by the time they get through grade 10, I’ve pretty much had half of the school pretty much that I’ve taught. So that makes an enormous difference I feel, for me anyway.

Sam Demma (15:36):

So you teach right now? Actually

Donald Mulligan (15:38):

At one 15 here I’m gonna be going, I’m teaching for the first time, math four two K. So this has been a learning curve this semester for me as well. But it’s been great. I mean, I’ve been learning, September was a learning curve for me for sure, but I feel I’m fine in my groove and I think the students that I have are starting to enjoy it as well. I’ve always been an English guy, but the last year I hired a teacher from the Department of Education who is an all star. She’s a superstar. Nice. She created the program that I was teaching, so it was pretty hard for me to continue teaching it when she created it. So she requested, can I take this course style? And I said, certainly you can have it because she’s a rockstar and we’re lucky to have her.

Sam Demma (16:24):

That’s awesome. I haven’t met many administrators that also teach. Is that something that’s common in PEI or is it something that you are trying to do because it’s something that you love?

Donald Mulligan (16:38):

Well, I’ve always been in midsize schools. We have today 357 kids in our school, so it’s not a huge school. So we we’re given an allocation to make our schedule work nice. And I find it certainly for some years it’s only manageable if I’m teaching and some years depending on how it looks like it’s a benefit if I’m teaching. But I’ve always taught, so I’m gonna keep on teaching because it’s usually the best 75 minutes of my day because I get to interact with the kids and the only thing I have to do is teach for that 75 minutes. So it’s awesome.

Sam Demma (17:14):

That’s amazing. I heard one time someone told me the best administrators are the ones that don’t wanna leave the classroom and the best superintendents are those that don’t wanna leave the school building. And it’s really cool that you’ve taught every single year, even though you’re in administration. I think that’s really unique and yeah, it’s really cool. I would’ve loved to have my principal teach me a class <laugh>.

Donald Mulligan (17:39):

Well Sam, it’s difficult to go and have a meeting and go over learning strategies or talking. I mean, we had the big three for a few years learning strategy. So if I can’t tell ’em and share what I’m doing in my classroom, it’s hard for them to take me seriously when I’m standing in front of the school or the staff, I feel personally and I’m able to do that because I’m not a huge school so I can do that. So I feel like it gives me a little more street cred that they know I’m in it with them. The same last year, my geography 4 21 class, we had 32 kids. So nobody was claim complaining about having too many kids in their classroom when they knew I had more than they had. So in some ways it makes it easier.

Sam Demma (18:23):

Your boots are on the ground, you’re planting the seeds with them in the farm <laugh>. So when you think about all the different transformations that you’ve seen happen in the lives of students, and one of the reasons educators get into education is because they wanna make a positive difference. And I feel like if you’ve been in the industry or the industry’s wrong word about the, you’ve been in the vocation long enough, you’ve seen certain students come through it, maybe struggling and then had some sort of personal transformation because of a caring adult or because of the way their teacher taught them. I’m curious if there are any stories that come to mind of students that you’ve worked with who were really struggling and had a breakthrough or a transformation.

Donald Mulligan (19:12):

Well, we have lots of students probably over the years that have had that.

Donald Mulligan (19:21):

I think probably there’s one kid in particular that I was thinking about and I taught him in our Bridging English program, which you may call a general English program. We have a bridging program that allows them to go to a academic if they’re, they’re successful student in there who he was with us for the full six years, we’re seven to 12 schools. So again, we’re unique and we’re the only one in the province that’s just seven to 12. He struggled in junior high. We actually referred him to the alternative education program in junior high and he come back and I taught him each year of high school and school really wasn’t for him, but through many of our programs like the English program. But the co-op program especially helped him so much cuz he got to a business in our community and the employer really took him under his wing.

Donald Mulligan (20:17):

And so he offered him, he was successful, the kid was a great worker, great worker, and he was a great kid. He just needed someone to give him a little bit of a chance. And then this employer did, and he hired him for the summer that particular summer. And he came back to school and got his grade 12. But he is more engaged because he could see he had a goal in mind then. And now he graduated from us still working with the same company. And he would be a real success story I think for all of us in the school that were involved while working with him.

Sam Demma (20:51):

That sounds like a phenomenal story. And is he working now? Is he graduating? He’s moved on.

Donald Mulligan (20:58):

He graduated probably three years ago now. And yeah, he’s been working full time with this company now. They put steel roofs on, so after the hurricane he’s working video. He’ll be working time solid for the next couple years

Sam Demma (21:09):

<laugh>. Awesome. Very cool. When you think about your experiences in education, all the different places, yeah, you’ve worked to the different roles. If you could travel back in time, tap Donald on the shoulder in his first year of teaching, not because you would change anything about your path, but if you could go back in time, tap yourself on the shoulder and give yourself some advice, what would you say to your younger self?

Donald Mulligan (21:37):

Yeah, that’s a difficult question. I guess when I think about that, I think about my first year that I was here at Kensington. So I was pretty well into my career when I came here nine years ago. And I already had eight years experience as a principal. But when I came here, what maybe took me back a little bit is that the first couple schools I went to, I felt the teachers appreciated just my leadership style. They appreciated that I supported them, but at the same time also made people accountable because we all have to teach to the outcomes, we have to follow the pacing guides. And I did that in my class and I expected others to do that. And when I came here this school’s in a little, I dunno if disarray would be the right thing, but the principal here got dismissed, which has never really happened that I can remember.

Donald Mulligan (22:34):

And so there was some controversy before I came and I came in assuming that everyone would appreciate having my form of leadership. And I learned over time that I really had to work. It took me a couple years to really get people to buy in because what I learned is some people, I guess all of us enjoy doing what you wanna do and instead of what you’re supposed to do. And when I started putting pressure on that, we all had to follow the curriculum, follow the outcomes, we all had to row in the same direction and it didn’t take quite as easily as I thought it would. And I think I probably could did a better job relating to the folks that weren’t on board at that particular time. And it was probably just more listening, maybe a little more talk. I felt that time I was doing enough, but you can really never communicate enough. And I think I learned that I needed to listen to their side and I probably needed to do a little more homework on what went on before I stepped in the door here because there was a lot of, well, I don’t know what the best word, but there was still some controversy and some friction among staff at that time. So there’s a lot of healing that had to go on and probably more communication should’ve happened. So that’s probably what I would say

Sam Demma (23:59):

To communicate more, to do a little bit more research before entering a new space. Listen, I think listening’s a big one. Sometimes we listen in an effort to respond right away instead of trying to understand <laugh> what the person’s saying. Right,

Donald Mulligan (24:18):

Exactly. It’s difficult to, because as an administrator, we all have so many things to do each and every day, but we have to remember that the teacher comes through our door. They probably worked up the courage for probably days. For some of them, it’d be days and maybe more that they came to us with a problem and they wanna be heard and usually they have the correct answer. They just need someone to listen to them, encouraging them, encourag them and reinforcing them that they’re doing the right thing.

Sam Demma (24:50):

Yeah. Oh, that’s so great. Well, throughout your whole journey have there been any resources groups committees, books, courses, anything at all that you found really helpful in your own professional development as a teacher? And that again, could also be conferences and things of this nature, but is there anything that you’ve returned to that’s given you a lot of insight into how to teach or just building your own professional practice?

Donald Mulligan (25:20):

Well, I think the same with any administrator. We all have mentors, we all have role models. And I have a couple that a lot of their courses, a lot of their leadership style I tried to take a little bit from, and in our system, we were very lucky. We had the gentleman by the name of Doug McDougal and Doug was just so positive. He was positive with all of us, but he all always made us accountable. So I remember my very first year as principal before I started, after I got hired, he said, We’re gonna talk in September and I wanna know, we’re gonna talk about the leadership books that you’ve read over the summer. And it was like, Oh, okay. Leadership books over the summer. So he gave me my homework assignment in a gentle way. And for that first year we talked about how the school was going, but b, more importantly what I was learning from the readings that I did.

Donald Mulligan (26:17):

And so one of the books that I read was from Rudy Juliana. He was mayor of New York at the time. Nice. And when he became mayor, New York was not a safe city to be in. And so one of the things that sort stuck with me was they started cleaning up graffiti as soon as it happened. And over time, graffiti stopped being a thing. But more importantly, or just as importantly, they started enforcing all of the laws. So jaywalking, which is a pretty minuscule offense I guess. But they really cracked down on that. And what they learned was many of the people at Jaywalk and they started to ticket them, also had many other offenses they were, and they were wanted some of them. So just by following through on all of the little tiny things, they were able to manage the get a hold of quite a few of the people that were causing the city to not be safe and make it a better city and cleaner city and a safe city.

Donald Mulligan (27:25):

And it, New York City’s amazing. We were down five years ago and my wife and I got off the subway and people could tell we weren’t sure we were going and we had four or five people offer to help us and put us in the right direction. We couldn’t have felt any safer or welcome than we were. So he did a good job. And so from that, I took, okay, in school I’m gonna focus on the little things as well. And we did, we started doing a discipline system back and we enforced the rules that we had set each and every day. And by doing that, we really didn’t have too many of the big issues. Very rarely, if ever, would you have a fight in the schools because we enforce the little things. So that stuck with me for sure. And one of the other things like that, Doug McDougal, Doug always was writing a positive note, thank you. Note he was giving a teachers giving it to administrators. So that’s something that not just me, but my whole peer group that grew up together, we all do that because we know it made us feel good. So we wanna make our staff feel appreciated as well. So we write little notes, put our teacher’s mailbox or give them them personally, and it makes you feel good when you win the classroom and see them up on a bulletin board on the wall so they feel appreciated as well.

Sam Demma (28:48):

That’s awesome. It sounds like Doug’s made an impact on you. Do you stay in touch? Is he still someone that you chat with?

Donald Mulligan (28:56):

Well he made an impact on a lot of us. And actually we just said an administrator’s retreat this past Thursday and Friday, and they unveiled a memorial award because unfortunately a couple years ago during Covid Doug had a sudden heart attack and passed away. So yeah, it was a tragedy for all of us, but now we still remembering I am and there’s going to be an award in his memory. But even when he did retire, I’d call him, I’d text him and get some advice from him or give him a hard time and go to Toronto Maple Leafs because he’s a huge Leaf fan.

Sam Demma (29:35):

<laugh>. Hey, me too. <laugh>.

Donald Mulligan (29:38):

Sorry to hear

Sam Demma (29:38):

That. Does that mean we’re not friends? No more <laugh>.

Donald Mulligan (29:41):

We can be good. That’s awesome. I’m a Montreal Canadians fan. I don’t know if you can see, I got some paraphernalia behind me here a little bit, but it’s gonna be a couple painful years for us, so I can’t really say too much right now, but I like the journey we’re on anyway.

Sam Demma (29:56):

It can’t be any worse than the Toronto Maple Leafs, so enjoy <laugh>. That’s awesome. Well, thanks for sharing that story about Doug. I love the analogy with the graffiti. That’s a great way to position the importance of the little things, not only in school but also in life. I think once you let one thing slip, it’s a lot easier for 10 other things to slip. But if you crack down on all the small things, you can manage the big things as well. If someone wants to reach out to you, ask you a question, send you an email about this conversation, what would be the best way for them to get in touch?

Donald Mulligan (30:31):

Well, my email address is damulligan@edu.pe.ca. Or you can just go to our school website and our email contact lists are there as well at Kensington intermediate Senior High.

Sam Demma (30:47):

Awesome. Donald, thank you so much for taking the time to call on the podcast. I really appreciate it. Keep up the amazing work and I’ll see you in a few weeks.

Donald Mulligan (30:54):

Thanks, Sam. Can’t wait to see you. Take care. Best of luck.

Sam Demma (30:59):

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

Join the Educator Network & Connect with Donald Mulligan

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.

Don Middleton – Assistant Principal at Lester B. Pearson High School in Calgary

Don Middleton - Assistant Principal at Lester B. Pearson High School in Calgary
About Don Middleton

Don Middleton (@DonMiddleton1) is an Assistant Principal at Lester B. Pearson High School in Calgary. Don has been an educator for 30 years. During his career, Don has been an Athletic Director, Learning Leader, and System Learning Specialist in Off-campus and Dual Credit.

Don believes that every student has the ability to succeed and strives to create those conditions for success in his school. Don is active in the community outside of school as a volleyball official and volunteers as a Vice-Chair for Calgary Elements Mental Health Centre.

Connect with Don: Email | Linkedin | Twitter

Listen Now

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

Resources Mentioned

Lester B. Pearson High School

Calgary Elements Mental Health Centre

Masters of Education – MEd, Curriculum & Instruction Trauma and Resilience at Concordia University, Nebraska

Bachelor of Education (B.Ed.), Physical Education Teaching and Coaching at the University of Alberta

Mount Royal University

Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT)

Ironworking at SAIT

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 (00:56):

Hey, it’s Sam. Welcome back to the podcast. Today’s special guest is a good friend of mine named Don Middleton. Don is an Assistant Principal at Lester B. Pearson High School in Calgary. Don has been an educator for 30 years. During his career, Don has been an athletic director, learning leader, and a system learning specialist in off campus and dual credit. He believes that every student has the ability to succeed and strives to create the conditions for success in his school. Don is active in the community outside of school as a volleyball official, and he volunteers as a Vice Chair for Calgary Elements Mental Health Center. I hope you enjoy this conversation with Don, and I will see you on the other side. Don, welcome to the High Performing Educator Podcast. Huge pleasure to have you on the show here today. Please start by introducing yourself.

Don Middleton (01:44):

Hi, I’m Don Middleton. I’m an Assistant principal at Lester b Pearson High School in Calgary.

Sam Demma (01:50):

Why, tell me a little bit about how you got into education.

Don Middleton (01:54):

Oh, how I got into education. Well the reality is that when I finished high school, I wasn’t sure I wanted to do university. And after six months of working night crew at Safeway, my manager said, I’m only coming off of night crew from working midnight till 8:00 AM if I was in school. So I applied for University of Alberta. And there’s only two faculties that were accepting students at that time, and it was education and arts and nothing against arts degrees, I think they can be very valuable. But at that time, my dad said, Friends, don’t let friends take Arts <laugh>. So I, I applied for education, but my brother was in physiotherapy and my plan was to take one semester of education and then transfer into the faculty of kinesiology, get an athletic therapist degree. And we were gonna open up a clinic together, him the physio, and meet the athletic therapist.

Don Middleton (02:49):

 my first month in education, they put me into a a student teaching role. It was supposed to be an observation, and my cooperating teacher handed me some tests and said, I’ll be back in an hour. And I was supposed to go over these tests with the kids and there was a young man that was it was a grade six class, and there was a young man that was quite upset with his test score. I sat down with him, tried to go over it with him, turned out that he got a zero and the reason he got a zero was cuz he didn’t show any work. So I started making up some math questions and he was answering everything out of his head just like that. And I realized that this kid was brilliant and the zero wasn’t indicative of what he really was capable of.

Don Middleton (03:32):

And so when the teacher came back to the classroom, I asked if, you know, we could adjust as mark. And he said, Well what’s your professional judgment? And I said, I’m 18, I don’t have any professional judgment <laugh>. And he said, What’s your gut tell you? And he said, My gut tells me that this kid understands he needs to show process going forward, but penalizing him by giving him a zero isn’t going to have a positive impact on him. And the teacher said, That sounds like a great professional judgment. He said, You tell him he got a hundred percent, but next time if he doesn’t show his work, he gets a zero. And the kid lit up like a Christmas tree when I told him the outcome. And I went home that night and I told my parents, I’m gonna be a teacher.

Sam Demma (04:13):

That’s such a cool story. What a, what a unique intro to education. I’ve asked over 200 educators about what got them into education. This is a very unique first answer, so I appreciate you sharing that backstory. you mentioned you had no interest in post-secondary education as a student yourself when you initially finished high school. I get direct messages all the time from students who, and it’s not a majority, but there’s a portion who reach out and say, Sam, I hate, like, I hate school. I I don’t, I don’t enjoy it. I don’t think it’s right for me, and I’m not sure what I wanna do after high school. When you have students who walk into your office and say things like that or express that being that, you know, you might have had a similar experience growing up as a student, what advice do you share or what do you tell them to help them along that journey?

Don Middleton (05:07):

You know, I think that’s a really great question. And I would say that my answer to that has evolved throughout my career. I used to say early on in my career, if you don’t know what you want to do, go to university. Go to college, take some general studies, find out what your interests are, and then check out what career pathways align with those courses that you enjoy and take it from there. now that’s become cost-prohibitive. It’s not, it’s not economical for a student to go to university if they know, don’t know that that’s what they want to do. And my my advice now is, do you like to work hands on? if you’re a problem solver, if you’re creative, get into a trade, go pick up a trade, go become a mechanic, go become a, a an, a carpenter, a cook, a plumber, pipe fitter iron worker, doesn’t matter.

Don Middleton (05:59):

 but go and get a trade. It takes you four years to get a journey person ticket in Alberta and a four year journey, person ticket in Alberta will earn you more money than a four year bachelor degree as an average income. And you will be paid from day one. And you’re not shelling out money towards courses that you may not ever use or need. And in Alberta, the average age of a first year apprentice is 26. And a lot of those people have university degrees and a, a pile of student debt. So go out, pick up a trade and, and get certified. And it makes you more valuable as a student later on if that’s what you wanna do. Plus students are always looking for summer jobs, and if you’ve got four months off to work in a trade and you’ve got a journey person ticket, you’re going to be paid far more than those people that are working in the service industry or in retail.

Sam Demma (06:53):

Not to mention, I like to go over in my head, best case scenario, worst case scenario when I’m making a decision. Worst case scenario, if you go down this path of becoming an apprenticeship, you get paid from day one. If you decide two years later, you know what, I don’t wanna do this. You’ve built some amazing skills. You might know how to fix your own car now because you went down the mechanic path and you wanna adjust at least the entire time you were being compensated. And you can now, you know, try something else if it’s still not the right fit. my my com I come from a family filled with trades. My dad’s a licensed plumber, my uncle Sal’s hvac, my uncle Peter’s electrician, like my cousin Joseph Mechanic, like the list. I don’t need to go outside of my family to fix anything <laugh>. and they love their jobs. So I think that’s such a great piece of advice. You mentioned, you know, are you hands on, try something in the trades. You also mentioned maybe even a cook and mm-hmm. <affirmative>, it dawns upon me that your cooking program at school at Pearson is phenomenal. Tell me a little bit about it and why it’s so special.

Don Middleton (07:55):

So we’re very fortunate that in our school we have a culinary and a personal foods program. So both of those instructors or teachers in those programs are Red seal chefs. So the students are getting a first class experience being trained by people that have worked in industry and are experts in their, in their field. personal foods is learning how to cook for yourself. and then culinary is cooking for a large group. But in addition to our two Red Seal teachers in those trades, we also have a Red Seal baker and then a Red Seal instructor. So we’ve got people that have a huge wealth of experience in those fields, and it gives students an opportunity to really find out if that’s what they want. And the great thing is, is that not only would do they get the high school credits, but our students, because our, our our teachers are Red Seal chefs already, they can also start getting them the apprentice credits while they’re still in high school. So they’re basically double dipping, getting high school credits, and they can get post-secondary credits if that’s a field that they wanna pursue.

Sam Demma (09:01):

And it keeps staff’s, bellies full

Don Middleton (09:04):

<laugh>. Yeah, absolutely. I mean, we have some incredible, incredible meals here. And as I said, our our our FACAs bread that our baker makes is second to none. Her habanero cheddar PCA bread. I’ve got a standing order that every time it makes, I get a nice fresh loaf on my desk.

Sam Demma (09:24):

<laugh>. That’s awesome, man. Let’s go back for a second. You said the day you came back from school in the student teacher position that you told your parents, I’m becoming a teacher, obviously because of the emotional experience you had with that young man who was brilliant and you change his mark to a hundred on the test. what did the journey look like after that decision that brought you to where you are now? Have you worked in different schools? Tell me a little bit about the process.

Don Middleton (09:50):

Sure. I’ve worked in a number of different schools. I’ve been, this is actually my 30th year teaching. I I started in a small rural community in southern Alberta. it was a K to 12 school that had 84 students in it. Wow. So we had a graduating class, I think of oh, was it 12 students that year? And it was the biggest graduating class they had had in a, in a while. yeah, 12 students. That was a big <laugh>. But I realized that that day when I had had that experience in student teaching, that making a difference for kids and seeing them succeed, that’s what, that’s what turned my crank. That was something that I found so rewarding and it was something that I was, I felt I can make a career out of this and make a life out of this.

Don Middleton (10:36):

And and so that’s what I did. and I spent about 20 years teaching PhysEd coaching various sports. I I coached them all predominantly football and volleyball. And then I transitioned into what’s called off campus and Dual Credit world. And so students were getting work experience or registered apprenticeship program. I would supervise them. I had a great deal of success in one of the schools that I was working with. And I was asked to take a position with the with the board downtown overseeing rap and, and work experience for all of the Calgary high schools. I turned it down three times, and then the fourth time they said, Come downtown, meet with us, see what it’s like. And so I interviewed for it, fully intending to turn them down a fourth time. And then the the gentleman who became one of the most influential mentors in my life said to me, You’re going to have an impact on about 2000 students at your school. If you come downtown, you’re going to have an impact on 25,000 students. And that he sold me right then and there because that’s my goal is to have a positive impact on students. And if I can broaden that, then, then that’s a huge part of, you know, why I do what I do. my apologies,

Sam Demma (11:57):

<laugh>. That’s okay.

Don Middleton (11:59):

So in terms of different schools, I, I try to change up about every three to five years. I find that I never want to become stagnant. And so my goal is to change schools, like I said, about every three to five. and I’ve spent time as a phys ed teacher, as a phys ed learning leader, off campus coordinator, off campus, dual credit specialist. And then the past four years as an assistant principal.

Sam Demma (12:25):

I believe one of the most important things to measure when we start a new pursuit is our attendance. You know, are we just showing up and putting our foot forward? And I think once you get over that hurdle and you continuously show up, one of the shortcuts or fast tracks is finding a mentor. And it sounds like you found one in that individual who convinced you on coming to the board wide position to have an impact on more students. Who is that individual and how has he or she or them been instrumental in your own personal development in the education world?

Don Middleton (12:58):

Sure. so I’d actually like to mention two mentors. One was when I was a phed learning leader at Forest Lawn High School in Calgary. And the mentor was a gentleman by the name of Tim Maine. And Tim Maine was my principal at the time. And Tim had been a former phys ed teacher and university varsity volleyball athlete. And Tim and I had a lot of discussions about what’s best for kids. And, and I remember sitting in his office and asking him, Should I do this? Shouldn’t I do this? And he said, Well, what’s your filter? And I said, What do you mean? He said, What’s your filter? And I said, Still don’t know what you mean, <laugh>. And he said, Is it good for kids? And I said, Yes. And he said, Is it illegal, immoral? No, of course not. And he said, If it’s good for kids, it’s not illegal and it’s not immoral.

Don Middleton (13:43):

He said, Then we’ll make it happen. Mm. And I said, What about the funding? He said, We’ll find the funding. And that was, that has shaped the way that I look at anything that I do, You know, is it good for kids? Is it going to help them? And if so, we’ll find a way to make it happen. And quite honestly, that was one of the reasons why we brought Sam Dema in to talk to our kids. It was good for our kids. we needed to find the money to make it happen. And you have had a lasting influence on our kids here, because I still hear them talking about it. And it’s been several weeks after the fact. Thanks. The second mentor I had was Jerry Fiddle, and he was the education director for for me, when I went downtown. And Jerry was the role that I stepped into, I was the first person in that role.

Don Middleton (14:31):

 there had been nobody else that had done that before. So I got to define what that role looked like. And, and that’s quite an intimidating thing when I’d been in education for over 20 years and now all of a sudden I’m the first person doing something. So I’m not reinventing the wheel, I’m actually inventing it. And there was nobody else that I could draw upon. And, and so I, I went to Jerry and he said, You’re doubting yourself. And so he encouraged me to take risks, which in education, usually the vanilla plane, you know, stay the course, stay between the lines, That’s the advice that you get. And Jerry was like, No, go outside the lines. Let’s expand this. Let’s grow and let’s do what we can. And we grew a program that saw students earning high school credits and university credits at the same time.

Don Middleton (15:19):

We had students going to UFC and Mount Royal, and we had multiple programs with the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology for now state polytechnic it’s called. And to see students be able to start seeing themselves in a post-secondary setting after high school was amazing. And then on top of that, we set up a number of trades training programs where students would go out of school to, to learn a particular trade. And that was, again, we saw students’ lives changed because they were learning in an out of school setting. And not every kid is wired to be sitting in a chair for seven hours a day getting lectured at sometimes learning. And the best learning happens outside of a school setting. And, and Jerry taught me that, and Jar Jerry encouraged me to go down that path.

Sam Demma (16:08):

Thanks for sharing those two names. I appreciate it. And hopefully we can send this to them as a o of appreciation after this is aired and released. You mentioned the importance of students seeing themselves in post-secondary. I think that you and the entire staff and the entire community at LB Pearson does a phenomenal job of enabling that your students feel welcomed and included and at home at your school. Correct me if I’m wrong, but you have over 70 languages. Is it 70 languages spoken at the school?

Don Middleton (16:41):

61 61 is is the last count. Yeah. 61 languages for the students. In, in our school, we have an incredible amount of diversity. 77% of the students in our school, their first language is something other than English. And that’s what makes our school so special is, is that diversity and the way that everybody comes together. we have these these days where, where students get to celebrate their heritage and students will, will dress in traditional wear and they will bring traditional food. And it’s absolutely amazing to see the different things that are going on in the building at that time when those things happen.

Sam Demma (17:18):

One of the things that you shared with me when I came to the school was that sometimes the area in which the school is positioned gets a little bit of a, a bad rep, but I’ll be completely transparent, my experience with the school was, to be completely honest, one of the best schools that I visited in the past while and had the most, some of the most respectful and kind students that I’ve come across. how do you think as a school community, we work towards changing the narrative that’s been placed on us when it’s not one that we any longer deserve? <laugh>,

Don Middleton (17:49):

Thank you for the, those really kind comments, Sam, because that means a lot to me. I grew up in Northeast Calgary, and Northeast Calgary does get a bad rap. And the reality is, is that if you look at the newspapers you know, if there’s been a violent event or something that’s happened, it’s usually happened in northeast Calgary, and we get labeled with that because our school is in that, in that setting. Are we a perfect school? No, but the reality is, is that it doesn’t matter what highest school you go to, if your intent is to do something bad, you’re going to find like-minded people that are going to encourage or participate in those bad things. It doesn’t matter what school you attend or what area it’s, but unfortunately, when once a reputation is earned, whether it’s deserved or not, it sticks with you.

Don Middleton (18:37):

And I like to think of us as being a diamond in the rough. the people that come into the building, the people that experience Lester b Pearson, they know what it has to offer. Those people that prefer to, you know, be arm’s length and just point fingers and say, That’s not a good school. I would encourage them to come in, experience it for themselves, and then then pass judgment. I know that in the past, you know, we’ve had fewer violent incidents in our school than many, but we get the the notoriety. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>,

Sam Demma (19:10):

The phone ringing is a good thing. It means that things are happening within the school building and it makes it more real <laugh>. So I, I appreciate the humor. you’ve been in education for such a long period of time. You shared some of the mentors that have helped you along the way. If you could travel back in time and speak to Don in his first day of teaching, but maintain the experiences and knowledge you have now due to all of your different unique experiences, what advice would you give your younger self or that to other educators who are just starting this profession?

Don Middleton (19:47):

I think the, for me intuitively I’ve always known that relationship is a key to a student’s success. And building those relationships I’ve always had them happen organically because again, being involved in PhysEd and having multiple coaching seasons, you develop those relationships outside of a classroom setting. I would tell myself or any beginning teacher, be intentional. You know, don’t wait for them to happen organically. Seek out those kids and, and ask them, Hey, what are the things that you like to do? Oh, do you have any siblings? Hey, do you have a dog? I see, you know, whatever. make that connection because I, I finished a master’s of count, or not a masters of counseling, a master’s of education with a focus on trauma-informed learning. And really, it solidified that a relationship between adult and students is an absolute critical part of that student success, especially if they’re coming from a traumatic background and having one positive relationship for that student coming from a traumatic background can change their entire trajectory.

Don Middleton (20:50):

And I got to see that several times throughout my career, but it became more prominent when I would help students connect with trades and seeing kids that were not traditionally successful in a school setting all of a sudden thrive outside of a school setting. And the way that then that would carry over and they would, you know, went from having poor attendance to having over 90% attendance. They went from not being on track to graduating, to graduating in with their classmates in, in a two and a half, three year program. pursue those relationships, make them happen and, and be authentic and be yourself. kids have a great BS meter and I respect that, you know, those kids that call you on it. And if they do, and that’s what I love about Pearson is that if they think you’re, you’re giving them a pile of bs, they’ll tell you and if they do, you gotta look in the mirror and say, Hmm, are they being honest? Or, or, you know, Am I, am I doing the best that I can?

Sam Demma (21:52):

It sounds like genuine curiosity is the key to building relationships. Like is it all about kind of getting to know the student and being genuinely curious about them and their life?

Don Middleton (22:04):

Oh, without a doubt. When you, you have to show interest in who they are as a person. No kid wants to just be, Oh, okay, this is your ID number. And, you know, you sit in that back corner mm-hmm. <affirmative> getting to know that kid’s name and going down the hall and being able to say, Hey, you know, Antoine or Mohammed or whomever, right? When you know their name, then, then you’ve already started down the road to a relationship. And so that’s a critical part, is getting to know who they are, getting to know what their interests are, what is it that makes them tick. And then you try to, to work on those and build on those things to help them to be successful.

Sam Demma (22:43):

 such a good piece of advice. Thanks for sharing that. I think that’s how you also build relationships with anybody, whether it’s a student or a staff member, a colleague, whoever it might be. have you found any resources throughout your journey to be extremely helpful? That could be people, that could be books, that could be courses, that could be your peers, it could also be resources like other humans. I’m just curious if there’s anything that you’ve returned to a few times because you thought it really informed your beliefs around education or some of your ideas

Don Middleton (23:17):

I’ve had. Yeah, there’s several resources. I, I, I believe that learning is an ongoing process and, and the more you learn, the less you know, or the less the you, more you realize, the less you know. Yep. And, and so there’s various things that I’ve done throughout my career. As I said, I’ve, I just recently finished in the last few years, a masters of education. I did a, I never completed it, but I started a master’s of counseling because I thought if I did that I could have a better impact on my students. I, I always am searching out different types of professional reading I’m looking up here cuz I’ve got a list of books in front of me that that I try to work with. And it, it really is also having those mentors and somebody that has been down the road and can offer you that advice and, and going to your peers and saying, what’s worked for you?

Don Middleton (24:12):

 we don’t know it all and we’re better collaboratively and more effective as a group than we ever are individually. And, and schools should never be silos, You know, yes, you’ve got your science department, your math department, phyt, et cetera, but all of those people that are in there are expert teachers and they know how to work with kids. And it doesn’t matter whether you’re having success in phys ed, that success can be duplicated or replicated somewhere else. But if teachers don’t talk and they don’t collaborate and they don’t have the time to do that, then they’re not going to be successful or you’re going to be more challenging to reach the, the success that they want.

Sam Demma (24:50):

You mentioned that you did a master’s in trauma informed learning and started the one in counseling. I would assume that both of those would help you in some degree navigate difficult conversations with kids. and I’m, I’m sure that there’s moments where students, even with their parents sometimes might walk through the doors of your office, sit down, and you have to prepare for what could be a very difficult conversation about something that happened or about certain performance. How do you navigate and approach those really challenging conversations?

Don Middleton (25:23):

Number one is, is being authentic. I, I truly care about every single student that I work with and I wanna see them succeed. So if I approach my conversation from that perspective, then that gives me a sense of legitimacy and integrity in that conversation with a student and with the parent. And so that’s the number one thing. Number two is that I don’t beat around the bush. I’m very straightforward. This is what I want. This is what I would like to see for your child. This is what’s happening and this is what’s the barrier is how do we get from here to here and overcome those barriers. And sometimes there are things that are external, often they’re internal, usually they’re their issues within that student that is keeping them from being successful. I see my job as trying to help students be most successful and remove barriers for their success.

Don Middleton (26:18):

I also see my job as helping teachers jobs be easier. So if I can do those things, then I feel like I’m being effective as an administrator. And again, when it comes back to those conversations, it’s being truthful. And sometimes those conversations are hard and making the students understand that your choices are yours. You know, if I, and and I use this as a, as a common example, if I point out to you that you, that there’s a rake on the ground and you proceed to step on that rake and it hits you in the face, is it my fault? Is it the rake’s fault? No, you stepped on that rake. So the natural consequence is that it’s going to hit you in the face.

Sam Demma (26:56):

I love that analogy. <laugh>,

Don Middleton (26:58):

That’s,

Sam Demma (26:58):

I I might steal that one. Thanks for sharing. Absolutely. One of the reasons I believe most people get into education is they, like you mentioned, wanna have a positive impact on young people. They want to make a difference in the lives of kids. do you have any stories that come to mind when you think about a student who came across your desk and was really struggling and within a certain timeframe really switched around their situation, blossomed, if we use the gardening analogy and had a really big transformation. and the reason I ask is because I think other educators who might be listening will be reminded of their personal why when they hear stories of students making positive life changes.

Don Middleton (27:43):

You know, it’s, it’s funny because there are times when you’re in education and you don’t feel like you’re making a difference and you think, you know, is this it? Is it, is it time to pack it in? have I stopped being effective? And then you, you all of a sudden get an email or a note or you know, somebody reaches out on social media and they say, You know, I haven’t seen you in X number long, you know, number of years coach, but I want you to know that you made a difference in my life. And it, it’s funny, the universe, it seems to happen when you’re feeling at your lowest. having been in education for so long, I’m very fortunate to, to have a number of stories that where students have completely changed and, and have had very, very positive outcomes from maybe some pretty humble beginnings.

Don Middleton (28:34):

And, and if I have the time, I’ll share one with you. a young man came to me and he was in grade 10 and it was just before Christmas and he was 15 years old in, in Alberta. You can legally drop out of school at 16. And this young man hated school, absolutely hated school. And his mom was a young mom and she brought the, the student to see me. And he said, As soon as I turned 16, I’m done. You’re not gonna see me in the school again. And we talked about why and he just said, I cannot stand being in a desk for six hours a day. And so we, we talked about registered apprenticeship program and what that would mean. And I said, We can set up your timetable so that you have academic courses in the morning.

Don Middleton (29:18):

You’d have two academic courses in the morning. You can leave at lunchtime, you can go work all afternoon. the mom had a connection in a particular trade and for second semester the deal was that he was going to do that. And I said, I will support this and we will make this happen as long as you’re attending your classes in the morning. So fast forward kids doing great part way through grade 11, I’m going to visit him at the summer job. So we’re already about a year in and pardon me, it was only a few months in cuz it was grade 10. And he was working constructing a music conservatory on the university campus and he wanted to know who the trades were that put up the big iron girders and stuff. And I said, Well, that’s iron work. And he said, I’m doing this.

Don Middleton (30:04):

And he was kinda doing some, it’s called Interior Systems Mechanic, which is drywall type work and dealing with non combustible carpentry materials, so metal studs, et cetera. And he said, I would like to do iron working. And I said, I tell you what, you finish off this summer next year, I can get you into an iron working program because we had set one up with the with the Iron Workers Union here in Calgary. So the next year we put him into the Iron Working Program, he continued having his half day academic mornings working in the afternoon. He was thriving, he was doing great in his academics, he was attending classes very well. He went out, did the iron working program, got hired between grade 11 and 12 as an iron worker. The kid made $20,000 between grade 11 and 12 because he was p picking up a ton of overtime.

Don Middleton (30:51):

He, he made way more money than I did. And then part way into his grade 12 year, his mom called me and she said that her son was going to finish school at Christmas. And I said, What do you mean? She said, Well, he, he said that he’s, you know, not coming back in January. And she said, Is that okay? And, and so then after some further conversation, I realized that what she meant is that he was going to take one class on his own in the evening online, have his full academic course load first semester so that he can finish high school early and then go back to work full time as an iron worker come February. And so mom wanted to know, is this a good thing? And I said, You realize that two years ago, almost to the day your son was sitting in this chair saying he was dropping out of school and now he’s going to finish his high school diploma a full semester early. I said, That’s a huge win. And the young man is now in his early twenties, he’s a journey person, iron worker, he owns his own house. He’s actually come out to talk to students in school about his experience and why getting into a trade was the best thing that he could have done for himself.

Sam Demma (32:03):

What an amazing story. And I think it’s so important that when we have students in situations like that, that cross our, our desk, we begin with questions, Why is it, why is it that you wanna drop outta school? Because if you didn’t probe and ask questions, you wouldn’t have discovered that he didn’t enjoy sitting in class all day. And it would’ve been a lot more difficult to find a proper solution. Maybe the end result would’ve been totally different, right?

Don Middleton (32:32):

Oh, absolutely. And, and I think that that’s, again, getting to know the kids that are in front of you. if your goals and aspirations are going to university, then I think that’s very different than if your goals and aspirations are to go and work in the family’s restaurant or to take up a trade. and that’s not to say that university is a bad thing. I mean, clearly, you know, it’s done well for me. but the reality is, is that less than 50% of all students ever attend a university and even those that do the attrition rate is extremely high. So we need to do a better job as an education system and as teachers to make sure that we are meeting the needs of the students that are in front of us, find out what it is that makes them tick, find out what they want to do, and not every kid is going to figure that out in high school. But then let’s open up doors and expose ’em to as many different opportunities as we can so that they are developing those skills and they’re not afraid to step outside the, the norm and take risks and do different things.

Sam Demma (33:30):

Don, this has been a super refreshing conversation. The half hour flew by. If an educator is listening, wants to reach out to you, ask a question, have a conversation, what would be the most efficient way for them to get in touch with you?

Don Middleton (33:44):

My email address is dtmiddleton@cbe.ab.ca. I can’t promise I’ll get back to you right away, but I will respond at some point.

Sam Demma (33:54):

Awesome. Don, thank you so much for your time, your expertise, your ideas. I appreciate it. Keep up the great work and we’ll talk soon.

Don Middleton (34:02):

Thank you, Sam. I appreciate it. Take care.

Sam Demma (34:05):

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

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